There are currently three states with names containing the word California: Baja California Sur and Baja California, in the northwestern peninsula of Mexico, and California, in the southwestern United States of America. When we say “Las Californias,” we mean all three.
A brief review of the emergence of the Californias is as follows. The Californian peninsula, today called Baja California, was discovered in 1534 by the crew of a ship sent by Hernan Cortes to explore what is now called the Pacific Ocean. Cortes was the same Spaniard who just a few years earlier led an invasion of what today is Mexico. Troops subjugated the natives by any means and placed them at the disposal of Spain under the name of New Spain. After the discovery of the peninsula, the ship captain, Fortun Jimenez de Bertandoña, lost his life during the landing. The sailors who managed to escape gave an account of the new land and of the pearls that could be obtained there.
The news reached the ears of the sponsor of the expedition who decided to personally travel to “conquer” these new lands. On May 3, 1535, Hernan Cortes set foot on the peninsula in a bay that he called Santa Cruz. It is where he attempted to create the first New Spanish colony on a huge “supposed island that was already beginning to be called California” (Rodriguez Tomp, General History of Baja California Sur, 2003). However, after suffering a series of setbacks in 1536 while attempting to stabilize the life in the settlement, he was forced to leave the site with all his people. The region where they intended to stay was arid and it appeared the settlers were unable to produce enough food. In addition, there were insufficient funds to defray the cost of continuing to supply the colony from the mainland.
After that first attempt at “conquest,” other attempts were registered by different explorers over the following 160 years. All failed to create permanent settlements that gave rise to the colonization of California until 1697 when Father Juan Maria de Salvatierra SJ spearheaded the creation of the first permanent mission in Loreto. The mission ultimately became the mother of the Californian missions and was the vehicle through which the Californian peninsula was annexed to New Spain. Later, a huge extension of land to the north called New California, or Alta California, in 1777, simultaneously led to the singular name California, and the peninsula being called Antigua California or Baja California to clearly differentiate one region from the other.
In 1824, when Mexico became independent from Spain and after the disappearance of the Empire of Agustin de Iturbide, the administrative reorganization of the Mexican territory created the provinces of Alta and Baja California.
As a result, in 1835, on the approximate date that Francisco Bareño Garayzar landed in Loreto. That was the land at the time that welcomed him and almost all his descendants.
In 1846, North American armed forces invaded Baja California as part of a declaration of war by the North American president who unjustly “accused Mexico of constant ‘insults’ and of having spilled American blood on United States territory, which was false…” The North American expansionist war ended with the signing of the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty that allowed Americans to appropriate extensive Mexican territories, including Alta California. The territory was considered booty from that war and integrated into the growing neighboring country in 1847. It was called California, getting rid of the word Alta, which had served to distinguish itself from Baja California. The peninsular region that was called California for two and a half centuries, from the fourth decade of the 16th century to the eighth decade of the 18th century, continued to be called Baja California, while the region of the southwest corner of America that was called Alta California was renamed simply California.
Mexican California, called Baja California since the late 18th century, remained the westernmost and least populated territory in Mexico. Later, “in 1881, President Porfirio DIaz established the 28th parallel of north latitude as the dividing line between the two Mexican Californias, and in 1888, the peninsular territory was divided into the northern and southern Districts” (Coronado, 2015). Today, those districts are the States of Baja California and Baja California Sur.