Prehistoric inhabitants of California practiced complex religions, hunted with arrowheads made of flint, and subsisted largely on the abundant available acorns supplemented by numerous small animals; coastal peoples ate fish and shellfish. California has many different local climates. Native houses varied accordingly. Indigenous Californians often lived in small communities of about 150 people whom the Spanish called rancherias. Within the boundaries of present-day California there were once 22 different linguistic families with 135 regional dialects. By the time European explorers and missionaries arrived, there may have been 100,000 to 150,000 native inhabitants in California, but diseases brought by the Europeans markedly reduced the population.
The Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European in the area of present-day California. In 1542 Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay and then continued north along the California coast, making frequent trips ashore to claim land for Spain. In 1579 the English explorer Sir Francis Drake sailed along the coast of northern California, which he named Nova Albion and claimed for England. However, no Europeans settled in California for nearly 200 years thereafter.
In the 1740s and 1750s Russian traders in search of seal and sea otter pelts began hunting along the Pacific coastline north of California.
As Spain wanted to prevent Russian claims to the area, in 1769 Governor Gaspar de Portolá of Lower California (now Baja California, Mexico) led an expedition to settle California. Accompanied by Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, in July they reached the site of San Diego. There they set up a presidio, or military post, as well as a mission, where the native inhabitants were brought to be taught Christianity and to be prepared to become subjects of the Spanish king. Between 1769 and 1823 the Franciscans, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, built 20 more missions near the coast of California. Before long the missions controlled so much land that they formed a continuous chain from San Diego to north of San Francisco Bay.
Most of the native peoples in the coastal region were taken to the missions and were forced to work as farm laborers under the direction of the missionaries. The Spanish built a number of presidios in addition to their first one at San Diego and created small farming settlements, known as pueblos. The first pueblo was established as early as 1777. The pueblos were inhabited for the most part by poor settlers from Mexico whom the Spanish had induced to go to the California region.
Spain, however, could not prevent foreigners from entering California. British, French, and United States ships traded with the Spanish coastal settlements in violation of Spanish regulations prohibiting such trade. In 1812 Russian fur traders built an outpost, now known as Fort Ross, less than 160 km (100 mi) north of San Francisco. They also built several settlements in the vicinity of Bodega Bay, and refused to withdraw from California until 1824, when the region was no longer under Spanish control. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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