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The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1980, Volume 26, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Reviews

Richard H. Peterson, Editor

The Road to California: The Search for a Southern Overland Route, 1540-1848. By Harlan Hague. American Trails Series, Volume XI. Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1978. Maps. Notes. Illustrations. Bibliography. Index. 325 pages. $20.00.

Reviewed by Eugene K. Chamberlin, Professor of History, San Diego Miramar College; author of articles on Baja California and the American southwest.

This is a good summary of routes through Arizona and New Mexico to California through the era of the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48. Based entirely on published articles and books, it adds little of fact or interpretation to what specialists have long known. Three maps divide the trails into Spanish, Mexican, and early American periods, and show eighteen routes. Others in the text are not indicated on the maps, though some are not as well known as those he illustrates. The illustrations are tied well into the text. Hague’s bibliography is extensive and impressive, and his many footnotes — some almost as long as those for which Bancroft’s writers are remembered — often contain information more significant than that in the text. The book is usable and useful.

Unfortunately, the book is sprinkled with irritating lapses of continuity, apparently due to the nature of many of Hague’s sources, and to his tendency to throw in a good yarn, even when it breaks up the course of trailfollowing. Some of his writing seems slanted toward the fads of younger “revision-conscious” history writers, such as his repeated statements that the real trail openers in almost every instance were the Indians. Then, too, he joins the younger crowd in faulting Bolton for not mentioning that Estevánico (with Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado) was black. Several statements are of doubtful validity. He notes that the southwest has a “predominantly tropical nature” (p. 18), that the Hohokam Indians, about 700 A.D., were “peace-loving, democratic” (p. 19), and that the Indians wanted Christianity and missions because of a desire for “peaceful coexistence,” not because of expectations of food and presents. The reason he gives for the expulsion of the Jesuits, 1767-69 (p. 53) does not reflect the major complaints against them, nor does he show much acquaintance with their activities beyond a summary of Father Kino’s efforts. Handling of the massive, major expeditions of Juan Bautista de Anza omits much which pertained directly to the trail-opening theme. While he gets into the long debate over location of Bicuñer mission, now definitely known to have been above Yuma, near present day Laguna Dam, he appears confused by accounts of its site, especially when handling the Ewing Young party of Dec. 1831-Jan. 1832 which allegedly found such a mission at tidewater near the mouth of the Colorado River. Finally, toward the end (pages 284-85), in taking Philip St. George Cooke and the Mormon Battalion through Box Canyon and on to Warner’s Ranch, both distances and topography appear very jumbled. Unlike the late Professor Bolton, who was reluctant to comment at length on a trail he had not seen, Hague shows less restraint.