By David A. Storer, AICP
Answering the call from their Prophet Brigham Young in early Spring 1851, some 437 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Mormons”) led by Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, headed from Payson, Utah toward Los Angeles with the objective of settling yet another outpost in the far west. Their assignment (considered by the faithful saints to be similar and just as important as the call to serve a proselytizing mission) was to add a new colony to the “Chain of Forts” from Salt Lake City to the Pacific Ocean, (thereby expanding the “Mormon Corridor”) to assist incoming converts immigrating to Utah from abroad by sea. They were instructed to establish “a settlement in the southern part of California, at no great distance from San Diego, and near Williams’ ranche and the Cahone Pass.”
After 90 days or more, on June 11, 1851, the advance contingent of 50 headed by Captain David Seely reached Sycamore Grove at the foot of the Cajon Pass. The other nine companies (of approximately the same size) arrived shortly thereafter. At the camp at Sycamore Grove there were 150 wagons which had been drawn by nearly 600 oxen and over 50 mules. There were also sizeable animal herds and over 100 horses, most of which had been ridden over land by their owners, though the bulk of the horse herd was designed for farm work. Several had been harnessed to buggies and light wagons, there being numerous conveyances in the emigrant group in addition to the covered wagons that served as homes on wheels. On July 6th, 1851, the colonists organized their first church unit, the San Bernardino “Stake” naming David Seely as their first Stake President.
On September 22, 1851, Lyman and Rich negotiated for part of the Rancho San Bernardino from the Lugo brothers. They obtained 35,000 acres for $77,500 after a down payment of $7,500 was paid. In December of 1851, having heard of stories about Indian attacks, the colonists completed a fort and named it Fort San Bernardino, which, over time, housed over a hundred families mostly in separate dwellings. For the first few years, they grew wheat and other crops outside and built a grain mill inside the fort. But since the Mormons weren’t raising cattle or horses, the desert Indians were no longer a threat and families were able to move out and build their own homes.
San Bernardino County was created April 26, 1853, and almost a year later, the City of San Bernardino was incorporated on April 13, 1854. Its initial population was 1200, of which 900 were members of the Mormon faith. There was no drinking or gambling allowed in the new City. Amasa M. Lyman served at its first Mayor and after two years was followed by Charles C. Rich. The city grew to 3,000 by the end of 1856 of which some estimate that over 80% were or had been Mormon.
When the official call to disband the colony arrived in November 1857, many of the colonists went home to the Salt Lake basin as requested by their Prophet – the call came mostly because federal troops (known infamously as “Johnson’s Army”) were approaching Utah and there was a need for consolidation should the Utah saints need to defend themselves. Combined with this event, Brigham Young had also heard of internal dissension and problems with non-Mormon neighbors. Some 1400 – 2000 people (approximately 55% of the San Bernardino Latter-day Saint population) returned, having sold property at ruinous prices. They left behind what is considered by many to be the most advanced school system to that point in California, a public library, stores, roads and a strong form of government. Although the City dis-incorporated in 1857, the City re-incorporated in 1886.
David Storer AICP has his own land use consulting business and resides in Folsom, California. He provides services to the public and private sectors. He and his wife Tina have three children, Ashley (currently serving a mission in Salt Lake City, Utah at Temple Square – providing American Sign Language services), Anthony (who is currently serving in the Toronto Canada West Mission) and Andrew who attends Folsom Lake College, Folsom, California.