(from the California
Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535-1846
Edited by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz
Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, and Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA,
2001, 506 pages, $21.95
Reviewed by Ruth E.
Independent Scholar, San Francisco
Lands of Promise and
Despair is a new collection of primary sources. The editors chose ones that
convey an “insider’s view” instead of the more frequently published
travelers’ accounts of early California. Several are in new English
translations by Rose Marie Beebe.
The individual readings together constitute a well-written narrative of the
periods of Spanish exploration, colonization and settlement and Mexican
The excerpts from
explorers’ reports in Part I show native peoples mostly in relation to
Spanish plans for them. The Spaniards made plans for their settlement on
native lands from the first years of the conquest. Based on traditions in
Spanish history, the conquistadores laid out towns (pueblos), built forts
near them (presidios) and assigned lands and natives (encomiendas) to the
individuals who participated in the conquest. The clergymen who accompanied
the armies established churches and congregated native peoples near them in
“missions.” Beebe and Senkewicz show what happened to these institutions as
the areas of settlement expanded and, later, governance changed from Spanish
Readers can sample
changes in the pueblos, for example. Pueblos were not towns in today’s
American usage of the word. They were jurisdictions. Some households and
public buildings were in close proximity but fields and pastures were
included in them. In Alta California, Felipe de Neve, an army officer who
was appointed governor of the Californias (Baja and Alta) in 1775 wrote
detailed regulations for organizing and governing pueblos. He later wrote
about their economic functions. In 1809 Joaquín de Arrillaga and José María
Estudillo wrote about pueblo conflicts. In 1827 the citizens of San Diego
petitioned for local self-government independent of military authority.
Other topics include
relations between natives and invaders, relations between clergy and
soldiers and civilian settlers, changing ecologies and crime and punishment.
The book has drawings, two color portfolios, maps that provide informative
illustrations, a chronology, a list of governors and a glossary.