ARCADIA
CHAPTER 8

The ancient Greeks wrote of a distant province called Arcadia. They portrayed it as an idyllic land isolated from the rest of the world. Its inhabitants led a proverbially happy and natural life. Was California such a place? Throughout Latin America, the status of those who owned and operated large ranchos (ranches) was an honored one, be they the gauchos of Argentina or the California rancheros. These were the local leaders and heroes, figures venerated in the Latino cultures.

Meanwhile, Spain’s grip on its American colonies weakened. A paternalistic royal government tried to foster the dependence of its colonials by sending them goods and supplies, but the Spanish empire’s lines of communication stretched too thin. With fewer or no ships from the mother country in port, Spanish colonists had no choice but to become increasingly self-reliant.

Fortunately for the Californios, they enjoyed abundant pastureland and fresh water in addition to a ready supply of Indian labor. Ranching conditions in the province bordered on perfect. The climate was mild enough to permit animals to live throughout the year with little shelter. And the rancheros did not even bother to fence in their stock. Neighbors were trusted amid a pastoral way of life inherited from the Spanish homeland.

A band of only 200 cattle brought to California by Portolá’s expedition, and the few that had survived the overland trek with Anza’s party, formed California’s original herds. These animals and their progeny would eventually yield hides and tallow in abundance for export.

No phase of California’s history had more far-reaching consequences than the large land grants made during the Spanish and Mexican eras. Today’s land titles are grounded upon these grants, once regarded as the very basis of local wealth. Many grants are still known by their original names, for example, El

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