A Mormon Gateway to the Pacific
by Steve Gilliland
The Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports in the San Pedro Harbor have the largest volume of commerce in the United States. The only two ports in the world that handle more business than the Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports are Hong Kong and Singapore. Two out of every twenty-nine jobs in southern California are linked to these adjacent ports.1
One can find on most of the major street maps of this area “Mormon Avenue” near the ports and jutting into the Port of Los Angeles is a peninsula labeled “Mormon Island.”2 One may ask, “What is the Mormon connection to this harbor? Who named these places and why?” This paper will attempt to shed some light on these questions.
The area covered by these two ports began as a quiet harbor and marsh land. Native to this area were a number of Indian villages. Of note was the sacred Indian settlement of Puvunga. This was where Chungichnish, the Indians’ principal god, was born according to their traditions. They were a peaceful group of villages living off the land. And the land supplied them well before the Europeans came on the scene.
The Portuguese navigator sailing under the commission of Spain, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, arrived in the area on October 8, 1542. The ship’s log recorded: “ The Sunday following…they came to the mainland in a large bay, which they named “Bahia de los Fumos” [Bay of Smokes] on account of the many smokes they saw there. Here they engaged in intercourse with some Indians they captured in a canoe. The bay is thirty-five degrees latitude; it is an excellent harbor and the country is good with many plains and groves of trees.”3 Although it is uncertain as to which bay he had reference, most local historians ignore the ambiguity of this account and state that San Pedro is this bay.4 5 1821-1921, PhD Thesis, University of Minnesota, 1963, p. 16. The strengths of the different points of view are presented. The smokes could have been from small fires the Indians used to drive small game into the open6 or perhaps from burning huts.7 Cabrillo only spent a day in the harbor before heading north.
The next recorded Europeans to arrive were on another Spanish expedition under the command of Sebastian Vizcaino. On November 26, 1602 his log described “a very good ensenada with shelter for the northwest, west and southwest winds. . .” There is some debate over the origin of the name, San Pedro, but most sources state that it was a custom among Spanish explorers to name discoveries for the saints’ day on which the discovery occurred. He probably named it after the archbishop of Alexandria who was martyred in 311 A.D.8
The Spanish sought to protect their claim to California and to take advantage of its resources by establishing colonies. Junipero Serra, a 56 year-old Franciscan priest was sent to establish a chain of missions up the coast of California as a base of operations for the spreading of the word of God to the Indians. Among those established were the San Gabriel (1771) and San Juan Capistrano (1776) Missions. They were supplied twice a year by Spanish ships which left the San Pedro Harbor with loads of hides and tallow which the missions had produced.
Spain imported eleven families to settle about twenty miles north of the harbor near the Indian village of Yang-na. They named their primitive little village, El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula on September 4, 1781.
The governor, Pedro Fages, awarded large land grants to Juan Jose Dominguez and Manuel Perez Nieto for military service. The Dominguez land was named Rancho San Pedro. The Nieto grant was ultimately subdivided into five ranchos, Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos being closest to the harbor. In 1846, the Mexican governor of California Pio Pico, awarded the Sepulveda family a large portion of the Dominguez estate that contained the harbor. It was named the Rancho Palos Verdes.9
Spain prohibited foreign ships from trading at her ports and the inhabitants of the missions and ranchos were not happy with the limited choice of goods coming on Spanish ships. Conditions were ripe for smuggling. The harbor itself was not fortified and the closest military presence was 20 miles away in Los Angeles. By the time word could get to the authorities and they mobilize and march to San Pedro, the smugglers could be long gone. The officials weren’t highly motivated to enforce the law since they also enjoyed the goods that were illegally traded.
The first recorded illegal trade was in 1805 when the padres from San Gabriel traded otter pelts, hides and food for cloth, sugar, tools, and household goods from the ship, Lelia Byrd.10 Soon such trade was common. Otter pelts purchased for a few dollars could be sold for hundreds of dollars in China. There was great demand for leather in New England so smuggling became very profitable for the ship owners. One navigator received $8000 in furs for a rusty iron chisel. The cheapest jewelry could be traded for a pile of pelts.11 Long Beach, CA Historical Society. The independent government of Mexico took over the area from Spain in 1824. Two years later, the ban was lifted and free trade was legal.
The conditions in the harbor did not permit the easy transfer of goods between ship and shore. Deposit from several rivers running into the bay left a series of tidal flats with marshes and small lakes scattered inland. A long, narrow arm of sand extended into the bay, giving some protection to the lagoon and marshland behind it. The abundance of snakes washed down by the rivers to this slender sand bar caused it to be known as Rattlesnake Island. (In the 1890’s after the arrival of the railroads, it was named Terminal Island, a name which was more enticing to tourists.) A number of other sand bars protruded in the bay especially at low tide. One of the largest of which later came to be known as Mormon Island. The “island” itself had not much more than an acre of dry land at high tide and its dimensions were continually being recarved by the tides and storms.12 (Land dredged from the harbor was added to the island. By 1888 it contained about 19 acres.13 Much of the bay was shallow enough for a man to wade across in waist-deep water. Some parts at low tide were only a foot or two deep.
Another hazard for ships was a rocky protrusion of about two acres in size that stood near the mouth of the inner “harbor.” It was aptly named Dead Man’s Island for many ships caught in storms were crushed on its rocks.14
Ships were forced to anchor well offshore and send small, shallow boats with goods to navigate the sand obstacles. Most of the time men must jump into the water and shove and pull the boat off of one sand bar after another. Once to shore, the goods must be hauled up a steep incline to be exchanged for hides and tallow which had to be grunted back down the hill and across the obstacle course to the ship. The closest source of fresh water was three miles inland.15
Richard Henry Dana experienced this ordeal first hand. His feelings are reflected in his account: “There was no sign of a town…what brought us into such a place we could not conceive…we lay exposed to every wind that could blow, except the northwesterly…I also learned to my surprise that the desolate-looking place we were in furnished more hides than any port on the coast. It was the only port for a distance of eighty miles and about thirty miles in the interior was a fine plane country, filled with herds of cattle, the centre of which was the Pueblo de los Angeles-the largest town in California-and several of the wealthiest missions: to all of which San Pedro was the seaport…Two days had brought us to San Pedro and two days more, to our no small joy, gave us our last view of that place which was universally called the hell of California and seemed designed in every way for wear and tear of sailors…Not even the last view could bring out one feeling of regret [for leaving] …No thanks, for the hours I have walked over your stones barefooted, with hides on my head…”16
Harris Newmark, an early Los Angeles merchant, described his first arrival in the harbor: “There were no wharves…passengers and freight were taken ashore in small boats; and when they approached shallow water, everything was carried to dry land by the sailors. This performance gave rise, at times, to most annoying situations; boats would capsize and empty their passengers into the water, creating a merriment enjoyed more by those who were secure than by the victims themselves.”17
In 1846, with an eye on annexing California and much of the West, the United States provoked a war with Mexico. San Pedro and Los Angeles were easily occupied by US troops, but the arrogant, restrictive mishandling of the local people exploded in the conquerors faces and an avoidable conflict resulted in many unnecessary lives lost. But the superior United States forces prevailed. Mexico officially ceded California to the United States on February 2, 1848.18
Two years previous, in 1846, under the leadership of Brigham Young, about 14,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled from violent US communities to find a place in the West where they could live their religion in peace. Driven from their homes, by government officials and citizen mobs, they sought for help to feed and clothe their families. These “Mormons” had petitioned the government for aid to no avail.19
United States officials, uncertain about the patriotism of these Mormon refugees, were concerned about a body of this size heading into enemy territory. Some officials saw military enlistment as an opportunity to win the loyalty of the Mormons and a chance to gain some help in the war effort. Brigham Young was asked for permission for the United States to recruit from his followers a battalion to help in the war. He recognized that the enlistment would bring military pay that would help in purchasing wagons and supplies for the exiled Saints. It would also transport a large group of the exiles across the country at government expense. He accepted the offer.
But leaving their destitute families to serve a country that had permitted its citizens to persecute and evict them was a bitter pill to swallow. Few responded. Brigham Young then addressed them:
“You are now going into an enemy’s land at your country’s call. If you live your religion, obey and respect your officers, and hold sacred the property of the people among whom you travel, and never take anything but what you pay for, I promise in the name of Israel’s God that not one of you shall fall by the hand of the enemy…You will not have any fighting to do except with wild beasts.”20
His counsel proved to be prophetic. Entrusting their families to their fellow Latter-day Saints, nearly 500 men volunteered. As many as eighty women and children accompanied them. During the journey most of the women and children and many of the men who became ill were sent to Fort Pueblo (Colorado). About 350 men and four women continued what was called the “longest infantry march in U.S. military history” to southern California.21
The 2,000 mile journey was dangerous and mostly uncharted. The trail they blazed became the southern road to the California coast for western travelers. They arrived shortly after the decisive battles for California were fought and served basically as a security force until the war officially ended. A small detachment was sent to San Diego and the main body was sent to Los Angeles which was still embroiled in a power struggle between the California Volunteers and the U.S. Army. The Mormon Battalion and other U.S. soldiers provided security and stability to Los Angeles and the neighboring ranchos. They built Fort Moore on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. They conducted the first Fourth of July celebration in the little village and raised the first American flag over the fort.
The Mormon Battalion helped the townsfolk for many months and helped build a number of important structures in both the pueblos of San Diego and Los Angeles.22 The San Pedro Harbor was a strategic source of supplies and communication throughout this period. Norma Ricketts’ summary of the Battalion journal accounts attests to this. Monday, April 5, 1847, “Colonel Richard Mason arrived at the mouth of the San Pedro in a ship and brought a letter to Captain Hunt from General Kearney in Monterey.” Tuesday, April 6, “Two wagons were sent to San Pedro for supplies from a newly arrived ship.” Wednesday, April 7, “The wagons returned from San Pedro loaded with fine flour and clothing for the regulars.” Sunday, May 9, “General Kearney visited the Mormon camp and gave them good advice. Teams were sent to San Pedro for supplies.” Thursday, June 10, “A detail of men was sent to San Pedro to guard the military store.” Friday, July 9, “the battalion was armed as there was a rumor the Mexicans would use this festival as an opportunity to recapture the town. Several brass cannon were brought in from San Pedro.”23
The Battalion was discharged July 16, 1847 in Los Angeles, but it took several days for them to receive their pay and prepare to leave. Some reenlisted for six months to earn money for their families. Many scattered to find work. Many traveled up the coast by land. Some waited for a ship to come. John Borrowman wrote on July 22, “sold my horse to Johne Lanson for ten dollars and prepared to go to the bay . . .” “Saturday 24 got my things on a cart drove by an Indian and went st Pedro here to wait for a ship going to the bay. . . Tuesday 27 we are weary of waiting but still no hopes of speedy passage. . . Thursday 29 as there was little prospect of our getting away soon from this plase we purposed to build a curell for Mr. Alexander . . . Sunday I spent the day reading the bible and other books. . .Thurs argued with Alexander over the wages. . . .Fri bought 4 shurts from a Sailor. . .Sunday rested. . . Monday August 18th arranged for ship. Tuesday 19th ship left 11 o’clock.”24
Many of the Battalion members who migrated to northern California were working at Sutters Mill the day gold was first discovered. Henry Bigler wrote in his diary on January 30, 1848, “This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail of the race that looks like goald.”25 Word soon spread to their Battalion buddies. John Borrowman wrote: “Got there about sunset and found Brother Willis weighing the gold that had been dug today…there was one man had 128 dollars.”26 In the midst of spreading gold fever, many were amazed at the large number of Mormons who left the area to be with their families.
By 1849 a major part of the Mormon exiles were settling in the territory of Utah. Brigham Young said that the thought of the Saints chasing after gold was “like vinegar” in his eyes. He counseled them to stay home and build up their communities.27 In the fall of 1849 a number of groups left Salt Lake City traveling towards San Pedro to seek their fortunes in the gold fields in spite of Brigham Young’s counsel. Many were driven by desperation because of crickets and failed crops. Some were called secretly as “gold missionaries” to bring back much needed ore to strengthen the struggling Utah economy.28 Accompanying one of these groups was newly called apostle, Charles C. Rich, who was sent to assist apostle Amasa M. Lyman who was presiding over the LDS in northern California.29
Edwin Pettit and some of his brothers-in-law accompanied these argonauts. In southern California he recorded: “We disposed of our cattle for a good price, and went down to San Pedro where there were a few adobe huts standing. Here we found mostly Mexicans who killed cattle for the hide and tallow for shipment. As it was considered a very dangerous harbor, a vessel would only stop there once in a great while. Here we engaged passage in an old sailing craft for San Francisco at $25.00 each.” They arrived twelve days later.30
In July of 1849, LDS Church leaders petitioned the federal government to establish a state within the former Mexican Territory. The proposed state of Deseret included most of the current states of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona as well as southern California. San Pedro and San Diego would have been its two major ports. In September of 1850, U.S. President, Millard Fillmore signed an act creating a much smaller Utah Territory, eliminating the possibility of San Pedro coming under the jurisdiction of the Mormon majority in the territory.31
John Temple, owner of Rancho Los Cerritos and Juan Alexander purchased waterfront property on the harbor in 1848. They opened a general store in San Pedro and established the first shipping company between San Pedro and Los Angeles using primitive carts and oxen. The twenty miles between Los Angeles and the harbor was dangerous travel. Many travelers were accosted by bandits along the trail. Night time travel was especially dangerous. Diego Sepulveda set up a stage coach line. He built the first wharf in the harbor and a building to shelter passengers awaiting arrival of the stages.32
In 1851 Phineas Banning arrived from Delaware with meager funds and strong ambition. He was twenty-one years old. He rented a boat and began selling kegs of fresh water and supplies to the ships in the bay. He also worked as a stage coach driver and mail rider. He earned enough money to buy out Temple’s share of the shipping company and with Alexander purchased wagons and stages for their flourishing business.33
Harris Newmark, a newcomer to the area, described the adventure of being transported by Banning to Los Angeles: “. . . from the moment of leaving San Pedro until the final arrival in Los Angeles two and a half hours later, we tore along at breakneck speed. . . These roads never having been cared for, and still less inspected, were abominable bad; and I have often wondered that during such contests there were not more accidents. . . The stage was provided with four rows of seats and each row, as a rule, was occupied by four passengers, the front row including the oft-bibulous driver; and the fare was five dollars. . .” He thought the numerous squirrels in the area were rats and shuddered. “ We drove by a number of ranch houses and I saw beef cut into strings and hung up over fences to dry, it looked as though I had landed on another planet.”34
William F. Carter was called on an LDS mission to India in 1852. On Christmas day he arrived in San Pedro. “I saw a big whale today, playing and spouting.” The next day a storm arose. “The sea hove herself beyond her bounds and washed the front of the Government storehouse away and a large amount of grain and goods away with it and lumber that was above high-water mark. San Pedro has no harbor. Vessels and steamboats have to anchor three-fourths of a mile from the shore and all the freight has to be boated ashore. There are only five buildings at San Pedro; they are rented out for $100 a month.”35
Throughout the ninetheenth century, any vessel caught unawares in San Pedro Bay, unable to flee before the onslaught of a sudden southeaster, was in an exceedingly hazardous position, for even the strongest ground tackle might be inadequate to prevent the vessel from being driven ashore and there pounded to pieces by the waves.36
Recognizing the vulnerability of the harbor to storms, Banning moved his business five miles up the channel to land he had purchased and named it New San Pedro, and none too soon. Shortly thereafter a storm destroyed his wharf in the outer harbor. Later he changed the name of his new site to Wilmington, after his Delaware home town. J. Ross Browne, a former forty-niner, turned writer, described Wilmington in 1863 as
…an extensive city, located at the head of a slough, in a pleasant neighborhood of sandbars and marches…The streets are broad and beautifully paved with small sloughs, ditches, bridges, lumber, dry-goods boxes and the carcasses of dead cattle. Oxbones and the skulls of defunct cows, the legs and jawbones of horses, dogs, sheep, swine, and coyotes, are the chief ornaments of a public character; and what the city lacks in the elevation of its site it makes up in the elevation of its waterlines, many of them being higher than the surrounding objects. The city fathers are all centered in Banning, who is mayor, councilman, constable, and watchman, all in one.37
The Wilmington lagoon was so shallow that Banning had to build his own fleet of “lighters,” flat-bottomed barges, and shallow-draft steamers. He also dredged a channel to his dock.
He soon dominated the transporting business between San Pedro, Los Angeles and other southern California locations. Steamship tickets to or from San Pedro were valid only where the vessel came to anchor. From ship to shore travelers and cargo were at the mercy of Banning and his competitors who charged passengers sometimes as high as $3 for the short trip. Once on shore, they then had to negotiate for travel to Los Angeles. Fares between San Francisco and San Pedro were reported from $25 to $55 during the 1850’s. Fares between San Pedro and Los Angeles were between $5 and $10 during the same period.38 Competition eventually brought this fee down to $1. Rates were sometimes negotiable. Parley P. Pratt wrote that some of his missionary company “Started for the Landing at San Pedro, as an Empty waggon Was going and would carry them cheep…”39
Many ended up walking. Henry G. Boyle, an LDS missionary heading to northern California, wrote:
Friday 18th . Los Angeles. Today I paid my bill at Pine’s Hotel, 3 dollars and 50 cents. Saturday 19 San Pedro. This morning I take leave of Mr. Barton and his good lady, after breakfast, and in company with Brother Joseph thatcher, I set out for the beach at San Pedro, having to go afoot. We got in at half past two, a distance of 25 miles. We were tired and foot sore. Sunday 20 we got aboard the Sea Bird just at twighlight last night, got under way at half past eight pm.40
Many of the travelers record frustration, illness, and discomfort. The bulk of the shipping and passenger trade went north to San Francisco. Vessels frequently failed to stop if the ocean was rough and carried their passengers to Panama and back again regardless of the frantic appeals of the people.41 Amasa Lyman wrote: “Shipped to San Francisco on the Brig Placair. Capt. Picket raised our anchor and put to sea with 56 passengers, nearly all sick.”42
Hosea Stout, traveling as a missionary to China on the steamer Sea bird, recorded on January 9, 1853, that it was a drizzling day and he was very sick. The missionaries “took cabin passage for $55 each. Saw several whales spouting at a distance yet had not a sight of them. I had to go to Bunk at 4 being sick. Br. Jas Lewis soon became seasick.” In San Francisco he mentioned that “Elder J. Brown left for San Bernardino on the Sea Bird taking letters and papers to our wives and friends at Salt Lake.”43
James S. Brown, former member of the Battalion and one of those present when gold was discovered, was returning from a mission to the Sandwich Islands when he became very ill. Plagued with chills and fever he said, “I made my bed down on some nail kegs that were on deck; for the boat was so crowded with passengers of all classes that there was no chance for comfort.” He became delirious and lost consciousness. When he awoke, he was afraid that he had been robbed of the $750 given to him to take to the San Bernardino Saints. “How could I make amends to the poor women and children whom their husbands and fathers had sent it to?” He found the money under his blankets, much to his relief. He arrived in San Pedro in the afternoon of February 2, 1853. “There was not a hotel, boardinghouse, or restaurant anywhere in sight from the landing. One wall of an old adobe warehouse stood nearby, and the only thing for the writer to do was to seek what shelter that wall afforded.” He spent the night there “alone, with the heavy mist of the briny deep resting upon [me], while the fever and thirst seemed to be consuming [my] body.” The next day a teamster took pity on him and let him ride the “twenty-one miles to Los Angeles, where we arrived about 8 p.m.”44
In 1850 apostle Amasa M. Lyman traveled by ship to San Pedro to investigate the possibility of a Mormon colony in southern California.45 The information must have been fruitful for in 1851 Lyman and Charles C. Rich were sent to found a gathering place for LDS converts from the Pacific and to set up a way station for those journeying through southern California. They traveled from Utah with 437 Saints. Brigham Young was dismayed that so many wanted to go to California. They founded San Bernardino settlement. Lyman and Rich traveled that year by boat to northern California to seek donations and borrow money to purchase supplies for the new colony. On their return trip they brought $8,000 worth of provisions for the colonists.46 By 1856, 3,000 people lived in this colony and they played a significant role in providing economic strength for Los Angeles and its rudimentary port, San Pedro.
Communication with this colony was difficult since there was no official mail route from Salt Lake City. In 1851 a United States postal route was awarded between Salt Lake City and Sacramento. The heavy winter snows made travel through the High Sierras very difficult and sometimes impossible. Animals were lost. Human life was lost. Attention was then focused on a southern route through San Pedro and then the Cajon Pass to Salt Lake City.47
Jefferson Hunt, a former member of the Mormon Battalion and current representative in the California legislature contracted for his sons to carry the mail on this new route. This was a blessing to the people in San Bernardino. Between 1854 and 1858 the San Pedro-Cajon Pass trail became the primary route for mail between the Pacific Coast and Utah.48 Monthly service was provided. It took around twenty- eight days for the mail to travel between these two destinations.
For a few challenging years, 1855 to 1858, a mission to the Indians was established in Las Vegas which aided the travel of emigrants and business operations on the route between San Pedro and Salt Lake City . The Church leaders finally decided that it was not a viable location and called the missionaries home.49 50
Because of the pressure of the gold rush, a railroad was completed across the Isthmus of Panama in 1855. Brigham Young considered sending emigrants from New York through the Isthmus and through California to Utah. Since there were no regular ship connections at that time for this route, this option was not pursued.51
Traveling with the original San Bernardino settlers was a group of missionaries headed for San Pedro. In the winter of 1850, apostle Parley P. Pratt was called and set apart as the president “of all the Islands and Coasts of the Pacific.” He and about a dozen missionaries traveled with this group into southern California and arrived in Los Angeles on June 16, 1851. He wrote in his journal, “Los Angeles is a firtile, Well Watered and delightful valley of vineyards and Orchards, With a fine old Spanish Town, a mixture of American, European, Spanish and Indian population.”52
He remained in the Pueblo for a few weeks, taking advantage of missionary opportunities and baptized a few people. After selling cattle, wagons, and “various Little articles”, he “Moved down to the port at San Pedro, [and] found that portion of our Brethren well that went down befor us and camped with them on the beach. Sunday [July] 6th, rested and met for prayer in the evening. Monday 7th. Embarked on board the Steam ship, Ohio, set sail for San Francisco at 4 oclock, P. M. After four days rather rough passage we arrived at San Francisco on Friday 11th at 11 A. M.”53 On his return trip a year later, it took him three days between the two harbors.
In 1852, returning Society Island missionaries, Addison and Louisa Pratt traveled to San Pedro. She recorded:
The first day out, I was sick in bed the whole day. The cabin was full of Spaniards, some smoking cigars, drinking wine, and playing cards. The third day out at 9 o’clock p.m. we cast anchor in Santa Barbara. There we lay for three days in a cold rain storm…At last there came a bright sunny morning, and we thought to set sail again, but the captain had difficulty on shore, did not come on board till late in the afternoon. The weather was fine the followng day and we had a tolerable trip to San Pedro. We had good eatables, and sick as I was I could sometimes make a lengthy meal, invariably when cabbage was brought on, my appetite would revive. About this time our little boy was taken violently ill with a fever…We landed at San pedro and Mr. Pratt went on shore to find a team to take us and our goods to our destination, a distance of 90 miles. In the meantime, the little boy continued very sick…When Mr. P. returned to the vessel he brought news that forty elders were at San Pedro waiting to get passage to San Francisco, going on mission to different parts of the world. It was very exciting news, as I learned that many of them were our old friends whom we had known in Nauvoo. The next morning was fine and we hurried on shore, met our friends and spent several hours with them. They looked so familiar, it brought fresh to mind the days of Nauvoo, the building of the Temple, the fearful tragedy when the prophet and patriarch were slain. We blessed them in the name of the Lord and prayed they might be prospered on their missions…We then set our faces toward San Bernardino.54
On Christmas Day, 1852, 30 missionaries arranged passage in the brig, Col. Fremont, bound for San Francisco. Cabin fare was $17.50 each. Richard Ballantyne recorded in his journal, “We sold everything we had to dispose of at very high, liveral prices, and most every things we have needed, we have had furnished us, below the usual prices.” He was sick when he boarded the vessel and spent a miserable ten-day voyage. The “rocking of the vessel, the dreadful stench of bilge water and lack of something to eat, and drink which my appetite could relish…one of the most unpleasant and disagreeable periods of my existence.”55
Hosea Stout, traveling to China, left Los Angeles on Wednesday, January 5, 1853. Camping four miles from San Pedro he recorded, “Now for the first time in my life, the roaring surges of the ocean saluted my ear like the distant sound of a coming storm.” The next day a heavy fog prevented them from seeing the ocean.
“We found some 8 or ten persons at San Pedro waiting for a passage, a company of whom had rented a small brick house with an adobie foundation and no floor, for one dollar a day where we also took lodging, by paying our ratio while waiting with all immaginable impatience for some opportunity to leave the loathsome, lousy and miserable excuse, for convenience which San Pedro affords to strangers.”
On Friday, the Steamer Sea Bird brought “the San Francisco mail for Salt Lake [through the] South route.” On Saturday, a steamer arrived with “3 or 4 Mormons on board.” Finally, on Sunday, the Steamer Sea Bird arrived at about 12 a.m. “We were aroused from our slumbers & took our things to the beach and there waited till day light in the mud and drizzling rain before we went on board.”56
Returning from China via San Francisco, he and his companions took the Col. Fremont to San Pedro. They took a stage for the home of Jesse D. Hunter in Los Angeles for seven dollars each and spent a few days resting and “eating pears & greaps of which there is a great abundance.”57
On his next mission, in June 1854, Parley P. Pratt “traveled in a carriage [to] the port of San Pedro-distance, eighty-five miles. The road was good, and we camped out two nights and arrived on the 14th, and were kindly received by Messrs. Alexander & Co., who kept the warehouse.” Upon leaving San Pedro they “had head winds and were driven back three times, being five days longer than usual on the passage.” While in San Pedro he “unexpectedly met with a company of Saints from Australia, under the direction of Elder William Hyde, and we mutually rejoiced in meeting friends.”58
Accompanying Elder Parley P. Pratt was a group of twenty-one missionaries called to labor in the Pacific. The fifteen year-old son of Hyrum Smith, Joseph F. Smith, was among them. His father and his uncle, Joseph Smith, who had organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were murdered ten years earlier in Illinois. These missionaries arrived in San Bernardino penniless and hungry, having used their food to pacify desperate Indians they met along the way. He found work in the San Bernardino Mountains making shingles to earn enough money to travel to the Sandwich Island.59 Forty-seven years later he would become the sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When the above-mentioned Australian Saints arrived in San Bernardino, Henry Richards, one of Smith’s companions, wrote, “June 14th…This afternoon Br. W. Hyde returned right from Australia with 68 saints. He left them at San Pedro and came to San Bernardino to get teems to remove them to this place, his health was quite poor.”60 The Australian Saints purchased wagons and cattle owned by Smith and his companions. This helped the missionaries to continue their journey.
While walking through Los Angeles, Richards, expressing a homesickness probably also felt by his companions, wrote that on July 5, 1854, It was nothing uncommon to see men lying drunk on the sidewalk. Spaniards fighting with each other with swords in hand. I could not help but draw the comparison in my own mind between that place and the peaceful city of the saints that I had left in the valley of the mountains… July 6 arrived at San Pedro about 4 o’clock PM.
They were in luck for the steamship Southerner arrived the next morning. “July 7… about 6 o’clock we left for San Francisco with a pleasent breeze…took cabin passage, cost of $20 each.61
Accompanying these elders was Ward Eaton Pack. He recorded after they arrived in San Bernardino:
We have just received word from Bro Parley P. Pratt that we must be at San Padro by the seventh of July in order to sail to San Francisco by the first vessel, consequently we are trying to sele our horses for money to pay our passages on shipboard…July 4th Bros Amisy Lyman and Chas C. Rich having furnished teams we started for San Padro…We arrived at San Padro in the evening of the 6th and for the first time in my life I looked forth on the face of the mighty Deep and wached the vessels while they were tost to and fro as a child will tost toys. 7th I worked in a lumber yard moving lumber until evening when in company with the brothren I took passage in the Southerner a steamship bound for San Francisco. The ocean was quite ruff but I amused myself watching the files of the Porpas as they played by our Vessel until I became very seasick in consequence of which I lye on the deck all night and abandoned my Cabbin birth to those who were more capable of enjoying it than myself.62
In 1854, when Addison Pratt and his wife returned from San Francisco to the San Pedro Harbor, they found forty missionaries waiting there for passage to San Francisco, where they were to embark for the Pacific Islands.63
Newmark wrote: “Considerable excitement was caused by the laanding at San Pedro, in 1855, of a shipload of Mormons from Honolulu…The arrival of these adherents of Brigham Young added color to his explanation that he had established a Mormon colony in California, as a base of operations and supplies for converts from the Sandwich Islands.”64
More than three-quarters of the 449 Saints emigrating from Australia between 1853 and 1859 entered through San Pedro.65pp. 223-226. Some were disappointed upon arriving in the promised land. Alonzo Colton, who arrived in 1856 on the ship, Jenny Ford, with 120 emigrants, wrote: “All in good health. Many of the Saints fail to appreciate their safe arrival, whilst others, owing to the bleak appearance of the port, wish themselves back to Sydney’s ‘fleshpots.’”66
John Perkins, who was in the same company, wrote: “It is a bleak looking place and very few Inhabitants in it…At daylight this morning began to get ready to land our luggage. The first lighter was loaded by 10 A.M. and was warped to the Shore by four of the crew, assisted by a number of the young brethren.” While loading the second lighter a “stiff gale” blew the ship towards Dead Man’s Island. “Chain was played out and a Small anchor let go just in time to Save the Ship from going on the Rocks…all was Safe with the exception of the loss of our best bower Anchor and chain.” The next day he recorded, “Sunday 17 August 1856…I got up early and got breakfast by 7 A.M and by the time breakfast was over, the crew had the lighter finished loading and by 8:30 all the remainder of the Brethren and Sisters with their children were Safely land on the jette of Wharf of San Pedro on the promised land of Joseph.”67 They had been one hundred eight days at sea. Four baby boys were born during the trip.68 69
A fellow Jenny Ford passenger, Joseph Ridges, brought with him a seven-step pipe organ he built in Australia. “From San Pedro, the organ was hauled across the desert by mule teams, arriving in Salt Lake City on 12 June 1857. Ridges installed it in the old adobe Tabernacle on Temple Square, the fore-runner of the great organ he was later to build in the present Tabernacle.”70
Another important import by a Mormon Emigrant was alfalfa or lucerne. There was a serious need in the dry Southwest for an adequate supply of food for livestock. When John F. Metcalf and his wife Eliza arrived from Australia and settled in San Bernardino they planted alfalfa seed they brought with them. It flourished in this climate and many purchased seed from him. (the town of, Lucerne Valley, in the high desert of San Bernardino County, is named for the Mormon alfalfa or lucerne grown there.) Soon it was grown throughout southern California. It has become a major crop for feeding cattle in the Western United States.71
In 1854, the bark, Julia Ann, took eighty-three days from Australia to San Pedro. William Hyde, a former member of the Mormon Battalion, was in charge of a company of sixty-three Latter-day Saints. Upon arrival in San Pedro, Mary Ann Porter and Thomas Parkinson were married. Also on board were Charles Stapley, Jr. and Sarah Rodwell who wed each other in San Bernadino.72 Esther Allen gave birth to a son during the voyage.73
In 1855, on its second journey with Mormon Emmigrants, the Julia Ann struck a coral reef and five of the twenty-eight LDS passengers were drowned. This was “the only shipwreck of a Mormon company at sea resulting in a loss of life.”74 All the survivors gradually managed to reach California by different vessels.75
Commerce between Salt Lake City and San Pedro grew over the years. The first known freighting expedition was begun during the winter of 1853 by two Mormon merchants. Because of inexperience and poor leadership along the trail, this venture was a financial disaster. The Los Angeles Star newspaper suggested that the enterprise may have been a success if they had paid the company leader to stay home.76
Discouraging as this venture was, it set the stage for extensive commerce in the future. In June, 1854, the Los Angeles Star stated that “San Pedro is to be the permanent depot for the Territory of Utah…Vessels have already cleared from foreign ports for San Pedro with emigrants and merchandise for San Bernardino and Salt Lake.”77 That same year Congress appropriated $50,000 to improve this southern route for military and mail use.78
Jefferson Hunt presented a bill in the California legislature for additional funds for the California part of the route. It passed, providing for “constructing a wagon road from San Pedro through the Cajon Pass to the state line in the direction of the Salt Lake Valley.” While the bill was being debated, William Sanford, brother-in-law and partner with Phineas Banning, led out by improving the roads through the Cajon Pass.79
Soon thereafter, merchants began using the improved trail to transport goods to be sold in Salt Lake City. One significant venture was conducted by Phineas Banning. Encouraged by Amasa Lyman, the mayor of San Bernardino, his company sent fifteen ten mule teams each pulling a wagon loaded with two tons of merchandise. Sanford was selected to lead this expedition.80 The Los Angeles Star editorialized: “We hope our Mormon friends will extend encouragement to this enterprise, which it so richly merits, and by so doing will open a trade that we verily believe will be mutually advantageous to the people of California and the Utah Territory.”81
The $20,000 in merchandise was sold quickly to the Salt Lake City residents. The next year, in 1856, the venture was repeated. Banning himself traveled to Salt Lake City to persuade Brigham Young to allow more free trade with his company. His request was not received with open arms by the Utah leaders.
The flow of Mormon capital into the pockets of gentiles was threatening the struggling Mormon colonies . Utah was facing another year of near famine and there was a fear of outside merchants further bleeding the weakened economy. Steps were taken to keep the capital at home and to discourage trade with gentiles. This tended to inhibit trade with outsiders but it didn’t completely stop the flow of goods from southern California to Salt Lake City.82 Many of the San Bernardino Saints between planting and harvesting of their crops were engaged in freighting goods from San Pedro to the ranchos and into Utah. Some transported to the market goods tithed to the Church without charge to the Church as a way to give their tithes.83
The southern Utah settlements found San Pedro to be a more practical source of supplies than having them shipped through Salt Lake City. Concerning the building of the tabernacle in St. George it was recorded: “The teams were to leave for Wilmington, California, the shipping place on the Pacific, where the needed glass, hardware and other material could be obtained to finish the building.”84
In 1857 misunderstandings developed between the Federal Government and the Utah leadership, and the U.S. Army was sent to install new leadership. Fearing another attack on his people, Brigham Young called all outlying settlers to return to Utah, including the San Bernardino Saints. Two thousand sold their property at a low rate and moved to Utah after six years of prosperity in Southern California.85
Offering himself as a mediator between the Mormons and the U.S. Army, Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a non-LDS friend of the Mormons, traveled from the East via Panama to San Francisco where he took a steamer to San Pedro. He then traveled on horseback to Utah and arrived on February 25, 1858. He played a major role in working out a peaceful agreement between the two parties.86
The army that occupied Utah required more goods than could be supplied locally. During the winter months, when other roads were closed, the Southern California businesses happily shipped supplies from San Pedro to Salt Lake City. In just three months in 1859 at least 270 wagons made the trip.87 Newmark wrote: “A number of Mormon wagon-trains, therefore, went back and forth every winter over the seven hundred miles or more of fairly level, open roadways, between Salt Lake and Los Angeles, taking back not only goods bought here but much that was shipped from San Francisco to Salt Lake via San Pedro. I remember that in February, 1859, these Mormon wagons arrived by the Overland Route almost daily.”88
The Federal Government was concerned about the large number of Southern sympathizers in Southern California as the Civil War approached. The Army developed plans to establish a garrison in the area. Seizing this economic opportunity, Banning donated sixty acres of land in Wilmington to the Army. He was in turn awarded a contract to build more than twenty buildings at the new location and to bring water by canal to Wilmington. It was named Fort Drum after the commander of the Army’s Department of the West. Banning also brought in the first telegraph, post office, and newspaper to the area. He contracted to transport tons of military supplies between this new base and outposts in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.89
Federal troops were sent to Salt Lake City under the direction of Colonel Patrick Connor, who was an avid anti-Mormon. He stationed his troops on a bench overlooking the city. There was an uneasy truce between the Mormon leaders and the military throughout this period. Both were distrustful of each other.90chapter 17. Economically, the military was a boost to the Utah economy. As in the past, goods and supplies were shipped from San Pedro for the military and the citizens.
The conflict between the North and the South closed the major cotton market to the North. The Utah Cotton Mission centered in the St. George area was able to sell cotton to brokers in Southern California at a better price than they could get in Salt Lake City. The cotton was then shipped to manufacturers in the North East much to the dismay of Brigham Young who was encouraging the colonies to become economically independent. He encouraged them to manufacture goods locally, to utilize local labor, and to minimize to purchase of goods from outside of the colonies, thus building the local economy.91
Tragedy occurred in the harbor in 1863 with one of Banning’s steamers, the Ada Hancock. At about five p.m. on April 27th she headed from Wilmington to the S.S. Senator which was anchored in the harbor. An unexpected violent storm arose. The heavily loaded steamer was engulfed in waves. Sea water flooded the boiler which exploded blasting at least 53 passengers into the shallow lagoon. Twenty six were killed and only seven escaped injury. Banning and his wife Rebecca were injured but survived. Rebecca’s brother, William Sanford, who was probably “the man most instrumental in opening the Cajon Pass as a freighting road” between San Pedro and Salt Lake City, and a number of other prominent persons were killed.92 93 94 Among those killed were Hiram Kimball and Thomas Atkinson who were Latter-day Saint missionaries on their way to the Sandwich Islands.95 After many hours word got to Los Angeles and doctors came to help. One of the doctors, John Griffin, was a retired military physician. Years previous he had attended members of the Mormon Battalion in San Diego.96
The flourishing economy in the area came to a halt at the end of the Civil War. In 1866 the Army abandoned Fort Drum. Many of the struggling businesses in southern California were kept afloat during this depression through trade with the Mormons. Playing an important role in this, Banning sought to re-establish his connections with Salt Lake City.97 Newmark wrote that in 1866, “The very important trade with Salt Lake City, elsewhere described, helped us greatly, for we at once negotiated with the Mormon leaders; and giving them credit when they were short of funds, it was not long before we were brought into constant communication with Brigham Young and through his influence monopolized the Salt Lake business.”98
In 1869 a tragedy occurred that helped bring an end to the major trade between the Mormon cities and southern California. Franklin Woolley, assigned as purchasing agent for the Southern Utah Cooperative Mercantile Association, had taken teams and wagons to Banning’s Wilmington seaport to be loaded with goods he had shipped from San Francisco. On his return trip, while searching for some stray horses, he was killed by Indians probably seeking revenge for the recent murder of three Indians by white men.99
The major factor in the demise of heavy trade and emigration along this route was the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.100 The San Pedro port had been an important Mormon gateway to the Pacific for twenty years. The route proved to be an important all weather lifeline for the struggling Mormon colonies. The Mormon trade contributed significantly to the economic growth of southern California. Years later, in 1905 the San Pedro Harbor would be again connected with Utah through the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Rail Road. This connection would never play as vital a role to the Latter-day Saints as the San Pedro to Salt Lake route had in the past.
There is clearly a Mormon connection to the San Pedro Harbor in the 19th Century, but what is the origin of the name for Mormon Island? I have found three theories.
Duncan Gleason states that, “A battalion of Mormon volunteers had been stationed at Los Angeles to keep the peace of this unstable pueblo… They were mustered out in 1848 and some of them moved down to the harbor and settled on a small island, likely because no one else wanted this bit of marshy land. The colony came to naught but the island retained the name ‘Mormon.’”101 Using all available evidence, Norma Ricketts has followed every Battalion member after discharge. She says that she is not aware of any evidence to support this claim.102 Thus far, I have found none.
A San Pedro newspaper stated on March 1, 1938, that, “Mormon Island was named for a Mormon missionary and his eight year-old boy, who lived there in 1863, and made their living digging and selling shell fish. The father became ill and was said to have become violently insane as the result, attempting to offer the son as a human sacrifice. The youngster managed to escape and the father was taken into custody.”103 No evidence has been found to support this claim.
Oliver Vickery claims that: “There was a group of Mormon volunteers skilled in carpentry and building techniques stationed at nearby Drum Barracks. General Richard Coulter Drum assigned these volunteers in 1862 to build needed barges, tugs, and lighters, sorely needed in the war effort. The Mormons lived on the 30-acre island, now connected to Wilmington by Fries Avenue. The site was on the old Banning Shipyard complex, from which many ships have been launched.”104 This theory is supported by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers who placed a plaque near the peninsula that now encompasses the island.105 It memorializes the “Mormon Civil War volunteers” after whom the island may be named.
Ramola Nichols suggests that, “Along with all this prejudice was a fear of the Mormons and this fear and prejudice was especially strong with James H. Carleton, the commander of Drum Barracks. Phineas Banning, knowing this prejudice and also knowing the Mormons as being a peaceful and honest people proposed to Lt. Col. Richard C. Drum, actg. Adjutant General, Dept. of the Pacific, that the Mormon Volunteers be assigned to the 30-acre Island that Phineas Banning owned, to build barges, lighters, and tugs to help in the war effort.”106
At present, we have discovered no evidence to support this theory. It does raise some questions. Given the 1857 military campaign against the Mormons, the Church leaders seemed to have ambivalent feelings about the Civil War. When Connor stationed his troops in Salt Lake City, insult was added to injury. Brigham Young said:
We have done everything that has been required of us. Can there be anything reasonable and constitutional be asked that we would not perform? No. But if the government of the United States should now ask for a battalion of men to fight in the present battlefields of the nation while there is a camp of soldiers from abroad located within the corporate limits of this city I would not ask one man to go. I would see them in hell first.107
Would any faithful Mormon have volunteered in that climate? I have found no evidence of Mormon volunteers for the Civil War serving in California. At this point research in major libraries in the area has turned up no evidence of a request being made to place soldiers on Mormon Island to help with ship building.
The California Volunteers stationed at the Drum Barracks would have come from California. Since 1857-8 and for many years after the Civil War, Mormons were instructed to move to Utah. There probably were few people who considered themselves faithful Latter-day Saints living in California during the Civil War. Perhaps the volunteers were members of the
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose missionaries came to California in the early 1860’s. Would they have allowed themselves to be called “Mormons” given the strong anti-Mormon feelings expressed by their leaders?
Because the majority of southern Californians supported the Confederacy, most of the California Volunteers were drawn from northern California.108 Were there some inactive LDS who enlisted from there? Any LDS in his ranks would have concerned Carlton who strongly distrusted Mormons.
As with most research, the pursuit of answers to questions leads to more questions. Certainly the absence of evidence proves nothing except the need for further research.