In 1785, at the young age of 25 and pregnant with her first child, Toypurina used her vision, charisma, and determination to challenge the authority of the Spanish settlers. It was an action that would impact the rest of her life.
Few details survive about the life of the Gabrielino medicine woman Toypurina, but she is undoubtedly best remembered for her direct involvement in a planned revolt against Spanish colonial rule in 1785. Born into the Kumivit tribe of Southern California from the area around Mission San Gabriel, Toypurina's tribe became known as the Gabrielino (today, their descendants also refer to themselves as the Tongva people) after Spanish contact in the late eighteenth century. Franciscan missionaries at the time had founded more than twenty missions from San Diego to Sonoma between 1769 and 1823. These missions encroached on the lands of numerous tribal nations in the area, exploited the labor of their people, and proselytized for their conversion to the Roman Catholic Faith. From the perspective of the colonists, these missions were intended to act as a chain of defense around the Spanish empire in the north.
It was in this context that Mission San Gabriel was established, near the banks of the Río Hondo on the southern edge of the San Gabriel Valley in September 1771. The mission remained at its original site for half a decade, until May 1775 when it was moved several miles north to its present site, which is located on Gabrielino land. In 1770, the Gabrielino numbered about five thousand, and their territory encompassed about 1,500 square miles of the Los Angeles Basin. This land included the watersheds of the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, Santa Ana, and Río Hondo rivers, and it extended west to the islands off present-day Los Angeles. Within that territory were more than fifty independent and competing communities, whose populations ranged from 50 to 150. By the time Toypurina became involved in the rebellion against the Mission in 1785, the missionaries at San Gabriel had baptized well over 1,200 Natives, counting approximately 843 Gabrielinos among these baptisms.
In an effort to protect the self-sufficiency of their communities, retain their tribal cultures, and uphold their religious practices and beliefs, many Native people at this time had long been actively resisting the imposed Spanish rule and attempts at acculturation. Toypurina emerged as one such individual.
When Spanish officials forbade the practice of traditional dances Toypurina took action. The authoritarian decision to suddenly ban all traditional dances among the Mission Indians was thus the latest in a long string of ongoing affronts and atrocities (violence, rapes, forced religious conversions, and slave labor) committed against the Gabrielinos since the beginning of the Spanish invasion. Toypurina contacted and convinced several people in surrounding villages to participate in the rebellion, giving the plan the necessary momentum and the numbers it needed to get off the ground.
Throughout her life, Toypurina stood as an exemplar of the challenging circumstances and choices that California Indians faced in the wake of Spanish contact and settlement. She openly resisted the mission and participated in an attempt to destroy this symbol of Spanish colonialism in her homeland. The ongoing significance of Toypurina's story in particular clearly does not end with the foiled rebellion, nor even with her banishment from her traditional homelands. Rather, her life's story in its entirety reflects a narrative of resilience, survival, and a persistent will to adapt to difficult circumstances. Toypurina emerges from the historical record as a woman who not only confronted Spanish colonialism in Southern California, but who also lit a path for the survival and the endurance of her people.