David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
The American Southwest: Its Peoples and Cultures. By Lynn I. Perrigo. (New York, N. Y., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971). Bibliography. Illustrations, Index. Maps. 469 pages.
Reviewed by Richard F. Pourade, editor emeritus of the San Diego Union, general editor of Copley Books, and the author of a six-volume history of San Diego.
This is an ambitious book, as the author acknowledges in recognizing that the Southwest has experienced such variety in definition that it is now an elusive entity.
To some, the Southwest has been largely New Mexico and Arizona; others would include Texas, and still others California. Coastal California has little geographic affinity with New Mexico or Texas, and would seem to be part of a “Far West.”
However, Lynn I. Perrigo has embraced the concept of the great historian, Herbert Eugene Bolton, to define the Southwest, for text purposes, as the region once occupied by Spanish colonists and one that still retains evidence of the Spanish heritage.
It is a sweeping volume, dealing with great varieties of geography and historical and political experiences, and carrying events from prehistoric times down to the modern day. Essentially, it is a textbook, well organized and well written.
The scope of his task probably accounts for some errors in material of which this reviewer is familiar. He is a professor of history at New Mexico Highlands University, and presumably, as his narrative draws nearer to New Mexico the frequency of error, or lack of preciseness, diminishes.
For instance, he records that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed up the coast of California, stopping at a port named “San Quentin.” San Quintín is in Baja California and the port to which the author refers obviously was San Diego Bay which Cabrillo named San Miguel. He subsequently says that Vizcaíno named San Diego, which is true, but leaves the impression that it was Vizcaíno, and not Cabrillo, who discovered the bay of San Diego.
In dealing with the Portolá-Serra expedition, which founded the first Christian settlement in California at San Diego, the author credits Portolá with reaching the Golden Gate, which he did not, at that time. Later Perrigo says that upon returning north in search of Monterey, which he had failed to find on his first journey, Portolá left Serra at San Diego while he himself founded the mission and presidia at Monterey. In fact, Serra went north by boat and met Portolá at Monterey.
Descriptions of the routes of the Anza expeditions are confusing and the author credits Anza incorrectly with previously having helped to open El Camino Real along the coast. He says that Anza, upon his return from the first expedition, went along the Gila River and found it a better route. Actually, Anza always had intended going by way of the Gila but was forced to go farther south along the Sonoran mission trail in the hopes of finding more mules. On the second expedition Perrigo says that Anza arrived at San Gabriel with four more persons than with which he started, because of births on the march. Actually there seems to have been only two more persons, as there also was a death and miscarriages.
In the Yuma massacre on the Colorado River, the author writes that Indians killed the colonists Rivera had brought north from Sonora to settle two mission pueblos on the river. As a matter of fact, these colonists were not intended for Yuma and had left before the attack and were among the settlers who founded Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
In the Battle of San Pasqual, the most costly California engagement in the war with Mexico, he writes that General Stephen Watts Kearny’s Dragoons killed thirty Californians, when actually only two are known for sure to have died. He lists Kearny’s casualties at nineteen, when they did reach twenty-one.
He expresses puzzlement, too, as to why Kearny tried to reach San Diego by way of Warner’s, in the face of possible opposition, instead of going by way of Cajon Pass, which certainly would have been a most circuitous way to get to San Diego.
But, as authors have learned, errors do creep in and can be picked up in subsequent copies. As an overall view of what has transpired in the Southwest over two centuries of time, the book is a valuable “mirror” to history.