Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in the present-day city of San Luis Obispo, California. It was the fifth of 21 Spanish missions built by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church between 1769 and 1823 in what was known as Alta California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the 14th century Bishop of Toulouse (France), the mission gave its name to both the city and the county of San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast.
King Carlos III of Spain saw the missions as a means to expand and protect Spain’s interests in Alta (upper) California (especially against the Russians who were making inroads southward from Alaska along California’s coast), while the Franciscans saw them as a means to expand the influence of the Catholic Church and to “civilize” the many tribes of indigenous peoples who inhabited the various regions of California.
Along with the Catholic faith, the missionaries brought disease and cultural decimation. A thriving tribe of over 15,000 Chumash Indians inhabiting the area were considered “souls to be saved.” The Spanish settlers forbade them to speak their native tongue or practice their accustomed dances and rituals, forcing them to build the mission, while imposing their language and faith upon them.