War and the Making of History: The Case of Mexican California, 1821-1846

By Gonzalez, Michael | California History, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

War and the Making of History: The Case of Mexican California, 1821-1846


Gonzalez, Michael, California History


At times, the historian of Mexican California, as would the scholar of any other historical subject, must play the philosopher and contemplate the riddles that comprise humanity's existence. What seems accurate often is not, the historian discovers; and what is not accurate sometimes is. To compound matters, what is and what is not accurate, or what only seems to be accurate, depends on circumstance. Where dwells the historian--and how income, education, race, and sex shape his or her faculties--can determine the reach and limits of perception. All the more, the historian's sensibilities may reflect the time and era in which he or she resides; the past--the thing contemplated by the historian--becomes a site of contemporary yearning and angst rather than an accounting of what occurred years before. (1)

Such is the case with Mexican California. Indeed, the ranchero--the proprietor of landed estates in the nineteenth century--embodies why the pursuit of accuracy presents challenges. For some time, the ranchero has figured prominently in many histories about Mexican California. But the question arises whether the ranchero deserves so much attention. The evidence shows otherwise and suggests that war, with the soldier at arms, may offer a better way to interpret life in Mexican California.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

WAR IN MEXICAN CALIFORNIA

Before girding for the fight, as would suit any person going to war, we must first address the ranchero's shortcomings. Many scholars argue that the rancheros dominated the economic and political life of Mexican California. The ranchero was "the 'big man' [who controlled] family, labor and land," declares one scholar, summarizing at one stroke what other historians have long argued. (2) The ranchero's herds provided food. Indians and non-Indians found employment on the ranchero's property. At appropriate times, the ranchero staged fiestas to show his generosity and share the land's bounty with workers and neighbors. (3) Scholars apparently have good reason to say that matters unfolded as they did. The Mexican Californians who helped produce the recuerdos--the oral histories compiled in the late nineteenth century by the historian Hubert Howe Bancroft and his staff--speak often of the ranchero's influence. And scholars, who remain true to the sources, draw their conclusions accordingly.

Some rancheros certainly had great influence, but was it always thus? Did they all command as much power as scholars say? The example of Los Angeles, the most populous settlement in Mexican California, suggests not. If by "ranchero" we mean the individual who held title to his property, there were few such people to begin with. According to the Mexican census of 1844, sixteen people in the Los Angeles area meet our definition of ranchero. The number is significant, but hardly the figure one would imagine. Moreover, the men who did own landed estates, or at least toiled on a rancho, often failed to impress the citizenry of Los Angeles come Election Day. Of the sixty-two men who served in municipal government between 1821 and 1848, the year that Mexico formally ceded California to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, fifteen men--nearly one-fourth of the total number of men who sat in office--had some connection to the cattle business. Of these, only five owned ranchos. (4) The other ten men worked in ranching but did not have title to the property; they worked for the proprietors, or apparently leased a portion of the estate for their own purposes. Four of the fifteen sat as alcalde, the chief magistrate and mayor. Another four served as sindicos, a position that required the occupant to press charges against delinquent residents or collect fees. The largest number, seven, were regidores, aldermen of sorts who represented a particular district.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Farmers, on the other hand, seemingly earned more respect from compatriots. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

War and the Making of History: The Case of Mexican California, 1821-1846
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.