The Californios: A History, 1769–1890
Hunt Janin and Ursula Carlson
Before the Gold Rush of 1848–1858, Alta (Upper) California was an isolated cattle frontier—and home to a colorful group of Spanish-speaking, non-indigenous people known as Californios. Profiting from the forced labor of large numbers of local Indians, they carved out an almost feudal way of life, raising cattle along the California coast and valleys. Visitors described them as a good-looking, vibrant, improvident people. Many traces of their culture remain in California.
Yet their prosperity rested entirely on undisputed ownership of large ranches. As they lost control of these in the wake of the Mexican War, they lost their high status and many were reduced to subsistence-level jobs or fell into abject poverty. Drawing on firsthand contemporary accounts, the authors chronicle the rise and fall of Californio men and women.