Yankee Blade

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Yankee Blade (1851-1854), 275-foot side-wheel passenger steamer wrecked near Point Arguello in a heavy fog on October 1, 1854. The wreck is one of the Pacific Coast's classical tales of barratry. Carrying gold bullion variously reported at up to $3,000,000, she allegedly was run ashore deliberately, by a gang of criminals who had boarded her at San Francisco. There was considerable loss of life. Miscellaneous cargo and contents from the vessel were later found and salvaged on Santa Rosa Island. Survivors were rescued by the San Diego-bound steamer Goliah. Among them was C. F. Spearman, who later served as a Major, presumably during the Civil War, and then settled in Keosauqua, Iowa. His account of the wreck is from the Pioneer Society files.

Letter of passenger C. F. Spearman: I was on the Yankee Blade when she was wrecked off the coast of Point Conception about sixty miles above Los Angeles, about one mile from the coast. It was about 12 o'clock. I was standing in my state room waiting for the dinner bell to ring when the ship struck the rock. I ran up on deck and found out what had happened. I started back to my room for my satchel, but found I could not get to my room on account of the ship was filling with water. I went back on deck. There I found all the passengers (eleven hundred) crowded on the front part of the ship to keep out of the water. We were there from about 12 o'clock the first day until one the second day.

About one o'clock during the night and day the life boats were taking off the passengers. It was slow work for they had to go down the anchor chain. The sea between the ship and shore was full of breakers, so the life boats had to go quite a distance to get to the shore. The boats the women got into were over come by breakers and they were drowned. About one o'clock the second day we saw a ship anchor about one half mile away. They sent their life boats to help us. We all got off by dark.

It was a ship that ran from San Diego to San Francisco. They took us to San Diego the third day. San Diego was a Mexican town. All the houses were of mud. It had a hotel that was run by an American. We had been three days with-out anything to eat except one cracker and a small piece of salt fish. There was a butcher shop where we landed. The boys soon cleaned it out. We went down town and soon cleaned the town out of all they had to eat. Before night the Mexicans in the country heard of us and brought in what they had to eat to feed us with. The next day we had an over supply. Such as it was we stayed there about ten days then, when another ship came down from San Francisco and took us back to San Francisco. I was back to San Diego in 1910. Fifty four years afterwards I went down to old San Diego. The mud houses were fallen down except two. The hotel had been moved away, the town had been deserted, five or six houses were all that was left and the post office.

I still have my meal ticket that I had in my hand when the ship struck. Will send my photo of this. I sent satisfactory write and I'll try and answer any thing more.

Maj C. F. Spearman Keosaukua, Iowa

In the News~

March 1, 1881 [SBDP]: “After many years. Dixey Thompson has in his possession a copy of the American Dictionary, which is one of a number of books picked up by him on Santa Rosa Island in 1856, shortly after the wreck of the Yankee Blade. On the flyleaf of this book was a stencil “S. L. Simmons, Sacramento.” During a recent visit of Judge Denson to Santa Barbara, Mr. Thompson accidentally mentioned the fact, when Mr. Denson at once recognized in the name on the fly leaf an old friend of his, and a practicing physician in Sacramento. Mr. Thompson this week received a letter from Mr. Simmons, who states that he was a passenger on the Yankee Blade in 1854, and had with him quite a number of books. On account of the associations connected with them, Mr. Simmons is very anxious to repossess the books. We are informed that there are quite a number of the books in the possession of persons now living in Santa Barbara.”

March 17, 1881 [SBDP]: “At the time of the wreck of the Yankee Blade, I was living on the island of Santa Rosa, in the employ of my uncle, A. B. Thompson. One day while riding on the northwest end of the island, I found a number of pieces of cabin furniture, also cases of lard, and saw many pieces far out in the kelp. The next day, very early, I took a whale boat from the west harbor and a man with me, and went up to the head of the island. On the way up to the kelp, we picked up a chest of medical books, and a trunk or two with nothing in them of value. This was, I think, in 1854. Supposing a steamer to be wrecked somewhere near, the next day we went up to the head of San Miguel Island to see if we could make any discoveries of a wreck, but of course found nothing… The most valuable wood work of the Yankee Blade that we picked up was a carved eagle which came off of the paddle-box. This relic is now an ornament in the [Lobero] Theatre here [Santa Barbara]. D. W. Thompson.”

October 31, 1894 [SBDI]: “The wrecking scow San Pedro arrived early this morning from Hueneme, where they have been overhauling buoys. On leaving here they returned to the wreck of the Winfield Scott at Anacapa Island, but, as they had no giant powder, they could do nothing. They then returned to Hueneme. Captain Macguin says that they will now proceed either to the wreck of the Goldenhorn at Santa Rosa Island or to the Yankee Blade around Point Concepcion. They will not again visit the Winfield Scott.”