Mormons in San Bernardino County, California

In the year 1851 began the third period or chapter in the history of the section-that of Mormon occupation. Brigham Young, the head of the Mormon church, desired the establishment of a colony on the Pacific coast, as an out-fitting post for the church, and as a pacific port where European converts might be landed, instead of disembarking them at New York harbor, to travel overland across the continent. The journey overland to Salt Lake could be shortened two-thirds in this way. It is said that the great Mormon leader favored the purchase of the Chino Rancho, but the leaders of the expedition were of a different opinion.

Leaving Salt Lake on March 14, 1851, the Mormon band on June 11, 1851, reached the Cajon Pass, the first fifty wagons, he having returned to Salt Lake after some time spent in the mines of El Dorado. There were 800 or 900 Mormons arrived within a few days after the first installment. The Mormons were not idle while in camp at the Cajon Pass, but they busied themselves in repairing the wear and tear of the journey, and in preparation for the labors of the future. They alto had schools for the children- in session while there. Most of these immigrants had come with ox teams. They had on arrival some $700 altogether, which was reserved for the purchase of food.

In September 1851, they bought from the Lugo family the Rancho de San Bernardino agreeing to pay there for $77,500, the sale being made on credit.

The surviving Mormon pioneers declare that, by the terms of purchase, they acquired twenty-seven leagues of land, but that the laws were so construed as to restrict them to eight leagues, which they were feign to accept, rather than contest the case with the odds against them; and this the more readily, that’ they were allowed to choose their own portion, thus obtaining, as they say, the very cream of the cocoanut,” when the lands were surveyed, and the eight leagues confirmed to them. Their contract with the Lugos included seventy-five cattle for food purposes, the Mormons having only their draught cattle. The remainder of the great herds of the Lagos was removed by the following spring.

The sale was made on credit, the Mormons relying on their ability to secure the purchase money by the proceeds of their prospective grain crops. It is usually stated that the proceeds of the grain raised by each family was turned over to Rich & Lyman as a payment fund for the land at large; but the surviving pioneers state that each man was credited with the amount he turned in, as purchase money on the tract he should select as his own individual holding, after the survey.

Soon after the Mormons took possession of their purchase, an Indian war was threatened, and they hastened to build a fort for protection and defense moving from the quarter now known as ” High Lands,” down to the edge of the bluff or bench overlooking the low ground. The limits of the fort were about as follows: the western boundary at about D street, the southern, at Third street, the eastern side about B street, and the northern near Fourth street, where the old school-house now stands.

The log houses of the settlers followed these lines, and the gaps between the houses were filled in with stockading. Within the enclosure was built a large ” arbor ” the ramada of the Mexicans, covered with the boughs of trees, rushes, etc., which was used as a place of worship, and also as a school house. One of the old Lugo ranch houses was included within the fort’s limits.

The first teacher here was William Stout, who is well remembered by a number of prominent men of the San Bernardino of today, who were under his charge.

In this fort, built in the spring of 1852, took refuge the Mormons, as well as the other families living in the valley and also a number of Mexicans from Agua Mansa, who came to ask for protection and shelter, either entering the fort or camping close beside it. The stock of all parties was left outside where it could be pastured and herded.

In this fort, which covered some ten acres, lived the Mormons until 1853, when they scattered over the lands then surveyed for the first time.

A serious war with the Indians was apprehended at this period of fortification. At that time, a dozen soldiers stationed at the Chino Rancho composed the entire military force in the county. Volunteer companies were organized throughout Southern California, and arms procured as speedily as possible, all possible forces combining for strength to repel an attack. Perhaps intimidated by these preparations, the Indians for the time desisted from further depredations, except as they committed isolated murders upon miners, prospectors and rancheros.

As soon as the Indian difficulties were regulated the population began to increase.

In March or April of 1852 the first timber road was built to the forests on the summit. The able-bodied workers assembled to the number of 100 to 120, and in thirteen days they completed this wagon road fifteen or sixteen miles long. So well built, too, was it, that it served as the thoroughfare for the entire lumber traffic for twenty years. A saw-mill was then built on the summit, followed before the winter of 1853 by two others, which were kept busy sawing out lumber for use below in the valley.

No time whatever had been wasted by these energetic, industrious colonists. They had set bravely to work from the very day of their arrival, in earnest endeavor to develop the re-sources of the situation. Even before they received the title to the land they began to plant vines and fruit trees; the first spring the Seeley brothers and others planted to orchard and vineyard some ten acres, in what is now known as “the old Barton Vineyard.” The fall of their arrival witnessed the sowing of 3,000 acres of grain, which the next season yielded a large crop. Some barley was planted but the crops were wheat for the most part. One wheat-field on the plains of Old San Bernardino contained 1,600 acres. There was a very large ” mountain field ” also on the Muscupiabe Rancho, to the left of the Waterman Canon Road.

The Mormons received as much as $5 per bushel for their wheat, as there were now many settlers at Los Angeles, where flour sold at from $15 to $18 per hundredweight. Thus, it must be seen that the Mormons made admirably commendable settlers, and their industry and thrift not only promoted rapid growth of the town, but developed the surrounding country. They purchased and brought under cultivation large tracts of land that hitherto had only nurtured sheep and cattle. Large fields of grain they sowed by their usual system of joint labor on the mesa lands near the base of the mountains, on what is now known as the Muscupiabe Rancho. On these lands, now barren from the lack of water, may still be seen traces of that earlier cultivation.

Lyman and Rich, who afterward associated with themselves in the ownership of the property Ebenezer Hanks, managed the affairs of the colony on a wise and liberal basis. They subdivided the entire rancho into tracts of varying size, ranging from five to ninety acres, and these lots they offered for sale at low prices and on easy terms of payment. In this way many settlers not of the Mormon faith were attracted into the valley.

Thus it was, too, that while many other fine ranchos of Southern California were given over to exclusive use as ranges for large bands of cattle and horses, this settlement was already divided by long lines of fences, dotted with cottages and covered with orchards and vine-yards.

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