Home       Firsts      Index, Chronological       Index, Subject      1800-1849     1850-1879      1880-1899   1900-1919      1920-1949     1950-1979     1980-1999     2000-2009     2010-2019          


1850 - 1879 Historic Dates in San Bernardino and The Railroad:


March 23, 1851 - Leaving Utah for San Bernardino

Andrew Lytle (1812 - 1870)Joseph Matthews (1809 - 1886)

David Seeley (1819 - 1892) 





"In 1849 [Mormon] President [Brigham] Young assigned Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich...to travel throughout California to determine what kind of Church presence was feasible there.  President Young soon requested that several families...travel with Elders Lyman and Rich to colonize southern California.

"By the spring of 1851, 437 men, women, and children had gathered in Payson, Utah, ready to begin the journey. 

"Andrew Lytle was elected captain of the wagon train, with Joseph Matthews and David Seeley as subordinate captains—each of these three directing 50 wagons.

"William Crosby, Sidney Tanner, Jefferson Hunt, Alfred Bybee, Robert Smith, Daniel Clark, Samuel Rolfe, Wellington Seeley, George Garner, and Elders Lyman, Rich, and Parley P. Pratt headed up 10 wagons each. 

"They set out on 23 March 1851, a total of 150 wagons, 588 oxen, 336 cows, 21 young stock, 107 horses, and 52 mules. 

"Three members of the Twelve*, the Mississippi Company, 15 former Mormon Battalion men and their families, pioneers from Nauvoo, and even some seafaring San Francisco Saints were now bound together for a unique experience in fellowship and cooperation that would have a profound impact on the history of the West.

"In the fall of 1851, the San Bernardino Valley was transformed from a Mexican rancho into the largest predominantly Anglo-American settlement in the California southland..."

      (from Marilyn Mills' article, True Community: Latter-day Saints in San Bernardino, 1851-1857) 

*Note: The three members of the Twelve (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) were Elders Amasa M. Lyman, First Mayor of San Bernardino; Charles C. Rich, Second Mayor of San Bernardino; and Parley P. Pratt, religious writer and poet.


December 15, 1851 - Fort San Bernardino

There are no photographs of the actual Mormon Stockade or what has commonly been called Fort San Bernardino.  What you see above is depiction of the fort from a 1976 painting by Hazel C. Olson.

When the Mormons arrived in San Bernardino there was great fear of an attack by the desert Indians.  On December 15, 1851, after only 20 days of construction, the settlers completed a stockade that measured 750 feet long, 320 feet wide and 12 feet high.

In addition to the homes, inside the fort was a stream, a meeting and school house, a wagon shop, the colony office, and a tithing and store house.

The fort was located at the site of the 1926 Court House at Arrowhead Avenue and Court Street. There never was an attack on the fort and in 1853 the Mormons began to develop a master plan for the town based on the map of Salt Lake City.  

The County of San Bernardino was created in 1853 and the City of San Bernardino was incorporated in 1854.

Click here for details of the fort and its occupants, as well as the first map of the City.


August 4, 1852 - Sacramento Valley Railroad

Below is a copy of the 1854 map of the proposed Sacramento Valley Railroad as it appeared in a local paper.

The map is difficult to read because it is oriented with West at the top.  If you rotate it so North is at the top, the lettering is sideways, but the towns are in proper perspective, i.e., Stockton is below Sacramento, etc.





Expansion goal.











San Francisco






During the first half of the nineteenth century California was known mostly for its ports and Spanish missions. But all that changed in 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill, east of Sacramento.

On August 4, 1852, the Sacramento Valley Railroad became the first railroad in California to file papers of incorporation, although it was not until February 22, 1856, that the first train operated over the 23-miles of track that ran from Sacramento to Folsom.  The SVR's plan to expand to Marysville never materialized.

The first president of the Sacramento Valley Railroad was Commodore Corneluis Garrison and William Tecumseh Sherman, the future American Civil War General,was selected as the first vice president.

The Sacramento Valley Railroad may have been the first railroad to be incorporated in the state, the oldest working railroad in California was the Arcata and Mad River Railroad, operational since December 15, 1854. 

In 1877, the Sacramento Valley Railroad was consolidated with the Folsom and Placerville Railroad to form the Sacramento and Placerville Railroad.

The railroad eventually became a part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.


November 7, 1852 - Establishing the Base Line

"The Fall of 1852 brought an important development to the newly formed Mormon settlement in San Bernardino. Colonel Henry Washington, a United States Deputy Surveyor, erected a monument on the top of Mount San Bernardino, east and a little north of the fort, and upon this base line surveys in the entire southern part of the state were, and still are, based. This is the extension of this survey line - the street now known as Base Line.

    Colonel Henry Washington's Survey Monument

"The monument erected by Washington was clearly visible from the valley, and the colonists derived a distinct thrill from seeing it. The colony had an official clerk, who recorded events daily. His record for November 7, 1852 reads: "In the evening, a little after dark, Colonel Washington's fires were seen burning on the top of Mount San Bernardino." On November 8, "Colonel Washington's flag could be seen through spyglasses, waving on the top of Mount San Bernardino."

"Of eleven bearings taken to define the location of this monument, pictured at right, nine were to natural landmarks, and two to buildings: the Mormon Fort, apparent distance 23.5 miles, and Old Mission Building, 20 miles. Records show that the surveyors found it difficult to obtain true fixes on triangulation marks because of the shimmering heat waves of the Valley. To overcome this difficulty, huge fires were built atop the peaks that surround the Valley, including 10,630-foot Mt. San Bernardino, and the surveys were made at night.

"In 1949, San Bernardino celebrated "Covered Wagon Days." Colonel Washington's bonfire was recreated, with the help of magnesium flares, the U. S. Army, the U.S. Forestry Service, the San Bernardino Argonaut Club, film star and Highland resident Edward Arnold, network radio coverage via KFXM. Despite fog, which moved in, a tremendous explosion was visible in San Bernardino when the flares misfired. Fortunately, no one was hurt."

(Extracted from Guideposts to History by Elizabeth W. Richards, 1966)


April 26, 1853 - San Bernardino County

                       The County of San Bernardino

San Bernardino County was formed on April 26, 1853 from parts of Los Angeles County.  Some of the southern parts of the county's territory were given to Riverside County in 1893.

San Bernardino County covers an area of 20,105 square miles and is the largest county in the United States by area. It is larger than each of the nine smallest states, larger than the four smallest states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Deleware and Rhode Island combined and larger than 71 different sovereign nations.

The first U. S. Census (1860) listed the population of San Bernardino City as 940, the County - 5,551 and the State - 379,994.  As of the 2010 U. S. Census, the County population was 2,035,210.


November 16, 1854 - First Street Map of San Bernardino

In 1853, Henry G. Sherwood laid out a plan for the City of San Bernardino, much like a miniature Salt Lake City.

It was approved by the Supervisors on November 16, 1854.

The town was one mile square, in blocks containing 8 acres, with wide streets running at right angles. 

The north-south streets were given Mormon names which continued for years, then were changed to "letters". 

The east-west streets were numbered and their numbers remain the same today as they were in 1853 with the exception of 1st Street which is now called Rialto Avenue. 

A block-square public park (later called Pioneer Park) was established in the center of the town.

Town Creek and Warm Creek zigzag through the eastern half of town.


January 28, 1855 - Panama Railroad

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, January 1859

*  Why do we care about a railroad in Panama?

*  On January 24, 1848, John Marshall discovered gold in the American River, near Coloma, California. This was the beginning of the Gold Rush of '49.

*  Miners flocked to California from all across the country, at times traveling months overland.

*  From the East coast, they would often travel by sea, sailing around Cape Horn at the tip of South America or to Panama and then through the jungle to the Pacific and another boat ride to California.

*  The Panama Railroad changed all that...

*  Work began in May 1850, to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a railroad covering 47 miles of jungle, rivers & swamps, often in drenching rains.

*  Sand-flies, snakes, poisonous insects and alligators were the least of the problems. Thousands of men died due to cholera, dysentery, yellow fever and smallpox.

*  Despite the loss of life, the intolerable working conditions, the logistic difficulties and the immense engineering obstacles, the railroad began operation on January 28, 1855 (some 28 years before the first train arrived in San Bernardino).

*  The railroad was an immediate success & later played a vital role in the construction of the Panama Canal. 


May 4, 1860 - Billy Holcomb and Gold

 William Francis "Billy" Holcomb (1831-1909)             Gold Rocker Box used by Billy Holcomb in his quest for gold

William F. Holcomb was a noted hunter and had been hired to supply meat for the Bear Valley miners.  On May 4, 1860, while tracking a grizzly bear that he had wounded the day before, he chipped off a piece of rock and discovered it contained sizable chunks of gold.

This discovery occurred five miles north of Bear Valley in what is now called Holcomb Valley and started the biggest gold rush southern California had seen.  Within six months there were over 2,000 men in the valley.  Soon the boom town of Belleville was filled with log cabins, stores, saloons and dance halls. 

William F. Holcomb in his adventures as a hunter and miner prospected over nearly all the country from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Arizona.  He was one of the discoverers of the famous Vulture Mine in Arizona, from which more than $8,000,000 were taken.

After working successfully in mining for several years Holcomb was elected as San Bernardino County Clerk, Treasurer and Assessor.  This office he filled for several terms.  His son, Grant, and grandson, W. R. "Bob" Holcomb, both became mayor of San Bernardino.

The rocker box seen in the above photo is in the San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum.


December 17, 1864 - Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp at about 21 years of age (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp came to San Bernardino for the first time on December 17, 1864, when he was 16. 

Wyatt and his family camped for a few days just east of Sierra Way and Court Street; later his parents leased farm land on the banks of the Santa Ana River.

Wyatt and his brothers disliked farming and it wasn't long before they all left the area. 

Dodge City and Tombstone will always be associated with the Earp brothers, but Wyatt also spent time in Alaska, Denver, San Francisco and San Diego.

Wyatt often returned to San Bernardino, Colton and the surrounding area to visit friends and relatives.

Wyatt and wife Sadie spent more that 20 years in San Bernardino County prospecting for gold and copper, and eventually owned nearly 100 mines.

Wyatt died peacefully on January 13, 1929, age 80.

Click here for the story of The Earp Clan in Southern California.


October 26, 1869 - Los Angeles & San Pedro RR

The "San Gabriel" (2-2-0) was the first steam locomotive to haul freight and passengers between Los Angeles and San Pedro.     (Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)  

Built between 1868 and 1869, the 21-mile line connected Los Angeles with the shipping harbor of San Pedro.

The railroad was the brainchild of Phineas Banning, who made some of the first improvements to the harbor, dredging a channel and building a wharf (Banning also developed the port town of Wilmington).

As a California state senator, Banning sponsored a bill authorizing the City and County of Los Angeles to finance construction of the railroad. The city and county then awarded Banning a contract to construct the line.

When it opened on October 26, 1869, a crowd of 1,500 (roughly one-quarter of L.A.'s population at the time) converged on the rail depot at Alameda and Commercial to celebrate Banning's triumph. 

While an ox-cart and wagon road had connected Los Angeles to the harbor for decades, the railroad slashed the cost of transporting goods and passengers.

 The railroad charged $6 per ton to transport inbound dry goods to the city. Outbound grain cost $2.50 per ton to ship, and passengers could buy a one-way ticket to the port for $1.50. Total commerce at the harbor more than doubled from 26,000 net tons of freight in 1869 to 55,000 in 1871.

Investments in the port by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Southern Pacific Railroad (which bought Banning's 21-mile line in 1872) seemed to ensure that San Pedro Bay would be the site of the region's harbor.

Everything changed in the early 1890s, when the Southern Pacific abruptly abandoned the Wilmington and San Pedro ports and instead began routing its freight trains to Santa Monica. 


October 8, 1873 - Grief Embers

 Grief Embers

Grief Embers was one of 26 slaves that accompanied the Mormons on their journey to San Bernardino in 1851.

Grief was born in 1812 or 1813 and was first a slave for a Mr. Embers, then for Mormon Bishop William Crosby.  Grief Embers may have suffered some tragedy in early life and thus acquired the name Grief, for the term "grief" did not fit his personality.

Grief was best known for his tin horn, said to be about six feet long, that he played for his own amusement, on holiday celebrations and to call the men together in preparation for an Indian attack.

After the Mormon recall of 1857, about 60 percent of the San Bernardino Mormons returned to Utah.  Land prices plummeted. Grief became the earliest recorded black owner of real estate in the Inland Empire (I Street south of Mill Street). Grief and his wife, Harriet, had three daughters.

Grief Embers died of natural causes on October 8, 1873.  In his obituary that appeared in the San Bernardino Guardian it was stated that, "Grief Embers, a well-known colored man, died suddenly about noon yesterday, from the bursting of a blood vessel.  He died respected by all who knew him".


February 22, 1878 - McCall's Horse Trough

Carved on the side of this historic limestone, horse-watering trough is the following:


John McCall

Feb. 22, A.D. 1878

Horse Shoe'er




*  It was originally located in front of John McCall's blacksmith shop on the east side of D Street.

*  When disastrous fires in 1878-1879 destroyed many San Bernardino buildings on D Street it was moved to the wagon shop of Joe S. Bright on Third Street near G Street.

*  When the wagon shop closed the trough was moved to the Bright's home on Eighth Street.

*  Later the trough was donated to San Bernardino's Pioneer Society and it rested in front of the Log Cabin in Pioneer Park until a fire destroyed the cabin in 1973.

*  The trough was relocated to the Native Sons of the Golden West in San Bernardino where it remained in storage for 30 years.

*  It was then moved to its current location, at the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society at 8th and D Streets.

*  A formal dedication ceremony was held on February 22nd, 2003, exactly 125 years after the trough was inscribed in 1878.

Click here for a short story about John McCall's horse Trough.


October 3, 1878 - Fire Department Formed

In 1878 the City of San Bernardino was without fire protection.  It was in that year that several disastrous fires occurred, fires that consumed several city blocks.

The present San Bernardino Fire Department was founded on October 3, 1878, when members of the old company met at the Pine's Hotel and formed a volunteer company.  It was funded by the sale of property and equipment from the previous Fire Company that existed from 1865 to 1871.

Membership certificates like this one for E. H. Passmore were issued  to everyone in the organization.

Fire apparatus consisted of a 246 Piano Engine (a hand pumper) capable of supplying two hose streams and a hose cart, Pioneer #1 (located in the Museum, along with Pioneer #2 hose cart).

Click here to view a photo history of the San Bernardino Fire Department.