Ranching, Mining & Military

In 1849, the news of the discovery of gold brought people from all over the world to California. The landowners in the former Mexican province had been promised that under the new American government they would retain title to their land grants, but they had to prove ownership. Cases often took years to resolve before the Land Commission.

With title in doubt, squatters often moved onto the land and laid claim by virtue of possession. On Santa Catalina Island, various squatters laid claim to different areas and began running sheep and cattle. Several coves still bear the names of these early squatters–Ben Weston Beach, Howlands Landing, Gallaghers Beach, Johnsons Landing. At the same time, in Santa Barbara on the mainland, men were buying and selling portions of the Island. The various sections were eventually purchased by James Lick of San Francisco and his title was confirmed by patent in 1867 (when it was finally decided that Robbins grant was legal).

In the meantime, Santa Catalina had its own mining flurry as the digs in the northern part of the State began petering out. Prospectors appeared on the Island in 1863 and actually found silver in some quantity, mostly at the Island’s west end. In January of 1864, a company of Union soldiers from Fort Drum in Wilmington arrived on the Island to survey its resources and suitability as an Indian reservation. Native Americans in the northern part of the State were resisting encroachment on their lands and the commander of the Army of the Pacific hoped to be able to remove them from their homes and place them on the Island. The Secretary of the Interior, who had jurisdiction over Indian Affairs, did not approve the proposal, and the soldiers left the Island by September of the same year.

While in residence, the Army had evicted all questionable squatters and miners, leaving only those who were well established. When James Lick asserted his ownership in 1867, he evicted all squatters and miners who declined to enter into a lease agreement with him. For the next 20 years, Santa Catalina Island was inhabited by sheep, cattle, and a few herders. It was visited from time to time by fishermen, often Chinese or Japanese, and the annual crews of sheep shearers. As time passed, the lovely coves began to be dotted with tents in the summertime as the more adventurous mainlanders sailed across the channel to picnic on the shore and escape the heat of California’s inland valleys. Santa Catalina Island was developing into a vacation destination. – Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum

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