California State History

California State collage of images.

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General State History
Historic Figures

General California State History

Photo of Half Dome in California.   The original California natives inhabited an isolated corner of North america, with mountains to the east and deserts to the south. They developed a stable and peaceful culture, with numerous tribes within well defined borders, leading to remarkable linguistic diversity but limited ability to organize a defense
against European colonialism.

Spain claimed and occupied California in the interest of increasing the Spanish realm -- in terms of both land and people - to increase Spanish and Catholic influence. The Spanish colonization was highly authoritarian and subject to all the inefficiencies of centralized planning. To their credit, the Spanish envisioned the native population as playing an important role as Catholic citizens, but the mission/presidio system failed to adopt the Indians to this role and failed to attract a sufficient number of Spanish settlers.

When Mexico fought and obtained independence, California lost virtually all its centralized support. as members of an isolated community, Californios spent three decades in political confusion (at one point, a Californio-based republic was declared). The richest families turned to the one industry guaranteed to earn a comfortable living - selling hides and tallow generated from the virtually free cattle that roamed vast ranchos. In an attempt to increase the non-Indian population, foreigners of all types were admitted.

Photo of California.   Soon a sizable minority of Yankees grew, dominating the merchant class and entering into important positions in the political and social structure. The defense of California,
completely neglected by Mexico and lacking support from unstable California administrations, led to the unusual condition where any of several world powers could have easily occupied California. In point of fact, the Yankee residents themselves were the first to do it, in the Bear Flag revolt of June 1846. Just one month after, due to the Mexican-american war that in turn stemmed from the Yankee takeover of Texas, the american Navy took control of California without firing a shot.

Most Californios were resigned to inevitable Yankee rule, though a revolt at Los angeles led to a pocket of Californio resistance lasting from September 1846 to January 1847. California was officially made a territory with the end of the Mexican-american war February 2, 1848, nine days before gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill.

Through some local PR efforts, and support in late 1848 from President Polk himself, a gold mania swept the States and the world resulting in the remarkable 49er migration. The population soared, quickly (and brutally) overwhelming the Californios and Indians. Political leaders seized the moment to obtain a constitution and voter's ratification by November 1849, with recognition by the U.S. congress in October 1850.

Meanwhile, the great influx of miners was redirected to farming, trade, and business. The beauty, richness, and climate of California - as well as a lack of options for bankrupt miners - kept the population here long after the gold mania died down. The State of California, a chaotic mix of ethnicity's and incomes, hopes and cynicism, was born.



California Historic Figures

John Sutter
1803-80: In the 1840's, businessman Sutter ran a trading empire from a fort he built (with Native american help) in what is now mid-town Sacramento. He also was owner of Sutter's Mill in Coloma, where gold was first discovered in 1848 by James Marshall.


Jedediah Smith
1798-1831: This early 19-th century trapper and explorer is believed to have been the first non-Native american to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. He was also among the first white men to explore the state's far northern coast. A beautiful redwood state park and the scenic Smith River are named after him.


John Muir
1838-1914: an explorer, naturalist, and writer, Muir helped preserve many of California's greatest scenic wonders, such as Yosemite Valley and Kings Canyon, now both national parks. He also founded the Sierra Club, a well-known San Francisco-based conservation group. Muir Woods National Monument, a redwood grove north of San Francisco, is named for him.


Leland Stanford
1824-93: This tycoon helped map out a route for the first transcontinental railroad, which linked California to the East Coast in 1869. He also started Stanford University in Palo alto.