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California's Mormon Pilgrims

   California's Mormon Pilgrims

The Brooklyn Party at San Francisco

The members of the Mormon Battalion were far from being the first of their faith to tread the golden sands of California. Somehow, in the divine ordering of things mundane, the Mormons generally were very near the van of Anglo-Saxon settlement of the States west of the Rockies. Thus it happened that on July 29, 1846, only three weeks after the American naval occupation of the harbor, there anchored inside the Golden Gate the good ship Brooklyn, that had brought from New York 238 passengers, mainly Saints, the first American contribution of material size to the population of the embarcadero of Yerba Buena, where now is the lower business section of the stately city of San Francisco.

The Brooklyn, of 450 tons burden, had sailed from New York February 4, 1846, the date happening to be the same as that on which began the exodus from Nauvoo westward. The voyage was an authorized expedition, counseled by President Brigham Young and his advisers in the early winter. At one time it was expected that thousands would take the water route to the west shore, on their way to the Promised Land. Elder Samuel Brannan was in charge of the first company, which mainly consisted of American farmer folk from the eastern and middle-western States. The ship had been chartered for $1200 a month and port charges. Fare had been set at $50 for all above fourteen years and half-fare for children above five. Addition was made of $25 for provisions. The passengers embraced seventy men, 68 women and about 100 children. There was a freight of farming implements and tools, seeds, a printing press, many school books, etc.

The voyage appears to have been even a pleasant one, though with a few notations of sickness, deaths and births and of trials that set a small number of the passengers aside from the Church. Around Cape Horn and as far as the Robinson Crusoe island of Juan Fernandez, off the Chilian coast, the seas were calm. Thereafter were two storms of serious sort, but without phase of disaster to the pilgrims. The next stop was at Honolulu, on the Hawaiian Islands, thence the course being fair for the Golden Gate.

When Captain Richardson dropped his anchors in the cove of Yerba Buena it appears to have been the first time that the emigrants appreciated they had arrived at anything save a colony of old Mexico. But when a naval officer boarded the ship and advised the passengers they were in the United States, "there arose a hearty cheer," though Brannan has been quoted as hardly pleased over the sight of the Stars and Stripes.

Beginnings of a Great City

As written by Augusta Joyce Cocheron, one of the emigrants:

"They crowded upon the deck, women and children, questioning husbands and fathers, and studied the picture before them--they would never see it just the same again--as the foggy curtains furled towards the azure ceiling. How it imprinted itself upon their minds! A long sandy beach strewn with hides and skeletons of slaughtered cattle, a few scrubby oaks, farther back low sand hills rising behind each other as a background to a few old shanties that leaned away from the wind, an old adobe barracks, a few donkeys plodding dejectedly along beneath towering bundles of wood, a few loungers stretched lazily upon the beach as though nothing could astonish them; and between the picture and the emigrants still loomed up here and there, at the first sight more distinctly, the black vessels--whaling ships and sloops of war--that was all, and that was Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, the landing place for the pilgrims of faith."

In John P. Young's "Journalism in California" is recited:

"It is not without significance that the awakening of Yerba Buena did not occur till the advent of the printing press. From the day when Leese built his store in 1836 till the arrival of the Mormon colony on July 31, 1846, the village retained all the peculiarities of a poverty-stricken settlement of the Spanish-American type. From that time forward changes began to occur indicative of advancement and it is impossible to disassociate them from the fact that a part of the Brooklyn's cargo was a press and a font of type, and that the 238 colonists aboard that vessel and others who found their way to the little town, brought with them books--more, one careful writer tells us, than could be found at the time in all the rest of the Territory put together."

Brannan and his California Star had a part in the very naming of San Francisco. This occurred January 30, 1847, rather hurried by discovery of the fact that a rival settlement on the upper bay proposed to take the name. So there was formal announcement in the Star that, from that date forward, there would be abandonment of the name Yerba Buena, as local and appertaining only to the cove, and adoption of the name of San Francisco. This announcement was signed by the Alcalde, Lieut. Washington A. Bartlett, who had been detached by Capt. J. B. Montgomery from the man-of-war Portsmouth on September 15, 1846, and who rejoined his ship the following February.

One of the Brooklyn's passengers in later years became a leader in the settlement of Mesa, Arizona. He was Geo. W. Sirrine, a millwright, whose history has been preserved by a son, Warren L. Sirrine of Mesa. The elder Sirrine was married on the ship, of which and its voyage he left many interesting tales, one being of a drift to the southward on beating around Cape Horn, till icebergs loomed and the men had to be detailed to the task of beating the rigging with clubs to rid it of ice. When danger threatened there was resort to prayer, but work soon followed as the passengers bore a hand with the crew.

Sirrine, who had had police experience in the East, was of large assistance to Brannan in San Francisco, where the rougher element for a time seized control, taking property at will and shooting down all who might disagree with their sway. It was he who arrested Jack Powers, leader of the outlaws, in a meeting that was being addressed by Brannan, and who helped in the provision of evidence under which the naval authorities eliminated over fifty of the desperados, some of them shipping on the war vessels in port. Some of the Mormons still had a part of their passage money unpaid and these promptly proceeded to find employment to satisfy their debt. The pilgrims' loyalty appears to have been of the highest. They had purchased arms in Honolulu and had had some drill on the passage thence. At least on one occasion, they rallied in San Francisco when alarm sounded that hostile Mexicans might attack.

According to Eldridge, historian of San Francisco:

"The landing of the Mormons more than doubled the population of Yerba Buena. They camped for a time on the beach and the vacant lots, then some went to the Marin forests to work as lumbermen, some were housed in the old Mission buildings and others in Richardson's Casa Grande (big house) on Dupont Street. They were honest and industrious people and all sought work wherever they could find it."

Brannan's Hope of Pacific Empire

A party of twenty pioneers was sent over to the San Joaquin Valley, to found the settlement of New Hope, or Stanislaus City, on the lower Stanislaus River, but the greater number for a while remained on the bay, making San Francisco, according to Bancroft, "for a time very largely a Mormon town. All bear witness to the orderly and moral conduct of the Saints, both on land and sea. They were honest and industrious citizens, even if clannish and peculiar." There was some complaint against Brannan, charged with working the Church membership for his own personal benefit.

New Hope had development that comprised a log house, a sawmill and the cultivation of eighty acres of land. It was abandoned in the fall, after word had been received that the main body of the Saints, traveling overland, would settle in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Brannan pushed with vigor his idea that the proper location would be in California. He started eastward to present this argument and met the western migration at Green River in July, and unsuccessfully argued with Brigham Young, returning with the vanguard as far as Salt Lake. His return to San Francisco was in September, on his way there being encounter with several parties from the Mormon Battalion, to them Brannan communicating rather gloomy ideas concerning the new site of Zion.

It is one of the many remarkable evidences of the strength of the Mormon religious spirit that only 45 adults of the Brooklyn party, with their children, remained in California, even after the discovery of gold. The others made their way across the Sierra Nevadas and the deserts, to join their people in the intermountain valley. A few were cut off from the Church. These included Brannan, who gathered large wealth, but who died, poor, in Mexico, in 1889.

There might be speculation over what would have been the fate of the Mormon Church had Brannan's idea prevailed and the tide of the Nauvoo exodus continued to California. Probably the individual pilgrims thereby might have amassed worldly wealth. Possibly there might have been established in the California valleys even richer Mormon settlements than those that now dot the map of the intermountain region. But that such a course would have been relatively disruptive of the basic plans of the leaders there can be no doubt, and it is also without doubt that under a condition of greater material wealth there would have been diminished spiritual interest.

Possibly even better was the grasp upon the people shown in Utah at the time of the passage of the California emigrants, in trains of hypnotized groups all crazed by lust for the gold assumed to be in California for the gathering. The Mormons sold them provisions and helped them on their way, yet added few to their numbers.

In after years, President Lorenzo Snow, referring to the Brannan effort, stated his belief that it would have been nothing short of disastrous to the Church had the people gone to California before they had become grounded in the faith. They needed just the experiences they had had in the valley of Salt Lake, where home-making was the predominant thought and where wealth later came on a more permanent basis.

Present at the Discovery of Gold

By a remarkable freak of fortune, about forty of the members of the Mormon Battalion discharged at Los Angeles, were on hand at the time of the discovery of gold in California. Divided into companies, they had made their way northward, expecting to pass the Sierras before the coming of snow. They found work at Sutter's Fort and nearby in the building of a sawmill and a grist-mill and six of them (out of nine employees) actually participated in the historic picking up of chunks of gold from the tailrace they had dug under the direction of J. W. Marshall. Sutter in after years wrote: "The Mormons did not leave my mill unfinished, but they got the gold fever like everybody else." They mined especially on what, to this day, is known as Mormon Island, on the American River, and undoubtedly the wealth they later took across the mountains did much toward laying a substantial foundation for the Zion established in the wilderness.

Henry W. Bigler, of the gold discovery party, kept a careful journal of his California experiences, a journal from which Bancroft makes many excerpts. An odd error is in the indexing of the Bancroft volumes on California, Henry W. Bigler being confused with John Bigler. The latter was governor of California in 1852-55. A truckling California legislature unsuccessfully tried to fasten his name upon Lake Tahoe. But the Mormon pioneer turned his back upon the golden sands after only a few months of digging, and later, for years, was connected with the Mormon temple at St. George, Utah.

January 24, 1898, four of the six returned to San Francisco, guests of the State of California in its celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold. They were Henry W. Bigler, Jas. S. Brown, Wm. J. Johnston and Azariah Smith. A group photograph, then taken, is reproduced in this volume. The others of the Mormon gold discoverers, Alexander Stephens and James Barger, had died before that date.

Looking Toward Southern California

All through the Church administration led by Brigham Young there was evidence of well-defined intention to spread the Church influence southward into Mexico and, possibly tracking back the steps of the Nephites and Lamanites, to work even into South America. There seemed an attraction in the enormous agricultural possibilities of Southern California. The long-headed Church President, figuring the commercial and agricultural advantages that lay in the Southwest, practically paved the way for the connection that since has come by rail with Los Angeles. It naturally resulted that the old Spanish trail that had been traversed by Dominguez and Escalante in 1776 was extended on down the Virgin River toward the southwest and soon became known as the Mormon Road. Over this road there was much travel. It was taken by emigrants bound from the East for California and proved the safest at all seasons of the year. It was used by the Mormons in restocking their herds and in securing supplies and for a while there was belief that the Colorado River could be utilized as a means of connecting steamboat transportation with the wagons that should haul from Callville, 350 miles from Salt Lake.

In 1851, nearly four years after the settlement at Salt Lake, President Young made suggestion that a company be organized, of possibly a score of families, to settle below Cajon Pass and cultivate the grape, olive, sugar cane and cotton and to found a station on a proposed Pacific mail route. There was expectation that the settlement later would be a gathering place for the Saints who might come from the islands of the Pacific, and even from Europe. The idea proved immensely popular, the suggestion having come after a typical Salt Lake winter, and the pilgrimage embraced about 500 individuals. President Young, at the time of their leaving, March 24, said he "was sick at the sight of so many Saints running to California, chiefly after the gods of this earth" and he expressed himself unable to address them. Arrival at San Bernardino was in June.

The Author has been fortunate in securing personal testimony from a member of this migration, Collins R. Hakes, who later was President of the Maricopa Stake at Mesa, and, later, head of the Bluewater settlement in New Mexico. The hegira was led by Amasa M. Lyman and Chas. C. Rich, prominent Mormon pioneers.

A short distance below Cajon Pass, Lyman and Rich in September purchased the Lugo ranch of nine square leagues, including an abandoned mission. They agreed to pay $77,500 in deferred payments, though the total sum rose eventually to $140,000. Even at that, this must be accounted a very reasonable price for nearly thirty square miles of land in the present wonderful valley of San Bernardino.

Forced From the Southland

With those of the Carson Valley, the California brethren mainly returned to Utah, late in 1857, or early in 1858, at the time of the Johnston invasion. Mr. Hakes gave additional details. On September 11, 1857, occurred the Mountain Meadows massacre in the southwest corner of Utah. This outrage, by a band of outlaws, emphatically discountenanced by the Church authorities and repugnant to Church doctrines, which denounce useless shedding of blood, was promptly charged, on the Pacific and, indeed, all over the Union, as something for which the Mormon organization itself was responsible. So it happened that, in December, 1857, J. Riley Morse, of the colony, rode southward post haste from Sacramento with the news that 200 mountain vigilantes were on their way to run the Mormons out of California. Not wishing to fight and not wishing to subject their families to abuse, about 400 of the San Bernardino settlers, within a few weeks, started for southern Utah, leaving only about twenty families. The news of this departure went to the Californians and they returned to their homes without completing their projected purpose. Many Church and coast references tell of the "recall" of the San Bernardino settlers, but Hakes' story appears ample in furnishing a reason for the departure. Many of these San Bernardino pioneers later came into Arizona. Those who remained prospered, and many of the families still are represented by descendants now in the Californian city. The settlement is believed to have been the first agricultural colony founded by persons of Anglo-Saxon descent in Southern California.

How Sirrine Saved the Gold

Geo. W. Sirrine, later of Mesa, had an important part in the details of the San Bernardino ranch purchase. Amasa M. Lyman and Chas. C. Rich went to San Francisco for the money needed for the first payment. They selected Sirrine to be their money carrier, entrusting him with $16,000, much of it in gold, the money presumably secured through Brannan. Sirrine took ship southward for San Pedro or Wilmington, carrying a carpenter chest in which the money was concealed in a pair of rubber boots, which he threw on the deck, with apparent carelessness, while his effects were searched by a couple of very rough characters. Delivery of the money was made without further incident of note. Sirrine helped survey the San Bernardino townsite, built a grist mill and operated it, logged at Bear Lake and freighted on the Mormon road. Charles Crismon, a skillful miller, also a central Arizona pioneer, for a while was associated with him. Crismon also built a sawmill in nearby mountains. Sirrine spent his San Bernardino earnings, about $10,000, in attempted development of a seam of coal on Point Loma, near San Diego, sinking a shaft 183 feet deep. He left California in 1858, taking with him to Salt Lake a wagonload of honey. In a biography of Charles Crismon, Jr., is found a claim that the elder Crismon took the first bees to Utah, from San Bernardino, in 1863. This may have added importance in view of the fact that Utah now is known as the Beehive State.

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The Battalion's Muster-Out    The State of Deseret

Adapted from James H. McClintock
Mormon Settlement In Arizona: A Record Of Peaceful Conquest Of The Desert

   California's Mormon Pilgrims
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California's Mormon Pilgrims