Juan Alvarado: Governor of California, 1836-1842.
By Robert Ryal Miller. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Xiv + 216 Pages. $12.95 Paperback.
Respected California scholar, Robert Ryal Miller, has given us a brief biography of perhaps Mexican California’s best governor, Juan Alvarado. Alvarado came to power at age 27 (in an armed revolt against Mexico) and directed the province during the beginnings of its transformation from a feudal society to one with extensive private ownership of land (most of which had become available with the secularization of the mission). He also tried to improve conditions for Indians, and to develop education and culture in California. His story is not an altogether pleasant one, as Alvarado was plagued by alcoholism (drunkenness caused him to miss both his inauguration and his wedding), engaged in intrigue against his four successors as governor, and spent the later part of his life in poverty as he fought for the validity of his land claims. His biography is both an instructive look at the life of a very interesting man, and also an account of a critical period of the history of California when it was beginning to establish the roots of today’s modern state.