What is now California was first settled by
various Native American tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions during the 16th and 17th centuries. The
Spanish Empire then claimed it as part of
Alta California in their
New Spain colony. The area became a part of
Mexico in 1821 following its successful
war for independence but was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the
Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California then was organized and admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The
California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic changes, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.
The name California is surmised by some writers to have derived from the fictional paradise peopled by
BlackAmazons and ruled by Queen
Calafia, who fought alongside Muslims and whose name was chosen to echo the title of a Muslim leader, the Caliph, fictionally implying that California was the Caliphate. The story of Calafia is recorded in a 1510 work The Adventures of Esplandián, written as a sequel to Amadis de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer
Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Calafia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by
griffins and other strange beasts, and rich in gold.
Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.
When Spanish explorer
Francisco de Ulloa was exploring the western coast of North America, his initial surveys of the
Baja California Peninsula led him to believe that it was an island rather than part of the larger continent, so he dubbed the "island" after the mythical island in Montalvo's writing. This conventional wisdom that
California was an island, with maps drawn to reflect this belief, lasted as late as the 18th century.