BAJA'S 457 YEARS OF SOMNAMBULENT HISTORY ‑ cwferguson
Reports filed by Fortun Ximénez with Hernán Cortez in 1533 were unbelievable. Ten sailing days north of Bahia de Tecuantepec, located in the south of New Spain, existed an island populated by aborigines tall in stature and dark of complexion. Every paragraph indicated that the new discovery was the lost island described by Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo in his 1510 best selling novel, Sergas de Esplandían. If so, the land would be rich in gold and pearls and would be ruled by an Amazonian Queen named Califia. Corte'z was excited.
On the third day of May, 1535, Cortez, commanding three galleons, sailed into a beautiful, tranquil harbor, took possession in the name of the reigning Spanish monarch, King Charles I, and named it Santa Cruz. Beyond the beautiful bay, however, lay an arid, desolate desert "fit only for the savages existing there" and obviously not the fabled land of California.
Santa Cruz was abandoned in 1537 and would remain but a footnote in Spanish history until 1596 when Sebastia'n Vizcaíno attempted to establish a pearl fishing colony there. Although no more successful than his predecessor, Vizcaíno succeeded in charting the entirety of the Gulfo de California, which he called El Mar de Corte'z, and, in the process, renamed the peaceful bay La Paz. With Vizcaíno's abandonment of the colony, La Paz would slumber until 1720.
In the interim, however, Spain was suffering grave problems in her attempt to colonize the New World. By 1565, a route from Luzon in the Philippines to Acapulco in New Spain had been established and the Spaniards were transporting massive quantities of Oriental treasures aboard their invincible galleons. The annual shipment was known as the Manila Galeón. Harassment, however, stalked the horizon.
On the 16th of September, 1578, Francis Drake entered the Sea of the South through the Straits of Magellan with a quintet of warships. Spain trembled. Nine years later, during midday of the 11th of November, 1587, Thomas of Cavendish, commanding two corsairs, the Desire and the Content, sacked and burned the "invincible" Santa Ana off the coast of Cabo San Lucas. Spain spasmed. When Joris van Spilbergen entered Spanish waters in 1615 with his "Dutch Hens" Spain recognized that colonization of the Pacific littoral was an absolute necessity if continued expansion and maritime control was to be achieved. Due to the 30 Year's War and the debacle wreaked on the Spanish Armada in 1588 by the British, Spain's coffers were insufficiently provisioned to establish the presidios requisite to stem the swelling tide of foreign encroachment.
Consequently, the Crown authorized the Society of Jesus to colonize and "Christianize" the aborigines on the island they were now referring to as California. On October 5th, 1683, the Jesuits made their first foray into California under the direction of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.
Although Father Juan Mari'a de Salvatierra founded the first permanent mission, Nuestra Se@ora de Loreto, on Christmas day, 1697, La Paz would wait 23 years before Fathers Juan de Ugarte and Jaime Bravo would found Mission Neustra Se@ora de Pilar de la Paz in 1720. Of course, by this time it was known that California was not an island. The Crown was delighted with the aspect of establishing missions from California north to Monterey in Alta California; its pleasure was to be short‑lived.
During the first week of October, 1734, Pericú warriors simultaneously attacked the missions at Todos Santos, La Paz, Santiago, and San Josse' del Cabo. Two priests, one soldier, and over 300 civilians perished before survivors were able to escape to Isla Espiritu Santo off La Paz. The Pericú uprisings of 1734‑36 was not the first of many setbacks that had confronted the Society of Jesus. The following year, 1735, 600 armed warriors attacked the galleon San Cristóbal while taking on water in San Jose' del Cabo. The Captain, Mateo Zumalde, weighed anchor with a minimum of casualties, but the Jesuit undertaking had, in effect, come to an end.
Citing illegal enrichment by the Jesuits as well as Indian maltreatment, King Charles III expelled the Society of Jesus from all Spanish territories in 1768. The missions at La Paz, Santiago, Santa Rosa, San Jose' del Cabo, and Todos Santos (the Southern Missions) would never recover. La Paz and Los Cabos (the capes) would slumber for well over a century.
As the 19th Century was dawning, México revolted against imperialism and foreign encroachment. Spain was turned out of México, ill equipped as she was to engage in the Mexican struggle due to European intrigues against her empire. When Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian was executed before a firing squad while attempting escape through Vera Cruz, French presence was forever vanquished from México. But a fledgling nation to the north, calling itself the United States of America, continued to interfere in Mexican affairs. None of the fomenting problems seemed to have any effect on California.
The Texas revolt against Mexican rule in 1835, however, would ultimately change the cartographical face of México and the destiny of the Baja peninsula. United States President James K. Polk precipitated a war with México in 1844 which resulted in a "vast Mexican Cession." Alta and Baja California was to be ceded to the United States, but an 11th hour decision, the details of which remain historically obscure, opted against the acquisition of the California peninsula.
Not everyone north of the Rio Bravo was pleased with the decision. Filibuster William Walker, advertising for mercenaries in the San Francisco Examiner, collected a motley expeditionary force and invaded México through Ensenada. As he was nearing La Paz, however, a brave and well equipped Mexican garrison repulsed his forces. That victory would mark the last foreign attempt at military intervention into Mexican territory.
But all was not well with México. Porfirio Diaz, a duly elected president, usurped the constitution and refused to leave office at the end of his legal term. The fever of the citizenry reached the flash point in 1910. But in 1910 the world was in upheaval. The War Between The States had recently been resolved as had the revolution in France. Conflict amongst Prussia, Austria and the German states was about to erupt into World War I. Russian intellectuals and their flock of serfs were on the revolutionary move just as Colonialism was inexorably declining. Alas, México would benefit least from her internal problems. And while the world attempted to resolve its multifaceted controversies no one seemed at all interested in the whereabouts of an isolated pueblo called La Paz.
For some, after 1950, war and rumors of war were replaced by rumors of unbelievable fishing in the Baja. La Paz and hotel Palmilla were the first to capitalize on the nouveaux riche fishermen. Bing Crosby, Desi Arnaz, and The Duke put Los Cabos on the map for the rich and the famous. Bud Parr acquired hotel Cabo San Lucas and went on to buy and expand hotel Hacienda. Luis Coppola built the Finisterra and Luis Bulnes countered with hotel Sol Mar. Los Cabos had awakened. The past five years have noted the trebling of populations in San Jose' and Cabo and has beheld a burgeoning growth in tourism as well . . . and it's only just beginning.