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San José del Cabo - History

San José del Cabo History

Baja California was occupied by humanity as long as 10,000 years ago, a fact attested to by radiocarbon-dated shell middens and locally unearthed stone tools. These native peoples occupied themselves with the usual hunter-gatherer activities and also created many stunning petroglyphs and cave paintings in remote 'galleries' all over the peninsula. The first European arrived in 1534 in the guise of a Spanish mutineer, followed a year later by conquistador Hernán Cortés, who a decade earlier had claimed mainland Mexico and now saw Baja as the next unopened treasure chest. Cortés returned to Spain without his hoped-for nest egg six years later, complaining loudly (and somewhat ironically) about the hostility of the Indians and the harshness of the landscape, but other Spanish explorers quickly took up where he left off.

The assorted tribes belonging to the peninsula's three main linguistic groups - the Yumano, Cochimí and Guaycura, the latter occupying the cape region - managed to weather the early years of European contact, including the Spaniards' attempts at widespread colonisation and their well-bred Continental germs, but they were no match for the fervour of the Jesuit missionaries who arrived in the late-17th century and within 70 years had established two-dozen permanent missions. The Jesuits unfortunately also managed to introduce the tribes to European microbes against which they had no resistance and by the end of the missionary period in 1767, the Indian population had plummeted by 80% from pre-Christianity numbers to less than 8000 - in the Los Cabos region, this meant the decimation of local Pericú Indian numbers.

Before a permanent settlement was established at San José del Cabo, the area was used as a base camp by pirates who raided Spanish boats offshore, but the creation of a military post at Cabo San Lucas put an end to this buccaneering enterprise and made the area safe for new endeavours. The town was inaugurated as a mission by Jesuits in 1730 and eventually developed into a fishing village. The 19th century saw Mexico gain its independence from Spain (1821) and the ravages of the Mexican-American War (1846-48), when US troops occupied the area around San José del Cabo. At the war's resolution, Baja (Lower) California remained under Mexican control but Alta (Upper) California had become a new US state.

Five years after the Mexican-American War, an aspiring American dictator called William Walker also occupied the southern end of the peninsula in an attempt to establish the Republic of Lower California, ostensibly a new US state under his control. But any form of American colonisation was successfully resisted until after WWII, when US pilots regaled anyone back home who would listen with stories of the perfect weather and hauls of big fish just waiting to be discovered on the Baja Peninsula - the modern-day tourism industry was thereby christened.

The region's first resort was built at La Paz in 1948 by a group of wealthy American actors who included Bing Crosby and John Wayne, followed eight years later by the opening of the still-operational Hotel Palmilla on a site 3.5km (2mi) south of San José del Cabo and then by the town's international airport in 1986.

San José del Cabo is today the gateway to the most developed and heavily patronised stretch of coast on the peninsula. The town itself, however, has managed to hold on to many of the features that drew the tourists here in the first place - narrow streets, Spanish-style buildings and shady plazas. In recent years, grandiose plans for a yacht marina at the outlet of the ecologically sensitive Arroyo San José fizzled because of local opposition.

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