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California History

When European explorers arrived in the s. XVI, these lands were home to more than 100,000 Native Americans. Spanish conquistadors and priests ventured in search of a legendary ‘city of gold’ before creating Catholic missions and presidios. After gaining independence from Spain, Mexico ruled California until its defeat by the fledgling US, just before gold was discovered there, in 1848. Since then, waves of California-enchanted dreamers have come to this shore of the Pacific.

Native Californians

Immigrants have been arriving in California for millennia. Various archaeological sites, from large conch beds to fire pits on the Channel Islands, show evidence of human settlement as early as 13,000 years ago.

Native Californians spoke about 100 languages and mostly lived in small communities; some migrated with the seasons. Their diet was based on acorns, supplemented by small animals, such as rabbits and deer, as well as fish and shellfish. They were skilled craftsmen, making earthenware pots, fishing nets, bows, arrows, and spears from chipped stone points. Many tribes developed the skill of weaving baskets with grass and plant blades, decorated with geometric patterns, and some so tight that they could carry water.

North Coast fishing communities such as the Ohlone, Miwok, and Pomo built subterranean roundhouses and sweat lodges, where they held ceremonies, told stories, and gambled. Among the northern hunters were the Hupa, Karok, and Wiyot, who had large houses and dugouts made of redwood, while the Modoc lived in tipis in summer and shelters in winter; and all were looking for salmon in their time of going up the rivers. Kumeyaay and Chumash villages dotted the central coast, where tribes fished and paddled canoes even as far as the Channel Islands. Further south, the Mojave, Yuma, and Cahuilla made sophisticated pottery and developed irrigation systems to grow crops in the desert.

When the English sea captain Sir Francis Drake arrived in a Miwok area north of San Francisco in 1579, the natives believed they were the dead returning from beyond, and the shamans saw in it a herald of the apocalypse. The omens were not so wrong: a century after the arrival of the Spanish settlers in 1769, the natives of California would be decimated by 80%, down to only 20,000 people due to diseases of others, forced labor, violence, hunger and cultural shock .

Period of the Spanish missions

In the S. In the 18th century, while Russian and English trappers began to trade in valuable skins from Alta California, Spain devised a colonization plan. For the glory of God and the tributary coffers of Spain, missions were raised throughout California, which after 10 years would come under the control of local converts. The quixotic Spanish officer José de Gálvez, from Mexico, gave his consent to him; he had other big projects, like controlling Baja California.

Almost immediately after its approval in 1769, the missionary plan began to fail. Franciscan Friar Junípero Serra and Captain Gaspar de Portolá traveled overland to found Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769, but only half the sailors on their supply ships survived. Portolá had heard of a mythical cove to the north, but since he couldn’t recognize Monterey Bay in the fog, he gave up his quest and returned.

However, Fray Junípero Serra did not give in and gathered support to establish presidios (military posts) next to the missions. If the soldiers did not receive their pay, they dedicated themselves to looting the nearby communities. The clergy were opposed to treating potential converts in this way, but relied on soldiers to recruit manpower for missions. In exchange for forced labor, the natives received a meal a day and a place in the Kingdom of God (which they soon occupied because of the diseases brought by the Spanish, such as smallpox and syphilis).

Unsurprisingly, the indigenous tribes often rebelled. Despite this, the missions had some success with agriculture and, consequently, with some self-sufficiency, but as a means of colonizing California and converting the Indians they failed. The Spanish population was small, foreign interlocutors were not well deterred, and in the end more natives died than converted.

California under Mexican rule

Spain lost California in the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). As long as the missions had the best pastures, the ranchers could not compete in the market for leather and tallow (for soap). But Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers married to native Californians now formed a large constituency, and together these ‘Californians’ convinced Mexico to secularize the missions in 1834.

Californians were quick to obtain title to the missions. Since only a few dozen of them could read, border disputes were settled by force. By law, half of the land was to go to the natives who worked in the missions, but very few of these received property rights.

Via marriage and other ties, nearly all of California’s land and wealth in 1846 belonged to 46 ranching families. At that time, the size of an average ranch was 6,500 Ha; the shacks of yesteryear became elegant haciendas where women remained secluded at night. But the rancheras (women owned some ranches in California) were not willing to be dominated.
Meanwhile, Americans were arriving at the Los Angeles trading post along the Old Spanish Trail. The northern ports of the Sierra Nevada were more treacherous, as the Donner Expedition tragically discovered in 1846.

However, the United States saw great potential in California, and when President Andrew Jackson offered the Mexican government $500,000 for the territory in 1835, the proposal was rejected. After the US annexed Mexico’s Texas in 1845, Mexico broke off diplomatic relations and ordered all undocumented aliens from California to be deported.
The war between Mexico and the United States was declared in 1846 and lasted two years, although little combat was fought in California. Hostilities ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which Mexico lost much of its northern territory (including Alta California) to the US Pure luck: a few weeks later gold was discovered.

Gold Rush

It all started with a lantern. Sam Brannan, real estate speculator, non-practicing Mormon and tabloid editor, was looking to ditch some wetlands in 1848 when he heard rumors that gold nuggets had been found near Sutter’s Mill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Believing that this news would help him sell newspapers and raise land values, Brannan published the rumor as true.

Initially, Brannan’s story did not generate much enthusiasm; he had already surfaced for gold in southern California in 1775. So he spread another story, now verified by Mormon workers at Sutter’s Mill who had kept him secret. Brannan, it seems, kept his word from him by running through the streets of San Francisco and displaying the gold that had been entrusted to him as tithe, shouting, “Gold in the American River!”

Other newspapers also didn’t bother to check the facts, and it didn’t take long for them to publish stories about gold near San Francisco. By 1850, the year California applied for admission as the 31st state in the Union, the foreign population had ballooned from 15,000 to 93,000. Early comers from across the country and the world batted side by side, slept in cramped quarters They drank locally made wine and wok-fed Chinese food, and when they made their fortune, they ordered a hangtown fry (omelet with bacon and oysters).

With each wave of newcomers, the profits fell and the finds became more complicated. In 1848, prospectors earned the equivalent of about $300,000 today; by 1849, half, and in 1865, only $35,000. When surface gold became scarce, the pick, shovel and dynamite were resorted to in the mountains. The work was exhausting and dangerous, life in the cold and dirty mining camps extremely expensive, and the shortage of doctors meant that the injuries were often fatal. There were only one woman for every 4,000 men in some camps, and many paid for company, alcohol, and opium for comfort.

Watchmen, robbery barons and the railway

The luckiest gold seekers were the ones who came and left early. Those who stayed long lost fortunes in search of the next nugget or were the target of resentment. Successful Peruvians and Chileans were harassed and denied renewals of their mining titles; most left California in 1855. The native peons who helped miners get rich went the same way as the Chinese, although they opened service businesses that survived the mining bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the crimes used to be attributed to Australians. The self-proclaimed San Francisco Committee of Policing, created in 1851, tried, convicted, lynched, and deported the Sydney Ducks gang; when another Gold Rush began in Australia that year, many dutifully returned home.

Inter-ethnic rivalries clouded the real competition, which was not peers, but those who controlled the means of production: California’s robbery barons. These speculators stockpiled the capital and industrial machinery necessary for underground mining. With its industrialization, less labor was needed, and job seekers directed their anger at an easy target: the Chinese, who in 1960 were the second largest population group in California, after the Mexicans. California’s discriminatory laws that restricted housing, employment, and nationality to all those born in China were reinforced by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, in effect until 1943.

These laws served the needs of the robbery barons, who needed cheap labor for the railroad to reach their concessions and East Coast markets. To tunnel through the Sierra Nevada, workers were lowered in wicker baskets down vertical walls, placed lit sticks of dynamite into rock crevices, and quickly pulled on the rope to hoist them up. Those who survived the journey were confined to barracks with armed guards in cold, remote mountainous regions. With few alternatives to legal employment, an estimated 12,000 Chinese laborers drilled through the Sierra Nevada until they met the west end of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

Fight for oil and water

During the Civil War (1861-1865), California could not count on food shipments from the East Coast, so it began to grow them. With shameless propaganda, California recruited ranchers from the Midwest to seed the Central Valley. “Hectares of unoccupied government land…for a million farmers…health and wealth without cyclones or storms,” proclaimed a promotional poster, which made no mention of earthquakes or land struggles with ranchers and natives. More than 120,000 planters came to California in the 1870s and 1880s.

These found themselves with the ravages left by gold mining: gutted mountains, devastated vegetation, clogged streams and mercury spills in the water. Cholera spread through the poorly drained sewers of the camps, claiming many lives; minor finds in the mountains of southern California diverted essential streams to the dry southern valleys. As the mining concessions granted by the Government benefited from substantial tax exemptions, public funds were insufficient to undertake cleaning or sewage projects.

Frustrated farmers south of Big Sur voted for independence from California in 1859, but the issue was sidelined by the Civil War. In 1884, Southern Californians passed a pioneering law banning river dumping and, with the support of budding agribusiness and real estate businesses, issued bonds to build aqueducts and dams that would allow large-scale agriculture and urban development. Arrived the s. XX, the lower third of the state consumed two thirds of the available water, which sponsored the desire for secession of northern California.

Meanwhile, Edward Doheny, bankrupt gold prospector and failed real estate speculator, discovered oil in downtown Los Angeles, near present-day Dodger Stadium, marking the start of the great oil boom. Within a year it was generating 40 barrels a day, and five years later there were 500 wells active in Southern California. By the end of the decade, the state was producing four million barrels of black gold a year. Downtown Los Angeles grew up around the Doheny Well, and by 1900 it was an industrial hub with more than 100,000 residents.

As bucolic Southern California urbanized, Northern Californians, witnessing environmental devastation from mining and logging, launched the nation’s first environmental movement. John Muir, a Sierra Nevada naturalist, lyrical writer, and San Francisco Bay Area farmer, founded the Sierra Club in 1892. Against Muir’s strenuous objections, dams and pipelines were built to benefit desert and coastal communities. , such as the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite, which supplies water to the Bay Area. In a territory prone to drought, tensions between land exploiters and environmentalists continue to rage.

The Wild West Reformation

The great earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco in 1906 marked a turning point for California. With public funds for mains and hydrants diverted by corrupt politicians, there was only one source of water in all of San Francisco. As the smoke cleared, one thing became clear: it was time to tame the Wild West.

While San Francisco was rebuilding at a rate of 15 buildings a day, reformist politicians went to work on city, state, and national policy, point by point. Californians concerned about public health and white slavery pushed for passage of the Red Light Abatement Act of 1914, which shut down the state’s brothels. Between 1910 and 1921, the Mexican Revolution brought a new wave of immigrants and revolutionary ideas, including ethnic pride and worker solidarity. With the growth of California ports, longshore unions staged a historic 83-day strike in 1934 across the West Coast that led to safer working conditions and fair wages.

At the height of the Great Depression in 1935, some 200,000 farming families fled the Great Plains, hit by the drought of the Bust Bowl, to California to find meager wages and deplorable working conditions. California artists alerted the average American to such hardship, and the entire nation rallied around Dorothea Lange’s photographs of starving families and John Steinbeck’s harrowing account of The Grapes of Wrath. of 1939.

The book was banned in many places, while regarding the 1940 film version, its protagonist Henry Fonda and Steinbeck himself were accused of being communists. Despite everything, he won support for farm workers, which laid the foundation for the creation of the United Farm Workers union.

California’s workforce was forever changed during World War II, when women and African-Americans were recruited for war industries and Mexican workers were brought in to fill the demand for labor. Contracts in military communications and aviation brought together an international elite of engineers, launching the high-tech industry. A decade after World War II, California’s population had grown nearly 40% to over 13 million.

Hollywood and the counterculture

At the beginning of the s. In the 20th century, California’s greatest export was the image of sunshine and health that it projected to the world through film. Southern California became an ideal place to shoot due to its constant sun and landscape variety, although its role was limited to mimicking more exotic settings and as a backdrop for period productions such as The Gold Rush (1925), by Charlie Chaplin. Little by little, California sucked more cameras into iconic movies and TV series, with its palm trees and sunny beaches. With the power of Hollywood, he tamed his Wild West image and adopted a more commercial one of boys on the beach and blondes in bikinis.

However, Northern Californians did not see themselves as extras in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). World War II Marines discharged for insubordination and homosexuality in San Francisco found themselves at home in North Beach’s bebop jazz clubs, bohemian cafes and the City Lights bookstore. San Francisco soon became the city of free speech and the libertarian spirit, and arrests were not long in coming: beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, comedian Lenny Bruce for uttering obscenities onstage and Carol Doda for going topless.When the CIA used writer Ken Kesey to test psychoactive drugs intended to create the perfect soldier, it inadvertently ushered in the psychedelic era. At the “Human Be-In” held in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967, thrips guru Timothy Leary encouraged a crowd of 20,000 hippies to conceive a new American dream and “turn on, tune in.” , drop out” (“activate, tune in and let go”).

Flower power was followed by other revolutions in the Bay Area, such as black power and gay pride. Although between the 1940s and 1960s Northern California’s counterculture was the most striking, dissent in the sunny south shook the country’s foundations. In 1947, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was trying to rid the movie industry of communists, 10 writers and directors who refused either to admit to the accusations or to provide names were charged with contempt of Congress and banned from working in Hollywood. Yet the Hollywood Ten’s passionate defense of the US Constitution was heard across the country, and Hollywood’s biggest names nonetheless hired “blacklisted” talent. Justice finally put an end to McCarthyism in the late 1950s.

The image of a beach paradise (and the oil industry) would definitely change, not thanks to the Hollywood directors, but because of the bathers of Santa Barbara. On January 28, 1969, an oil platform spilled 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel, killing dolphins, seals and thousands of birds. Against all odds, this laid-back beach community staged a highly effective protest, leading to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Coastal Commission, as well as the passage of major state and national anti-pollution laws.

California ‘geek’

When Silicon Valley introduced the first personal computer in 1968, advertisements proclaimed that Hewlett-Packard’s “light” (40-pound) machine could solve fifth-degree polynomial roots, Bessel functions, elliptic integrals, and regression analysis for as little as just $4,900 ( over $33,000 today). Consumers didn’t know what to do with computers, but in his 1969 Whole Earth Catalog , writer Stewart Brand explained that technology used by governments would empower ordinary people. With this hope, 21-year-old Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak introduced the Apple II at the West Coast Computer Fair in 1977, with 4 KB of RAM and a 1 MHz microprocessor. But the question remained: what would people do with all that computing power?

In the mid-1990s, an entire dot-com industry flourished in Silicon Valley; Suddenly, people could access everything (mail, news, politics, pet food, and sex) online. But when dot-com profits were gone, venture capital funds dried up and option finance fortunes disappeared as the dot-com bubble burst and the NASDAQ crashed on March 10, 2000. Overnight, VPs 26-year-olds and service sector workers from the San Francisco Bay Area found themselves out of work. However, as users searched billions of web pages for more information, there was a boom in search engines and social media.

For its part, the biotechnology industry was also taking off. In 1976, a company called Genentech was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked to clone human insulin and introduce the hepatitis B vaccine. In 2004, California voters approved $3 billion in public bonds. US$ for stem cell research, and in 2008 California was the largest US funder of such research, as well as the center of the new NASDAQ biotech index. And California is sure to do well in its future big plans, no matter how wacky they may sound at first.