BOWERS, Stephen DeMoss

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Stephen DeMoss Bowers (1832-1907)
Stephen DeMoss Bowers (1832-1907)
Sephen (R) & DeMoss (L) Bowers on San Nicolas Island, 1889

BOWERS, Stephen DeMoss (1832-1907), Indiana-born Methodist pastor, newspaper publisher, and self-taught archaeological collector. In 1874 he moved first to Napa and then to Santa Barbara for his ministry. In 1875 Bowers was the first to excavate burial grounds on both San Nicolas and Santa Rosa islands, stripping sites and selling artifacts and skulls. He also collected heavily on Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz islands.

In 1876 the first meeting of the Santa Barbara Natural History Association took place, and Bowers was chosen as president of the new society. Also in 1876 he spent 25 days on Santa Rosa Island (March 22-April 19), reaping 9 boxes of specimens sold to the Smithsonian Institution. Bowers’ son, DeMoss, often accompanied his father on collecting forays.

May 10-November 10, 1876 the Centennial Exhibition, the first official World's Fair, was held in Philadelphia, PA. Bowers supplied the Smithsonian Institution with artifacts from the Chumash region for the Exhibition, as did Paul Schumacher and William H. Dall.

August 27 to September 1, 1877 Bowers spent on Santa Cruz Island. This work was the last financed by the Smithsonian and Interior Department contract. That same year, under pressure due to his long absences in the field, Bowers resigned from his pastorate. July 19-August 2, 1877 Bowers spent on San Miguel Island, traveling by the U.S. steamship McArthur.

He moved to Ventura in 1888 where he published the Ventura Vidette newspaper. Bowers spent from October 15-November 3, 1889 on San Nicolas Island and wrote of his trip in a six-part series, Nineteen Days on San Nicolas Island.

Historians and archaeologists regard Bowers as a pothunter who, with flagrant disregard to the science of archaeology, destroyed important sites in order to collect artifacts for sale to the highest bidder, rendering the sites scientifically useless.

Great Register of Santa Barbara County 1877 lists Bowers as minister who registered on April 3, 1875. His first wife, Martha A., died at age 40 in their Mission Canyon home on October 13, 1879, and their son, Ralph Hayden, died at age 22 on April 24, 1880. Bowers died in Los Angeles in 1907 at age 74, and was survived by his second wife, Maggie, his son James DeMoss, and daughter Ruth.

Results of his collecting can be found in museums across the world, including: Southwest Museum, Los Angeles; Smithsonian; Philadelphia Academy of Sciences; Peabody Museum, Harvard; Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand; Herault, France; Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark; Museum fur Volkerkunde, Berlin, Germany.


Bowers collected on:

  • San Miguel Island (1877)
  • San Nicolas Island (1889)
  • Santa Cruz Island
  • Santa Rosa Island (1876)




» Bowers, Stephen Santa Rosa Island in Smithsonian Annual Report for the Year 1877 (1878)

» Bowers, Stephen Fish-hooks from Southern California in Science o.s. 1(20):575 (1883)

» Bowers, Stephen Relics in a Cave in Pacific Science Monthly 1(4):45-47, 1885

» Bowers, Stephen Aboriginal Fish-hooks in West American Scientist 3:32 (243-245) [1887


» Bowers, Stephen Nineteen Days on San Nicolas Island in Ventura Vidette, November 11, 13, 15, 20, 27, 29

» Bowers, Stephen San Nicolas Island in Ninth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the year ending 1889. (1890) 57-61

» Smith, Wallace The Reverend Stephen Bowers: Curiosity Hunter of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands in California History 62(1):26-37 Spring 1983

» Benson, Arlene The Noontide Sun. The Field Journals of the Reverend Stephen Bowers, Pioneer California Archaeologist, 1997.


Stephen DeMoss Bowers (1832-1907)=[first marriage] Martha A. (1839?-1879); all three children born in Indiana

1. Hayden H. Bowers (c. 1858-1880)

2. Anna A. Bowers (c. 1861- ) = Mr. Craycraft

3. James DeMoss Bowers (1864-1917)=[m. 1/10/1896 in L.A.] Julia Blake Egan (1864-1945)

1. Stephen DeMoss Bowers (11/11/1896-7/29/1967 in Santa Monica) = [1923] Louise Murphy
2. Ruth Grace Huntley Bowers (12/25/1898-5/8/1964) = Russell Mitchell Clover (4/13/1893-1/10/1969)
1. Russell Kingsley Clover (b. 1/20/1926 lives in Sebastapol)
2. Wesley Blake Clover (b. 5/6/1929-lives in Exeter, CA )

Stephen DeMoss Bowers (1832-1907)=[1880 second marriage] Margaret (1844- ); daughter born in CA

1. May Florence Bowers (1/15/1885-4/25/1957)=Clifford Houghawout


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In the News~

March 13, 1876 [SBMP]: “Dr. L. G. Yates, of Centreville, is in the city, and will accompany Rev. S. Bowers in his contemplated exploration of Santa Rosa Island. The doctor is a man of fine scientific attainments.”


March 22, 1876 [SBMP]: “Scientific Exposition. Rev. Stephen Bowers, and party, sailed on the Star of Freedom this morning for Santa Rosa Island. The object is to make a complete monograph of the island relating to its geology, paleontology, botany, conchology, and antiquities. This will be published and illustrated by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and will be of much scientific value.”


March 22, 1876 [BowersFN]: “March 22. I and my wife, DeMoss, Dr. Yates, and two hands embarked at Santa Barbara on the Star of Freedom for Santa Rosa Island. Becalmed in the channel, we were 29 hours in reaching the island. We were fearfully seasick. Had a fine number of whales that came near our ship. The noise of their spouting was like that of a low pressure steamer.”


March 23, 1876 [SBDN]: “Reverend Steven Bowers and party sailed on the Star of Freedom yesterday for Santa Rosa Island. They will write an account of its geology, fossils, shells, plants, and antiquities that will be published at Washington. It is an expedition of no little importance to science. Mr. Bowers goes thoroughly prepared to make a complete survey of the island.”


April 18, 1876 [SBDN]: “The schooner Matinee arrived from Santa Rosa Island yesterday with 100 sacks of abalones, and the archaeological specimens recently made by Messrs. Bowers and party.”


April 19, 1876 [SBDP]: “The Matinee brought over 100 sacks of abalones and Mr. Bowers’ collection of curiosities from Santa Cruz Island yesterday.”


April 22, 1876 [SBDP]: “The Reverend S. Bowers has about three tons of antiquities and geological specimens collected during his last trip over to the island.”


May 5, 1876 [SBDP]: “Santa Rosa Island. An interesting sketch. A telegram from Washington asked the writer to explore this island… The party, consisting of the writer, Dr. Yates of Centerville, as assistant, Mrs. B., and two workmen, set sail March 22… At all events, it seems that about the year 1816 the islanders were reduced to a very small number, and were taken off by the Padres of the Santa Barbara Mission and placed on the mainland, whence they have gradually passed away. S. B. *There is said to be one individual left, an old woman living near San Luis Obispo, the sole survivor of the race once inhabiting Santa Rosa Island. Our fellow townsman, Mr. Ord, has conversed with her, and will furnish me her recollections of the island and its inhabitants, which I will embody in my report to Washington.”


May 5, 1876 [SBDP]: “Santa Rosa Island. An interesting sketch. A telegram from Washington asked the writer to explore this island… The party, consisting of the writer, Dr. Yates of Centerville, as assistant, Mrs. B., and two workmen, set sail March 22… At all events, it seems that about the year 1816 the islanders were reduced to a very small number, and were taken off by the Padres of the Santa Barbara Mission and placed on the mainland, whence they have gradually passed away. S. B. *There is said to be one individual left, an old woman living near San Luis Obispo, the sole survivor of the race once inhabiting Santa Rosa Island. Our fellow townsman, Mr. Ord, has conversed with her, and will furnish me her recollections of the island and its inhabitants, which I will embody in my report to Washington.”


May 5, 1876 [SBDP]: “Santa Rosa Island. An interesting sketch. A telegram from Washington asked the writer to explore this island… The party, consisting of the writer, Dr. Yates of Centerville, as assistant, Mrs. B., and two workmen, set sail March 22… At all events, it seems that about the year 1816 the islanders were reduced to a very small number, and were taken off by the Padres of the Santa Barbara Mission and placed on the mainland, whence they have gradually passed away. S. B. *There is said to be one individual left, an old woman living near San Luis Obispo, the sole survivor of the race once inhabiting Santa Rosa Island. Our fellow townsman, Mr. Ord, has conversed with her, and will furnish me her recollections of the island and its inhabitants, which I will embody in my report to Washington.”


May 8, 1876 [SBDP]: “Santa Rosa Island. Second Sketch… Both cattle and hogs have been introduced, the former in 1842, the latter ten years later…”


May 11, 1876 [SBDP]: “Santa Rosa Island. Geology… at the wharf we found a good exposed strata, forming cliffs about 30 feet high… There are fewer antiquities on this island than we had hoped to find. Still we succeeded in collecting about a ton, which were forwarded at once to Washington… Thanks for the uniform kindness of the proprietors of this beautiful island, the Messrs. More, toward our party during our survey…we refer our readers to our report to the Smithsonian Institution. Stephen Bowers.”


May 13, 1876 [SBDP?]: “Santa Rosa Island. An Interesting Sketch. A telegram from Washington asked the writer (Stephen DeMoss Bowers) to explore this island, and make a monograph relating to its archaeology and ethnology. This was afterward extended to its geology, paleontology, and zoology. The party, consisting of the writer, Dr. Yates of Centerville, as assistant, and Mrs. B., and two workmen, set sail March 22. A voyage of twenty-nine hours brought us to our desired haven. The vessel dropped anchor in a beautiful little bay a hundred yards from shore, and our effects, consisting of tents, camp equipage, boxes and bottles for specimens, writing and drafting material, instruments, etc., were safely landed by the aid of the life-boat. But I must first write something concerning the previous history of this island. It was once very thickly inhabited by a race now extinct, as the vast number of rancherias, shell heaps and mounds would indicate. The first account we have of this island is recorded by Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator, who visited in 1542, spending the winter on this and adjoining islands. He died here, and is supposed to have been buried on San Miguel or Santa Cruz Island. He describes the inhabitants as comparatively white, the women handsome, with ruddy complexion, etc., but this was 334 years ago. Mr. Taylor (Alexander S. Taylor) informs me that the cause of the decline and final extinction of the inhabitants of this island was related to him by the old Jesuits of Santa Barbara Mission. It was to the effect that a century ago the Russians were in the habit of visiting the island for the fur of the sea otter, then very abundant, as their remains in the shell-heaps would indicate. They brought with them natives from Alaska, whom they left on the island during the winter months, having taught them the use of fire-arms. These fellows amused themselves, in the absence of the Russian ships, in shooting the defenseless inhabitants. Mr. T. thinks that in this way we can account for the number of skeletons still lying exposed in different parts of the island. Another account is, that the Russians themselves came down and killed them off in cast numbers to obtain their furs. I will take this occasion to remark, that in examining their burying places we found many skulls which had been broken by violence, but none that seemed to have been pierced by bullets. This was especially true of those buried just beneath the surface. But as other tribes inhabited adjoining islands, they were probably sometimes engaged in war, which would better account for the perforated and fractured skulls. Still another account is to the effect that a destructive famine prevailed, reducing the numbers from many thousands to a few score. Yet we cannot see how a famine for want of food could possibly occur, as their sustenance came almost wholly from the sea, consisting largely of mollusks, which are still abundant, as well as whales, sea lions, seals and sea otters, with various kinds of fish and water fowl. The only possible chance for a famine we can see, would be the drying up of the springs and creeks now abundant in nearly every portion of the island. While there is probably some truth in all three of these stories, we found evidences only of the latter. In a large burying place on the western portion of the island we found human bones occurring near the surface which were broken lengthwise, as if to extract the marrow. And in the same place we found the skeletons of as many, probably, as fifty children, who would likely to be first to die in case of a famine. The stumps and roots of many trees, indicating about the same age, may be seen in nearly every portion of the island, and dead land snails (Helix Ayersiana) in multiplied millions, which must have been killed by a long drouth many years ago. At all events it seems that about the year 1816 the islanders were reduced to a very small number, and were taken off by the Padres of the Santa Barbara Mission and placed on the mainland, whence they have gradually passed away. S. B. ([[[BOWERS, Stephen|Stephen Bowers]]) *There is said to be one woman left, an old woman living near San Luis Obispo, the sole survivor of the race once inhabiting Santa Rosa Island. Our fellow townsmen Dr. Ord has conversed with her, and will furnish me her recollections of the island and its inhabitants, which I will embody in my report to Washington. — SECOND SKETCH. About the year 1834 this island was deeded by the Mexican Government to one of its subjects named Carrillo. Two daughters, who married Americans, heired the estate of their father, and from these parties it was purchased by the present owners, Messrs. A. P. and H. H. Moore [sic: More]. Both cattle and hogs have been introduced, the former in 1842, the latter ten years later, representatives of which are still found wild on the island; and it is by no means safe to surprise them in the canyons or come upon them too suddenly. The island now supports 80,000 sheep, and is capable of supporting double that number.”


April 5, 1877 [SDU]: “Yesterday morning Collector Bowers seized a Chinese junk, together with her cargo of dried abalone meat brought from the coast of Mexico. She arrived here during Friday night, is of 40 tons burden, has no marine papers, has paid no tonnage tax, and has no authority to go on a trading or fishing voyage.”


July 23, 1877 [BowersFN]: “Mr. A. W. Barnard’s family, our own, Mr. H. W. Mills, and Indian Bill as cook went aboard the U.S. steamer McArthur bound for San Miguel Island…”


1878-1879: “Among the extensive collection of stone and shell implements collected recently for the Smithsonian Institution by the Rev. Stephen Bowers, in California, were some diminutive, flat, circular shell beads which are undoubtedly the most delicate examples of aboriginal workmanship ever discovered. They are smaller than an ordinary pin's head, the central perforations being so minute as scarcely to admit of the passage of a needle. These specimens of native wampum were probably wrought from a species of Olivella. It is impossible to conceive how they could have been fashioned by the aid simply of stone tools. At first they were supposed to be natural crinoidal segments, but an examination of them beneath the microscope proved them to have been artificially worked, the delicate striae appearing in parallel rows and not radiating from the center. They were found in a grave on San Miguel Island, associated with quantities of a large variety of bead cut from Olivella biplicata. [The American Antiquarian 1:112, April 1878-April 1879]

April 28, 1879 [SBDP]: “The American Naturalist for May contains some flattering notices of the scientific work of our fellow townsman, Mr. Bowers…”


November 8, 1879 [SBWP]: “That low, rakish craft, the schooner N.B., otherwise P.S. —her letters of marque having expired by limitation—has gone to San Diego where she was to have them renewed by the bold buccaneer of the Beautiful Bay, Collector Bowers; which done, she will sail under all steam for Cocos Island to load with treasure and disgust.”


January 7, 1881 [SBDP]: “Dr. Stephen Bowers recently delivered his lecture in Clinton, Wisconsin, on Five Years in Southern California. He was a long-time resident of Santa Barbara, and knows whereof he speaks.”


July 7, 1884 [SBDI]: “The Ventura Free Press comes out this week with some changes in its make-up. The reading columns are widened and editorial matter placed upon the first page. It is also printed on book paper, and altogether it looks as though Brother Bowers was on the road to success.”


1886. “…The California Indians were large consumers of these native shell fish, as the many kitchen middens, or shell mounds, testify. The largest abalone shells the writer has seen were from the shell mounds of San Nicolas Island, where, according to Dr. S. Bowers*, ‘Millions multiplied by millions would be but a beginning, in enumerating the vast number of shells in the heaps, of which the Haliotis predominates.’” [Williamson, Mrs. M. Burton The Haliotis or Abalone Industry of the Californian Coast: Preservative Laws (7), 1906. Historical Society of Southern California 1(7), 1906, pp. 22-30.

[*Bowers. 9th Annual Report Cal. State Mining Bur., 1890.]


August 10, 1887 [SBMP]: “Brother Bowers, of the Ventura Free Press, hearing that Mr. Mills is to plant a town on San Miguel Island to be named Vienna, bats the scheme this back-handed lick: "We have a distinct remembrance of having explored that windswept island after several other parties had been driven back by sandstorms. We were met by a merciless sandstorm on the day of our entrance upon the island, but we remained for ten days and explored it thoroughly. It is in the shape of a triangle, seven by three miles in extent, and rises in the center to a height of 800 feet. At the time we refer to (1876) it was owned by the Government and reserved for military purposes. We have not heard of the Government selling it."”


August 11, 1887 [SBMP]: “Brother Bowers of the Ventura Free Press, hearing that Mr. Mills of Santa Barbara is to plant a town on San Miguel Island to be named Vienna, hits the scheme this back-handed lick: ‘We have a distinct remembrance of having explored that wind-swept island after several other parties had been driven back by sandstorms. We were met by a merciless sandstorm on the day of our entrance upon the island, but we remained for ten days and explored it thoroughly. It is in the shape of a triangle, seven by three miles in extent, and rises in the center to a height of 800 feet. At the time we refer to, (1876) it was owned by the government and reserved for military purposes. We have not heard of the government selling it.”


November 11, 13, 15, 20, 27 & 29, 1889 [VV]: “Nineteen days on San Nicolas Island. By Steven Bowers.


June 17, 1891 [SBMP]: “Dr. S. Bowers of Ventura has been reappointed inspector of the ports of Ventura and Santa Barbara by H. Z. Osborne, Collector of the Port of Wilmington.”


September 17, 1891 [NALN RG 36 #6/28]: “Dear Sir, Your kind letter of 16th inst. Has just reached me. I had thought of writing to you on the same subject [opium smuggling]… The opportunities for smuggling opium and contraband goods along this channel are more or less favorable. But I am doing everything in my powers to watch for it… Most truly yours, Stephen Bowers.”


September 21, 1894 [SBDI]: “Don’t forget that Dr. Stephen Bowers of the California Voice will address the Prohibition mass meeting at Crane’s Hall tonight. Populists are especially invited.”


September 22, 1894 [SBDI]: “Dr. Stephen Bowers of Los Angeles is at the new Morris.”


June 8, 1897 [LAT/SB]: “Santa Barbara Indians. At the meeting of the Historical Society last night, Dr. Stephen Bowers delivered an address on the Santa Barbara Indians… On Santa Rosa Dr. Bowers collected a ton of relics for the government, consisting of arrowheads, various kinds of implements and discs. The disc was a perforated stone used in the games of the Indians…”


October 2, 1898 [LAT/SB]: “Dr. Stephen Bowers of the California Voice, Los Angeles, will lecture at Grace Church tomorrow evening upon the liquor traffic. In the morning he will speak at Goleta and in the afternoon at the El Montecito Presbyterian Church.”


August 25, 1906 [LAH]: “Dr. Stephen Bowers of this city has been honored in having another species of fossil named for him at Washington. It is from San Miguel Island and is named Coenoeyathus bowersi. A few months ago a new species the doctor found in San Diego county was named Maeandra bowersi. There are a large number of fossils at Washington, new to science, which Dr. Bowers has found and forwarded for identification.”


January 6, 1907 [LAT]: “Rev. Stephen Bowers, one of the most learned and sincere men in Los Angeles, died yesterday at his home on Dewey Avenue. He was 74 years old… His aged widow survives him, and also a son, DeMoss Bowers, and two daughters, Mrs. Anna Bailey of this city, and Mrs. Dale G. Cooper of Long Beach…” [Note: These two women are not his daughters, but nieces, says Wes Clover, great-grandson of Rev. Stephen DeMoss Bowers.]


January 6, 1907 [SBMP]: “Sudden death of Dr. Bowers. One of the first pastors of Santa Barbara Methodist Church and well-known scientist… The death occurred yesterday afternoon at the Bowers home on Pico Heights [Los Angeles], paralysis being the cause. Dr. Bowers was well-known throughout the state…”


January 31, 1909 [SBMP]: “Professor Yates passes away… In 1881 at the instigation of the late Dr. Dimmick, Dr. Yates moved to this city and began the practice of dentistry. He named all the undetermined specimens embraced in the private collection of Professor H. C. Ford, Dr. Dimmick and Stephen Bowers, besides adding from his own duplication…”