Mormon History

San Bernardino County, California - 1857

A county without leaders

Joe Blackstock
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

It's an election year, so rest assured every self-promoting politician will at some point proclaim that he wants to reduce the size of government.

As unlikely as it is for anybody to actually do, such a thing once occurred in San Bernardino County.

During one chaotic period 150 years ago, most every member of the county's government packed up and left town - and voluntarily.

The county was, in effect, still an outpost of Brigham Young's Utah territory, and the Mormon church controlled most of its political and economic power.

But that came to an end in 1857. Young sent word to the Mormon faithful to dispose of their holdings and return to Utah to help protect the Salt Lake Valley, possibly by force.

President James Buchanan had ordered a troop of soldiers to accompany a new governor to the territory after Young, the acting governor, had had numerous run-ins with non-Mormon officials sent there by the federal government.

Young's clarion call to Mormons throughout the West eventually became unnecessary because an agreement was worked out between U.S. envoys and Young before the soldiers arrived.

Thursday marks the 150th anniversary of the day those U.S. troops rode into Salt Lake City - a peaceful end to what some call the "Utah War."

But things weren't so calm down in San Bernardino.

There, most of its Mormon leaders had dutifully pulled up stakes and returned to Utah.

Historian Edward Leo Lyman - his great-great- grandfather was one of the Mormon leaders in San Bernardino - estimated about 55 percent of the area's population left for Utah in the fall and early winter of 1857.

And it certainly caused a buyer's market. There are stories of ranches being traded for wagons and traveling gear. One house was reportedly sold for $40.

San Bernardino County schools had 1,142 students in early 1857. A year later, enrollment was 686.

Perhaps the greatest shock to the region was the absence of leadership, noted former Judge Horace C. Rolfe in an early history of the county written about 1905.

There are few details of this period - no minutes of the Board of Supervisors exist before May 1858, and the county had no newspaper at that time.

Rolfe, however, was there, having arrived in the settlement in its infancy about 1851. He recalled that the halls of government first got a bit shaky when the county judge resigned and headed north, followed by the sheriff and tax collector.

Positions like county treasurer and clerk also became vacant, forcing the Board of Supervisors to scramble to find replacements among residents who weren't leaving.

But things pretty much ground to a halt in the county in the fall of 1857, when the two Mormon members of the three-man Board of Supervisors packed up and departed, according to Rolfe.

In their haste to leave, both failed to formally write out resignations. The seriousness of that became apparent quickly because state law said the seats could not be declared vacant for 60 days, leaving the board without a quorum for two months.

Perhaps just as bad, according to Rolfe, no sheriff could be appointed for the same reason. (Adding to the problem, the previous sheriff was also a lousy tax collector whose record-keeping was highly suspect, meaning few taxes were collected that year.)

Faced with this rather odd legal dilemma, Rolfe wrote, the county clerk took charge at a community meeting held later. Saying the missing supervisors had vacated their jobs by leaving the state, the county clerk threw state law to the wind and called a special election, to which no one objected.

Rolfe said two supervisors were elected and sworn in on the spot.

The new three-man board rapidly appointed an interim sheriff and tax collector and filled all the other vacant positions.

And, as much as it ever was on the edge of California's frontier, things went back to normal in San Bernardino.

That would not be such a good thing, at least according to Harry G. Boyle, one of the Mormons who left the area as part of the exodus and offered this observation about San Bernardino:

It was doomed, he said bitterly, as "a den of Apostates, thieves, drunkards, Methodists, and every kind of foul character."

Old cannon was real blast

Nicholas R. Cataldo, Correspondent

Contra Costa Times


One of the most intriguing relics that still can be traced to San Bernardino's colorful past is an old cannon now resting in front of the meeting hall used by the Native Sons of the Golden West on Del Rosa Avenue in San Bernardino.

According to legend, this vintage "12-pounder" was one of four cannons brought from Mexico to San Diego in 1818 to help ward off pirate ships bent on raiding sections of the California coast.

Mexican soldiers also supposedly used it during the Mexican War.

After Mexico's surrender in 1848, the weapon was buried at the northwest corner of Commercial Street in Los Angeles, where it remained until being exhumed in January 1854 and placed on Fort Hill, just above and west of Los Angeles.

The old cannon came out of retirement and went through an interesting "second life" when it made its way to the predominantly Mormon settlement of San Bernardino.

During the early 1850s, the relationship between the Mormons and the relatively few non-Mormons (commonly referred to as Independents) in the new town of San Bernardino went pretty well - most of the time. However, as the nonconformists increased in number, a great deal of friendly rivalry developed.

The contest began when the Independents put up a 60-foot flagpole at their celebration site on Third Street between Arrowhead Avenue and D Street in front of McDonald's furniture store. Carefully eying their competitors from their celebration headquarters at what is now Pioneer Park, the Mormons mounted a 100-foot pole. Then the Independents ran up a spanking new flag on their pole, which was quickly followed by a much larger one by their sly counterparts.

This competition continued with the non-Mormons putting together a patriotic singing chorus followed by the Mormons coming up with a band of instruments, which made more noise. The Independents finally got the upper hand, though.

After the Mormons fired salutes with a little brass "pop gun," the Independents brought out the old cannon, which had recently been hauled all the way from Los Angeles for the festive event by William McDonald, who promptly placed it in front of his store.

When the old cannon let loose with a resounding boom, there was no doubt which side had won this friendly "battle."

Unfortunately, relations between the two factions soured by the next year when Mormon President Brigham Young recalled his "faithful" back to Salt Lake City.

Early in 1857, an independent named Jerome Benson, fuming over a dispute regarding land claims with the Mormon leaders, mounted the cannon in front of his home at Homoa (near today's Loma Linda), daring anyone to evict him from what he dubbed "Fort Benson."

The issue eventually was resolved without the cannon being pressed into service.

Then, as the impending Civil War drew near, the old cannon once again was briefly commissioned.

In 1859, a heated political battle between San Bernardino's two physicians - Confederate agitator Thomas Gentry and flag-waving Unionist Alonzo Ainsworth - had been quarreling for some time.

After the two "docs" failed to hit their targets during a gun duel, Gentry got together some of his crony friends from El Monte with intentions of wiping out his adversary.

Sympathizing friends of Ainsworth took their scared comrade to Bethel Coopwood's adobe home at the corner of E and Church streets where he was guarded from Gentry's mob. During the night the Ainsworth group lined up in the cornfield surrounding the house, whereupon the notorious "El Monte Boys" hauled out the old Spanish cannon, loaded it, and threatened to blow up the house.

Fortunately, one of Ainsworth's guards, Sidney Waite, managed to reach the cannon unnoticed and spiked it by using a rat tail file before the antiquated arsenal could cause some real damage.

After this fiasco, the old gun would sound off during special occasions in San Bernardino for several years.

Arthur Kearney, editor of the San Bernardino Guardian, reported on May 27, 1876, that the last date of its doing "saluting service" was on May Day 1864.

But he also noted that William McDonald and Sydney Waite were in the process of cleaning the old relic for the country's upcoming Centennial Celebration so that it could make one final blast and "thunder its salute to our starry banner."


Bartons were active in early development of SB Valley

Mark Landis, Correspondent

The Sun


Dr. Ben Barton and his family were among a handful of individuals whose pioneer spirit and ingenuity helped shape the development of the San Bernardino Valley. Even in those simpler times, the Bartons were involved in so many aspects of regional development, it's hard to imagine how they had the time for all their accomplishments.

Ben Barton was born June 8, 1823, in South Carolina. He was raised on an ancestral estate where his family had established deep roots dating back to colonial times. Curiously, Ben was his full name and not a shortened version of Benjamin, as is often written.

In 1843, Barton left South Carolina to pursue his professional studies in Lexington, Ky. After completing his medical training, he practiced medicine in Alabama and Texas.

While in Texas, Barton married Eliza Brite of Missouri, a young lady described as "one of the winsome daughters of the South." Barton and his bride came to California in 1854 and settled in El Monte. His son John H. Barton was born there in 1855 and his second son Hiram M. Barton was born in San Gabriel in 1856.

Barton came to the San Bernardino Valley in 1857 when he purchased a large piece of land in the area known as the "old mission district" that is now part of Loma Linda and Redlands.

In 1857, the Mormon Church was in turmoil and the Mormon settlers of the San Bernardino colony were called by Brigham Young to make a hasty return to Utah. Those who obeyed the urgent call were forced to sell their properties and businesses at panic prices, well below their value.

According to author and historian Leo Lyman, "about 2,000 of the 3,000 Mormons in the valley basically had to just pick up and leave. They traded what they owned for wagons and supplies, and if they got one-quarter of what it was worth, they were happy."

Barton was one of those who benefited most from the urgent sales. He purchased a prime piece of land from Mormon elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich that was part of the original Rancho San Bernardino. Barton bought the 640-acre property for $5,000 on Feb.16, 1858. The purchase included the old "mission" buildings at the site of today's Asistencia on Barton Road in Redlands.

"The old mission property was already being improved when Barton bought it," said Lyman. "Nathan Tenney had planted a vineyard there about two years before it was sold." Barton later developed the vineyards into a successful business that supplied wine all around the area.

In 1858, Barton built an adobe house at the corner of Fourth and C streets in San Bernardino that housed his medical practice as well as a drug store and post office. It was there that Barton became the second regularly appointed postmaster of San Bernardino.

The doctor's many other activities kept him busy so the post office was run primarily by his brother, John P. Barton. Thomas Dickey succeeded Barton as postmaster, and he moved the post office to the corner of Third and D streets.

With the Mormon departure, a large void of public officials was immediately created and on Feb. 27, 1858, an emergency election was held. Barton and a group of other recent arrivals to the city were temporarily elected to fill public offices. Barton was appointed as county superintendent of schools.

The medical profession was less than lucrative in San Bernardino's early years and in 1859, Barton abandoned his medical practice and began devoting his time to his ranch and real estate holdings.

The Barton family set up their home in the old mission buildings, and Ben began developing the surrounding ranchlands. Ben and Eliza had three more children: Lelia was born in 1859 and died in infancy, Mary was born in 1860, and Anne was born in 1864.

A school for the local children was set up in the old mission buildings. The Barton children attended school there, and they grew up helping their father tend the family ranch and vineyard.

Barton continued to stay active in local politics, and he was elected to the California state assembly in 1861-62.

During the drought of 1862-64, Barton began driving his herd of sheep up the Santa Ana River Canyon and into the rich mountain grasslands that became known as Barton Flats. When the colder winter months began closing in, the flock was brought back to pasture in the more temperate climate of the Barton Ranch.

The doctor's sons Hiram and John carried on the annual drives well into the 1870s. The Bartons' forays into the mountains drew the attention of the local cattlemen, and soon many herds of cattle were roaming the rich grasslands of the upper Santa Ana.

In 1866 to '67, the Bartons built an elegant two-story brick home adjacent to the mission buildings. The home commanded an extensive view of their ranch and growing real estate holdings. The Barton Mansion still stands on Nevada Street, just north of Barton Road and has been beautifully restored and converted into professional office space.

Hiram Barton followed in his father's political footsteps and was elected to the state legislature in 1886 to represent San Bernardino County. In 1905, he was elected mayor of San Bernardino.

Over the years, the Bartons accumulated a large tract of land that became known as the Barton Tract. In 1881, Redlands founders Edward Judson and Frank Brown purchased land from the Bartons that became part of the new Redlands colony. By 1890, the Bartons were selling 10-acre lots through the Barton Land and Water Company.

In 1883, Hiram Barton made a historic journey on horseback with Redlands co-founder Frank Brown to the future site of the Bear Valley Dam (Big Bear Lake). Brown likely chose Hiram to accompany him because of the Bartons' familiarity with the mountains gained from their annual sheep drives. It was during this famed trip that Brown formulated his plan to develop Bear Valley into a huge irrigation reservoir.

Ben Barton died Jan. 1, 1899.

Throughout their years as pioneers of the San Bernardino Valley, the Bartons were prominent citizens who were active in ranching, land development, politics and philanthropy. Their home was a center of social and political activity, and the Barton family members carried on the pioneer tradition for many years.