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Mexican Colonization versus American Interests in Lower California

Author(s): Eugene Keith Chamberlin


Source: The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, (Feb., 1951), pp. 43-55
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3634475
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Mexican Colonization versus American Interests


in Lower California*
EUGENE

KEITH

CHAMBERLIN

[Eugene Keith Chamberlin


Missoula.]

is instructor

in history at Montana

State University,

THE FERMENTand fury of the Mexican Social Revolution

touched the

surface of Lower California lightly, but underneath the placid peninsular cover was the same discontent which erupted so violently on the
mainland. In the peninsula it was held in check by the scantiness of the
Mexican population and the cautious policies of Esteban Cantui, governor of the Northern District for almost six crucial years. With the
ending of Carranza'sregime, Cantu was forced out of his northwestern
stronghold by the victors in the Agua Prieta revolt and Lower California
was drawn slowly into closer relations with the rest of the Mexican
nation. In the three decades which followed Cantu's "abdication" the
old Lower California largely disappeared and a pair of nationalistic
territories emerged, almost entirely freed from foreign control. The
activities which brought about this transition are interesting in themselves, but they are even more striking when it is clear that they were
not entirely the result of accident; planned development, which sought
to minimize foreign influences, was the core of these activities for over
a third of a century. The key to this planning was the deliberate colonizing of the northern section of the peninsula by Mexicans to eliminate
American interests and to minimize American influences.
At the peak of American control in Lower California, about 1885,
little that was Mexican remained. Lands, mineral resources, culture,
population, orientation, and even the apparent destiny of the territory
were American. To try to make that destiny more certain there were
many blatant annexationists eager to cut the tie of Mexican sovereignty
and complete another "Texas cycle." Through failure of many mining
and "colonization" ventures and the ending of the orchilla dye industry,
American activity declined markedly by 1915. Even during this era
there were conspiracies and attempts by American and mixed groups to
wrest the peninsula from the feeble Mexican grasp. The most notorious
* A summary of this artice was read at the Seattle meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of
the American Historical Association in December, 1948.

[43]

44

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

of these, the "Socialist" invasion of 1911, came just as mainland rebels


were beginning their struggle to restore Mexico to native control; consequently, the harassed Diaz government was scarcely able to turn a part
of its forces against the invaders. Only the heroic defense of Colonel
Celso Vega and his small Mexican army, after almost five months of
intermittent fighting, ended the threat to Mexican sovereignty in Lower
California.1
The only significant American activity in the peninsula in 1911 was
in the new frontier of the Colorado River delta and the Mexicali rim
of the Imperial Valley. There one enterprise stood out conspicuously
because it nearly monopolized the region and by its policies appeared
to hold back development of the vast acreage under its control. This
was the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company, Mexican-chartered
subsidiary of the Colorado River Land Company directed by General
Harrison Gray Otis of Los Angeles and his son-in-law, Harry Chandler.
Otis' company owned 832,000 acres of land lying between the Sierra de
los Cocopahs and the Colorado River, and running from the head of the
Gulf of California to the right of way of the Inter-California Railroad.2
A large part of these lands, south of the "delta cone" especially, was
almost valueless, but what was left comprised about 700,000 acres on
which river waters might be used for irrigation.8 The company's lands
had been purchased from General Guillermo Andrade in 1900oo.
Andrade,
in turn, had obtained over one million acres in Lower California and
Sonora when the Colonia Lerdo hemp-growing project of 1874 collapsed.'
For several years the Otis company did little to develop its vast and
potentially productive empire, continuing Andrade's cattle-raising activities of the 188o'sand 18go's.Slowly it cleared brush from a few thousand
acres, leveled the land, and ran irrigation ditches from the main canals.
By 1908 only 6,935 acres were under irrigation while almost 150,000
were already being cultivated north of the international boundary in
the Imperial Valley where lands were not monopolized by a single com'A good account of this invasion is Peter Gerhard, "The Socialist Invasion of Baja California, 1911," Pacific Historical Review, XV (1946), 295-304. For the Mexican view, which
Gerhard presents in part, see R. Velasco Ceballos, iSe apoderard Estados Unidos de America
de Baja California? (Mexico, 1920).
a U. S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Mexican West Coast and Lower California (Special Agents Series #220, Washington, 1922), 306.
8
[Aurelio de Vivanco y Villegas], Baja California al dia; Lower California Up-to-Date
([Los Angeles, c. 1924]), 352.
4H. T. Cory, The Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink (ist edition, San Francisco, 1915),
1262; J. R. Southworth, El territorio de la Baja California, Mdxico, ilustrada ([San Francisco,
1899]), [29], 31; Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 283.

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

45

pany and where different developmental policies were followed. In 1913


about 32,000 Lower California acres were irrigated, in 1917 some 8o,00o,
and in 1922 around 160,000. In the American part of the valley, in
California, 446,525 acres were under cultivation by 1922.6

Not only was development of the Mexicali Valley tied to the slow
pace of the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company; it was also
held back by the company's reluctance to sell lands. Instead of selling,
Otis leased lands in tracts of from fifty to one thousand acres. The only
significant exception appears to have been the lease to Adolph M. Shenk
in 1921 which covered 12,000 acres." Rates for these leases ran from one

dollar per acre yearly for undeveloped land up to ten dollars an acre for
fully developed land. Taxes and other assessments totaled one dollar
and thirty cents an acre. Thus, the minimum rental of $115 for undeveloped fifty-acre tracts and $565 for those ready for cultivation kept
lands out of Mexican hands. Theoretically, a crop mortgage system,
with rental equaling from 15 to 25 per cent of the crop, allowed Mexicans
to secure holdings. However, the company clearly preferred to import
Chinese until 1917, for these Orientals formed cooperatives and developed virgin tracts at their own expense, thus bringing income for the
company through leases and saving it the huge expense of land development. By 1919, when the first large numbers of Mexican workers appeared, there were 5,000 Chinese farmers around Mexicali growing 80
per cent of the region's cotton, which was almost its only crop.7
In spite of undeniable advantages to this developmental system from
the company's viewpoint, it was dangerous to continue it for long in the
face of the rising "land and bread" movements during the later years of
the Diaz regime. Since the company made almost no concessions to this
nationalistic, revolutionary generation until forced to do so in the 1930's,
it remained for years as the symbol of "American oppression" in the
Northern District of Lower California. Thus, the term "American
interests" should normally be interpreted as "The California-Mexico
Land and Cattle Company," or the Otis-Chandler interests.
5 Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 282,
302, 303.
"Ibid., 308,
390. In addition, the company sold 16,000 acres near Hechicera to John Cudahy
of Chicago in 1912, which he used mainly for raising Duroc-Jersey hogs. (Ibid., 307, and New
York Times, April 1, 1919, p. 3).
7 Mexican West Coast and Lower California,
305-308. There were few other American holdings in the area at any time. The Southern Pacific Company, which took over the Lower
California properties of the pioneering California Development Company of 1899 after the
floods of 1905-1907, sold its lands as rapidly as possible and was not conspicuous outside of
its operation of the Inter-California Railroad. The Cudahy purchase of 1912, referred to
above, was almost insignificant in comparison with the Otis' properties.

46

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

During the critical days of the socialist invasion of 1911, when it appeared possible that Mexico might lose control of the peninsula, Provisional President De la Barra sent Major Esteban Cantfi to Mexicali
with an infantry company. Cantui found the town in the hands of a
private army raised by the Americans in the district who were intent
on protecting their properties at all costs. After disbanding the private
force, Cantii adopted a cautious policy of placating the Americans in an
obvious effort to prevent creation of an incident which might have led
to a call by Americans on both sides of the line for United States protective occupation of the area. It seems clear that Cantuiand others felt that
such occupation might end only with United States annexation.8
De la Barra and his contemporaries recognized that defense of the
peninsula suffered from the meagerness of the Mexican population.
Accordingly, he promised that as soon as the invasion was beaten back
he would send a commission to the territory to study methods of colonizing it with mainland Mexicans and of opening a railroad across the
Colorado to keep the new colonists in closer contact with the rest of the
republic.9This appears to have been the first official promise of eventual
Mexicanization.
The outbreak of widespread civil war on the mainland made it impossible for the national government to follow up the De la Barra
promise for many years. For a time various factions carried mainland
disturbances to the peninsula, but in 1914 Cantui's fellow officers accepted his leadership and ended the disorder. On January 15, 1915,
Cantuibegan his six-year "reign" as de facto civil and military governor
of the Northern District of Lower California.1
Canti's major accomplishment was to preserve Mexican sovereignty
over the peninsula during the Social Revolution. Twice he forestalled
possible United States occupation, during the Veracruz crisis of 1914
and the Pershing invasion later, by proclaiming his state neutral." His
high taxes temporarily alienated American interests2 but in time he won
8 Hector Gonzilez, "The Northern District of Lower California," in F. C. Farr, ed., The
History of Imperial County, California (Berkeley, 1918), 299-301.
9 El Correo de la Tarde (Mazatlan), 30 de junio, 1911, p. 8.
10Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 329; Gonzilez, op. cit., 304-308. Only after Carranza failed
in an attempt to oust Cantui, 1916-1917, did any mainland government accept his almost
autonomous regime. Harry Carr, "The Kingdom of Cantd; Why Lower California Is an
Oasis of Perfect Peace in Bloody Mexico," Sunset, XXXVIII (1917), 65-66; Morris M. Rathbun, "Facts about Lower California," The Mexican Review, I (1917), 9.
Carr., op. cit., 65-66; New York Times, June 19, 1916, p. 2.
2 Early in 1915, apparently as a direct result of Cantd's heavy export tax on cattle, Harry
Chandler became involved in an alleged conspiracy to oust the governor. This resulted in

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

47

the confidence and support of farmers on both sides of the boundary.


He kept taxes as low as possible by licensing gambling, commercialized
vice, and opium refining; although these activities drew fire from American moralists they made his government prosperous and stable until
late in 1920o.
In addition to the expense involved in maintaining order, Cantu's
programs of internal improvements were costly. He tried to make the
district attractive to Mexican settlers and even projected better communications with the mainland, but for several reasons was not able to
begin his railroad and seaport plans. However, his ideas became the basis
for the construction of the Sonora-Baja California Railroad which was
finally completed in April, 1948.1
Recurrent anti-Oriental agitation in California indirectly helped to
bring the first significant numbers of Mexican settlers to the peninsula.
Intermittently, Senator James Phelan accused Harry Chandler of trying
to sell company lands to Japanese investers, and the company finally
agreed to secure prior approval from the United States government
before completing such a sale.5 In the meantime, Cantu began to introduce mainland Mexicans, both as laborers and colonists, to reduce the
relative strength of Mexicali Valley Chinese. One contemporary Mexican
writer said that "many thousands"of these immigrants had been obtained
by 1918.18 Late in the following year, when Mexicans began to rebel
openly against Chinese workers, Cantu decreed a temporary end to
Oriental immigration.7
This anti-Chinese agitation and action forced American farmers to
accept Mexican workers for their expanding operations. Accordingly, in
February, '919, with the active participation of the California-Mexico
Land and Cattle Company, landholders formed the National Chamber
of Agriculture of the Northern District. During the next five years this
group brought in 24,000 mainland Mexicans as agricultural laborers,
a trial involving the Otis company, but late in the year the federal court in Los Angeles freed
all involved by a directed verdict of acquittal. New York Times, February 20, 1915, p. i;
March 30, 1915, p. 4; May 25, 1915, p. 9; Records of the United States District Court for the
Southern District of California, United States vs Harry Chandler, et al., No. 929-Crim.
13 Claire Kenamore, "The Principality of Cantu," The Bookman, XLVI
(1917), 25-28; Carr,
op. cit., 66-67; Rathbun, op. cit., 13; Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 252; San Francisco Examiner,
March 2, 1919, sect. 2, p. 6; San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 30, 1920, p. 4.
u Carr, op. cit., 33, 67; Rathbun, op. cit., 9; Gonzalez,
op. cit., 298; Vivanco y Villegas, op.
cit., 187; San Diego Union, January 14,9199, p. 1; January 19, 1919, p. 2.
1 New York Times, March 22, 1919, pp. 1, 3; April 1, 1919, p. 3.
16Gonzalez,
op. cit., 297.
17Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 193; San Francisco Examiner, September 15, 1919, p. i; September 19, 1919, p. 10.

48

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

guaranteeing them work for the entire year. However, then as now,
thousands slipped across into the Imperial Valley where pastures seemed
greener.'
Cantuiand his advisers recognized that Mexicans would be more likely
to remain in the territory if they could hope to obtain lands of their
own and escape peonage. This became especially evident when the Carranza government reported, incorrectly, that titles to the Otis held lands
were invalid and they were being retaken for redistribution.9 Once this
confusion had been overcome, Cantu tried to alleviate the rising discontent by resettling Mexicans from the United States on lands in the
Valle de las Palmas, east of Tijuana, in August and September, 1919.'
However, until Rodriguez Dam was completed during the Cirdenas era,
these lands were marginal for agriculture and the settlers were angry
because only a handful of Mexicans received Mexicali Valley lands even
by 1922.21 Since the era of expropriations was not yet at hand and Cantu
could scarcely alienate his American supporters by considering such a
step, the landless were dissatisfied. Consequently, the governor lost Mexican backing.2 During the Agua Prieta revolt Cantu remained loyal to
Carranzaand after Chinese, Mexicans, and Americans had deserted him,
De la Huerta was able to force him to resign, in September, 1920.
It is apparent from Mexican census figures for 1910 and 1921 that

Cantu's stable government was accompanied by a great increase in his


district's population. The town of Mexicali, with only 462 persons in
1910, became a small city of 6,782, and the total district population of
9,760 was raised to 23,537, a 240 per cent rise. The non-Mexicans included 400 Japanese, 3,000 Chinese, and 1,400 Americans. Analysis of

the origins of territorial population shows that the immigrants came


18 Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 193, 359-360.
19"Concessions of Lower California," The Mexican Review, III (1919), 30-34; New York
Times, April i, 1919, p. 3. The confusion apparently arose when the author of the above
article mistook the cancellation of the grant to the British-owned California (Mexico) Land
Company, Ltd., for the purchased tract of the Otis company, due to a similarity of names.
Diario Oficial, 4 de mayo, 1917, pp. 503-505.
20"Agricultural Colonies in Lower California," The Mexican Review, III (1919), 46; Vivanco
y Villegas, op. cit., 269; Gonzalez, op. cit., 298.
21
Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 307.
22Minority stockholders, alarmed at the unfavorable publicity the company was receiving
from Phelan's charges and from the rising clamor of the landless, demanded that Chandler
sell all Lower California properties as rapidly as possible. Chandler and the directors did not
consider the matter urgent and only promised to sell tracts as in Imperial Valley at some time
in the future. Though this small stockholder group was unable to force the directors to act
until the Mexican government began extensive colonization in the 1930's, their worst fears
were eventually realized and the company was doomed. Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 388-389;
Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 308.

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

49

mainly from Sonora and Sinaloa, and from the Southern District of the
territory." It is not likely that much of this increase took place until
anarchy was ended by Cantu late in 1914.
No revolutionary changes followed the ousting of Cantu. In fact, there
was little significant break with his plans and policies until 1935. Early
in 1921 President Obregon ordered the Secretary of Fomento to study
methods for "extensive colonization" of Mexicans in the territory and
for development of resources there to keep the colonists profitably
occupied so they would remain. This revived De la Barra's promise of
1911. In addition, he ordered construction of an all-Mexican railroad
from Magdalena, Sonora, to Ensenada, a project which originated, likewise, in the year of the socialist invasion. He decided that the road might
be built either by the government or by a private concessionaire, as
circumstances demanded.'
The Obregon government planned to build the railroad itself, but
stockpiling of materials proved too expensive. Therefore, in 1924 it
turned the task over to the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company
with a contract originally calling for completion of the first link, from
Mexicali to the head of the Gulf of California, by May, 1928. In return,
the company was to receive a ninety-nine-year operating lease. After
several changes of plans and time extensions, a total of only twenty-five
miles of track was completed by 1930 when the world depression forced
temporary abandonment of the project." Not until 1938 was it revived.
Since colonization depended directly upon the water supply, Obregon
had a commission study methods for its better use and development.
23Mxico, Secretaria de Fomento, Colonizaci6n e Industria, Direcci6n General de Estadistica,
Territorio de la Baja California (Mexico, 1913), 21; Mexico, Secretaria de la Economia
Nacional, Direcci6n General de Estadistica, Quinto censo de poblacidn, z5 de mayo, z93o: Baja
California, Distrito Norte, vol. I, tomo II (Mexico, 1933), 1.
24 Christian Science Monitor,
February 17, 1921, p. 4. The colonization survey was made,
though not at government expense, apparently. In 1924 was published the bilingual Baja
California al dia by Aurelio de Vivanco y Villegas, to which this article makes frequent reference. It is clearly the result of such a survey as ordered by Obreg6n.
25Andrew R. Boone, "Mexico's Land of Promise in the West," Current History, XXIX
(1929), 562-563; Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 390, 391, 410. Investigators of the railroad project
almost unanimously have ignored the underlying reasons for its construction in their amazement that it should ever have been considered without a larger population and greater
resources to assure an adequate revenue. Such evaluation in purely economic terms overlooks
the fact that the Mexican government intended that the railroad should primarily end
peninsular isolation. Certainly, when De la Barra first suggested it, there could scarcely have
been an economic motivation. Since Laguna District cotton monopolized the Mexican home
market and Mexicali cotton, and cattle, had to rely on export markets, it is difficult to see just
what economic motivation could have been behind the project even in the 1920'S. For contrary
views see: Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 329; Ronald L. Ives, "The Sonora
Railroad Project," Journal of Geography, XLVIII (1949), 197-206.

50

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

Under Governor Abelardo Rodriguez, in 1928, construction was begun


on the concrete and steel Rodriguez Dam southeast of Tijuana, with the
hope that it would be completed by 1930. At that time, however, the
dam was only half built and territorial funds were not available for
several years to finish it.'
Colonization was adversely affected by slow progress on the railroad,
dam, and other similar projects. It suffered, also, from Obregon's land
policies. Under Carranza faulty concession contracts from the Diaz era
had been canceled, and some lands had been turned over to new settlers
by Cantui.In his campaign to obtain United States recognition, Obregon
declared Carranza'sdecrees illegal and the old monopoly concessions in
the peninsula were partly restored, thus stopping land redistribution.
Until the Cardenasadministration, monopoly holdings and vested rights
were protected and colonization suffered."
Population did rise markedly in the decade, however, stimulated by
parasitical economic activities. These were mainly commercialized vice,
a legacy of the Cant6 period, and the mushrooming of saloons and liquor
stores as a result of the prohibition experiment in the United States.'
A contemporary investigator attributed the major population increase
for the twenty years after 1910 simply to "prohibition and cotton."'
Analysis seems to indicate that the cotton stimulus was strongest under
Cantii, during war years, while it was of minor importance in the 1920's
as the world cotton market declined. Thus, while population numbers
rose, reaching 48,327 by 1930," the newcomers had to depend increas-

ingly upon the far from wholesome parasitical activities along the border
for their livelihood. The influences existing there alarmed nationalistic
Mexicans who recognized that they were Americanizing the region.
During 1930 Mexicans had an opportunity to evaluate their position
in the peninsula, and the results were disturbing. Early in the year there
appeared in the United States Congress a rumor that the International
26 San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 1921, p. 4; New York Times, March 8, 1928, p. 41;
March 9, 1930, sect. III, p. 2; Vivanco y Villegas, op. cit., 255; Boone, op. cit., 560, 564.
27 Mexican West Coast and Lower California, 165, 307; Diario Oficial, 15 de abril, 1921, p.
1638.
28Late in the decade, Governor Rodriguez and American associates opened the Agua
Caliente Casino and Jockey Club, which continued very profitably until closed by Cardenas
in 1935. This and similar ventures served the same purpose as under Cant6: to supply capital
for other industries and for territorial government. San Diego Union, March 18, 1938, sect. I,
pp. 1, 2.
29 Peveril
Meigs, 3d, The Dominican Mission Frontier of Lower California (Berkeley, 1935),

162.
"8Quinto censo de poblacidn, vol. I, tomo II, 36, 37. Over 40,000 were Mexicans and 6,600 of

these had migrated from Sonora and Sinaloa.

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

51

Water Commission had recommended that the United States try to


purchase the peninsula. This was so widely publicized that the Department of State denied it officially,8 but many Mexicans felt that the old
annexation threat was growing stronger because the isolated peninsula
was coming increasingly under American influences through failure of
the Mexican government to take positive action to make it an integral
part of the nation. Juan Andreu Almazan, Secretaryof Communications,
visited the territory and reported that Mexico had to stop granting land
to foreigners and that all lands held by non-Mexicans should be retaken
as soon as possible. In August, President Ortiz Rubio agreed, but said
that Americans holding the better part of Lower California were secure
in their titles.2
Within six weeks, however, Almazan's proposals had won such widespread Mexican support that the president was forced to decree that the
peninsula would be Mexicanized. He told territorial governors to use
available funds to buy up foreign holdings, concentrating on those
owned by the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company. These were
to be colonized with Mexicans. Preference would be given to those willing to come back from the United States, where they might have learned
advanced farming methods, in return for loans which would help them
reestablish themselves on their native soil. No Orientals were wanted.
Only Mexican money was to circulate and all prices were to be quoted
in terms of the peso. All public signs were to be in Spanish, all parks
and plazas were to have Spanish names, and schools and clubs were
ordered to stress Mexicanization."
While Mexicans were still stirred up over these decrees, Senator
Ashurst of Arizona, for the fifth time since 1919, introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for the State Department to purchase Lower
California and part of Sonora from Mexico.' Mexicans at first simply
ridiculed the proposal, with some pointing out that only a foolish person
like Ashurst would think that Mexico would sell a rich province "to a
dreaded foreign country" simply because she needed money. Others
shouted "imperialism!"8 Showing a new trend of thought, the American
press, which in large part had welcomed Ashurst's original resolution,
81New York Times, July 27, 1930, sect. I, 15. James Morton Callahan, American Foreign
Policy in Mexican Relations (New York, 1932), 16o, points out the misinterpretation which
gave rise to the rumor.
82New York Times, August 8, 1930, p. 25.
S- New York Times, September 21, 1930, sect. II, 8; January 11, 1931, sect. IX, p. i.
84Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 3d sess., S. Res. 387, p. 1363.
85 New York Times, January 7, 1931, p. 16; January 8, 1931, p. 14; January 9, 1931, p. 25.

52

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

condemned his most recent outburst and asked President Hoover to


repudiate it to preserve Mexican-American friendship."
Almazan kept agitation alive in Mexico by declaring:
The most elementarynotion of patriotismwarnsus that we must build roads,
no matter at what cost. To oppose such works,arguing that these are hard
times, and that it is a poor commercialinvestment because trade does not
justify it, shows, in my opinion, an utter disregardof the very real and immediatedangerof a new mutilationof the Fatherland.
La Opinion of Torre6n asserted that Lower California had been held
back too long by its territorial status, and insisted that roads, statehood,
and cancellation of old land grants would bring a heavier Mexican
population which alone would bind the peninsula closer to the nation."
However, the fact of the depression could not yet be swept aside by
good intentions and propaganda, and for several years more peninsular
affairs continued to disturb Mexican nationalists. Late in 1931 several
landless Mexicans became impatient and twenty-eight of them moved
onto the one-and-one-half-million-acre Circle Bar Ranch of George
Moore at Ojos Negros, disarmed his vaqueros, and ordered them to leave
the property. Others occupied ranches owned or leased by two southern
Californians, Ross Neal and C. N. Carr.When John Smale, United States
Consul at Ensenada, protested this activity a small troop of soldiers was
sent to evict the squatters, many of whom presumably were sent to the
Tres Marias penal colony.8 Likewise, the protest of Governor Ruperto
Garcia de Alba, in December, that Mexicans were forced, in their own
nation, "to sell their labor to Americans, Japanese, and Chinese" was
futile. Americanization could only be ended, as he said, by getting rid
of foreign control of Lower California,9 but Mexico could not yet find
the money or the means to end this situation.
With the repeal of the prohibition amendment at the end of 1933
Lower California gamblers seemed to believe that their position was
more secure than ever. They knew how heavily Mexicans relied on their
operations for a living and how necessary their license fees and tax payments appeared to the territorial treasury. However, on July 20, 1935,
President Cardenas ordered all gambling stopped, and through use of
86"Ashurst's
Folly," Outlook and Independent, CLVII (1931), 87; New York Times, January
11, 1931, sect. IX, p. 2; San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 1931, p. 24.
37"Mexico Registers 'No Sale' of Lower California," Literary Digest, CVIII (1931), 13.
88San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 1931, p. i; Gabino Vizquez, The Agrarian Reform
in Lower California ([Mexico, 1937]), 4-5.
89New York Times, December io, 1931, p. 2.

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

53

federal troops the decree was enforced.'0Almost at once hundreds of


Mexicans were thrown into the already seething mass of territorial unemployed. According to one Pacific Coast observer, the twin shocks of
prohibition repeal and the ending of gambling forced almost 35,000
Mexicans to leave the territory by the end of 1935.41This may be an

exaggeration, but it is very likely that these two measures temporarily


worked against further Mexican colonizing of Lower California.
As unemployment and discontent mounted, American annexationists
tried to capitalize upon them by urging Mexico to sell out to the United
States. One writer suggested, without proof, that Harry Chandler, whose
holdings were again the focal point of agrarista propaganda, was a main
supporter of these resolutions.2
Cardenas did not intend that territorial stagnation should continue.
Quietly, on April 14, 1936, he arranged a contract with stockholders of

the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company for disposal of all


company properties in Lower California. Under this agreement, Mexicans were allowed to buy farms of between 50 and 150 hectares each.'4
On September 28 the president told Mexicans in detail what he intended to do for the isolated and underdeveloped territories of Lower
California and Quintana Roo. He repeated all of the old promises: heavy
Mexican colonization, largely with repatriates from the United States,
development of new economic activities to support the colonists, and
construction of transportation lines to help develop racial and cultural
unity between them and mainland Mexicans, and to bring in territorial
products sorely needed by the nation. To achieve these goals, and others
which he added, Cardenas warned the nation it would have to end
periodic political instability. In his administration only a start could be
made; through peaceful succession to power, future presidents could
complete the program."
An immediate effect of the address was to intensify agrarian demands
for rapid liquidation of American-owned lands. Under this pressure,
CArdenasauthorized expropriation of large tracts from the California40San Diego Union, February 23, 1937, p. 1; February 24, 1937, p. 2; March 2, 1937, p. 2;
March 5, 1937, p. 6; March 8, 1937, sect. II, 1.
41
Forrest Shreve, "The Human Ecology of Baja California," Yearbook of the Association of
Pacific Coast Geographers, I (1935), 9-13.
42
Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 2d sess., H. Con. Res. 52, p. 8278; New York Times,
November 15, 1936, sect. XII, 7. Other resolutions and propaganda in favor of them followed
in 1938 and 1939.
43
San Diego Union, March 17, 1937, p. 4.
44
Mxico, Presidente (CArdenas),El problema de los territorios federales, un llamamiento al
patriotismo y al sentido de responsabilidad del pueblo mexicano (Mexico, [1936]), 3-5.

54

PACIFIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

Mexico Land and Cattle Company's properties and from the Circle Bar
Ranch. These were to be divided as ejidos among villages in existence
before signing of the April 14 contract. Expropriation stimulated sales,
for it made clear that leisurely disposal of the properties might be
disastrousfor American interests. To encourage forced sales, the National
Bank of Ejidal Credit loaned one million pesos to cooperative farmers
in the Mexicali Valley.'
In view of the temporary character of previous Mexicanization proposals there was naturally some hesitation among Americans in accepting
the Cardenasmeasuresas permanent. Accordingly, some tried to dissuade
Mexicans from aiding the ejido program by telling those who had purchased lands under the 1936 contract that it was likely that their lands
would be expropriated, too. After an investigation by Dr. Gabino
Vazquez, director of the Agrarian Department, Cardenas declared publicly that all those holding less than 150 hectares would be allowed to
keep their lands. Since almost two hundred new colonists were affected
by the decree the resettlement program obtained increased support.'
By the end of 1937, some 97,121 hectares of formerly American-held

lands had been redistributed among 4,389 families in thirty-eight ejidos,


but several hundred colonial families were still landless. However, the
battle was already won, for many landowners had begun to give up lands
voluntarily and some had even helped finance a start for groups of the
new Mexican settlers. Including ejidos and private sales to small holders,
268,000 acres had been removed from American ownership.'4The days
of the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company's monopoly were
ended and the territory was increasingly opened to Mexican colonists.
By February, 1938, one Arizona Congressman was declaring angrily
that the ejido system had been "transplanted from Russia" and that the
entire financial strength of the Mexican government seemed to be concentrated on the Colorado River delta. He feared, so he said, that Mexicans would secure too much water from the river and hold back American
development north of the line.' His worries over distribution of river
waters had been anticipated by CArdenasin 1936 when he had ordered
the Secretary of Foreign Relations to secure a clear-cut treaty with the
United States so Mexico might know just where she stood in planning
45San Diego Union, March 15, 1937, p. 2; March 17, 1937, p. 4; Frederick Simpich, "Baja
California Wakes Up," National Geographic Magazine, LXXXII (1942), 255.
6
VAzquez, op. cit., 3-8.
47
Vazquez, op. cit., 9-13.
s San Diego Union, February 26, 1938, sect. I, 1.

MEXICO VERSUS THE U. S. IN LOWER CALIFORNIA

55

development of her Lower California lands." Though this treaty was


held up by the war of 1941-1945, and by protests from Californians and

Arizonans, it was finally ratified on November 8, 1945. Under it Mexico


was guaranteed 1,500,000

acre feet of water annually, enough to allow

considerable expansion of the cultivated acreage in the peninsula.6


As a result of the determination of Mexico to end the American hold
on the peninsula, a programwhich was undoubtedly aided by the contemporaryAmerican "good neighbor" policy, territorial population climbed
rapidly during the Cardenas regime. By 1940 there were 78,907 settlers

in the Northern Territory, and 77,509 were Mexican citizens. Only


12,600 of these were new immigrants, for a large part of the increase
reflected increasing peninsular stability. With nearly a balance between
male and female settlers and several thousand children born in the territory in the decade, permanent Mexican control of Lower California
seemed assured.5
Cardenas, Avila Camacho, and Aleman continued construction work
on the Sonora-LowerCalifornia railroad project in the face of difficulties
far greater than De la Barra or Cantu could ever have visualized. On
Its completion opened a
April 7, 1948, it was finally opened to traffic.62
new era for territorial Mexicans. They had at last their visible allMexican connection with the mainland and the assurance that as their
economy prospered the nation would benefit, too. Crops grown on Mexican farms under Mexican wage and price levels could be shipped to
home markets with some chance for profit. There was the prospect, so
long but a dim hope, that as territorial numbers rose, statehood for the
once "useless" territory would become a certainty, and Lower Californians have not been slow in demanding that this final recognition
be given as a reward for their achievements.5 If the federal census of
June 6, 1950, is substantially correct, showing a population of 83,664 in
Mexicali and 141,189 in the valley, alone,' they may not have long
to wait.
49 CArdenas,
op. cit., 17-18.
50Colorado River Board of California, California's Stake in the Colorado River (Sacramento,
1948), 19-22.
61M6xico, Secretaria de la Economia Nacional, Direcci6n General de Estadistica, Resumen
general, sexto censo de poblacion, I940 (Mexico, 1943), 1, 8-1o.
52 San
Diego Union, April 8, 1948, sect. II, 1.
3 San Diego Union, April 9, 1948, sect. II, i; April 11, 1948, sect. I, pp. 1 and A; April 12,
1948, sect. I, 3.
" San
Diego Union, June o1, 1950, sect. A, p. 3. In view of the hard times in the interior of
Mexico, it is likely that many thousands of these Mexicans were agricultural workers who had
gone north in the hope of slipping into the United States to make a quick fortune at prevailing
American wage rates.