Cabo San Lucas

Brief History of Cabo San Lucas

by C.W.Ferguson

Hernàn Cortez sat in his headquarters on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec scheming about what he might conquer next. Bingo! A shipwreck survivor reported an island ten sailing days north that was populated by Amazons and was rich in gold and pearls. That sounded to Hernàn like the fabled island of California ruled by the Amazonian Queen, Calafia. He fairly drooled at the thought. “Andale, hombre”, he told his shipbuilder, “get on with it”.

In 1535, with three galleons and a compliment of over 600 men and women, Hernàn sailed into a tranquil bay which he promptly named Santa Cruz. It didn’t take him long to figure out that there wasn’t any gold and there weren’t any Amazons, neither. He packed up and sailed south for the last time.

Francisco de Ulloa, the navigator for Hernàn Cortés first came upon Cabo San Lucas in 1537.

But there were pearls in the waters around Santa Cruz. Sebastian Vizcaino set up a pearl fishing colony there in 1596 knowing full well that he was certain to become a wealthy man. He found a few pearls, but not enough to support his expedition; he also found a whole bunch of unsociable Indians. The only thing Sebastian got out of his misguided tour was an excellent chart of the Mar de Cortez. The only thing California got out of Sebastian’s misguided greed was a new name for the pearl-less bay: La Paz.

During that period, Spanish merchant marine interests had established a trade route from Luzon in the Philippines to Acapulco in the south of New Spain. They were transporting ton upon ton of oriental silk and spices; along with Mexican gold and silver with which to buy the treasures. The Spanish monarch loved the silk and spices; English pirates became impassioned over the silver and gold.

The 16th of September is a very special day in Mexico and its history. It’s Mexico’s Independence Day. It’s also the day that Sir Francis Drake entered the “Sea of the South” with a quintet of warships in 1578. What do you suppose he had on his mind? The Spanish had an inkling of what it might be.

Pirate stories abound in Baja California. Some true, others…well, maybe not exactly true. True it is that Thomas Cavendish sacked the “invincible” galleon, Santa Ana, off Cape San Lucas in 1587. And true it is that a number of “Dutch Hens” entered the Skull and Crossbones trade against the haughty Spanish. Joris van Spilbergen was the most famous of the group. Racing up and down the Pacific coastline, the Pirates had a field day. And when they were not plying their trade they were hanging out at Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and La Paz, Baja California Sur, just R & R-ing-it – and maybe stashing a little treasure. The Spanish of course, we’re not happy. The only people taking any spoils out of the new world were the English and the Dutch and they didn’t know how to get there until a Portuguese named Magellan showed ’em the route.

So, the Spanish Crown told the Jesuits to go to California and settle down the Indians. “Make Christians out of ’em” spathe the King. The Crown wasn’t especially interested in the future of the Indians but he figured that if they could colonize the peninsula and Alta California it would keep the Dutch, the English, and by that time the Russians at bay.

The Jesuits were delighted. They could go to an inhospitable land, suffer as no missionary had ever before suffered, and save souls. And that they did; but…some people simply don’t like change. The Indians were not happy campers. They didn’t much like wearing clothing. They did not like monogamy. And they certainly didn’t cotton to the Jesuits. So, in 1734, a bunch of the local boys got together and figured out how to run the Fathers plumb out of the New World. California, as it was called then, took a nap for a couple of hundred years.

In 1844, U.S. President James K. Polk sided with a bunch of ornery Texans who had been plumb tired of paying taxes to “Mexicun” generals. The Mexican-American War got so ridiculous that even Mexico couldn’t figure out why “green-go” troops were marching on La Paz and San Jose del Cabo. At the bargaining table, the Americans conceded they really didn’t want any more dessert than they’d already stolen, so they left Baja California to the “Mezicuns”. After all, there weren’t any oil, no gold nor silver, no natural resources, and no water. “Keep it Amigos”, said the norteamericanos, “keep all of it”.

However, the phrase “natural resources” has taken a bit of a twist in the last couple of generations.

Ask the question, “Who was the first Anglo to put Baja California Sur on the road-map to prosperity?” and you’re likely to get six different answers.

Shortly after World War II, a group of Southern Californians learned that they could fly to La Paz and then travel by rutty roads to the shores of the Mar de Cortes. “Why?” people asked. Little by little word leaked that the Sea of Cortes was teeming with fish, was protected from prying eyes, and possessed weather “as good as God will allow” in the Baja. There were no roads there. Only long-range pleasure yachts and private aircraft need to apply. It was exclusive. The names of the shakers and movers were exclusive: Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz, and The Duke. About 1948 they pooled their coins and built the hotel Las Cruces on the East Cape. The sign read: “PROPIEDAD PRIVADA” – PRIVATE PROPERTY

Ten years later the equally exclusive hotel La Palmilla was built near San Jose del Cabo; Hollywood money was rumored at work there too. It didn’t take long for W. Matt (Bud) Parr to figure out a road map to his future and build the hotel Cabo San Lucas. Parr would eventually build the Hacienda and double its size. Cabo San Lucas was definitely on the map.

Ex-U.S. Air Force pilot Luis Coppola put up hotel Finisterra near the very end of the cape and Luis Bulnes quickly countered with hotel Solmar; Cabo was in the thick of the race for the tourist dollars.

Los Cabos would slumber for a few years while adjusting to the sobriquet “Tourist Destination”. A peninsular highway, completed in 1974, opened the Peninsula to Middle America. When Los Cabos International Airport was expanded in 1986, Los Cabos’ lure reached deep into the United States and Canada and triggered the imagination of every citizen. Marlin fishing tournaments were drawing international acclaim by this time and non-fishermen and their ladies were discovering the sun, the beaches, and romantic star-bright nights while strolling “las playas del Mar de Cortes”.

From 1885 to 1990 Los Cabos witnessed the tripling of populations in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas and has beheld a burgeoning growth in tourism as well. Condominiums Cabo Bello, Marina Sol and Terrasol, and hotels Melia San Lucas, Melia Cabo Real, Fiesta Inn, Calinda, Posada Real, and Plaza las Glorias were operational by 1990. Meanwhile in excess of 3,000 private residences were built for foreign vacationers and retirees.

Currently, six major golf courses are in operation with more on the drawing boards. International tournaments are scheduled and a number of airlines frequently service the area. Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos, as a “Destination Resort Area: with worldwide impact, is NOW.

Hernàn Cortés, a Conquistador, saw no profitable future in California. The modern-day Conquistadores, on the other hand, conquers not with sword and musket, but with world-class accommodations and service. Hernàn plundered and ran. The modern Conquistadores reinvest. It’s evident they’ve been doing just that in Los Cabos.

As you stroll down the beach and wonder at the magnificent seascape surrounding you, take a moment to remember Hernàn; the short, short-sighted fellow. . .who let the “big one” getaway.

© C.W.Ferguson – cabo san lucas

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