By Andrea Julian, Mexpro.com Correspondent in Mexico
North American tourists discovered the joys of Baja California almost a century ago, but the history between Baja and travelers goes back to ancient times. For over 10,000 years, humans have had a fascination with this land of extremes. Its two shores of rich coastal waters and hundreds of rivers and estuaries provide an abundant supply of food, water, and shelter. Today, Baja and its rich history continue to delight both locals and visitors year round.
Prehistoric History of Baja
At the time just prior to the Spanish arrival there were three major ethnic groups living in the peninsula: the Cochimi in the north, the Guaycura in the central area and the Pericu on the southern cape. Archeological evidence suggests that these groups may have inhabited Baja California for 10,000 years. All three tribes were hunters and gatherers, though an isolated group of Cochimi living on the Cedros Island developed a fairly complex agricultural system. Today, the modern day descendents of the Guaycura and Pericu still live on the northernmost part of the peninsula.
The Spanish Colonization
The Spanish arrived on the Baja Peninsula in the 16th century, searching for the legendary cities of gold. In 1532, Hernan Cortes led an expedition to search for a fabled island of gold that was supposed to be located there, and landed near La Paz. There, he discovered black pearls but no gold. In 1539, Captain Francisco de Ulloa explored the entire length of the Sea of Cortes, and made the discovery that Baja was actually a peninsula, a fact that was not realized by the Spaniards until that historic voyage. The Spanish didn’t return again to Baja until 1683, when the Spanish government sent three ships with 200 men with a mission to colonize the peninsula. The Jesuit priest Juan Maria Salvatierra established the regions first permanent settlement, the Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto, in 1695.
Recent History of Baja
When the U.S. won the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Baja California was originally ceded to the U.S. along with California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming. However, it was eventually omitted form the deal due to the proximity of Baja to the state of Sonora. Several years later, in 1853, William Walker, along with 50 mercenaries, successfully invaded Baja California. The party sailed to La Paz from San Francisco and took over the public buildings. Walker declared himself president and even installed cabinet members. However, he was eventually forced to leave the state.
The Baja of Today and of the Future
Today Baja supports a diverse economy. Inhabitants of Baja engage in agriculture, work in maquiladoras, or manufacturing assembly plants, or are in the mining industry. A number of people also work in the tourism industry, which has grown tremendously over the past century. Baja also has a number of sports teams, including the Mexicali Suns basketball team, the Mexicali Eagles and Tijuana Colts baseball team and the Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles soccer team. As Baja continues to grow and develop, it will be the challenge of its inhabitants to keep its rich history and culture alive while growing and adapting to keep its economy thriving.