WHEN California was taken from the Mexicans in 1846, the sandy, wind-swept peninsula on which San Francisco was to be built was nearly as barren as the day on which Ortega had first seen it nearly eighty years before. The dilapidated Presidio overlooking the Golden Gate housed twelve ragged men and a sergeant; three miles away among the sand dunes the secularized Mission Dolores gave refuge to eight native men and women. During the three centuries that California had been held as an outpost of empire by Spain and Mexico, it had added little to the culture of the world except a pastoral myth which chambers of commerce would later exploit during real-estate booms. The one book of importance that had been stimulated by its easy- going life had been written by a Yankee who had spent a year loading hides in California to recover his health, sacrificed to studies at Harvard. In Two Years before the Mast Richard Henry Danadescribed a Spanish-Californian society whose members were little more likely to create a distinctive literature than the native Indians, who lived on acorns and dried grasshoppers. The Spaniards in California had not developed a frontier; they had merely held it for fear someone else would get it.