The mission period in California began in 1769, about the time the United States signed the Constitution. The period ended in 1835, 14 years short of the Gold Rush. It ended because the maintenance of the missions was too expensive and the Mexican government had just kicked the Spaniards out of New Spain. There were 21 missions built during this time period: the first one was Mission San Diego in 1769 and the last one was Mission San Francisco Solano in 1823. They were built along the coast of California along a road called The El Camino Real. This made it easier to walk from one mission to the next.
The main reason the Spanish wanted to colonize Alta California was because the Russians were coming down to colonize the land which the Spanish explorers like Cabrillo had claimed 200 years earlier. The Russian fur traders were trying to hunt sea otters to trade (See Fort Ross: a piece out of history). The Spanish government also thought they would find gold. Unfortunately, they didn't find much at all. The padres on the other hand had a completely different reason; they wanted to convert the Natives' souls to Christianity because they believed that the Natives should be worshiping God and not spirits of animals. The Native Americans that were converted to Christianity were called "neophytes." Father Serra was sent with Gaspar de Portola in 1769 to establish the first mission. They also built presidios to protect their land. They sailed into San Diego bay and started building it on a hill. He would go on to help start the first nine missions.
The Mission period ended in 1834. Some of the Native Americans tried to go back to living like their ancestors, but failed. This was very hard, because they had foggotten the ways of their ancestors. The other Indians that stayed worked as servants on the Rancheros. Ranchos were large pieces of land given to Mexican citizens by the Mexican government. Most of the padres went back to Spain, since they were not welcome anymore.
It is important for us to study the missions because they had a very large effect on the California we see today. One effect is that we see lots of people who speak Spanish in California. Another effect is that there are a lot of people who are Christians today. We can also see many buildings such as Stanford University which is based on Spanish architecture. We also eat lots of yummy foods such as pozole, tortillas, and atole. One way that the missions were not so good is that the Native Americans were nearly wiped out by the Spanish. As you can see, there are many ways that the missions influenced our history.