Report on the Importance & Prospects of Baja California in 1855
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36. [BAJA CALIFORNIA]. SMITH, José Wallace. Autograph manuscript report in Spanish in his hand regarding the status and importance of Baja California. México City, 12 January 1855, signed José W. Smith. 13-1/2 pp. on seven leaves of wove, unwatermarked paper. Folio (33 x 22 cm). Creased where formerly folded, staple holes and old stitch holes in blank left margin (not affecting text), third leaf chipped at lower right corner costing a few letters, last leaf cut short with no loss of text. Overall very fine. Highly legible. Endorsed in contemporary pencil at top of first page, “Baja California—Informe dado por José W. Smith 1855.”
Apparently unpublished. Smith, clearly knowledgeable regarding Baja California and its leading residents, here provides a succinct review of the present condition of the peninsula and its future promise. He notes that because Baja California is so distant from the capital, it is almost abandoned and basically an unprotected border territory. He observes that the peninsula has riches in pearls, mother of pearl, seals, whales, fisheries, and rich mines, with the potential to become the wealthiest area in the Americas. In the north, he says, the Ku Koo Poo (Cucupa), a semi-barbaric tribe of Indians nearly 4,000 strong, occupy an area of rich gold and silver mines, and there is an urgent need to garrison the border. The Indians are poor, trade in deer skins, and are hunter-gatherers. The south, he continues, is abundant in gold and silver and other mineral resources, as well as in fish. He lists peninsular exports: cheeses, dates, wheat, raisins, mother of pearl, silver, and gold. He further observes that there is good land for viticulture and a need to develop that industry, as well as potential for the production of sugar cane in the extreme south and cattle raising throughout. He states that the gulf islands contain sources of minerals, salt, and guano. He writes that rich mines are found on Isla San José which are owned by Gibert, Ramírez, Toba, and Amao, although the important silver mines at San Antonio owned by Amao are not producing and must be stimulated. There is also a need, he asserts, to develop a commercial fleet for trade, to distribute vacant lands, to improve education, and to immediately garrison the peninsula. Smith also lists the leading citizens of each settlement, and notes a U.S. plan for a railroad from San Diego to the Colorado River mouth, which will result in a need to defend the border. Stronger political administration with higher-ranking officers is also recommended.
Following the war with the United States and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Baja California remained effectively separated from mainland Mexico but adjacent to the rapidly growing gold-rush state of California. Attempts to settle military colonists in the northern peninsula between 1849 and 1853 generally failed due to poverty and isolation. At the same time, the virtually vacant peninsula became the object of attempts to establish an independent state by such filibusterers as William Walker in 1853 and 1854 and Juan Napoleón Zerman in 1855. During the same period, the successful revolt of Ayutla led by Juan Álvarez overthrew the legendary Antonio López de Santa-Anna and established a new government in La Paz. The new national president, Ignacio Comonfort, seeking to avoid continued threats against Baja California, sought advice to strengthen Mexican control over the region, as had his predecessors. A continuous problem, the development of Baja California was the subject of a book-length study by Ulises Urbano Lassépas, De la colonización de la Baja California y decreto de 10 de marzo de 1857 (Mexico: Vicente García Torres, 1859).
Although little is known about Smith, he seems to have been a businessman with a great deal of experience and many connections in Mexico. A New York Times report of February 21, 1859, states that he was in Washington, D.C., having brought important dispatches with him from Mexico including a report from U.S. Special Agent to Mexico William M. Churchwell. Smith supposedly also ran afoul of the French and was taken prisoner at Minatitlán by French authorities. He may have been a descendent of James Wilcox Smith, an Englishman who settled in Loreto in 1817.
Sold. Hammer: $750.00; Price Realized: $900.00
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