SANGER, Arthur Randal

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A. R. Sanger, C. W. Hatton, and Bruce Bryan looking at artifacts
recovered during the 1926 expedition to San Nicolas Island.
Photo courtesy of Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County.
Arthur R. Sanger on San Nicolas Island.

SANGER, Arthur Randal (1880-1971) [SS#548-82-0151], was born in Palmer, Massachusetts, the oldest of three children born to Herbert Clifton Sanger (1854-1940) and Rubie Sanger (1853-1940):

  • Arthur Randal Sanger (1880-1971)
  • Hellene Mable Sanger (1883- ) [= John R. Burns]
  • Agnes Claflin Sanger (1887-1978)[SS#552-80-3437] = [Frank M. Bell]; = [Abraham Mondon (c. 1888-)]
Agnes E. Bell (c. 1906- )

Sanger attended the Colorado School of Mines before moving to California where he was active in the yachting community, a founder of the Catalina Island Yacht Club, and owner of the yacht Dreamer, which he used to access the California Channel Islands. Sanger's decades-long interest in Chumash and Gabrieleño sites on the California Channel Islands led him to excavate untold burials on the islands. Sanger claimed to have excavated an extraordinary number of stone pipes and effigies from various island sites, collectibles that were sold for large sums of money to both museums and private collectors. In 1930, archaeologist Bruce Bryan wrote:

“Not long ago a portion of the Sanger collection was purchased by Mr. George Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Heye also added to his collection two or three of the inlaid slabs brought back [from San Nicolas Island] by Sanger, but though he [Heye] has evidenced his interest in the California cultures by his purchases, he has not yet organized an expedition to work on any of the islands.”

Curators and scholars became puzzled by some of Sanger’s bizarre effigy forms. This in turn, led to further study and speculation of effigy forgery. Phil Orr wrote in 1956:

“Steatite pipes and a few simple effigies do occur along the Santa Barbara Channel coast, but it is noteworthy that in 80 years of excavation by many scientific institutions all of the large elaborate pieces have been reported from dealers during the last 15 years or so.”

Elizabeth Lester remembered: 'Sanger visited the islands in his 60-foot auxiliary schooner, Dreamer. He often brought groups of friends to San Miguel Island for recreation, which included “screens to sift through relic mounds for treasure.” [Lester, Elizabeth Legendary King of San Miguel Island, 1974: 17, 43].

Francis R. Holland wrote in 1963:

“One amateur with extensive collections from San Miguel is Arthur Sanger of Los Angeles who has been gathering artifacts from the island since 1905.”

Sanger attempted to name a cove after himself on San Nicolas Island:

“While hunting for Indian curios in 1916, I discovered Sanger’s Cove. It was so good that the ranch houses and corrals were later moved from near Corral Harbor to this cove.”

The Sanger family lived at 2910 Budlong in Los Angels. Arthur R. Sanger died at age 91 on October 4, 1971. He was survived by his sister, Agnes Sanger Mondon of Los Angeles, four grand-nephews and two grand-nieces.

Over a hundred artifacts collected in 1930 by Sanger on San Nicolas Island are at the British Museum:

The British Museum

  • 1944. Sanger, Arthur The Thrills of Relic Collecting Westways 36(11):10-11, 1944

[original in SCIF archives]

  • 1951. Sanger, Arthur San Miguel Island Sea, the Pacific Yachting Magazine 15(12):33-36, December 1951
[original in SCIF archives]

  • 1952. Sanger, Arthur Santa Rosa Island Sea, the Pacific Yachting Magazine 16(2):12-13, 41-43, February 1952
[original in SCIF archives]

  • 1952. Sanger, Arthur Browsing Around Santa Cruz Island Sea 16(3):17-18, 45, March 1952

  • 1958. Sanger, Arthur Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands Sea 22(2):83, 94-97, February 1958

  • 1930. Bryan, Bruce San Nicolas Island, Treasure House of the Ancients Art and Archaeology 29(5): 215-223, May 1930

  • 1993. Lee, Georgia Fake Effigies from the Southern California Coast? Robert Heizer and the Effigy Controversy Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 15(2):195-215, 1993

  • 1995. Koerper, Henry C. and and Paul G. Chace Heizer, Strandt, and the Effigy Controversy Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 17(2):280-284, 1995

  • 2002. Gamble, Lynn H. Fact or Forgery: Dilemmas in Museum Collections Museum Anthropology 25(2):3-20, 2002

» Koerper, Henry C., and Sherri Gust Additional Revelations Concerning Arthur Sanger and Archaeological Fakery Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly


In the News~

July 9, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Frank M. Bell gave an outing to the Isthmus and Emerald Bay yesterday… The guests were… Arthur Sanger…”

August 26, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestall had a party of young folks at is cottage last evening, and gave them a happy time with music and refreshments, winding up with the old Virginia reel. There were present… Arthur Sanger…”

August 23, 1916 [SBMP]: “John Russell, superintendent of Captain W. G. Waters’ ranch on San Miguel Island, had the misfortune a few days ago, to be kicked in the breast by a mule. He came to the mainland with the first opportunity that offered, when the power yacht Dreamer [Sanger] put into Cuyler’s Harbor while on a cruise around the islands. Dr. Winchester was called to attend to Mr. Russell’s injuries, which were found to be not of a serious nature. The injured man was accompanied by his wife. Both will go to Los Angeles today and the husband is expected soon to be able to resume his duties on the island.”

September , 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “The yacht Dreamer, Captain Sanger, is cruising round San Clemente for a few days.”

October 16, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Captain Sanger and party, on board the yacht Dreamer, spent the weekend at Avalon.”

1920 [Pacific Motor Boat, V. 13, p. 27]:“Honolulu race this year. The Honolulu race under the auspices of the Los Angeles Yacht Club is now looming bigger than ever. It bods fair to become the most noteworthy event held on Pacific waters... Among the numerous entries are the following: ...Arthur Sanger with the schooner Dreamer...”

August 23, 1923 [SBMP]: “A search for the grave of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, pioneer explorer of the Pacific Coast, and the discoverer of the Channel Islands, was begun yesterday by Captain Arthur Sanger and a party of friends on board the power schooner Dreamer, which sailed from Avalon, Catalina Island, Tuesday. The leaden coffin of Don Juan claimed by historians to be buried somewhere beneath the shifting sands of San Miguel Island, is the prize sought. Members of Captain Sanger’s party also believe that the coffin will be filled with a treasure that would pay off a foreign war loan. Local archaeologists scoff at the belief that there is a treasure concealed in the grave of the Spanish explorer, and assert that by only a chance will they locate the grave. Shifting sands of centuries have drifted over the place if interment, and only the sands blowing away again will bring to light the bones long buried they say. Again, they assert, the Spaniards were not members of a party such as the famous Captain Kidd, and would not bury their treasures. Rather they would be taken to Spain. There are no records in existence that show that the party of the dauntless Cabrillo ever found any gold or other valuables. While no details could be obtained from members of the party on the Dreamer to verify the report that the expedition is in possession of the original map made by Cabrillo himself, it was admitted that the expedition is in possession of authentic proof that such a treasure does exist and that its approximate location is known, according to dispatches received here. The search will continue for a month, according to Captain Sanger.”

July 8, 1925 [Pittsburgh Gazette Times]: “Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, Cal. July 7 — While last Monday's earthquake was toppling hotels and office buildings of Santa Barbara into the street, it was ripping great fissures in the Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands just off the coast from the mission city, hurling sections of their rocky coast lines into the sea and revealing old Indian burial places. A report of the tremblor's effect on the practically uninhabited island was brought here yesterday by Capt. Arthur Sanger of the schooner Dreamer, on the vessel's return from anchorage off Santa Cruz Island with a party of archaeologists from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Sanger said the Dreamer was lying off Santa Cruz Island when the shocks began early Monday morning and that waves churned up by the quake tossed the vessel about like a piece of kindling. 'Cliffs toppled into the sea before us', he said, 'and we gazed awestruck at what seemed to be the end of the world. From San Miguel Island to the west of us, arose great clouds of dust, indicating that there, too, the cliffs were crashing.' 'After the shocks has subsided we went ashore and found that fissures opened by the quake had uncovered burial places, the existence of which we had not suspected while exploring other Indian remains on the island. We found five skulls of peculiar conformation and also numerous ornaments and utensils.”

April 9, 1928 [OC]: “Excavations just made on barren St. Nicolas Island, 100 miles off the coast here, and which belongs to the Ventura county have given evidence of an unsuspected and far-flung prehistoric Indian commerce, according to A. R. Sanger, Los Angeles archaeologist, who is back from an expedition to the island. Sanger carried on extensive excavations in the huge burial mounds on the island and found among other things a small stone image of a buffalo which is entirely unique and unprecedented in the history of the group of Channel Islands. There were never any bison, or buffalo, on the island, historians claim and Sanger is of the opinion that either the Indian who modeled the buffalo was a member of the tribe that lived there and who had gone to the mainland and western prairies where he had seen buffalo, or that the image was bartered or traded in by other tribes further inland. Sanger, by his findings, believes that the Indians of the California islands had active commerce with more warlike and aggressive races in the interior of the mainland, at least 1000 miles to the east. The archaeologist spent more than three weeks excavating on San Nicolas Island and returned with an unusually valuable collection of relics. By his findings Sanger claims he has proved two things, one that the island Indians were actively engaged in commerce, and the other that the island Indians were more or less of a warlike nature. This latter he proves by the fact that he found a complete skeleton of a warrior with a large stone spearhead embedded in the pelvis bone. Another skull showed where an arrow or spear had entered it from the top of the left cheek with such force that it tore out the teeth of the upper and lower jaws on one side. Among other relics that Sanger secured are bone whistles, shell beads and soapstone images of fish and squirrel, and a number of delicately carved fishhooks. Before returning to the mainland, Sanger spent several days exploring on Santa Rosa Island and looking over Santa Cruz Island. He plans to return in a few weeks to resume excavations.”

July 7, 1930 [Malcolm Rogers Field Notes]: “Left San Diego at 7 A.M. and drove to Wilmington. In afternoon bought supplies and loaded outfit aboard the Dreamer. Set sail at 7 P.M. for San Nicolas Island.”

July 8, 1930 [Malcolm Rogers Field Notes]: “Reached Santa Barbara Island at 5 A.M. in a choppy sea. Captain Sanger sick. Sea getting rougher. A strong west wind blowing with high fog. By 7 A.M. half the crew sick and boat rolling too much to cook in galley - nothing to eat but cold food and no one wanting it. Making only 4 knots. By 1 P.M. bearings were lost and Captain Sanger ready to turn back - no sight of San Nicolas. Shortly afterward I sighted the island to the northwest of us. Decided to run for it. Made the southeast lee and anchorage at 5 P.M. Got a meal cooked at 6 P.M. but few could eat it.”

July 8, 1930 [Malcolm Rogers Field Notes]: “Left anchorage at 6 A.M. and sailed around east sand-spit and made our way along the north coast in a very heavy sea. Reached anchorage in Crescent Bay at Brook's Landing at 9 A.M. Got crew and outfit safely ashore by noon and enjoyed our first real meal. Spent afternoon making camp and getting organized. Sanger outfit immediately started out on a relic hunt. Made a mistake ever coming here with them, although our government is badly at fault for not protecting the archaeology of the island.”

July 10, 1930 [Malcolm Rogers Field Notes]: “On learning that the Sangers augmented by the family of sheep herders on the island were going out again I decided to scatter my forces and beat them to it. They started out with horses shortly after us and the high-grading race was on. We were fairly successful but they, having the help of the sheep herders who had already located many things, procured the pick of the surface objects - a fine situation. They got aboard ship by 3 P.M. and sailed off with their loot.July 9, 1930 [TI]: “Avalon Yachting News... Capt. Arthur Sanger and sister, Mrs. Agnes Mondon, also father and mother, schooner Dreamer...

August 13, 1930 [TI/Avalon]: “Avalon Yachting News by Skipper... Art Sanger and family, schooner Dreamer...”

September 11, 1933 [Eagle Rock Advertiser]: “Outstanding work this summer as a Boy Scout won an unusual reward for William Swisher, of Caspar Ave. The young man is a member of troop 4 of the scouts. Young Swisher was one of 16 Boy Scouts in Los Angeles who were invited by Art Sanger, prominent business leader, to be his guests on a 5-day cruise on his 85-foot yacht Dreamer. The cruise is reported to have been of great interest and pleasure for the young guests of Mr. Sanger.”

September 21, 1931 [SDET]: “Finds images in stone on island. Several steatite effigies of deep-sea sharks, porpoises and whales were found recently by Arthur R. Sanger, a Los Angeles archaeologist, on the northern shore of San Clemente Island, 50 miles off the coast of San Diego. The stone images, according to Sanger, were carved with great artistry by the prehistoric aborigines formerly inhabiting San Clemente and are among the finest examples of early California sculpture. The effigies will probably be temporarily exhibited in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Sanger having made numerous archaeological collections for that institution as well as for others throughout the country. The Heye Foundation, Museum of the American Indian in New York, has material gathered by Sanger, and his own collection is probably the largest private assortment of Channel Islands remains extent. It is said that the most complete collections of prehistoric California Indian relics are to be found abroad. They were shipped out of the state before American scientists had awakened to the archaeological and ethnological importance of this group of long-inhabited islands, which supported a native population when Cabrillo first sailed into California waters. Within 400 years thereafter the islanders became an extinct race. Recently archaeologists in California have asked the federal government to set these islands aside as a national monument, thus preventing the invasion of itinerant trophy hunters. In the meantime many of the islands, such as wind-swept San Nicolas, 100 miles off the coast, are slowly being blown into the sea, for the Pacific gales carry tons of sand into the ocean every day. By this means shell, bone and ancient skeletons are being exposed and scattered, baffling the calculations of the archaeologist, who depends upon stratification for approximating his chronological sequences of culture.”

October 18, 1934 [TI/Avalon]: “A new object for yachting parties. They secure beautiful specimens of Catalina pottery for Christmas presents. A pottery yachting party to Santa Catalina Island of the schooner Dreamer, with Captain Arthur Sanger and his sister, Mrs. Agnes Mondon, as host and hostess to their neighbors on Budlong Avenue, their Los Angeles home. The Dreamer, with its owners, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Sanger, the son and daughter on board, has anchored in Avalon Bay for thirty-three consecutive summers. In winter the talk at the Sanger home is of the wonderful times enjoyed at Santa Catalina. This year the family took back a cargo of Catalina pottery, which they displayed to the neighbors, as a preview of the Christmas gifts they intended making. 'Wish that we could get some of that beautiful pottery, too', one and all chorused. 'Let's make a party of it and sail over to the island on the Dreamer and get Catalina pottery for all your Christmas gifts,' Mrs. Mondon invited. 'It will be a real adventure, hunting for pottery treasures on an island at the end of our cruise.' The invitation was enthusiastically accepted, and Tuesday the yacht Dreamer, with Captain Arthur Sanger at the wheel, his sister standing by as first mate, sailed into Avalon Bay on its expedition in quest of Catalina pottery. On board were Mr. and Mrs. Al Sumner, Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Hatton, Mrs. Mable Whann, Mrs. Ethel Rowan, Mrs. Ellen Sheldon, Mrs. Guss Webb, Miss Florence Bemis, and the host and hostess. On the return cruise theDreamer was a treasure ship, laden with Catalina pottery gifts from the ;beautiful isle of dreams' to friends this Christmas.”

August 1938, Lawrence Foster Journal Living on San Nicolas Island 1938-1939:

“On his first trip to San Nicolas [August 1938], Ray [Foster] became acquainted with Art Sanger, a long time friend of the Agees. Ray and Art seemed to have a lot in common and soon became friends. Art invited us to visit him at his home, which coincidentally was just about a half block from where we lived on Budlong St. Our evening's visit to Art Sanger's home was memorable. He showed us his large collection of artifacts and the curios from his many trips to San Nicolas Island and other islands in his yacht, the Dreamer. Over his fireplace was a large oil painting of the Dreamer, a two-masted yacht. While showing us his collections, he entertained us with many sea stories as well as the history of San 2. [?] Before we left, he told us he didn't know when his next trip to the island would be, but if we were there at that time we would be welcome aboard.”

September 8, 1938 [TI/Avalon]: “The Commodore's burgees were hoisted up the mast of the Catalina Island Yacht Club at the Isthmus, Santa Catalina Island, cannon roared in salute, and the Ninth Annual Commodore's Cruise was under way... Among those noted at the early cocktail party held on the yacht club veranda were Vice Commodore Art Sanger with his guests from the yacht Dreamer, including Mrs. Agnes Mondon, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Montague, Frank Weber, Mrs. Clover Doak and daughter Dorothy Doak; ...”

October 6, 1971 [LAH]: “Funeral services are being held today… for Arthur Randal Sanger, 91, pioneer Los Angeles sportsman, conservationist and social figure… A founder of the Catalina Island Yacht Club, Sanger was a long-time owner and skipper of the Dreamer, a 72-foot, two-masted schooner with a clipper bow, known over the Southland for many years as the flagship of the Catalina Island group’s fleet of yachts. A native of Palmer, Mass., Sanger left the East as a youth and headed toward California after attending the Colorado School of Mines and living briefly in Denver, where at one time he worked as an usher with the late Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in the Denver Opera House. Survivors include his sister, Agnes Sanger Mondon of Los Angeles, four grand-nephews and two grand-nieces.”

March 1, 1990 [LAT]: “Santa Ana: Tribe Sought to Help Rebury Stored Bones. A state Indian agency will work with local tribes to help rebury Indian bones that are now stored in a Santa Ana warehouse. The Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento will determine which tribe is the most likely descendant of people whose remains were found by archeologist Arthur Sanger on San Nicolas Island in the 1950s, said Larry Myers, director of the commission.”