El Camino Real – Highway Through the Land of Sunshine and Flowers


El Camino Real

After the Great War, Americans had attained greater mobility than ever before – along with a new mindset. Cars were more dependable and roads were being laid across the nation at a frantic pace. People who had never traveled more than a few miles from home could now drive to the next city, another state, or even across the entire nation.

This leveling of technology provided a new outlet for the masses. By 1920, Victorian and Edwardian rigidity could not survive the unnerving realities of the previous five years. Chemical warfare and battlefield casualties revealed man’s potential for destruction on a horrific scale.  An influenza pandemic had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe (3% of the earth’s total population, as compared to .08 of the total population due to COVID.)

Each day seemed to bring greater and greater disparity of class and income. The US economy depended on child labor and dangerous working conditions. Political corruption was being exposed as never before. A heavy resurgence of hate groups in the United States did nothing to stop lynchings and increased mob violence. Members of the Ku Klux Klan were embedded in almost every community in the nation. The world saw fascism rise in Europe, Mexico and South America. Mussolini and Hitler were already drawing crowds of 50,000 supporters, presaging the next World War.

Real estate developers and investors had been marketing Southern California for more than a decade. Finally, the disillusioned and discontented were sufficiently mobile to venture all the way to California.

The men driving this wholesale marketing were not alone in the endeavor. Their wives formed armies of women’s clubs and community organizations in almost every city and berg in the state. Clubs such as The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, The California State Grange, and the California State Farm Bureau Federation were promoted as civic clubs, but they were heavily invested in lobbying. These groups promoted legislation that supported their advancement and power, but limited the rights of the laboring class, immigrants, and specifically, people of color.

Women’s clubs softened the approach, and though their aim was no different. By commemorating sites and events they deemed historically significant in California’s history, they controlled the narrative by advertising Southern California as a land of ease and plenty, a place of romance and myth.

California State Assembly Bill 1707 introduced El Camino Real, the Royal Road, as the historic path of benevolent Spanish padres who established 21 Catholic missions from San Diego through Sonoma. In actuality, El Camino Real is a story told by wealthy influencers of their day, a clever marketing ploy laid – free of cost – over a state highway funded by taxpayers.

Any original pathways through Santa Barbara County were footpaths established by the Chumash, who, for millennia, were sole residents in the area; they altered routes according to seasons, weather, and purpose.

Appropriation of the truth was the profitable lynchpin in the tale of El Camino Real.

The California Federation of Women’s Clubs set the first mission bell marker alongside the state highway in 1902, and called it El Camino Real. By 1920, there were about 370 bells installed up and down the state.

Although these clubs and organizations have softened their approach in more recent years, their legacy is part of the public record.

From the publication, Civil Rights–1959, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, Eighty-Sixth Congress:

In litigation to take away the US citizenship of the American born of Japanese ancestry (Reagan v Kin, 1942), the Native Sons and Daughters argued that the Federal Constitution refers to “white people only” and that the phrase “We, the people of the United States” means, “We, the white people.” It insisted that we made a grave mistake when citizenship as granted to the Negro after the Civil War.

The Sunshine Gatherers

The Sunshine Gatherers is a short film made in 1921. It begins with the history of California’s Mission Era, as told in 1921. The beauty and agricultural wealth of the state are also promoted in this film made by Del Monte, purveyors of fruits and vegetables, who relied on low-paid agricultural workers to harvest California’s bounty and feed a nation.