The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

The Adventures of Stickeen in Lower California, 1874. By John F. Janes. Edited by Anna Marie Hager. Baja California Travels Series, Volume 28. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1972. Illustrations, Maps. 98 pages. $15.00. Out of print except in sets.

Reviewed by Reid Moran, Curator of Botany, San Diego Natural History Museum.

In 1874 and 1875 John F. Janes was in southern Baja California and, under the name of “Stickeen,” told of his adventures in letters to Thistleton’s Illustrated Jolly Giant, a San Francisco weekly. In this book Janes’ letters are brought together and edited, with an introduction and footnotes. The self-glorifying tale of his travels and of a skirmish between the Mexican authorities and an American mining company in Triunfo, south of La Paz, if not accurate history, at least makes colorful reading. Three short appendices give (1) the views of the owner of the Triunfo mines on personal relations between Americans and Mexicans, (2) an account of the Triunfo mines published in 1884, and (3) an account of the Triunfo incident by Janes in 1890. The book includes two maps, three tipped-in color prints of the Triunfo mill in operation, two sketches by Janes (from the Jolly Giant), and a few other contemporary drawings. It is well printed, like others of the series.

The 64 footnotes give the book a scholarly appearance, but a closer look suggests that they are largely ornamental and not for reading. They include gratuitous information, various minor inaccuracies, inept and misleading statements, and several gross errors. The fact, for example, that redwoods grow on the mountains east of San Simeon, California (footnote 4), has no evident bearing on the narrative: several hundred other plants might as well have been mentioned. Twenty errors in spelling (including accents) of place names and other Spanish words (footnotes 6, 10, 13, 21, 27, 29, 31, 33, 48) make a poor record for a writer of scholarly footnotes and for a publisher of scholarly books. Since the map on page 65 clearly shows Cerralvo Island east of La Paz, few readers really need footnote 13 saying it is “almost due west” of La Paz. Similarly, footnote 21 places Dolores Mission south of La Paz, whereas it is north. When Janes’ ship, sailing up the east side of Espiritu Santo Island, turned and “went back for Balland Passage” and next day on into La Paz, footnote 15 fatuously but positively identifies Balland Passage with Puerto Balandra on Carmen Island, well over 100 miles to the north. Footnote 20 incorporates the vernacular name of a tree into the scientific name, crediting and thus in fact blaming a reputable botanist who surely is innocent of this blunder, and incidentally awarding her an honorary doctorate in the process. And so forth. One may ask, what are footnotes really for? Those that confuse rather than clarify were better omitted; and those added to increase the footnote count are an exercise in pseudoscholarship.

Most other books of this series are worthwhile contributions, though some are insubstantial; and most are well done, though a few are poor (e.g. volume 23, the Baja California Travels of Charles Russell Orcutt). Janes’ letters are an interesting, if flickering, sidelight on the history of Baja California. Like most others of the series, this seems worth publishing somewhere, if not necessarily as an expensive separate book and, in this case, an automatic rare book, already out of print.