Baja California Sur, lit. "Lower California South", officially Free and Sovereign State of Baja California Sur, is the second smallest Mexican state by population and the 31st admitted state of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.
Before becoming a state on October 8, 1974, the area was known as the South Territory of Baja California (El Territorio Sur de Baja California). It has an area of , or 3.57% of the land mass of Mexico, and occupies the southern half of the Baja California peninsula, south of the 28th parallel, plus the uninhabited Rocas Alijos in the Pacific Ocean. It is bordered to the north by the state of Baja California, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Gulf of California, also known as the "Sea of Cortés". The state has maritime borders with Sonora and Sinaloa to the east, across the Gulf of California.
The state is named after the peninsula on which it is found, Baja (Lower) California, with the term “Sur” meaning “south.” The name California applied to this peninsula along with the area now known as the state of California in the United States, and came from the name of an island from European myth. The coat of arms emphasizes the state’s connection to the sea, including images of silver fish, a silver shell and a blue background.
Pre Hispanic period
Evidence of early human habitation is found in primitive rock and cave paintings dating to 1700 BCE, created by hunting and gathering societies that lived in rock shelters. The state is one of five areas in the world with important concentrations of cave paintings. These painting have an identifiable style and tend to be on a monumental scale with some figures as tall as four meters. Most of the animals are painting in silhouette and depicted in movement, often being hunted by people. The best known site is the Great Mural Rock Art which dates from 1700 BCE, located in the north of the state. Other important sites include Cueva de Palma, San Gregorio, Santa Teresa, Guadalupe, San Francisco, Cabo Pulmo, Santiago and San Borjita. The most important concentrations are in twelve km 2 zone in the north of the state, centered on the Sierra de San Francisco. In sites near Comondú, Las Palmas and Cocheros, there are also arrowheads, utensils and petroglyphs. Las Palmas contains secondary burials of human bones painted with red ochre.
When the Spanish arrived, there were four main ethnic groups: the Pericúes in the south between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, the Guaycuras in the area north of the Pericú to Loreto, the Monquils near Loreto and Cochimí in the middle of the peninsula. All were hunter/gatherers without agriculture or metal working but produced pottery. They also fished, but only the Pericúes had rafts.
The first Spaniard in the area is believed to be Fortún Ximénez, arriving in 1533. He and his crew did not remain long because they sacked the area’s pearls and abused the women, prompting a violent confrontation with the natives, who killed Ximénez. The remaining crew returned to Mexico City with the pearls and stories of riches.
A year later in 1535, Hernán Cortés navigated into the Gulf of California, which he called the Sea of Cortés. He landed in what is now the bay of La Paz, which he named the Santa Cruz Port and Valley. This event is celebrated in La Paz as its founding. However, he did not remain.
Despite various explorations, the remoteness of the region impeded efforts at colonization until the 17th century, with in 1697, Jesuit missionary Juan María de Salvatierra established the Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó Mission, the first permanent one of its kind in Baja California Sur. From there the order spread through most of the current state, founding sixteen mission in territory of the current state to work with the Pericú, Guaycura and Cochimí peoples.
During the 18th century, more colonists arrived bringing diseases that caused a significant decrease in the indigenous population.
In 1768, the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain and the Franciscans took over the missions, continuing the expansion north. In 1773 they were replaced by the Dominicans. A number of these mission churches still survive. The important ones include the Loreto Mission, the La Paz Cathedral, the San José del Cabo Mission and the San Javier Mission.
During the 19th century, the influence of the missions waned with most closing in the early part of the century. However, many of the mission facilities became the centers for ranching operations and some agriculture. Without the protection of the monks, and the lack of governmental control, the indigenous peoples of this time were abused by the ranchers.
In the early 19th century, Baja California was divided into four municipalities, Loreto, San José del Cabo, San PeroMartir and Santa Gertrudis.
The southern peninsula’s isolation kept it out of the fighting during the Mexican War of Independence. Although this war ended in 1821, the remoteness of the area allowed the Spanish to maintain control of the southern peninsula until 1822. Afterwards, it was divided into four municipalities by Guadalupe Victoria and governor José María Echendía.
The United States invaded the peninsula during the Mexican-American War and wanted it as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but the Mexican government succeeded in keeping control of the territory. In 1853, William Walker and 45 other American captured the city of La Paz. However, they did not have official U.S. support and were quickly driven out again by Mexican forces.
During the Reform War, Liberal forces under General Manuel Marquez de Leon and others captured La Paz. French forces then invaded the country to support the Conservative cause and then Governor Felix Gilbert recognized Emperor Maximilian. However, Mexican forces under Benito Juarez forced the French out, with Coronel Clodomiro Cota, recapturing the peninsula from the French.
20th century to present
During the regime of Porfirio Diaz (1876 to 1910), the Mexican government invited foreign enterprises to enter the country to develop it. In Baja California, these included mining operations including a major French mina called El Boleo (today Santa Rosalia) and the establishment of maritime routes. This president also divided the peninsula into two parts, each with its own government.
The southern peninsula was not involved in the Mexican Revolution until after the assassination of Francisco I. Madero, when troops were organized in opposition to Victoriano Huerta, his successor under Félix Ortega. These troops defeated federal troops in 1914 and took over La Paz.
From the end of the Mexican Revolution to 1974, the territory had ten governors appointed by the federal government. The division of the peninsula was further formalized in 1931, with a highway extending its length the same year. Infrastructure remained a priority for the area, with the establishment of schools including the first teachers’ college in 1942, as well as projects to provide water and electricity.
The southern territory became a state on October 8, 1974, with three municipalities: La Paz. Comondú and Mulegé. Two others have been carved out since then, Los Cabos in 1981 and Loreto in 1992.