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The history of California can be divided into: the Native American period; European exploration period from 1542 to 1769; the Spanish colonial period, 1769 to 1821; the Mexican period, 1821 to 1848; and United States statehood, which continues to the present day.
The early history of California is characterized by being surrounded by barriers nearly isolating the state: the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Sierra Nevada mountains backed by the nearly barren Great Basin in the east, the Mojave Desert and Sonora Desert areas in the southern interior and Redwood–Douglas fir forests on the rugged mountainous North Coast.
The near isolation of the California Indian tribes led them to develop cultures different from the other Indian cultures in the Americas. California Indian tribes had essentially no agriculture (with the exception of the Colorado River Indians) and were hunter-gatherers. The Indians had no crops, advanced cities, accumulated wealth or organized civilizations to exploit.
After initial explorations, the Spaniards left Alta California alone for over 200 years. Relative isolation continued even after Spanish Missions, the Presidio and pueblo settlements began to be developed in 1769. The only easy communication with the rest of New Spain (Mexico) was by ship, as the Quechan (Yuma) Indians shut down the Anza Trail in 1781. This trail (discovered in 1776), across Arizona along the Gila River and the Colorado River crossing (Yuma Crossing), was the only "easy" way by land from Mexico to California. Essentially the only communication from Mexico to California was via a 30-50 day sailing ship voyage against the south bound California Current and the often opposing winds. The sailing ship trip from California to Mexico was much easier, but first the traveler had to get to California.
Since California initially had very few settlers and essentially no exports and could afford only a very few imports for its few inhabitants, ships to and from California were few. The average number of ships going to Alta California from 1770 to 1821 was 2.5 ships/year, with 13 years showing no recorded ships. The small number of ships meant that few new residents arrived, so that increases in the Californio population were nearly all due to internal growth of the original settlers.
After Mexico gained its independence from Spain and acquired the Province of Alta California in 1821, the Californios started developing approximately 500 large (over 18,000 acres (73 km2) each) Ranchos of California. Most were granted on former Mission lands, given for little or no money to friends and family of the California authorities. The Californios lived mostly on their ranchos or at the five pueblos (towns)[which?] in California. These ranchos raised cattle, sheep, horses and other livestock that more or less raised themselves. The Californios did little work themselves, relying on the former Mission Indians to do the vast majority of all agricultural work including sowing and harvesting of crops, irrigation, cattle herding, fence building, building construction, laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc. Nearly all male Californios rode to wherever they were going at all times, making them excellent riders. They indulged in many fiestas, fandangos, rodeos and roundups as the rancho owners often went from rancho to rancho on a large horse bound party circuit. Weddings, christenings, funerals and other church activities were all celebrated with large gatherings.
California in this period has been described as a large unfenced pasture. The only fences were those required to protect crops from cows or horses eating or trampling them. The hides and tallow produced by the ranchos finally gave the Californio residents something to trade. A few ships a year brought manufactured goods like glass windows, nails, hinges, fancy shawls, boots, elaborate belts, capes etc. from Boston, Massachusetts and Britain to California and exchanged them for their hide-and-tallow "crop". By 1846 the mostly American whaling industry was being developed in the Pacific Ocean, again leading to a few whaling ships stopping in California for fresh water, wood and vegetables they could get in exchange for a few trade goods. Most Pacific whaling ships stopped at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) which had over 100 whaling vessels temporarily based there by 1845. To avoid the high custom duties (tariffs) of 40-100% imposed by the Californio authorities in Monterey, California, many preferred to first land in the San Francisco Bay area to get the most for their imported trading goods. Smuggling and bribery were common.
Starting about 1825 the Mission Indian population started decreasing rapidly, as Indian deaths far exceeded births. The various acquired diseases and abuse of the Mission Indian population caused them to decline from over 80,000 in 1820 to only a few thousand by 1846. This process was sped up when in 1834–1836 the Mexican government, responding to complaints that the Catholic Church owned too much land (over 90% of all settled land in California), secularized (dismantled) the Missions and essentially turned the Indians loose to survive on their own. Most of the Indians went from doing unpaid labor at the Missions to doing unpaid labor as servants in the pueblos or workers on the ranchos. Other Indians returned to small Indian settlements in the sparsely settled Central Valley and Sierra Mountains of California. As the Mission Indians rapidly declined in population and the Missions were dismantled, most of the agriculture, orchards, vineyards, etc. which had been raised by the Mission Indians rapidly declined. By 1850 the Hispanic (Spanish speaking) population had grown to about 9,000 with about 1,500-2,000 adult males. By 1846 there were about 2,000 emigrant non-Hispanics (nearly all adult men) with from 60,000 to 90,000 California Indians throughout the state. Beginning in about 1844 the California Trail was established and started bringing new settlers to California as its relative isolation started to break.
The Mexican–American War began in May 1846, and the few marines and bluejacket sailors of the Pacific Squadron and the California Battalion of volunteer militia had California under U. S. control by January 1847, as all the pueblos in California surrendered without firing a shot. In February 1848 the war was over, the 25 years of Mexican rule with over 40 different Mexican Presidents was over, and the boundary disputes with Texas and the territorial acquisition of what would become several new states were settled with a $15,000,000 payment agreed at the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The California Gold Rush, beginning in January 1848, increased California's non Indian, non-Hispanic population to over 100,000 by 1850. This increased population and prosperity eventually led to the Congressional Compromise of 1850 which admitted California in 1850 as a free state—the 31st.
Different tribes of Native Americans have lived in the area that is now California for an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 years. Over 100 tribes and bands inhabited the area. Various estimates of the Native American population in California during the pre-European period range from 100,000 to 300,000. California's population held about one-third of all native Americans in what is now the United States.
The native hunter-gatherers practiced various forms of forest gardening and fire-stick farming in the forests, grasslands, mixed woodlands, and wetlands, ensuring that desired food and medicine plants continued to be available. The natives controlled fire on a regional scale to create a low-intensity fire ecology which prevented larger, catastrophic fires and sustained a low-density agriculture in loose rotation; a sort of "wild" permaculture.
California was the name given to a mythical island populated only by beautiful Amazon warriors, as depicted in Greek myths, using gold tools and weapons in the popular early 16th-century romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This popular Spanish fantasy was printed in several editions with the earliest surviving edition published about 1510. In exploring Baja California the earliest explorers thought the Baja Peninsula was an island and applied the name California to it. Mapmakers started using the name "California" to label the unexplored territory on the North American west coast.
European explorers flying the flags of Spain and of England explored the Pacific Coast of California beginning in the mid-16th century. Francisco de Ulloa explored the west coast of present-day Mexico including the Gulf of California, proving that Baja California was a peninsula, but in spite of his discoveries the myth persisted in European circles that California was an island.
Rumors of fabulously wealthy cities located somewhere along the California coast, as well as a possible Northwest Passage that would provide a much shorter route to the Indies, provided an incentive to explore further.
The first European to explore the California coast was Portuguese explorer and adventurer João Rodrigues Cabrilho (Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo). Cabrillo was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain and in 1542 he sailed into what is now San Diego, California. He continued north as far as Pt. Reyes, California.
On November 23, 1542, the little fleet limped back to "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. There, around Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled on a jagged rock. The injury developed gangrene and he died on 3 January 1543 and was buried there. His second-in-command brought the remainder of the party back to Barra de Navidad, where they arrived 14 April 1543. They had found no wealth, no advanced Indian civilization, no agriculture and no Northwest Passage. As a result California was of little further interest.
The Indians they encountered were living at a bare subsistence level typically located in small rancherias of extended family groups of 100 to 150 people. They had no agriculture, no domesticated animals except dogs, no pottery, and their only tools or weapons were made out of wood, leather, woven baskets and netting, stones and horns. Most lived in rudimentary shelters made of branches and mud with a hole in the center to allow smoke to escape. Some homes were built by digging into the ground two to three feet and then building a brush shelter on top covered with animal skins, Tules and/or mud. Their clothing was minimal in the summer, with animal skins and coarse woven articles of grass clothing used in winter. Some tribes around Santa Barbara, California and the Channel Islands (California) were using large canoes to fish and trade. It would be found over 200 years later that some Indians in the California delta were using Tule rafts and some Indians on the Northwest coast were using dugout canoes. The isolation of the California tribes and the poor conditions for growing food without irrigation explains in part the lack of agriculture. Despite the fact that California now grows almost every food crop, the staple foods then used by other American Indian tribes, corn and/or potatoes, would not grow without irrigation in the typically short three- to five-month wet season and nine- to seven-month dry seasons of California (see Mediterranean climate). Indians survived by catching and eating deer, Tule elk, small game, fish, mollusks, grass seed, berries, insects, edible plants and roots, making it possible to sustain a subsistence hunter-gatherer economy without any agriculture. Without agriculture or migratory herds of animals or fish there are no known ways to support villages, towns or cities—small tribes and extended family groups are the typical hunter-gatherer grouping. A dietary staple for most Indian tribes in interior California was acorns, which were dried, shelled, ground to flour, roasted and soaked in water to leach out their tannin. The holes they ground into large rocks over centuries of use are still visible in many rocks today. The ground and leached acorn flour was then usually cooked into a tasteless mush. This was a very labor intensive process nearly always done by the women in the tribe. There are estimates that some Indians might have eaten as much as one ton of acorns in one year. A major advantage of acorns is that they grew wild, could be easily gathered in large quantities, and could be easily stored over a winter for a reliable winter food source. Almost none of these Indian food supplies were in a typical European's diet.
Basket weaving was the highest form of art and utility, and canoes were the peak in man made products. Local trade between Indian tribal groups enabled them to acquire seasonings such as salt, or foodstuffs and other goods that might be rare in certain locales, such as flint for making spear and arrow points. But the high and rugged Sierra Nevada mountains located behind the Great Basin Desert east of California, extensive forests and deserts on the north, the rugged and harsh Sonoran Desert and Mojave Desert in the south and the Pacific Ocean on the west effectively isolated California from any easy trade or tribal interactions with Indians on the rest of the continent. The Indians located in the core of California are much different in culture than any other Indian cultures in North America. Cabrillo and his men found that there was essentially nothing for the Spanish to easily exploit in California, and located at the extreme limits of exploration and trade from Spain it would be left essentially unexplored and unsettled for the next 234 years.
In 1565 the Spanish developed a trading route where they took gold and silver from the Americas and traded it for goods and spices from China and other Asian areas. The Spanish centered their trade in the Philippines at first around Cebu, which they had recently conquered, and later in Manila. The trade between the Philippines and Mexico involved using an annual passage of Manila galleon(s). These galleons returning to Mexico from the Philippines went north to about 40 degrees latitude and then turning East they could use the westerly trade winds and currents. These galleons, after crossing most of the Pacific Ocean, would arrive off the California coast from 60 to over 120 days later somewhere near Cape Mendocino (about 300 miles (480 km) north of San Francisco) at about 40 degrees N. latitude. They then could turn right and sail south down the California coast utilizing the available winds and the south flowing (about 1 mi/hr(1.6(km/h)) California Current. After sailing about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) south on they eventually got to their port in Mexico. This highly profitable trade with an almost annual trip by one to two ships (number of ships limited by Spanish Crown) down the California coast was continued for over 200 years. The maps and charts were poor and the coast was often shrouded in fog, so most journeys were well off shore. One of the greatest bays on the west coast—San Francisco Bay—escaped discovery for centuries until it was finally discovered by land exploration on November 4, 1769.
The English explorer and privateer Francis Drake sailed along the coast of California in 1579 after capturing two Spanish treasure ships in the Pacific. It is believed that he landed somewhere on the California coast. There his only surviving ship, the Golden Hind, underwent extensive repairs, and needed supplies were accumulated for a trip across the Pacific. Leaving California he followed Ferdinand Magellan on the second recorded circumnavigation of the world and the first English circumnavigation of the world, being gone from 1577 to 1580. It's believed Drake put ashore somewhere north of San Francisco. The exact location of Drake's landing is still undetermined, but a prominent bay on the California coast, Drakes Bay, bears his name. He claimed the land for England, calling it Nova Albion. The term "Nova Albion" was often used on many European maps to designate territory north of the Spanish settlements. Spanish maps, explorations etc., of this and later eras were generally not published, being regarded as state secrets. As was typical in this era, there were conflicting claims to the same territory, and the Indians who lived there were never consulted.
In 1602, 60 years after Cabrillo, the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno explored California's coastline from San Diego as far north as Monterey Bay. He named San Diego Bay and held the first Christian church service recorded in California on the shores of San Diego Bay. He also put ashore in Monterey, California and made glowing reports of the Monterey bay area as a possible anchorage for ships with land suitable for growing crops. He also provided rudimentary charts of the coastal waters, which were used for nearly 200 years.
The Spanish divided California into two parts, Baja California and Alta California, as provinces of New Spain (Mexico). Baja or lower California consisted of the Baja Peninsula and terminated roughly at San Diego, California where Alta California started. The eastern and northern boundaries of Alta California were very indefinite, as the Spanish claimed essentially everything in the western United States, even though they did not occupy most of it for over 200 years after first claiming it. The first permanent mission in Baja California, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, was founded on October 15, 1697, by Jesuit Friar Juan Maria Salvatierra (1648–1717) accompanied by one small boat's crew and six soldiers. After the establishment of Missions in Alta California after 1769, the Spanish treated Baja California and Alta California as a single administrative unit, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with Monterey, California, as its capital.
Nearly all the missions in Baja California were established by members of the Jesuit order supported by a few soldiers. After a power dispute between Charles III of Spain and the Jesuits, the Jesuit colleges were closed and the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico and South America in 1767 and deported back to Spain. After the forcible expulsion of the Jesuit order, most of the missions were taken over by Franciscan and later Dominican friars. Both of these groups were under much more direct control of the Spanish monarchy. Many missions were abandoned in Sonora Mexico and Baja California.
After the conclusion of the Seven Year War between Britain and France and their allies (called the French and Indian War in the British colonies on the East Coast) (1754–1763), France was driven out of North America, and Spain and Britain were the only colonial powers left. Britain, as yet, had no Pacific colonies in North America. The Bourbon King Charles III of Spain established missions and other outposts in Alta California out of fear that the territory would be claimed by the British, who not only had 13 colonies on the East Coast, but also several islands in the Caribbean, and had recently taken over Canada from the French. One of Spain's rewards for helping Britain in the Seven Years' War was the French Louisiana Territory. Another potential colonial power already established in the Pacific was Russia, whose Maritime Fur Trade of mostly sea otter and fur seals was pressing down from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest's lower reaches. These furs could be traded in China for large profits.
The Spanish settlement of Alta California was the last colonization project to expand Spain's vastly over-extended empire in North America, and they tried to do it with minimal cost and support. Approximately half the cost of settling Alta California was borne by donations and half by funds from the Spanish crown. Massive Indian revolts in New Mexico's Pueblo Revolt among the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande valley in the 1680s as well as Pima Indian Revolt in 1751 and the ongoing Seri conflicts in Sonora Mexico provided the Franciscan friars with arguments to establish missions with fewer colonial settlers. The remoteness and isolation of California, the lack of large organized tribes, the lack of agricultural traditions, the absence of any domesticated animals larger than a dog, and a food supply consisting primarily of acorns (unpalatable to most Europeans) meant the missions in California would be very difficult to establish and sustain and made the area unattractive to most potential colonists. A few soldiers and friars financed by the Church and State would form the backbone of the proposed settlement of California.
In 1769, the Spanish Visitor General, José de Gálvez, planned a five part expedition, consisting of three units by sea and two by land, to start settling Alta California. Gaspar de Portolà volunteered to command the expedition. The Catholic Church was represented by Franciscan friar Junípero Serra and his fellow friars. All five detachments of soldiers, friars and future colonists were to meet on the shores of San Diego Bay. The first ship, the San Carlos, sailed from La Paz on January 10, 1769, and the San Antonio sailed on February 15. The San Antonio arrived in San Diego Bay on April 11 and the San Carlos on April 29. The third vessel, the San José, left New Spain later that spring but was lost at sea with no survivors.
The first land party, led by Fernando Rivera y Moncada, left from the Franciscan Mission San Fernando Velicata on March 24, 1769. With Rivera was Father Juan Crespí, famed diarist of the entire expedition. That group arrived in San Diego on May 4. A later expedition led by Portolà, which included Father Junípero Serra, the President of the Missions, along with a combination of missionaries, settlers, and leather-jacket soldiers including José Raimundo Carrillo, left Velicata on May 15, 1769 and arrived in San Diego on June 29. They took with them about 46 mules, 200 cows and 140 horses—all that could be spared by the poor Baja Missions. Fernando de Rivera was appointed to command the lead party that would scout out a land route and blaze a trail to San Diego. Food was short, and the Indians accompanying them were expected to forage for most of what they needed. Many Indian neophytes died along the way; even more deserted. The two groups traveling from Lower California on foot had to cross about 300 miles (480 km) of the very dry and rugged Baja Peninsula.
The part of the expedition that took place over land took about 40–51 days to get to San Diego. The contingent coming by sea encountered the south flowing California Current and strong head winds, and were still straggling in three months after they set sail. After their arduous journeys, most of the men aboard the ships were ill, chiefly from scurvy, and many had died. Out of a total of about 219 men who had left Baja California, little more than 100 survived. The survivors established the Presidio of San Diego on May 14, 1769. Mission San Diego de Alcala was established on July 16, 1769. As the first of the presidios and Spanish missions in California, they provided the base of operations for the Spanish colonization of Alta California (present-day California).
On July 14, 1769, an expedition was dispatched from San Diego to find the port of Monterey. Not recognizing the Monterey Bay from the description written by Sebastián Vizcaíno almost 200 years prior, the expedition traveled beyond it to what is now the San Francisco, California area. The exploration party, led by Don Gaspar de Portolà, arrived on November 2, 1769, at San Francisco Bay., One of the greatest ports on the west coast of America had finally been discovered by land. The expedition returned to San Diego on January 24, 1770. The Presidio and Mission of San Carlos de Borromeo de Monterey were established on June 3, 1770, by Portola, Serra, and Crespi.
Without any agricultural crops or experience eating the food the Indians subsisted on, the shortage of food at San Diego became extremely critical during the first few months of 1770. They subsisted on some of their cattle, wild geese, fish, and other food exchanged with the Indians for clothing, but the ravages of scurvy continued because there was then no understanding of the cause or cure of scurvy. A small quantity of corn they had planted grew well, only to be eaten by birds. Portolá sent Captain Rivera and a small detachment of about 40 men to the Baja California missions in February to obtain more cattle and a pack-train of supplies. This temporarily eased the drain on San Diego's scant provisions, but within weeks, acute hunger and increased sickness again threatened to force abandonment of the port. Portolá resolved that if no relief ship arrived by March 19, 1770 they would leave the next morning "because there were not enough provisions to wait longer and the men had not come to perish from hunger." At three o'clock in the afternoon on March 19, 1770, as if by a miracle, the sails of the San Antonio, loaded with relief supplies, were discernible on the horizon. The settlement of Alta California would continue.
Juan Bautista de Anza, leading an exploratory expedition on January 8, 1774, with 3 padres, 20 soldiers, 11 servants, 35 mules, 65 cattle, and 140 horses set forth from Tubac south of present day Tucson, Arizona. They went to across the Sonoran desert to California from Mexico by swinging south of the Gila River to avoid Apache attacks until they hit the Colorado River at the Yuma Crossing—about the only way across the Colorado River. The friendly Quechan (Yuma) Indians (2-3,000) he encountered there were growing most of their food, using irrigation systems, and had already imported pottery, horses, wheat and a few other crops from New Mexico. After crossing the Colorado to avoid the impassible Algodones Dunes west of Yuma, Arizona, they followed the river about 50 miles (80 km) south (to about the Arizona's southwest corner on the Colorado River) before turning northwest to about today's Mexicali, Mexico and then turning north through today's Imperial Valley and then northwest again before reaching Mission San Gabriel Arcángel near the future city of Los Angeles, California. It took Anza about 74 days to do this initial reconnaissance trip to establish a land route into California. On his return trip he went down the Gila River until hitting the Santa Cruz River (Arizona) and continuing on to Tubac. The return trip only took 23 days, and he encountered several peaceful and populous agricultural tribes with irrigation systems located along the Gila River.
In Anza's second trip (1775–1776) he returned to California with 240 friars, soldiers and colonists with their families. They took 695 horses and mules, 385 Texas Longhorn bulls and cows with them. The approximately 200 surviving cattle and an unknown number of horses (many of each were lost or eaten along the way) started the cattle and horse raising industry in California. In California the cattle and horses had few enemies and plentiful grass in all but drought years. They essentially grew and multiplied as feral animals, doubling roughly every two years. The party started from Tubac, Arizona, on October 22, 1775 and arrived at San Francisco Bay on March 28, 1776. There they established the Presidio of San Francisco, followed by a mission, Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) --the future city of San Francisco.
In 1780, the Spanish established two combination missions and pueblos at the Yuma Crossing: Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer and Mission Puerto de Purísima Concepción. Both these pueblos and missions were on the California side of the Colorado River but were administered by the Arizona authorities. On July 17–18, 1781 the Yuma (Quechan) Indians, in a dispute with the Spanish, destroyed both missions and pueblos—killing 103 soldiers, colonists, and Friars and capturing about 80 prisoners, mostly women and children. In four well-supported punitive expeditions in 1782 and 1783 against the Quechans, the Spanish managed to gather their dead and ransom nearly all the prisoners, but failed to re-open the Anza Trail. The Yuma Crossing was closed for Spanish traffic and it would stay closed until about 1846. California was nearly isolated again from land based travel. About the only way into California from Mexico would now be a 40-60 day voyage by sea.
Eventually, 21 California Missions were established along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco—about 500 miles (800 km) up the coast. The missions were nearly all located within 30 miles (48 km) of the coast and almost no exploration or settlements were made in the Central Valley (California) or the Sierra Nevada (California). The only expeditions anywhere close to the Central Valley and Sierras were the rare forays by soldiers undertaken to recover runaway Indians who had escaped from the Missions. The "settled" territory of about 15,000 square miles (40,000 km2) was about 10% of California's eventual 156,000 square miles (400,000 km2) territory.
In 1786, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse led a group of scientists and artists who compiled an account of the Californian mission system, the land, and the people. Traders, whalers, and scientific missions followed in the next decades.
The California Missions, after they were all established, were located about one day's horseback ride apart for easier communication and linked by the El Camino Real trail. These Missions were typically manned by two to three friars and three to ten soldiers. Virtually all the physical work was done by Indians convinced to or coerced into joining the missions. The padres provided instructions for making adobe bricks, building mission buildings, planting fields, digging irrigation ditches, growing new grains and vegetables, herding cattle and horses, singing, speaking Spanish, and understanding the Catholic faith—all that was thought to be necessary to bring the Indians to be able to support themselves and their new church. The soldiers supervised the construction of the Presidios (forts) and were responsible for keeping order and preventing and/or capturing runaway Indians that tried to leave the missions. Nearly all of the Indians adjoining the missions were induced to join the various missions built in California. Once the Indians had joined the mission, if they tried to leave, soldiers were sent out to retrieve them. Some have compared their Peon status as only slightly better than slaves. It is noted that European peasants of the period fared no better.
The missions eventually claimed about 1/6 of the available land in California or roughly 1,000,000 acres (4,047 km2) of land per mission. The rest of the land was considered the property of the Spanish monarchy. To encouraged settlement of the territory, large land grants were given to retired soldiers and colonists. Most grants were virtually free and typically went to friends and relatives in the California government. A few foreign colonists were accepted if they accepted Spanish citizenship and joined the Catholic Faith. The Mexican Inquisition was still in nearly full force and forbade Protestants living in Mexican controlled territory. In the Spanish colonial period many of these grants were later turned into Ranchos. Spain made about 30 of these large grants, nearly all several square leagues (1 Spanish league = 2.6 miles (4.2 km)) each in size. The total land granted to settlers in the Spanish colonial era was about 800,000 acres (3,237 km2) or about 35,000 acres (142 km2) each. The few owners of these large ranchos patterned themselves after the landed gentry in Spain and were devoted to keeping themselves living in a grand style. The rest of the population they expected to support them. Their mostly unpaid workers were nearly all Spanish trained Indians or peons that had learned how to ride horses and raise some crops. The majority of the ranch hands were paid with room and board, rough clothing, rough housing and no salary. The main products of these ranchos were cattle, horses and sheep, most of which lived virtually wild. The cattle were mostly killed for fresh meat, as well as hides and tallow (fat) which could be traded or sold for money or goods. As the cattle herds increased there came a time when nearly everything that could be made of leather was—doors, window coverings, stools, chaps, leggings, vests lariats (riata)s, saddles, boots etc. Since there was no refrigeration then, often a cow was killed for the day's fresh meat and the hide and tallow salvaged for sale later. After taking the cattle's hide and tallow their carcasses were left to rot or feed the California grizzly bears which roamed wild in California at that time, or to feed the packs of dogs that typically lived at each rancho.
A series of four presidios, or "royal forts", each manned by 10 to 100 men, were built by Spain in Alta California. California installations were established in San Diego (El Presidio Real de San Diego) founded in 1769, in San Francisco (El Presidio Real de San Francisco) founded in 1776, and in Santa Barbara (El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara) founded in 1782. After the Spanish colonial era the Presidio of Sonoma in Sonoma, California was founded in 1834.) To support the presidios and the missions, half a dozen towns (called pueblos) were established in California. The pueblos of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Villa de Branciforte (later abandoned before later becoming Santa Cruz, California) and the pueblo of San Jose, California were all established to support the Missions and presidios in California. These were the only towns (pueblos) in California.
In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Alta California became one of the three interior provinces in the First Mexican Empire north of the Rio Grande, along with Texas and New Mexico. The Franciscans Missionaries and soldiers in Alta California had not been paid in about seven years in 1821. The capital of the Mexican government in Alta California was Monterey, California (originally called San Carlos de Monterrey). Mexico, after independence, continued to be unstable with about 40 changes of government, in the 27 years prior to 1848—an average government duration was 7.9 months. In Alta California Mexico inherited a large, sparsely settled, poor, backwater province paying little or no net tax revenue to the Mexican State. In addition, Alta California had a rapidly declining Mission system as the Mission Indian population in Alta California continued to rapidly decrease. The number of Alta California settlers, always a small minority of total population, slowly increased mostly by more births than deaths in the Californio population in California. After the closure of the de Anza Trail across the Colorado River in 1781 immigration from Mexico was nearly all by ships. California continued to be a small, nearly isolated province.
Even before Mexico gained control of Alta California the onerous Spanish rules against trading with foreigners began to break down as the declining Spanish fleet couldn’t enforce their no trading policies. The Californios, with essentially no industries or manufacturing capabilities, were eager to trade for new commodities, finished goods, luxury goods, and other merchandise. The Mexican government abolished the no trade with foreign ships policy and soon regular trading trips were being made. The Californios’ hides and tallow provided the necessary trade articles for a mutually beneficial trade. The first American, English, and Russian trading ships began showing up in California in about 1816. The classic book Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. provides a good first hand account of this trade. From 1825 to 1848 the average number of ships traveling to California increased to about 25 ships per year—a large increase from the average of 2.5 ships per year from 1769 to 1824. The port of entry for trading purposes was Monterey, California where custom duties (also called tariffs) of about 100% were applied. These high duties gave rise to much bribery and smuggling, as avoiding the tariffs made more money for the ship owners and made the goods less costly to the customers. Essentially all the cost of the California government (what little there was) was paid for by these tariffs. In this they were much like the United States in 1850, where about 89% of the revenue of its federal government came from import tariffs, although at an average rate of about 20%.
So many Mission Indians died from exposure to harsh conditions and diseases like measles, diphtheria, smallpox, syphilis, etc. that at times raids were undertaken to new villages in the interior to supplement the supply of Indian women. This increase in deaths was accompanied by a very low live birth rate among the surviving Indian population. As reported by Krell, as of December 31, 1832, the mission Franciscan padres had performed a combined total of 87,787 baptisms and 24,529 marriages, and recorded 63,789 deaths. If Krell's numbers are to be believed (others have slightly different numbers) the Mission Indian population had declined from a peak of about 87,000 in about 1800 to about 14,000 in 1832 and continued to decline. The Missions were becoming ever more strained as the number of Indian converts drastically declined and the deaths greatly exceeded the births. The ratio of Indian births to deaths is believed to have been less than 0.5 Indian births per death.
The Missions, as originally envisioned, were to last only about 10 years before being converted to regular parishes. When the California Missions were abolished in 1834 some missions had existed over 66 years but the Mission Indians were still not self-sufficient, proficient in Spanish, or wholly Catholic. Taking people from a hunter-gatherer type existence to an educated, agricultural-based existence was much more difficult than the missionaries had originally thought. The severe and continuing decline in Mission Indian populations exacerbated this problem. In 1834 Mexico, in response to demands that the Catholic Church give up much of the Mission property, started the process of secularizing the Franciscan run missions. Mission San Juan Capistrano was the very first to feel the effects of this legislation the following year when, on August 9, 1834 Governor Figueroa issued his "Decree of Confiscation."  Nine other Missions quickly followed, with six more in 1835; San Buenaventura and San Francisco de Asís were among the last to succumb, in June and December 1836, respectively. The Franciscans soon thereafter abandoned most of the missions, taking with them almost everything of value they could, after which the locals typically plundered the mission buildings for construction materials, furniture, etc. or the Mission buildings were sold off to serve other uses.
In spite of this neglect, the Indian towns at San Juan Capistrano, San Dieguito, and Las Flores did continue on for some time under a provision in Governor Echeandía's 1826 Proclamation that allowed for the partial conversion of missions to new pueblos. After the secularizing of the Missions, many of the surviving Mission Indians switched from being unpaid workers for the missions to unpaid laborers and vaqueros (cowboys) of the about 500 large Californio owned ranchos.
Before Alta California became a part of the Mexican state, about 30 Spanish land grants had already been deeded in all of Alta California to a few friends and family of the Alta California Governors. The 1824 Mexican Colony Law established rules for petitioning for land grants in California; and by 1828, the rules for establishing land grants were codified in the Mexican Reglamento (Regulation). The Acts sought to break the monopoly of the Catholic Franciscan missions, while paving the way for additional settlers to California by making land grants easier to obtain. When the Missions were secularized, the Mission property and cattle were supposed to be mostly allocated to the Missions Indians. In practice, nearly all Mission property and livestock were taken over by the about 455 large ranchos of Californios granted by the Californio governors—mostly to friends and family at low or no cost. The rancho owners claimed about 8,600,000 acres (35,000 km2) averaging about 18,900 acres (76 km2) each. This land was nearly all distributed on former mission land within about 30 miles (48 km) of the coast. The Mexican land grants were provisional until settled and worked on for five years, and often had very indefinite boundaries and sometimes conflicting ownership claims. The boundaries of each rancho were almost never surveyed, and marked, and often depended on local landmarks that often changed over time. Since the government depended on import tariffs for its income, there was virtually no property tax—the property tax when introduced with U.S. statehood was a big shock. The grantee could not subdivide, or rent out, the land without approval. The rancho owners tried to live in a grand manner, and the result was similar to a European feudal aristocracy. For these few rancho owners and families, this was Californio's Golden Age; for the vast majority it was not golden. Much of the agriculture, vineyards, and orchards established by the Missions were allowed to deteriorate as the rapidly declining Mission Indian population required less food, and the Missionaries and soldiers supporting the Missions disappeared. The new Ranchos and slowly increasing Pueblos mostly only grew enough food to eat and to trade with the occasional trading ship or whaler that put in to a California port to trade, get fresh water, replenish their firewood and obtain fresh vegetables.
The main products of these ranchos were cow hides (called California greenbacks) and tallow (rendered fat for making candles and soap) that were traded for other finished goods and merchandise. This hide-and-tallow trade was mainly carried on by Boston-based ships that traveled 14,000 miles (23,000 km) to 18,000 miles (29,000 km) around Cape Horn to bring finished goods and merchandise to trade with the Californio Ranchos for their hides and tallow. The cattle and horses that provided the hides and tallow essentially grew wild.
By 1845, the province of Alta California had a non-native population of about 1,500 Californio adult men along with about 6,500 women and children, who lived mostly in the southern half of the state around Los Angeles. Most immigrants (nearly all of whom were adult males) lived in the northern half of California.
A large non-coastal land grant was given to John Sutter who, in 1839, settled a large land grant close to the future city of Sacramento, California, which he called "New Helvetia" (New Switzerland). There, he built an extensive fort equipped with much of the armament from Fort Ross—bought from the Russians on credit when they abandoned that fort. Sutter's Fort was the first non-Native American community in the California Central Valley. Sutter's Fort, from 1839 to about 1848, was a major agricultural and trade colony in California, often welcoming and assisting California Trail travelers to California. Most of the settlers at, or near, Sutter's Fort were new immigrants from the United States.
Hostilities between U.S. and Mexican troops commenced in April 1846, with Mexican troops killing and capturing a number of U.S. Army troops in the future state of Texas. The Battle of Palo Alto, the first major battle of the Mexican–American War, was fought on May 8, 1846, a few miles from the modern-day city of Brownsville, Texas. A force of some 3,400 Mexican troops (a portion of the Army of The North), led by Mexican General Mariano Arista, engaged a force of 2,400 United States troops under General Zachary Taylor. Taylor's forces drove the Mexicans from the field. The United States Congress responded to these hostilities by issuing a declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846—the Mexican–American War had begun.
The main forces available to the United States in California were the bluejacket sailors and U.S. Marines on board the ships of the Pacific Squadron. Speculating that war with Mexico over Texas and other land was very possible, the U.S. Navy had sent several additional naval vessels to the Pacific in 1845 to protect U.S. interests there. It took about 200 days, on average, for ships to travel the greater than 12,000-mile (19,000 km) trip from the East coast around Cape Horn to California. Initially as the war with Mexico started there were five vessels in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron near California. In 1846 and 1847 this was increased to 13 Navy vessels—over half the U.S. Navy's available ships. The only other U.S. military force then in California was the about 30 military topographers etc. and 30 mountain men, guides, hunters, etc. in Captain John C. Frémont's United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers exploratory force. They were exiting California on their way to Oregon when they got word in early June 1846 that war was imminent and a revolt had already started in Sonoma, California. On hearing this, Fremont and his exploratory force returned to California.
The former fleet surgeon William M. Wood and John Parrot, the American Consul of Mazatlán, arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico on May 10, 1846. There, they heard word of the on-going hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico forces and sent a message by special courier back to Commodore Sloat, then visiting Mazatlán. On May 17, 1846, this courier's messages informed Commodore Sloat that hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico had commenced. Commodore (Rear Admiral) John D. Sloat, commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron and his fleet of four vessels were then at anchor in the harbor of Mazatlán, Mexico. On hearing the news, Commodore Sloat dispatched his flagship, the Frigate Savannah, and the sloop Levant (1837) to Monterey harbor, where they arrived on July 2, 1846. They joined the sloop Cyane which was already there. There were U.S. fears that the British might try to annex California to satisfy British creditors. The British Pacific Station's ships off California were stronger in ships, guns, and men.
Hearing rumors of possible Mexican military action against the newly arrived settlers in California (this had already happened in 1840), some settlers decided to neutralize the small Californio garrison at Sonoma, California. On June 15, 1846, some thirty settlers, mostly former American citizens, staged a revolt and seized the small Californio garrison, in Sonoma, without firing a shot. Initially there was little resistance from anyone in California as they replaced the dysfunctional and ineffective Mexican government—which had already had 40 presidents in the first 24 years of its existence. Most settlers and Californios were neutral or actively supported the revolt. John A. Sutter and his men and supplies at Sutter's Fort joined the revolt. They raised the "Bear Flag" of the California Republic over Sonoma. The republic was in existence scarcely more than a week before Frémont returned and took over on June 23 from William B. Ide the leader of the Bear Flag Revolt. The California state flag of today is based on this original Bear Flag and still contains the words "California Republic."
In 1846, the U.S. Navy was under orders to take over all California ports in the event of war. There were about 400–500 U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy bluejacket sailors available for possible land action on the Pacific Squadron's ships. Hearing word of the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, California, and the arrival of the large British 2,600-ton, 600-man man-of-war HMS Collingwood flagship under Sir George S. Seymour, outside Monterey Harbor, Commodore Sloat was finally stirred to action. On July 7, 1846, seven weeks after war had been declared, Sloat instructed the captains of the ships USS Savannah and sloops Cyane and Levant of the Pacific Squadron in Monterey Bay to occupy Monterey, California—the Alta California capital. Fifty American marines and about 100 bluejacket sailors landed and captured the city without incident—the few Californio troops formerly there having already evacuated the city. They raised the flag of the United States without firing a shot. The only shots fired were a 21-gun salute to the new U.S. flag fired by each of the U.S. Navy ships in the harbor. The British ships observed but took no action.
The abandoned Presidio and Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) at San Francisco, then called Yerba Buena, was occupied without firing a shot on July 9, 1846 by U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors from the sloop USS Portsmouth. Militia Captain Thomas Fallon led a small force of about 22 men from Santa Cruz, California and captured the small town of Pueblo de San Jose without bloodshed on July 11. 1846. Fallon received an American flag from Commodore John D. Sloat, and raised it over the pueblo on July 14. On 1July 15, 1846, Commodore (Rear Admiral) Sloat transferred his command of the Pacific Squadron to Commodore Robert F. Stockton when Stockton's ship, the frigate USS Congress, arrived from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). Stockton, a much more aggressive leader, asked Fremont to form a joint force of Fremont's soldiers, scouts, guides etc. and a volunteer militia—many who were former Bear Flag Revolters. This unit, called the California Battalion, was mustered into U.S. service and were paid regular army wages. On July 19, Frémont's newly formed "California Battalion" swelled to about 160 men. These men included Fremont's 30 topographical men and their 30 scouts and hunters, U.S. Marine Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie, a U.S. Navy officer to handle their two cannons, a company of Indians trained by Sutter and many other permanent California settlers from several different countries as well as American settlers. The California Battalion members were used mainly to garrison and keep order in the rapidly surrendering California towns. The Navy went down the coast from San Francisco, occupying ports without resistance as they went. The small pueblo (town) of San Diego surrendered 29 July 1846 without a shot being fired. The small pueblo (town) of Santa Barbara surrendered without a shot being fired in August 1846. On August 13, 1846, a joint force of U.S. Marines, bluejacket sailors and parts of Frémont's California Battalion carried by the USS Cyane entered Los Angeles, California with flags flying and band playing. Captain Archibald H. Gillespie, (Frémont's second in command), with an inadequate force of 40 to 50 men, were left to occupy and keep order in the largest town (about 3,500) in Alta California—Los Angeles.
A minor Californio revolt broke out in Los Angeles and the United States force there of 40–50 men evacuated the city for a time. Later, U.S. forces fought minor skirmishes in the Battle of San Pasqual, the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, and the Battle of Rio San Gabriel. After the Los Angeles revolt started, the California Battalion was expanded to a force of about 400 men. In early January 1847, a 600-man joint force of U.S. Marine, U.S. Navy bluejacket sailors, General Stephen W. Kearny's 80 U.S. Army dragoons (cavalrymen) and about two companies of Fremont's California Battalion re-occupied Los Angeles after some minor skirmishes—after four months the same U.S. flag again flew over Los Angeles. The minor armed resistance in California ceased when the Californios signed the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847. About 150 Californios who were worried about possible punishment from the Americans rounded up about 300 horses and retreated into Sonora, Mexico over the Yuma Crossing Gila River trail. The Californios, who had wrested control of California from Mexico in 1845, now had a new government.
After the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed, the Pacific Squadron then went on to capture all Baja California cities and harbors and sink or capture all the Mexican Pacific Navy they could find. Baja California was returned to Mexico in subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo negotiations. After hostilities had ceased, on January 22, 1847 Commodore Stockton's replacement, Commodore William B. Shubrick, showed up in Monterey in the razee USS Independence with 54 guns and about 500 crew members. On January 27, 1847 the transport Lexington showed up in Monterey, California with a regular army artillery company of 113 men under Captain Christopher Tompkins. More reinforcements of about 320 soldiers (and a few women) of the Mormon Battalion arrived at San Diego on January 28, 1847—after hostilities had ceased. They had been recruited from the Mormon camps on the Missouri River—about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away. These troops were recruited with the understanding they would be discharged in California with their weapons. Most were discharged before July 1847. More reinforcements in the form of Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson's 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers of about 648 men showed up in March–April 1847—again after hostilities had ceased. After desertions and deaths in transit, four ships brought Stevenson's 648 men to California. Initially they took over all of the Pacific Squadron's on-shore military and garrison duties and the Mormon Battalion and California Battalion's garrison duties. The New York Volunteer companies were deployed from San Francisco in Alta California to La Paz, Mexico in Baja California. The ship Isabella sailed from Philadelphia on 16 August 1847, with a detachment of one hundred soldiers, and arrived in California on 18 February 1848, the following year, at about the same time that the ship Sweden arrived with another detachment of soldiers. These soldiers were added to the existing companies of Stevenson's 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers. Stevenson's troops were recruited with the understanding that they would be discharged in California. When gold was discovered in late January 1848, many of Stevenson's troops deserted.
The exclusive land ownership by the approximately 9,000 Californios in California would soon end. After some minor skirmishes, California was under U.S. control by January 1847 and formally annexed and paid for by the U.S. in 1848. Twenty-seven years of ineffective Mexican rule ended as 163 years (as of 2011) of rapid and continued advancement under U.S. federal, state, and local governments and private development proceeded. After 1847, California was controlled (with much difficulty due to desertions) by a U.S. Army-appointed military governor and an inadequate force of a little over 600 troops. Due to the California Gold Rush, by 1850 California had grown to have a non-Indian and non-Californio population of over 100,000 Despite a major conflict in the U.S. Congress on the number of slave versus non-slave states, the large, rapid and continuing California population gains and the large amount of gold being exported east gave California enough clout to choose its own boundaries, select its representatives, write its Constitution, and be admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850 without going through territorial status as required for most other states.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the Mexican–American War in February 1848. For $15,000,000, and the assumption of U.S. debt claims against Mexico, the new state of Texas's boundary claims were settled, and New Mexico, California, and the unsettled territory of several future states of the American Southwest were added to U.S. control.
From 1847 to 1850, California had military governors appointed by the senior military commander in California. This arrangement was distinctly unsettling to the military, as they had no inclination, precedent, or training for setting up and running a government. President James K. Polk in office from March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849, tried to get the 1848 Congress to make California a territory with a territorial government and again in 1849 but was unsuccessful in getting Congress to agree on the specifics of how this was to be done—the issues was the number of free states vs. slave state problem. General Bennett C. Riley who had fought in the Siege of Veracruz and Chapultepec during the Mexican–American War and considered an able military commander, was the last military governor of California in 1849-1850. In response to popular demand for a better more representative government, General Riley issued an official proclamation dated June 3, 1849, calling for a Constitutional Convention and an election of representatives on August 1, 1849.
Convention delegates were chosen by secret ballot but lacking any census data as to California's population and where they lived its representatives only roughly approximated the rapidly changing state population as later shown in the 1850 U.S. California Census taken a year later. The 48 delegates chosen were mostly pre-1846 American settlers; eight were native born Californios who had to use interpreters. The new miners in El Dorado County were grossly under-represented as they had no representatives at the convention despite then being the most populated county in California. After the election the California Constitution Convention met in the small town and former Californio Capital of Monterey, California on September 1849 to write a state constitution.
Like all U.S. State's constitutions, the California Constitution adhered closely to the format and government roles set up in the original 1789 U.S. Constitution—differing mainly in details. The Constitutional Convention met for 43 days debating and writing the first California Constitution. The 1849 Constitution copied (with revisions) a lot out of the Ohio and New York Constitutions but had parts that were originally several different state constitutions as well as original material.
The twenty one Declaration of Rights in the California Constitution (Article I: Sec.1 to Sec.-21) was broader than the original U.S. Constitution's ten Bill of Rights. There were four other significant differences from the U.S. Constitution. The convention chose the boundaries for the state—unlike most other territories, whose boundaries were set by Congress (Article XII). Article IX encouraged statewide education and provided for a system of common schools partially funded by the state and provided for the establishment of a University (University of California). They unanimously outlawed slavery, except as punishment (Article I Sec. 18) and dueling (Article XI Sec.2). They gave women and wives the right to own and control their own property (Article XI Sec. 14).
The debt limit for the state was set at $300,000 (Article VIII). Like all other states they guaranteed the rights of citizens to sue in Civil court to uphold the rights of contracts and property (Article I Sec. 16). They created a court system with a supreme court with judges who had to be confirmed every 12 years.(Article VI) They set up the states original 29 counties (Article I Sec. 4), created a legislature of two houses, set up polling places to vote, set up uniform taxation rules. The 1849 Constitution guaranteed the right to vote to "Every citizen of California, declared a legal voter by this Constitution, and every citizen of the United States, a resident of this State on the day of election, shall be entitled to vote at the first general election under this Constitution, and on the question of the adoption thereof (Article XII Sec. 5)". The California Constitution was ratified by popular vote at an election held on a rainy November 13, 1849 (as specified in Article 12 Sec. 8). The small town of Pueblo de San Jose was chosen as the first state capitol (Article XI Sec. 1). Soon after the election they set up a provisional state government that set up the counties, elected a governor, senators and representatives and operated for 10 months setting up a state government before California was given official statehood by Congress on September 9, 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850. Thirty eight days later the Pacific Mail Steamship SS Oregon brought word to San Francisco on October 18, 1850 that California was now the 31st state—there was a bang up celebration that lasted for weeks. The state capital was variously at San Jose (1850–1851), Vallejo (1852–1853) and Benicia (1853–1854) until Sacramento was finally selected in 1854. The constitution of 1849 was only judged a partial success as a founding document and was superseded by the current constitution, which was first ratified on May 7, 1879.
The first to hear confirmed information of the California Gold Rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Mexico, Peru, and Chile. They were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. By the end of 1848, some 6,000 Argonauts had come to California. Americans and foreigners of many different countries, statuses, classes, and races rushed to California for gold. Almost all (~96%) were young men. Women in the California Gold Rush were few and had many opportunities to do new things and take on new tasks in women poor California. Argonauts, as they were often called, walked over the California Trail or came by sea. About 80,000 Argonauts arrived in 1849 alone—about 40,000 over the California trail and 40,000 by sea.
San Francisco was designated the official port of entry for all California ports where U.S. customs (also called tariffs and Ad valorem taxes) (averaging about 25%) were collected by the Collector of Customs from all ships bearing foreign goods. The first Collector of customs was Edward H. Harrison, appointed by General Kearny. Shipping boomed from the average of about 25 vessels from 1825 to 1847 to about 793 ships in 1849 and 803 ships in 1850. All ships were inspected for what goods they carried. Passengers disembarking in San Francisco had one of the easier accesses to the gold country since they could take another ship from there to get to Sacramento and several other towns.
San Francisco shipping boomed, and wharves and piers had to be developed to handle the onslaught of cargo--Long Wharf was probably the most prominent. To meet the demands of the Gold Rush, ships bearing food, liquors of many types, tools, hardware, clothing, complete houses, lumber, building materials, etc. as well as farmers, business men, prospective miners, gamblers, entertainers and prostitutes, etc. from around the world came to San Francisco. Initially, the large supplies of food needed were imported from close ports in Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and the future state of Oregon. The Californios initially prospered, as there was a sudden increase in the demand for livestock. These food shipments changed mainly to shipments from Oregon and internal shipments in California as agriculture was developed in both states.
Starting in 1849, many of the ship crews jumped ship and headed for the gold fields when they reached port. Soon San Francisco Bay had many hundreds of abandoned ships anchored offshore. The better ships were recrewed and put back in the shipping and passenger business. Others were bought cheap and hauled up on the mud flats and used as store ships, saloons, temporary stores, floating warehouses, homes, and a number of other uses. Many of these repurposed ships were partially destroyed in one of San Francisco's many fires and ended up as landfill to expand the available land. The population of San Francisco exploded from about 200 in 1846 to 36,000 in the 1852 California Census.
In San Francisco, many people were initially housed in wooden houses, ships hauled up on the mud flats to serve as homes or businesses, wood-framed canvas tents used for saloons, hotels and boarding houses as well as other flammable structures. All these canvas and wood structures, combined with a lot of drunken gamblers and miners, led almost inevitably to many fires. Most of San Francisco burned down six times in six Great Fires between 1849 and 1852.
Californios who lived in California had finally had enough of the Mexican government and seized control of the territory of Alta California in 1846. At the time gold was discovered in 1848, California had about 9,000 former Californios and about 3,000 United States citizens including members of Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson's 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers and discharged members of the California Battalion and Mormon Battalions. The Pacific Squadron secured San Francisco Bay. The state was formerly under the military governor Colonel Richard Barnes Mason who only had about 600 troops to govern California—many of these troops deserted to go to the gold fields. Before the Gold Rush, almost no infrastructure existed in California except a few small Pueblos (towns), secularized and abandoned Missions and about 500 large (averaging over 18,000 acres (73 km2)) ranchos owned the Californios who had mostly taken over the Missions land and livestock. The largest town in California prior to the Gold Rush was the Pueblo de Los Angeles with about 3,500 residents.
The sudden massive influx into a remote area overwhelmed the state infrastructure, which in most places didn't even exist. Miners lived in tents, wood shanties, wagons, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships. Wherever gold was discovered, hundreds of miners would collaborate to put up a camp and stake their claims. With names like Rough and Ready and Hangtown (Placerville, California), each camp often had its own saloon, dance hall, and gambling house.
Some of the first Argonauts, as they were also known, traveled by the all sea route around Cape Horn. Ships could take this route year round and the first ships started leaving East Coast ports as early as November 1848. From the East Coast, a sailing voyage around the southern tip of South America would typically take five to eight months—averaging about 200 days by standard sailing ship. This trip could easily cover over 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) depending on the route chosen—some even went by way of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). When clipper ships began to be used starting in early 1849, they could complete this journey in an average of only 120 days; but they typically carried few passengers. They specialized in high value freight.
Starting in 1848, Congress had subsidized the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to set up regular packet ship, mail, passenger and cargo routes in the Pacific Ocean. This was to be a regular route from Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico to and from San Francisco and Oregon. The Atlantic Ocean mail contract from East Coast cities and New Orleans, Louisiana to and from the Chagres River in Panama was won by the United States Mail Steamship Company whose first steamship, the SS Falcon (1848') was dispatched on December 1, 1848. The SS California (1848), the first Pacific Mail Steamship Company steamship, showed up in San Francisco on February 28, 1849 on its first trip from Panama and Mexico after steaming around Cape Horn from New York. Other steamships soon followed and by late 1849 paddlewheel steamships like the SS McKim (1848) were carrying miners the 125 miles (201 km) trip from San Francisco up the Sacramento River to Sacramento and Marysville, California. Steam powered tugboats started working in the San Francisco Bay soon after this.
Agriculture and irrigation expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields, and a system of "staking claims" was developed. The Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans were pushed off of traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental harm.
In the early years of the California Gold Rush, placer mining methods were used, from panning to "cradles" and "rockers" or "long-toms", to diverting the water from an entire river into a sluice alongside the river, and then digging for gold in the newly-exposed river bottom. This placer gold had been freed by the slow disintegration, over geological time, that freed the gold from its ore. This free gold was typically found in the cracks in the rocks found at the bottom of rivers or creeks, as the gold typically worked down through the gravel or collected in stream bends. Some 12-million ounces (370 t) of gold were removed in the first five years of the Gold Rush. This gold greatly increased the available money in the United States, which was on the gold standard at that time—the more gold you had, the richer you were.
As the easier gold was recovered, the mining became much more capital and labor intensive as the hard rock quartz mining, 'hydraulic," and dredging mining evolved. By the mid-1880s, it is estimated that 11-million ounces (340 t) of gold (worth approximately US$6.6 billion at November 2006 prices) had been recovered via "hydraulicking," a style of hydraulic mining that later spread around the world, despite its drastic environmental consequences. By the late 1890s, dredging technology had become economical, and it is estimated that more than 20 million ounces (620 t) were recovered by dredging (worth approximately US$12 billion at November 2006 prices). Both during the Gold Rush and in the decades that followed, hard-rock mining wound up being the single-largest source of gold produced in the Gold Country.
By 1850, the U.S. Navy started making plans for a west coast navy base at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The greatly increased population, along with the new wealth of gold, caused: roads, bridges, farms, mines, steamship lines, businesses, saloons, gambling houses, boarding houses, churches, schools, towns, mercury mines, and other components of a rich modern (1850) U.S. culture to be built. The sudden growth in population caused many more towns to be built throughout Northern, and later Southern, California and the few existing towns to be greatly expanded. The first cities started showing up as San Francisco and Sacramento exploded in population.
|Indigenous Population in 19th Century|
The immigration that was sparked by the gold rush would have a disastrous impact on California's native population, which precipitously declined mainly due to Eurasian diseases to which they had no natural immunity. The native inhabitants were forcefully removed from their lands by incoming miners, ranchers, and farmers and despite the fact that California entered the union as a free state, the Native population was enslaved as per the 1853 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. There were a number of massacres, including the Yontoket Massacre, the Bloody Island Massacre at Clear Lake, and the Old Shasta Massacre, in which hundreds of indigenous people were killed. Between 1850 and 1860, the state of California paid around 1.5 million dollars (some 250,000 of which was reimbursed by the federal government) to hire militias whose purpose was to protect settlers from the indigenous populations. These "private military forays" were involved in several of the above-mentioned massacres, and participated in the "wanton killing" of Native peoples. The first governor of California, Peter Burnett, openly called for the extermination of the Indian tribes, and in reference to the violence against California's Native population, he said, “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate the result with but painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power and wisdom of man to avert” As a result, the rise of California equalled great tragedy and hardship for the native inhabitants. Several scholars, including Benjamin Madley and Ed Castillo, have described the actions of the California government as a genocide. In subsequent decades, the native population was placed in a series of reservations and rancherias, which were often very small and isolated and lacked adequate natural resources or funding from the government to sustain the populations living on them.
The Maritime history of California includes Native American dugouts, tule canoes, and sewn canoes (Tomols); early European explorers; Colonial Spanish and Mexican California maritime history; Russians and Aleut Eskimo kayaks in the Maritime Fur Trade. U.S. Naval Activity including: Pacific Squadron, Mexican–American War. California Gold Rush shipping includes paddle steamers, Clippers, sailing ships, passage via Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Cape Horn and the growth of the Port of San Francisco. Also included are sections on California naval installations, California shipbuilding, California shipwrecks, and California lighthouses.
Tribes in northwest California practiced slavery long before the arrival of Europeans. There were never black slaves owned by Europeans, and many free men of African ancestry joined the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). Some returned east with enough gold to purchase their relatives. The California Constitution of 1849 outlawed any form of slavery in the state, and later the Compromise of 1850 allowed California to be admitted into the Union, undivided, as a free state. Nevertheless, as per the 1853 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, a number of Native Americans were formally enslaved in the state, a practice that continued until the mid-1860s, when California changed its laws to conform to the 14th Amendement.
The possibility of splitting off Southern California as a territory or a state was rejected by the national government, and the idea was dead by 1861 when patriotic fervor swept California after the attack on Fort Sumter.
California's involvement in the American Civil War included sending gold east, recruiting or funding a limited number of combat units, maintaining numerous fortifications and sending troops east, some of whom became famous. Following the split in the Democratic Party in 1860, Republican supporters of Lincoln took control of the state in 1861, minimizing the influence of the large southern population. Their great success was in obtaining a Pacific railroad land grant and authorization to build the Central Pacific as the western half of the transcontinental railroad.
California was settled primarily by Midwestern and Southern farmers, miners, and businessmen. Though the southerners and some Californios tended to favor the Confederacy, the state did not have slavery, and they were generally powerless during the war itself. They were prevented from organizing and their newspapers were closed down by denying them the use of the mail. Former Sen. William M. Gwin, a Confederate sympathizer, was arrested and fled to Europe.
Nearly all of the men who volunteered as Union soldiers stayed in the West, within the Department of the Pacific, to guard forts and other facilities, occupy secessionist regions, and fight Indians in the state and the western territories. Some 2,350 men in the California Column marched east across Arizona in 1862 to expel the Confederates from Arizona and New Mexico. The California Column then spent most of the remainder of the war fighting hostile Indians in the area.
Ships provided[when?] easy, cheap, slow links among the coastal towns within California and on routes leading there. The Panama route provided a shortcut for getting from the East Coast to California and a brisk maritime trade developed, featuring fast clipper ships.
Steamboats (which needed fresh water and wood every day) plied the Bay Area and the rivers that flowed from the goldfields, moving passengers and supplies. With few roads, pack trains brought supplies to the miners. Soon a system of wagon roads, bridges, and ferries was set up. Large freight wagons replaced pack trains, and crude roads made it easier to get to the mining camps, enabling express companies to deliver mail and packages to the miners. Stagecoach lines eventually created routes connecting Missouri to California.
Before the 1870s, stagecoaches provided the primary form of local transportation between inland towns, with sailing ships connecting port cities. Even when railroads arrived, stages were essential to link more remote areas to the railheads. Top of the line in quality, with least discomfort, was the nine-passenger Concord, but the cheaper, rougher "mud wagons" were also in general use. The Wells Fargo company contracted with independent lines to deliver its express packages and transport gold bullion and coins. Stagecoach travel was usually uncomfortable as passengers shared limited space. Drivers were famous for their skill in driving six horses down winding roads at top speed, rarely overturning. Competition reduced fares to as little a two cents per mile on some routes. Bandits found robbing coaches a profitable if risky venture. U.S. government mail subsidies provided essential base income, but running a stage line was a financially unstable business enterprise.
Prior to the railroad, travel between California and the East Coast usually involved a hazardous, six-month-long sea voyage or overland journey from the East. Most 49ers joined groups that walked overland across the plains, deserts and mountains; 17,000 to 25,000 took the southern route from Texas through Arizona, and 25,000 to 30,000 walked the better-known northern route from Kansas.
When the Central Pacific (built east from San Francisco using Chinese laborers) reached Utah in 1869, it linked with the Union Pacific Railroad, built west from Omaha using Irish labor. The transcontinental route meant it was no longer necessary to travel for six or more months by ship or on foot to reach the golden state; travel from Chicago to San Francisco took less than six days. The plunge in the cost and time of travel ended the state's isolation, and brought in cheap manufactured goods, along with more migrants. The establishment of America's transcontinental rail lines in 1869 securely linked California to the rest of the country, and the far-reaching transportation systems that grew out of them during the century that followed contributed to the state's social, political and economic development. In recent years, passenger railroad building has picked up steam, with the introduction of services such as Metrolink, Caltrain, Amtrak California, and others. This is expected to continue, thanks to the passing of various rail-construction measures on November 4, 2008, including Proposition 1a.