Discovery and Early Exploration of La Baja California

Very soon after the conquest of Mexico the attention of Cortez was attracted by certain stories told by some of the conquered tribes regarding a mysterious but wonderful country, lying far to the northwestward. This land they called Ciguatan, or The Realm of Women; and they declared that it abounded in gold, in pearls, rubies, garnets, turquoises, and many other products, rich and precious. Marvelous things were told also concerning the people, customs, and appearance of that far country. About the same time (1530) Nuño de Guzman, President in New Spain, was told by an Indian slave of The Seven Cities of Cibola,” with their reputed great population, their streets paved with gold and silver, and their exceeding splendor in general. The marvels and mysteries that they had already witnessed in Mexico made credence of these tales easy for the Spaniards, who readily conjectured that Ciguatan and Cibola might be one and the same. As actuating motives for investigation, there was the potent hope of the acquisition of treasure; the idea, cherished by all the invading Spaniards, of discovering a northern water-way from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and the hope of exploring the South Sea coasts and islands.

So Cortez the Conqueror fitted out vessels that made three northward expeditions. The first ship, in 1533, discovered a bay; probably that of La Paz, on the eastern or gulf coast of what is now Lower California. A second expedition sailed in 15534 and in 1535, which Cortez accompanied, to make personal inspection. It is needless to say that the anticipations were not fulfilled and that colonization languished.

In July 1539, moved by the renewal of the old marvelous stories, Cortez sent out Francisco de Ulloa, with three small vessels. Ulloa reached the head of the gulf now called California, and probably saw, from the mouth of the Colorado, the shores of the territory which is now ” The Golden State.” He also circumnavigated the peninsula, and sailed up its west coast as far as Cedros Island. It seems that in the account of this voyage was first applied the name ” California,” whose origin has caused much discussion, which seems to have been pretty conclusively settled by Mr. Edward Everett Hale, who in 1862 discovered that the name was of romantic origin, being that of the Amazonish heroine of Ordonez de Montaloo’s old romance, Sergos de Esplandian, which was very popular at the period of the Conquest. This term was first applied between 1535 and 1539, to a particular spot or a locality, bat it was soon generalized, to designate the entire adjacent region; and, as this territory was supposed to consist of a group of islands, the plural form was used-Las Californias, or Las Islas Californias-the California Isles.

During July, August and September, 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator in the Spanish service, followed the Pacific coast northward to a spot which he called Puerto de San Miguel, latitude 34° 20′ N.; this Evans, in 1879, identified with San Pedro, but most historians maintain that it was San Diego. Cabrillo died on the voyage from the result of an accident, but the expedition was pushed as far north as Cape Mendocino.

In 1597 Sebastian Vizcayno sailed from Acapulco to re-explore and occupy or Spain the Islas Californias. His expedition found good ports, fruitful islands and rich pearl-beds, and he achieved the notable exploit of founding a settlement of Europeans at a point then named and ever since called La Paz (Peace), from the pacific character of the aborigines. This place was presumably identical with Santa Cruz, the pseudo-island where, in May 1535, Cortez had founded a colony. Like that earlier one, this colony of Vizcayno was almost at once abandoned. A second expedition under Vizcayno, in 1602, advanced beyond Cape Mendocino. In, the years that followed, Tomas Cardova, in 1610; Francisco de Ortega, in 1632, and again in 1636; Luis Cestin de Canas in 1642; Porter y Casanate in 1644; Bernal de Pinadero in 1667: Ysidro Otondo (who founded at La Paz a colony that endured about two years, and was then abandoned) in 1683; -these were the chief personages who sailed to the peninsula in the seventeenth century. A number of lesser lights appeared also, but they were very transient visitors, being mainly adventurers attracted by the fame of the pearl-beds.

In 1710 a vessel of Woodes Rogers’ fleet lay at La Paz to refit, having as sailing-master the renowned Alexander Selkirk, original of Robinson Crusoe, who had been rescued the preceding year from Juan Fernandez Island.

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