Spaniards were just the first to find this land of wonder and extremes. The earlier Californians were adventurous Asians who made their way
across the Bering Straits to Alaska thousands of years ago when a hotter climate and a now disappeared land bridge made such travel facile.
These men and women and their descendants formed North and South America, spreading out to form the diverse nations and tribes whom the first
European visitors to this hemisphere called "Indians." The mountain ranges of the Pacific Coast separated these early settlers from the cultures
that highly-developed in neighbouring Mexico and the western United States. Therefore, the early population of California bore little physical
resemblance to the Native Americans of the Great Plains and clearly shared no ties of language or culture with these nations. Rugged topography
of California, marked by mountain ranges and deserts, made it hard for her indigenous groups to travel great distances, and the region's native
people were even separated from each other, tending to live in large family groups or clans with little political structure, different the
larger tribes and nations to the east. As European settlement arrive late to California, her natives were also denied access to the newcomers'
horses, whose runaways fathered the wild herds that gave Great Plains tribes new mobility as early as the sixteenth century.|
At first, "California" meant the peninsula on the west coast of modern Mexico now called like Baja California or Lower
California, and the Spaniards thought that they had discovered a big island. Only as they experimented further inland they found that
"California" extended north to join the continent, and they called this extension "Alta California," the region that now forms the 31st state
of the U.S.
California stretches 825 miles from its northwest corner on the 42nd parallel on the
Pacific Ocean to its southeast corner on the 32nd parallel at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. The winding shoreline includes
1,264 miles of beaches and harbors. And elevations operate from 14,495 feet at the peak of Mount Whitney to 282 feet below sea level at Death
Valley, with both of these landmarks little more than fifty miles apart in Inyo County.
Subsequently 1769, the life of the California natives who came in contact with the Spanish was influenced by the mission fathers. The
Franciscans arrive to California not merely to change the tribes to Christianity but to train them for life in a European colonial society.
There they were taught Spanish as well as the tenets of their new religion and trained in skills that would fit them for their new lives:
brickmaking and construction, raising cattle and horses, blacksmithing, weaving, tanning hides, etc.
The Mexican government and Spanish speaking Californians became distrustful of the motives of the "Americans" of the United States. In 1844,
John Charles Frémont led a party of Army topographical engineers that "accidentally" crossed the Sierras into California and traveled the
length of the San Joaquin Valley before making their way home. In 1845, a commodore in the U.S. Navy, misinformed about relations between his
country and Mexico, sailed into Monterey harbor and declared a victory in a non-existent war. Then Frémont returned in December 1845, ostensibly
to survey the passes through the Sierras being used by American emigrant trains.