The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Spring 1975, Volume 21, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor
Just a note to congratulate you on your excellent recent Winter issue. The article on the Imperial Valley is superb. And, having previously written about San Diego myself, the article by Mario Garcia fills a real need. After publishing my work on William Heath Davis I was frequently disappointed that San Diego writers did not utilize it more fully. Garcia is really the first person to do so. I am, therefore, sending him a copy of this accolade.
Cleland Professor of History
Mario Garcia’s article, “Merchants and Dons: San Diego’s Attempt at Modernization, 1850-1860,”. in the Winter, 1975, Journal of San Diego History has numerous errors and misconceptions and is very poorly researched. Most of his arguments are simply not true. I would like to point out some of the major errors and misconceptions in the Garcia article.
Professor Garcia describes the Mexican period (pp. 54-55) as a time when a wealthy landowning class and an extensive cattle industry developed in Southern California. This did not happen in San Diego. The size of the cattle herds declined during the 1830s and 1840s, and the Mexican families never became wealthy landlords. By the time of the American Conquest, they were. impoverished and beleaguered landowners. Professor Garcia also says that no data survives regarding the production of the cattle industry during the first part of the nineteenth century. Contrary to what he claims, evidence does remain about the cattle industry and agricultural production.
Garcia gives a good description of various enterprises undertaken in San Diego during the 1850s. He does not discuss, however, the activities of speculators in pueblo lands or the efforts by some to relocate the original community to an area now known as Middletown. His discussion about politics and agriculture demonstrates his failure to explore thoroughly the materials relating to this period. Californios did not acquiesce to Anglos in political affairs of the community. They also did not choose to ignore the agricultural resources of the area. Anglos dominated the political scene for other reasons, and efforts to develop agriculture were hindered by several problems which Garcia does not investigate in his article. This racist view of Californios, portraying them as submissive and non-progressive, is especially surprising since Garcia criticized Anglo historians for doing this in his article, “A Chicano Perspective on San Diego History,” in this Journal in the Spring, 1972, issue.
Garcia commits his most grievous errors, however, with the census statistics he uses. He seems to deliberately misrepresent and distort census figures to suit his arguments. He states (p. 55) in 1850 the national census lists 650 people living in San Diego and that even though there was not enough ethnic data provided, Mexicans clearly outnumbered Anglos. He then proceeds to tell (p. 56) the number of Mexican and Anglo farmers, merchants, traders, and professionals cited in the census. Later Garcia claims (pp. 71, 77) that San Diego’s population in 1860 declined from 650 to 539 with the two groups reaching near parity, 217 Anglos to 220 Mexicans.
All of this evidence is spurious. The 1850 census consists of nineteen pages, with forty-two names per page, for a total of 798 residents. San Diego’s population did not decline in 1860. The figure of 650 is supposed to be the county’s population in 1850, and the figure of 539 has to be a total for the San Diego Township, since the county’s population in 1860 was over 4,000. A book of census statistics for 1860, however, shows the population of the city as 459 residents. See Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1864), p. 31.
Garcia’s assertions that it is impossible to determine the number of Anglos and Mexicans in San Diego in 1850 is a misrepresentation of the facts. The only substantive difference between the 1850 and 1860 censuses is that one lists the amount of personal property a person owned. If Garcia wanted to examine the 1850 census more closely, he would find that Anglos clearly outnumbered Mexicans. Garcia also fails to explain his criteria for classifying a person either as an Anglo or a Mexican. He says (p. 56) that there are eighteen merchants in San Diego in 1850, thirteen Anglos and five Mexicans. Four of the five Mexican merchants, however, were born in Spain.
These then are some of the errors and misconceptions in Mario Garcia’s article. There are others which will be more thoroughly explored in my forthcoming article scheduled for publication in the Summer, 1975, issue of this journal entitled “The Decline of the Californios? The Case of San Diego, 1846-1856.”
Charles W. Hughes
Professor Garcia replies
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mr. Charles W. Hughes’ letter concerning my article “Merchants and Dons: San Diego’s Attempt at Modernization, 18501860” in the last issue of the Journal. Besides being polemical in his assertions, I believe Mr. Hughes has attempted to set up a “straw man” by isolating certain statements from my article and ignoring the majority of it in order to prove his points. In the first place, Hughes claims that my article is poorly researched. I may have overlooked certain sources especially in the years before 1850, but a glance at the footnotes (pp. 78-80) would temper Hughes’ charge of poor research. Hughes’ basic disagreement appears to focus on my treatment of San Diego’s Californios. Yet in so doing, he fails to consider the major portion of the article which deals with the attempt by Americans in San Diego to modernize this former Mexican settlement. Does he feel that this area is also poorly researched?
On the question of the Californios, Hughes first contends that I implied that the “ricos” chose to ignore the agricultural resources of the area. However, on pages 64-65, I mentioned that Justin Ames in his attempt to get San Diegans to increase agricultural production neglected the “contribution of the Californios, for without their production of beef, wool, butter and cheese the economy of San Diego, not to mention local palates, would have suffered even more. Apparently Ames”did not consider the Spanish-speaking inhabitants as participants in the growth of California.”
While Hughes may be correct that my appraisal of the Californios as a wealthy landowning class with an extensive cattle industry could be sharply qualified, the fact remains that from the point of view of the American assessment of land values, such as the Taxpayers Roll of 1850, the Californios held the most valuable lands. Is Hughes attempting to develop an apology for the American conquest of California by claiming that the conquest had no marked impact on the decline of the Californios? The Californios may have already been suffering economic decline prior to the “Yankee” invasion, but the economic, political, and cultural changes initiated by the Americans clearly put the Californios in a disadvantaged position as I point out in my article (pp. 69-71). These disadvantages, contrary to Hughes’ polemics about my being a racist, resulted not from the Californios being “submissive and non-progressive” but from the American economic challenge-direct and indirect-to the Californio land ownership and the dependence of the Californios on a fluctuating economy.
Moreover, the Californios incorrectly believed that some form of political accommodation could be made with the Americans that might result in the protection of their property. This does not imply acquiesence, as Hughes charges, but a political position which the Californios believed to be realistic given the American victory. Hughes asserts that Anglos dominated the political scene for other reasons, but does not mention what these are. This leads me to believe that Hughes has a limited and naive view of politics as well as of the American conquest. Dr. David J. Weber in his study Foreigners in their Native Land, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973, correctly points out that most Mexican Americans after the Anglo victory either “accommodated themselves to Anglo society or else tried to assimilate into it entirely.” (p. 209) In addition, Weber argues that where their vital interests were affected, Mexican Americans-such as the Californios-displayed unity. “Their political influence, however,” Weber writes, “depended on tenuous alliances with the Anglo oligarchs which lasted only until they were outnumbered by the Anglos. That generally coincided with the coming of the railroad. Southern California provides a good example.” (p. 209) Similar to the thesis I presented in “The Californios as National Bourgeoisie: A Study of Colonialism and Class Structure in San Diego, 1846-1860” (paper presented to 5th Annual Institute of History, San Diego History Center, October 21, 1972), Weber astutely points out that “The Californios… played Yankee politics in order to protect their own interests.” (p. 210)
Finally, Hughes asserts that I “deliberately misrepresent and distort census figures to suit his arguments.” After leveling this unprofessional charge, Hughes goes on to point out that some of the figures I used are incorrect, but does not mention how this may affect the conclusions of my study. Although I may have made a mistake in tabulating census figures, the question of whether or not San Diego’s population declined in 1860 does not substantially change the fact that the town’s attempt at modernization had not succeeded by 1860 which is central to my thesis. Moreover, Hughes obviously has more confidence than I do in the census’ ability to accurately count the Mexican population. Weber has also noted the inaccuracy of federal census figures in Foreigners in their Native Land (p. 222). Rather than a “misrepresentation of the facts” the differences between my figures and those of Hughes may stem from different quantitative techniques as well as the limitations of the census itself.
I look forward to Mr. Hughes’ forthcoming article in which he hopefully can shed more light on early San Diego. I expect that he will do so in a less polemical fashion. Setting up “straw men” may be useful in some cases, but it cannot be a substitute for analytic historical writing.
Mario T. Garcia
Assistant Professor of
History and Chicano Studies
University of California
From comments that I have received I know that members of the Society are pleased and proud of the high quality of articles in their handsome Journal Of San Diego History.
Members of the Society ought to know that the journal that they support is read well beyond the county line and that its contribution to scholarship has brought it widespread recognition. For example, in 1972 we published Gerald Schlenker’s fine article on “The Internment of the Japanese of San Diego County during the Second World War.” In a recent article in the Pacific Historical Review (November, 1974), Professor Roger Daniels of State University of New York, Fredonia, singled out Schlenker’s article as “an example of the local history possibilities which should be emulated.” In a similar vein Professor Lawrence de Graaf of California State University, Fullerton, called attention to the article by Henry Schwartz, “The Mary Walker Incident: Black Prejudice in San Diego, 1866,” published in 1973. Professor de Graaf, who was discussing the writing of Western Black History (Pacific Historical Review, February, 1975), suggested that studies such as Schwartz’s “have substantiated the prejudiced nature of much of the frontier population.”
Thoughtful scholars, such as Daniels and De Graaf, recognize that sound studies of local history constitute the building blocks of state, regional, and national history. Members of the society ought to continue to be proud of their journal, which is of more than local interest and significance. Indeed, few local historical societies in the nation have made a more substantial contribution to the historiography of their region.
David J. Weber
Professor of History
San Diego State University