Historical Society of Southern California.

Annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County (Volume yr.1902-1904) online

. (page 12 of 29)
Online LibraryHistorical Society of Southern CaliforniaAnnual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County (Volume yr.1902-1904) → online text (page 12 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." They lie
side by side at Point Loma.



(Read Dec. 7, 1903.)

Santa Catalina is one of an interesting group of islands ly-
ing south of Point Concepcion, along the coast of Southern
California. These are often divided into two groups, the
more northern ones, known as the Channel Islands, being com-
posed of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa,
along the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Santa
Catalina, Santa Barbara, San Nicolas and San Clemente are the
group of Santa Barbara Islands that lie along the coast of
Los Angeles and San Diego Counties.

Although belonging to Los Angeles County, some twenty
mjiles or more must be sailed over before Santa Catalina is

The length of Santa Catalina is variously estimated at from
18 to 22 miles. The greatest width is estimated at eight miles,
the narrowest being at the isthmus, which is only one-half mile

The island is mountainous and covered with jutting peaks
that rise on every side. There are no beaches excepting in the
crescent-shaped caiions, for bold rocks stand out in the water, in
some places like immense granite walls, against which the ocean
dashes in its fury. Even at the isthmus the curving beaches
are limited to small areas.

Prof. Lawson,* the geologist, says the "larger part" of the
island is "composed of volcanic rocks, not essentially different
in their general field character from those of San Clemente."
The greatest elevations on the island are known as Orizaba and
Black Jack, which rise near the center of the island to a height
of over 2000 feet.

"There are half a dozen or more springs and creeks which
do not dry up during the summer, and a few wells supply the
other points. All the water is decidedly alkaHne."*

* "The Past Pliocene Diastrophism of the Coast of Southern
California," by Andrew C. Lawson, University of Cal. "Bull.
Dept. Geol., Vol. i, No. 4.)


A casual visitor on Santa Catalina Island in the summer
time will tell you that, aside from trees and plants under culti-
vation, the island is devoid of vegetation, save a few scrubby
trees, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) running- in riotous
growth over the hills, and the long yellow grass that covers
the otherwise bare earth.

But the botanist tells another tale of rare trees and shrubs
not reported elsewhere. And besides these he finds plants that
lie hidden in the caiions, needing the winter rains to encour-
age their unfolding. Many years ago a friend of mine, who
was something of a botanist, was enthusiastic over the wealth
of wild flowers that followed in the train of the winter showers
and grew in beauty on the hills and in the vale of Avalon. Our
so-called Mariposa Lily, which is a tulip, was first reported
from the island, and bears the name of "Calochortus Catalinae,"
Wats, or "Catalina Mariposa Tulip." This is only one of a
number of plants new to science found on this island.

To one who loves to indulge in the play of fancy amid prim-
itive surroundings, there is no spot more ideal than one of the
lonely foothills overlooking the ocean in this island. Encom-
passed by a wild and tangled growth that climbs the perpen-
dicular mountains, with dry grass under one's feet, the blue
Pacific splashing and dashing against the upright rocks below,
one can sit and forget he is a part of the rushing procession of
the world. The petty cares of yesterday with the multitude
have gone; they have fallen off like a mantle that is too heavy
when the sun has risen. Surrounded by the Eternal, your sour
is at peace.

This is the Isle of Summer as it has arisen from the hand
of nature, but man — restless, struggling man — has invaded the
island and a new environment is replacing the primitive one.
The calculating engineer, the landscape gardener and architect,
with all their concomitant following, are dotting the cafions,
and the slippery trail of the wild goat gives place to the upland
stage drawn by many horses. The fame of the nervy jew fish
and albacore has given the island an international reputation,
and the unrest of the summer visitor is fast converting the land
of sweet idleness into a fashionable watering place.

Many years ago when I visited the little crescent-shaped
vale of Avalon, it was only a diminutive, quiet tent town,
nestled between towering peaks. In other cafions a litle soli-

* "The Geology of Santa Catalina Island," by William Tan-
gier Smith. (Proc. Cal. Acad. Sciences.)


tery shack of a home, and at the isthmus the deserted barracks
of the U. S. government, used during the Civil war, was stand-
ing in solitary abandonment.

On my last visit in 1902 the automobile rushed along the
shaded avenues of transplanted trees to the golf grounds, and
up the steep hills the wireless telegraph had caught a sound-
proof resting place. A teeming crowd of restless humanity
surged up and down the beach in front of Avalon, with her
numerous hotels and stores, and her cottages dotted the hill
sides, only reached by steep flights of steps.

Instead of a two-masted yacht landing her dozen passen-
gers, two, and oftener three, steamships daily filled from the
upper to the lower deck with a crowd of passengers, pufTed up
to the pier with the haste of a time limit.

Even the shore has felt the change. Dredging, so as to
enable boats of deeper caliber to land, has changed this gently
receding beach to one of more abrupt declension. The dead
shells no longer are stranded upon the beach; they lie amid the
sands, rarely uncovered by the tide. The white valves of the
Chione and the rare pink-lined ones of the Hemicardium and
the pure white pebbles no longer strew the beach.

Bath houses, rustic seats and fishing stands, hung with fish
whose single weight runs up into the hundreds of pounds, en-
circle the water front almost to Sugar Loaf rock.

Where, years ago, tiny golden fish played in and out under
the skiff as we rowed over the water, on my last visit tO' Ava-
lon an expert diver went down into the water to seek for miss-
ing diamonds dropped overboard by a hotel visitor as she
returned on a vessel from a pleasure trip to the isthmus.

But, while diamonds and dollars perv^ade the Avalon of
other days, and have sought a landing place at the isthmus —
which, no doubt, will be joined by the rushing trolley car — yet
the hills, with their rugged sides, cannot be irrigated in a day,
and so will long jut out alluring peaks to tempt the lover of
Nature to seek the solitude of uncultivated slopes.

We are glad the scientists' iron-clad rule of precedence in
nomenclature does not obtain in the naming of the island, else
the more euphonius name of Santa Catalina would give place to
that of "Victoria," named by Cabrillo, the earlier navigator.
For Vizcaino (variously spelled Viscaino, Vizcaino and Vis-
cayno) sighted this pile of mountains in the sea at a later date
than Cabrillo, but he remembered it was Saint Catherine's day
and he gave her the island as a namesake. But Victoria would


have been far more preferable than "Pimugna" (also printed
Pineugna), the Indian name for this island.

Viscaino journeyed from San Diego when he sighted the
island, and Hittell says:

"Here he found many Indians — men, women and children —
all clothed in seal skins, and was received by them with extreme
kindness. They were a fine-looking race, had large dwellings
and numerous rancherias; made admirable canoes, some of
which would carry twenty persons; and were expert seal hunt-
ers and fishermen. There were many things of interest there,
but the most extraordinary were a temple and idol, the most
remarkable of which any account remains among the Califor-
nians. The temple consisted of a large circular place orna-
mented with variously colored feathers of different kinds. With-
in the circle was the idol, a figure supposed to represent the
devil*, painted in the manner in which the Indians of New
Spain were accustomed to depict their demon, and having at
his sides representatives of the sun and moon. To this idol
it was said the Indians sacrificed large numbers of birds, and
that it was with their feathers that the place was adorned. When
the Spanish soldiers, who were conducted thither by an In-
dian, arrived at the spot, they found within the circle two ex-
traordinary crowst, much larger than common, which, upon
their approach, flew away and perched upon the neighboring
rocks. Struck by their size, the soldiers shot and killed them
both; whereupon their Indian guide began to utter the most
pathetic lamentations. T believe,' says Father Torquemanda,
'that the devil was in those crows and spoke through them, for
they were regarded with great respect and veneration;' and in
further illustration of this he relates that on another occasion,
when several Indian women were washing fish upon the beach,
the crows approached and snatched the food from their hands;
and that the women stood in such awe that they dared not drive
them away, and were horrified when the Spaniards threw stones
at them."**

To quote further, Mr. Hittell says: "Among the natural
productions of Santa Catalina were large quantities of edible
roots, called "gicamas," and in these, according to Viscaino, the
Indians carried on a sort of trade with their neighbors of the

* See Hugo Reid's account in this paper.

t See also Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. HI.

**Hitteirs History of California, Vol. I.

t Torquemanda L. V.,, Chap. LII, quoted in Hittell's Hist.
California, Vol. I.


He also mentions as another significant fact that the wo-
men of the island had pleasant countenances, fine eyes, and
were modest and decorous in their behavior*, and that the
children were white and ruddy and all very afifable and agree-
able. From^ these statements, as well as from those made by
Cabrillo in reference to the Indians of the opposite coast, it
is evident that the natives of these regionsf, on account of a
difference either in blood or in the circumstances under which
they lived, were far in advance of the other natives of Califor-

Bancroft* mentions some of the uses that shells were put
to; that "The beard is plucked out with a bi-valve shell which
answers the purpose of pinchers," and also that "The more in-
dustrious and wealthy embroider their garments profusely with
small shells."*

In Farnham's quaint volume on the "Early Days of Cali-
fornia," he says of Viscaino's voyage to the island, which he
calls Santa Catarina : "The inhabitants of Santa Catarina make
the most noisy and earnest invitations for them to land. The
General (Viscaino) therefore orders Admiral Gomez, Captain
Peguero and Ensign Alarcon, with twenty-four soldiers, to
land on the island and learn what the natives so earnestly de-
sire. As soon as they reach the shore they are surrounded by
Indian men and women, who treat them with much kindness
and propriety, and intimate that they have seen other Span-
iards. When asked for water, they give it to the whites in a
sort of bottle made of rushes

"They explore the island. It appears to be overgrown
with savin and a species of briar. A tent is pitched for re-
ligious service, and Padre Tomas (de Aquino), being ill. Padres
Antonio (de la Ascencion) and Andrez (de la Assumpcion)
celebrate mass in presence of all the people. These Indians
spend much of their time in taking the many varieties of fish
which abound in the bay."

Besides having plenty of fish, the natives were supplied
with quail, partridges, rabbits, hare and deer.

At that time, according to this writer, the people of the
neighboring islands were in direct communication with the na-
tives of this island.

* Torquemanda L. V., Chap. LIII, translated in Hittell's
Hist. Cal., Vol. I.

t "Other islands of Santa Barbara Channel."
i Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. I.

* Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. I.


From the landing of Viscaino to the time of the Missionary
Fathers, history furnishes us with httle data regarding the
people of this island. A writer in Bancroft's Native Races says :
"When first discovered by Cabrillo, in 1542, the islands off the
coast were inhabited by a superior people, but these they were
induced by the padres to abandon, following which event the
people faded away."*

The Very Reverend Joseph J. O'Keefe, Superior of the
Franciscans, in a letter on this subject says : "The lapse of time,
from the exploration of Cabrillo to the coming of the Mission-
ary Fathers to this part of the coast, was somew'hat over two
centuries, during which long period many and radical changes
could have easily taken place, and must have taken place, if
Cabrillo found, as Bancroft states, a superior people on the
islands. The fact that there is no record by the Fathers of their
having found any such people on the islands, after their arrival
here in 1768-9, goes far to prove that if such people existed at
the time of Cabrillo's explorations in 1542, they had even be-
fore the advent of the Fathers (1769) either left the islands and
become mixed up with the Chumas and other tribes on the
mainland, or were exterminated by disease or war."

William Henry Holmes, the well known anthropologist of
the U. S. National Museum, is of the opinion that the natives
of this island did "not dififer essentially, in blood or culture, from
the people of the mainland."*

The question has often been asked, "Why didn't the Fath-
ers establish a mission on Santa Catalina Island?" In his bi-
ennial report of the missions in 1803-4 it appears that President
Estevan Tapis did favor the founding of a mission on the isle
which he calls "I imu." In his report he says : "Limu abounds
with timber, water and soil. There are ten rancheriis on the
island, the three largest of which, Cajatsa, Ashuael and Liam,
have 124, 145 and 122 adults respectively. The men are naked,
live on fish, and are eager for a mission."* He also reports that
the natives of Santa Rosa were willing to move to Santa Cat-
aline, or Limu, ^s they had "no facilities for a mission." But
in his later report of 1805-6, according to Bancroft, "the presi-
dent confesicd that as the sarampion, or measles, had carried
off over two hundred natives on the two islands, and as a recent

* Bancroft's Native Races, Vol. I.

* Anthropological Studies in California, by William Henry
Holmes. (Report U. S. Nat. Mus. 1900.)

* Bancroft's History of California, Vol. II.


investigation had shown a lack of good lands and of water,
the expediency of founding a mission was doubtful."

Captain Wm. Shaler, of the Lelia Byrd, who landed at
Santa Catahna in 1805, reported that he found about one hun-
dred and fifty Indians on the island, and they were very friendly
to him — "he believed himself the first explorer"! of the harbor
where he anchored, and he named it after his former partner,
Port Rouissillon.t He stayed at the island about six weeks,
and afterward published a narrative of his voyages.

In 1807 Jonathan Winship of the vessel O'Cain "hunted
otter for a time at Santa Catalina Island, where he found forty
or fifty Indian residents who had grain and vegetables to sell."*

The reports of these two Captains, one of 150 Indians in
1805, and the other, two years later, of 50 Indians, would indi-
cate that the .measles, or some other cause, had greatly reduced
the number that in 1803-4 had been reported by the president
of the missions as almost 400.

The Rev. Father O'Keefe gives us the reasons why no mis-
sion was founded upon the island. He writes :t "I always
understood that there were not many Indians on Santa Cata-
lina Island at the time of the missions; also that the govern-
ment was opposed to and would not aid in founding any mis-
sions, except on the mainland. So this is the true reason why
no mission was established on the island, apart from the fact
that the Indians were but few at the time. As missions could
not be established on the islands, lacking government consent,
I know the Fathers invited the few Indians of the islands to
join the missions on the coast, so they might more conveniently
instruct them in Christian doctrine; as the Fathers were not
many, and those appointed to the newly established missions
could not be absent from them for many days, they could go
but seldom to the islands, and then with great hardship and

There is a legend that the male natives of Santa Catalina
were killed by the Aleuts, or Kodiak Indians, of Russian Amer-
ica, but I have not been able to verify this statement. In Rob-
inson's Life in California, in referring to the importance of the

t "Captain Shaler's narrative, published in 1808, was the
first extended account of California printed in the United
States." — Bancroft's History of California, Vol. II.

* Count Rouissillon, a distinguished Pole.

* Bancroft's History of California, Vol. II.
t In a letter.

* Bancroft's History of California, Vol. II.


trade in fur seals and sea otters, which had "called the atten-
tion of the Russian Codiaks" to the islands, he says: "On one
occasion, in a quarrel with the islanders at St. Nicholas (San
Nicolas), they inhumanly massacred nearly the whole of the
male inhabitants, which act naturally induced the entire pop-
ulation of these islands (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Nic-
olas) to seek refuge and protection among the several mis-
sionary establishments on the mainland."

As Mr. Robinson was familiar with Santa Catalina, where
as super-cargo's clerk his vessel often weighed anchor, if the
islanders had met a similar fate, he certainly would have
mentioned it.

In the autumn of 1838, according to Bancroft,* Captain
Jjohn Bancroft of the ship Llama landed at Santa Rosa Island
with "twenty-five fierce Kaiganies." Later he went to Santa
Catalina Island to hunt otter, and on November 21, after a
quarrel with one of these northwestern Indians, he was shot in
back and mortally wounded. His wife, who was on board the
vessel, threw herself upon his body and was also wounded. Mrs.
Bancroft died about two months afterward, "from the eflfects
of her wounds."

Father Geronimo Boscano* interviewed some of the natives
to ascertain their original conceptions, and his MSS., trans-
lated after his death, give us some insight into the religious be-
liefs of the Indians of Alta California. Boscano writes: "It
is difficult, I confess, if unacquainted with their language, to
penetrate their secrets." To their god, Chinigchinick, they
attribute this command : "And to those who have kept my
commandments I shall give all they ask of me; but those who
obey not my teachings, nor beheve them, I shall punish severely.
I will send unto themi bears to bite, and serpents to sting them;
they shall be without food and have diseases that they may die."
They evidently feared punishment only in this world.

* Chinigchinick : A Historical Account of the Indians of
Alta California, by the Rev. Father Friar Geronimo Boscano.
Translated from the original MS. by one who was many years
a resident of Alta California (1844). This translation by Al-
fred Robinson was bound with his Life in California by an
American (Alfred Robinson).

Hugo Reid, or Prefecto HugO' Reid, a Scotchman, who
came to California in 1834 or '35 and settled near the San

* See Hist, of Cal. by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Vol. IV,
pages 90-119.


Gabriel Mission, has given us a series of articles on the Indians
of Los Angeles County. These letters were written for the
Los Angeles Star in 1852.* Hugo Reid had married an In-
dian woman and lived much among the natives. He is re-
puted to have been a man of education. Although referring
mostly to the Indians of the mainland, reference is occasionally
made to those upon the islands. Reid miakes no mention of
the islanders as being unlike those of the rest of Los Angeles
County. Had they been so at the time he knew them, he
certainly would have noted their dififerences.

Mrs. Laura Evertsen King, who knew the Indian wife of
Hugo Reid, speaks of her as a refined woman of affectionate
disposition. She was very proud of her Scotch husband. They
had two children, from whom presents were often received from
Scotland. Of Mr. Reid, she says he had been a great traveler,
had a large library, for that time. Among his effects was a
letter of Byron's written to his publisher. While living in San
Gabriel, Reid often was gone three months at a time. Mrs.
King speaks of him as being a reticent man. Both his son and
his daughter died before reaching 20 years of age. The Indian
wife died of smallpox in 1864.

In Davis' Sixty Years in California," he also says of Reid's
wife: "We were surprised and delighted with the excellence
and neatness of the housekeeping of the Indian wife, which
could not have been excelled. The beds which were furnished
us to sleep on were exquisitely neat, with coverlids of satin,
the sheets and pillow cases trimmed with lace and highly or-

Reid says: "Fish, seals, whales, sea otter and shell fish
formed the principal subsistence of the immediate coast range of
lodges and islands."

Acorns were dried, pounded and carefully prepared and
cooked to form a mush. "Salt was used sparingly, as they con-
sidered it having a tendency to turn the hair grey." All of
their food was eaten cold, or nearly so. He says that next to
the acorn, the favorite "food was the kernel of a species of
plum which grows in the mountains and islands, and called
by them islay." "Some call it the 'mountain cherry,' although
it partakes little of either the plum or cherry."

These mountain cherries (Prunus illicifolia Walp.) still grow
on Santa Catalina, and Cherry Valley received its name from
the presence of these shrubs, or small trees, in the cove. Their

* Hugo Reid died in December, 1852.


pots to cook in were made of soapstone of about an inch in
thickness and procured from the Indians of Santa Catalina;
the cover used was of the same material.

The natives of Santa CataHna and those of the coast Hne
appear to have exchanged their local productions and to have
had much in common. Pottery from the now famous soap-
stone quarries (see cut of Indian quarry) of the island figured in
the "barter and trade" carried on with the Indians of the inter-
ior, who brought their "deer skins and seeds" to trade with the
aborigines of the coast.

Hugo Reid gives some very interesting accounts of mar-
riage and burial ceremonies, use of medicines, sports, games
and legends. The chief instructed some of the male children
orally with long stories, which they repeated word for word
until they became such adepts at recitation that no oration was
too long for them to recite it.

He says of one legend that he has reproduced : "Whenever
this legend was to be told, the hearers first bathed themselves,
then came to listen."

As much of the data given us by this writer was related to
himi by the old Indians or was noted by the writer himself, I
am tempted to quote still further: "Before the Indians* be-
longing to the greater part of this county were known to the
whites, they comprised, as it were, one great family, under
distinct chiefs. They spoke nearly the same language, with
the exception of a few words, and were more to be distinguished
by a local intonation of the voice than by anything else.

"Being related by blood and marriage, war was never car-
ried on between them. When war was consequently waged
against neighboring tribes of no affinity, it was a common

Like Christian nations, they had their family feuds, often
passing down from one generation to another, yet their vari-

* In judging Los Angeles County Indians during the period
of their degeneration we miust bear in mind the influences sur-
rounding them — -aside from the Fathers. Alex. Forbes, Esq.,
writing in 1835, says: "For whatever soldiers are sent to Cal-
ifornia are the refuse of the Mexican army, and most frequently
are deserters, mutineers or men guilty of military crimes." Add
to this influence, whisky for the Indians, and the absence of
marriage vows toward the Indian women, and degeneration
is the natural result.


Online LibraryHistorical Society of Southern CaliforniaAnnual publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County (Volume yr.1902-1904) → online text (page 12 of 29)