Skip to main content


Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California

Thomas J. Osborne

ISBN: 978-1-118-29235-8 January 2013 Wiley-Blackwell 440 Pages


Osborne's work is the first history text to explore the sweep of California's past in relationship to its connections within the maritime world of the Pacific Basin.
  • Presents a provocative and original interpretation of the entire span of California history
  • Reveals how the area's Pacific Basin connections have shaped the Golden State's past
  • Refutes the widely held notion among historians that California was isolated before the onset of the American period in the mid-1800s
  • Represents the first text to draw on anthropologist Jon Erlandson's findings that California's first human inhabitants were likely prehistoric Asian seafarers who navigated the Pacific Rim coastline
  • Includes instructor resources in an online companion site:

Related Resources

List of Illustrations xiii

Foreword xvi
Janet Fireman

Preface xviii

Acknowledgments xxi

1 Beginnings: From Fire and Ice to Indian Homeland 1

Timeline 2

Landforms 2

Climates 6

Plants and Animals 8

First Peoples and Their New Homeland 9

Tribal and Linguistic Groupings 12

Material Culture 14

Religion and Social Practices 16

Pacific Profile: Anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber 19

The Chumash: Pacific Coast Mariners and Traders 19

Other Possible Early Voyagers to California 21

2 Spain's Greater California Coast 25

Timeline 25

A Name, a Dream, a Land 27

Cabrillo's Coastal Reconnaissance 28

Globalization Begins: The Manila Galleon Trade 30

Drake, Nova Albion, and Cermeño 32

The Spanish Pacific, Vizcaíno, and Monterey 34

Colonizing California: Missions, Indians, and the Sea 35

Ranchos, Presidios, and Pueblos 42

Gender and Sexuality in a Frontier Society 44

Pacific Profile: Alejandro Malaspina, Mariner-Explorer 45

The TransPacific Fur Trade 46

Hippolyte de Bouchard's Pirate Raids 48

3 A Globally Connected Mexican Province 53

Timeline 53

Mexico's Misrule of California 55

Secularization of the Missions 56

Hides, Tallow, and Rancho Society 59

Fur Trappers 64

Early Settlers and Overland Emigrants 66

Pacific Profile: Alpheus B. Thompson, China Trader 70

"Thar She Blows:" New England Whalers 71

The Charles Wilkes Pacific Expedition 72

4 War and Gold: America's West Coast Eldorado 78

Timeline 78

California and the Pacific Squadron 80

Jumping the Gun at Monterey 81

Polk, the Pacific, and the Outbreak of War 84

California and the Mexican War 88

Gold, Ships, and Wagon Trains 91

Pacific Profile: William H. Aspinwall, President of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company 95

The World Rushed In 96

Life in the Diggings 97

The Gold Rush's International Economic Impacts 100

5 National Crisis, Statehood, and Social Change 105

Timeline 106

A Constitution, a Legislature, a State 107

Land Disputes and Independence Movements 110

Vigilance Committees and Untamed Politicians 112

Pacific Filibusterers 116

California, the Pacific, and the Civil War 118

Ocean Crossings: The Chinese on Sea and Land 120

Pacific Profile: Norman Asing, Chinese American Restaurateur 123

Californios and Other Spanish-Speakers 124

Indians: A People under Siege 126

African Americans: Up from Bondage 127

6 Pacific-Bound Rails, Hard Times, and Chinese Exclusion 132

Timeline 133

A Transcontinental Railroad, California, and Pacific Commerce 134

Theodore Judah, the Big Four, and the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 136

Chinese Laborers and the Push Eastward 140

The Southern Pacific Railroad and the American West 143

Pacific Profile: Seafaring Journalist Charles Nordhoff 146

Transpacific Steamers 147

Depression and the Anti-Chinese Movement 148

The Constitution of 1879 152

Halting Chinese Immigration 153

7 Eldorado's Economic and Cultural Growth 158

Timeline 158

Water, Land, and Rural Development 160

Commercial Agriculture 162

Black and White Gold 166

Interurban Railways and Southern California's Rise 168

California's Maritime Economy 171

Pacific Profile: David Laamea Kalakaua, King of Hawai'i and Visitor 175

California and the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War 176

A Cosmopolitan Culture 178

8 Anti-Railroad Politics, Municipal Graft , and Labor Struggles 186

Timeline 187

The Battle of Mussel Slough 188

An Angry Widow Sues: The Colton Letters 190

Pacific Gateway: Locating a Harbor in Los Angeles 190

Pacific Profile: Phineas Banning, Port of Los Angeles and Santa Catalina Promoter 192

Debt Dodging Denounced 193

The Southern Pacific Political Machine 194

The "Queen City of the Pacific:" Boss Ruef 's San Francisco 195

Foiled Reform: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Graft Trials 197

Maritime and Factory Labor 201

Field Work and the Wheatland Riot 206

9 Governor Hiram Johnson and Pacific-Oriented Progressivism 211

Timeline 212

The Beginnings of Reform 213

An "Aggressive Advocate" and the 1910 Election 215

Regulating the Economy 216

Democratizing Politics, Subsidizing Education 219

Women's Suffrage and Public Morals 220

Water: Cities in a State of Thirst 223

Pacific Profile: George Freeth, Southern California Surfer Extraordinaire 226

San Francisco, TransPacific Racial Tensions, and Angel Island 227

African Americans, Hispanics and Filipinos, Sikhs, and Indians 230

Maritime Trade and the Panama Pacific Exposition 232

The Twilight of Progressivism 233

10 Good Times and Bad in a Pacific Rim Super State 238

Timeline 239

Mass Entertainment: Hollywood Movies, Pacific Fun Zones, and the Olympics 240

Extending California's Water Infrastructure 242

Agribusiness and Banking 244

The 1920s Oil Boom 247

Maritime Enterprises 248

Transportation: Automobiles and Airplanes 250

Pacific Profile: Charles Kingsford-Smith's TransPacific Flight 252

Conservatism Restored 252

Religious Awakenings and Developments 254

Freedom-Minded and Other Women 255

The Great Depression: Strikes and Panaceas 257

Cultural Expression of a High Order 260

11 America's Pacific Bulwark: World War II and Its Aft ermath 267

Timeline 268

Military Installations: Forts, Naval Bases, and Airfields 269

The Wages of War: Shipyards, Aircraft Plants, and Universities 270

Opportunities and Prejudice: Women and Minorities 274

Japanese Imprisonment 277

Pacific Profile: Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Manzanar Inmate and Writer 281

The Postwar Military-Industrial Complex and International Relations 282

Population Growth, Housing, and Discrimination 284

Green Gold: Agribusiness and Labor 287

Governor Earl Warren: Progressive Republican 288

Richard Nixon and the Anti-Communist Crusade 290

12 Liberalism at High Tide 295

Timeline 296

Prosperity, Suburbanization, and Consumerism 297

Entertainment Media, Sports, and Amusement Parks 300

The San Francisco Renaissance and the Arts 302

Politics: Goodwin Knight, Pat Brown, and Reforming Government Operations 305

Enhancing the Super State: Water, Transit, and Universities 306

Students in Dissent, Campuses in Revolt 309

Pacific Profile: S.I. Hayakawa, San Francisco State College President 312

Minorities and Women 313

Coastal Counterculture in the 1960s 317

13 "Gold Coast" Conservatism and the Politics of Limits 323

Timeline 324

From Ultra-Right-Wingers to Mainstream Suburban Warriors 326

Ronald Reagan: The "Cowboy" Governor 328

Governor Jerry Brown: The Zen of Politics and Frugality 331

Crime and Racial Tensions 334

Business and Labor 336

Pacific Profile: Jerry Yang, Co-founder and CEO, Yahoo! Inc. 340

Protecting the Environment and Supplying Energy 341

Governor George Deukmejian's Right Turn 345

Voter Resentment, Term Limits, and Wedge Politics 346

Governor Pete Wilson and a Roller-Coaster Economy 347

Architecture and Fine Arts, Sports, and Entertainment 350

14 The Ongoing Pacific Shift 356

Timeline 357

Immigration, Diversity, and the Politics of Multiculturalism 359

Pacific Profile: Novelist Isabel Allende 364

Governor Gray Davis: An Able Moderate under Fire 365

The "Governator:" Arnold Schwarzenegger 366

Infrastructure Matters: Schools, Transportation, Health Care, and Prisons 369

The High-Stakes Gubernatorial Election of 2010 372

An Economic and Political Colossus 374

Major Environmental and Energy Challenges 381

The Pacific, the U.S Military, and California 383

Still the Pacific Eldorado 384

Summary 385

Review Questions 386

Further Readings 387

Appendix: Governors of California, 1768–2012 389

Index 392

“A whole new generation of historians has been discovering California in a new context. ... This textbook—a gift to teachers of California history—will also be useful for anyone seeking to understand the Golden State in a global context.” – Boom: A Journal of California, Spring 2014

"Osborne... does a very good job of updating standard narratives and finding a way to pull them together."   (Southern California Quarterly, 1 May 2013)


• Presents a provocative and original interpretation of the entire span of California history
• Reveals how the area’s Pacific Basin connections have shaped the Golden State’s past
• Refutes the widely held notion among historians that California was isolated before the onset of the American period in the mid-1800s
• Represents the first text to draw on anthropologist Jon Erlandson’s findings that California’s first human inhabitants were likely prehistoric Asian seafarers who navigated the Pacific Rim coastline