THE BRIEF, UNREAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA
At the end of the Last World, there was a Great Flood. Coyote, Hawk, and Hummingbird fled to the peaks of Mount Diablo and took refuge there. Time passed. When the skies became blue and gold again, in the Moon of the Future Horse, Hawk flew west to scout the land and soon reported back that the water had returned to the sea and that it was time to begin the New World. Hawk guided Coyote and Hummingbird down the Mountain and, near the bottom they came to a cave and entered, finding a sleeping Girl on its floor. Hawk explained to Coyote that, according to his Vision, Coyote and Girl would birth the New World, and after much discussion as to method (as Coyote had never lain down with a Human), the act, as it were, was attempted.
Fruitful hopes immediately gave way to futile realities as the Girl took none too kindly to the advances of the old Coyote and straight away jumped and ran from the cave, whereby Coyote gave chase and chase he did, all the way to the San Francisco Bay where the Girl leapt into spectacular dive, transformed herself into a Dolphin and disappeared into the sea. Dejected, Coyote returned to the cave as the Sun was falling and upon entering the cave, Coyote found Hawk, but no Hummingbird, and on the floor of the cave there lay a beautiful, naked Girl, with hair dark as the shadow of the Great Oak. Hawk explained that, after the Girl had fled the cave, Hawk and Hummingbird had found, amongst the Girl’s herbs and medicines, the Cinco Santos (the Five Sacraments), and so with a strand of the Girl’s hair to activate the brew, Hummingbird ingested the medicine and they held the Transformation Ceremony. Hummingbird’s love for Coyote and desire to mother the coming world was strong and, as Dog smiled down from Space, she was turned with twisting precision into a beautiful Girl. She took Coyote by the hair and dragged him into the deeper recesses of the cave where they got right to the business of consummating the New, Weird West.
On September 28 of 1542, Joao Rodrigues Cabrilho, a Portuguese explorer leading a Spanish expedition up the Baja Coast of what is now Mexico, became the first European to plant his feet on the rocky shores of the Golden West. He touched down in what is now San Diego, then onto Catalina Island where he and his men were approached by “a great crowd of armed Indians”, who anyway must have been more confused and curious then scared, for they soon befriended the Iberian sailors. Up the coast, Cabrilho and his gang came upon the Chumash people, living in villages in the two warring provinces of Xexo (Santa Barbara County), which, according to notes, was ruled by an “Old Woman”, and Xuco (Ventura County), which presumably was not ruled by an “Old Woman.”
After venturing further north only to discover that the California Indians were Hunter-Gatherers who had no crops, advanced cities, accumulated wealth or organized civilizations to exploit (the Californian disdain for organization goes way back), Cabrilho returned to Southern California, where it was said to never rain, and on Christmas Eve of 1542, back on Catalina Island to layover for the winter, J.R. Cabrilho stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin on one of them rocks that make up that rocky and picturesque shoreline. He soon developed gangrene and after what we can assume was a delirious if subdued New Year’s celebration, Captain Cabrilho passed through the Golden Gates and into the Great Mystery on January 3rd of 1543, becoming (maybe) the first of many Europeans to bow out of the Big Show, to call it a Life, to Step on a Rainbow in California.
The padres showed up in 1769 and brought with them horses and Jesus and Spanish Architecture and diseases like small pox and private property thatwould soon send Coyote’s first born, his Indian children, the Olhone and Modoc, the Mi-Wuk, Chumash, and Yurok, into the frozen past of the California Story. They are the Ghosts of the Ghosts in this golden yarn, twice removed and forgotten brothers and sisters whispering a lost language, they are the Joshua Trees pointing you west, they ride the lightning over Death Valley.
The Padres put the Indians to work building half a dozen Catholic Missions up that glorious coast, and with them Missions they established half a dozen Pueblos in support. Birthed and Baptized, the future cities were christened: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Villa De Branciforte (always the flightiest of the Sisters, Villa later changed her name to Santa Cruz and took up surfing), and, of course, Yerba Buena, soon to be baptized San Francisco, the flightiest of the Brothers, given to all night parties and late brunches and though he rather enjoyed the nickname Fog City, there being many a bleary eyed hangover morning when he felt it better symbolized his fractured and fuzzy state of being than San Francisco, he would never consider a third official change. No, San Francisco had a ring to it, romantic and musical.
Mexico kicked Spain out in 1821 and the new Landlord got right to subdividing the house and divvying up space amongst his favorite sons. 500 or so large Ranchos were established and given out to friends and family of the new California Authorities. These California born Latinos built magnificent replicas of half remembered Spanish Estates and raised sheep and horses and cattle (animals who nearly raised themselves, for these Californios had a bitter disdain for hard labor) and spent most of their time riding horses, going to Rodeos, hosting Fiestas at their Ranchos, or riding their horses to the Fiestas of the neighboring Ranchos. They put the Indians to work for them sowing and harvesting crops, irrigating the fields, herding the cattle, shoeing their prized horses, building fences (this development annoyed Coyote to no end), building gratuitous home extensions , doing the laundry and cooking the meals.
The Californio male was said to ride on horseback everywhere he went, even riding extremely short distances so as not to be burdened with the labor of walking (years later, after the introduction of the Convertible, the proud Californio city of Los Angeles would champion this militant anti-pedestrianism and transform itself into an eye popping obstacle course of jammed freeways, melting parking lots, cocaine fueled joy rides, and fearless skateboard acrobats terrorizing the city sidewalks). For 24 years and some 60 corrupted and inept governors Mexico held on to California, but the Golden West was starting to call all kinds and from the east there came trappers and visionaries and mad preachers and runners and searchers and many a misty eyed mystery chaser, for in those days to come to California was to step into the Mystery proper, in all its feral glory, and on June 14th of 1846 some thirty of these settlers, while Mexico was looking the other way, took California without firing a shot. Seizing the small californio garrison of Sonoma, they raised a middle finger to Mexico and raised the Bear Flag of the Free Republic of California.
MEET THE NEW LANDLORD (WORSE THAN THE FIRST TWO)
The reason Mexico was looking the other way was because Mexico was, in that moment, in a very literal Mexican Stand Off with the formidable and well-funded United States military. A Stand-off that would establish the hierarchy on the North American political playground for near two hundred years, and more importantly to our story, a stand-off that netted the United States, in its estimation, claims to the free and strange land of California. It was under these conditions, captained by assumptions, that a ship bearing the spangled flag of the eastern states sailed into California’s still un-gated, golden bay and fired several shots before San Francisco, still hung-over from the weeks long Independence party, finally said “fuck it” and surrendered to the United States on July 9th of 1846 (Coyote and San Francisco held a fire and got pretty well shitfaced that evening, making a pact to cause such a mess of chaos that the U.S. would be sorry to have ever taken any interest in California, which anyway wasn’t much of a pact to make or not make since there is nothing in the Spirit of Coyote or San Francisco to suggest that it could have ever been otherwise, pact or no, which is to say that these two were bound to be a pain in the ass for the uptight politicians and rationalists out east. And they were, they were.)
US OCCUPATION (THE EARLY YEARS)
1849 (Year 3 of the U.S. Occupation of California): the first of many California Gold Rushes was set into motion in the final week of 1848 when Jimmy Marshall, a Jersey born carpenter working up at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, stumbled upon a sparkling chunk of rock in the saw dust. There was Gold in them hills. California exploded into dream. San Francisco grew in people power from a mere 200 or so in 1848 to 36,000 or there abouts by 1852 and overall about 300,000 new dreamers and band wagon jumpers entered through the Golden Gates in them wild and weird years. The masters and movers and business men formed a government in 1850 and applied for admission as a Free State with the congress of the occupying forces of the United States, and in the Compromise of 1850 statehood was granted (Coyote howled his disgust) while a Californio proposal to split the “state” into two, NorCal and SoCal, was rejected. The white European blooded Californians gained control of the new State. The Californios got East LA and future considerations in the Central Valley. Some fought back and became among the first true California Outlaws, like Joaquin Morrieta, who Hollywood later immortalized in sanitized glory as Zorro (and even better: Zorro, the Gay Blade) and whose pickled and severed head was prominently displayed at the California State Fairgrounds for the next couple of decades, an unheeded warning to would be and future outlaws.
Californios tried three more times in the 1850s to split with Northern California and go their own way, they proposed a sovereign Southern California, what they called the Territory of Colorado. In 1859 the Californios got the Pico Act passed by the California State Legislature, got it signed by the governor, was approved by a wide margin by the voters and then they sent it to Washington where the great white father and his minions made sure it never hit the senate floor. They had enough secession on their plate and never bothered to vote on the (still pending) Pico Act. During the years of the American Civil War the occupying forces of the U.S. stayed put in California at the behest of the mighty capitalists who controlled California finance and politics, opting to put the fight to the few Indians remaining and give hell to those pesky California secessionists. Which they did, they did
To be continued….