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States of the USA Article Index | California is running out of water.


Article below this video of the iconic California song by the Mamas and Papas--enjoy!

How California Became a State

We don’t know much about the non-European occupants who were in California when the Spaniards arrived. We do know theirs was a a stable and peaceful culture. Various tribes lived in the region, each in its own distinct area. The tribes spoke different languages, which put them at a disadvantage in the face of European colonialism.

Spain claimed and occupied California with the goal of spreading their kingdom and their Catholic religion. This ultimately met with failure, as centralized planning has throughout history (reference to "the Clintonistas" is a play on what happened with central planning in California’s early years).

War in Mexico (1810–1821) slowly pushed Spanish rule from North America. But Californians were in the dark about the war, because the Spanish government censored what little news that came with infrequent government supply ships. Californians thought the revolution was a minor spat soon to fade away. In 1822, they were shocked to learn they had been Mexican citizens for nearly a year!

When Mexico gained independence from Spain, California became an isolated community, with no support from Spain. Mexico declared California a territory (rather than a state) and left it low on the priority list.

Citizens spent three decades with no clear political direction. In 1825, Mexico City began sending governors to California, but Californians simply didn’t respect these people—especially since Mexican force was hardly a threat. Between 1831 and 1836, California government had 11 different administrations.

The power base in California transferred to a few families descended from the Spanish soldiers. They became owners of permanent and large ranchero grants. The richest families sold hides and tallow from the free cattle that roamed huge ranchos. These families intermarried, and the ties meant the battles between them seldom resulted in casualties.

To increase the non-Indian population, foreigners of all types were admitted. Soon a sizable minority of Yankees grew, dominating the merchant class and entering into important positions in the political and social structure. Yankees also found a new industry in California: beaver fur.

Jedediah Strong Smith led a small party from the Great Salt Lake overland to Mission San Gabriel in 1826. Upon returning to Utah in July, he became the first person known to cross the Sierra Nevadas. He brought both news of a trail a beaver trapper's paradise. Another trapper, James Pattie, entered California in the Fall of 1826. Trappers continued to come to California from the East, developing an immigration route that would be key, twenty years later.

In1824 ,the Chumash Indians revolted and temporarily controlled three missions (Santa Barbara, Santa Ines, and La Purisima). In 1829, Estanislao organized Miwok tribes into a band that successfully fought off the Californians for the rest of the Mexican era. One guerrilla band after another wore away at Mexican influence and the existence of the Spanish Missions.

The 1830s were seminal to California’s becoming a state, and several key players arrived during that time. They include: Thomas Larkin (1832), Jacob P. Leese (1836), John Marsh (1836), and John Sutter (1839). These people helped form the culture that eventually made Californian successful and predominantly "Yankee."

The United States wanted San Francisco, because of its reputation as the best harbor on the Pacific coast. Americans remembered how weak Mexico was in the War of 1812, and started licking their chops at acquiring California. Several attempts to purchase the territory failed because of one fiasco or another, and making Texas a state exacerbated difficult relations between the U.S. and Mexico.

The two landmark events were the Bear Flag Revolt (an uprising precipitated by a clashing of egos and authorities) and the Mexican American War, taking place in 1846. At that time, California was very weak militarily—the various Presidios were either unmanned or so low on arms and ammunition as to be useless. Yankees made up a rapidly-growing portion of the population, and held key positions in business and government.

While the Bear Flag Revolt was raging, the U.S. was at war with Mexico over Texas. The Californians didn’t know the two nations were at war. The Bear Flag Republic cast out the Mexican Authorities, and proclaimed themselves free of Mexican rule. The U.S. decided to take California from the Mexicans. On July 7th, the U.S. Navy raised the U.S. Flag at Monterey. On the 9th, they raised it at Yerba Buena, and on the 11th they raised it at Sutter’s Fort. So, American possession displaced the Bear Flag Republic less than a month after the birth of that republic.

Initially, Californians resigned themselves to accepting the long-expected takeover by the U.S. But, when Commodore Robert Stockton took over, he and his cronies acted with arrogance and unfairness. This led to further rebellion, which was doomed because of both logistic and organizational reasons. However, the rebellion did gain respect for their property rights.

On to statehood....

In 1848, with Mexico defeated, California became a U.S. Territory on 2 February. On 11 February, an employee discovered some flakes of gold at Sutter's Mill. The political honchos helped engineer the subsequent gold rush, which brought a flood of people into this land so removed from the rest of the U.S.

With a huge Yankee population dwarfing the original residents, political leaders had the clout to ratify a Constitution in November, 1849. The U.S. Congress recognized this Constitution in 1850. The disillusioned miners turned to trade, farming, and other forms of business. Wages were high.

With the swelling of population, enormous herds of cattle valued at $4 a head in 1846 sold for as high as $500 a head in 1850. Irrigation plays a major role throughout California history, as it did then. It allowed the valleys to be the greatest food producing area on earth. Agricultural revenue quickly exceeded the value all the gold California ever produced. The Spanish and Mexican governments occupied California for 300 years, and it was an economic and cultural wasteland. Ninety years after California became a state, Ernest Lawrence split atoms at the University of California.

California Facts




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