Part of learning so much about California history is having the bubbles burst on some of the cherished stories I learned and loved about my home state.
One of them, of course, is Zorro, The Masked Avenger. A landed Spanish Don, he rode forth to wrong the rights against the poor and unprotected populace of Mexican California.
It turns out that Zorro, The Fox, is a fictional character from the mind of a New York-based dime-book writer of the early 1900's, Johnston McCulley.
What a bummer. But, my research teaches me there were no Spanish Dons [those holding Spanish royal titles] who owned the massive Rancheros in early California. The huge landgrants were handed out to private soldiers who had completed their enlistments in lieu of a lot of pay they had not received from the Royal Treasury. There were a couple of officers who received grants but they were Criollos, Spanish/Indians born in the New World. These soldiers often “hired” local Indians to work for them, their pay being in the form of food, clothing, housing, and animals.
Another myth was of the famous/infamous bandit Juan Murietta. I went to high school in Redlands, not far from a place called Murietta Hot Springs. I always thought that was perhaps one of his hideouts from the terrible American posses sent out to hunt this brave defender of Mexican rights. I learned not a lot true is known about this historical figure. Some say he was part Cherokee and part Spanish peon run away from sugar cane plantations in the American southeast. I also discovered there was little heroic or patriotic about him. He was an out and out cutthroat thief and murderer of the lowest order.
Another is how land grants were measured. Somewhere, I heard the story of how a rider would start out when the sun's rim rose in the east and ride until it fully set in the west. Anything inside this circle was considered part of the grant.
Alas, another fairytale. During Spain's rule, the governor's simply marked out an area the perspective soldier grantee felt he could work and drew it up on a hand-sketched map. The grants increased radically during Mexican rule as the Mexican government and governors used them to pay back political favors. They were supposed to be landed estates of the Mexican gentry but often lacked substance and certainly did not have the massive, adobe structures we modern people think of.
The entire system of large ranchos fell apart with the rise in power of Americans who created first, the Republic of California or The Bear Flag Revolt, but quickly lost out when General John Fremont showed up and claimed it for the United States
And yes, American Destiny carried forth in the claiming of California, resulting in massive deaths of Indians who, up until the secularization of the missions, had been protected by the friars. It is something I find saddening in the history of my native land.
One final myth was how American pirates had raided the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. It was actually _French_- pirates!
Ah well, more later.