Frequent danger beset the first explorers as they cast their eyes on the virgin land; but even greater danger plagues the historian who tries to see America with 20th century eyes of discovery. As in any work that attempts to span centuries of time and thousands of square miles of area, trouble spots appear. Such problems as language difficulties and tenuous hypotheses frequently follow.
Author Bakeless is among the fortunate whose earlier work (1950) has been deemed worthy of republication a decade later. Unfortunately, the author has neglected his topic in the interval, for it is certain that earlier reviewers pointed out many of the easily corrected errors. Yet, the book is pock-marked with mistakes, not only of the technical type, but also of a substantive sort. Several illustrations from Chapter XXI, “The Coast,” will suffice. The first explorer to set foot on the Pacific Coast is Hernando Alarcón; Cabrillo was “sent out by the Mexican Government in 1542” yet arrived off Monterey Bay in 1540. A “Laguna River” and “Cape Saint Martín” appear. Viceroy Pedro de Maya, San Augustin, Salines Valley, San Louis Obispo, mescale, Suisim Bay and John Mears are thus spelled in a curious departure from established custom. Erroneous assumptions such as Coronado trying to reach Kansas (largely accidental), Kino entering Alta California, Anza opening a permanent land route, Portolá continuing some miles north of San Francisco in 1769, Pedro Fages and party being the first whites in the Sacramento Valley, Gray discovering the Columbia River, and that same stream pouring past the Dalles between “wild shores,” all demonstrate a lack of contact with geographical reality and of historical scholarship.
Though the sub-title promises a pageant of North America, the book is interested only in those portions which are now part of the United States, with some accommodation for Lower Canada. The “eyes of discovery” are little interested in the area west of the Father of Waters, with but four chapters devoted thereto; whereas the eastern seaboard seems to command disproportionate coverage. Some of the less glamorous states remain virtually unviewed by the “eyes,” such as Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Washington.
It seems that the “eyes of discovery” were myopic and astigmatic.