California, the Californias, and the Possible Loss of Far Northern California to Greater Idaho

In English, the word “California” is almost always restricted to the U.S. state of the same name, excluding the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. To include these areas as well, the term “the Californias” is used. Wikipedia has an informative article on this concept, detailing its history and including the two maps posted below. But the idea of “the Californias” is seldom encountered. A Google image search of “the California’s map” returns hundreds of images of the American state and almost nothing depicting the two Mexican states, let alone maps of the three Californian polities combined. Google even hesitated to search for this term, first showing an array of images of “the Californians.” A Neeva search gave much better results, showing many historical maps as well as a few contemporary ones that join California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.

This erasure of the broader meaning of the term “California” is unfortunate, as it obscures some important history. The place name originally referred to the peninsula of Baja California, and was only much later applied to the area that now constitutes the U.S. state. This restricted California was first depicted by European mapmakers as an island, as it took a long time for cartographers to determine that it was a peninsula. Maps showing California as an island are of interest to both historians of cartography and map collectors. Stanford University is fortunate to house the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection: California as an Island, which includes 800 items.

The idea that the three Californias constitute any sort of a unit has had little if any salience ever since the United States annexed “Alta California” in 1847. Interestingly, however, there was a brief period during the Mexican revolution when some Mexican leftists nurtured dreams of reunion and reconstitution. As explained in the Wikipedia article:

The reunification of the Californias or Greater California is the irredentist idea of a united California often consisting of modern-day California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur, or largely based on the former lands previously governed by the province of Las Californias (1767-1804), including much of the American Southwest. There were fears during the Magonista rebellion of 1911 from both Americans and Mexicans of a Magonista expansion into California from, then Magonista-controlled, Baja California that would establish anarcho-communism across the Californias and inspire rebellions from indigenous Californians against the US and Mexican governments.


Rather than being reunited with the south, there is a far greater likelihood that the American state will itself be partitioned. Proposals to divide California have a long history and occasionally attract political interest and media attention, although the chance of actual division remains remote. But there is growing animosity toward the state government in many of California’s more rural and conservative counties, particularly those in the far north and northeast. As Sacramento stresses its environmentalist credentials and seeks to quickly reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels, such secessionists attitudes can be expected to intensify.

California is by no means alone in experiencing such regional tensions. In neighboring Oregon, many primarily rural eastern counties have voted to leave the state and join Idaho, which would generate an enlarged state to the east dubbed “Greater Idaho.” This proposal is currently being considered in Idaho’s legislature. Most experts, however, think that the chance of this happening is slim if not negligible, as it would need approval by the legislatures of both Idaho and Oregon as well as the U.S. Congress. But as political polarization increases, agitation for such a political-geographical realignment could intensify.

Although the Greater Idaho movement is currently focused on annexing Eastern Oregon, many of its adherents have larger ambitions. The maps collected on the Greater Idaho webpage show several versions of the would-be expanded state, some of which extend to the Pacific Ocean in what is now southwestern Oregon. Some also include far northern and northeastern California. Merchandise advertising Greater Idaho on mugs, T-shirts, and sweatshirts usually include a sizable chunk of California.

Relatively few maps of an enlarged Idaho include much of eastern Washington, another generally conservative area that is increasingly dissatisfied with the political environment of the state in which it is located. Eastern Washington is more densely populated than eastern Oregon or far northern California, and as a result its inclusion would greatly change the structure of an enlarged Idaho. Spokane is almost as a large as Boise and would therefore form a secondary core region of such a “greater Greater Idaho.” But if only eastern Oregon and northeastern California were to be included, Boise would still be the state’s main metropolitan area, and it would be much more centrally located than it currently is.