Chapter 13; Section 3
California and the Southwest
New Mexico Territory
In the 1840s, most of the Southwest was made up of present day Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado. The Southwest was also ruled by Mexico at this point in time and the huge region was called, New Mexico Territory.
This region was also very hot and dry with many deserts and mountains, and sometimes thick grass areas. The Zuni Indians that lived here had to use irrigation systems to live and farm and other Native Americans, like the Apache, hunted to live. They did this, until the Spanish arrived.
In 1598, Spanish explorer, Juan de Onate, claimed the Southwest region for Spain. By the 1600s, the Spanish had built the busy trading capital city of Santa Fe. However, the Spanish wouldn't even let Americans settle in Santa Fe, or anywhere in New Mexico. That is, until 1821. In 1821, Mexico became independent and then welcomed Americans.
The first American to head to Santa Fe was the merchant and adventurer, William Becknell. Becknell led traders across the plains to the busy capital city from Franklin, Missouri. Many Americans followed Becknell's route and it soon became known as the Santa Fe Trail
California was also ruled by Spain at first, and then later ruled by Mexico. In fact, Spanish explorers reached California in 1542, which was far earlier than when the English settled in Jamestown. Life in California was shaped and developed thanks to Spanish and Native American cultures.
The first European settlements in California were built by Spanish soldiers and missionaries. Captain Gaspar De Portola led an expedition up the pacific coast and was accompanied by the very important missionary, Father Junipero Serra. The first missionary Father Serra built was in San Diego. His mission work was very successful and eventually, he set up a string of 21 missions along California's coast.
All of these missions were self sufficient and included a church, plus the surrounding land. These missions were also very helpful to soldiers who would build forts near them. You see, the missions would supply the forts with meat, grains, and other foods.
You may wonder how all these missions were kept running and that would be by the labor of Native Americans and Indians. Since many of the Indians lived in small scattered groups before the Spanish arrived, they had little success resisting the Spanish soldiers who forced them to work on farm lands.
Therefore, Native Americans on the missions were put to work herding sheep and cattle, as well as raising crops. They also learned a lot about the Roman Catholic faith, especially since the missionaries wanted to convert the Indians to Christianity. The mission life wasn't easy though, and thousands of Native Americans died from being over worked or disease.
Mexico soon decided that California's economy was growing to slowly around the 1820s. So, the government would take land from missions and give it to wealthy individuals. They hoped maybe this would speed up growth. These wealthy people would then set up huge cattle ranches with the land.
Like the missions, Native Americans did most of the work tending to cattle and other animals, but these workers did develop a new culture called the culture of vaqueros. These vaqueros were Indian and Mexican cowhands who were excellent riders and ropers. Their traditions strongly influenced cowhands who came after them.
Support for Expansion;
By the 1840s, about 700 people from the United States were living in California. Every year, more Americans had begun moving west and because of this, the United states government often offered to buy California from Mexico. Many officials were eyeing control of the ports in San Francisco and San Diego.
Another main reason of the United States wanting to purchase California was because Americans saw our nation's government as the BEST in the world. We believed it was our duty, and right, to spread our culture all across the continent and to the Pacific ocean.
That belief was then known as the Manifest, which means clear/obvious, Destiny. Any American who believed in the Manifest Destiny had the belief that expanding would open up more opportunities for the economy. This belief, however, did have a down side. Americans who felt superior to Native Americans and Mexicans used it to justify them taking land from those thought to be inferior.
This video also talks slightly about the Trail of Tears and other states in the nation. For the section on Manifest Destiny, begin at 1:35 and end at 2:50.
Th Manifest Destiny also had effect on the election of 1844. You see, many voters favored a candidate who was for expansion, James K. Polk. Polk's opposing candidate was well-known leader, Henry Clay. Polk, the democrat nominated candidate, wanted to add Texas and Oregon to the United States. Clay, nominated by the Whigs, was against the annexation of Texas.
Democrats decided to make Oregon an issue in the campaign. You see, Britain and the United States jointly held Oregon. Polk had the idea of owning the whole region as far north as 50 degrees, 40 degrees North. Americans showed how much they supported expansion by voting James K. Polk into presidency.