HOWLAND, William Roberto Garcia

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Howland's Landing, Santa Catalina Island

HOWLAND, William Roberto Garcia (1820-1888), born to a Portuguese father and an English mother, William Roberto Garcia stowed away at about age fifteen on an American vessel out of Portugal and sailed to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He connected with Captain Howland, descendant of the Mayflower, took his last name, and came around Cape Horn before the California Gold Rush. Sometime around 1857 William Howland became one of the earliest European settlers on Santa Catalina Island, where he began raising sheep. In 1860 at age 40, he married Sarah Ann Simmons (1847-1926), who was barely a teenager at the time. According to Sarah, she lived on Santa Catalina Island for thirteen years and eight months (circa 1864-1878).

They had seven children:

Their second-born son, William Percival Howland, was reported to be the first American child born on Catalina, even though Louisa Behn held that honor. By 1867, James Lick had acquired title to the island, and instigated eviction proceedings against those settlers squatting on the island. Lick reportedly offered the island to William Howland for $50,000, a price too steep for Howland to accept. In 1887, the Lick Trustees granted grazing rights to Howland, and fellow sheep ranchers, Harris and Frank Whittley.

In the News~

November 24, 1860 [LAStar]: “Delinquent Tax List for the State and County for the Year 1860... Howland, Wm. Santa Catalina...”

June 13, 1863 [J. G. Cooper]: “June 12th I crossed over to Catalina Island [from Santa Barbara Island] in the same vessel [sloop Hamilton], and the next day landed near the northwest end. I there found Mr. N. Parsons with a small schooner of seven tons, which I engaged to take me around this and other islands. As he could not start with me for a week, I remained at Mr. Howland’s house, and made such collections and explorations as I could in the north end…” [Report of Explorations of the Islands off the Southern Coast of California, 1863, unpub. manuscript].

April 22, 1888 [LAT]: “Died. Howland — At Green Meadows, April 10, 1888. W. R. Howland, aged 63 years. Funeral services Sunday, April 22nd, at 10 A.M. from the family residence. Friends are respectfully invited to attend.”

January 1, 1898 [LAT]: “In Charles T. Howland once more we have a young attorney who is a son of the soil. He was born in 1868 at San Pedro… His father, Captain William R. Howland, came here before the discovery of gold. He was known to all the old-timers, and was in the sheep business on Catalina Island for years. The friends of Captain Howland naturally take an interest in the son, and are glad to meet him in a business as well as social way.”

August 14, 1903 [LAT]: “Avalon. Catalina revisited by woman pioneer. Mother of first white child born on the island. Widow of Captain Howland sees again the scenes of many years of her life, when six families comprised population. Among the visitors to Catalina at present is one of the pioneers of the island, Mrs. S. A. Howland, the widow of Captain Howland, who, almost half a century ago, gave his name to the place now known as Howland’s Landing. In company with her husband, Mrs. Howland landed on the isthmus at a little beach three miles above the Isthmus, where he had a band of sheep. The island was then supposed to be government land, and they, as well as others on the place, took up land on what was known as ‘squatters’ rights.’ There were six families on the island at that time, and nearly all continued to live here until they could not acquire the land under the ‘squatters’ rights,’ and when James Lick gained control of the whole island, most of the families went across to the mainland. Those living here were located at what is now Johnson’s Landing, and which was then known as John Ben’s Landing; at Swayne’s, now known as White’s Landing, at the Isthmus; at Cherry Valley and at Fourth of July Valley. The men owning sheep here were Thomas Whittley, father of Captain Thomas Whittley, who succeeded to the business, and who died some two years ago. His range was the western end of the island, down to Johnson’s; Captain Howland then occupied down to the Isthmus; then came the company—Howland, L. Harris and Whittley, their territory reaching to Swayne’s, and John F. C. Johnson occupied the remainder, living at Avalon, which at that time was known as Johnson’s. Ben Weston also had a small band on the south side of the island, at what is still known as Ben Weston Beach, and Don Juan Cota, from the Santa Marguerita Rancho had a band of cattle here numbering about 400 head. For thirteen years and eight months Mrs. Howland’s home was on the island. To her was born the first white child that ever saw the light on Catalina, thirty-seven years ago. The enormous big tree at Howland’s was planted in honor of the event just noted on the morning after the birth, and it has grown and prospered all these years, and is likely to continue to grow for half a century longer. The large grapevine there was planted by Mrs. Howland’s own hands, forty years ago. It has had a hard life of it, for cattle and sheep have browsed at its branches and ridden it down, uncared for by any one in the decades which have passed. It is now receiving good care, and at present hangs full of luscious grapes. After an absence of twenty-five years, Mrs. Howland has returned to the island with her son, Joseph Howland, and several grandchildren, and a day or two since they chartered the launch, Tio Juan, that she might revisit the scenes of her early days. Several stops were made at points of interest, but at the old home of Howland’s they spent most of the day. There they ate figs, grapes and peaches, all from trees and vines of her own planting, and here she met several old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Markel, whom she had not seen for a quarter of a century. Mr. Markel is in charge of the pumping station at Howland’s, which furnishes water for the Isthmus, and they insisted on posing the pioneer on the big vine, wrapped in Old Glory, and taking her picture. Mrs. Howland will spend some weeks here before returning to her home in Los Angeles.”

Howland’s Landing, Santa Catalina Island is named for Captain William Roberto Garcia Howland. Howland and his wife Sarah Ann are buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles, along with many of their descendants. In the 1940 census, the Howland’s Landing resident was Thomas C. Marsh, 50, from Denmark.

HOWLAND'S: “A broad and shallow valley ending at a long, curved, level beach divided by a peculiar group of projecting rocks. The level back of the beach has a number of buildings and a pumping station for the water supply of the Isthmus. On this level may be found a number of adventive species. The road from here to Johnson's Landing has rich banks yielding Cardamine californica and Dendromecon.” [Millspaugh & Nuttall Flora of Santa Catalina Island (1923)].