The Journal of San Diego History
January 1965, Volume 11, Number 1
Ray Brandes, Editor

By James R. Moriarty

Early Cross-staff and Quadrant from the Mystic Museum. Photograph courtesy of L. S. Martel.The discovery and exploration of the Gulf of California was a by-product of the personal and economic factors motivating the sixteenth century Spanish soldier-adventurers. Expeditions directed and financed by men like Cortés and Mendoza obtained information which was zealously guarded. The policy of the Spanish Crown at this period allowed little or no dissemination of information obtained from these discoveries and such a political attitude was, inevitably, reflected by the lower governing echelons in the New World. The resultant machinations led to continuing jealousy and rivalry among the leading figures directing the expeditions. Information, therefore, regarding the new land and the results of individual attempts at opening it up was not exchanged, a factor which accounts for noticeable confusion and disorder in the records.

Nautical Astrolabe at the Mystic Seaport Museum, note the sighting arm is missing. This is of Asian origin with the increments scribed in Persian numerals. Photograph courtesy of L. S. Martel.
The discovery of the Gulf of California and the events leading up to that discovery have their origin in information obtained by Hernan Cortés through the interrogation of Aztec nobles in Mexico City. By the end of 1519 he had obtained sufficient knowledge of the gold-bearing regions in the area of the Gulf of Tehuantepec to interest him in ordering the occupation of this area.

Under Montezuma, a system of courier runners traversed established routes throughout the entire area which was loosely controlled by the central government of the Aztec empire, In the summer of 1520 a group sent out by Cort4s and guided by some of these couriers reached the Pacific at the mouth of the Rio Balsas in Oaxaca. By 1524, after a number of punitive expeditions, both Colima and Zacátula were occupied, and some expeditions had explored as far north as the Rio Grande de Jalisco. Some time after this, about 1530, Acapulco was settled. In 1530 Cortés returned to Spain.

The arrival of Nuño de Guzmán on the Pacific Coast during Cortés’ absence sparked further exploration northward along the coast. By June 5, 1530, Guzmán had reached as far north as the Rio Grande in Nayarit, and a week later he discovered the Rio San Pedro near Tuxpan. Nuño de Guzmán was apparently susceptible to the rumors and mythology prevalent among the conquerors at that time. We know from the accounts of his expedition that he fully expected to find the kingdom of the Amazons a little north of the Rio San Pedro at Astatlan. He was probably influenced in this rather incredible expectation by a publication by Garcí Ordónez de Montalvo, called Las Sergas de Esplandian (The Exploits of Esplandian), which was first printed in 1510. This romance was the outcome of De Montalvo’s translation of Amadis of Gaul. In the story, Esplandian, the son of Amadis, has many strange adventures, among which is a meeting with the Amazons.

All this would be quite unimportant were it not for the fact that, in De Montalvo’s story, the name “California” appears in print for the first time. Since De Montalvo’s story was extremely popular and passed through many printings during the 1500’s, it was familiar to any fairly well educated Spaniard of the period. It should be noted that the name California appears in many passages of the book — for example, Sergas, chap. 157:

Know that, on the right hand of the Indies, very near to the Terrestrial Paradise, there is an island called California, which was peopled with black women, without any men among them. because they were accustomed to live after the fashion of Amazons . . . In this island called California are many Griffins, on account of the great savageness of the country and the immense quantity of the wild game there . . . Now, in the time that these great men of the Pagans sailed (against Constantinople) with those great fleets of which I have told you, there reigned in this land of California a Queen, large of body, very beautiful, in the prime of her years….

In his memoirs, Captain Bernal Diaz del Castillo also used the name California. He wrote, “Cortes again set sail from Santa Cruz and discovered the coast of California.”

These two references constitute the very earliest documentation of the name California. However, it seems likely that it was a name in general usage among the conquistadors even prior to 1530. It might be well to note here that the origin of the name California has been a subject of contention among a great number of people. Possible theories as to its origin have ranged from the absurd to highly complex linguistic gymnastics. As an example, one theory was based on the interpretation of the word California in Latin as calida fornax, meaning “hot oven”. There is not a recorded instance of Cort4s assigning a name based on a Latin derivation. Another theory is that the name was based on an Indian word meaning “a high hill”, but the investigator failed to demonstrate this in any of the known Indian dialects. Perhaps the most fantastic is the suggestion that California is the name of a priest, Padre “Cal y Fornia”; however, no documents have ever been found containing a reference to this imaginary holy man. The solution to the problem was given by the Reverend Edward Everett Hale. Reverend Hale discussed the origin of the name California in a paper he read before the American Antiquarian Society in Boston on April 30, 1862. It is interesting that he based his conclusions on the romance Las Sergas de Esplandian discussed above.1

During the period of Nuño de Guzmán’s sallies to the north of Acapulco, Cortés returned from Spain, where he had been given an unfavorable reception at court. Cortés now realized that his rights to exclusive control of the northern sections of Mexico were being seriously challenged by a number of men as able as himself. In order to advance his own position more rapidly, and be assured of reaching the unexplored territories before his rivals, he undertook a new approach-this time by sea. During the years 1530-32, he set about collecting material and funds, and engaging personnel for exploration by sea.

By the year 1532 Cortés had outfitted two ships, the San Miguel and the San Marcos. He placed them both under the command of Captain Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. The vessels sailed from the harbor of Acapulco, going northward to the port of Jalisco. When Mendoza wished to enter that port to obtain fresh water, he was refused entrance by Cortés’ enemy, Nuño de Guzmán. The expedition continued up the coast under low water rations. Part of the crew mutinied, and as a consequence, Mendoza was compelled to give the mutineers one of the vessels in which they intended to return to New Spain. The vessel with the mutineers turned southward and soon afterward was forced to put in to shore for water. Because the Indians in this area had been subjected to the usual Spanish mistreatment (probably by patrols sent out by de Guzmán for purposes of exploration and slaving), they attacked the mutineers and killed all but two of them. Apparently the two members of the crew who survived fought their way out and managed to reach one of De Guzmán’s outposts safely. Meanwhile Hurtado de Mendoza had continued north, perhaps reaching a little beyond the Rio del Fuerte in Sinaloa. No further word was heard of him and it can be assumed that he and his men were killed by the Indians somewhere in this area.

Cortés sent out two more ships with orders: “To avenge the deaths, to find and succor the living, (if any) and to learn the secret and the end of that coast”. The vessels were commanded by Captain Diego de Becerra and Hernando de Grijalva. Shortly after their departure the vessels became separated, with Becerra turning north, as ordered, and Grijalva proceeding southward. Del Castillo describes Becerra as a haughty man with an overbearing temper. Grijalva was apparently unable to endure him. Becerra was put to death by his own crew; consequently, no positive information as to the extent of his northward exploration now exists. It is known that, on December 10, 1533, shortly after the ships became separated somewhere off the coast of Colima, the pilot, FortAn Ximénez de Bertandona, led a mutiny against Captain Becerra. The mutineers, led by Ximénez, wounded most of the officers and killed the captain. The pilot then assumed command of the vessel and put in to shore. He ordered the crew to remove all of the wounded and left them in the charge of three Franciscan friars who were part of the ship’s original personnel. Under the command of Ximénez, the mutineers sailed off in a northwesterly direction. Reliable sources of information as to what happened after that are nonexistent. We do know that the vessel returned to its home port, probably in the first few months of 1534, with only a few surviving crew members. Cortés questioned them closely but it is not recorded what punishment they received, if any.

The survivors told a most exciting story about the discovery of a new land. After leaving the wounded behind, they said, they had sailed to the northwest.2 According to the story, a few days of good travel brought the ship within sight of a strange coast and they followed it, landing here and there, until they came upon a good harbor. Here they anchored and for some days explored the area. Presumably, this harbor was north of Cape Pulmo on the Baja Peninsula. The sailors told of discovering pearls, but how this came about is not recorded. Quite possibly they had made contact with the local Indians and had actually traded for pearls. They further reported that the Indians had become angry and had killed Ximénez and most of the mutineers. The few survivors had then set sail and returned to the mainland port, landing on the coast of Nueva Galicia. There the governor, De Guzmán, had promptly confiscated the vessel. De Guzmán proposed to use it himself for a voyage of discovery. Cortés immediately sought through the Audiencia (the official Crown court of justice in Mexico City) to force De Guzmán to return the vessel. The Audiencia forbade Guzmán to make any voyages of discovery, and Cortés regained his ship.

The Cortés map of Santa Cruz (La Paz area) tip of Baja California. Probably drawn around 1535 and used as an adjunct to the Cortés Act of Possession. It was first noted historically in June 1541 when filed in Madrid. Cortés was involved in a suit at this time and was trying to establish priority of occupation of lands bordering the Gulf of California north of Manzanillo.In April of 1535 Cortés, probably on the basis of the reports from the, ill-fated Ximénez expedition, sailed directly to the southeastern tip of the Baja Peninsula. (See Fig. 1) At Puerto de la Paz* (Santa Cruz, as he called it), he attempted to establish a colony. From here he sent out a number of land expeditions, one of which quite possibly reached the west side of the peninsula, around latitude 25o. The expedition had been on Baja for some months when Francisco de Ulloa arrived at La Paz, or Santa Cruz, with letters to Cortés from Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. When the Audiencia had ordered against Nuño De Guzmán’s new voyage it had also forbidden Cortés to make a voyage. The recalcitrant Cortés, ignoring this decision, had proceeded to place a colony at La Paz. The letters were presumably orders directing Cortés to return and to answer charges.

At the La Paz colony everything had gone wrong. The settlement had been a failure from the beginning. The greatest problem was logistics. In an attempt to save the situation, several trips had been made across the Gulf. These were mainly directed toward obtaining supplies and transporting colonists to La Paz. The hazards of such a voyage were great. On the second trip one ship was wrecked and another, commanded by Hernando de Grijalva, was unable to return to Baja. When the pilot of Cortés’ vessel was killed during a storm, Cortés took the wheel himself and managed to bring the vessel into La Paz. Upon his return he found twenty-three of the colonists dead of starvation and the survivors cursing his name. With the remaining vessel he returned to the mainland seeking relief. By 1536 it became apparent to all that the colony was a failure, and Cortés was undoubtedly glad to be recalled. Upon receiving the letters he gave command of the colony to Ulloa and hastened to Acapulco. It was not long before Ulloa returned with the remnants of the colony.

As late as 1536 the boundaries of exploration stood pretty much where they had been after the Ximénez discoveries. The year 1536 brought onto the historical scene one of the most dramatic and remarkable achievements of the Conquest. Down from what is now northern Sonora came the Spaniard Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions. The story told by these men rekindled the enthusiasm for continued northward exploration. Theirs is an epic drama of survival. Cabeza de Vaca and his companions covered in six years of wandering, most of what is now the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Cortés met with these wanderers, honoring them and presenting them with gifts of clothing, shelter, and funds. No doubt he listened with great interest to their stories. De Vaca and his companions told of large communities of people in the land to the north and northeast, with cities and wealth almost beyond belief. There was good reason for Cortés and the others to believe these stories. By this time they already had been informed of the wonders discovered in the conquest of Peru. Before the government would recognize any claims, however, it required the filing and the documenting of a great variety of information: proposals, and documents of priority. Men like Cortés chafed at this bureaucratic obstruction of the Spanish colonial regime.

Late in 1538 Cortés began to prepare vessels for a new expedition. In the spring of 1539 Viceroy Mendoza sent Fray Marcos de Niza north to explore the regions beyond the city of Culiacón, probably to check on De Vaca’s story. At the same time, Cortés had three vessels lying ready in the harbor at Acapulco. Francisco de Ulloa, friend and lieutenant of Cortés, was placed in command, and he departed from Acapulco on July 8, 1539. Thus Ulloa would have the honor of discovering the Gulf of California.

Although there is no record of the purpose of the expedition or the instructions to Ulloa, the mission was probably to examine the coastline of the mainland as far to the northwest as possible, at the same time looking for a safe and easy route to Asia. For the time being everyone was ignoring the area of Santa Cruz (Puerto de La Paz), probably because it was assumed to be merely an offshore island.3 (See Fig. 2).

The log of Francisco Ulloa’s voyage remains to us and is in itself a wonderful story. With the three ships of the convoy he proceeded in good weather to the northwest, paralleling the coast. The vessels of the Armada were the Santa Agueda, the Trinidad, and the Santo Tomas, 120 tons, 35 tons, and 20 tons respectively. The passage north from the harbor of Acapulco was made during the first week under full sail and with good wind. The coast along here was familiar to the voyagers, as several of them had made the passage north from Acapulco many times. The weather held good until the sixteenth of July, when a violent storm struck from the northwest. Within a few hours most of the main running riggings of all three vessels were carried — away, and the expedition was seriously threatened. The morning found them gravely disabled. With the seams of the Santo Tomas sprung below the water line, she lay low in the water. Ulloa set the ships’ crews to work salvaging as much as was possible of the sails and cordage that had gone by the boards but were still held fast to the standing rigging and lying afloat about the vessels. Jury rigs were applied and a course was set for the harbor of Santiago de la Buena Esperanza — a small port in the harbor of Manzanillo.

The little fleet arrived there on Sunday, July 27. Twenty-six days were spent in port, refurbishing and founding the vessels. On August twenty-third the expedition cleared the harbor and under good sail proceeded northward along the coast. Four days later, some fifteen leagues4 north of the Tres Marias Islands, another storm broke. The ships had been standing well out from the land and as the storm came upon them, Ulloa attempted to keep the vessels together. The Santo Tomas began taking water again and the crew feared she was about to founder. Ulloa hailed them with words of encouragement, endeavoring to keep them from abandoning the little ship and its irreplaceable supplies. He ordered them to set a course for the harbor at La Paz (Santa Cruz).

Undoubtedly, Ulloa realized that, with one of his ships so disabled, he would never be able to keep them together during the storm. By ordering the Santo Tomas to the rendezvous at La Paz, he was offering the ship’s crew their best chance of survival. Left to his own devices, the Captain of the Santo Tomas would probably have attempted to bring the vessel into El Guayaval, on the west coast of Mexico near Astatlan, where the storm would surely have driven the vessel to destruction on that inhospitable coast.

Realizing that he had done everything that he could by the Santo Tomas, Ulloa prepared the two remaining vessels to weather out the storm. Bringing both of his vessels into the wind, he hove to during the storm and in the morning set a west-northwesterly course for La Paz. In doing so, the admiral demonstrated a good command of the best principles of seamanship. On the following day the two vessels approached the latitude of La Paz. The crossing was relatively uneventful, and on August thirtyfirst they sighted the islands of Cerralbo and Espiritu Santo. The Santo Tomas was not at the rendezvous, and Ulloa, deciding to wait, sent parties ashore to look over Cortés’ old camp site. Exploring parties were sent out to see if contact could be made with the inhabitants. Smoke was observed near the old camp, but the shore party discovered only ruins. The Indians apparently bad burned everything in an attempt to revenge themselves for the mistreatment they had suffered during the earlier occupations. Ulloa remained in the harbor until the tenth of September. Apparently he decided that the captain of the Santo Tomas had disobeyed his orders, for after this very short stay he set sail again, crossing the gulf and arriving two days later off the mouth of the Rio San Juan y San Pablo (Rio Sinaloa). He states in his log that they searched this vicinity for the Santo Tomas. It seems likely that this place may have been an alternate rendezvous point.

The actions of Ulloa at this time would seem to indicate that he had no information of the land expeditions which had taken place between 1533 and 1539. As a matter of fact, Ulloa must have known about Nuño de Guzmán’s advances which extended some distance north of Culiacón. Probably his loyalty to Cortés prompted him to ignore Guzmán’s claims. Upon landing, he had the notary of the expedition, Pedro de Palencia, in the presence of witnesses, make the following declarations:

Map of the Gulf of California showing the track of Francisco Ulloa's expedition. Note the names and dates in parenthesis which are Ulloa's. The names in capitals are the present names. I, Pedro de Palencia, notary public of this armada, bear true witness to all to whose eyes these presents may come (whom God, our Lord, honor and preserve from evil) that on the tenth day of the month of September of the year fifteen hundred and thirty-nine the very magnificent Senor Francisco de Ulloa, governor’s lieutenant and captain of this armada for the very illustrious Senor Marques del Valle de Oaxaca, arrived off the river San Pedro y San Pablo, which is in latitude 26 1/2 degrees on the coast of this New Spain, north of Caliacan, and asked me, the said notary, to bear witness that at the said Cape San Pedro y San Pablo he was commencing his exploration with this armada for the very illustrious Senor Marques del Vallo in the name of the emperor, our master, and king of Castile.

Witnesses who were present, the Reverend Father of the Order of Saint Francis, fra Pedro de Ariche; and Francisco Preciado and Pedro de Busto and Martin de Espinoza, belonging to this said armada.

Done on the day, month and year aforesaid.

And I, Pedro de Palencia, notary public of this armada, record it as it occurred in my presence, and in conclusion made here, this, my notarial mark, in testimony of the truth.

Pedro de Palencia, notary public.

Martin de Espinoza. Francisco Preciado.

The foregoing statement, it should be noted, is not an act of possession. It seems to show that Ulloa recognized this as the northernmost territory subject to Nuño de Guzmán. As stated above, he either did not know of Guzmán’s expeditions north of here in 1533, or else he refused to acknowledge them. By his declaration he was indicating that he intended to begin the voyage of discovery from the mouth of the Sinaloa River.

By this time, the expedition had been underway for about three months. Leaving the area of the river mouth, Ulloa proceeded to sail off the map and into the virgin waters of the Gulf of California.

In this enlightened day, when every child has a fairly good concept of the general positions of the land masses of this planet, it is difficult to adjust to the notions of geography in Francisco Ulloa’s time. These early explorers carried with them an incredible amount of superstition and historical errors, some going back as far as the ancient Greeks. Their conception of the size of the globe is directly attributable to a mathematical error by Ptolemy, and the error of Portuguese navigators in calculating the distance between the Cape of Good Hope and Malacca. The cartographer Schöner in 1524 computed Mexico City 50o west of its true longitude because of these older miscalculations. Finding longitude would continue to be the most serious navigational problem until the development of an accurate nautical chronometer. It is interesting to note that, as late as 1740, when Lord Anson began his famous expedition, there were in England only three accurate chronometers, and though Anson tried very hard to obtain one he was unable to do so. The value of a chronometer is that it allows the navigator to compute his longitude by noting the differences in time between two locations of fixed time. Unfortunately, during the 1500’s, chronometers which would be practical at sea had not yet been devised. The early explorers determined their longitudinal differences in two ways: first, by the observations of eclipses of the moon in different places; and second, the method used by Ulloa, of calculating the distances and courses ruin by the vessel. Consequently, when the manner started from a point of longitude already in error his additional calculations only perpetuated the error.

FIGURE 3: 1.	Compass Rose.  2.	Nautical Astrolabe of the type used by Ulloa. 3.	Cross-staff -- came into use a little before the invention of the Nautical Astrolabe. A combination of elements of the two led to the invention of the sextant.Latitude positioning presented somewhat less of a problem. Ulloa’s navigational error when he left the mouth of the Sinaloa River was greater by one and one-fourth degrees latitude; but his error in latitude when he reached the embayment at the top of the Gulf of California was approximately two degrees. For distances he utilized the Spanish league, which was commonly 17.5 leagues to the degree. But Ulloa, perhaps preferring round numbers, appears to have used twenty leagues to the degree. As no true standard was established at this time period, navigators quite often developed arbitrary standards for their own voyages. (See Fig. 3).

There are few references in most of these early journals to the use of navigational instruments, because in those days seamen were seldom writers. Ulloa, however, mentioned the use of the mariner’s astrolabe. This was a metal device, circular, about six inches in diameter, and heavily graduated around its circumference. Fixed in a center point was an alidade, or sighting rule. The instrument hung freely on a swivel from a thumb ring. It performed only one function-that of taking altitude. A much simpler instrument was the cross-staff. (Figure 4). This instrument was first described by the Jewish scholar Levi ben Gerson in the fourteenth century. It served the same purpose as the astrolabe. The mariner’s astrolabe appears to have been invented about 1535. The astronomical astrolabe was extremely large and heavy, and though it had been used at sea previously it was not at all practical for use aboard ship.

When Ulloa’s expedition arrived at about eight leagues from the Rio Sinaloa, the crew noticed a change in the coloration of the water. Upon tasting the water, they found it much less salty than normal seawater. Putting in closer to shore they discovered a large river, which they named the Rio de Nuestra Sefiora (Rio Fuerte). Inhabitants of the area signaled the vessel with smoke, but Ulloa probably knew that the Indians in this region had killed Hurtado and his crew, and therefore refused to land. Instead, he continued some sixteen leagues beyond the river mouth, and came upon a large bay; but he found the water so shallow (one to one and one-half fathoms deep) that he could not approach closer than two leagues. At this point he put a ship’s boat over the side to investigate the near shore area. Ulloa described the bay as having three large estuaries and told of naming it Los Esteros de la Cruz. It must have been the bay south of the mouth of the Rio Mayo. Today it has relatively deep water fairly close to the shore and appears from the charts to be navigable throughout. Indications are that the Rio Mayo, during this period, was carrying a greater amount of water and sediment than it does at present.

The more complex Davis Quadrant dated about 1765 from the Mystic Museum collection. (Photography courtesy of L. S. Martel).By September the 19th, having advanced some twenty-five leagues beyond the Rio Mayo, the party discovered another large river. Again, water discoloration was observed, and the vessels passed into the harbor at Guaymas. This area was named Puerto de las Puertos. A landing was made, and a number of Indian campsites were discovered. The land was described as being very poor. Ulloa took possession for the Spanish Crown in the name of Cortés. As the weather was good and the winds favorable, he did not delay, but put to sea again on the same day. Ulloa describes the sea as being very shallow along his route from the Rio Sinaloa to Guaymas, stating that it averaged from eight to fifteen fathoms. Seventeen leagues further on he observed a small island, which was probably Isla Sail Pedro Nolasco. Coming up from the southeast and standing out from the coast, he sighted Tiburon Island. Undoubtedly, he had noticed that the sea was becoming shallower as they went north, and consequently set a course northwest, passing Tiburon on the starboard side. From his account it appears that he thought Tiburon was a part of the mainland. He describes Isla San Est6ban on his port side and Isla San Lorenzo as small islands at the entrance to a strait. He named the strait San Miguel. He describes the strait as being very deep, and bordered on the port side by a large, uninhabited island which was about twelve leagues long and four leagues wide (Isla Angel de la Guarda). Following a course to the north for about thirty leagues farther, the ships approached some high sharp rocks which were very white in color, probably due to deposits of bird guano, and because they shone so brightly in the sun he named them Los Diamantes (the Diamonds). This was probably Isla San Jorge.

Four or five leagues beyond Isla San Jorge they again came upon freshened water. The expedition had unknowingly reached the embayment at the top of the Gulf of California, viewing for the first time the evidence of the Rio Colorado. Here, in Ulloa’s own words, is the first description of the headwaters of the Gulf of California:

Four or five leagues past them (Isla San Jorge) we commenced to find the water white, like river water, and as we sailed through this water we saw the land to the southwest, eight or nine leagues from us. Thinking that it was an island we went to it to see and learn what it was. The nearer we came to it, the less depth we got, to such extent that we found ourselves in four or five fathoms, and the sea all reddish and turned to mud. Because the water was shallow where we were, and the water turbid, we anchored, to find a way to draw nearer that land. We did not find it, nor could we get nearer than we were which was more than two leagues away. Therefore, this same day, it being then late, we turned back to the mainland, to see if between it and this other land we might find deep water, in order to continue on.

We found a channel two leagues from the mainland, eight fathoms deep, into which its two tides flooded every twenty-four hours, in their order, flood and ebb, without falling off a jot, and with a flood and ebb current so strong it was marvelous. When the tide ran out it left dry, and when it flooded it covered more than two leagues which lay between where we were and the mainland. We anchored in this channel, because it was late to go forward, in order next day to see what thing this was and where it ended.

The next day, Monday, September 28, we wished to continue on, but as the day dawned, it being low tide, we saw the whole sea where we must pass, between one land and the other, closed with shoals and in addition to this we saw, between one land and the other, many summits of mountains, the bases of which we could not see for the earth’s curvature. Since, for these reasons, we could not go ahead, I landed on a sand bar which was nearby, and took possession for your lordship. This done, we came out of that channel with the tide, and stood away southwest, to pass around the land which we saw there in order to continue our voyage on the other side of it.

This inlet and reddish sea are in 34o. We named it the Ancon de San Andres and Mar Bermeje, because it is that color and we arrived there on Saint Andrew’s day. It is 104 leagues from El Puerto de los Puertos. The character of the land — of that land which comes down to the sea — is poor. It may be because for sixty leagues beyond El Puerto de los Puertos it is very high land, all stone — sheer rocks — without any verdure or green thing. The sea off these coasts is quite deep. The rest of the country, as far as the Ancon de San Andres and Mar Bermeje, is very level land, all sand, and the sea shallow one and two leagues off shore. In all these 104 leagues we did not see a person, or sign of any. I do not believe that such land can be inhabited. We weighed from Ancon de San Andres and Mar Bermeje on Sunday, September 28, and stood away southeast, to make around the land, in which direction we had to seek a passage on the other side of it, to continue our voyage.

The navigational error in latitude when the expedition arrived at the head of the Gulf of California was 1.75o to 2.25o. The first was listed in the captain’s log, and Palencia noted the latter in his Acta de Possessions. Considering the difficulties under which the mariners of this period navigated, these are rather remarkable figures. In a sense they demonstrate Ulloa’s outstanding abilities as a seaman.

The decision to continue the expedition and proceed along the southward trending coastline undoubtedly was a difficult one to make. Certainly one of the primary projects of the voyages was to discover the strait between the “Island of California” and the mainland. The fabled “Strait of Anian” was to be a gateway to wealth and fame. It was believed that it would open up to its discoverers a short, safe route to Cathay and that they would, of course, profit immensely from the knowledge of its location. Hubert Howe Bancroft says, “But for this influence it may almost be doubted that Spanish occupation at the end of the sixteenth or even the seventeenth century would have extended above Colima on the Pacific or Panuco on the Atlantic.” Cortés himself, in one of his early letters to the king, says, “Your Majesty may be assured that as I know how much you have at heart the discovery of this great secret of a Strait I shall postpone all interests and projects of my own, some of the highest importance, for the fulfillment of this great enterprise.”

As early as 1524, on the basis of Spanish information, the cartographer Johann Schöner created a largely imaginary globe showing Asia and America as being united. Directly after the first discoveries of Columbus, questions had been raised about the connection of the new world with Asia. One view that they were separate was based on the dissimilarities between what was known of Asia and Columbus’ descriptions of the lands and peoples he had seen in the New World. Another faction pointed out that the northern areas of Cathay were unknown and that the great wealth beginning to come out of Mexico compared favorably with Marco Polo’s descriptions of Cathay. The latter view of course prevailed, and, with its general acceptance, the basis for realistic exploration ceased to exist.

Marco Polo, in his journal, described a great river that passed through the wealthiest and most populated area of Cathay. Francisco de Ulloa must surely have been on the lookout for this river. We shall never know what influenced his decision to continue following the coast and to cease attempting to enter the Colorado. The very fact that he did not make a complete investigation only added more substance to the mystery of the “Straits of Anían”. Geographers and map-makers, for many years thereafter, persisted in drawing an imaginary course for the Colorado River and named it the Rio Coromara, which was the name Marco Polo gave his river in China. Even as late as 1692 the geographer and map-maker, Planicus, used that fabled name on his chart. This is certainly an excellent demonstration of man’s ability to ignore the facts when the dream is so much more attractive.

The voyagers continued on a new course heading generally south and east. After about thirty-six leagues, what appeared to be smoke was sighted on shore. This was assumed to be a signal of some sort, and as the explorers were anxious to contact inhabitants in this area, the position of the signal was carefully noted and the vessels stood away on a direct course toward it. Traveling throughout the night, about four leagues further, they came in the morning to a large bay with a high sandy inlet at its mouth (San Luis Gonzáles Bay) and there they anchored. A small boat was lowered and Captain Ulloa with some members of the crew proceeded to the place where the smoke had been sighted. Just as they were approaching the spot they observed another signal which ascended very high into the air. Upon investigating they were much surprised to find that this was not smoke at all, and that there were no people causing it. What they had observed was a dust column caused by fine wind-blown material being carried over the face of a high sand dune located at the mouth of the bay. A day was spent exploring the bay, and as the land was extremely dry and sterile, they were not greatly surprised that no evidence of human occupation was discovered. Outcrops of obsidian were noted, and Ulloa stated that it was this same material that the natives of the area around Mexico City used in making knives. The bay was found to be of good depth with a clean entrance and a bottom free of obstacles. It was called El Puerto de Los Lobos because of the thousands of sea lions observed. During this day, October 2, no incidents worthy of recording took place, and they returned to the ship.

While riding at anchor that evening, the lookout saw a fire on shore. At daybreak the small boat returned ashore with a landing party. Approaching the place where the light had appeared, the party came upon an old man and a younger man with three or four boys. When the young man prepared to defend the group with a bow and arTow, the Spanish withdrew, landed out of sight a little way down the coast, circled inland and attempted to come upon them from behind. The sailors managed to pass unobserved down a draw which was behind the small group of Indians. They seized the old man, but the rest managed to escape. Ulloa describes them as being without clothing, their hair cut very short. Apparently the Spaniards had with them an Indian whom they had brought from Santa Cruz (La Paz area). He spoke to the old man but they could not understand each other. Bolton indicates that Cortés returned to New Spain with two or three Indians captured in the La Paz area, intending to train them as interpreters. It is not clear from Ulloa’s account if the interpreter used here was one of these. It seems likely, though, that this was the case. His inability to communicate with the old man is understandable. The Indians from La Paz spoke a very different dialect from the Cochimes who were residents of the Puerto de Los Lobos area.

The Spaniards found a small shelter where the group had been living and described it as made of woven grasses with no roof. It appeared that the group had been fishing and had created a temporary camp. No food was found except fish. There were some braided lines, and large fish hooks made of tortoise shell which had been bent by heating it in a fire. Other books were made by binding thorns to small wood shafts. No pottery was seen. The drinking water was carried in containers made from seal bladders. A raft was found, and was described as being made of three bundles of cane, each separately tied and then bound together at the ends to form a boat-shaped raft, wider in the beam and tightly lashed at the bow and stern. Two small, crudely made paddles and a pole about three feet long were used to propel it. The old man’s possessions were returned to him and he was given some presents and released. The shore party returned to the vessel.

Ulloa had apparently issued orders to the commander of the Trinidad on the previous evening, October 2, that the vessels would proceed at dawn. There had been no opportunity to inform the Trinidad about the light that had been seen on shore during the night, and consequently she had weighed anchor on the morning of the third and continued south. Ulloa had thought she would return when she saw that his vessel had not followed her, but such was not the case. He determined to follow the next day. Weighing anchor and hugging the coast line, he proceeded slowly in order not to miss her. On the third day the Trinidad was sighted and Ulloa came alongside and ordered the crew not to be so careless in the future.

Ten leagues from El Puerto de Los Lobos they came upon the island of Angel de La Guarda. West of the island they anchored in a great bay (probably Los Angeles Bay). It was named San Marcos after the Saint’s Day, October 7. Its latitude was recorded at 30 1/2o, whereas actually it is about 28o55′. Ulloa described it as being twenty leagues south of El Puerto de Los Lobos. While waiting for a favorable wind before they could continue, they sighted two fires on shore. Lowering away the small boat, they rowed toward where one of the fires was sighted. There they saw two Indians; tall men, unclothed, and armed with bows and arrows. Upon seeing the Spanish, the Indians took cover and apparently prepared to fight. The Spanish hesitated. This gave the women and children who were living in two enclosures on an elevation near the shore, time to escape. Once then- families were safe, the two men also retreated. The Spanish investigated the dwelling places and observed the tracks of ten or twelve people. There was little of interest to be found, and no food. One small pottery bowl was found and recognized as similar to the pottery found at Santa Cruz. It was assumed from this that these were the same kind of people as those who occupied the La Paz region. Investigation of the land near the camp showed it to be quite similar to the land they had seen on their way down from the Ancon.

The wind was contrary during the day and it was not until Wednesday, October 8, that they were able to stand away south again. Eighteen leagues or so further south, on Sunday, October 12, they were anchored between the island of San Marcos and the mainland. At dawn they saw a man on a cane raft approaching the ship. He watched them for a while — just out of crossbow range-then called out to some unseen companions on shore. He quickly returned to shore then, and landed, Shortly afterwards he appeared with four other Indians each on a raft, and all came out half again his original distance and sat talking and observing the Spanish vessels. The Santa Cruz Indian could not understand their language. An attempt was made to capture the most talkative Indian because the Spanish assumed that he was the most important. A boat was lowered but when it came up to him, he dived into the water and swam around it, diving under whenever the men tried to reach him. He kept this up for over half an hour, exhausting the cursing sailors who were manning the oars. With apparent good nature he eluded all efforts to capture him.

Finally the wearied boat crew were forced to return to the ship. Some of the agile Indian’s companions then paddled their rafts out to him and took him ashore.

Eight to ten people were sighted during the day, only two or three of whom appeared to be armed with bows and arrows. The ship remained anchored for the full day, and the Indians were observed throughout the day and night of the twelfth. The channel between the island and the mainland was called Pasaie de Belen (Bethlehem Passage). This was because the Indian whom they had tried to capture had cried out the word “Belen!” a number of times to his companions. Ulloa wrote:

Seeing that these people and those whom we had seen previously were all of one kind, and that this land and the bay of Santa Cruz also were all one, to judge by the appearance of the people and the trend of the land, and its appearance, and finding ourselves so near it, and thinking it likely that between it and where we were there could not be anything of any more account, we stood away from there, on a southwest course, running in and out as the contour of the coast required. We weighed from Pasaje de Belen on October 13, and arrived at the port and bay of Santa Cruz on the 19th of the said month.

And so was completed the first circumnavigation of the Gulf of California. The voyage did not, of course, end with the return to Santa Cruz. Ulloa and his vessels continued around the tip of Cabo San Lucas and up to the island of Cedros. At Cedros, Ulloa sent one vessel back to report and then, presumably, continued northward into what was later to be called Sebastian Vizcaino Bay, where he and the ship are commonly believed to have disappeared. New evidence which has come to light over the past forty years makes this seem unlikely. The first strong clue is that among the hundreds of manuscripts of the relations of services by the Spanish in Mexico before 1550, not one of them known to this writer describes Ulloa as being lost. It is a fact that a great number of these were taken from such men as Francisco de Terrazas, who was the inspector on the expedition. He most certainly would have remained with Ulloa. and traveled north with the Captain after the other vessel returned. His relation (unfortunately, only the extract, the original being lost) is dated after his return. Additionally, in the Cartas y Oteras Documentos de Hernán Cortés, page 22, is a document written in 1543 in the form of an interrogatory in Madrid and concerned with the daughter of a man named Cordero. This Cordero was one of Cortés’ pilots in his Santa Cruz expeditions. Cortés states that Ulloa had carried the girl off (presumably without force), and that if anyone wanted information about her they would have to obtain it from Francisco de Ulloa. It seems unlikely that Cortés would not have known of his lieutenant’s demise, and the dating of the 1543 document implies that Ulloa was still alive and that Cortés knew it. A second clue is to be found in Diego de Homem’s map of 1559. Some of the names appear in reverse dating order (based on Saint’s Days), indicating an expedition north of Cedros but unaccounted for in the known documents. Reading down from the north, the place names based on Saints’ Days read July 12, July 15, July 22, and July 26. If, after leaving Cedros on the fifth of April, Ulloa could have gone as far north as 32o or 33o and returned in July, he could have given these names as they appear on Homem’s map. This information must have been obtained by Homem from maps Ulloa made and which were preserved after he returned.

The Preciado account of the return to Santa Cruz paralleled Ulloa’s and confirmed the Spanish in their belief in an entrance into the Pacific at the head of the Gulf of California:

And it seemed that we drew neere to the port of Santa Cruz, whereat we were sory, because we were alwaies in good hope to find some out-let into the rilaine Ocean in some place of that land, and that the same port was the same out-let, and also that by the sayd coast we might returne to the foresays haven of Santa Cruz, and that we had committed a great error, because we had not certainely sought out the secret, whether that were a Streit or a river, which we had left behind us unsearched at the bottome of this great sea or gulfe.

Men intoxicated by greed and desire for fame were driven to continue explorations to the vast unknown continent. Some went forth with the cross and the message of salvation, but each in his own way marked the course of history in the Western Hemisphere.



1. For a fuller account of the controversies over the name California, see Nellie Van de Grift Sánchez, California and Californians, Vol. 1, pp. 55-67.

2. Ximénez may have decided to carry on the explorations, perhaps with the hope of making some discovery that would be of such importance that his mutinous and murderous conduct would be condoned.

3. It is more likely that the ultimate purpose of the voyage was this, rather than the narrower desire for immediate gain by the discovery of the Seven Cities of mineral wealth.

4. A league was approximately 3.4 nautical miles.


Barrett, Ellen C., Baja California 1535-1956. Los Angeles: Bennett & Marshall, 1957. A bibliography of historical, geographical, and scientific literature relating to the peninsula.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe, History of California. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Company, 1884. Vol. 1, 1542-1800.

Bolton, Herbert E., Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1949.

———- Spanish Explorations in the Southwest 1542-1706. New York: Barnes & 1959.

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Ives, Ronald L., “Melchior Diaz-the Forgotten Explorer,” Hispanic-American Historical Review, Vol. XVI, (1936), pp. 86-90.

Kroeber, A. L., Handbook of the Indians of California Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953. Originally published as a Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 78, 1925.

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Sánchez, Nellie Van de Grift, California and Californians, Hispanic Period. Chicago: B. F. Lewis & Co., 1926.

Swanton, John R., “The Indian Tribes of North America,” Bureau of American Ethnologr Bulletin 145. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1953.

Sykes, Godfrey, The Colorado Della. Washington, 1957.

Wagner, H. R., “Voyage of Francisco de Ulloa,” California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 111, (1924), pp. 307-383.

———- The Cartography of the Northwest Coast of America to the Year 1800. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1937, 2 vols.

Winship, George Parker, “The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542,” Fourteenth Annual Report of the United States Bureau of American Ethnology, 1892-1893, Part 1. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Special thanks are given to Miss Eleanor Parker, Mrs. Bernadine Miller, Mrs. Norma Moriarty, Mr. F. Holland and the many other kind and helpful people who gave of their time and encouragement in the completion of this paper.

Particular thanks go to the Mystic Seaport Museum director and to Mr. L. S. Martel, for the use of the photographs. In addition a debt of gratitude is due Mrs. Russell Raitt and the Publications Committee of the University of California as well as the San Diego Friends of the Library. Especially does the author thank Mrs. Phyrne Russell for her kindness in the final editing and preparation of the manuscript.

The culmination of this manuscript represents some five years research particularly reviewing the journals of Francisco Ulloa. The author wished to dedicate the work to Mrs. Margaret M. Gregg (1902-1963) because of her love, interest, and motherly harassment of her son-in-law in those last precious days of her life. The completion of the paper is a small tribute to her tireless capacity for encouragement and her quiet insistence that he cease procrastinating and finish the work.

James R. Moriarty is currently an Associate Specialist in Oceanography at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. A graduate of San Diego State College in 1952, he had previously attended Wayne University in Detroit. As a professional archaeologist, his interests lie strongly in both prehistory and history. Mr. Moriarty has published in Pacific Discovery, American Antiquity, and American Indígena.