CALIFORNIA, LOWER (Baja California), a long narrow peninsula between the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean, forming a territory of the republic of Mexico. Pop. (1895), 42,245; (1900) 47,624. Lower California is a southward extension of the State of California, United States, and is touched by only one of the Mexican states, that of Sonora on the E. The peninsula is about 760 m. long and from 30 to 150 m. wide, and has an area of 58,328 sq. m. It is traversed throughout its entire length by an irregular range of barren mountains, which slopes toward the Pacific in a succession of low hills, but breaks down abruptly toward the Gulf. The coast has two or three good sheltered bays, that of La Paz on the Gulf side and of Magdalena on the Pacific side being best known. The coast is bordered by numerous islands, especially on the eastern side. The general appearance of the surface is arid and desolate, partly because of the volcanic remains, and partly because of the scanty rainfall, which is insufficient to support vegetation other than that of the desert except in the deeper mountain valleys. The northern part is hot and dry, like southern California, but the southern part receives more rain and has some fertile tracts, with a mild and pleasant climate. The principal natural product in this region is orchil, or Spanish moss, but by means of irrigation the soil produces a considerable variety of products, including sugar cane, cotton, cassava, cereals, tobacco and grapes. Horses, sheep and cattle are raised in the fertile valleys, but only to a limited extent. The territory is rich in minerals, among which are gold, silver, copper, lead, gypsum, coal and salt. The silver mines near La Paz were worked by the Jesuits as early as 1700. There are also extensive pearl fisheries in the Gulf, La Paz being the headquarters of the industry, and whale fisheries on the W. coast in the vicinity of Magdalena Bay. The development of mining and other industries in the territory has led to an extension of the California railway system southward into the peninsula, with the Mexican government’s permission, the first section of 37 m. from the northern frontier being completed and opened to traffic in 1907. The territory is divided into two districts, the northern having its capital at the insignificant little village of La Ensenada, on Todos Santos Bay, and the southern having its capital at La Paz, at the head of a deep bay opening into the Gulf. La Paz is a port of call for steamships running between Mazatlan and San Francisco, and had a population of 5056 in 1900. La Ensenada (pop. in 1906, about 1500), 65 m. by sea S. of San Diego, Cal., is the only port for the northern part of the territory, and supplies a district extending 250 m. along the coast and 60 m. inland, including the mining camps of the north; it manufactures and exports flour and leather.
By orders of Cortés the coast of Lower California was explored in 1539 by Francisco de Ulloa, but no settlement resulted. It was called California, the name (according to E. E. Hale) being derived from a popular Spanish romance of that time, entitled Sergas de Esplandian, in which an island named California was mentioned and situated “on the right hand of the Indies, very near the terrestrial paradise.” The name must have been given derisively, as the barren coasts of Lower California could not have suggested the proximity of a “terrestrial paradise.” The exploration of the coast did not extend above the peninsula until 1842. The name California was at first applied exclusively to the peninsula; later, on the supposition that a strait connected the Pacific with the head of the Gulf of California, the name Islas Californias was frequently used. This erroneous theory was held as late as 1721. The first settlement was made in 1597, but was abandoned. From 1633 to 1683 five unsuccessful attempts were made to establish a settlement at La Paz. Finally the Jesuits succeeded in founding a mission at Loreto on the Gulf coast, in about 26° N. lat., in 1697, and at La Paz in 1720. At the time of their expulsion (1767) they had sixteen missions which were either self-supporting or were maintained by funds invested for that special purpose. The settlement of Upper California began in 1769, after which the two provinces were distinguished as California Baja or Antigua, and California Alta, the seat of government remaining in the former for a short time. The two provinces were separated in 1804, were united under one governor residing in California Alta in 1825, and were then reunited in a single department through the political changes of 1836, which lasted no later than 1847. Lower California was only slightly disturbed by the struggle for independence among the Spanish-American colonies, but in 1822 Admiral Lord Cochrane, who was in the service of the Chilean revolutionists, appeared on the coast and plundered San José del Cabo, Todos Santos and Loreto. In the war between Mexico and the United States La Paz and other coast towns were occupied by small detachments from California. In 1853 a filibustering expedition against Sonora under William Walker took possession of La Paz and proclaimed a republic consisting of Sonora and the peninsula. Fearing an attack from the mainland, the filibusters first withdrew to La Ensenada, near the American frontier, and then in the following year broke up altogether during an attempt to invade Sonora by land. A revolution under the leadership of Marquez de Leon in 1879 met with some temporary success, but died for want of material support in 1880. The development of mining and other industries since that time, together with vigorous efforts to found colonies in the more favoured localities, have greatly improved the situation in the territory.
See the two volumes of H. H. Bancroft’s North Mexican States and Texas, lettered vols. 15 and 16 of his Works; also Arthur Walbridge North, The Mother of California (San Francisco, 1908).