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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

Changes under three authorities                     Amy Huang


Born in 1885, Robert Glass Cleland was a history professor at Occidental College and also the author and editor of various books on California and Mexico history. His many books include The Irvine Ranch of Orange County, 1810-1950, From wilderness to empire: A history of California, and This reckless breed of men: The trappers and fur traders of the Southwest. He passed away in 1957.



Southern California in the nineteenth century could be considered one of the most fascinating and vivid eras in history. With various periods of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and American occupations, the nineteenth century formed the historic foundation of many California communities. From the Mexican War of 1846 to the Civil War, various events struck Californios including a decrease in economic standing, political authority, and social influence. Soon, with the flood of Americans especially after the Gold Rush, Spanish-speaking inhabitants of California were stripped of their authority over the existing state of affairs and possession of vast regions of land. Through the Land Act of 1851 and land surveys, Robert Glass Cleland explains how the United States government had altered land ownership, which took place during the American era during the years 1848 to 1880. Cleland¡¦s The Cattle on a Thousand Hills covers a brief, but important period of time in Southern California from the years 1850 to 1880 regarding the economic and social life in early California.

In the opening three chapters of the work, Cleland writes of California¡¦s economic background and discusses the first major land grants put into effect in 1784. According to Spanish laws, California land not mission-owned could only be distributed to inválidos, old presidio soldiers, according to their military service for the Spanish Crown. Circumstances drastically changed under the Mexican Republic, where the government quickly assumed their task of presenting land grants in great numbers, mostly in the hundreds, in contrary to the few thirty offered during Spanish rule. Starting with the Secularization Act of 1833, the Mexican Republic liberated the novice population and transformed missions into parishes that served its local residents. Cleland describes the increased growth of ranchos in the 1830s and 1840s and the causes of the critical blow to the old system from the Land Act of 1851. The author also stresses the social and political changes during the Mexican Era during the years between 1821 and 1848 that created further influences on Southern California land. One of the most significant events that occurred during this period was the secularization of Southern California¡¦s vast land holdings and the expansion of profitable trades. In 1846, a proclamation was issued that guaranteed Mexican citizens in California that "persons holding title to real estate or in quiet possession of lands under the color of right shall have their titles and rights guaranteed them.¡¨1

            The effects of the Federal Land Act of 1851 proved to be devastating in Southern California as many rancho owners faced poverty and deficiency in the pre-Gold Rush era due to costly legal actions that followed the act. Cleland illustrates life on the ranchos and he also portrays the great effect of numerous people rushing to settle in California during and after the great Gold Rush period. Cleland describes the abasements of American Indians after mission land secularizations in great detail. Paucity of investment and unstable interest rates persisted for countless years to dishearten economic activities. Throughout his book, Cleland offers his observations from various sources on life on the ranchos and fluxes in society. He documents the rise of the cattle boom as the gold mining business fashioned a rapid market for beef and the eventual disintegration of this sudden boom as the market declined with a tumble. Swarms of immigrants poured into California ¡§[increasing] the demand for beef and [caused] cattle prices [to soar].¡¨2 However, it was the ¡§enormous profits from the cattle trade led to the downfall of the Californios.¡¨3 Due to taxes, usurious interests, numerous droughts, and countless epidemics, the ranchos broke up. However, these events led the way towards a new economy that offered the hope of a new social and economic order as sheep raising became more profitable due to a great wool demand.

            In two of the eleven chapters of the work, Cleland also studies Governor Pedro Fages¡¦s, military governor of Alta California during early Spanish rule, and many others¡¦ land grants and also the ranchos era. According to the author, reasons for the small number of grants were due to the lack of interest of wanted applicants and also the existence of the missions. Abrupt increases in populations brought about outrageously high prices and evidently insatiable demands for cattle. Thus, this resulted in several cattle drives in Texas and many other areas and eventually led to the exhaustion of Southern California rancho herds. The rancheros often assumed obligations containing unnecessary interest charges and when the cattle boom came to its end abruptly, many rancheros faced inevitable bankruptcy. Destructive floods, never ending droughts, ever hungry grasshoppers, and various other blights forced their ways into the rancheros with disturbing results. Cattle owners often drove their animals ¡§overland to northern markets facing many hazards and dangers¡¨ where they encountered many problems including ¡§inclement weather, inefficient herdsmen, stampedes, great gelds of mustard seed where animals were lost, and the lack of grass.¡¨4

The latter part of the book includes a biography on Don Abel Stearns, a wealthy landholder in Southern California, and the end of an era. Following Stearns¡¦s movement through his life from the time he moved to Los Angeles when it was still a Mexican pueblo, a traditional community of Native Americans, from 1829 to his death in 1871, Cleland exemplifies Stearns¡¦s success as the biggest landholder and wealthiest man in Southern California and highlights his downfall caused by superfluous taxations. When California became an American state in 1849, Stearns had possession over a great amount of land in the area and attained even more land from his debt-laden neighbors after the cattle boom collapsed. He was recognized as ¡§the most important ranchero and land owner in the south.¡¨5 However, due to immense heavy taxes, Stearns ended up falling into the same trap of serious debts and very small profits. For the latter part of the book, Cleland discusses Stearns, who spent a great deal of his life in California which almost covered the period of time from the Mexican Independence all the way through the well-known Gold Rush and finally to the beginning of the Southern California of our time. Because of his connection with many of the most important families of the Spanish-Californians, including his marriage into the prominent Bandini family, one of the ¡§most influential rancheros and politicos in southern California,¡¨ and his once successful commerce relations with newcomers, Don Abel Stearns was considered a personification of this period of change.6

Although Cleland focuses his work on the Los Angeles area, the book is also a commentary on the troubles the entire state was subjected to. He describes Southern California in its conversion from a cattle frontier under previous Mexican rule and culture to an American agricultural community due to much industrial and urban development. His work is particularly informative on various matters including Indian depredations, cattle migration, murders and obstructions, disorder, and cautious deeds. Soon after the 1840s, the California mission system laid in ruins. Examining the effects of secularization, Cleland states that it "scattered the partly civilized neophytes like sheep without a shepherd."7 He asserts that it was the Federal Land Act of 1851 itself and also the federal actions pursuant to it that brought a large number of tribulations to California. Cleland claims that California history should be examined in a nationwide and even a worldwide perspective rather than in a strictly restricted setting.

Cleland affirms that "the Californians enjoyed a pastoral, patriarchal, almost Arcadian existence."8 Because of the 1861 floods that reached a degree "unknown to the oldest inhabitant," the cattle market collapsed and disappeared from Northern California, and the chapules romantic period came to a halt.9 By 1864, the majority of Spanish-Americans had already been forced to advertise their lands to meet daily living expenses and to pay ever rising taxes. Cleland states that "reduced by mounting debts and unpaid taxes to the condition of a 'devastated grain field,' the little that was left of their once lordly estates passed forever into alien hands."10 However, Cleland's views on California are rather indecisive. In one aspect, he regards California as a state that did not adhere to any standard or ordinary patterns while in another aspect, he believes it to be essentially a true slice of the United States.

Categorized under progressive historiography, Cleland¡¦s The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, Southern California, 1850-1880 stresses the importance of California as it was previously governed by three different authorities: Spanish, Mexican, and American. Progressive historians emphasize the variations among opposing classes, groups, and sections. In Cleland¡¦s case, the Spanish first had control over the California land and it was soon taken over by Mexicans. Later on, California became an American territory and then one of fifty united states. The American society is classified as an arena for opposing social and economic forces. At first, one gained control, then the other, and the cycle repeated itself as the two forces replaced one another. A dominant theme in progressive historiography was conflict. Noticeably distinct turning points marked the rise of one group and the overthrow of the other. California¡¦s occupation by three different countries caused it to receive many influences such as Spanish-speaking inhabitants called Californios. Much of California¡¦s culture is influenced by the Spanish and Mexico with rancheros, vaqueros, and rodeos. During that time ¡§life on the ranchos is described as a carryover en toto from the earlier regime, with techniques and vocabulary that would soon become the habits and lingo of the American cattlemen of the open range.¡¨11

Clifford M. Zierer, a professor emeritus of the University of California, Los Angeles, from the Geographical Review, compliments Cleland¡¦s work saying that ¡§extensive footnotes provide the inquisitive reader with supplementary information and references but leave the text uncluttered for the general reader.¡¨12 Cleland¡¦s work easy to understand, but at the same time contains a large amount of information because he utilizes ¡§numerous other manuscript materials and secondary sources¡Kfor descriptive details.¡¨13 Furthermore, ¡§the book should provide a stimulus to others interested in delving deeply into the history of an extraordinary area.¡¨14

John Walton Caughey, managing and associate editor of the Pacific Historical Review, from The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, reports that Cleland¡¦s book is especially informative on the various matters discussed in his writing. However, he claims that the ¡§printing is marred by an undue number of error in detail, none of which, however, alters the validity of the general picture presented.¡¨15 Caughey describes Cleland¡¦s book as ¡§without a peer as a broad, rich, specific, and authenticated description of southern California in transition.¡¨16 When compared to William B. Rice¡¦s, author of The Los Angeles Star, Cleland¡¦s writing is ¡§much more restricted as to topic and time span.¡¨17 However, it is agreed that the book deserves to be kept in print for everyone¡¦s use and interest.

Cleland¡¦s work is established in a distinguished clear and eloquent style. The book is particularly rich in topic suggestions for further investigations. It offers a much broader perspective of life in early California than most other books available to the public. Writing about the nineteenth century, Cleland incorporates critical insight into his research on California agricultural and economic development. His works concern the vivid and striking time period in Southern California history when the area ceased to exist as an isolated cattle frontier and began to exhibit the characteristics of an urban community. Cleland illustrates the transformation of numerous graze ranchos into ranches and settlements for immigrants. He intertwined the steady change of frontier hostility and insecurity by a stricter, but peaceable society, with the conversion of the supposed ¡§Cow Counties¡¨ after the Gold Rush to form the early stages of the Southern California people see today. At the end of the book, Cleland includes four appendices that exemplify the various phases of life of the described period and also nine pages of helpful index to aid readers in search of important information. The book holds the unique distinction of thorough and meticulous research, yet its style resembles the type that is easy to understand and enjoy. Both the author and publisher deserve high praise for this successful product of ripe research.

In 1833, during Governor José Figueroa's regime, secularization began. He instated a period of extensive rearrangement of mission lands. Following the United States conversion of California into an American territory, a great gold discovery in the central Sierra Nevada at Sutter's Mill in 1848 brought about one of the first major transformations in the area¡¦s settlement luck. This discovery led to the beginning of the California Gold Rush which had the most widespread impact on population growth of the state of any period of time. News of the discovery spread rapidly, galvanizing more than three hundred thousand men, women, and children from all over the country to embark on their journey to California determined to strike gold and become rich. At that time, mission lands were never settled in simple payment or for an eternity and could therefore be lawfully divided from its missions by order of proper authority. By 1850, California became a state. The frenzied period of the Gold Rush remained relatively short, lasting for only a couple of years, but it successfully ended California¡¦s seclusion from the rest of the United States. Robert Glass Cleland offers his perspective on the issue: "the new land policy was in fact so liberal that California governors issued fully seven hundred concessions...between the Secularization Act of 1833 and the American occupation thirteen years later."18

The California Gold Rush brought the whole world into California¡¦s hands. Due to the Gold Rush¡¦s immense attraction, numerous people traveled to California and in turn ¡§[created] an enormous and ever-expanding demand for beef¡¨ and raised cattle prices to alarming levels.19 California, a place where people could find wealth to reward their work and luck, was known as a place of new beginnings and became permanently connected to the Gold Rush and thus, the ¡§California Dream.¡¨ Years after the Gold Rush, the California Dream soon earned the name ¡§American Dream¡¨ as more than just Californians embraced it. It spread to the rest of the United States. The new transcontinental railroads permanently connected the state of California to the rest of the United States and the extensive transportation systems that developed out of the lines, including automobiles, during the following years contributed immensely to the state¡¦s matchless social, political, and economic progression.

The rapid speed of the California¡¦s settlement during the beginning years of statehood gave citizens very little time for the development of complete accounts about their experiences. Even though many pioneers wrote down each of their personal sequence of events and recollections during the years 1850 to 1880, the challenge of long historical pieces seemed difficult. Many important sources containing facts of California¡¦s development lie buried in hundreds of distinct sources and in deep records in places such as Spain, Mexico, and the United States. On the contrary, many Californians know California¡¦s early development very well and were apprehensive that a good record of this extraordinary development would be incomplete unless special efforts were made to document it. Cleland does an extraordinary job in making his book ¡§a broad, rich, specific, and authenticated description of southern California in transition¡¨ that would help others understand California¡¦s early history better.20

California is a place that had attracted the curious attention of numerous people around the world regardless of their nationalities. Not only has it beckoned interested tourists and immigrants to go there, it has caught the attention of a larger group of historians than any other state in the United States. The pioneer era during the years 1850 to 1890 saw the emergence of not only single, but multivolume histories that were mainly summaries of large amounts of facts. In order to better comprehend its tribulations, restrictions and achievements throughout the last half century is to realize the fundamental characteristics of American history as a whole.


1. Cleland, Robert Glass. The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California, 1850-1880. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1975. 35.

2. Cleland, Robert Glass 102.

3. Cleland, Robert Glass 102.

4. Cleland, Robert Glass 104-105.

5. Cleland, Robert Glass 197.

6. Cleland, Robert Glass 189.

7. Cleland, Robert Glass 22-23.

8. Cleland, Robert Glass 23.

9. Cleland, Robert Glass 130.

10. Cleland, Robert Glass 136-137.

11. Caughey, John Walton. Rev. of The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California , 1850-1880, by Robert Glass Cleland. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 38.3 (1951): 510-11. JSTOR. 22 May 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1889044> 511.

12. Zierer, Clifford M. Rev. of The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California , 1850-1870, by Robert Glass Cleland. Geographical Review 32.4 (1942): 697. JSTOR. 24 May 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/210021> 697.

13. Zierer, Clifford M. 697.

14. Zierer, Clifford M. 697.

15. Caughey, John Walton. Rev. of The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California , 1850-1880, by Robert Glass Cleland. The American Historical Review 47.3 (1942): 635. JSTOR. 22 May 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1840040> 635.

16. Caughey, John Walton 511.

17. Caughey, John Walton 511.

18. Cleland, Robert Glass 306-307.

19. Cleland, Robert Glass 102.

20. Caughey, John Walton 511.