David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
A Historical, Political, and Natural Description of California by Pedro Fages, Soldier of Spain. Translated and edited by Herbert Ingram Priestley. Ramona, Ca.: Ballena Press, 1972. Notes. 93 pages. Softbound. $3.95.
A key figure in the Spanish settlement of Alta California, Pedro Fages arrived in San Diego aboard the ship San Carlos in 1769. A lieutenant in the Catalon Volunteers, Fages served as second-in-command to Gaspar de Portolá, accompanying him on the difficult trek to find Monterey in 1769. After Portolá left California in 1770, Fages became comandante of the Upper California settlements, holding that position until 1774. Fages traveled widely throughout California. His journeys included the blazing of a trail across the Cuyamaca Mountains in 1772. Through the initiative of the San Diego History Center, that event is being commemorated in March of this year by the placing of an historical marker where the trail drops down out of the Cuyamacas into Oriflame Canyon to the desert.
One of the fruits of Fages’ wide-ranging travels was his Description of California, written in 1775 for Viceroy Antonio María Bucareli. Resembling a diary, the Description relates a hypothetical journey up the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. Fages briefly describes the route, the principal stopping places, and why many of those places were named. He interrupts his narrative occasionally to characterize the flora, fauna, and — most important — the Indians of an area.
Herbert Priestley first published this translation of Fages’ account in the Catholic Historical Review in 1919. That translation was published in book form in 1937 by the University of California Press. Now Ballena Press has made that book available again in this handsome and inexpensive reprint.