Alta California Glossary

Hide & Tallow- Hide and tallow are the two cattle products that made up the biggest industry in Alta California. Cow hides were sold to mostly Anglo-American merchants to be shipped to the eastern United States and turned into shoes and other leather products. Tallow is a product of beef fat that was widely used for making soap and candles, much of which was sold to silver miners in Peru. (Hackel, 133)

La Reata (Spanish)— The lasso. A synonym for lasso, ‘lariat’ is an Anglo corruption of ‘la reata’.

Mission (Spanish)- the missions were the churches that formed the center of Spanish colonial life in Alta California. The missions and the priests that administered them controlled the use of Native labor and the most desirable agricultural land, making them the most powerful force on the Alta California frontier from their founding until the 1830s.

Modoc—a Native American tribe whose homeland is what is now Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Shasta—a Native American tribe whose homeland is what is now Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Rancho (Spanish)—Ranch

Sacred Expedition—refers to the 1769 expedition from Baja California led by Father Junipero Serra and Captain Gaspar de Portola which first established a Spanish presence in Alta California. The expedition consisted of both ships and overland parties and ended with the establishment of the cities of San Diego and Monterey.

Gente de Razon (Spanish)—literally, “People of Reason”; used to refer to any non-Indian person (with the implication that Native people were ‘without reason’…)

Genocide—the deliberate destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group, in whole or in part.  

Madrugada (Spanish)—very early morning; dawn

Pueblo (Spanish)—Town; in Alta California, civilian towns were kept apart from the mission settlements in large part because the mission priests believed that Native folks would be corrupted by the behaviors of non-Native immigrants

Presidio (Spanish)—Military fort

Peninsulares (Spanish)—literally, “People of the Peninsula”; used to refer to people born in Spain to distinguish them from people of Spanish descent who were born elsewhere (particularly the ‘New World’). In the Spanish colonial social hierarchy, a peninsulare would have more status than somebody of similar standing born outside of Spain.

Mestizo (Spanish)—a person of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry

Mullato (Spanish)—a person of mixed Spanish and African ancestry

Manifest Destiny—the widely held and state-supported belief in 19th century U.S. popular culture that it was The United States' God-given right and destiny to extend the nation from coast to coast on the North American continent. This belief manifested in land grabs, murder, forced displacement, and genocide which cleared the way for the United States to realize its goal of creating one nation that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Prospector—a person who explores an area for mineral deposits or oil. ‘Prospector’ is a more appropriate term for the California Gold Rushers than ‘miner’ there were actually not many big mines in California at the time