A Jesuit Missionary’s Dystopic Observations on Baja California

With a Rare version of the Kino-Consag map disproving California Insularity

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22. [BAEGERT, Johann Jakob]. Nachrichten von der Amerikanischen Halbinsel Californien: mit einem zweyfachen Anhang falscher Nachrichten. Geschrieben von einem Priester der Gesellschaft Jesu, welcher lang darinn diese letztere Jahr gelebt hat. Mit Erlaubnuss der Oberen. Mannheim: Gedruckt in der Churfürstl. Hof- und Academie-Buchdruckerey, 1772. [16], [1] 2-358, [2, errata, verso blank] pp., decorative head and tail pieces, 2 copper-engraved images on one folded sheet (man and woman in rough landscape: Ein Californier and Eine Californierin [lower left below image] E. Verelst fec; copper-engraved folded map (see below). 8vo (17.2 x 10.8 cm) modern half vellum over marbled boards, gilt lettering on spine, edges tinted red, new endpapers. Three small purple ink spots on map at bottom, otherwise fine. Difficult to find complete because of interest in the map.


[Title at lower left in decorative rocky landscape with alligator, palm tree, and yucca plants] California per P. Ferdinandum Consak [i.e., Consag] S.I. et aliós [above neatline at right]: pag. 1 [text below neat line] Nota: Triplo latior et amplius descripta hic California est.... Neat line to neat line (not including text below) 21.9 x 17.4 cm); map with text below 23.5 x 17.6 cm; overall sheet size: 27.8 x 20 cm. Wagner, Cartography of the Northwest, pp. 154-155 & #631: “[The map] is a great improvement on that made by Consag in 1746, although it omits many of Consag’s names. At the north on the thirty-second parallel is a legend that Father Linck reached here in 1766. A number of the names of the map have been Latinized.” The map is not listed by Burrus or Wheat, but it is a derivative of Kino’s map disproving the insularity of California.

     First edition. Barrett 129 (citing the 1773 edition). The first partial translations in English were in Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution of 1863 and 1864, and as a U.S. government document in 1865: An Account of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Californian Peninsula, as given by Jacob Baegert... Translated and Arranged for the Smithsonian Institution by Charles Rau. The translation was made at the suggestion of Rau and the American Ethnological Society because of the valuable ethnological content. Rau refers to the rarity of the work in 1865, an assessment that still stands. Bradford 332. JCB III (2, 1772-1800) #1817: “A work written to disabuse the public mind as to the rumored mineral riches and pearls of California, which had spread from Mexico to Madrid and Germany.” Cowan (I), p. 9; (II), p. 27: “Jacob Baegert, a Jesuit missionary, resided for eighteen years in California. Perhaps no man ever wrote an impersonal book with more bitterness of heart. According to his accounts the country was absolutely unfitted for habitation; it was inhabited by wild and ferocious beasts; peopled by inhospitable and cruel savages; water was unfit for use; wood was scarce; and the soil would not sustain life.” Graff 137. Hill I, p. 13: “The map is most helpful in giving the location of the many Jesuit missions in Lower California. It also shows the route along the west coast of Mexico followed by Baegert in going to California in 1751, and route out in 1768, after the expulsion of the Jesuits. The two plates which are not found with all copies depict California natives.” Hill II: 46. Howell 50, California 13. Howes B29. Palau 358393 (attributes authorship to Venegas). Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 59: “The ex-missionary of San Luis Gonzaga in exile relates his sojourn in California with extensive ethnographic and linguistic details. The volume contains plates of a Guaycura man and woman and a map that follows that of Consag published by Venegas-Burriel. This work appeared in a corrected edition in 1773.” Pilling 203 (contains Lord’s Prayer, twelve articles of the creed and a verb conjugation in Waicuri). Sabin 4363. Sommervogel 760. Streeter Sale 2442. Streit III:937. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 157.

     A Jesuit priest born in Alsace and educated in Germany, Father Baegert (1717-1772) ministered to the Indians of San Luis Gonzaga. Part I of his work deals with the general character of California with its climate and products; Part II describes the inhabitants; and Part III contains an account of the introduction of Christianity to California. Baegert’s personal comments on the Indians, their life and customs, and on the climate and geography of the barren peninsula of Baja California are quite strong. Harry Kelsey, “European Impact on the California Indians, 1530-30” (The Americas, Vol. 41, No. 4, April, 1985), pp. 502-503:

Theft of food was a constant problem for the soldiers and the missionaries. The Indians lived literally hand to mouth, almost always on the verge of starvation. Father Jacob Baegert, who had charge of mission San Luis Gonzaga in the central part of the peninsula, described their diet in such a way as to leave little doubt that they would eat anything that could be chewed and swallowed, some things so disgusting that the priest could describe them only in Latin.... In any case, theft of food was not the main problem for Baegert, and it is not even certain that the missionary considered it a moral problem. The behavior that bothered him the most and kept him from giving communion to the converts was more intimately social. Sexual intercourse seems to have been the favorite form of recreation, homosexual or heterosexual, with adults and children, between single people and those married to others, with family members, and even with animals. Seemingly, no practice was too extreme for the people in this mission territory. Since the Indians stayed at the mission only for brief periods, it was impossible to keep the children from learning this behavior from the older family members or other members of the tribe.

     Another author notes that Baegert’s views of the extreme simplicity of the California natives and their belief systems have often been accepted as factual, but they may owe something to the missionary’s own acerbic personality and to the several decades of cultural change that had preceded his arrival in Baja California (Don Laylander, Early Ethnography of the Californias: 1533-1825. Salinas: Coyote Press, 2000).


Sold. Hammer: $4,000.00; Price Realized: $4,900.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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