Discovery: 1533-1848

Maritime expeditions lead by Basques continued throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and resulted in the establishment of new east-west trade routes and detailed explorations of the California coastline. Influential Jesuit missions were founded in Baja California beginning in 1699, a majority of native inhabitants were converted to Christianity, and by 1769, sea and land expeditions led to the establishment of four presidios (forts), and 21 missions in Alta California. Some of these sites eventually evolved into the state’s major cities, including San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Jose and San Francisco with Basques playing key roles as explorers, missionaries, presidio commanders and governors.

The gold rush of 1849 first lured Basques to California who had previously immigrated to South America, along with other fortune-seekers from all over the world.  They soon realized that livestock was a far more profitable business than searching for gold. In the late 1870s and the five decades that followed, Basques came to the area in increasing numbers and provided a strong foundation for the sheep, cattle and agricultural industry. Early Basque pioneers adapted to their new home and thrived in many occupations as livestock operators, boarding house owners, business and land owners, and as laborers in a variety of industries.