American History You Never Knew - Spain Claimed British Columbia, Washington, and Arizona

Anchorage, Alaska could have come under Spanish rule, but the explorers left. Some of the Russians stayed.
Anchorage, Alaska could have come under Spanish rule, but the explorers left. Some of the Russians stayed.

Mexican Alaska?

In the 2010s, the history of New Spain, Mexico, and the United States is still unfolding. Additional information garnered regularly from newly discovered historical and genealogical records, the oral histories within families, and the unsealing of classified files. Other sources may be found as well.

After some of the types of information listed above are discovered, sometimes years pass before the general public hears of it. For Instance, the recent recognition of the Women's Air Service Pilots and the starvation-process experiments designed to bring back starving peoples in Europe from death's door post WWII - headed by Dr. Ancel Keys, who developed the K ration. Or for instance...

  • The real Zorro fought for Mexican Independance and was Irish; and 
  • New Spain and Mexico laid claim to the entire west coast of what is now America, all the way up through what is now Alaska, owned by Russia, and up the Canadian coastline until the 19th Century, in 1819.

The Pacific Northwest of Canada and America

New Spain claimed the Pacific Northwest in 1493 (by a papal buil) in what is now both USA and British Columbia, Canada. Its settlement of these areas was sparse and no permanent settlements seem in evidence, but much surveying by men form New Spain was accomplished.

Spanish naming of certain parts of BC is clearly evident today: the Strait of Juan De Fuca between Washington State and Vancouver Island, for instance; towns called Valdez and Cordova; Lopez Island, Malaspina Glacier, Revillagigedo Island, Bocas de Quadra, and other natural features of geography.

Final North American Expeditions

New Spain was concerned by Russian fur traders trespassing on Spanish property in the Pacific Northwest from around 1750 - 1799. This would place the time and place of the last Spanish exploration in North America in Alaska and BC in the latter 18th Century. In the same era, Britisher James Cook was exploring the Pacific Northwest and New Spain considered this additional trespassing. New Spain then set out to quell the Russians and the British.

To protect its northwest lands, New Spain sent several ships up the coast from 1774 and 1793, when America was fighting is Revolutionary War and creating the New Nation. New Spain formed a settlement at Nootka Sound twice between 1788 - 1790 to prevent the Russians and the British from claiming it. New Spain held their position of ownership throughout the region until withdrawing and ceding their lands to the USA in 1819. Canadian history of British Columbia speaks of the Anglo-Spanish War and BC under servey and some occupation by the Spanish Empire, thus the Pacfic Northwest sees the site of final North American exploration and settlement by New Spain. This would include Oregon, Washington State, particularly the Columbia River, BC and BC's Vancouver Island (George Vancouver was trhe British representative in treaty discussions in Nootka Sound), and the islands and waters between Washington and BC up to 1819.

The question asked by avaperry was "What was the last part of New Spain to be settled by the Europeans? Was it New Mexico, Mexico, California, or Georgia?" I would have to answer that the Pacific Northwest was the final part of New Spain to be settled, though temporarily, but certainly later in the 18th Century than the American Southwest and South and California; and most recent of all, extending into the 19th Century. The Pacific Northwest was last (mid-1700s to 1819) and the Caribbean islands were first (beginning 1492).

Extensive histories of the Spanish Empire and Canada are available in local public and university libraries and will provide more details.

Arizona: New Spain Land Grant, 1898 - Last Settlement?

Map of the Peralta land grant in Arizona, produced in 1898 to renew land claims.
Map of the Peralta land grant in Arizona, produced in 1898 to renew land claims.

Don James Addison Peralta-Reavis: 1880s - 1890s

Cover of 1st issue serial "Peralta Reavis Real Life Illustrated"; 7/5/1900. Only the 1st issue was published. (public domain)
Cover of 1st issue serial "Peralta Reavis Real Life Illustrated"; 7/5/1900. Only the 1st issue was published. (public domain)

The Baron of Arizona

In 1950, Vincent Price starred in a historical/historical fiction feature film entitled The Baron of Arizona. This movie is based on a true story of the aftermath of New Spain's rule and its land grants in the American Southwest, written and directed by Sam Fuller, with research and writing contributions by Homer Croy.

Because a successful land grant fraud allowed an American with a Spanish title to hold the entire Arizona Territory as his own property from the 1880s until the late 1890s, via a land grant from New Spain, then Arizona can also be considered indirectly as a final settlement of New Spain.

SUMMARY

In the 1800s, US Federal Government recognized the land grants made to individuals under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when the American Southwest was under the rule of New Spanish. American James Reavis (Vincent Price) decides to forge a paper trail of historical evidence to create a back-story for declaring an adopted orphan girl (Ellen Drew) to be the Baroness of Arizona. He then marries the young woman and claims the whole of the Arizona Territory as their own.

Reavis spent many years in perfecting his forgeries. Meanwhile he hired a governess to educate the orphan girl and train her to behave as would the Spanish aristocracy. He goes so far as to invent deceased parents that could be traced to a legendary Spanish noble. He learned calligraphy and joined a monastery in Spain for a few years in order to be able to erase historical records and rewrite them to his liking - particularly land grant records.

He leaves there and joins a group of gypsies that have some access to the library of a Spanish noble, where he changes additional land grant documents. He eventually gains Arizona for himself by these deceptions and collects sizebale rents from railroads and other companies and indidivuals as late as the 1880s and 1890s.

I caught this film in passing, on a classic movie station a few weeks ago, and was happy to have seen it. Sam Fuller did several historical films and had a desktop full of additional stories that he could not acquire funding to direct. One other film he successfully completed highlighted the construction of the Statue of Liberty; Park Row.

Fuller's research for The Baron of Arizona was well done, but not all of it could be put into the film --

James Addison Reavis (1843-1914) was a soldier of the Confederacy (switching to the Union when the South began losing) during the American Civil War. His wife and he collected millins of dollars as late as the 1890s, toured Europe, and were accepted by European heads of state.

Unfortunately, the land grant scam led to at least one murder, not mentioned in the film. In addition, Reavis had twin sons instead of only one boy, and his wife allegedly left him when he went to prison for two years. Sadly, he spent his last years visiting libraries and archives, a habit he developed as a forger researching the land grants of New Spain.

© 2010 Patty Inglish

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Comments and Additions 9 comments

Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Thanks for the information on Spain.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for a great history lesson. I so enjoyed reading it. You hub was super.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

I noticed Spanish names in BC the first time I took the Washington and BC Ferries, so then began reading about how far the Spanish Empire reached. I'd had no ideam previously!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Great information on the Spanish empire. Very interesting hub.


caretakerray 6 years ago

Patty Inglish, MS:

Great hub! Always interested in my nieghbors to the south. Most informative. :)

thanx

caretakerray


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Fascinating stuff!! :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

The Spanish were pretty determined to be able to claim land all the way up to BC. That's impressive, imo.


moncrieff profile image

moncrieff 6 years ago from New York, NY

Interesting piece on land grant fraud, and the movie seems to have a curious plot. Now as for claiming the Pacific Northwest in 1493 by Spain... Surely Europeans visited that area a bit later. One thing is to claim (say, along a langtitude) a land, the other thing is to have a real control over the realm.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Spain could not keep control of the Pacific Northwest, that is visually clear from the period map and textual evidence. Thanks for commenting!

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