Spanish Exploration of California
Spanish explorers are believed to have contributed significantly in the process of ushering California as part of the potential world economy. However, even before these explorations could take shape, there were about 300,000 indigenous tribes already residing in California. These were the Native Americans. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer is one of those early explorers who landed his feet in California by the early1540s. His team made their way to “San Diego and San Francisco…for they…deserved security and protection” (Beebe & Senkewicz, p. 381). This was to mark the start of Spanish exploration which would end up in the need to colonize the region in the quest for wealth. This first Spanish expedition grew fast and in the process, an expanse empire was formed. This was a great threat to the wider Native American groups whose numbers went down considerably.
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In order to run the vast empire, the Spaniards established institutions as tools of colonization (Rawls and Bean, p. 271). The pueblo was one of them. Additionally, the presidios and Franciscans were equally instrumental in advancing the ideologies of Spanish colonizers in California. Each institution was designed to perform specific roles. For instance, those centers which were supposed to handle civilian matters were under the jurisdiction of pueblos. In order to enhance the security and safety of the Spanish colonizers, presidios played the role of a small defense force. Nevertheless, the missions were considered to be very important in the colonization of California.
The Spanish Missions
A total of 21 missions were established in California. These missions operated both as Christian missionaries and colonization organs. In fact, they had two main objectives. They wanted to extend the influence of Spanish colonization by making sure that the empires expanded their geographical level of operation. Secondly, there was a need to change the religious beliefs of the indigenous people to Roman Catholicism. In order to achieve this mission, large numbers of the Native American populations especially the Indians were admitted into the missions to be taught both theoretical and practical competencies. The Spanish missions were mandated to do everything possible to assimilate the indigenous population into accepting Spanish traditional norms.
Even after they had been transformed to Christianity, the Indians were not allowed to vacate the missions. They were to adhere strictly to Christian ways of life and forget about their cultural practices. However, there were those who would resist this move and perhaps attempt to escape but the military wing would provide the much-needed security which would not permit the converts to escape. It is important to note that although the establishment of Spanish colonial missions was taken in bad taste at the start, it was indeed very necessary in opening up California into the world perspective in terms of economic growth. These missions were very important although “the colonial government that established the missions intended for them to be temporary missions” (Beebe & Senkewicz, p. 71). The Native American population was in the first place civilized through the intensive missionary activities which witnessed most of the natives acquire modern education alongside professional and practical skills which would be required in the future as part of human resources for the entire Californian region.
The missions underwent significant changes especially after 1821. This also marked the time period when Mexico became independent. The Spanish missions were initially known to be purely pursuing Christian values and ideals. However, most of them started entrenching secular values into their operations by this time. Indeed, the mission systems were gradually transforming into special secular structures whose objectives were primarily focusing on economic growth and well-being (Rawls and Bean, p. 184). They were in form of what could be referred to as pastoral economies. Further, land that was initially allocated to church missions was taken away but the majority of those who benefited were senior administrative officials, a situation which left many natives landless. In fact, the process of colonization was like an eye-opener to the indigenous population which attempted to emulate Spanish colonizers who had made optimum use of land resources. Most Native populations were rendered landless and had to rely on the tenancy system.
California was further opened up to the world economy with the high number of immigrants who found their way into this region. Most of these immigrant settlers originated from the United States of America. This directly improved the human resource pool needed to advance California. This was also the same time when the United States regime had expressed the desire to take over California. In 1846, the United States managed to gain control of California after it engaged in a territorial war with California and emerged a victor. The U.S government later signed a peace pact after the end of the war and as a result, California among other states like Arizona and Wyoming were captured by the U.S. The entrenchment of California as part of the United States was a big boost to this region as its economy would directly be boosted by the well-established U.S government.
The Discovery of Gold
The discovery of gold in California towards the end of the 1840s was a major boost in its economy. This led to a gold rush as more immigrants trooped into California from different parts of the world including European and Far East countries. This rush for gold later led to the “transfer of political power to the United States” (Beebe & Senkewicz, p. 428)As many people moved to Mexico, the growth and development of towns became the order of the day to cater for the growing foreign population. One such town which grew as a result of the gold rush in California was San Francisco. As the population grew, California became an important economic hub in the United States. It had gained the status of a state by mid 19th century. The mixed population which had migrated to California as a result of the gold rush led to diverse ethnic groups occupying the state of California. This later triggered ethnic conflicts.
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The discovery of gold necessitated the need for proper means of transporting the commodity from one place to another. This is the reason why the transcontinental railroad was constructed to connect the gold-rich region of California to the rest of the regions within the continent. This spurred economic growth as California was no longer a segregated and remote location. It could be easily accessed from any part of the world. Moreover, the railroad led to increased importation of trade goods to California most of which originated from the Eastern trading bloc. On the same note, agricultural and industrial products from California found external markets much easier (Rawls and Bean, p. 211). This enhanced exchange of goods and services in and out of California precipitated economic growth.
By the 1880s, California was already on the world map as an equal global competitor in economic growth. The region was by then widely known to the outside world and with ease in transportation, more inhabitants found their way to California. There were other several advantages that California had besides the presence of precious gold. For instance, its climatic pattern was highly favorable to most immigrants who came to reside here. The economy was tremendously growing and this made living conditions improve as well. The growth in foreign population was directly proportional to the economic growth experienced in California (Rawls and Bean, p. 163). More human labor was available especially those required to work in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Workers were also highly demanded to work in the mining sites for both gold and oil which was later discovered in some parts of California like Huntington Beach.
The period between 1848 and 1855 was marked by a serious Gold Rush in California. Immediately after the discovery of gold, thousands of immigrants from foreign countries including the United States trooped into California with the desire to generate wealth from this resource. In fact, the Gold Rush era in California has been depicted as the key impetus to the growth of this region because it attracted a huge population from abroad, both skilled and unskilled who provided the labor needed in the gold mining sites. An estimated 300,000 gold seekers arrived in California soon after the news went out that gold had been discovered.
At the time when these gold seekers were gaining access to California, the railroad had not been constructed. Hence, the famous “forty-niners” had to invent sea routes that could lead them to California. The navigation of the sea routes was a cumbersome task but this led to the discovery of better and improved sea traveling vessels to ease down the tremendous hardships which were experienced during such voyages.
At the start of the Gold Rush era, simple and crude techniques of gold extraction were used. However, as the demand for the product increased, improved technology came into play. This was especially a characteristic of corporate miners who employed better mining techniques which are still used in the contemporary mining of gold.
The Gold Rush era brought about the institution of rules and regulations to govern the process of mining and trading in gold. The creation of a system of legislation which was a “very vague law…rushed through the Congress” (Beebe & Senkewicz, p. 402) was the initial step that led to the creation of a government system in California. The establishment of a government in California during the Gold Rush era greatly improved how the proceeds from gold resources were being utilized in strengthening its economy. This was especially notable when the 1850 Compromise with the U.S granted California an independent status. Much of the gold proceeds could now be channeled towards the development of California and hence boosting its economy.
The other site where gold was discovered was in southern California. The deposits here were not as much as to the north. The Rancho San Francisco site was notably rich in gold although the amount extracted was not much and hence most gold rush miners were not attracted to the southern part of California. Besides, the economic importance of the southern mines was minimal due to the small-scale deposits.
As time went by, gold resources at both the northern and southern mines began to deplete. This caused numerous conflicts with different players trying to gain better access to the mines. However, since the California State was now in place, some legislation was passed which imposed a twenty percent taxation rate among foreigners for mining gold. This was to be paid once per month. These foreign miners were also frequently attacked by the indigenous Americans who sought to control a bigger share of the gold mines. As both sides struggled for gold, the Californian economy was steadily growing. The Native Americans were fast to realize the importance of engaging in gold trade which had more benefits compared to the traditional economic way of life which heavily relied on hunting and gathering. As the indigenous populations rapidly diverted their attention to gold mines, the Californian State was rapidly shaping its economy. Moreover, the existence of a structured government ensured that the native populations benefited more from this natural resource more than the foreigners who would plow profits back to mother countries and not California.
The Forty-niners in the Gold Rush era
The forty-niners are used to describe the first group of people who made their way to the Californian gold mines at the beginning of 1849. Most of these forty-niners came from California comprising of those who had been practicing subsistence farming. There were even Native Americans who were part of the Californian population and greatly attracted by the rush towards gold mines because it was highly lucrative.
The forty-niners really worked as a team right from children who were part of the human labor as well as women who performed the crucial role of refining the gold mined. Men were basically endowed with the duty of excavating deep under the ground because they were more energetic than their counterparts females. As more men found their way in northern California in search of the gold which “was all embedded in rocks because it was a mine” (Beebe & Senkewicz, p. 475), more accommodation structures were set up to cater for temporary shelters. This was another source of income for Native families who invested in boarding and lodging services. In fact, accommodation services soon became a booming enterprise alongside trading in gold.
In addition to the local Californians who were part of the first gold seekers, thousands of Americans also rushed for the gold. There were those Americans who were Oregonians. Both sea and land transport was used by visitors to reach the gold destination in northern California.
The forty-niners are believed to have received the optimum benefit from the Gold Rush. They made fortune from the gold trade each day bearing in mind that this was a time period when there were few players at the gold sites; the influx of gold seekers was yet to be experienced. Moreover, gold deposit at the start of the rush was still in large amounts and therefore easily accessible to the miners. As the trade in gold continued, there were those foreigners who had plans to generate significant wealth and then go back to their motherland while others planned to remain in California and establish business enterprises there. The remnants were quite aggressive in getting rich and most of them contributed significantly to the economic growth of California.
Women in the Gold Rush
Women were also not left behind in the rush for gold. Although they were not actively involved in the process of mining, they played a variety of roles. For example, there were those who had been requested by their husbands to keep them company now that they had traveled abroad and none of the partners could stay alone. On the other hand, there were those women who found the environment around the gold business to be profitable and so they decided to set up supportive enterprises to gold trade like boarding and lodging services for foreigners who were periodically traveling in and out of California trading in gold. Some women were only looking for economic opportunities which would come their way in the gold-rich region of northern California. The Goldrush was hectic owing to the fact that the distance to be covered before one could get to California was great while no proper means of transport was available. There were those who died on the way as a result of infections like cholera. Others were overwhelmed by high fever while others perished from the numerous accidents on the way.
There are many married women who were left as widows as their husbands died from accidents at the mining sites or even disputes arising from the sharing of gold mining spots. Although numerous difficulties were encountered in the Rush for Gold, there were several economic opportunities that presented themselves to women compared to sticking themselves to typical housewife chores.
The combined effort arising from both men and women during the Gold Rush era led to double-digit economic growth in California throughout the entire period. The poor state of transport means to California gold mines necessitated the invention and further development of better transport systems (Rawls and Bean, p. 76). One such elaborate development in transport was the construction of the intercontinental railroad which served a huge population dealing in gold. It also opened up California to the rest of the World ready to compete favorably with other global economies.
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The contribution made by women in the development of the gold trade was visible in the supportive role which they played towards their husbands and children. Married men who were working at the mines would receive unrelenting support from their wives and work even harder to generate wealth.
- Beebe Marie Rose and Senkewicz M. Robert. Lands of promise and despair: chronicles of early California, 1535-1846. California: Heyday Books, 2001. Print.
- Rawls J James and Bean Walton. California: an interpretive history. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003.Print.