The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1986, Volume 32, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Spain’s Colonial Outpost.

By John A. Schutz. San Francisco: Boyd and Fraser Publishing Company, 1985. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Maps. 126 Pages. $6.95 Paper.

Reviewed by Don E. Shannon of Grossmont College, who is the author of Mission to Metropolis: A History of San Diego (1981).

Professor John A. Schutz’s summary of the once remote colony should prove to be a welcome addition to the Golden State Series of books on California history. Although the title is a bit of a misnomer-most of one chapter and various other portions of the book are devoted to the Mexican era-the coverage of colonial California is detailed and well-balanced. In several respects the author has organized his chapters in innovative ways. He begins by examining Californians’ traditional preoccupation with their state’s hispanic heritage and the “mission mania” which affected early citizens. This overview of the past leads smoothly into a series of chapters dealing chronologically with Spanish California.

A section on the region’s role as part of the Spanish “borderland” clearly illustrates its relationship to the rest of the Southwest, especially Lower California and Sonora. The important work of the Jesuits is amply described, as is the two-hundred years of exploration and settlement that preceded it. Perhaps the four photos of San Diego County Indians that appear in that chapter would have better been placed in the one that follows. Those pages are given over to the first years of occupation and the development of the early missions under Father Junipero Serra. Later sections trace the maturing of California into flower as a Spanish colony, but the reader is not allowed to forget the incredible isolation that slowed its development.

A chapter on the Mexican secularization of the missions deals with the reasons behind and the resultant problems in a balanced and fair manner. In particular, the destruction of Indian life that took place during the seizure of their lands by local rancheros is given sympathetic treatment. A final portion of the book briefly describes the decline of the missions in the years leading up to the Mexican War. Throughout his writing, Professor Schutz is concerned with the human side of history, describing the major figures that appeared in the panorama of Spanish California. Missionaries, soldiers and settlers along with the native peoples and a variety of foreigners play out their parts.

As in all first editions there are a few typographical errors — “Cerros” for “Cedros”, “Vitoria” for “Victoria.” A photo showing several post World War 11 autos parked in front of a mission is labeled “San Buenaventura in 1850.” A few other minor confusions appear also, but none are significant. San Diego Indians are described as “Northern Diegueno,” “Southern Diegueno” and “Mesa Grande Diegueno” in early pages, but later mention is made of them as “Ipai-Tipai.” Perhaps it would have been well to explain that the Porciuncula is now called the Los Angeles River, indicate the length of a vara and show the relationship between San Francisco and Yerba Buena, but these are unimportant criticisms.

The maps are excellent and to the point. A chart of population changes (1770-1850) provides a good guide to the growth and, in the case of San Diego, decline of the presidios and pueblos. An annotated bibliography includes a number of useful books concerned with Spanish California.