Baja California Sur History

A short history of Baja California Sur.

The Baja California peninsula extends 1,200 km from the U.S. border to the southern tip. The widest point is approximately 200 km. Most of it is separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortez(Gulf of California). It has a long and varied coastline on both sides of the peninsula. The Baja has four major mountain ranges: Sierra Juarez, Sierra de San Pedro Martir, Sierra de la Giganta, Sierra de la Laguna and many minor ranges. Most of Baja California is desert or mountains.

The following is a short history of the lower Baja peninsula.

This is a condensation of “A HISTORY OF LOWER CALIFORNIA” by Pablo L.Martinez. copyrighted in Mexico by Pablo L. Martinez under #24697-1956

In general, the Baja peninsula is a desert. It’s main vegetation is cactus and brush. It’s harsh environment is dry, with very few sources of water, and it’s summertime temperatures can reach 120 degrees. F. plus. It is approximately 1,200 Km. long and 200 km at it’s widest point. It is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of California to the east. The San Andreas fault runs down the Gulf of California. The Gulf of California, sometimes called The Sea Of Cortez, is very deep. These deep cold waters provide abundant nutrients that rise towards the surface due to upwellings. These provide the basic nutrients for a very abundant marine eco-system.

Very little is known about it’s inhabitants in prehistoric times. Other than a few cave paintings, little has been found to tell us about them.

At the time of the Spanish incursion in the Baja, there were three very well defined Indian tribes living there. The extreme south was inhabited by the Pericues, the middle lower peninsula was inhabited by the Guaycuras, and the north by the Cochimies. Estimates of population vary, however 50,000 seems to be the most accepted. It has been established that the northem Indians (Cochimies) came from the north, however the other two groups were not anthropologically speaking similar to either continental or northem Indians. These two groups are however similar to Pacific island inhabitants, leading some experts to speculate, that their ancestors came from a Pacific island center. There are not any known direct descendants of the Pericues or Guaycuras alive. Most were exterminated by the epidemics from Europe. It is accepted that their culture was primitive and they left no permanent structures. There were many legends on the mainland Mexico of the Baja peninsula. Gold and pearls were controlled by Amazon women, men were used only for procreation. At the time it was thought to be an island. After Heman Cortez conquered Mexico, he set out to conquer this famed island. In 1533 one of two ships sent out by Cortez, accidentally discovered the Baja peninsula and they retumed with tales of handfuls of pearls.

Two years later Cortez himself landed in present day La Paz. Over the next thirty years there were many expeditions sent to the present-day Califomias. In 1565 Spain set up its famous Manila galleon route. Thousands of ships sailed this route for the next 250 years. The route was from Acapulco to the Philippines and then retum to the northwest coast of America as far north as 40 degrees and sail southward to Acapulco. The Califomia peninsula became a hide-out for English, Dutch and French pirates praying on the manila galleons with their supercargoes. Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish are a few of the famous pirates to visit the Baja.

The Baja remained unconquerable after many failed attempts until 1697. Jesuit priests and soldiers established a colony at Loreto. Loreto became the capital of the Californias. It is interesting to think that the small town of present day Loreto was the capital of the Californias, and compare it to the present day Los Angeles or San Francisco. The Jesuits built churches and communities throughout the Baja peninsula until 1768, when they were expelled by Spain. Franciscan priests and later Dominicans dominated the peninsula until Mexico obtained it’s freedom from Spain in 1821. This period saw the termination of many Indians and scandals within the church. Very few new churches were built or communities established. The Indian population at this time was estimated to be 4,500. At the turn of the century spanish was in general use among the natives. Most of the colonists that had settled in the Baja suffered because of the poverty of the soil and lack of water. To sum up: European civilization had been introduced, but it was still in swaddling clothes.

With freedom from Spain, the Mexican goverment took a more active part in ruling the Californias. The priests and missionaries remained, however political power was yielded by apointed officials. The United States offered Mexico three and a half million dollars for territory north of parallel 38 this also included the californias. Later President Polk offered 40 million dollars for the californias. This was also rejected. In the spring of 1846 the American Squadron of the Pacific began the war with Mexico and took Monterey, and later San Francisco, this occured without any resistance. California was declared United States territory. A military blockade was established in the lower californias. In March 1847 an American warship landed in San Jose del Cabo and La Paz and imposed the surrender of the areas and it’s inhabitants. The U.S. flag was flown over the lower Californias. A Battalion of volunteers from New York known as the “baby regiment” arrived in La Paz to insure tranquility. They were received without any substantial opposition. A group of Mexican soldiers settled in Mulege with the purpose of starting a campaign against the invaders. Rumors reached La Paz. Two U.S. warships were ordered to Mulege to subdue the inhabitants and vanquish the opponents. A landing party was rejected and one ship left and one stood blockade duty. Rumors spread that the invaders were not invincible. This action began a series of skirmishes between U.S. forces and Mexican forces. With many added warships and troops, the U.S. was finaly able to subdue the Mexican patriots defending their land.

The Treatry of Gudalupe solved these skirmishes. An interesting note during the negotiations of the Treaty of Guadalupe, is that the US had little interest in the Baja and in a counter proposal ceeded it to Mexico leaving a thin strip of land to connect it to mainland Mexico. Soon after the Mexican-American war had ended an American named William Walker invaded La Paz and declared it part of his new goverment,the Republic of Sonora. He left La Paz upon hearing that an army was on it’s way to liberate La Paz. History has branded him a Pirate. The Maximilian Empire never established itself in the Californias as it had on the continent. The Baja remained under the dominion of the Republic. With the rise to power of Gen. Porfidio Diaz there were many lower Californians in opposition. Many skirmishes ensued. The period of Gen. Porfidio Diaz 1880s – 1910 saw few changes in the lower Californias. Land and mineral rights were freely handed over to foreigners.

There was no armed struggle in the lower California during the mexican revolution of 1910-1911. There was a minor riot in the military barracks. In the aftermath of the revolution and the assasination of Madero there were armed uprisings. These uprisings were between the allies of Carranza and Pancho Villa. These persisted for several years. Pacification came in 1914. Many reforms were instituted with the new revolutionary govennent. A period of colonization ensued.

The pearling industry was erradicated when an unknown disease attacked the mother-of -pearl shell,between 1936 and 1940. Agriculture was instituted on a large scale with irrigation from deep wells.

Pablo L. Martinez, born 1898 in Santa Anita B.C.S. died 1970, he spent more than 20 years in research to write “A HISTORY OF LOWER CALIFORNIA”

Condensed by: Boone Camp Sepulveda ,1996