Golden Gate from San Francisco Bay

Glimpses of Early California History

Though the plan of this work deals with today rather than with the struggles of yesterday, there is an irresistible temptation to delve into the past sufficiently to get a clear idea of the “beginnings of things” historical. And when one looks backwards in California history he is carried to the stirring times of the old Spanish freebooters. The Genoese mariner had scarcely made his great discovery known to the world when bold adventurers began to quarrel over unknown lands and to partition the distant parts of the earth among themselves.

Winfield Davis, the able historian of the Sacramento Society of California Pioneers, has carefully traced the primary title to California to Spain, which held the first right to the country. To trace that early claim is to go back to the year 1454, when Pope Nicholas V issued a bull that gave the Portuguese wide rights of conquest. Many years later a controversy arose between Portugal and Spain, by reason of Portugal’s attempt to claim the countries discovered by Columbus. The entire case was referred to Pope Alexander VI, and on May 3, 1493, he decided it by granting Spain all countries she might discover west of an imaginary line drawn like a mark of longitude one hundred leagues west of the Azores. By the terms of the same decision Portugal was to have all territory to the eastward of that line. The Treaty of the Partition of the Pacific Ocean, concluded at Tordesillas, Spain, June 7, 1494, between the governments of Spain and Portugal, was a slight modification of the boundary settled by Pope Alexander VI, and in accordance with that convention Spain, in later years, laid claim to California.

Some Early Voyages

It should be understood that after the conquest of Mexico by Cortes (1520-1521), many expeditions by sea were sent forth to discover new wonders on the Pacific coast of North America. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that early ideas of the geography of the coast were exceedingly crude and limited. Even so late as the year 1741 Laurence Echard published in the London Gazetteer that California was a large island of the South Sea. In the year 1794 “The Young Man’s Book of Knowledge,” published in London, described California as “sixteen hundred miles broad, and two thousand miles long.” The climate and soil were said to be like paradise, and this remarkable sentence occurs: “It has rich mines of silver, and some of gold, which are worked more and more every day.”

The account was no doubt wholly mythical, for the following declaration is made immediately after the statement regarding the mines: “The dew that falls in California and lights on the rose leaves, candies and becomes hard like manna.” Other equally absurd stories prevailed in those days, not only about this state, but regarding all things and countries remote from the observation of the simple and superstitious people of early times.

It is well known that in the year 1524 Gonzalo de Sandoval took to Cortes many strange stories of California, and they were transmitted to Emperor Charles V. Though it is inconceivable that the wisest thinkers of that day could have done otherwise than reject most of the accounts that reached their ears, yet it is known that many of the descriptions bore the impress of truth. Some of the narratives of fabulous wealth and virgin resources produced a profound impression on men of restless spirit, and the dream of brave men was to conquer foreign lands.

Asia was still believed to lie within the very gates of the new country, and so conservative a historian as Hittell asserts that the wildest imaginable rumors actually led to the discovery and subsequent exploration of California. The generations that passed after the first discoveries, and before explorations had been carried far, but served to whet the appetite for adventure.

Disappointed as the early Spaniards were of discovering the particular forms of wealth they had long dreamt of unearthing, they did in fact plant their adventurous feet on the soil of the great western empire of America.

Ximines was the Discoverer

In 1522 Cortes, having made himself thorough master of Mexico, began to look ambitiously to the northward. His fortunes moved and varied in such a manner, however, that it was left for Fortuno Ximines to discover the Peninsula of California, now known as Lower California, in the year 1534. He sailed in La Conception, a ship owned by the powerful Cortes, and but for the aid of Cortes, Ximines could not have made the discovery.[1]Ximines was a pilot under Becerra, and Becerra, one of the favorites of Cortes, was sent out in charge of an expedition that tried to learn the fate of a missing vessel of a previous expedition. … Continue reading The ambition of Cortes flamed high after he heard of the explorations of his subordinate, and he himself reached the promontory of San Felipe, on May 3, 1535, and took possession of the country in the name of the sovereign. He gave the name of Santa Cruz to the bay that surrounded him. La Paz, just north of Cape San Lucas, is supposed to have been the exact spot where the old explorer landed. The country was so bleak and forbidding that Cortes put to sea, and temporarily abandoned the attempt to settle the country by the Spanish.

By the year 1537 new rumors of the vast wealth of the country were in circulation throughout Mexico. Various expeditions failed, until Cortes dispatched one under Francisco de Ulloa, and to Ulloa largely belongs the credit for the early exploration of Lower California.

By 1540 Cortes, who was really on a freebooting expedition during all his western voyages, returned to Spain and abandoned California.

Light is shed on the conditions that existed in early times by some pertinent observations of John W. Dwinelle’s, in an able address on the acquisition of California, delivered before the California Pioneer Society, in San Francisco, on September 10, 1866. He gave these facts:

“It was only by accident, after all, that Columbus discovered the vast region of continents and islands which are now called America. he was not in quest of new continents, nor of the golden-fruited gardens of the Hesperinides. Believing, from inductive reasoning, that the earth was round, but with very imperfect notions of its magnitude, he was firmly persuaded that by sailing in a westerly direction from the coast of Spain, he would in due time arrive on the coast of China, which was then classed as a portion of the Indies; and when he discovered the first American islands, believing that he had already reached the Indies, he gave to the natives the name of Indians, which inaccurate classification they have ever since retained. Looking over the books and maps of the old geographers, it is curious and wonderful to observe how much they did know, and how much they did not know, of the geography of the northwestern coast of America for more than two hundred years after the discoveries made by Columbus. Although Cortes, when he fell into that inevitable disgrace with which the kings of Spain have always rewarded their greatest benefactors, sent out various expeditions from Mexico for the exploration of the northwestern coast, and even accompanied some of them as far as La Paz, in Lower California, and although the viceroys who succeeded him sent out various expeditions within fifty years after the conquest of Mexico, both by sea and by land, which must have penetrated as far north as the 42d degree of latitude, yet the physical geography of that region remained in the most mythical condition, and the very existence of the bay of San Francisco was contested as fabulous by the Spanish viceroys of New Spain less than a hundred years ago. There is in the possession of the Odd Fellows’ library of this city an engraved map of the world, published at Venice in the year 1546, which is remarkable for its general accuracy and for the beauty of its execution, but on this map, at the latitude of San Francisco, the American continent is represented as sweeping around in a large circle, and forming a junction with that of Asia, while the Colorado, the largest river in the world, rising in the mountains of Thibet, and meandering through a course of 15,000 or 20,000 miles, pours its vast volume of waters into the Gulf of California. In the year 1588, a Spanish captain of marine, named Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, published an account of a voyage which he pretended to have made from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Northern sea, to the Pacific, and thence to China, giving all its geographical details and personal incidents. This apocryphal voyage proved a delusion and a stumbling-block to historians and voyagers for more than two hundred years, and it was not until the year 1791 that two Spanish frigates, sent out for that purpose by authority of the king of Spain, by a thorough exploration of the extreme northwestern coast, established the fact that a passage through the North Sea did not exist, and that the pretensions of Maldonado were utterly false. It is only within a comparatively recent period that the fact has been generally received in modern geography that California was connected with the main continent, and was not an island. In Ogilvie’s ‘America, being the latest and most accurate account of the New World,’ a most elegant and luxurious folio, published in London in 1671, California is laid down as an island, extending from Cape St. Lucas, in the tropic of Cancer, to the 45th degree of latitude, and including the famous New Albion of Sir Francis Drake. The same map is reproduced by Captain Shelvocke, of the royal navy, in his account of his ‘Voyage Around the World by way of the South Sea,’ in his Majesty’s ship of war, published in London in 1726; and in a geographical work published in London in the same year, by Daniel Coxe, Exq., an account is given of ‘a new and curious discovery and relation betwixt the river Meschachebe (Mississippi) and the South Sea, which separates America from China by means of several large rivers and lakes, with a description of the coast of the said sea to the Straits of Uries, as also of a rich and considerable trade to be carried on from thence to China, Japan and Tartary.’ I can not ascertain that California was relieved of its insular character among geographers until the publication of a map by Father Begert, a missionary of the Society of Jesus, in an account of Lower California which he printed at Mannheim in 1771, on his return to Germany from the missions which they had successfully established among the Indians of Lower California. Even after it was admitted that California was not an island, but a part of the main land, the most indefinite notions prevailed as to the extent to which the Gulf of California penetrated toward the north; and to the very last of the Spanish and Mexican dominion, when any specific description was given to California in official documents, it was spoken of as a peninsula.”

Origin of the Name California

Professor Josiah Royce, of Harvard, Winfield Davis, and other historians, now accept Edward Everett Hales’s conclusion that the name California was derived from an old romance and applied by Cortes to the peninsula he discovered in 1535. Mr. Hale made his investigations in the year 1862, while reading the old romance, “Serges Esplandian,” by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, the translator of Amidas. In this connection it is worth while to give some of the statements of the eminent Doctor Hale, for there have been a number of theories as to the origin of the name. He says: “Coming to the reference, in this forgotten romance, to the island of California, very near to the Terrestrial Paradise, I saw at once that here was the origin of the name of the state of California, long sought for by the antiquarians of that state, but long forgotten. For the romance seems to have been published in 1510–the edition of 1521 is now in existence–while our California, even the peninsula of that name, was not discovered by the Spaniards till 1526, and was not named California till 1535.”

Soon after his discovery, Mr. Hale invited the American Antiquarian Society to examine the evidence, and in March, 1864, he translated for the Atlantic Monthly all the parts of the story that relate to the Queen of California (Califia), and in 1873 he published a small volume on the subject, in which he said: “The name California was given by Cortes, who discovered the peninsula in 1535. For the statement that he named it, we have the authority of Herrera. It is proved, I think, that the expedition of Mendoza, in 1532, did not see California; it is certain that they gave it no name. Humboldt saw, in the archives of Mexico, a statement in manuscript that it was discovered in 1526; but for this there is no other authority. It is certain that the name does not appear till 1535. No etymology of this name has been presented satisfactory to the historians. Venegas, the Jesuit historian of California, writing in 1758, sums up the matter in these words: ‘The most ancient name is California, used by Bernal Diaz, limited to a single bay. I could wish to gratify the reader by the etymology and true origin of this name; but in none of the various dialects of the natives could the missionaries find the least traces of such a name being given by them to the country, or even to any harbor, bay, or small part of it. Nor can I subscribe to the etymology of some writers, who suppose the name to be given to it by the Spaniards, on their feeling an unusual heat at the first landing here; that they thence called the country California, compounding the two Latin words calida and fornax, a hot furnace. I believe few will think the adventureres could boast of so much literature.” Clavigero, in his history of California, after giving this etymology, offers as an alternative the following, as the opinion ‘of the learned Jesuit, D. Giuseppe Compoi’: He believes that the name is composed of the Spanish word cala, which means ‘a little cove of the sea,’ and the Latin fornix, which means ‘the vault of a building.’ He thinks these words are thus applied, because, within Cape St. Lucas there is a little cove of the sea, towards the western part of which rises a rock, so worn out that on the upper part of the hollow is seen a vault, as perfect as if made by art. Cortes, therefore, observing this cala, or cove, and this vault, probably called this port California, or cala and fornix–speaking half in Spanish, half in Latin. Clavigero suggests, as an improvement on this somewhat wild etymology, that Cortes may have said Cala fornax, ‘cove furnace,’ speaking as in the Jesuit’s suggestion, in two languages.”* * *

“Towards the close of this romance of the Sergas of Esplandian, the various Christian knights assembled to defend the Emperor of the Greeks and the city of Constantinople against the attacks of the Turks and Infidels. In the romance, the name appears with precisely our spelling, in the following passage:

“Sergas, ch. 157: ‘Know that, on the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very near to the Terrestrial Paradise, which was peopled with black women, without any men among them, because they were accustomed to live after the fashion of Amazons. They were of strong and hardened bodies, of ardent courage, and of great force. The island was the strongest in the world, from its steep rocks and great cliffs. Their arms were all of gold; and so were the caparisons of the wild beasts which they rode, after having tamed them; for in all the island there is no other metal. They lived in caves very well worked out; they had many ships, in which they sailed to other parts to carry on their forays.'”

The name appears in several distinct passages in the book. Mr. Hale adds: “This romance, as I have said, is believed to have been printed first in 1510. No copies of this edition, however, are extant. But of the edition of 1519 a copy is preserved; and there are copies of successive editions of 1521, 1525, and 1526, in which last year two editions were published–one at Seville and the other at Burgos. All of these are Spanish. It follows, almost certainly, that Cortes and his followers, in 1535, must have been acquainted with the romance; and as they sailed up the west side of Mexico, they supposed they were precisely at the place indicated,–‘on the right hand of the Indies.’ It will be remembered also, that by sailing in the same direction, Columbus, in his letter to the sovereigns, says, ‘he shall be sailing towards the Terrestrial Paradise.’ We need not suppose that Cortes believed the romance more than we do; though we assert that he borrowed a name from it to indicate the peninsula he found ‘on the right side of the Indies, near to the Terrestrial Paradise.’ * * * In ascribing to the Esplandian the origin of the name California, I know that I furnish no etymology for that word. I have not found the word in any earlier romances. I will only suggest that the root Calif, the Spanish spelling for the sovereign of the Mussulman power of the time, was in the mind of the author as he invented these Amazon allies of the Infidel power.”

Cabrillo was the Real Discoverer

Following the earliest expeditions, full of ambition to discover a world of wonders and wealth, the viceroy, Mendoza, sent an exploration party to the northward, but it failed. In June, 1542, however, the same viceroy dispatched Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo with two ships–the San Salvador and the Victoria–and to Cabrillo belongs the glory of discovering what was long known as Alta California, which is now California as distinguished from Lower California.

Cabrillo was a daring and successful navigator. His expedition reached as far north as the forty-fourth degree of latitude, on March 10, 1543, but his lack of provisions forced him to abandon the country. Hittell says: “Cabrillo’s death in the midst of his undertaking imparts a melancholy interest to his memory; and the touching solicitude for the prosecution of his enterprise, exhibited in his dying injunctions to Ferrelo, justify posterity in rendering the tribute of admiration to the heroic sense of duty that must have animated him.”

It may interest the reader to know that the Portuguese Union of California proposes to erect a monument to Cabrillo, the first human being to sail a vessel into San Diego Bay. The monument will, of course, be erected at San Diego. The Union has seventy lodges in California, and each will contribute to the construction of the monument. San Diego will give the site, possibly a spot in one of the city’s parks.

Sir Francis Drake’s Career

In the days of adventure of the sixteenth century there was bitter hatred between the English and the Spanish. Sir Francis Drake was undoubtedly the boldest and ablest English freebooter and navigator. After suffering at the hands of the Spaniards in Mexico, in 1567, and barely escaping alive, he decided to have revenge for his injuries. To this purpose he fitted out a privateering expedition and sailed forth, in 1572, to punish his enemies and replenish his coffers. After plundering the town of Nombre de Dios, on the Isthmus of Panama, he returned to England with much treasure. Late in 1577 he started on a voyage of exploration with five small vessels and 164 men. On June 17, 1579, he landed on the Pacific coast near Point Reyes, and anchored in the bay that bears his name. He remained there thirty-six days. Drake’s historian wrote that the natives thought the men of the expedition were gods, so they worshiped and offered sacrifices to the white men, all this in opposition to the wishes of the exploring party. Drake took possession of the country in the name of Queen Elizabeth. Some of the entries made by the historian show the wild character of the country, with its thousands of deer and its simple people. There is a significant entry that tells of the existence of gold and silver, of which there are frequent accounts in all of the old chronicles of the Spaniards. The historian said:

“Our necessaire business being ended, our General with his companie travailed up into the countrey to their villaiges, where we found heardes of deere by 1,000 in a companie, being most large and fat of bodie. We found the whole countrey to be a warren of a strange kinde of connies, their bodies in bigness as be the Barbarie connies, their heads as the heads of ours, the feet of a Want (mole), and the taile of a rat, being of great length; under he chinne of either side a bagge, into which she gathered her meate, which she hath filled her bellie abroad. The people do eat their bodies and make great accompt of their skinnes, for their King’s coat was made out of them. Our General called this countrey Nova Albion, and that for two causes: the one in respect of the white bankes and cliffes which lie toward the sea; and the other because it might have some affinitie with our countrey in name, which sometime was so called. There is no part of earth here to be taken up, wherein there is not a reasonble quantitie of gold or silver.” Before he sailed away, “our General set up a monument of our being there, as also of her Majestie’s right and title to the same, viz.: a plate nailed upon a faire great poste, whereupon was engraven her Majestie’s name, the day and yeare of our arrival there, with the free giving up of the province and people into her Majestie’s hands, together with her highness’ picture and arms, in a piece of fivepence of current English money under the plate, whereunder was also written the name of our General. It seemeth that the Spaniards hitherto had never been in this part of the countrey, neither did discover the lande by many degrees to the southward of this place.”

It is highly improbable that Drake ever saw the Golden Gate, or knew of the existence of the great Bay of San Francisco. This conclusion is disputed by some investigators, but on insufficient evidence. All careful students of history now coincide with the opinion that the bay was unknown until many generations afterwards. The coincidence of the name of San Francisco and Sir Francis Drake is not evidence that the Bay of San Francisco was named for him. The name Francis was common in those days, as now. It is not probably that Drake ever heard of Cabrillo’s prior visit to the country. Vizcaino and other navigators applied the name San Francisco to the bay in 1769. Royce says that Cermenon, who made a voyage to the Pacific and visited the Philippines in 1595, first applied the name of San Francisco to a port on this coast. He had run ashore near Point Reyes, a few miles above the present city of San Francisco, and just beneath the bluffs overhanging the ocean at that spot was the old port of San Francisco.

It should be said that Vizcaino touched Santa Catalina in 1602 and debarked on the mainland near Point Conception. By January, 1603, he had anchored in the old Port of San Francisco. His voyage gave the world a few definite points of geography, but all attempts at civilizing and settling the country then ceased for almost a century and a half–five generations.

An exception to this sweeping statement should be made by explaining that there were attempts to civilize the eastern side of the peninsula of California–under Antondo–in 1683. Soldiers, settlers, and many Jesuit priests from Mexico, were located at several points, but these attempts to settle the country were abandoned within a year. Mexico found the subjugation and colonizing of Lower California impracticable by these methods.

Jesuits Make Settlements

In November, 1697, Father Salvatierra and others, under royal warrant, founded the mission of Loreto, but on April 2, 1767, King Charles, of Spain, issued a decree banishing the Jesuits from all Spanish territory. Captain Gasper de Portala was detailed, with fifty armed men and fourteen Franciscan monks, to expel and succeed the Jesuits. Force was not needed, however, for the sixteen Jesuit fathers that occupied the country quietly departed from the country on February 3, 1768. The famous Junipero Serra was at that time appointed president of the missions of California. In April of the following year he arrived and soon entered upon his successful career as the pioneer missionary of the territory that is now California. History says that Josef de Galvez, who represented the Spanish monarch in the province, “had been invested with powers to visit the missions of Lower California, and had a royal order to send an expedition by sea to rediscover and people the bays of San Diego and Monterey.”

Winfield Davis and Secretary of State Curry have stated the facts of early history thus: “Reaching the peninsula on June 6, 1768, Galvez determined to send a land expedition to the north as well as the one by sea. This idea was concurred in by Father Junipero, and they decided that three vessels should sail to meet the expedition by land at San Diego. They agreed that three missions should be established–one at San Diego, another at Monterey, and a third at San Buenaventura, now known as Ventura, in Ventura county. On January 9, 1769, the vessel San Carolow left La Paz, and the San Antonio sailed from San Lucas on the 11th. A smaller ship, the Senor San Jose, left Loreto on June 16th. On these vessels were loaded the ornaments, sacred vases, and other utensils of the church and vestry, together with all kinds of household and field implements and seeds, as well those of old as of new Spain, and two hundred head of cattle. Galvez divided the expedition by land into two parts so as to save one if the other was destroyed by the natives. Portala was appointed commander-in-chief of the land expedition, and Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada, his second in command, was to take charge of the first division. Moncada’s division arrived at San Diego May 14, 1769, after fifty-two days’ travel from Loreto. The second division, under the charge of Portala, with whom was Father Junipero, arrived on the first of July, after forty-six days’ travel. They found in port the San Antonio, which had arrived on the 11th of April, and the San Carlos, which reached San Diego twenty days later. The Senor San Jose not having been heard from it was presumed that it was wrecked. On the arrival of the second section with Father Junipero a salute was fired to commemorate the union of all the parties, and the beginning of work of settlement, conversion, and civilization on the soil of Upper California. July 1, 1769, marks the era of this state. On the 16th, Father Junipero founded the Mission of San Diego at the port of that name.”

It will be convenient to show the dates of the founding of the missions of California in the following order:

  • San Diego, in San Diego county, founded under Carlos III., July 16, 1769
  • San Luis Rey, San Diego county, Carlos IV., June 13, 1798
  • San Juan Capistrano, Orange county, Carlos III., November 1, 1776
  • San Gabriel Arcangel, Los Angeles county, Carlos III., September 8, 1771
  • San Buenaventura, Ventura county, Carlos III., March 31, 1782
  • San Fernando, Los Angeles county, Carlos IV., September 8, 1797
  • Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara county, Carlos III., December 4, 1786
  • Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara county, Carlos IV., September 17, 1804
  • La Purisima Concepcion, Santa Barbara county, Carlos III., December 8, 1787
  • San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo county, Carlos III., September 1, 1772
  • Miguel Arcangel, San Luis Obispo county, Carlos IV., July 25, 1797
  • Antonio de Padua, Monterey county, Carlos III., July 14, 1771
  • La Soledad, Monterey county, Carlos IV., October 9, 1791
  • El Carmel, or San Carlos de Monterey, Monterey county, Carlos III., June 3, 1770
  • San Juan Bautista, Monterey county, Carlos IV., June 24, 1797
  • Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz county, Carlos IV., August 28, 1791
  • Santa Clara, Santa Clara county, Carlos III., January 18, 1777
  • San Jose, Alameda county, Carlos IV., June 11, 1797
  • Dolores, or San Francisco de Asis, San Francisco county, Carlos III., October 9, 1776
  • San Rafael Arcangel, Marin county, Fernando VII., December 18, 1817
  • San Francisco Solano, Sonoma county, Fernando VII., August 25, 1823

The growth of the missions was very fast. By the year 1759 there were nine in active operation within the limits of the southern district, and it is estimated that there were at least 3,000 native converts by the beginning of 1780. In the year 1800 the missionary property was wroth about one million pesos. There are no trustworthy statistics as to the number of Indians that existed in the country at any one period of the early days, for the hunting and migratory habits of the native red man precluded the possibility of a count or a reliable estimate. Alexander Von Humboldt estimated that in 1802 the number of white men, mestizoes (one of mixed Spanish and Indian blood), and mulattoes living in the presidios or in the service of the monks was but thirteen hundred. These were classified as the civilized or pacified people of the country, in contradistinction to the wild natives, who were regarded as beasts. By Humboldt’s estimate there were 13,668 Indians connected with the missions in 1801.

It seems odd to read that the early fathers did all in their power to restrict the white population. By their advice soldiers were not allowed to marry without the consent of the Spanish sovereign, and the priests advised against the giving of such consent. It is said that they preferred the docile Indians to the uncertain tempered whites. A number of colonists came from various parts of Spain, however, but they were obliged to get their land from the fathers. Tracts some distance from the missions were about all that could be obtained.

In all the struggles and growth of the missions there was really but one disaster of any consequence–the destruction of the San Diego mission by fire by warring Indians, in 1775. This loss was repaired without serious delay and the growth of the missions continued without much interruption.

Discovery of San Francisco Bay

Golden Gate from San Francisco Bay
Golden Gate from San Francisco Bay

Hittell, Soule, and others have investigated the old evidences, and have shown that the beautiful Bay of San Francisco was discovered by a squad of Spanish soldiers, on November 2, 1769. Cabrillo, Drake, and all other navigators had missed it, but a land party in search of Monterey proceeded northward some distance east of the coast until the beautiful spectacle of an arm of the sea greeted their vision as they stood at an elevation in the foothills. The discovering party consisted of Governor Portala, Captain Rivera y Moncado, Lieutenant Fages, Engineer Costanso, Fathers Crespi and Gomez, Sergeant Ortega, and thirty-four soldiers, accompanied by muleteers and tame Indians from Lower California–sixty-four persons in the entire company.

On October 17 they discovered and named the San Lorenzo river and the city of Santa Cruz. On November 2, 1769, some soldiers of the party were granted permission to wander from camp and hunt deer. Ascending a number of eastern hills–doubtless in what is now Alameda county–they beheld the thrilling spectacle of an arm of the sea running inland as far as they could see. It was as beautiful as the Bay of Naples, and its tides pulsed through the Golden Gate before their entranced vision. Father Crespi’s journal contains an account of the soldiers’ adventures, and this is no doubt the first mention of the Bay of San Francisco to be found in the annals of Spanish adventure. Hittell says it is remarkable, considering the many voyages that had been made in its vicinity, and these by bold explorers, that the Golden Gate and the Bay of San Francisco remained so long undiscovered; and it is a still more remarkable fact that the importance of the discovery was so long unappreciated. Not until the coming of Americans was the value of the discovery made known to the world. It was not until the advent of Yankees that the advantages of the spot as the site of a great city were adequately recognized.

Mission Delores

The mission at Dolores, on the bank of a lagoon, was consecrated by the building of an altar and the celebration of the first mass, June 29, 1776. The formal founding of the mission, however, was not until October 9.

The mission of Santa Clara was founded on January 12, 1777, three months after that of San Francisco. On November 29, 1777, the town of San Jose, or El Pueblo de San Jose, was founded. In the spring of that year Governor Felipe de Neve had noticed the beauty of the country surrounding the Santa Clara mission, and it was he that selected the site of San Jose as an eligible one for the pueblo, or village. Inducements were offered to people to go from the presidio of San Francisco, and each persons was supplied with oxen, cows, horses, sheep, and goats. Sixty-eight pioneers thus founded the pueblo or town of San Jose. It was the first authorized settlement in the state and the very first town to be created and ruled under the civil government alone. From the beginning settlers had all the rights and immunity belonging to the inhabitants of provincial pueblos, under the Spanish laws.

Unde the same regime Los Angeles was founded, and it was the second city to be established under civil law. The date of its creation was in September, 1781. To the old mission fathers, however, belongs the credit of beginning the colonization of California. There is some criticism to be passed on the form of training they gave the Indians, and on their interference with marriages, as already indicated, but their work was for the most part beneficial to civilization. It should be remembered that they were not dealing with an intelligent native people. Humboldt, Drake, and Father Michael alike testify that the native Indians of this country were of a low order of intelligence–about like the Hottentots, or the natives of Van Diemen’s Land. Venegas says their chief characteristics were stupidity, filthiness, impetuosity, lack of reflection, sloth, and blind greediness for food. He found them weak in both body and mind. Frank Soule, John H. Gihon, and Jemes Nisbet, in their excellent “Annals of San Francisco,” say:

“The fathers found abundant profit in the labor and personal services of the Indians, whom they left, as they perhaps found them, if they did not transform them into moral beasts–tame, dull, silly, and dirty. Meanwhile, the little independence, natural intelligence, and superiority of mind and character which even the rudest savages possess over the lower creatures were gradually sapped and brushed away, and the Christian converts were left ignorant, superstitious, and besotted, having neither thoughts nor passions, strength nor will.”

Spanish Rule in California

The story of California’s growth illustrates the wonderful power of the Anglo-Saxon and outlines some of the reasons for his supremacy, for the Spanish really retarded progress, as we now understand that word, and it was not until the advent of sturdy Americans that the state took on the growth that has made it what it is today. A glance at the olden days will give some of the main outlines of the story, that the reader may see the advance that has been made in modern times.

In an address delivered before the Society of California Pioneers of San Francisco by Edmund Randolph, September 10, 1860, was presented a lucid review of the government of the state under Spain. The speaker got his information from the old Spanish archives, in the office of the surveyor-general, at San Francisco. From this address it appears that all functions, civil and military, judicial and economic, were united in the person of the commandante of a presidio, in due subjection to his superior, and so on up to the king, an autocrat, whose person was represented and whose will was executed in every part of his dominions. In the archives is a reglamento, which is a set of regulations for the Californias. Its caption expresses that it is for the government of the presidios, the promotion of the erection of new missions, and of the population and extension of the establishments of Monterey. It was drafted at Monterey by the governor in 1779, sent to Madred and approved by the king in 1781. It adopts the royal reglamento for the government of all the presidios, with such small variations as the circumstances of California required. The manner in which pueblos are to be founded is given; each settler to have his building lot and sowing field of two hundred varas square; the whole together to have commons for wood, water, and pasturage; also a certain number of horses, mules, oxen, cows, sheep, chickens, and farming utensils to be furnished to each; and the amount of pay–for a settler had his salary for awhile as well as his outfit. For the first five years he was to be free from the payment of tithes, but was required to sell the excess of his productions at a fixed price to the presidios, and must keep a saddle horse, carbine, and lance, and hold himself in readiness for service to the king. The only trace of a political right found in the reglamento is the allowance to the pueblos of alcaldes and other municipal officers, to be appointed by the governor for the first two years, and afterward to be elected by the inhabitants. These officers were to see to the good government and police of the pueblos and the administration of justice, to direct the public works, apportion to each man his share of water for irrigation, and generally to enforce the provisions of the reglamento. As a check upon the abuse of their privileges the elections were subject to the approval of the governor, who had also the power to continue to appoint the officers for three years longer if he found it necessary.

At first California formed a part of New Spain, and was governed directly by the Viceroy of Mexico. In 1776 it was attached to the commandancia general of the internal provinces, which included also Sonora, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Texas. Afterward it was a part of the commandancia general of the internal provinces of the west, when Coahuila and Texas, New Leon and the colony of New Santander had been erected into another jurisdiction, under the title of the internal province of the east. This arrangement did not last many years, and California reverted to the Viceroy. Laws came from the king, in his council of the Indies, at Madrid, as orders are issued by the commander-in-chief of an army, to the second in command, to wit; the Viceroy of Mexico, from him to the next in rank, from him to the governor of California at Monterey, and from him tothe captain or lieutenant in command of a presidio. They took effect only as they were published, spreading as the courier advanced. They came slowly, but in time every order of a general nature would find its way into the archives of every province, presidio, or pueblo in North and South America under the dominion of the king of Spain. When wars, or the accidents of navigation, or the urgency of the case interrupted or rendered impossible communication with Madred, each viceregent of the king in his department exercised the royal authority. Therefore, in the nature of things, the powers of every governor in his province were practically despotic.

Spanish Governors of California

For purposes of reference it is well to submit a list of the Spanish governors of California, as it appears from the records at the office of the secretary of state. The very first was Gaspar de Portala, from 1767 to 1771. He was the governor of Lower California de facto but de jure his jurisdiction extended over the territory to the north. It was not, however, until 1769 that he actually visited Upper California and made his residence there.

Felipe de Barri, from 1771 to 1774. The first mention found of Barri as governor is in a letter which he addressed in that capacity from Loreto to Pedro Fajes, commander of the Presidio of Monterey, dated June 2, 1771.

Felipe de Neve, from 1774 to 1782. On December 28, 1774, Governor Barri was succeeded by Felipe de Neve, and on July 20, 1776, Governor Neve was ordered by the Viceroy to remove from Loreto to the Presidio of Monterey, and he arrived there February 3, 1777. Neve died at Chihuahua in November, 1784.

Pedro Fajes, from 1782 to 1790. Fajes became governor September 7, 1782. He died in Mexico about 1796.

Jose Antonio Romeu, from 1790 to 1792. He was appointed governor by the viceroy. conde de riverra Gigado, on September 1, 1790, was put in possession on April 17, 1791, and died April 9, 1792.

Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, from 1792 to 1794. he became governor ad interim on the 9th of April, 1792, on the death of Romeu.

Diego de Borica, from 1794 to 1800. He was appointed by the viceroy May 14, 1794, and sailed for Mexico in January, 1800, leaving Arrillaga as his successor and interim. Borica died in Durango, July 19, 1800.

Jose Joaquin de Arrilaga, from 1800 to 1814. He remained governor during tht period, and died at the Mission de Soledad in Monterey County, July 25, 1814.

Jose Dario Arguello, from 1814 to 1815, ad interim. Died in Mexico, 1828.

Pablo Vicente de Sola, from August, 1815, to 1822.

In 1822 news of the successful revolution in Mexico, under Iturbide, reached Governor Sola, and he sent it to an assembly of ten delegates of California in session on April 9 of that year. It was then declared that from that date the province of California was dependent on the government of Mexico only, independent of Spain and all other foreign powers.

Under Mexican control–from 1822 until 1846–the province of California was entitled to one delegate or representative in the Mexican Congress. The governor of California was always appointed by the Mexican government. There was a departmental legislature, and this was possessed of limited powers to pass local laws. The judges of the various courts were appointed by the central Mexican government.

Sola continued to act as governor until November 9, 1822. He was also a representative in the Mexican Congress. He died in Mexico in 1827. The archives show the following governors during Mexican control:

Louis Antonio Arguello, from 1822 to 1825. Died at San Francisco, March 27, 1830.

José Maria de Echeandia, from 1825 to 1831. He arrived at Loreto June 25, 1825, and gave notice to Arguello that he had been appointed governor.

Manuel Victoria, from 1831 to 1832. On January 31, 1831, he took charge of the government. On December 9, 1831, Echeandia wrote to General Vallejo that Governor Victoria was disarmed, his forces scattered, and that he was in a dying condition. On January 15, 1832, Echendia wrote to the President of the Departmental Assembly that Victoria had left California for Mexico on the American ship Pocahontas.

Pio Pico, from 1832 to 1833. On January 11, 1832, Pico, being first Vocal of the Departmental Assembly, became governor ad interim. The ayuntamiento of Monterey in the meantime refused to recognize him as governor, preferring that Echeandia should act until news should be received from the supreme government. It would seem that there were two Governors, Pico acting as first Vocal of the Assembly, and Echendia appointed by the ayuntamiento of Monterey.

José Figueroa, from 1833 to 1835. He was appointed by the President of Mexico in April, 1832; landed at Monterey January 15, 1833, and on the 25th Echeandia submitted to him. Figueroa asked to be relieved on March 25, 1833, and died at San Juan Bautista, September 29, 1835.

José Castro, from 1835 to 1836. Being first Vocal of the Departmental Assembly, he was appointed Governor by Figueroa on the 29th of August, 1835, and afterward became governor ad interim on the death of Figueroa.

Nicholas Gutierrez, 1836. He acted as governor ad interim from January 2, 1836, until May.

Mariano Chico, 1836. Took charge of the government May 3, 1836, appointed by the President July 30th. He left the government in charge of Gutierrez while on a trip to Mexico to represent the popular disturbances caused by the ayuntamiento of Monterey.

Nicolas Gutierrez, 1836. Acted again as governor ad interim from July for a few months.

Juan Bautista Alvarado, from 1836 to 1842. On November 6, 1836, the Departmental Assembly declared California a free and independent state, overthrew Gutierrez, who left the country, and Alvarado became governor. On August 20, 1837, Antonio Carrillo wrote to Governor Alvarado that his brother Carlos Antonio Carrillo had been appointed governor by the President. In 1838 Alvarado was appointed governor ad interim by the supreme government, and August 7, 1839, he was appointed permanent governor by the President. He died at San Pablo, July 13, 1882.

Manuel Micheltorena, from 1842 to 185. He was appointed by the President and entered on the duties of the office December 30, 1842. Died in Mexico, September 7, 1853.

Pio Pico, from 1845 to 1846. He became governor as first Vocal of the Departmental Assembly February 15, 1845. Having been recommended by the Assembly for the office in its session of the 27th of June, 1845, on September 3d of that year he was appointed constitutional governor by the President ad interim of Mexico, and due notice of his appointment was published April 15, 1846. Died at Los Angeles, September 11, 1894.

Early Foreign Visitors

Before leaving the subject of early times in California it will be well to recur to the conditions that confronted the people of the state with reference to their relations to the world at large. Under the Spanish regime commerce with the great world outside was forbidden, but ambitious navigators began, early in the nineteenth century, to be attracted to the new world, of which they heard glowing stories. La Perouse was the first foreign visitor. He arrived in 1786, and in 1792 Vancouver saw the coast. In 1796 the Otter, a Boston ship, appeared at Monterey. In 1806 a Russian ship came from Sitka, Alaska, and anchored in the Bay of San Francisco. The vessel was under command of Rezanof, an officer of high degree. He remained for some time and made himself popular by his courteous manners. He became betrothed to the daughter of Arguello, commandant of the presidio, and this close relation enabled him to do some trading with the people, under a suspension of the prevailing rule against such traffic, which was not permitted. Rezanof promised to return and marry his fiancee, but he died on his way across Siberia. Mis Arguello became the Dona Concepcion of a romantic tale, and Bret Harte’s poem has moved many readers. The young lady’s name was Dona Concepcion Arguella, and she waited patiently for the return of her lover through many years of anxiety. At last word came that he had died in a hut in Siberia, and Dona Concepcion, heart-broken as she had been for years, did not enter into the affairs of life with any degree of spirit, but became a nun and died at Benicia in 1857.

Fort Ross
Fort Ross, The North Bastian – Built by the Russians in 1811, Sonoma County, California

Rezanof’s visit was followed, in 1812, by the coming of a number of Russian pioneers whose purpose was trading rather than settling the country permanently. Under the initiative of a large fur company they founded a trading station about nineteen miles north of Bodega Bay, built a fort that has always been known as Fort Ross, though its Russian name is said to have been another word that sounds like the word Ross, and carried on a pretty thriving trade with the simple aborigines as well as with the Spaniards. The station did fairly well until 1841, when it was abandoned. The Spaniards and Mexicans had always looked upon it with disfavor. All produce that the Russians either raised or traded for was sent to northern Russian stations. The population, always under strict military government, amounted to about 300 in 1840. It consisted of Aleutians, Indians, and Russians.

When the Russians abandoned their fort they sold their holdings to Captain John A. Sutter, an enterprising and successful Swiss pioneer, who played an important part in the later history of the state, and on whose property the famous Marshall discovered gold in 1848, as we shall see later in this work.

But the going away of the Russians from Fort Ross did not mean that Russians and other foreigners were to be seen no more in those times. The Columbia and North American Fur companies pooled their interests, and after that it was common to see trappers and fur traders throughout the northern part of the state. The native population regarded all these foreigners as intruders and looked upon their movements with grave suspicion. From time to time the Mexican congress passed stringent laws against all foreigners. Despite these measures, however, population from the outside gradually increased. Not many years passed before Americans, English, and French had control of the bulk of mercantile pursuits. Soule says: “Runaway seamen and stragglers from Columbia and Missouri swelled the number of white settlers. The indolent Spaniards stupidly looked on, while the prestige of their name, their wealth, and influence were quickly passing into other and stronger hands.”

In this connection it may be well to say that the only standard of judgment applied by many historical writers is that of “fruit,” or material progress, as measured by modern ideas of civilization. There are those, however, who dispute the statement that the old Spaniards lived a purposeless existence, some holding that they were greater philosophers than their critics, and that the so-called indolent and stupid masses compared favorably with the stupid and unscrupulous masses of their successors. In this connection it is not amiss to remind the student of these times of the fact that the better class of the Spaniards were cultured people, fond of literature, music, the arts, and the many pleasures of life. In an essay entitled “Some Regrets,” the immortal synthetic philosopher, Herbert Spencer, says: “I detest that conception of social progress which presents as its aim, increase of population, growth of wealth, spread of commerce. * * * A prosperity that is exhibited in board of trade tables year by year increasing their totals, is to a large extent not a prosperity but an adversity. * * * But the ideal (material wealth) we cherish is a transitory one–appropriate, perhaps, to a phase of human development during which the passing generations are sacrificed in the process of making easier the lives of future generations.”

It is exceedingly doubtful whether the average of the new settlers exceded the average of the old residents in the higher qualities of honesty, respect for neighbors, and general intelligence, though the new population was moved far more strongly than the old one with the greed for material possessions.

To resume the story of the territory’s development, it may be said that the idea of Americanization was in the air at an earlier date than is generally recorded in histories. In 1829 some unpaid soldiers at Monterey undertook, with the aid of a handful of native Californians, to put the country in Californian hands, though still professing allegiance to the central Mexican government. One Solis by name, a convict ranchero, led the revolt. It had no general support, and soon collapsed.

Manuel Victoria became governor in 1830, succeeding Echeandian, but he did not take charge until January, 1831. Victoria proved arbitrary and unpopular, and a successful revolt soon ended his career. Two men were killed in a conflict near Los Angeles, and the fallen governor consented to return to Mexico.

Governor José Figueroa succeeded Victoria, and he was an able and popular executive, though the Hijar and Padres party put forth a colonization scheme that resulted in a quarrel between the governor and Hijar regarding policies and authority. In 1835 the colonization plan collapsed; it had, however, added about two hundred to the population of the country. Governor Figueroa died in September, 1835.

Jose Castro’s reign followed immediately after Figueroa’s death, but the term was brief because the central government in Mexico soon appointed Mariano Chico as Figueroa’s successor, ignoring Castro’s claims. Chico soon showed that he was unfit and unpopular, so the public denounced him as a tyrant. He was forced to retire in July.

By this time the foreigners and Americans were becoming bitterly opposed to Mexican rule and were beginning to feel that the country was theirs. Like all other Anglo Saxons they became aggressive, and in many cases highly ungrateful for the treatment they had received at the hands of the better original Californians. In their opposition to Mexico they were quietly aided by the holy fathers, for these religious devotees had suffered wrongs at the hands of the Mexicans, who had stripped them of many of their possessions. The fathers longed for the old Spanish days and really welcomed a change from their oppressors’ hands to the supervision of the pale strangers. The people at large were ripe for revolt, and the Alvarado revolution of November, 1836, was the result. By a display of force–though without one drop of bloodshed–the insurgents got possession of Monterey and at once banished Gutierrez, the ranking military officer of the country, to Mexico. The territory was then declared a sovereign state. A union with Mexico was really Alvarado’s ambition as well as the popular idea, but the task of conciliating the people of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles required considerable diplomacy, likewise a show of real force. The conciliation was effected, however, at Los Angeles, in January, 1837.

After some delays and parleying the Castillero, a Mexican commissioner sent to pacify the country, and after successfully resisting Carlos Carrillo, who had been appointed chief executive by Mexico, Alvarado found himself in almost undisputed command of the country. He worked his plans so successfully that he was soon confirmed by Mexico as the constitutional governor of the country.

Alvarado ruled quite successfully and peacefully. In 1840 he quarreled with the eminent General Vallejo, his former partisan supporter.

During this same year nearly one hundred American citizens, British subjects and others, were carried to Monterey after a forcible seizure. At Monterey they were confined in prison for a brief period, though some were mysteriously released without a word of explanation. Some were sent to Santa Barbara under a close guard. Finally a few more were released without explanation. Others were sent to San Blas or other Mexican villages, but many died under the severe treatment. The last were released more than fifteen months after their original capture. Some historians have cited this as an extreme instance of Spanish cruelty. It is believed, however, that the Mexican course had a reasonable justification, for the character of some of the men was undoubtedly bad, and their actions were suspicious with reference to their attitude toward the government. Probably one of the purposes of Mexican harshness was to frighten foreigners away and fill the minds of those about to come from the east with disgust and fear. There is some evidence to sustain the charge that a few of the banished men had been plotting against the government. One of the expelled men was Isaac Graham, doubtless a great villain, as were a number of his companions.

Mexico’s last serious attempt to govern the new country without much reference to the people’s wishes was by the appointment of Governor Micheltorena, a general in 1842. He was a well-meaning executive, but his Mexican recruits were highly unpopular. The people rebelled against his authority in 1844. By 1845 Micheltorena abandoned the fight and Mexico recognized Pio Pico as the lawful ruler of the country. There was some petty quarreling, with many intrigues, after this, but the Mexican war soon introduced a new factor in the controversy–and with the results of that factor we shall deal hereafter.

Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.


1Ximines was a pilot under Becerra, and Becerra, one of the favorites of Cortes, was sent out in charge of an expedition that tried to learn the fate of a missing vessel of a previous expedition. Ximines and the crew mutinied. They really discovered Lower California, but Ximines and twenty of his men were murdered by the Indians. Ximines, or Ximinez, as he was often called, was under Becerra, whom he killed. After compelling the dead leader’s friend to go ashore at a barren spot Ximinez sailed away from the scene of his crime. They at last discovered what was supposed to be an island, though it was in fact Lower California. Ximenez and his companions disembarked on the supposed island, and he and twenty companions were killed by Indians.

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