Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Legend of Califa

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    For two centuries, Europeans believed California to be an island, as seen on this 1610 map. The derivation of the name "California" was a mystery until 1862, when scholars "discovered" a novel by the Spanish writer García Ordóñez de Montalvo called "The Exploits of the Very Powerful Cavalier Esplandián, Son of the Excellent King Amadis of Gaul," written in either 1510 or 1521 — and in any case well in advance of the 1533 discovery of Baja California by the Spanish.
    Ordóñez's novel tells the legend of Queen Califa (alternately transcribed as Califia or Calafia). An excerpt from one of several different translations follows:

    "Know that to the right hand of the Indies was an island called California, very near to the region of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was populated by black women, without there being any men among them, that almost like the Amazons was their style of living. These were of vigorous bodies and strong and ardent hearts and of great strength; the island itself the strongest in steep rocks and great boulders that is found in the world; their arms were all of gold, and also the harnesses of the wild beasts on which, after having tamed them, they rode; that in all the island there was no other metal whatsoever. They dwelt in caves very well hewn; they had many ships in which they went out to other parts to make their forays, and the men they seized they took with them, giving them their deaths, as you will further hear. And some times when they had peace with their adversaries, they intermixed with all security one with another, and there were carnal unions from which many of them came out pregnant, and if they gave birth to a female they kept her, and if they gave birth to a male, then he was killed...
    "On this island, called California, there were also many griffins. In no other part of the world can they be found. ... And in the time that they had young, these women would ... take them to their caves, and there raise them. And ... they fattened them on those men and the boys that they had borne. ... Any male that entered the island was killed and eaten by them...
    "And there ruled over that island of California a queen of majestic proportions, more beautiful than all others, and in the very vigor of her womanhood. She was not petite, nor blond, nor golden-haired. She was large, and black as the ace of clubs. But the prejudice of color did not then exist even among the most brazen-faced or the most copper-headed. For, as you shall learn, she was reputed the most beautiful of women; and it was she, O Californias! who accomplished great deeds, she was valiant and courageous and ardent with a brave heart, and had ambitions to execute nobler actions than had been performed by any other ruler — Queen Califa."

— Leon Worden

6. Winds of Change

"Know ye that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very near the Terrestrial Paradise....

"Over this land ... rules a Queen Califa, statuesque in proportion, more beautiful than all the rest...."

The name "California" was born in the mind of one Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo, a Spanish novelist who, in 1510, published a book called The Exploits of Esplandián. It was very popular at the time, read even by the great conquistador himself, Hernán Cortéz. In 1524 Cortéz wrote his king that he expected to find the legendary island of the Amazons "a few days' sail to the northwest."

When Fortun Jiminéz landed on the rocky coast of Baja California in 1533 and found pearls, it started a rush to find Queen Califa, her voluptuous maidens and all of the gold, silver and gems mentioned in the novel. It is not certain if Jiminéz or Hernán Cortéz himself bestowed the name on the land, but maps showed the peninsula as an island for the next two hundred years.

In 1540 several Spanish ships commanded by Hernando de Alarcón sailed to the north end of California's gulf, then up the Colorado River. Alarcón returned with no gold and no Amazons, but he did bring back the astonishing news that California was attached firmly to the North American continent. No one believed him.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set sail from the port of Navidád on June 27, 1542 with two small ships, the San Salvador and the Victoria. The ships were poorly built, poorly manned and even more poorly provisioned, yet they managed to beat their way against heavy winds as far north as Oregon. Along the way they stopped and refreshed themselves at the mouth of the Santa Clara River at Ventura. Cabrillo spent the winter of 1543 on San Miguel Island, where he died and was buried.

Sebastián Vizcaíno explored the coast again in 1602, although he accomplished little beyond changing all of Cabrillo's place names. After Vizcaíno's expedition, a veil of silence and neglect fell over Alta California. For the next 167 years, the only visitors were crews of the great Manila galleons, who annually dropped anchor, took on fresh water, hunted for game and then sailed off across the Pacific toward the Philippines. Spain slid complacently into a state of apathy.

In 1765, Don Carlos III was crowned king and immediately began to force his moribund empire into a new age of expansionism. He looked with alarm at Russian fur hunters pressing south from Alaska, Dutch traders in the Pacific and the British moving west from the Atlantic. Obviously it would be only a matter of time before Alta California would be gobbled up. He sent word to his viceroy in Mexico City, José de Gálvez, to colonize the north and, in a move that surprised some, get rid of the Jesuits and replace them with members of the Franciscan order.

Within two years the Jesuits were expelled from the churches they had organized centuries before. Gálvez planned every detail of the new conquest well. For the first time a governor of "all the Californias" was appointed, a captain named Gaspar de Portolá. The Father Presidente of the new missions would be a man of exceptional qualifications: Father Junípero Serra.

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