Archival work has been a fun, exciting, yet often confusing journey for me so far. Currently, I am working on the Ana Begue de Packman Papers, which is a collection that consists of Packman’s photographs, newspaper articles, manuscripts, genealogies, maps, correspondence pertaining to the history of the city of Los Angeles, California missions, and Southern California ranchos.
Specifically, within the collection I have been sifting
through Box 10, folder 8. This folder consists of material related to cattle
brands of rancheros in Southern California, which is rooted in Mexican Los
Angeles history. The artifact that piqued my interest is this piece of paper titled
‘BRAND on RANCHO PALOS VERDES’. Within this paper, 3 brands are drawn in pencil
in the left margins of the paper. Indented to the right of these brands are the
text description of the brand. The first brand is in an elaborate S shape with
a small v as an accent in the middle. This brand per the description is
confirmed to Dona Maria Juana Pantoja, widow of Don Dolores Sepulveda, and was
recorded on June 11, 1855. It is noted that this woman married Don Jose Antonio
Machado. The second brand is in a heart shape, with a Y as a stem at the top of
the heart. This brand per the description is identified for the cattle of Don
Juan Maria Sepulveda, and was issued on October 23, 1839, by Alcalde Tiburcio
Tapaia. The third brand is also heart shaped but more round, and has a sort of
cursive y as the stem. This brand per the description is registered to Don Juan
Sepulveda and Dona Felipa Alaniz de Sepulveda and was confirmed on November 13,
1855 by John W. Shore.
This piece of paper seems to be an objective document that
logs the different cattle brands of Rancho Palos Verdes. However, there is no
physical stamp or ink indication as to whether or not this is an official
documentation by some local government or a document written for personal use. Because
the brands were drawn in pencil, this makes the document seem unofficial, and
raises further questions to whom this document was written for. When I read
through the text, the first questions I asked were ‘Who were these people’? The
three brands were either issued to someone with the last name Sepulveda or related
to someone with the last name Sepulveda. As a UCLA student, I recognized that
Sepulveda is one of the major streets in the city of Los Angeles. A quick
secondary research online said that Rancho de los Palos Verdes was a part of a land
dispute claimed by Jose Dolores Sepulveda, a Mexican colonial for the Sepulveda
family. This document holds information that could be chronicling the genealogy
of the Sepulveda family and it could be a potential lead for more information
about the development of Mexican Los Angeles specific to that region. The
second question I pondered was, ‘Why are there different dates?’ The dates
jumped from 1855, to 1839, to 1855 again. This seems to solidify the idea that
the Sepulveda family won the claims, had been on Rancho Palos Verdes for many
years, and that the lands were generationally passed down. Other questions that
I asked were for what purpose was this document written? Was it written to be
similar to a family tree but with cattle brands? Was it purely for
informational and identifying purposes to officials and to authorities? These
questions may or may not be answered as I continue to go through my archival
research but nonetheless, they pose interesting circumstances that I would have
otherwise never come across.
Though on the outside “Idyls of the Missions” looks like an
educational and historical account of the California Missions, the viewpoint
and information it provides, as well as the viewpoint and information it
excludes, allows the reader a chance to witness a part of the complex
relationship between Mexicans and the area now known as California. The “Idyls
of the Missions” is a brochure written by Clarice Garland bounded by string
with thick, cardboardlike front and back covers. There is little wear on the
object, especially considering it was published in the 1917. This artifact
features text, drawings, and poems from 1769 to 1833 in order to reconstruct
the multifaceted issues and ultimate decline of the Californian missions.
The writing within seems to dramatize the fall of the
Missions by telling the story of Governor José Maria Echandia who claimed to be
following the instructions of the Mexican government to secularize the
Missions. These accounts, stories, poems, and pictures all seem tell the story
of the privileged and the powerful, as opposed to the average person. Like most
artifacts of its time, the brochure uses the names and stories of Mexican
immigrants but seems to deterritorialize these things from their contexts and
re-situates them within the context of the Anglo American. By viewing Mexican
histories through a White perspective, important information is lost as it does
not translate without the proper cultural and social background. Because of
this, the brochure seems to have been produced for the upper middle class white
American, perhaps used as a light, coffee table read instead of as a powerful,
serious account of the history of the Missions.
This brochure elicits questions about the origin of the
information it presents, and I am curious as to where and how the author
attained these stories and poems. Had they already been translated away from
their authentic Mexican origins or did the author think to change them himself
in order to make them more suitable for his upper middle class audiences? I am
also curious as to how this account of history would have been different if it
had be written by someone of Mexican decent, who understood the social and
cultural elements lost in translation. These questions are frequently brushed
over, however they should be asked in order to properly contextualize and view
this artifact from the past.
What will you think when there comes the day that you know
you will pass away soon? I had imaginations of saying peaceful goodbyes to my
loved ones. If I worked hard enough and accumulated some wealth, I would also
ask myself the cliché but essential question: how should I divide my money? I
was attracted to The Will of Cristobal Dominguez from almost two-hundred years
ago in January 1825. Himself once a soldier in Spanish army, Cristobal
(1761-1825) lived an honored and affluent life along with his possessional of a
rancho called San Pedro.
This official document was written under Cristobal’s will,
and his son Manuel Dominguez signed the document on January 5th. As described
in the beginning of the document, similar to his uncle’s, Cristobal was
extremely and unable to physically write the document himself, but it was
claimed that his “senses and memory and believing” were clear enough to make
these judgments. In Juan Jose Dominguez’s Will (1809), Rancho San Pedro was not
specified to be passed to Cristobal. It was successfully declared by Cristobal
in 1823, only two years before his Will and passage. Cristobal thus became the
biggest beneficiary as the owner. Manuel, who signed Cristobal’s will, later
also became the most influential one among his siblings. Hence, it raises the
question of whether or not the clauses in the document are authentically
drafted and truthfully convey the will of the deceased?
Nonetheless, the document still reflects religious and
social issues in the early 1800s. In the beginning of his will, Cristobal
expressed his gratitude and respect to Roman Catholic and Jesus Christ. It
shows the strong influence of the missions and its influence on social order in
Mexican California. Unlike his uncle, who was a bachelor with no children,
Cristobal was married with Maria de los Reyes Ybanez (1763-1834), and they were
lucky enough to had nine children, though of which only six survived. As
mentioned by Acuna in Occupied America, it was a “badge of honor” to have a
large family for who could afford it. It could be told from this document that
Dominguez family was very influential and affluent at that time. Indeed, even
when this Will was written, Maria was pregnant again as mentioned in the ninth
clause. Hence, it reflects the endeavor of people at that time to have a more
Throughout this Will, it could be seen that Cristobal trust his wife and his son Manuel the most. Cristobal granted the right to in charge of his property to his wife and only allow partition among children once they got married. Comparing to the unfair treatment like sexual violence and “commercialization” of women’s marriage under Spanish-Mexican rule, Maria had relatively higher than average role over her family and property. This could be a sign of later rise of female rights starting in more well-off families.
Despite the question raised against the document’s true reflection of Cristobal’s will, this piece encompasses historical circumstances of Mexican American and transaction of lands in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Moreover, it reflects religious impacts, social and genders issues of that generation. After all, what be left to history when one passed away and what will be his will?
Acuna, Rodolfo, “California Lost: America For
Euroamericans”, Occupied America 4th ed., P133, 2000, accessed April 10th 2019.
History of Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, Dominguez Rancho
Adobe Museum, accessed April 24th 2019,
https://dominguezrancho.org/domingo-rancho-history/ [Will of Cristobal
Dominguez], Jan, 1825.
Newspaper articles and clippings are dispersed
throughout the Griffith Family Papers collection. Among the miscellaneous news
in the collection, a fascinating article in one box described the eerie tale of
a Mexican ghost that roams Griffith Park. The article, titled “The Curse of
Rancho Loz Feliz,” describes the story of Senorita Petronilla and her curse
upon the land. The story of Petronilla is one that marks the significance of
Mexican past in the land that Mr. Griffith acquired, a past that is fairly difficult
to find within the collection. Despite the few creases, folds, and tears in the
newspaper, the author of the article engages the audience in to the story
through fascinating visual representations and compelling storytelling. This
aspect of engaging the readers into this story is important, to bring these
historical characters to life and allow readers to gain an understanding of the
stories of the Mexicans who resided in the rancho prior to it transforming into
a tourist attraction in present Los Angeles. The story itself seems as if it
was produced for residents of Los Angeles, as the author addresses them as
“angelenos” in the first paragraph and makes the assumption that the readers
will know of Griffith Park, as well as the many landmarks that exist within it.
Although the article speaks of Mexican history and beliefs, it does not seem targeted towards a Mexican audience. The author seems to imagine their audience as the residents of Loz Feliz or around Griffith Park, who might have not been well informed on the rich Mexican history of the area. By speaking of the topic in high regard and immersing the audience in the story to bring the story of Senorita Petronilla to life, it made me imagine that there might be a possibility that the speaker had a connection to Mexican culture. Aside from this, I also noticed that the visual representation for this story is an illustration of a Mexican cowboy on a horse, further bringing the historical characters mentioned in this story to life. The illustration resembles a map, with Griffith observatory present in the background. This may have been important to map out the history of the rancho, as the author continuously mentions the specific locations that Senorita Petronilla was believed to roam and place the curse on the land, as well as where important events in history took place to transform the rancho to what it became in the 1930’s.
This piece was shown to the general public
near Los Angeles, as it was written in the Los Angeles Times and most of the
advertisements are for stores located in areas around L.A. Written mostly for
Loz Feliz residents, which may have comprised of celebrities that called areas
near Hollywood their home, it is sensible that this story is written in a
creative and engaging manner as most of them may have found this article at
their doorstep. This piece may very well have been written to change public
perception of this new land that was acquired fairly recently from the time it
was produced as well as create an exciting take on Mexican culture. By writing
this story, the author is able to bring awareness to the general public of
those who had original ownership of the rancho and much of California, rather
than erase a part of history that is vastly significant.
Manuela García is arguably one of the most significant voices of early Los Angeles, yet little is known of her. It has been a singular pleasure to work, over the past few months under the auspices of The Autry Museum of the American West, with a dynamic, transnational, interdisciplinary group of artists, scholars, educators, and museum professionals on reanimating García’s life and work.
Born into a family of musicians, García collaborated with Charles Lummis, former head of the Los Angeles Public Library, to collect and record “Spanish” folk songs. García contributed over 100 songs to Lummis’ project. While the importance of his work has long been recognized, Lummis’ so-called “informants” — culture bearers and artists like García — remain largely unknown. Our project amplifies the potential of decolonial museum praxis, digital technology, and performance to reimagine race, gender, and place, critique inequities, and tell untold histories.
We are a collaborating hemispherically on a series of projects about García, one of which is a cluster of essays set to release in October 2020, which I’ll link to here. Another, which you’ll find below, is a binaural soundscape featuring members of our team including Amy Shimshon-Santo and Susie García (no relation), produced and mixed by John Hendicott and Aurelia Soundworks.
archival materials in the Mexican proclamations issued during the
Mexican-American War, 1807-1864 collection consist of broadside documents
issuing decrees from the Mexican federal government to the general public.
These decrees address various topics such as taxes, public safety during
holiday festivities, and the National Guard. However, folder six contains eleven
proclamations that cover administrative and political concerns that would have
impacted the inhabitants of Mexico City and beyond. In looking to investigate
the 19th century history of Mexican California, item five in this
folder serves as a vital entry point for exploring multiple facets of Mexican
politics, Mexican relations to the United States of America, and delineating
how these political components have shaped our understanding of California.
Item five is exemplary of the types of items in this collection; the broadside documents are individual, unbound sheets of paper with only black text. The paper of the proclamation shows signs of aging through discoloration along with minor tears and folding creases on the right side edges of the paper. There are no images, illustrations, or color on the proclamation only black, centered text. At first glance the proclamation simply appears to be a text heavy document, however variations in typography such as changes in font style and size offer different visual queues for the organization and significance of information. The most prominent example of this would be the “title” of the document. The first row of text at the top of the document spells out “José Ramon Malo, Go-” in a bold, capitalized serif font. José Ramon Malo was the governor of Mexico City during this time period; it appears that he was the last figure in the bureaucratic ladder before this proclamation was publically issued. Malo’s role, being in a position of power and directly addressing the public sphere of Mexico City, is emphasized through immediately visible typography differentiating it from the rest of the text.
proclamation uses typography to indicate vital information through out the
document. The text mentions the names and roles of various individuals in
positions of power, lists different dates, and mentions property in Alta
California in relation to the family of Agustin de Iturbide. All of this information
offers various entry points to consider how this collection can offer a new
perspective to understating the history of 19th century Mexican California.
While the documents in this collection offer a selective perspective of Mexican
politics, this document offers a glimpse to the political hierarchies and
bureaucracies that comprised the Mexican government during the 19th
century. This perspective incites questions of how “California” as a territory
was conceptualized during the first half of the 19th century and how
this varied between entities, primarily with Mexican government and the United
States government. With these queries in mind, the Mexican proclamations
collection will be investigated through archival work and secondary research
into the historical context and figures that compose this collection. This
investigation aims to serves as a basis for future research into 19th
century Mexican California for other historians, students, and scholars.
Based on the finding aid, this monochrome map was collected by George Washington Hazard and Verne Dyson. It features the Downtown area of Los Angeles between 1880 and 1910. This map is off-scale and lacks direction and distance symbols. Also, only some streets are named on the map. Thus, the map was not created for the general public to navigate but for display purpose or one’s private use.
A map is a tool not just for navigation, but also for telling a story. More importantly, it conveys how the creator views and represents the world as well as the culture and people. Then, what story of the neighborhoods or communities does the “Birds-Eye View Map” document and retain across space and time?
This map depicts the Central Los Angeles region in a birds-eye view angle. Referring to Google Maps, some of the locations marked on the map still exist today. For instance, the Los Angeles River, “San Pedro St.”, “Court House St.” (now Court St.), “Third St.”, and “Fourth St.” Accordingly, the neighborhoods featured on the map would be Downtown and Echo Park. Within the birds-eye view projection, Downtown becomes the central focus of the map. Each neighborhood within the region has distinct architectural styles in drawing. Interestingly, the buildings in the Downtown area are more diverse and detailed comparing to those in other neighborhoods. These opinionated visual elements suggest that the dominant city culture of the 1900s Los Angeles was located around Downtown.
The map is captioned: “Birds-Eye View of Los Angeles.” Considering the map’s main focus of the Downtown area, how did Downtown represent Los Angeles during the 19th century? Also, what population (i.e. racial groups) was residing in Central Los Angeles at that time? Since the racial category of “Mexican” was only counted around 1930 (Hise 553; Los Angeles Almanac), it is difficult to trace back the racial demographic data in the late 1800s. The earliest racial demographic data of the Downtown area is recorded in 1960 on Social Explorer. Based on the U.S. Census data presented on Social Explorer, the Hispanic community has gradually moved to the surrounding neighborhoods of Downtown from 1960 to 2017.
Another similar change is that the Downtown area is getting more racially diverse today (data from US Census presented on Statistical Atlas). However, the reasons that caused the demographic change from the 19th century still remain unclear in the research.
Additional Information: Hise briefly mentioned California’s first redevelopment project that was “initiated to bring affluent Angelenos ‘downtown’” in the late 20th century (554). The Community Redevelopment Agency removed the “long-term, primarily, Latino residents from Chavez Ravine” in 1959.
According to Don Parson, the redevelopment of Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine contributes to the construction of a modern Los Angeles (335). In this case, the modernization strategy is to remove the marginal low-income residents of color (Parson 336). Does the main focus of the Birds-Eye Los Angeles Map associate with the redevelopment project of the Downtown area? When the Latino population was deemed as a challenge to the “modernization” of Los Angeles, again, which neighborhoods or even which community gets to represent Los Angeles?
Hise, Greg. “Border City: Race and Social Distance in Los Angeles.” American Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 3, 2004, pp. 545–58. JSTOR.
Parson, Don. “‘This Modern Marve’: Bunker Hill, Chavez Ravine, and the Politics of Modernism in Los Angeles.” Southern California Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 3/4, 1993, pp. 333–50. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/41171684.
“Honorable Irlandés, Mr. John T Gaffey. De San
Pedro California. E.U.A. 1926” is a black and white photograph of John T Gaffey
located in the first few pages of “Reminiscencias Historicas. Escrita por el C.
General de división Mariano Ruiz, veterano de 1862. Dedicadas a su honorable
amigo, Mr. John T. Gaffy, de San Pedro, Calif., E.U.A. Mexico, September 15,
1926” from “Bandini Family Papers, ca. 1834-1927”, also known as collection B.
The title of this work translates to “Honorable Irish, Mr. John T Gaffey of San
Pedro, California. U.S.A 1926”. The photo was likely taken in 1926.
Physically, the picture sits in the middle of
the page, taking up most of the space. It is a formal portrait of Mr. Gaffey in
a suit. His portrait is cropped in an oval shape and is printed in a
rectangular sheet. He appears to be posed sitting on a chair at an angle,
looking sternly into the camera with his right hand on his lap. The title in
blue text is printed below the photo on the pages on the book. There appears to
be no hint of the location of the photo, except that Mr. Gaffey is from San
Pedro, California. The overall mood and attitude of the photo is serious and
formal. It commands respect and admiration from the viewer, which matches his
occupation as a journalist, politician, and businessman. Considering Mr.
Gaffey’s title as “Honorable Irish”, it is likely that he kept up with this
reputation in person. Three things one may infer from this photo is that
people, especially those in business, likely took their photos seriously during
this time period, color printing was either not invented yet or quite
expensive, and that Mr. Gaffey likely had a large impact on Mexican Los Angeles
business and politics. Considering that this is a formal portrait, not much may
be elucidated from this work except for what can be directly seen from the
As a researcher, I’m curious about the purpose
of this work. Was it commissioned for this document, since the book is
dedicated to Mr. Gaffey? Was it to promote Mr. Gaffey’s popularity for his
professional pursuits? This work may be useful for researchers attempting to
learn about the financial and political figures prominent in Mexican Los
Angeles during the 20th century. Considering that Mr. Gaffey is an Irish
American, it is interesting to see his relationship with Mexican Americans.
Although this portrait highlights an impactful figure during this time period
and setting, perhaps auxiliary documents from the Bandini Family Papers can
reveal more about Mr. Gaffey’s influence during this time.
In the Spanish and Mexican eras, American descent settlers were founded in Los Angeles, California. After U.S. annexation in 1848, middle class of African Americans moved to Los Angeles between 1980 and 1915. During this period of time, churches, social and friendly organizations for black community were formed. Moreover, we could see how they (i.e., African Americans) contributed to civil right legislation and advocacy and grown their black-owned businesses, some of them were elected for government positions. With the interest of African American history in early Los Angeles, I start working on Miriam Matthews Photograph Collection, which consists of 4, 600 black and white photographs of African Americans immigrated to California and their daily life and family members in Los Angeles and California.
The box “Some Early Settlers Within Los Angeles. 1800-1880” includes photographs of members of the Mason and Owens families. Biddy Mason was mentioned frequently from the notes in the back of photographs, as was her eldest daughter Ellen , her grandchildren Robert and Henry Owens, and her great-grandchildren Gladys Owens Smith and Manila Owens.
It seems Biddy Mason, who came as a slave and later became real estate entrepreneur in Los Angeles, has a huge influence on their family. She also dined at the home of Pio Pico occasionally, who is the last Mexican governor and wealthy landowner. This raises the questions: who is Biddy Mason? How did she get along with Pio Pico? Did he help her succeed in Alta California in early years?
Biddy Mason’s eldest daughter, Ellen, married Charles P. Owens in Los Angeles, California on October 16, 1856. They had two sons: Robert Curry Owens and Henry L. Owens. After Charles Owens died in 1882 and her mother Biddy Mason died in 1891, Ellen and her sons handled their increasingly valuable estates. Later, she was wed to Mr. George Huddleston.
This “Mother Goose” party was given by the Owens family in 1906. Notice the mix of African American and Mexican American people in the picture, suggesting potentially a multiracial family.
The Bay Area is shallow about keeping it real, and Los Angeles keeps it very real about being shallow. That’s one way to describe the cultural tensions between Northern and Southern California, but it relies on contemporary stereotypes. The north and south of the Golden State have always been at odds, and ever since California achieved statehood in 1850 people have been trying to break it up. North-South antagonism is a key feature of life in California, but did you know that it pre-dates statehood? The arribeños (uppers) and the abajeños (lowers) in the sadly neglected, Mexican territory of Alta California never could seem to play nice, seeding a factionalism that remains to this day.
Why couldn’t they all just get along? It’s complicated, but first and foremost, it’s Spain’s fault. Strange to think now, in the 21st century when we know how awesome California is, but back in the 18th century Spain wasn’t that excited about settling its northern territories. Foggy, wooded, rocky, difficult to access, full of Indians … California didn’t wow Spanish authorities. They established missions and presidios reluctantly, only to keep Russia from encroaching further south and to prevent England and France from establishing any kind of Pacific foothold. Spain couldn’t see the value in developing the region, thus life in California was hard, and settlers felt Spain’s lack of interest keenly. Californios wondered why people so far away, who had no grasp of issues on the ground, got to make all the rules. As the territory’s population grew, political resentment turned to infighting. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara were the most populous towns, and most of the privately held ranchos were also in the south. So why was the government headquartered in Monterey, along with the revenue-generating customs house? Good questions, and a lot of people were asking them in the early-1820s.
That – 1821 to be exact – is when Mexico gained its independence from Spain. In 1822 Luis Argüello – California born (1784) and bred – was appointed territorial governor, but conflicts really started heating up in 1825 when Argüello was succeeded by Lt. Col. José María de Echeandía. Echeandía, an army engineer from Mexico City, really, very much did not want to get stuck out in the then-nowheresville of California. He was a good soldier, though, and off he went. He stopped in San Diego, however, and remains, as of this writing in 2020, the only California governor to base themselves so far south. The arribeños in Monterey took this as an insult, but Echeandía argued, not unreasonably, that as governor of both Baja and Alta California, San Diego marked a strategic midpoint from which to oversee the territory. Two additional, more personal reasons kept Echeandía in San Diego. First, he thought the fogs along California’s central and northern coasts would be bad for his health; more importantly, though, Echeandía had fallen in love with Josefa Carrillo, daughter of a prominent, californio family. He’d never be able to woo her from Monterey! Alas, Carrillo rejected Echeandía’s suit and wound up eloping with Henry Fitch, a Yankee merchant. That was a huge scandal in 1826 and a topic for a whole other post.
So, lovelorn Echeandía got off on the wrong foot with California after not even wanting to be there in the first place, and as governor he was stepping into a hot mess of californio resentment, greed, and ambition. Before getting too far into the very complicated story of the Mexican origins of California’s north-south divide – which, to recap, is largely due to Spanish neglect – here’s a handy roadmap: before 1848, when Mexico ceded California to the US after the Mexican-American War, the region sustained, in close succession, three attempts to divide it. First, there was the crisis over mission secularization. Then came Mexico’s 1835 promotion of Los Angeles from pueblo to city and territorial capital, which really pissed off the arribeños in Monterey. Finally, there was Juan Alvarado’s declaration of Californian independence in 1836, which abajeños saw as an attempt to wrest power from Los Angeles and which, in turn, led to several years of fruitless squabbles without resolution until finally California became part of the United States. North-South conflicts didn’t end there, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Back to Echeandía, freshly arrived in California as governor. Enlightenment ideas about liberty and equality had fueled Mexican independence, driven a very modern debate about native labor which led to the abolition of slavery in Mexico’s 1824 constitution, and exacerbated church-state tensions. This ideological wave carried Echeandía north and had a substantial impact on his administration. He had been appointed with a liberal mandate to secularize the missions, free the Indians, and redistribute church property, but he was given no direction, only told to go forth and do it.
There was no GOOD way to secularize, so Echeandía just found A way, drawing up idealistic plans that had missions transitioning to parish churches, church lands converting to self-governing pueblos with mixed-race populations, and every Indian family granted two plots of land. All else – fields, vineyards, animals, workshops, tools – was to be overseen by a government appointed administrator and profits devoted to municipal needs. Echeandía was nearing the end of his term as governor, so it didn’t matter much to him if his plans were viable or not. He sent them off to Mexico City, but Mexico, on the brink of civil war, was too distracted to pay attention to California. So, Echeandía put his unauthorized plans into action, much to the dismay of mission priests who argued that he was flouting Mexican laws stipulating that mission property not be given to non-Indians until the exact needs of the neophytes was determined. Echeandía, much to the delight of californios, was arbitrarily determining that need himself and making significant grants to private individuals.
Mexico City, after a period of violent, political instability, finally managed to send Manuel Victoria north as California’s newly appointed governor in January 1831. He put Echeandía’s plans on hold until the central government had a chance to weigh in and then told Echeandía to return to his army unit in Mexico. Echeandía’s political fortunes had shifted with the changes in Mexico’s government; he returned not to Mexico but to San Diego where he set up a rebel cell in opposition to Victoria in Monterey and thus California’s first, serious North-South conflict was on. Both sides claimed to be defending Indians, but really this was a battle about land. Liberals in the south wanted it for themselves; conservative loyalists in the north felt that a mutually beneficial church-state arrangement could be reached.
Victoria’s and Echeandía’s forces clashed on December 5, 1831 at the Battle of Cahuenga (where Hwy 101 now moves through the Cahuenga Pass). Victoria was badly wounded, later captured at Mission San Gabriel, and coerced into returning to Mexico. Into that leadership vacuum stepped his secretary, Agustín Zamorano, supported by priests and traders, who declared himself provisional governor. In response, Echeandía convened a legislature of southern californios who declared HIM governor. Rather than get into another bloody battle, Zamorano and Echeandía reached a gentleperson’s agreement: Echeandía ruled as far north as Mission San Gabriel; Zamorano ruled as far south as Mission San Fernando.
This uneasy peace lasted until January of 1833 when José Figueroa arrived as the newly appointed governor of California. He unified the state and began secularization afresh. The californios were delighted, but not for long. Word soon came that a boatload of colonists was on its way as part of the government-sanctioned Híjar-Padres colony to take that sweet, mission land for themselves. The balance of power shifted in Mexico before the colonists arrived and Figueroa was able to thwart their plans. Southern californios were placated, but they continued strategizing ways to wrest power from Monterey.
An opportunity presented itself in 1835 when José Antonio Carrillo, California’s (non-voting) representative in the Mexican congress, managed to get Los Angeles promoted to “city” and named capital of the territory. While the arribeños had been obsessing over Híjar-Padres, Carrillo had been scheming in Mexico City to effect this massive shift, which led Angelenos to demand that the governor decamp to the new capital and that the archives be moved from Monterey to LA. Politicians in Monterey agreed as long as they could find a suitable palacio for the governor in the city. A committee looked and looked, but they couldn’t find anything nice enough. The city was just woefully lacking, apparently, and the committee from Monterey taunted Angelenos for their poverty and provincialism. Needless to say, this did nothing to ease political tensions. Sounds oddly familiar, though, doesn’t it? The Bay Area is so brainy and cultured, and LA is an endless string of trash cinema and waxing salons, right? Funny to think these stereotypes emerged from centuries old Mexican snobbery that bubbled to the surface only when Los Angeles became an official city.
From this incident a couple of enduring and fatal truths emerged. Always on the brink of civil war throughout the early-19th century, rapid shifts in power meant Mexico couldn’t effectively govern California. Californios, for their part, consistently undermined and pushed back against central authority and the leaders Mexico sent to enforce it. These macro conflicts, finally, always played out against a backdrop of micro conflicts between arribeños and abajeños. Thus, when Juan Alvarado and his cousin José Castro declared California free and independent of Mexico in 1836 and drove out Mexican-born Governor Nicolás Gutiérrez, Los Angeles saw it as an attempt to disempower them. A few years later, Governor Manuel Micheltorena’s inability to control his army of bedraggled ex-convicts (whose arrival californios had seen as the height of insult) evolved into a plan by politicians in Los Angeles, led by Pio Pico, to make Los Angeles the dominant city in California.
By the time Micheltorena was forced out in 1845 two things were clear: Mexico couldn’t control California, and the influx of Anglo-American settlers from the US was increasing at an alarming rate. The political plans of californios were eventually swept away by the tidal wave of the Mexican-American War and California was lost for good. The North-South conflict didn’t end there, however.
The same sectional conflicts arose during the constitutional convention in slightly different form as delegates struggled with whether California should be admitted as a slave state or free. Just to be clear: California has always been a free state, but for nearly ten years after statehood pro-slavery politicians worked diligently to divide California. Finally, in 1859, the CA legislature approved a plan to split the state, but the federal government ignored their vote as the South was preparing to secede from the Union and the government didn’t have time to worry about sparsely-populated California. The question popped up again in 1881 when lawyers declared the 1859 act still valid. California might have actually divided itself then had it not been for Los Angeles so energetically pushing to be the capital of “Southern California.” Other counties failed to see any benefit in dividing the state so the plan was dropped.
There have been 220 attempts to divide California since it became a state in 1850. 220?!? Read about them all on the California State Library’s excellent timeline, and as you read, try to remember that while these debates are about the universal question of whether the rich will get richer and the poor stay poor, they have their origins in Mexican political conflict. It behooves us all to remember that, like so many quintessentially Californian things, the state’s north-south divide is puro mexicano.
Guinn, J. M. “HOW CALIFORNIA ESCAPED STATE DIVISION.” Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, vol. 6, no. 3, [U of California Press, Historical Society of Southern California], 1905, pp. 223–32. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/41168593.
Lavender, David. California: Land of New Beginnings, Harper & Row, 1972.