Introduction: I Saw
Three Ships A Sailing Into History
In the grayness of a June gloom
May day, I looked outside my window and pondered over days of yore. The fog
lifted for a brief moment and I swear I could see to the ocean right here from
my Los Angeles foothill home. Three old time ships were sailing, close enough
that I could touch them.
I soon found myself transported
to a rough cut, 12 man canoe, with brownish/red skinned comrades clad in local
animal hides which resisted the splashes of the salty water and kept them warm
and dry at the same time. A primitive paddle was handed to me, and I took my
turn with the other 12, who had squeezed closer together to make room for me.
More often than not, the strong cold winds and the crashing waves naturally
drifted us closer as the ships and their great white sails grew larger and
larger before our very eyes.
|Map of America,
Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio
By Diego Gutiérrez, 1562.
(Courtesy Library of
The natives around me talked
excitedly, in a tongue unfamiliar to me. There was much shouting and waving and
excitement from the three ships, as well, and the language had a common sound
that I knew almost as well as my own. We braced ourselves for a light impact as
the canoe approached the largest of the sails. The wind changed and the waves
temporarily turned us away from each other. As we frantically rowed to recover
our position, I got a glimpse of the letters engraved on the ships hull:
A N S A L V A D O R
I knew in an instant that I was
about to grab the hand of a courageous and honorable navigator, and pulled
further back into history than I had ever imagined possible….
Ships In Search of A Golden Land
Know then, that on
the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very
close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise, and it was peopled by black
women, without any man among them for they lived in the fashion of the
Amazons. They were of strong and hardy bodies, of ardent courage and great
force. Their island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep
cliffs and rocky shores. Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness
of the wild beasts which they tamed and rode. For in the whole island, there
was no metal but gold.
Thus wrote Garcia Ordonez de
Montalvo in The Adventures of Esplandiam, which was published in Madrid,
Spain, in 1510. This romantic science fiction novel more than likely inspired
the Spanish conquest of the golden state of California, although they were slow
about doing so. In spite of the promise of Amazon women and gold riches, it
would be another 25 years before Hernando Cortez would land in and explore the
area we now know as Baja California. Another seven years would go by before
attempts were made to reach Alta California.
On June 27, 1542, under Spanish
direction, the noted Portuguese seaman and navigator of great courage and honor,
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set sail from Navidad, Mexico. Three ships were under
his command: the San Salvador, the Victoria and the San Miguel. Carbrillo
himself took control of the San Salvador. His partner Bartolome’ Ferror piloted
the Victoria, and the small brigantine, San Miguel was under the command of
Antonio Correa. The population of the three ships swelled to over two hundred.
The tiny ships sailed north on
uncharted waters along the coast of what is now modern day California. Cabrillo
hoped to find the Straight of Anian, otherwise known as the Northwest Passage,
which supposedly joined the South Sea to the Atlantic. Visions of gold and
silver from legends such as those written by Montalvo, were also in the
With the winds unfavorably
against them the Cabrillo expedition took three months to reach San Diego Bay. A
few weeks later they would quickly discover San Pedro, Santa Monica, Ventura,
Catalina Island , and on to Santa Barbara Channel Island.
|Cabrillo's ships in
the Santa Barbara Channel. Illustration from the History of Oil &
Gas Seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel, (courtesy of theSanta
Barbara Historical Society)
During the voyage canoes of
Indians greeted them. At Point Conception more ill winds forced them out to sea.
The ships returned to the coast of Point Reyes and down to Monterey, missing San
Cabrillo anchored at San Miguel
Island on November 23, 1542, and wintered there. During the course of his stay,
Cabrillo broke one of his limbs, possibly during an Indian skirmish.. The
infection from the injury caused his death on January 3, 1543. Bartolome Ferror
took over from here, and may have sailed as far as Southern Oregon before
turning back to Navidad.
While Cabrillo would go down in
history as the discoverer of the golden land of California, he only succeeded in
convincing his Spanish superiors that “neither wealthy nations, nor navigable
passage” existed between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean from the New World north
of Mexico. The land would remain ignored until the renowned Englishman, Sir
Francis Drake arrived.
In 1578, Drake would come to
the Pacific Ocean by way of Cape Horn. He was aboard a 100-ton schooner known as
the Golden Hind, in search of a passage to Asia and great treasures. Reportedly
full of looted Spanish treasures, the Hind harbored at Drake’s or Bodega Bay
just north of San Francisco Bay, on June 17th, and left on July 23rd,
never returning to the area.
Sir Francis Drake
(National Portrait Gallery, London)
The brief British invasion on
California sparked Spain’s interest once again, and other explorers would slowly
follow. There would be expeditions in 1584 by Francisco Gali, and in 1595 by
Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno, each traveling a little further north along the
coast. Sebastian Vizcaino sailed three ships along the coast as far as Cape
Mendocino in 1602, surveying much of Upper California as he went along. From San
Diego to Monterey, Viscaino’s legacy lives on in the names that he chose to
replace the original one’s chosen by Cabrillo.
For the next 150 years or so,
the mythical land of Amazon women and gold would remain dormant except for the
relatively peaceful native Indians. Missionaries and miners would eventually
come back to conquer the land, and discover the riches.
by Joshua Paddison
California: American Guide Series
by Works Progress Administration
Hastings House Publishers New York
Historic Spots In California
by Hoover and Rensch
Stanford University Press
The Cattle On A Thousand Hills-Southern California, 1850-1880
by Robert Glass Cleland