The exploration and conquest of Upper
and Lower California is deeply routed in the fabric of this state's
naval and military heritage. Its rich, but this relatively unknown
military history is predicated upon its twelve hundred miles
The history behind the name of California begins when it was
first used in a romance novel published in Spain (1510). The
book was written by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo (1), translator
of the Amadis de Gaul, and called Las Sergas de Esplandian,
or Adventures of Esplandian.
It was shortly thereafter when a Spanish explorer, Vasco Nuñez
de Balboa, crossed the Isthmus of Panama and was the first to
discover the Pacific Ocean in 1513. His discovery led to the
governor of Cuba, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, in 1517,
to send a fleet of ships under Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba
to explore the west in search of treasure. Cordoba found the
Yucatan Peninsula and brought back reports of large cities.
The next year, Cordoba was followed by Juan de Grijalva who discovered
New Spain (Mexico). Grijalva explored the Mexican coast from
the Yucatan to what is now Veracruz. A third expedition of about
650 Spaniards sailed from Cuba under Hernan Cortés (Cortez)(2),
in February 1519. Cortez's 11 ships followed Grijalva's route
along the coast, effecting the conquest of New Spain in 1521.
Cortez, in 1524, was the first explorer to mention California
as a "great island of fabulous wealth," in his report
to the King of Spain.
The Spanish crown bestowed the title of
Governor and Captain General of New Spain upon Cortéz
in 1522. He returned to Spain in 1528 and was received by Charles
V with much reverence. The King granted Cortéz a vast
track of land, Indians, and the title of Marques del Valle de
Oaxaca. Cortez returned to Mexico in mid 1530, to the discomfort
of the ruling judges and Spanish administrators, who had found
Mexico easier to govern with Cortez residing in Spain. In 1535,
viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza, was received and installed,
completely extracting Cortez from any official power in Mexico.
Ten years later, Fortuno Ximines sailed from the west coast of
New Spain to explore this newly discovered "island"
of California. However, his vessel never got farther north than
Cape San Lucas. The next year Cortéz sailed up the Gulf
Against the orders of the viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza,
Cortéz sent Francisco de Ulloa to explore the Gulf of
California. In 1538, he sailed to the head of the gulf, reaching
the mouth of the Colorado River, thus proving that lower California
was not an "island" but a peninsula. This expedition
is the first record of the name "California" being
applied to the peninsula and appears in the map in Preciado's
diary of Ulloa's expedition.
In 1540, Hernando de Alarcon, a Spanish navigator, also employed
by Antonio de Mendoza, becomes the first European to touch lower
or Baja California's soil and, upon entering the Gulf of California,
ascends up the Colorado River for more than one hundred miles
on an expedition of discovery. He was followed by Domingo del
Castillo, in 1541, who explored the Gulf of California and charts
its shores. He publishes a notable map of the Gulf and the Colorado
River which is recognized as both accurate and authoritative.
However, it was reserved to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to be the
first European to actually set foot on the soil of Alta California
(1) Las Sergas de Esplandian (Sergas)
is often referred to as the fifth book of the Amadis. In this
book, which was an extremely popular piece of literature at the
time of the conquest of Mexico, there is an island called California.
By "California" there was implied an insularity or
"island paradise" coupled with riches. The story was
about "an island called California very close to the side
of the Terrestrial Paradise", where beautiful Queen Califia
ruled over a country of beautiful black Amazon women with lots
of pearls and gold. Men were only allowed one this island one
day a year to perpetuate the race. The Sargas goes on to state
that "Their island was the strongest in the world, with
its steep cliffs and rock shores." Cortez's men thought
they found the island in 1535, because they found pearls among
the Indians. Later, Francisco de Ulloa found that the island
was really a peninsula.
(2) Hernan (Hernan, Hernando, or Fernando,
depending on the book and authority listing it) Cortez was born
in Medellin (Southeast of Estremadura) in 1485 and died December
2, 1547. His father, Martin Cortéz de Monray, a military
captain in the infantry, married Dona Catalina Pizorro Altamirano.
He is said to be related to Pizarro, conqueror of Peru. Cortez
left Spain in 1504 and conquered Mexico (1519-1521). After leveling
Mexico City, Cortez began to rebuild the city in the style of
great European cities.
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