California History

California History

Pre-Columbian Time

Petroglyph by Chumash Indians

North America was colonized by humans during the last Ice Age, when the Bering Strait was dry and there was a land bridge between Alaska and Siberia. The area where the state of California was later established was populated from about 15,000 years ago. The oldest human remains have been found on Santa Rosa Island, near Arlington Springs. The earliest inhabitants of northern California are believed to have belonged to the Hokan. The Uto-Aztecs were probablythe oldest human inhabitants in the desert in the southeast. Just before Europeans discovered America, the area was populated by an ethno-linguistic patchwork of peoples. Estimates of the number of inhabitants come to a minimum of just over 300,000. This number is believed to have declined sharply in the decades prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in the area, due to epidemics that Europeans brought to the American East Coast and traveled ahead of the explorers and missionaries.

According to, the continent’s relatively high cultural diversity was probably the result of a centuries-long succession of migrations and invasions. California was inhabited by more than seventy different groups. The Native American peoples of California were politically organized differently. Some formed clans or tribes, others (especially in the coastal areas) lived in villages or larger settlements. The military leaders were almost always men, but shamans were often women. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered social and economic contact between the various groups.

The coastal areas were the most densely populated. The groups living here (Ohlone, Chumash, Pomo, and Salinan, among others) made boats to hunt marine mammals and fish for salmon. They also collected crustaceans. The coastal peoples lived in villages or settlements. Some groups built round, subterranean houses and saunas. Inland groups (including Hupa, Karok, Wiyot, Miwok, Modoc, Maidu, and Shasta) subsisted on huntingon game and collecting nuts, acorns and berries. In the arid southeast lived the Mojave and Yuma, who used irrigation for agriculture and are known for their ceramics.

The first baptism by Franciscan friars in Alta California

The Spanish Mission San Antonio de Padua, nearly 50 km from King City, founded in 1771

Spanish colonization

The name California was first used by the Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (±1450–1504). It is the name for a fictional island west of North America in De Montalvo’s book Las sergas de Esplandián, the first edition of which appeared around 1496. De Montalvo’s island paradise was to be populated by Amazons who possessed immeasurable wealth and were ruled by a queen Calafia, after whom the island was named. One of the Spanish conquistadors influenced by De Montalvo’s novel was Hernán Cortés, who put an end to the Aztec Empire and the colony New Spain founded in present-day Mexico. Cortés explored the west coast of Mexico in search of De Montalvo’s legendary gold empire. He discovered the southern tip of Lower California and, assuming he had found the legendary island, he named the area California. In 1539, Cortés sent the explorer Francisco de Ulloa to further explore the coast of Mexico. Although De Ulloa established that Lower California is a peninsula, the misunderstanding persisted for a long time.

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (1499–1543) was the first Spanish explorer to reach present-day California. In 1542, his expedition explored the coast as far as the mouth of the Russian River, north of the Golden Gate. Cabrillo claimed the new territory, which was called Alta California (Spanish for “Upper California”, to distinguish it from the peninsula of Lower California), for Spain. In 1579, the English corsair Francis Drake (1540–1596), who preyed on Spanish silver ships, explored the California coast. He claimed all the land north of the Spanish settlements for England and named it Nova Albion. However, both claims were not followed by further colonization or military presence for two centuries, as it was now clear that there was no legendary gold empire to be found in California.

Beginning in the mid-18th century, the English and Russians began to take an interest in Alta California, due to the lucrative trade in otter skins. This alarmed the Spaniards, and in 1769 the Spanish Inspector General of New Spain, José de Gálvez (1720–1787), ordered the colonization and conversion of Alta California by Spanish troops and Franciscan monks. De Gálvez sent an expedition led by Captain Gaspar de Portolá (1716–1784) and the missionary Junípero Serra (1713–1784), who built a presidio (fortress) and a mission post.settled in San Diego. De Portolà’s expedition explored San Francisco Bay and built another presidio in Monterey, while Serra led an overland expedition north. Over the next twenty years, more than twenty missions were established throughout California through the efforts of the Franciscans . Examples are Monterey (1775), San Francisco (1776) and Santa Barbara (1782). A road was built connecting the mission posts. This El Camino Real (“the royal road”) can still be followed today.

The conversion of the indigenous population was sometimes accompanied by violence, but the arable land surrounding a mission was divided among the converted workers of the mission ten years after its foundation. The Spanish soldiers set up more presidios, but because the salaries were often not paid on time, there were regular mutinies, of which the converted Indian population fell victim. Mutinous soldiers in New Spain were punished with exile to Alta California, compounding the problem. There were regular revolts among the Indians. Ultimately, no mission station would become financially independent, and the colonization and conversion of California proved unprofitable for Spain.

Mexican time and recording in the United States [ edit | edit source text ]

Re-enactment of a covered wagon caravan of (Mormon) American settlers on Pioneer Day near Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1847

After the Spanish lost the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821), California also came under Mexican rule. Meanwhile, an immigration flow of so-called “rancheros” and other migrants from Mexico had started. Rancheros were ranchers who had their eye on the fertile plains of California. Due to the virtual absence of legal authority, the law of the fittest prevailed. The natives were often victimized and driven back to the mountainous regions, killed, or converted and enlisted. The rancheros considered the missionsas unfair competition, because they had the free labor of converted Indians. In 1834 they persuaded the Mexican government to dissolve the missions. Although half of the land was destined for the Indian workers of the missions, most of the land ended up with a small group of large landowners. Armed settlements and intermarriage accelerated this process, and by 1846 most of the land was owned by a small number of wealthy families.

American trappers explored the wilderness northeast of California in the early 1800s and discovered the routes west. In their wake, a stream of American settlers moved in covered wagons and cattle across the mountain passes into California, heading for what they saw as the promised land in the West. Many immigrants used the southern route over the Santa Fe Trail and around the Sierra Nevada through the desert. Others used the northern California Trail along the Humboldt River through the Great Basin and across the Cascades, or the Oregon Trail to Oregon, then the Siskiyou head south to California. The journey was long and one was subjected to various hardships. A well – known example was the experience of the Donner Party, which became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and some of which are said to have survived through cannibalism.

The growing presence of American settlers turned the United States’ political interest in the area, partly because the Americans feared that the British would sooner or later take over from Mexico. US President Andrew Jackson offered Mexico half a million dollars for the area, but the offer was turned down. After US President James K. Polk annexed Texas in 1846, which had previously declared its independence from Mexico, the US-Mexican War broke out. Because Mexico threatened to expel all settlers who were not Mexican citizens from California, a group of American settlers arrived in Sonoma on June 14, 1846.rebelled against Mexican rule by proclaiming the Republic of California. They used a grizzly bear flag, which is still the official flag of the state today. Three weeks later, American troops arrived and annexed California to the United States. The annexation was recognized by Mexico two years later, with the Peace of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February-March 1848. It is estimated that in 1848 the area had fewer than 15,000 non-Indian inhabitants.

The gold rush and its aftermath

Advertising poster for the voyage by ship to California during the gold rush in 1849

Professional California gold mine in a riverbed, 1950s

Festive Laying of the Last Rails Connecting the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States in Utah, 1869. Painter: Thomas Hill

The number of immigrants increased rapidly just before 1850 as a result of the discovery of gold. The first find, in January 1848, was in the American River where the prospectors later founded the town of Coloma. Gold was soon discovered in various places in northern California. The news quickly spread and infected so many people with gold rush that the California gold rush started. Large numbers of fortune seekers traveled by boat or land to California, not only from the United States, but also from South America, Mexico, the Chinese Empire,Australia and Europe. In total, more than 300,000 new migrants came to California. Because the infrastructure in California was not designed for these enormous numbers, the newcomers often slept in tents. In a few years the village of San Francisco grew into an important port of supply for supplies and goods.

The first prospectors still used simple methods, such as panning gold in rivers, and if they were lucky they could earn thousands of dollars in a short time. Because California was not a state with laws or a functioning justice system in the beginning, the rights to claims were often fought out by force. As early as 1853, however, the yield of individual claims had fallen so far that more professional methods had to be found, such as hydraulic mining. They also began in the mother rockto look for gold themselves, dangerous work that involved blowing up parts of mountains with explosives. In the later years of the gold rush, the mining of gold was in the hands of a few wealthy businessmen, while the average fortune seeker got little richer.

With the declining revenues of claims, the epidemics caused by the absence of sanitation and the rising prices of living, the need for a scapegoat grew. Indians were denied the right to earn money from gold mining. Protectionist laws barred South Americans and Chinese from working, owning land or obtaining US citizenship. There was still great lawlessness. To put things in order, the citizens of San Francisco took the law into their own hands by setting up a vigilante committee to investigate criminals and corrupt criminals.hanged rulers. Other political initiatives led to the drafting of a constitution and the admission of California as the 31st state of the United States, as part of the Compromise of 1850.

Between 1863 and 1869, two railroad companies, the Union Pacific Railroad from the east and the Central Pacific Railroad from the west, built a railroad through the Sierra Nevada. The hard work was done by Chinese workers, who had meanwhile been barred from other work. The Transcontinental Railroad thus constructed connected California with the eastern United States by rail and reduced travel time from a few months to a few days. California’s burgeoning population fueled an equally rapid growth in agriculture in the central and southern parts of the state, especially during the American Civil War.(1861–1865) the supply of agricultural products from the east came to a standstill. A new stream of immigrants started, this time farmers. Demand for water for agriculture grew, leading to a number of violent conflicts called the California Water Wars.

Devastation and fires in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake

The rampant gold mining had caused enormous damage to the environment: logging and opencast mining caused the erosion of fertile land, rivers were contaminated with heavy metals. In response, California became one of the first places in the world to become a wildlife conservationist. The wildlife movement was led by John Muir (1838–1914) and the Sierra Club he founded. Yosemite Valley became the United States’ first conservation area in 1864, and both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks were established in 1890.

The novel Ramona romanticized California’s Hispanic-Mexican heritage. Because its publication coincided with the opening of the railroads to Los Angeles, after 1884 a flood of tourists came to Southern California to see the places from the novel.

California History