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The original California natives inhabited an isolated corner of North america, with mountains to the east and deserts to the south. They developed a stable and peaceful culture, with numerous tribes within well defined borders, leading to remarkable linguistic diversity but limited ability to organize a defense against European colonialism.

Spain claimed and occupied California in the interest of increasing the Spanish realm -- in terms of both land and people - to increase Spanish and Catholic influence. The Spanish colonization was highly authoritarian and subject to all the inefficiencies of centralized planning. To their credit, the Spanish envisioned the native population as playing an important role as Catholic citizens, but the mission/presidio system failed to adopt the Indians to this role and failed to attract a sufficient number of Spanish settlers.