Baja California Sur

Eligio Moisés Coronado

DESCRIPTION OF THE PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

The Mexican state of Baja California Sur occupies the southern half of the peninsula of Baja California, in northwestern Mexico. It is located between the meridians 109o 25′ and 115o 05′ west longitude, and parallels 28o and 22o 52′ north latitude.

To the north is the state of Baja California. To the south and west, the Pacific Ocean. To the east, the Gulf of California, which separates the peninsula from the Mexican continental mass.

The State is 28,447 square miles in size and represents 51.2 percent of the peninsular surface and 3.8 percent of the country. It is the tenth largest state in Mexico.

The Baja California peninsula emerged from the ocean several million years ago.

Baja California Sur is located in the latitudes where the great deserts of the world can be found. As a result, rain and rivers are scarce. Underground channels provide the main water supply.

The climate is variable: hot in summer and generally benign in winter. There are several different regions from the Central Desert that reaches to the Desert of Vizcaino in the north, to the Sierra and la Magdalena plains of Los Cabos in the south.

The islands deserve a special mention. The overall surface area is 466 square miles and, for the most part, the climate is arid dry. The Espiritu Santo and San Jose islands stand out for their size and economic importance. The first, which is located near the bay of La Paz, has an elevation of 2,300 feet. The island is 13 miles long and has a maximum width of about 4.5 miles. The island of San Jose is located in the northern part of the bay of La Paz. It is 18 miles long and six miles wide at its widest point. The highest point of San Jose island is also approximately 2,300 feet.

 

FIRST INHABITANTS

The three main human groups that formerly inhabited Baja California Sur are the Pericues in the south, the Guaycuras in the center, and the Cochimies in the north. Some members of the latter group still live in populations in the neighboring state of Baja California.

It is believed that the first immigration from the north occurred more than ten thousand years ago.

The first inhabitants of this southeast zone lived on hunting, fishing and gathering in a difficult environment.

The first European expeditionary forces were not as familiar with the origin of the indigenous people they found as the authors of the cave paintings and petroglyphs. Baja California Sur contains the largest number of painting and petroglyph sites in the Republic. They are located throughout the State.

 

There is also little known of the first inhabitant’s language, of which only a few words and phrases remain. Their struggle in a hostile environment prevented them from reaching higher levels of culture. Instead, they were nomads who achieved a high degree of harmony with their natural environment.

 

FIRST EUROPEAN CONTACTS

The first colonial enclave in the Californias was located in what today is the port of La Paz (capital of the State of Baja California Sur). Hernan Cortes founded the settlement in 1535 and gave it the short-lived name of Santa Cruz. From that point on, the name California began to be bestowed upon the new land. In fact, the name appears in the book of chivalry, The Sergas of Esplandian. It was very popular reading at the time.

An earlier expedition sponsored by Cortes created bad feelings with the natives. A few months before, Fortun Jimenez and his people were well received, but were later driven off by the natives when the Europeans tried to take possession of the native’s wives.

The rest of the 16th century and almost all of the 17th recorded European expeditions that contributed to a better understanding of that part of New Spain.

A wealth of pearls was California’s main attraction. In addition, there was a need to establish a place for the provision of water and fresh food, as well as protection for the Nao of China once the route from Acapulco to the Philippines was opened.

Admiral Isidro de Atondo y Antillon and the Jesuits Eusebio Francisco Kino, Juan Bautista Copart and Pedro Matias Goñi explored the interior coast of the gulf and established the mission of San Bruno. It was to be abandoned two years later, in 1685. However, it spurred Kino’s interest in the evangelization of the Californians. A short while later, he took advantage of the susceptible spirit of father Juan Maria de Salvatierra to start the process. Both obtained the necessary authorization in early 1697.

 

COLONIAL PERIOD

On October 25 of that year, the first permanent mission of the Californias was founded at the site called Concho by the native Guaycuras. On November 13, the conquistadors received the first sign of Indian rejection: “Four squadrons of four nations, Edues, Didises, Laymones and Monquis, were casting stones, arrows and shouts over our trench.”

In general terms, the Jesuit centers in California had as their common denominator the fight against the adversity of the geographical area. There was the scarcity of water, the dependence almost entirely on external aid and for that reason the constant famines and hardships, the forgetfulness of some who had promised to help and the disdain of others who could but wouldn’t. The exploration of the territories for the creation of new nuclei of human concentrations was essential to the task of evangelization. The development of crops and livestock was exhausting and the never ending comings and goings of religious groups – sometimes accompanied by natives – to the mainland over the Sea of Cortes to obtain aid and to manage the fulfillment of promises, the unfortunate encounters between the missionary program and the secular habits of indigenous ethnic groups that had managed to reach true balance with their natural environment and their cultural identity before the permanent European settlements made the task nearly impossible. Frequent epidemics and a consistently short number of soldiers made it even more difficult to enforce regulations and convince natives to comply.

Philip V (1683-1746) ruled Spain in the first half of the 18th century. In his manuscript, Father Sigismund Taraval described that Philip was part of the Bourbon dynasty and took the throne in 1700. The action “begins for Spain not only a new ruling house, but a new policy accompanied by a change of customs in social life.” (Arcila, I, 9.)

The archbishop Juan Antonio Vizarron y Eguiarreta was named viceroy of New Spain on March 17, 1734 and served in the position for six and a half years. That tells us the land was in the possession of the colonial government six months before the outbreak of the California rebellion. The transcribed material states “Spain sent aid to California … where the Indians were in revolt.” (Alvarez, XII-416) However, it seemed that such aid was not sufficient or timely, as Father Taraval wrote in paragraph 152.

In connection with this, says Francisco Javier Clavijero, “Father Guillen, after he learned of these turbulences and calamities, wrote to the archbishop viceroy of Mexico, telling him part of what had happened, showing him the risk of losing the other missions and all Christianity on the peninsula if the other Indian nations imitated the rebellion, as was well feared. He used the example of the Pericues and begged for the new presidio to be established in the southern part of the peninsula as had long been desired. That would not only protect the lives of the missionaries and neophytes but provide shelter for the ships of the Philippine Islands arriving there over the following years.”

“But neither the violent death of the two missionaries, of the soldiers, of so many neophytes and catechumens, nor the loss of the missions, nor the imminent risk of the others, nor the projected advantages for the ships of the Philippines seemed to be sufficient reason for that man to make an extraordinary expenditure. That was despite a previous official document from the Catholic king addressed to the Marquis de Casafuerte, predecessor of the archbishop viceroy, to establish the presidio in the south even though it was during a time when the reasons were not yet so urgent. The viceroy was content to give a polite answer to Father Guillen, signifying to him how much he felt the misfortunes of California, exhorting him to take his place at court and offering to support him in his request to the king. However, his compliments and promises neither remedied the present evils nor prevented future ones.” (Clavijero, 182-183.)

Newsletter

Get our news directly in your inbox

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter.

Leave a Reply