Friday, April 21, 2017

Los Angeles State Historic Park: Grand Opening of an Urban Oasis

Los Angeles State Historic Park Grand Opening Poster, 2017
Courtesy Los Angeles State Historic Park

Saturday—sixteen years since its establishment and after three years of renovation—is the grand re-opening of the Los Angeles State Historic Park, also known as Cornfield Park. As downtown Los Angeles redevelops, we recall the cultural, historical, and environmental history.of the park, now 34 acres with 1,500 trees, picnic areas, grassy hills, and wildlife habitat just off of Los Angeles's Chinatown neighborhood.

Aerial view of a swollen Los Angeles River showing the Southern Pacific Shops and its Alhambra Avenue Roundhouse, Los Angeles, 1938 -  CHS/USC

It was the site of an abandoned rail yard in downtown Los Angeles. Historically, it is where Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola crossed the Los Angeles River and camped in the area of Yanga (or Yan-gna), a Tongva village. In 2001, it was targeted to become an industrial center. 

But other visions prevailed: make the site—between the river and Chinatown—an urban oasis.

Site of Not a Cornfield, c. 2005
Courtesy Wikimapia

In 2005, artist Lauren Bon acquired a $2 million grant for her “Not a Cornfield” project. Corn seeds from the trains of the Southern Pacific’s River Station year had resulted in their sprouting, and Bon turned the cleaned-up deserted railroad yard into an actual cornfield as a living sculpture.

Steve Rowell (Photographer), Not a Cornfield, 2005
Copyright © Not a Cornfield

California State Parks then took over, after 35 community, environmental, civil rights, civic, and business organizations successfully convinced the state to purchase the site for a park. Los Angeles Historic State Park opened in a small part of the park in 2006. The area was closed to the public in 2014 for the complete development of the space. Construction was intended to be complete in 2015, but drought and budget concerns along with the discovery of trace contaminants in the soil pushed back the timeline until today's opening.

LASHP Master Development Plan Phase I, 2011
Courtesy California Department of Parks and Recreation

Los Angeles State Historic Park, 2012
Courtesy KCET

Los Angeles State Historic Park, 2012
Courtesy, Curbed Los Angeles

Los Angeles State Historic Park, 2017
Courtesy of Los Angeles State Historic Park

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


James Brasuell, “Full Cornfield Park Project Finally Moving Forward,”Feb. 27, 2012;


Robert Garcia, “L.A. State Historic Park: A Deserted Railroad Yard is Transformed Yet Unfinished,” February 23, 2012;


Carren Jao, “Field of Dreams: The Cornfield Throughout Los Angeles History,” April 14, 2017


LASHP Master Development Plan,


Not a Cornfield historic photographs;


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mystery of the Azusa Bell

Photographer unknown, Roger Dalton with Azusa Bell, date unknown 
California Historical Society

Inspired by the photograph above, the following essay will be published as the historical photograph Spotlight feature in California History 94, no. 1 (Spring 2017), © 2017 by the Regents of the University of California. The author has further illustrated it to provide a visual sense of time and place. California History is published by the University of California Press in association with the California Historical Society.
By Shelly Kale

The image appears rather straightforward: a man is posing beside an old, timeworn bell resting on a wooden platform. A closer look reveals the year 1845 on the bottom inscription of the bell and the word “Azusa” at the top. Look even closer and you’ll notice the man’s hands in physical contact with the bell—as if he is demonstrating a familiarity, perhaps even intimacy, with the object.

The letter accompanying the photograph’s donation to the California Historical Society identifies the man as Roger Dalton, grandson of Henry Dalton (1803–1884), an early Los Angeles merchandizer whose ownership of one of the region’s principle ranchos spanned the Mexican and U.S. eras of California, from 1844 to his death forty years later.(1)

Henry Don Enrique Dalton, date unknown
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

A British subject until the end of his life, Henry Dalton began trading in South America and Mexico from the age of sixteen. Known as Don Enrique, Dalton’s business ventures brought him to Alta California, where in 1844 he made his home in Los Angeles, purchasing a lot on Main and Spring Streets. There he opened an adobe store selling hides, tallow, wine, and grain and built the pueblo’s first wooden residence—known as “La casa de tres picos” and “The Three Sisters”—among other properties.(2)

View of the Los Angeles Plaza, first known photograph of Los Angeles, c. 1857–1861
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

Late that year, Dalton increased his land holdings.(3) In December 1844 he obtained the deed for the purchase of the rancho El Susa (The Azusa) from Luis Arena, who had been granted the land from the Mexican government in 1841. The Azusa Rancho de Dalton (present-day San Gabriel Valley) was desirable property. Located at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, with direct access to the San Gabriel River, it supported the cultivation of a variety of crops—including grapes, avocados, grains, oranges, cotton, and tobacco(4)—and multiple ventures undertaken by Dalton as he expanded his acreage to about 48,000.(5)

Detail, Aumento de tierra Asusa: [Calif.] / Rancho Azusa (Calif.), 1840s
Courtesy The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

In addition to maintaining a residence and herds of cattle, horses, and sheep, Dalton built an irrigation ditch, winery, distillery, tannery, grist mill, cotton gin, vinegar house, cigar house, and meat smokehouse. With “its strategic location, fertile soil, impressive irrigation potential,” noted one historian, the “fame of this progressive ranch had spread far and wide as one of the most diversified operations in southern California.”(6)

The Dalton Winery
Published in Sheldon G. Jackson, A British Ranchero in Old California: The Life and Times of Henry Dalton and the Rancho Azusa (Glendale/Azusa, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company/Azusa Pacific College, 1977)

Such operations demanded a large work force and, like most rancheros Dalton drew from Native American populations and housed them on the land.(7) Some sources indicate that the Azusa Bell was used at the rancho as a dinner bell(8) or chapel bell.(9) In this way, it typifies the mission bells in Spanish- and Mexican-era California that called people to meals, to work, to religious services.

Dalton Homestead, c. 1870
Published in Keith Vosburg, Azusa Old and New: Being a True Recital of the Founding & Development of a California Community (Azusa, CA: Azusa Foot-hill Citrus Company, 1921)

Accounts of both the Azusa Bell’s use and fate vary. “On September 13, 1845,” according to C.C. Baker’s 1916 publication, “there arrived at Azusa a bell which Dalton had had cast at Tepie, Mexico. It was hung on posts before the ranch house, and was used to call the people to meals. It now hangs in the belfry of the Catholic church in Azusa, at the corner of Centre street and Pasadena avenue.(10)
In 1932 the History and Landmarks Section of the Covina Woman’s Club published a paper based on the work of Keith Vosburg, whose accounts, the club deemed, were “undoubtedly authentic, as he says he had access to Mr. Dalton’s diaries and other papers, which are in the possession of Mr. Dalton’s grandson, Roger Dalton of Azusa. Mr. Roger Dalton has seen this paper and has given it his approval.”(11)

The paper reprinted the history of the Azusa Bell as it was reported in the September 1931 issue of the Azusa Herald:
The bell was cast for Henry Dalton in 1845 at the town of San Blas in Old Mexico, and brought aboard the Dalton private sailing ship to the port of Los Angeles, thence overland to the Azusa Rancho, where it was used as a chapel bell for many years until it was loaned to the Azusa Catholic Church. On one side of the rim of the bell is engraved the words, “Maria del Refugio” (Mary of the Refuge), and on the other side the date “1845.” On the opposite side is a cross engraved in the metal. The date, 1845, is in raised letters.(12)
“The bell,” the 1932 paper continued, “was used in the church until last year when it was replaced with a new one and the old bell is now in the possession of Mr. Dalton’s son, Joseph, who lives in Azusa.”(13)

In 2007, one researcher noted that the bell—“weighing 375 pounds and measuring 24 x 24 inches in diameter”—was featured in a parade down Foothill Boulevard during May 1937 Azusa Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary Celebration. Photographs of the bell in the collection of Azusa Pacific University have been indexed as “Azusa Rancho Bell, Lost in 1938 Flood.”(14)

The Azusa Bell
Courtesy Azusa Pacific University, Special Collections

The California Historical Society’s donation letter, dated June 9, 1972, suggests a more intriguing destiny. The letter indicates that Henry Dalton brought the Azusa Bell from Lima,  Peru—where many California mission bells were cast—and that Henry’s grandson Roger Dalton (1888–1952) used it in his duties as Master of Rituals for E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal order dating from the Gold Rush.(15) As the letter recalls, the first few meetings of the order’s Los Angeles chapter “which were at the Dalton Ranch near by Asuza were called to order by the sound of the Azusa Bell rung by Roger Dalton.” The bell was taken by a descendent of the Zamorano family to San Andreas, Calaveras County, where it might still be to this day. “This Bell is probably the most historic item in Calaveras County and they don’t know they have it,” the letter writer surmised.(16)

Donation Letter to the California Historical Society, June 9, 1972
California Historical Society

Regardless of these discrepancies, Henry Dalton’s multivolume Daily Occurrences at Azusa, a meticulous, bilingual account, attests to the bell’s importance: “locked the Bell poles,” and “to canyon for sticks for Bell,” Dalton wrote in response to floods and other weather-related maintenance.(17)

Whether or not the bell’s fate is eventually determined, the photograph invites us to consider its place in the life of a California family, its role in California history, and perhaps more imaginatively its call to us over the years.


  1. Principal sources consulted for this essay include: C. C. Baker, “Don Enrique Dalton of the Azusa,” in Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California 10, no. 3 (1917): 17–35, hereafter cited as Baker, “Don Enrique” (1917), and in The Grizzly Bear (September 1916), 4, 10–11, hereafter cited as Baker, “Don Enrique” (1916); Sheldon G. Jackson, A British Ranchero in Old California: The Life and Times of Henry Dalton and the Rancho Azusa (Glendale and Azusa, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company and Azusa Pacific College, 1977); and Keith Vosburg, Azusa Old and New: Being a True Recital of the Founding & Development of a California Community (Azusa, CA: Azusa Foot-hill Citrus Company, 1921). 
  2. Baker, “Don Enrique Dalton of the Azusa” (1917). 
  3. The fate of the Dalton rancho during California’s transition years from Mexican to U.S. rule has been well documented. See, for example, Baker, “Don Enrique” (1917).
  4. Donald Pflueger, “From Castor Beans to Citrus in Glendora,” The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 31, no. 4 (December 1949), 247–48.
  5. “History of Azusa Rancho Accepted by History and Landmarks Section,” Covina Citizen, January 28, 1932.
  6. Jackson, A British Ranchero in Old California, 164–70, 171.
  7. “Aside from a few American workmen, labor on the Azusa,” Keith Vosburg writes, “was entirely furnished by the Cahuilla Indians, recruited from a tribal settlement near San Bernardino. They had their huts (jacals) on the hill east of the Dalton homestead”; Vosburg, Azusa Old and New, 18. It should also be noted that the rancho’s name derived from the Gabrielino term for the native village in the region, Asukasa-gna,, and the Serranos name Ashuksha-vit; Vosburg, Azusa Old and New, 9.
  8. Baker, “Don Enrique” (1916), 11.
  9. “History of Azusa Rancho,” Covina Citizen, 7.
  10. Baker, “Don Enrique” (1916), 11.
  11. “History of Azusa Rancho,” Covina Citizen, 7.  
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Jeffrey Lawrence Cornejo Jr., Azusa (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007), 104; Roger Dalton Collection, Azusa Pacific University, Special Collections email correspondence, September 7, 2016.  
  15. The group’s motto, Credo Quia Absurdum (“believe because it is absurd”), suggests an eccentricity that does not appear to be lost among the group’s preservation efforts today. See Jesse McKinley, “Promoting Offbeat History Between the Drinks,” New York Times, October 13, 2008.
  16. Unidentified donor to California Historical Society, June 9, 1972.
  17. Henry Dalton, Daily Occurrences at Azusa, June 7, 1860, vol. II: 1856–1860 and January 19, 1861, vol. III, 1861–1864, Henry Dalton Collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

Friday, April 14, 2017

Not Everything is Digitized: The Art of Discovery in a Public Archive

By Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus

The public archive is a sacred space; like any public library, these spaces offer free, democratic access to information and are staffed by trained professionals ready to help you turn that information into knowledge. In our capitalist society, access to information usually comes with a price. One must pay for Internet access, higher education, museum entrance fees, journal subscriptions, but public archives are accessible for anyone, for free. As amateur researchers, the California Historical Society archive was an indispensable resource for us, a space of transformative discovery, where our casual fascination with yesteryear lead us into a multi-year research process that culminated in the publication of an award winning book, Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute (Heyday, 2016).

Neither of us had advanced degrees, but we are both the type of people who become immediately excited by the smell of musty old paper. We’d visited archives as college students, working on research papers. We’d done our duty, using snippets of primary documents to assist our papers, looking for something to give us a bump in grades. This felt professional, yet temporary. Archives were for academics or students, we’d thought. We’d most likely move on and have little future use for them. As historians working outside of academia, we sometimes felt nervous about our access to archives. But as we went down the rabbit-hole of discovery, neither of us could stop. We’d go to the CHS archive on our weekends for the thrill of revelation; each slip of paper told a story, held a clue, added depth to our own understandings of the past and thus the present.

During our first visits to the archive as independent researchers, we were admittedly a bit embarrassed about our inexperience. There seemed to be a code of conduct that we weren’t yet aware of. When were you supposed to wear those little white gloves while handling documents? Were you always welcome to photograph the documents? It is laughable, now that we have developed relationships with many of the librarians at the CHS archive, but early on we were nervous to reveal our lack of experience to the librarians in charge. We had unknowingly bought into a tragic myth of the archive: that it is a pretentious space, a space meant for professionals and professionals only. It wasn’t long before this myth was, thankfully, shattered.

Looking through the James Rolph Jr. papers, a collection of one of San Francisco’s most colorful mayors (1912-1931), we were on the hunt for information concerning the closure of San Francisco’s infamous vice district of yore, the Barbary Coast. We had discovered evidence of a prostitute’s memoir, published by the controversial newspaperman Fremont Older in the San Francisco Bulletin at some point during Rolph’s mayoral tenure. We were working through the early stages of research, and still not fully comfortable. Instead of asking our librarians for assistance, we confined our research to the names, dates, and files we found in our own secondary research. As we sifted through folders, quiet as church mice, we heard a loud man enter. His sharp boots, echoing his speech, broke the cathedral-like solemnity of the room with an urgent request: he needed to get to Bodie, a ghost town in the Eastern Sierras, that weekend, and he needed information. What information, he wasn’t sure about. Could they help him? We paused over the hand-written letters to Rolph in 1913 complaining about interracial dancing in the Barbary Coast. His gregarious demeanor and eccentric request seemed to break all of these unwritten “codes” of intellectual propriety that we had tried to emulate within the holy archive. Would he be shushed and shunned? Is that not what every librarian in every film depiction throughout history would have done? Of course, the librarians were nothing but helpful, warm, and knowledgeable. They were soon deep in conversation with the Bodie-bound man. Advice and information was passed back and forth without a single stroke of a computer button. This moment struck us as something essential about libraries and archives that had been passed by in the digital age. It made us feel much more comfortable working with the staff, where before we had been perhaps too shy.

While we certainly did much of our research online, there were several instances where the online materials were either non-existent, incomplete, or simply inaccurate. None of the documents that lead us to our ultimate discovery, the memoir of the San Francisco based prostitute “Alice Smith,” written in 1913, existed online. Our project depended upon the diligent preservation of materials by librarians. While we found one mention of Smith’s memoir on a Wikipedia page, there were all sorts of inaccuracies in the article. It appeared that few, if any, had actually read her memoirs since they had been serialized in the San Francisco Bulletin in 1913. Every book we had found that spoke of the publication had either gotten the date wrong or didn’t mention a date at all. Many sources dated the publication of her story to 1917, though we were doubtful. We eventually found Alice’s memoirs on microfilm after scrolling for days through years of one of the city’s most popular dailies, housed on the 5th floor of San Francisco’s Main Library. We spent countless hours, days, and months, in cafes, bars, libraries, and our living room transcribing the hundreds of pages of Alice’s story from the scanned microfilm.

At the California Historical Society’s archives, we found vital primary documents that helped us to unravel the story behind Alice. Letters written by 20th century anti-vice reformers to Mayor Rolph were typed on stationery branded with an iconic symbol of San Francisco’s 19th century vigilante gangs: the all-seeing eye. We had the pleasure of digging through the meeting minutes of early League of Women Voters organizers, in which they revealed the challenges they faced trying to do outreach with sex workers who wanted nothing to do with their anti-vice reform efforts. We had read letters penned to the Bulletin by sex workers in 1913, where they discussed how suspicious they were of the women’s clubs and their reform agenda. These handwritten meeting minutes, which were still being catalogued by the CHS and thus had not been looked at for many years, if not decades, contained admissions that reinforced our growing understanding of the complex divisions between the feminist ideals of Progressive Era reformers and the feminism of sex workers. At the University of Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, we found unsettling letters sent to Fremont Older, who had published Smith’s story in the San Francisco Bulletin, threatening to dynamite his home and office, written in an unnerving scrawl reminiscent of San Francisco’s own Zodiac-killer. We also, after a long search, discovered the possible real name of Alice Smith, a pseudonym. In 1913, Smith bemoaned the ways in which sex worker voices were marginalized and discarded by society. If it were not for the due diligence of later librarians and archivists, her story, too, would have faded away into obscurity. And if it were not for the principle of the public library, the public archive, us amateurs would have never had the opportunity to engage in this work, work that has defined and shaped our lives, and, we hope, the lives of our readers.

Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus are both writers, artists, and activists based in San Francisco. Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, which won the 2015 California Historical Society Book Award, is their first book.

For more information about Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, please visit:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

National Library Week: "Damned Disruptor"

[Portrait of Leland Stanford], California Historical Society, CHS2017_2278
In undertaking a major book project very much about California’s ribald past and how it is shaping its crazy present and fascinating future, I have found the California Historical Society to be an unusually critical component in my work. Having plumbed many regional historical societies from New England, to the Midwest and certainly here in our glorious Golden State, the California Historical Society distinguishes itself time after time as a premier repository of vital historic fact and perspective. More than that is the astonishing help the research librarians at the society so cheerfully and competently supply in my ambitious explorations.

My book, Damned Disruptor: Leland Stanford & the Scandalous History of How One Man Created Silicon Valley’s Upheaval of Almost Everything We Do, (Skyhorse Publishing, NY, expected to be finished sometime next year) relies heavily on primary sources, both unexamined and unappreciated. I initially came to the society’s research library with some skepticism. But from the first I found priceless materials for my work at the California Historical Society such as a surprising letter from John Sutter to Mariano Vallejo that cast a sharp illumination I had not seen anywhere in any research.

As a UC Berkeley history graduate and long–time Bay Area investigative journalist, I know the value of serious archival research and those rare places such as the Bancroft, Huntington and California Historical Society that make it possible. I am indebted to it and all those who work at and support the institution.

Roland De Wolk

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

National Library Week: "Tracking Immigrants, Then and Now"

Photograph album of Chinese men and women in Sierra County, Vault 184, California Historical Society

There's a photo from the California Historical Society's North Baker Research Library that has fascinated me for years. It's the page of an immigration officer's journal from 1894. Stationed in Downieville, California, D.D. Beatty took photographs of nearly every Chinese resident in the city and noted their name, age, "identifying marks," and other details as part of his work as an inspector for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. The Geary Act of 1892 required all Chinese immigrants to register with the U.S. government (a long-forgotten precursor to the "Muslim registry," or National Security Entry-Exit Registration System put into place after 9/11), and Beatty apparently used this journal to keep track of the Chinese immigrants in his jurisdiction. The faces of three women and one man stare out from their passport-size mugshots. Beatty's careful cursive appears alongside. An older woman is identified as Ung Gook, or "China Susie." At the time of the entry, she was 55 years old and noted as as "housekeeper." Beatty found "no marks" on her face. An additional note was added in 1900: "Gone to China for good."

I've been fascinated by this digitized source, because it documents the intense government surveillance of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans during the exclusion era in a way that no other source does. As someone who has spent her career researching and writing about immigration history and whose family was divided by the Chinese exclusion laws, D.D. Beatty's journal has both research and personal significance. I've been using the digital version of this photograph for years in my public lectures and in my teaching. But I have never seen the journal in person. Until recently. Last month, I was able to visit the North Baker Research Library and held the journal for the first time. It was a powerful moment to turn through page after page of Beatty's photographs and notations and feel the pull of history. And at a time when new government policies are deporting and banning new immigrants, remembering the consequences of this dark chapter in our history is more important than ever.

Erika Lee
Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History and Director, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota; author of The Making of Asian America: A History, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (with Judy Yung), and At America's Gates: Chinese Exclusion During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

National Library Week: The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California

Fred Korematsu letter: Salt Lake City, to Ernest Besig, American Civil Liberties of Northern California records, MS 3580, California Historical Society

As a historian based in New Zealand interested in the history of radicalism and repression in California, I have found the records of the American Civil Liberties Union held at the California Historical Society of immense value. Since San Francisco was a major site of confrontation in the mid- to late 20th century and the ACLU was heavily involved in defending minorities, labor unions, immigrants, and radicals being persecuted and prosecuted, the ACLU-NC collection gives important insights into efforts to resist the power of the state, major interest groups, and federal government.  It provides important evidence about the effects of repressive legislation including the state law against criminal syndicalism and federal legislation, such as the Alien Registration Act (Smith Act). It reveals the efforts to civil libertarians, including local lawyers based in San Francisco and Oakland,  to defend radicals, union officials, union organizers, and groups deemed to be subversive, which ultimately resulted in some important Supreme Court decisions such as Yates vs. the United States (1957).

The records are also extremely useful for revealing conflicts between the ACLU’s Board of Directors and the Northern California branch over such vexed questions as to whether members of the Communist Party could serve on the Board and deserved the protection of the Bill of Rights. It becomes possible to trace the ACLU’s internal upheaval  in 1940 and again in the early 1950s over these questions in which the ACLU of Northern California was a stronger supporter civil liberties than the national organization. Such insights make the ACLU collection at the California Historical Society of great significance for investigating the conflict between civil liberties and domestic security, an issue just as relevant in the current climate as it during important periods in the past.  

As a visitor from a New Zealand university, I was also impressed by the professionalism and the supportive environment provided by the archival staff at the California Historical Society. Communications prior to my visit were done extremely well and the records were ready for me when I arrived.  The positive attitude and expertise made the task of researching both enjoyable and productive. For someone who usually has too little time to spend during a research trip, the quality of the staff and their interest in helping the researcher was much appreciated.

Dolores Janiewski,
Associate Professor
School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Monday, April 10, 2017

Celebrating National Library Week

In honor of National Library Week, California Historical Society (CHS) staff and researchers will contribute one blog post a day celebrating some of the Society's most beloved, inspiring, and unforgettable collections. The CHS Collection is vast, idiosyncratic, and wonderful, so full of treasures and delights that it's hard to pick favorites. For this inaugural post, I let my mind wander until the three items below emerged as especially precious.

Rosalía Vallejo de Leese, after 1847, Dag8H, California Historical Society   

I first discovered this daguerreotype of Rosalía Vallejo de Leese while conducting research for the exhibition Juana Briones y su California: Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera. The sister of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Rosalía married early San Francisco trader Jacob Leese in 1837, making her one of Yerba Buena's earliest non-Native residents. I find Rosalía's youthful gravity extremely moving. According to photography historical Peter Palmquist, Rosalía's niece Epfiania "Fannie" de Guadalupe Vallejo may have been California's first photographer, acquiring a daguerreotype camera around 1847.

Representación del Colegio [Apostólico de Propaganda Fide de San Fernando] al Virrey, MS Vault 151, California Historical Society
I encountered this manuscript, a letter written to Viceroy Marquis de Croix from the Franciscan college in Mexico City, as I was working on a project to catalog CHS’s neglected Spanish-language manuscripts. The letter was penned around 1767, the year King Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and Spanish America, radically changing the course of religious history in the New World. In the letter, the Franciscans thank the Viceroy for entrusting them with the missionization of California, but also emphasize the urgent need for more priests and warn that a single missionary living alone among the neophytes is an exceedingly dangerous thing (“una cosa sumamente peligrosa”). Manuscripts like these are powerful because they particularize, humanize, and bring into focus almost inconceivably momentous historical events and upheavals.

Kino, Eusebio, Exposicion astronomica de el cometa, que el año de 1680 : por los meses de noviembre, y diziembre, y este año de 1681, por los meses de enero y febrero, se ha visto en todo el mundo, y le ha observado en la ciudad de Cadiz, California Historical Society, Vault 523.6 K624e

Finally, one of my favorite books in the CHS Collection is the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino’s astronomical treatise of 1681, Exposicion astronomica de el cometa, que el año de 1680…. Published in Mexico City in 1681, this work records Kino’s observations of the Great Comet of 1680, which he made in Cádiz as he was waiting to depart for the Americas. Kino’s work inspired praise and opprobrium—a sonnet by the great Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and a fierce refutation by the scientist Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora—revealing a flowering intellectual culture in seventeenth-century Mexico. The Exposicion astronomica includes a beautiful celestial map charting the course of the comet. Kino’s impact on cartography was also significant; he was the first European to prove that California is a peninsula, not an island.

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian