Saturday, January 12, 2013

Join the Pioneers and party like it's 1888

Downtown San Bernardino's E Street around 1900.

Mark Landis, Correspondent
San Bernardino Sun

If you look up "pioneer" in the San Bernardino Valley history books, you'll find their pictures there ... the founding members of the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers. These trail-toughened individuals all came to settle Southern California by wagon train, horseback, or on foot.

It was 125 years ago this month that they founded what today has become the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society.

To commemorate the landmark anniversary, the society is putting on a gala celebration that would make those hardy old souls proud. Rain or shine, the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at the San Bernardino Depot, 1170 W. Third St., San Bernardino.

The event will feature numerous pioneer displays and live demonstrations spread throughout the beautifully restored 1918 Santa Fe Railway Depot. The depot now houses the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, which is packed with excellent historic displays.

Among many other highlights during the day, there will be three live bands performing including the Redlands Pickers, The Camp Carleton Coronet Band, and the Bascom Pioneer Band.

Live demonstration displays will include blacksmithing, gold panning, quilting, rope-making, doll-making and pioneer games. There also will be an authentic stagecoach offering rides in the depot parking lot.

A food booth will feature Harvey House recipe pancakes, and other baked goods from pioneer recipes. Hot dogs and drinks also will be available. T-shirts, souvenirs and memorabilia will be on sale, and local authors will be on hand to sign copies of their books.

Western re-enactors will be strolling through the crowds, and guests are welcome to dress in pioneer-period clothing.

The San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers was formed on Jan. 21, 1888, in the old county courthouse. The list of charter members reads like a who's who of local pioneers.

Some of the more notable names were John Brown Sr., famed grizzly hunter and mountain man; Judge Nicholas P. Earp, patriarch of the famous Earp clan; William Holcomb, who started the great Holcomb Valley gold rush of 1860, and Robert Waterman, who went on to become a wealthy miner and governor of California.

The society started out as a rather exclusive men's club. To be a member, you had to be a male U.S. citizen who was a resident of California prior to the 31st day of December, 1850, or a resident of San Bernardino County when it was organized on April 26, 1853. Descendants of anyone who fit these requirements could also be a member. An honorary membership could be obtained by a unanimous vote of the society.

The membership rules eventually were amended to allow women members. However, other charter rules greatly limited membership eligibility, which eventually led to a dwindling roll call.

The pioneers were literally old pros at celebrating, and they found frequent reasons to do so. Most of their celebrations were centered around patriotic anniversaries like the Fourth of July and the presidents' birthdays. The group rarely missed an opportunity for a good ol' flag-raising party.

Their meetings were opened with a group song called "The Golden Land." They would sing other patriotic songs including "God Bless The Pioneers," written by a member of the society. As the years passed, discussing the faltering health or passing of other members became a regular agenda item.

At the Oct. 14, 1893 meeting Nicholas P. Earp, 80, was wed to a Mrs. Alexander, 53. Both were society members. According to the newspaper announcement, "After handshaking and all sorts and styles of congratulatory remarks and speeches, William Stephan sang an original song composed for the occasion."

After decades of community service and preserving the history of the area, the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers found itself with a seriously declining membership. In 1982, they merged with the San Bernardino Historical Society which had been formed in 1977 as part of the city's participation in the 1976 U.S. bicentennial celebration.

The result of the merger was today's San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society. This society continues the good work of the earlier groups, working diligently to preserve the history of the area.

The society operates a historic reference library and museum at 796 N. D St., San Bernardino (on the southwest corner of 8th and D streets). Meetings featuring local history presentations are held on the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m.

For more information go to:

During the Saturday event, five presentations on local history subjects will be presented:

10:15 a.m. Steve Shaw: "The San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society."

10:45 a.m. Richard Thompson: "Literature of the Local Pioneers."

11:15 a.m. Nick Cataldo: "The Earps in San Bernardino."

1 p.m. Stuart Forsyth: "The California Southern Railroad."

2 p.m. Mark Landis: "The History of Arrowhead Springs."