The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

Book Reviews

The greatest weakness throughout the work is the author's overestimation of
Shelby and the importance of his expedition to Mexico. Although Shelby was
an excellent soldier and a charismatic figure, Allen's assertion that Shelby was
"unexcelled byJeb Stuart's command in Virginia" (p. 4) merits scrutiny. Shelby's
Iron Brigade performed admirably throughout the war, enduring terrible hard-
ships before arriving in Texas near the war's end. The author, however, incor-
rectly maintains that Shelby's men embarked on their Mexican adventure
undersupplied. In fact, Shelby reported that his men had never been better sup-
plied. Last, throughout the work Allen praises Shelby and his followers for
choosing exile over participating in rebuilding the New South. A more detailed
study of Shelby, focusing on his Civil War career rather than his romanticized
journey into Mexico, is needed.
Texas Christzan Unzversity DALLAS COTHRUM
The Island of Calzfornia: A Hzstory of the Myth. By Dora Beale Polk. (Lincoln: Uni-
versity of Nebraska Press, 1995. Pp. 398. Acknowledgments, introduction,
footnotes, maps, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-80328741-0. $15.00, paper.)
The history of a geographical myth occupies the attention of Dora Beale Polk.
She examines the origins and history of the myth that California was an island.
The author begins her analysis by discussing the context of European geograph-
ic knowledge in the late Middle Ages and early modern period, and she gives
particular emphasis to ideas as represented in maps regarding the relationship
between Europe and Asia and the existence of islands in the as yet unexplored
ocean. Polk also outlines the impact of certain medieval texts such as the ac-
count of PresterJohn and Marco Polo on geographic knowledge.
The bulk of the book focuses on early Spanish and, to a lesser extent, English
explorations in the Americas and California, as well as on the development of
concepts of what early explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespuc-
ci, and Vasco Nnifiez de Balboa, to name a few, believed they had discovered. In
the sixteenth century the debate concerned the question of whether the Ameri-
cas were islands, separate continents, or a continent linked to Asia. Other ques-
tions included the possible existence of islands in the Pacific Ocean between New
Spain (Mexico) and Asia, and the possible existence of a strait that linked the At-
lantic and Pacific Oceans. Polk provides a detailed discussion of the exploration
of the Californias beginning with Hernan Cortes in the 153os and the birth of
the myth that the Californias were an island. In the early eighteenth century, Je-
suit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino proved that California was not an island.
Polk has included numerous contemporary maps to illustrate the different ge-
ographic theories and concepts that she discusses. The author has also woven in-
to her narrative extensive quotes from the exploration and other accounts that
formed the basis for the California myth. Moreover, Polk links the origins of ge-
ographic concepts and what the explorers expected to find in America/Califor-
nia to diverse sources such as the Bible and late medieval romances such as
Amadis de Gaula and Esplandian.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed July 29, 2014.