Boats Buccaneers

The peninsula became important in other ways - in particular, as a stopping point for trade ships between Mexico and the Philippines. For 250 years, starting in 1565, these 'Manila galleons' traveled west from Acapulco across the Pacific to Manila, where they loaded up on Asian luxuries. The bloated vessels then embarked on their arduous six- to eight-month return to Mexico. After crossing the Pacific, the crew were often out of water and starved of food. Because the Baja Peninsula was the first land, the Spanish sought (for years in vain) to establish some sort of permanent harbor in the southern cape.

Creating a settlement on the peninsula to re-equip the crew became even more crucial after bounty-hungry buccaneers caught wind of the seaborne riches and started to attack the overloaded vessels. Sir Francis Drake was among the first to stage these raids. Many other pirates, mostly from England and the Netherlands, followed suit. The Spaniards tried to hide from the marauders by seeking shelter in the bays of the Cape Region, but they were still outfoxed. In the biggest attack ever, in November 1587, Englishman Thomas Cavendish lay in wait at Cabo San Lucas, then sacked the prize galleon Santa Ana in a surprise attack.

Meanwhile, a desperate Spanish crown dispatched a skilled admiral, Sebastián Vizcaíno (after whom a major bay and a large desert in Central Baja were later named), to look for alternative sites to stop the riches

Written by the peninsula's premier historian, Harry Crosby, Last of the Californios is out of print but an absolute must for California history buffs, Baja fans and bibliophiles.

The infamous pirates Thomas Cavendish and Sir Francis Drake both plied the waters off Cabo San Lucas in their search for the Manila galleons' booty.

For a peek into piracy and the Manila galleons, peruse Peter Gerhard's succinct and readable Pirates of the Pacific, 1575-1742.


English privateer Thomas Cavendish sacks Spain's Manila galleon, Santa Ana, in surprise attack from Cabo San Lucas


Jesuit missionaries make their first incursion into Baja California, beginning nearly 100 years of mission building along the peninsula

© Lonely Planet Publications


In late Spanish colonial times, the general term 'California' meant Baja California (Lower California), and the present US state of California - then a backwater - became known as Alta California (Upper California). Rather than use the latter term, an anachronism except in its historical context, this chapter uses the more appropriate (if not precisely accurate) term 'mainland California' to refer to areas north of the Mexican border.

Use of the abbreviated 'Baja' - rather than 'Baja California' - to describe the peninsula became popular among folks north of the border, largely as a result of the Baja 1000 (the peninsula's world famous off-road race from Ensenada to La Paz). Many native bajacalifornianos wince at the term 'Baja' (which means low or under) when used alone to describe the original California. You're asking for flack from an immigration official if you write 'Baja' in the destination section of your tourist card. Use the more appropriate Baja California (the name of the peninsula's northern state) or Baja California Sur (the name of the southern state).

When necessary for clarity, this book refers to the individual states as Baja California (Norte) and Baja California Sur.

from falling into enemy hands. Although he never found a site that would safely harbor the Spanish galleons, he did finally land in a sheltered bay on the Sea of Cortez that would serve as an excellent port; he named the place La Paz.

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