The motivations for relatively rapid incorporation of Native Californian populations into the Spanish mission system are the subject of anthropological and historical debate (e.g., S. Cook 1976; Coombs and Plog 1977; Duggan 2000; Guest 1979; Hackel 2005; Jackson 1999; Larson, Johnson, and Michaelsen 1994; Milliken 1995; Sandos 1991, 1998, 2004). The ecological hypothesis is one of many explanations offered. Advocates of this hypothesis maintain that environmental push factors such as drought, depletion of native food sources by the grazing of livestock, and environmental changes induced by the construction of irrigation systems and pull factors such as the potential food sources provided by the missions were motivating reasons for the rapid incorporation of native peoples into the Spanish mission system of Alta California. This hypothesis has predominantly been used by scholars to explain Chumash baptism in southern California missions (Coombs and Plog 1977; Jackson 1999; Larson, Johnson, and Michaelsen 1994), but has more recently also been used to discuss Esselen and Costanoan/Ohlone baptisms at Mission San Carlos (Hackel 2005). In this paper, I examine the validity of the ecological hypothesis for Salinan Indian baptism at Mission San Antonio de Padua using documentary and archaeological evidence. Salinan Indians at Mission San Antonio were influenced by only some environmental push and pull factors, and only at specific times during this culture contact period. As economics, culture, and environment changed through time at Mission San Antonio, the reasons that Salinan peoples chose baptism may also have been dynamic. This conclusion emphasizes that the reasons Native Californians chose baptism are geographically, temporally, and culturally contingent.

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