Isle of California Timeline

35,000 BCE – (Tuesday) A massive earthquake along the entire San Andreas & accompanying faults causes a major subsidence in the Imperial Valley, the Antelope Valley, Southern Sierras, San Bernadinos, and Central Valley. Even with the lowered sea levels of the Ice Age, the Gulf of California floods northwest as far as the Cajon Pass, while the San Francisco "Bay" inundates nearly half the Central Valley.

35,000 – 10,000 BCE – Continued subsidence in the Antelope Valley and Tejon Pass areas accompanied by frequent major earthquakes, and just tons of volcanic activity all along the Sierras and in the Mojave. This makes California the place to avoid for the paleo-Indians who are now moving into North America. By 10,000 BCE, the subsidence, helped by the rising seas, has the Gulf of California lapping at the Tejon Pass, while less than fifty miles away, the San Francisco "Bay" incursion slowly eats into the northern flanks. The San Bernadinos have gradually become a archipelagos composed of six large and many small islands.

9,153 BCE – (late Friday Afternoon) Storm-driven tides in the Gulf finally wash around the fringes of what will become "Wormhead Island" (Isle de Tejon) and for the first time splash into the northern waters on the other side. Within the next two-hundred years, the Gulf's tidal bores will have carved the narrow channels on either side of the island – making it an island – and Officially forming what Spanish cartographers will first name "Mare Vermio," and later British "The California Strait."

3,650 BCE – Earthquake and volcanic activity finally subside to levels where the first Indians can begin to move into the Sierras and the coastal Mojave areas. One June 2nd, 3,598 BCE, one tribe makes the crossing from the Mojave coast, via Spinae De Vermio islands (a group of islands formed from what the geologists will call "the San Bernadino mountains") and come ashore at the eastern end of the Los Angeles basin. Because the Indians had been delayed in reaching the Island of California, the great extinctions of the Isle's megafauna were delayed. Mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and smilodons still roam, though they have been extinct for years on the mainland and the island version is only about sixty percent the size of its mainland Comparison of mainland and island smilodonsrelatives.. With the spread of the island's new inhabitants, though, these survivors too began to die out. However, the new tribes were not as into big-game hunting as had been their Ice Age Clovis ancestors, so while mammoths and mastodons and others were hunted into extinction within eight-hundred years, the Sierra Ground Sloth (a smaller version of the better known Giant Ground Sloth – smaller in the sense that it only weighed a few hundred pounds) managed to survive in the northern Coastal Range on the island, as did the smilodon (sabertooth). By modern times, the sloth was a rare, but a still surviving inhabitant of the northern forests. The smilodon, however, is now down to less than one-hundred and thirty known specimens in the wild (though the current count in zoos is two-hundred and twenty-seven – it was, and is, a very popular exhibit), confined mostly to the Big Sur and Buena Vista areas. Attempts are being made to reintroduce the species into some of its former range, but success is somewhat probematical.

3,600 BCE – 1,500 CE – Indian tribes spread all over the main island of California and to the offshore islands in the Pacific and Strait. The population is about 15% less (for the same geographical area) than OTL due to the loss of easy communication with the rest of the continent and the vast wetland areas of the Central Valley. A far larger percentage of the tribes are into using the resources of the Pacific & the Strait than OTL. Apart from these changes, however, to 16th century European eyes, the differences would not be noticeable.

1532 – Cortez orders ships to be built on the Pacific coast of Mexico to search for more lands he can plunder.

1533 – Two ships make their way northward from Tehuantepec and land at the very tip of Baja California at La Paz Harbor. Local Indians kill 20 of the landing party and the ships limp home.

1535 – Cortez leads a return expedition to La Paz and plants a small colony there. It fails and the settlers return to the mainland.

1539 – Francisco de Ulloa explores the southern half of the strait as far north as the Spinae de Vermio Islands before the narrowing channels and the huge cloud of ash coming from the Amboy volcanic field cause him to head back. The top of the "Gulf" acquires a reputation as dangerous waters that no one would return from. He later rounds the tip of Baja and explores up its Pacific coast. The Diarist of the expedition, Francisco Preciado, names the island "California" after a mythical island in a popular book.

1542 – Searching for the "Straits of Anian" – the mythical "Northwest Passage" - Cabrillo follows the Pacific coast as far north as 42o, missing the San Francisco narrows entrance to the real California Strait in one of the perennial storms of the region. In 1543, the ships reach home at Natividad, Mexico. In spite of the expedition's lack of success at finding the straits – or at finding any gold – Cabrillo begins plans for another expedition, but dies unexpectedly before his plans are completed.

1565 – A "Manilla Galleon" commanded by Fra Urdaneto discovers the northern eastbound current from the Philippines. The ships now arrive in the Americas far north of Mexico and cruise down the Pacific coast of California before they arrive in Acapulco.

1579 – Francis Drake, searching for a place to repair the Golden Hinde, stumbles upon the San Francisco Narrows and enters the northern end of the California Strait. Landing in Drake's (San Pablo) Harbor, just inside the entrance to the Straits, he claims the land for England and names it "Nova Albion." After repairing his ship, he spends four months exploring the shallow northern end of the Strait (the "California Sea") in his search for the Northwest Passage. He discovers the future harbor of Redbluff (which he names "Red Dover") and then leaves the Straits to return to England. He doesn't explore them south of the Narrows at all.

1580 – Elizabeth considers a colony at "Nova Albion" but it is decided that it would not be worth the effort. After 1600, however, the land north of the Island is shown on British maps as "Nova Albion."

1586 – Thomas Cavendish is chased into southern end of the Strait after plundering one of the Manilla Galleons off the tip of Baja. The Spanish turn back after sighting the ash-plume of Amboy (the volcano will not quiet again until 1653), but Cavendish continues on – more concerned about Spanish guns than clouds of ash. He travels past the Spinae de Vermio islands, landing on what was probably Arrowhead Island (surprisingly, Cavendish never Christened the island with a name of his own) for minor repairs before continuing north. His crew nearly mutinied as the Straits continued to narrow down to the western channel around Wormhead Island, but he continued on until the Strait broadened out again past Wormhead. The calm waters of the central Strait quieted fears of the crew and they continued northward along the Inner Coast of California stopping once more at one of the many small harbors between Wormhead and the Narrows (which one has never been identified) to reprovision. The local tribe was friendly, if cautious, and Cavendish claimed the land for England as "Elizabeth" (the town Elizabeth Harbor was named after this claim in the 1880's, but most historians agree it is unlikely that this is the harbor Cavendish landed at). Still continuing northward, they reached the inner entrance to the Narrows on September 17th, 1591. One of the crew had been with Drake, and recognized the area as Drake's "Nova Albion." They exited the Straits through the Narrows and began the long voyage back to England. Once there, England decides to keep the fact that California is an island – and that it is circumnavigatable – a secret.

1595 – Sebastian Cermeno, operating under orders to explore the California coastline for possible refuge harbors for the Manilla Galleons is wrecked at Arcata Bay, 200 miles north of the Narrows – which once again, fog and storms had hidden from the Spanish explorers – after claiming the area for Spain. Somehow, they managed to return to Mexico in a small open boat that had been constructed for exploring the coastline.

1592-1602 – British – and later Dutch – ships have taken to lying in wait at the tip of Baja for the Manilla Galleons, then "escaping" up the Straits. They have developed good relations with the Coast Miwok who live on the Mendicino Peninsula side of the narrows, trading for provisions. Some of the sailors jump ship and "go native" there, which is the start of the area's 17th century "mestizo" population.

1602 – Sebastian Vizcaino heads off under Spanish orders to properly chart the California coastline once and for all – and search for those annoying pirates. Heading north, eventually as far as Cape Sebastian, he manages to rename all the geographic highpoints that had been named by previous expeditions along the way. He discovers Monterey Bay and is blown by a storm up to Cape Sebastian. Returning, he actually enters the San Francisco Narrows, but the strong tidal current, and stormy conditions force him back and he continues on his way.

1605 – England once again considers a colony at Nova Albion. The Terror is sent secretly to more accurately chart the area and the length of the Strait. It is wrecked in one of the heavy squalls that frequent the San Francisco Narrows and its thirty-six surviving crewmembers inadvertently become the first English colony on the Mendicino Peninsula, joining with the sailors that had previously jumped ship in the area, and many taking Indian wives. Rescue doesn't come until a Dutch ship drops anchor in Drake's (San Pablo) Harbor in June of 1608, at which point nineteen of the Terror's crewmembers decide to stay. England doesn't officially support the colony, but it slowly grows anyway.

1615 – Juan de Iturbe, charting the inner Baja coast, looking for good pearling locations, becomes the first Spanish captain to pass north of the Spinae de Vermio Islands, discovering a large pearl bed near the present city of Mojave. Continuing north, he passes through the eastern channel around Wormhead (becoming the first European to do so) and enters the central Strait. Convinced that he has found the "Straits of Anian" (people will be "finding" this Strait until the 18th century), but not provisioned for what he believes would be the long trip to the Atlantic, he quickly returns to Acapulco to pull together a new expedition.

1616 – Juan de Iturbe leaves Acapulco with four ships, headed north. At the Mojave pearl beds, they stop to found a small colony there (which will later be wiped out by the local Indians) and continue north, up the Strait. On August 3rd, they land at the delta of the San Joaquin River to re-provision, claim the land in the name of Spain, then head north again three days later. One week later, they land on the Rio Oso and one of the crewmembers notices some shiny flakes in the delta mud. They quickly confirm a large quantity of gold in the mud-flats and de Iturbe sends back one of his ships to inform Mexico. The mining colony of Rio Oso Dorado will be founded within the year.At the same time, England decides that the colony at Nova Albion is now "officially" an English colony and sends off two small warships and forty troops to the area. By the time they arrive a year later, that number is down to 29 troops, and one of the ships will spend three months careened on the beach, down for repairs, but the thought is there. Isle of California

1617 – Rio Oso Dorado is founded on May 16th and within the next three months, quickly grows to a colony of two-hundred as the extent of the gold fields is realized. The Viceroy of New Spain, upon hearing word of these riches, sends both the Army to found forts up the Sierra Coast (the biggest and first at Rio Oso Dorado, a second soon after at the site of the failed colony in Mojave) and the Church to missionize the local Indians.

The English pirates (sorry, privateers...) soon discover (on November 1st) that the Spanish are mining gold in the area and quickly put together a raid on the colony (before any of that gold can be shipped back to Mexico). The raid nets them , but the defenses of the new Rio Oso Dorado Presidio cost them two small boats and about twenty men. This makes some of the Nova Albion colony leaders worry about having the Spanish (and, they correctly deduce, Spanish warships) just a bit over a hundred miles away, so they call a moratorium on more raids until they are more assured of their own defenses. The moratorium is honored only when no one is looking and small raids on secondary mining colonies continue.

1618 – The Viceroy by now is furious. Pirates have been raiding Spanish shipping, looting towns, capturing the occasional Manilla Galleon, and now have the audacity to attack the King's new gold mining colonies! He pulls together a fleet of two Galleons and seven smaller ships and sends them north, up the Strait with orders to find the pirate's nest and wipe them out once and for all! de Iturbe is given command of the fleet and they sail on the 29th of June.

The Spanish "Armada-ette" arrives at Rio Oso Dorado on August the 23rd and after reprovisioning, heads out to try and find the Pirate base. For reasons unknown, de Iturbe decides that the base must be north of Rio Oso, somewhere along the California Sea, and the fleet begins its search in this area. However, on September 2nd, sheer luck has them cross the path of the small ship "Shark" just after it has raided a mining site north of Rio Oso. The captain of the "Shark" takes one look at the nine ships now coming over the horizon, realizes that even the smallest is as large as he is, and hightails it for Nova Albion. He's faster than the Spanish ships (at least the larger ones – and de Iturbe refuses to split the fleet up) and soon is out of their sight. Unfortunately, he's given them a wonderful direction to go looking in.

The "Shark" arrives at Nova Albion and the colony immediately goes into panic mode. Leaders pull what ships they can together – the one recently arrived small warship (the other is still careened), two privateers, and five of the colony's tiny raiding vessels (think fishing boats with delusions of grandeur here). This gives them a "fleet" only one vessel less than the Spanish one approaching them, but with barely half the total tonnage. Realizing this, Roger Bryant, the nominal fleet commander, attempts to position his ships just inside, but out of sight of, the entrance to Drake's Harbor – a trap.

Battle of the California Straits September 7th, 1618 and the Spanish fleet comes into view of observers positioned on one of the hills (possibly Telescope Hill) at the mouth of Drake's Bay and the colony prepares for the attack. de Iturbe brings his ships slowly into the bay, sending the small "Santa Ynez" in ahead of the rest of the fleet. Unfortunately, not far enough ahead and by the time the "Santa Ynez" spots the English fleet, the rest of the Spanish vessels are already coming into range of their guns.

In the first hour, the English sink the "Santa Ynez" and severely damage the galleon "Santa Maria," but the tide quickly turns. In the next two hours, Spanish ships sink the English warship, one of the privateers, and four of the five raiders while only losing two of their smaller ships. The surviving privateer makes a run for open water, firing at the other galleon "La Paz." By a miracle, it makes it out into open and manages to down the main mast of the "La Paz." The remaining raider beaches itself and the crew head off overland for Nova Albion.

de Iturbe now commands Drake's Bay and considers his next move. Unfortunately, most of his troops were on the smaller ships that had been sunk, so while he controlled the water, he had no way to actually capture the town his ships were now approaching. Damages to his two galleons, more over, needed to be repaired as soon as possible. de Iturbe was reduced, therefore, to making two bombardment passes at the town. On the second, he discovered to his horror that the English had set up a gun emplacement at one end of the town when the "Santa Maria" took the final two hits it needed to sink. de Iturbe was forced to withdraw with the remainder of his fleet and return to Rio Oso for repairs. This delay would prove costly for the Spanish.


Some Notes:

1) Much of the Strait is going to be very shallow. It's entirely possible that some modern deep draft ships would not be able to completely navigate the strait without a lot of dredging (which around the "Tejon Narrows" and "Wormhead Island" might involve "dredging" bedrock...).

2) Climatologically, the Island would have between 10% – 30% more rainfall than OTL, and the "West Coast" of this modified North America would have a climate similar to what OTL's west coast has – which would be a big improvement to the area from the top of (what's here) the Gulf to the Tejon pass (it's primarily desert – a lot of it, very dry desert – here). The Sierras should see a slight rain/snowfall increase too, mostly noticeable at the lower elevations.

3) Rivers coming out of the Sierras should form respectable deltas where they hit the "California Strait," especially in the shallower areas to the north. You'll get some streams/rivers flowing down the east coast of the island – certainly, there are a few OTL that flow that way into the Central Valley (and there's the Mojave River flowing north/east from the San Bernadinos until it vanishes into the desert – a big surprise to early explorers, who just couldn't conceive of a river that didn't flow into something). But they'll mostly be intermittent.

4) A warm current should flow up the Strait from the "Gulf" of California, mixing with the cold California current off the coast of "San Francisco." This might make the area an exception to the"slight increase" in rainfall. It's already pretty moist north of San Francisco, and this might result in a vast increase, up near Washington levels, of rain and a lot of storms and fog. Even though the entrance to the "Narrows" is much wider than that of San Francisco Bay OTL, it aught to be just as hard to spot.

5) OTL, Spanish/Mexican colonization was a string of missions/towns within 50, 60 miles of the coast, from Baja to San Francisco. ATL, you're likely to get such strings on all "3" coasts – especially since I have the Spanish discover gold in the Sierras long before it was discovered OTL. This would serve to increase colonization of the continental coastline along the Sierras, but probably wouldn't do much (after frantic explorations of the island for gold that isn't really there) to increase that on the Island. By the time the Americans start looking westward, I see maybe as many as 50,000-80,000 Mexicans in cities/mining towns along the Sierra coastline, but the same 5,000-10,000 Mexicans as OTL on the Island. A possible exception to this is if they discover the mercury deposits up around Santa Cruz - then you'll see at least one big mining community (and farming community, to support it) on the north end of the island. Add another couple of thousand residents to the island then.

6) Russians will almost certainly do fur-trapping down the length of the Strait – it would probably be a good Otter territory. This might lead to a Russian colony on the inner coast of the Island, instead of/along with the one up by the Russian River (which is still part of continental North America, by my map).

7) There might be some very small volcanic islands in the area south & east of my big ones off the Los Angeles basin, but major vulcanism in the Strait isn't too likely (to the east of it, though...), even though we're forced to muck around with the tectonics a lot to get this geography. I don't see those islands being used much as harborages, either. What's the point? Unless the channels around them are too shallow for ocean-going ships, there's no point to unload – or stop – there when what you really want to do is get to a continental or "Big Island" port. Now, my map has them close enough together that someday, someone might build a bridge across those islands from the mainland to the big island. Think Japan here.

8) I see the Island as primarily agricultural, with lumbering and (in the southern half) mining right behind. Total population, two-million, tops – maybe less than a million! With the clear-cutting of many of it's forests, and the increasing population "on the mainland," I see the last fifty years of the economy slowly turning over towards tourism. It will probably become the #1 industry of the Island within the next two decades.

9) By my timeline, I see the "Mendicino Peninsula" (and by extension, the coast up to British Columbia) as falling under English rule (hey, I like that Drake scenario) while Spain (and later Mexico) holds the Island itself and the "Sierra Coast" (where all the gold is) as far north as the top of the Strait. Assuming that the standard politics of the U.S. and Mexico play themselves out, these areas eventually end up U.S. territory, while Britain retains the Northwest down to the Mendicino Peninsula. As mining has been going on in the Sierras for two-hundred years by this point, however, I suspect the vast majority of the area will be "mined out" of easily accessible gold, so that the vast migration that was the Gold Rush doesn't occur. With less farmland on the mainland, and the Island itself a much harder to reach destination (no Transcontinental Railway's ending up there for a while!), the whole west coast remains much less populated than OTL.

10) It took some figuring - well, to be honest, a lot of WAG-ing - but I'm putting the surface area of the island as 75,000 square miles - about 194,000 square kilometers.


Some possible location names (that I've used above)

1) The "Big Island" – slangy term for the main strip of the Island of California itself, as distinguished from the many islands of the Strait and the Channel Islands.

2) The Inner Coast – the coastline of the Island facing the mainland.

3) The Sierra Coast – the mainland from the Colorado to the northern end of the California Sea.

4) The Mendicino Peninsula – The thumb of land north of the Island and west of the California Sea

5) The California Sea – the shallow inlet that runs north off the main Strait. Port Redbluff is at the northern shore of this sea.

6) Three Harbors area – the Three Harbors, one on the Island, two on the Mendicino Peninsula, at the mouth of the Strait.

Isle of California 1625

The Island of California, 1625 Map – 971217
Isle of California 1627

The Island of California, 1627 Map – 971217
Modern Isle of California

The Island of California, Modern Map – 971217
TransSea Railway Map

TransSea Railway Map – 990505

Thanks to Kedamono (owner of the Alternate History Travel Guides webpage) for the idea.