Where Montalvo Gets Its Name…

Montalvo was once a city in Ventura County. Now its part of the City of Ventura.

It’s named after Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, the author of  four books titled Amadís de Gaula.

The four volumes, published in 1508, are a “modern” rewrite of chivalrous tales from several centuries before. The books feature prominently in Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote and, given the title character’s fixation with Amadis’ exploits, is likely what drove him bonkers.

Montalvo also wrote the bestseller Sergas de Esplandián — Exploits of Esplandián — published in 1510, which recounts the deeds of Amadis’s son.

It includes an episode involving female warriors from an island named “California.”

That’s where the state name comes from.

The first Spanish explorer arrived at what is now Baja California in 1533, no doubt eager to find this gold and pearl rich, all-woman island.

Indians told Francisco Cortés such a place existed. A 1524 report to Emperor Charles V uses some of the same language as Sergas de Esplandián, suggesting he had his fact and fiction a bit muddled.

His cousin, Hernán Cortés, found an island in 1535 and named it Santa Cruz. Subsequent explorers found no griffins, no gold – at least not until 1849 – and plenty of male Native Americans.

Here is the description of California from Chapter CLVII of Exploits of Esplandián as posted by Sue Burke at the Amadis of Gaul website:

“Now I want ye to know something so wondrous that nothing like it could be found in writing or in anyone’s memory….

“Know that to the right of the Indies there was an island named California very close to the coast of Earthly Paradise, which was populated by black women without a single man among them, who were almost like the Amazons in their style of life. They had beautiful and robust bodies, striving and ardent hearts, and were very strong.

“The island itself was protected by the most secure and impregnable rocks and peaks as could be found in the world. Their weapons were solid gold, as were the bridles of the wild beasts that they tamed and rode. No other metal existed on the island. They lived in well-appointed caves. They had many ships in which they sailed to other lands on expeditions, and all the men whom they captured they took with them and killed, as ye shall hear further on.

“In some places they were at peace with their enemies, and they mixed with them in complete safety and had carnal knowledge, from which many were left pregnant, and if they gave birth to a female, they kept her, but if a male, they immediately killed him. The reason for that, as far as it is known, was because they firmly believed that if they reduced the men to a small number, they could reign over all their lands without effort, so they kept only enough to be able to ensure the propagation of their people.

“On this island, California, there were many griffins, who lived in the arid lands in huge flocks, the like of which could not be found anywhere else on Earth. When the griffins gave birth, the women came, wearing thick leather to protect them, and took the young. They brought them to their caves and raised them.

“When the young griffins were ready, they fed them the men they had captured and the boys they had borne, with such frequency and skill that the griffins would not harm the women. Any man who entered the island was immediately killed and eaten by the beasts, which, if they were not hungry, would still grab them and fly through the air, and when they were tired of carrying them, would let them fall, so that they were killed….”



Filed under: California History


  1. Fascinating and thanks. I grew up in Montalvo and attended Montalvo Elementary School. I had no idea where the name came from until I read this.

    Comment by Judi — 4.26.2011 @ 5:12 pm

  2. Is there a budget lesson in there somewhere?

    Comment by dcurtin — 4.28.2011 @ 12:57 pm

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