The Spanish started their colonization of Central California in 1770 founding Mission San Carlos Borremeo del Rio Marmelo by Fr. Junipero Serra, second of the 21 missions. The Mission system was conceived such that no mission would be more than a day’s ride from another. Mission Santa Cruz was founded in 1797. Construction of Mission San Juan Bautista began in 1797. It was believed that the Mission was located in this part of the valley in order to be near indigenous Indian villages, which would become a source of labor and converts for the Mission priests.
The Amah Mutsun people were aware of the actions of the Spanish, many village and religious sites were abandoned and spies were sent to the Missions at Monterey and Santa Cruz. They witnessed the destruction of the sacred tree near Monterey and the subjugation of the Rumsen (Carmel), Awaswas (Santa Cruz), and neighboring villages. When the Spanish came to Tratrah they conducted a campaign to subjugate the Amah Mutsun. First they invaded the religious shrines of the Amah replacing them with Christian icons. When this was not totally successful the Spanish soldiers forcibly removed the Indians from their villages and brought them to the Mission compound, separating children from parents. The Amah were considered Mission property upon baptism, and were not permitted to return to their Tribal Lands.
Many of the Christianized Indians, who were called “neophytes,” attempted to flee the harsh conditions and slavery of the Mission. As a result, Spanish military expeditions were routinely dispatched to look for runaways and bring them back to the Mission.
Some of the Amah took up weapons against the Spanish. First were the Ausaima; in 1802 after a series of battles the Ausaima were defeated. Some records indicate that they may have moved to the central valley near the Merced River. The Orestac also battled the Spanish, but with little success. Arrows, stones and tomahawks are of little consequence when facing guns, swords and mounted cavalrymen fitted with lances.
Under these oppressive conditions, the Amah were forced to conduct their tribal activities and speak their language in secret. This practice became a part of the discrimination and persecution of the Amah Mutsun. At the same time, while life at the Mission was repressive, the plight they experienced broke down any barriers that may have existed between the inhabitants of the different Amah Mutsun villages. This facilitated the public re-emergence of the Tribe in the 20th century.