The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1975, Volume 21, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Reviw Editor

Elizabethan California. By Robert F. Heizer. Ramona, CA.: Ballena Press, 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. 101 pages. Softbound. $3.50.

Reviewed by W. Michael Mathes, Professor of History in the University of San Francisco, author of books and articles on Pacific exploration and early California, and a frequent contributor to this Journal.

With the coming cuartocentennial of the arrival of Francis Drake on the California coast in 1579, the question of where Drake landed has again surfaced. The anxiety of Drake buffs and scholars is reflected by the five year head start they have made to celebrate the landing in the “right” place with appropriate ceremonies and a monument. As in the past, the possible landing sites are the same-everywhere from Half Moon Bay to Bodega along the coast, and the yet more controversial possibility of San Francisco Bay.

The principal contenders in this round are the Drake Navigator’s Guild (Drake’s Bay), Neasham and Pritchard (Bolinas), and Power (San Francisco Bay). Many of the earlier voices in the controversy are now silent; however, one of the survivors is the eminent anthropologist and archeologist Robert F. Heizer who, in the late thirties and early forties conducted archeological excavations at Drake’s Bay and published several items on the ethnography of the accounts of Drake’s sojurn in California.

Elizabethan California is essentially a reprint of two of Heizer’s articles relative to Drake’s contact with the Coast Miwok, preceded by an introduction surveying the Drake controversy and more recent findings. Heizer readily admits that no new facts have come to light to conclusively pinpoint Drake’s landing site, but also confesses partisanism toward the Power thesis (Point San Quentin). In so doing he tends to overlook completely the evidence compiled by the Drake Navigator’s Guild, and makes sparse mention of the work of Neasham and Pritchard.

Therein lies the problem, for the greatest conflict is between the coastal landing and the San Francisco Bay schools. Heizer, in his articles published in 1942 (with William W. Elmendorf in the Pacific Historical Review) and in 1947 (University of California Publications in American Anthropology and Archeology) clearly shows that the words recorded by Fletcher, Drake and Madox were Coast Miwok; at that point he held to the Drake’s Bay site. In the introduction to the republication of these articles, along with a survey of opinions as to the landing site, some anecdotes relative to supposed “Drake’s Plates,” and doubts as to the scientific tests conducted on the “Plate of Brass,” Heizer now states that the Coast Miwok territory was vague and could well have extended throughout the Marin Peninsula, including Point San Quentin.

Elizabethan California is a useful work for Drake history and should be read by all interested in that era of California history (along with divergent opinions), but it lacks the sense of objectivity presented in his brief study on Rodriguez Cabrillo’s alleged grave marker. A good sense of humor is necessary in any historical controversy and thus we must all follow Heizer’s example when he states (p.6) that Drake’s landing site would be nice to find “because local politicians and history buffs could cooperate and raise there an impressive and expensive monument commemorating this unimportant event.”