Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
The Outer Coast.
By Richard Batman. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers, 1985. Notes. Bibliography. Maps. Index. Illustrations. 384 Pages. $18.95
Reviewed by John E. Baur, Professor of History at California State University, Northridge and author of four books and several articles on California and Western American history.
Readers of this book will be impressed by the numerous coasts and ports which give a global aspect to the implications of the “Outer Coast,” the “very edge of the world,” as Batman calls Alta California before 1840. His work is based on many indispensable primary and a harvest of excellent secondary studies of commercial and exploratory voyages and incursions into the then fabled area, starting with the settling Spaniards themselves under Governor Caspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra in 1769. Detailed as this work of high adventure and true color is, the author notes that he has avoided the merely interesting and included only mainstream episodes typical of California’s frontier developments.
Although Richard Batman admits that his story is not new in revealed facts, it is a contribution through its treatment of these adventures. He succeeds in capturing how it “felt” to sojourn or live in the area of so much great future import. It is fresh, too, in its chronological but not dull presentation. Literally year by year he moves. To begin, Batman introduces Serra and Portola en route through Baja California to San Diego, Daniel Boone trekking west to Kentucky, and James Cook on his first Pacific voyage, all on 14 May, 1769. Sometimes worldwide exploits at first seem isolated from each other, but eventually they form patterns of those who will metamorphose the “Outer Coast.” At times readers not versed in California’s past may lag behind John Ledyard in Asia and Africa, British and Yankee traders at Nootka Sound, and the Patties trapping in New Mexico. They will not, however, be bored. The author clearly knows how to hold readers by valid stratagems. One interested in California will glean many detailed human interest anecdotes of revealing significance.
Although Batman introduces many Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and Yankee institutions, techniques, tools, foods and habits, several episodes could have been clearer had the background been more thoroughly presented. It is also unfortunate that he has eliminated all Spanish accents, which probably would have helped many Anglo readers to avoid mispronunciations. It is moot whether specific footnotes would have been more helpful than his general chapter notes and the useful bibliography. The illustrations are most welcome.
Inevitably in a work on “The Outer Coast,” San Diego, where white men first discovered and settled California’s shores, enjoys frequent reference. Here California buffs meet many old friends of early San Diego as they trade, settle, or pass through — Portolá and Serra, Governor Joseí Mar&i´a Echeandía, Jedediah Smith, James and Sylvester Pattie, William Gale, Richard Henry Dana (twice, 23 years apart), Henry D. Fitch, the sea otter-men George Yount and Isaac Sparks, and William Shaler of the Lelia Byrd. A strong point of The Outer Coast is the description it provides of the interrelationships of these men of derring-do and dollar-collecting, and occasionally their women folk. The diplomatic implications for Spain, Mexico, Britain, France, Russia and the United States are sometimes lightly and at other times deeply covered.
Richard Batman’s background as an expert of Mexican Era California has enriched his presentation. California specialists may not learn major facts nor meet new interpretations here, but average readers will be both satisfied and enlightened, and San Diegans will agree that their region’s historic significance prior to 1840 is again illustrated and confirmed. Any myth of isolation is soundly contradicted on every page!