The uniquely diverse groups and people who make up the Los Cabos community take great pride in the region’s rich history and tradition, and are prouder still to play a part in the building of the area’s future. From its beginnings as the winter home of the nomadic Pericu natives to its status today as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, the history of Los Cabos is one that residents and visitors alike can delight in.
The history of Los Cabos can be traced back to 1524, when Francisco Cortes, nephew of the famous explorer Hernan Cortes, discovered the tranquil waters of the sea that would eventually be named after his uncle. The travels of the conquistador’s nephew were told by Hernan Cortes to the King of Spain in his 4th letter narrating the events after the conquest of Tenochtitlan between 1522 and 1524. It is said that Francisco Cortes sailed up from Acapulco, ending up somewhere between what is now San Jose del Cabo and the East Cape. Upon his return he relayed to his uncle news of the large amounts of gold and pearls he found on what he called an island, but is now known to be the Baja peninsula. Ten years later, in 1535, Hernan Cortes himself arrived to the coasts of southern Baja.
Not long after that the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo established first contact with the local Pericu natives, but it wasn’t until 50 years later that the Spanish first began settling the region. Responding to the activities of the infamous pirate Thomas Cavendish, King Phillip II ordered a small fort be built in what is today Cabo San Lucas. The region grew steadily from that point, and in the early 1730’s Spanish missionaries established the town of San Jose del Cabo.
Another very important character in the history of Los Cabos was Thomas Ritchie, a young British man who arrived in Los Cabos in the late 1820’s, at only 17 years of age. He came to these shores on board his uncle’s merchant marine vessel. The ship was en-route to Australia, but as the fates would have it a hurricane forced it to seek safe harbor in Cabo San Lucas. After three days in Cabo San Lucas, Ritchie knew this was where he wanted to spend the rest of his life, and when his uncle’s ship was ready to sail Thomas hid from his uncle, determined to stay; and stay he did.
By 1868, J. Ross Browne, a writer for Harper’s new monthly magazine, visited Cabo San Lucas and wrote about the by then famous Capt. Ritchie, saying, “Captain Ritchie, and old Englishman, lives here; he is the only European settler on the Cape. I cannot but make passing mention of him, since he is one of the institutions of the country”. He continues to say, “No man is better known on the coast of the Pacific than ‘Old Ritchie’”. This, of course, made perfect sense since at the time Thomas Ritchie was the only person in San Lucas who spoke English, and many of the ships that arrived on these shores back then were either American or English vessels. The Harper’s article shows a drawing of The Arch at Land’s End, and another of Ritchie’s house (you can view the full article here).
At one point in time, Ritchie’s property was confiscated and he was thrown into prison in Mazatlan. When an English warship sailed by Cabo San Lucas to replenish its supplies, they heard of this and quickly set sail for Mazatlan, where they threatened to bombard the city if the mistreatment of Ritchie continued. This situation caught the attention of the Mexican government, as it feared a foreign invasion in the distant territory of Baja California. Shortly thereafter the Mexican President, Benito Juárez, ordered a census of all Mexican citizens in the territory. The census showed ten heads of family in Cabo San Lucas, one of them being Thomas Ritchie. All of them received land titles, including Captain Ritchie, who was also granted Mexican citizenship. Once the land was officially distributed the first settlers became the founders of what was to become the Los Cabos that we know and love.
Don’t miss the next installment in the history of Los Cabos, where we will talk about the glamorous Hollywood stars that turned Los Cabos into their favorite playground in the 40’s and 50’s.