Indian Relic Hunting: Santa Catalina Island

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Indian Relic Hunting: Santa Catalina Island

[1886]: “Professor Schumacher of the Smithsonian Institution first investigated the island in the early seventies, and, with Mexican Joe as skilled excavator, found a vast treasure in stone, shell and bone. English and Germans followed, and many fine collections were secured. The remains are doubtless nearly all of the fifteenth century; and some possibly thousands of years old. Every canyon having a beach on the north coast, I found, in 1886, had it ancient town site—some large, some small—the finest being at Cabrillo, or the isthmus now mostly covered by stables. In 1887 I trenched this with Mexican Joe and Dr. William Channing of Boston, and worked down through four or five layers of graves. The upper ones dated in all probability from since Cabrillo’s time, as in them I found Italian beads, bell clappers, files, mattocks, and copper wire. The iron mattocks were evidently highly valued as they had been carefully wrapped in cloth and buried with the owners; the cloth had literally turned to iron. This was by far the most interesting deposit on the island, a typical graveyard. The lower graves contained no metal—nothing but stone, bone, and shell implements, showing that the natives had no bartering with the whites, and ante-dated Cabrillo…” [Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California 1910:27-28].

In the News~

June 30, 1889 [LAT]: “Avalon. …This is the only place I ever found in which robbing graves was fashionable. At Catalina, every man or woman is expected to do his duty in this respect, and rob a grave or two. To be sure, the graves are not very fresh—five or six hundred years old, perhaps, just old enough to rob without any compunctions of conscience…”

August 25, 1889 [LAT]: “Relics of the continental races of Catalina. Three hundred years ago, where the Hotel Metropole now stands, was a large and populous native village. Exactly who they were and where they have gone is one of the conundrums to the sea-grit island… Professor Schumacher found hundreds of of objects here: oval stones, with stones in the center fairly polished, some of which can be seen in the billiard room of the Metropole. What these are is a mystery…”

March 8, 1890 [SBDI]: “Donations to [Santa Barbara] Museum. Haliotus splendens used as a cup, holes closed with asphaltum from an Indian grave, Catalina Island, Dr. Palmer, Los Angeles.”

December 24, 1893 [LAT/SCat]: “Catalina Island, twenty-five miles from the coast, has become very popular during the past few years, a steamer making regular trips during the summer. There may be found wild mountain scenery, goat hunting, Indian relics and the finest kind of fishing…”

June 30, 1894 [LAH]: “Catalina, June 29. The work of excavating the earth near the wharf for a drain is being watched with a good deal of interest by every one, on account of the Indian remains that are being discovered. Several entire skeletons have been unearthed and a number of valuable relics secured. Part of an old gun was found on Wednesday, and Thursday a large quantity of wampum beads. Around some of the skeletons a number of abalone shells had been placed.”

June 30, 1894 [LAH]: “Mr. H. Elms is the possessor of one of the finest collections of Catalina Indian relics. He has among other things a stone shovel, a hammer, a pipe, a ladle, shell earrings, and a piece of pottery which is in the shape of a bowl, with the figure of a human being on one side and that of a snake on the other.”

November 4, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “W. H. Holmes, special agent for the National Museum or Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., is visiting Catalina Island for the purpose of acquiring information in regard to the aboriginal inhabitants of the island and the relics they have left behind. The museum has come into possession of a large quantity of such relics of a most interesting character, but their history is so enshrouded in mystery that very little is known of them, and Professor Holmes has made a special visit here for the purpose of digging up some information, for it can be had only by digging and personal investigation.”

August 7, 1904 [LAT]: “The Southern California Academy of Sciences is publishing a series of articles by Mrs. M. Burton Williamson on the Indian relics found on Santa Catalina Island, many of which are in the collections at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C., and the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.”

February 20, 1908 [SBMP]: “Celebrated scientist will look for relics on Santa Catalina Island. Whether relics of a great and absorbing interest as those of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellers… may not be found by Dr. William F. Parks, one of the twelve members of the Naturalists Club, St. Louis, when he explores the Indian shell mound of Santa Catalina Island, is a question to be determined only when his work is well started. Dr. Parks. Who has a collection of Indian relics valued at $30,000, which he will present to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C. , when he completes the collection, has pursued the study of archaeology for many years…”

1910: “When a trench is dug in any part of Avalon today, especially along the north beach, shells, implements, and ancient human bones are often found, and the black earth crops out, telling the story of one of the most interesting ancient archaeological treasure-houses in America. Literally tons of mortars, pestles, and implements of various kinds were taken from here in the seventies [1870s]. Professor Schumacker of the Smithsonian Institution first investigated the island in the early seventies, and, with "Mexican Joe" as skilled excavator, found a vast treasure in stone, shell, and bone. English and Germans followed, and many fine collections were secured. The remains are doubtless nearly all of the fifteenth century; and some possibly thousands of years old.” [Holder, Charles F. The Channel Islands of California 1910].

April 3, 1910 [LAT]: “Mystery of the early Catalina people’s tragedy clearing up. Los Angeles scientist, seeing a child at play with island relics, makes notable discoveries… scientists have discovered great shell heaps where the refuse was thrown from villages that must have existed for centuries; men digging ditches to lay the foundations of a modern summer hotel have come upon the graves of a forgotten people. Relic hunters have found bleaching skeletons—sometimes skulls with cruel spear heads still thrust through them…”

April 16, 1922 [LAT]: “Exhibits at the Southwest Museum which will form a part of the exhibits to be shown include the stone work of Catalina and offshore Channel Island Indians, which is of a character superior to anything produced north of the Mexican line. This collection includes ceremonial stones of weird shapes, the meaning of which was lost when these tribes were exterminated by the Russians and Spaniards.”

June 25, 1922 [LAT]: “A party of seventy-five boys and men will leave Los Angeles Harbor next Saturday at 5 A.M. for a week’s outing on San Clemente Island. C. R. Fischer of the Y.M.C.A. is leader, but the trip will be taken under the auspices of the First English Lutheran Church of this city. Hiking, fishing, boating, hunting and bathing are on the program for the week. No one in the party is to be allowed to take a razor along and growing a beard will be one of the pastimes. The party will tour the islands between San Clemente and Los Angeles on the return voyage. Among the islands to be visited are San Nicolas and Catalina islands. An exploring party will go ashore at Nicolas and try its luck at digging up the remains of prehistoric peoples.”

July 15, 1931 [TI/Avalon]: “… Mexican Joe Presido [sic] used to tell the story that when he was a boy he would dig up mortars and skulls and shoot at them just for the fun of the thing…”