The Rise and Fall of a CaliforniaSan Bernardino
The Rise and Fall of a California Community
by Edward Leo Lyman

on the cover:

“This is a magnificent piece of work. The cooperative dreams, the communal colonization, the reassessment of Brigham Young—these are the heart of this impressive book. Edward Leo Lyman gives readers a profound sense of meaning and an emotional context.” —Robert V. Hine, author, Community on the American Frontier: Separate but Not Alone

“As a descendant of the founder of San Bernardino, Lyman breathes into his narrative the most intimate details. This is a definitive work.” —Ward M. McAfee, Professor of History, California State University, San Bernardino

“Lyman writes about hardy, interesting, stubborn souls who did not always march to the same rhythm as their leaders. The detail and color are especially valuable.” —Ronald W. Walker, Professor of History, Brigham Young University

“At last an author with local background, scholarly training, and rare access to invaluable original sources. The remarkable contemporary journals add a personal, human touch.” —Arda Haenszel, Historian, San Bernardino County Museum Association

cover flaps:
In the mid-1800s, San Bernardino emerged as one of the largest settlements in southern California. It surpassed Pueblo de los Angeles and San Diego in grain and lumber yields and boasted a burgeoning cattle industry and promising wine vineyards. But as a Mormon commune—the farthest outpost in Brigham Young’s Rocky Mountain empire—the colony was threatened, and finally abandoned, in 1857 during the Utah war with the United States.

From the beginning, Young had misgivings about the colony. Particularly perplexing to him was the mix of atypical Mormons who gravitated there. Among these were ex-slave holders; inter-racial polygamists; horse-race gamblers; distillery proprietors; former mountain men, prospectors, and mercenaries; disgruntled Polynesian immigrants; and finally Amasa M. Lyman, the colony’s leader, who was involved in spiritualist seances.

Despite Young’s suspicions, when he issued the call to relocate to Utah, two-thirds of the city’s 3,000 residents obeyed, leaving behind their cumulative fortunes, a city stripped of its regional economic standing, and an enduring legacy of diversity. Recounting this remarkable story, Edward Leo Lyman skillfully interweaves the most intriguing details about the setting and chain of events, emphasizing both the significance and irony.

ISBN 1-56085-067-1 $24.95

about the author: Edward Leo Lyman, Ph.D, University of California at Riverside, is a professor of history at Victor Valley College and former visiting professor at California State University at San Bernardino. His previous publications include the award-winning Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood and articles in Arizona and the West; California History; Idaho Yesterdays; Southern California Quarterly; and Utah Historical Quarterly. He is co-author of the forthcoming Millard County, Utah: A Centennial History.

Dust jacket design by K. C. Muscolino.
Printed in the United States of America.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.

title page:
San Bernardino:
The Rise and Fall of a California Community
by Edward Leo Lyman
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page:
Cover design & drawing colorization: K. C. Muscolino
Cover drawing: Henry Miller, San Bernardino, California, in 1856

San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a California Community was printed on acid-free paper and was composed, printed, and bound in the United States.
©1996 Signature Books. All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
2000 99 98 97 96           6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lyman, Edward Leo,
San Bernardino : the rise and fall of a California community /
Edward Leo Lyman.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Mormons—California—San Bernardino—History.
2. Mormons—California—San Bernardino Valley—History.
3. San Bernardino (Calif.)—History.
4. San Bernardino Valley (Calif.)—History.
I. Title.
F869.S18L96 1966
95-9698 CIP
ISBN 1-56085-067-1

Introduction [see below]

01 – Converging Paths
02 – Planting the Colony
03 – Building a Commonwealth
04 – Divisions
05 – Expansions of Enterprise
06 – Living Together
07 – Alienation
08 – Exodus and After

Bibliography [see below]
Photo captions [see below]


[p.vii]The San Bernardino Valley, fertile and well-watered, was occupied by a relatively dense population of Serrano and Cahuilla tribal groups of Native Americans when the first Spaniard missionaries crossed through the vicinity in the 1770s. Other contacts by California’s early padres occurred periodically over the next generation, and by 1819 interest in establishing an inland chain of Catholic missions led to consideration of the area as one such suitable location. With full assistance from local Indians, a zanja or water ditch diverted a stream from Mill Creek, some ten miles east, into the area designated for the future mission, and instruction in the cultivation of crops, an essential institutional function, commenced. Over the ensuing decade buildings were erected and Franciscan padres from San Gabriel, some forty miles to the west, labored with several hundred native converts, mostly baptized at the mission but residing near its branch, or asistancia, at San Bernardino. Unfortunately, political upheavals accompanying Mexican independence led to the secularization of all California missions in 1834, the year San Bernardino would have achieved independent mission status.1

Although the mission site was essentially abandoned, as were the Indian converts, there was considerable pack mule traffic through the edge of the valley. Following the Old Spanish [p.viii]Trail, traders journeyed over the deserts to the northeast through what became Utah and Colorado and on to New Mexico and over the Santa Fe Trail to the United States. There were also several Californio families who, interested in the cattle rangelands of the San Bernardino Valley, applied for land grants from the Mexican government. After others had been unsuccessful, in 1839 Antonio Maria Lugo, a longtime Los Angeles area rancher, used his family connections with Mexican California governor Alvarado to secure a grant of the San Bernardino Valley vicinity. In 1842 Lugo’s three married sons, Jose Maria, Jose del Carmen, and Vincente, and a nephew, Diego Sepulveda, moved with their families and some 6,000 cattle onto the rancho and began to prosper.

At the ranch the family was assisted by other Hispanic vaqueros and numerous Indians, who had continued to adopt some of the customs and occupations of their neighbors. An adobe house, built near where the San Bernardino County Courthouse would later stand, was occupied for a time by Jose Bermudes and his family and later remodeled and enlarged by Amasa Lyman. Jose del Carmen Lugo occupied the old asistancia buildings, as Charles C. Rich did later. Vincente Lugo built his residence on the ridge near what would later be called Bunker Hill, and Sepulveda erected an adobe in the Yucaipa area. At about the same time father don Lugo also received a grant of the Rancho del Chino, some twenty miles to the southwest, which was soon owned and occupied by his daughter and her husband, former mountain man Isaac Williams.2
Another mountain man, Louis Rubidoux, had already secured the Rancho Jurupa midway between San Bernardino and Chino. The largest settlement in the area was Agua Mansa, occupied by recent arrivals from New Mexico who were offered land on both sides of the Santa Ana [p.ix]River some ten miles downstream from the old San Bernardino mission district. These citizens, headed by Lorenzo Trujillo, occasionally served, as intended, as posse members resisting incursions of horse thieves in the region. Led by Chief Juan Antonio, the valley Indians also protected the ranchers and their livestock from raids by other Native Americans.3

In the fall of 1851 the San Bernardino Valley was transformed from a Mexican rancho into the first and for most of a decade the largest Anglo-American settlement in the California Southland. During this period of rapid development the community, comprised of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), ushered the region into the mainstream of U.S. economic enterprise and citizenship. Yet at the beginning of the colony San Bernardino was hardly a typical American town because of the unusual degree of cooperation and selflessness demonstrated in every phase of its establishment. One of the first historians of the area, Father Juan Caballeria, concluded: “The Mormons who first came to San Bernardino Valley were ideal colonists … So far as material advantages went there was perfect equality. There was no wealth and no poverty among them … As a community they were honest, industrious, law abiding, peaceful citizens and under their thrifty management the beautiful valley blossomed into marvelous productiveness …”4
Other observers, looking at church members in general, noted similar traits. Turn-of-the-twentieth-century economist Richard T. Ely considered the Latter-day Saints to be “a perfect piece of social mechanism,” because their lives were so much geared to unity. Finally, the foremost current authority on [p.x]community in the American West, Robert V. Hine, recognized that “the Mormons produced an astonishing number of people willing to sacrifice for the whole.”5
The history of early San Bernardino offers an excellent opportunity to examine what was, at least for several years, an ideal community.

As did their fellow pioneers elsewhere, the San Bernardino colonists possessed a unique combination of commitment to their community forged through previous persecution and pioneering challenges, along with what they regarded as a divine injunction to “build the Kingdom of God” wherever they happened to be assigned at the time. Contemporary participants recognized the major key to their success was the commonality of purpose that marked virtually every undertaking during the first several years. Mary Ann Rich, wife of one of the leaders, described the construction of roads, ditches, a fort, and other projects as working “almost as one family, they were so united.” Branch clerk and historian Richard R. Hopkins lauded, in the spring of 1852, “Such unanimity of feelings as that which existed among us had scarcely been witnessed in such a degree before.” But this happy situation did not endure. Just three years later Hopkins lamented that in San Bernardino the near antithesis of the former situation had developed: “It is almost impossible to insure a concert of action upon any object of public interest.” What most detracted, Hopkins asserted, was the emergence of self-interest.6

Hine believed that during the process of settling the frontier many cooperative strains were diverted into what was becoming a dominant American trait of individualism. In the case of San [p.xi]Bernardino we can consider the influence of several factors that brought about the transition from group- to self-interest. The earlier Mormon experience with the so-called “Law of Consecration” of semi-communal enterprise was essentially a failure. But the preeminence of cooperation stressed therein remained a legacy throughout the pioneering period of Mormondom. In most instances this was demonstrated spontaneously. In fact, sociologist Thomas O’Dea observed, “the most striking aspect of the Mormon experience is the flexibility with which a cooperative attitude was brought to bear in concrete situations. So naturally did cooperation follow from the fellowship of the restored gospel … that it was not confined to narrow rules or rigid formulas.”7
Yet the Mormon brand of community cooperation always provided for individual initiative and accountability, and thus the challenge inherent in such a system was striking a balance between the needs and interests of separate families and those of the entire group. Both the examples of selfless cooperation and the stresses arising from self-interest are exemplified in the California colony.

Individual initiative was directly encouraged in the latter stages of developing San Bernardino by the settlement’s ecclesiastical/entrepreneurial leaders. Little sacrifice was needed after the initial crisis of settlement. Only the payments on the ranch’s purchase had to be met. Yet as more of the less committed continued to arrive, differing views on the importance of God’s Kingdom in the area developed.

However, it was not the transition from group to individual enterprise nor the other-worldly nature of the LDS mission that led to the demise of Mormon San Bernardino. Nor was it the role of the relatively small but vocal group of dissidents gathering there. The negative attitude of Mormon church president [p.xii]Brigham Young toward the California colony was the primary factor leading to the failure of an essentially flourishing outpost of Mormondom. The reasons for Young’s reaction are complex, but perhaps primary was the fact that the popularity and growth there in some ways indicated that all was not as well as it could be in Young’s Utah domain.

This study offers some insights into the little-known but important debate in the Mormon hierarchy over the possibility of functioning as full-fledged Latter-day Saints—individually or collectively—while residing beyond the effective direction of Utah church officials. A similar but less documented difference of opinion centered on the question of whether it was possible to coexist with unbelieving non-Mormons without becoming corrupted. Brigham Young on numerous occasions expressed a negative answer to both questions, while Amasa M. Lyman, senior church official in the burgeoning California colony, was less explicitly but just as fervently of the affirmative opinion. Certainly at the time the highest church authority would ultimately prevail. However, the longer view of history demonstrates that Lyman’s position that individual and perhaps congregational faithfulness were irrelevant to geographic proximity to church headquarters is more compatible with the present situation of the LDS church. Young’s predisposition regarding the evil influence of the outside world also contributed to the ultimate disintegration of the California colony as a Mormon settlement, a result unfortunate not only to the region but to the LDS church.

This study also treats important facets of the social and economic history of a burgeoning metropolis presently among the fastest growing in the nation. In numerous ways the early San Bernardino citizens led in the process of adapting primarily Hispanic southern California to the mainstream of Anglo-American life in the United States. A less successful aspect of this is the attempt at assimilation of fellow believers from a range of ethnic and geographical backgrounds into an harmonious community, an endeavor not unlike the challenges still facing the citizens of [p.xiii]the area. As a teacher who has long advocated bringing local history into the mainstream of the curriculum, I hope that this work will assist those charged to accomplish such tasks.

Ironically, this California local history could not have been written without good access to the best repository of material on Mormon San Bernardino, the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. This facility and its staff were as cordial and cooperative as I ever experienced there in working on earlier projects. Access was granted to virtually every item requested and doing research there continues to be an enjoyable experience.

This book was markedly improved by input and suggestions from a group of excellent historians including Robert V. Hine, Ronald W. Walker, Clifford Walker, M. Guy Bishop, Arda M. Haenszel, Melvin T. Smith, and Ward M. McAfee, all of whom I gratefully acknowledge and thank. Appreciation goes to Delores J. Kreske for the maps included in this volume. It has been a pleasure working with the staff of Signature Books in bringing this study to completion.


1. George William Beattie and Helen Pruitt Beattie, Heritage of the Valley: San Bernardino’s First Century (Oakland, CA: Biobooks, 1951), 3-36.

2. Roy E. Whitehead, Lugo: A Chronicle of Early California (Redlands, CA: San Bemardino County Museum Association, 1978), 207-40.

3. Leonard B. Waitman, “The Watchdogs of San Bernardino: Chief Juan Antonio and Lorenzo Trujillo,” San Bernardino County Museum Quarterly, Winter 1970, 7-11.

4. Juan Caballeria, History of the San Bernardino Valley from the Padres to the Pioneers, 1810-1851(San Bernardino, CA: Times-Index Press, 1902), 127.

5. Robert V. Hine, Community on the American Frontier: Separate but Not Alone (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980), 210.

6. Andrew Jensen, “Manuscript History of San Bernardino,” drawn largely from Richard R. Hopkins, “San Bernardino Branch Record,” 6 Apr. 1852, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

7. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957; paperback edition, 1964), 215.


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Photo Captions:

Amasa Mason Lyman, co-founder of San Bernardino and first mayor. Only known photograph of Lyman beardless, 1852.

Charles Colson Rich, co-founder of San Bernardino and second mayor.

Layout of fort from Luther Ingersoll’s Annals of San Bernardino.

Looking southwest.

Looking north.

Sketches of San Bernadino fort a year after it was built, at midpoint of its occupation by some 400 residents.

Sketch of San Bernadino in 1856 by Henry Miller, not particularly accurate in many details.

Andrew Lytle, captain of the 150-wagon pioneer company and third mayor of San Bernardino. He remained there the rest of his life.

Jefferson Hunt, state assemblyman.

David Seeley, an original wagon train sub-captain and stake president; a prominent lumberman who remained in San Bernardino.

Quartus S. Sparks, an attorney who left Mormonism and helped lead the opposition faction.

Lewis Jacobs, a Jewish merchant who arrived in 1852 and continued thereafter.

Sketch of the Council House, which stood adjacent to Lyman’s mansion near the present county courthouse.

The first schools were the two single-story rooms on each side of the later two-story addition.

The original gristmill and adjacent storage building, constructed by millwright George W. Sirrine.

Lyman’s mansion, called “the harem” outside of his hearing.

A chair probably manufactured by the Cram brothers and John Harris in the old mission district, now at the Yucaipa Adobe county historical site.

Sketch of Fort Benson, center of opposition to Lyman and Rich.