La Baja California Annals from 1854 – 1889

Many of the soldiers who shared in the invasion of 1847-’48, retained such agreeable impressions of the peninsula that they afterward returned thither to settle as farmers, miners, or traders. There was, moreover, a profound conviction that La Baja must speedily belong to the United States, and here, as ever, speculation was eager to share in the prize. Upon those parties seeking to obtain land grants, the government imposed the condition of founding colonies, realizing that upon foreign immigration mainly must depend the development of the country’s natural resources. On the other hand, the inhabitants looked not kindly upon foreigners, nor did the authorities, having jealous suspicions that the United States had de-signs as to the acquisition of the territory.

In 1855 the Dominicans abandoned the secularized missions. In 1862 began the war of French intervention, and, while there was some slight local agitation, the remoteness of La Baja once more shielded the country from the customary devastations of wartime.

With the entry of troops from the mainland peace was secured, industries revived, agriculture flourished, mines were opened, steamers were induced to touch monthly at La Paz and San Jose del Cabo, and there were two very prosperous years. The winter of 1863-’64 brought a drought so severe as to cause great destruction of crops and livestock. At the same time, the mining industry also declined, owing to the usual feature, lack of capital for sustained effort, most of the miners who had rushed to the fields having been actuated by the intent to speculate, rather than to develop their claims.

Since 1863 a regular monthly line of steamers has plied between San Francisco and the Mexican Pacific ports as far as San Blabs, touching at La Paz and San Jose del Cabo, and thus bringing Lower California into communication with the outside world.

In 1864 an important grant was made to the Lower California Colonization and Mining Company, the concession embracing the immense tract lying between 24° 20′ and 31°, nearly 47,000 square miles. The conditions were that one-fourth of the land should be reserved for Mexicans; that at least 200 families should be introduced within five years, and that $100,000 should be paid to the Juarist government for the laud to be occupied. It appeared difficult to fulfill the contract from California, and it was transferred, in 1866, to Eastern capitalists. Their experts reported unfavorably as to soil and water, but the shareholders, securing an extension of time, set about recouping their investment. An advance party was sent to clear land, build roads and sink wells, and 300 people were sent out from New York under contract to colonize, and to gather the parasite orchilla. The artesian wells proved a failure; there was insufficient food, poor water, and little or no shelter; the heat was torrid, and the surroundings desert-like and forbidding. All these elements of misery struck terror to the hearts of the Magdalena Bay colonists, and most of them abandoned the field, and made their way as best they could to California, while others struggled across the country to La Paz. The government annulled the grant, and the over-zealous officials of La Paz made a too hasty descent upon the company’s agent, dispossessing him and the remaining handful of the colonists. The disappointed company was only too ready to enter upon this pretext a $10,000,000 claim against Mexico, whose government compromised by conceding the privilege of gathering orchilla free for six years.

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