California by Kevin Star: Chapter 1, Queen Califia’s Island

california (1)C.J. and I have set a few retirement goals.  We’re hoping to sell our current property and move to the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada Foothills in five to ten years time.   Once there, it looks like we’ll be able to live modestly, but there probably won’t be lots of travel in our old age.  This is fine with us.

Years ago I read that there are two kinds of folks–those who travel the world and meet interesting people and those who stay in one place and become interesting people.  We hope to be the latter.

Both of us love history and both of us have fallen for Gold Rush history.  So our goal is to move to a Gold Rush town, join the local historical society, become experts on local history, and lead guided walks for all the tourists.   We think it would be fun and maybe we could make a little pen money on tips.

To that end, we have started studying California history.  The guy on California history is Kevin Starr, former state librarian and professor of history at UCLA.  Mr. Starr has a six or seven book series on the history of California, but we’re starting with his single volume, California, which covers the highlights in just over 300 pages.

California is written in a breezy style that makes for entertaining, easy reading–history for those who don’t like history.   It’s clear from the opening pages that Mr. Starr is a big fan of California.  Clearly, he loves the place which  makes him a terrific person to lead the guided tour even if you’re just here for the wine and cheese with no intention of actually buying a time-share.

I thought it would be fun to do a post for each chapter, so that’s what I’m going to do.  This new blog of mine is really dedicated to my own amusement, so here goes.

Chapter one: Queen Califia’s Island.

I’ve long known that California was named after a mythical Amazonian Queen but I didn’t now that she was the invention of a 16th century Spanish author…

Garci Ordonez de Montalvo’s Las Sergas de Esplandian (The Deeds of Esplandian) chronicled the exploits of Esplandian…at the siege of Constantinople.  Among Esplandian’s allies at the siege were the Californians, a race of black Amazons under the command of Queen Calafia.

Queen Califia  left her homeland, an island east of the Indies abounding in gold and precious stones, and took her army of griffin riding Amazons armed with golden weapons across the oceans to defeat the Turks.

Montalvo’s novel was the biggest selling book in Spain prior to the publication of Don Quixote which eclipsed it.  When early Spanish explorers found what became Lower or Baja California, they thought they had found an island.  It’s location led them to believe they had found the legendary home of Queen Califia’s Amazons, California, making California the only state in the union to be named after a black woman, let alone a fictional Amazonian queen.  If only we could have put her on the state flag, riding her griffon, wielding a spear made of gold.   Though I do like the bear that would have been a very cool flag.

C.J. and I been collecting California memorabilia for many years now, but not in any kind of organized fashion.  However, I was inspired by a trip to Sacramento last year where we visited the state history museum which is next to the railroad museum.  Both are very good, but the state history museum had a wall of fruit crate labels which got me thinking about building a collection of them.  You can still get really good ones for under ten dollars so they certainly fit our budget.  I’ve been adding one a month to my collection ever since. King Pelican is the one I got this month.

I’ll feature another crate label next chapter.  They don’t have anything to do with the book, really, but remember what I said about keeping this blog for my own amusement….





6 thoughts on “California by Kevin Star: Chapter 1, Queen Califia’s Island

  1. Love that you’re setting retirement goals. I’m a few years older than you and am finally starting to believe it might actually happen one day.

    The King Pelican crate label is awesome!

  2. Love the King Pelican label and do hope you’ll put more labels up on your blog. I also love the fact that you say that your blog is for your own amusement, a mistake I made early on about my own blog trying to keep up with others. Now I don’t care, I do my own thing. I am enjoying your California history very much and find it fascinating it was named after an Amazonian black woman. I am now taking an interest in history in my retirement because I never had time to do it when I worked full time and it’s great to hear about any history, anywhere in the world. I haven’t streamlined it yet to anywhere particular. I want to know it all ! My sister lives just north of California in Novato and I get back to visit her every year or two. I’ll have more appreciation for California knowing now what I do and she doesn’t ! haha Keep up the interesting posts.

    1. I work in Novato! I plan on running one crate label with each chapter of “California” until I run out of labels. I’m enjoying collecting them, one per month, and am having a great time become an “expert” on local history.

      I say, blog for fun!!!

      1. That is so crazy you work in Novato. For some reason I thought you were farther south. Maybe I’ve walked right past you and don’t know it. Loving the labels and look forward to more. Pam

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