By Mark Gutglueck
(July 10) It is of historical note, perhaps, that San Bernardino County’s earliest crop of county supervisors were not particularly long serving in their official capacities. This is perhaps because the early years of San Bernardino County were fraught with several major upheavals, not the least of which was the approaching Civil War.
San Bernardino County came into existence on April 26, 1853 by a legislative act in Sacramento, separating it from Los Angeles County. At the time of its creation, San Bernardino County entailed not only its current confines, the largest county in the lower 48 states, but also what is today Riverside County. which seceded from San Bernardino County in 1893.
Shortly after its creation, in August 1853, San Bernardino County’s First Court of Sessions, headed by county judge D.M. Thomas, divided the county into three townships: Chino, San Salvador and San Bernardino. The Court of Sessions remained as the governing body of the county until the board of supervisors was formed. In 1854, the city of San Bernardino was selected as the county seat in a close and bitterly contested vote.
San Bernardino had been established a few years before as the westernmost outpost of the Mormon exodus westward. The town was dominated by the church, run as much by the edicts of Mormon Leader Brigham Young emanating from Provo, Utah as the judgment of any local elders. At that time, Amasa Lyman was elected mayor of San Bernardino, essentially at the suggestion of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints authorities.
In March 1855 a new California statute made it mandatory for each county to have a board of supervisors of either three or five members. San Bernardino County, despite its immense size – at that time larger than five of the states in New England – was allotted only three supervisors. An election was ordered for the second Monday in April 1855. The county’s three districts, corresponding roughly to the county’s three townships, had already been established by the county clerk, assessor and surveyor.
Elected in that first election were Daniel Stark in the county’s First District, William Crosby in the county’ Second District and Louis Robidoux in the county’s Third Supervisorial District.
On May 7, 1855 the first attempted meeting of the board of supervisors took place. Only Crosby and Stark were present. Accordingly, they adjourned to Saturday May 12. Only Crosby and Stark were again present so they adjourned again to May 19, at which point Robidoux was yet a no-show. On a motion, Crosby was elected chairman of the board. The board’s first official act was to create a road authority, by which the county was divided into five road districts. The board named personnel to look after each road district.
On May 26, 1855, the first board of supervisors meeting at which all of the members were in attendance was held.
Daniel Stark was born on June 29, 1820 in Windsor, Nova Scotia. At the age of 17, Stark left home to work with his brother in a Boston cabinet factory, completing his apprenticeship in 1842. He joined the Mormon Church in Boston and was ordained an elder on July 23, 1844 by Brigham Young. With his bride, the former Ann Cook, the couple left Boston and accompanied a large party of Mormons sailing by ship around South America to Hawaii and then to San Francisco, arriving there on August 3, 1846. He worked as a cabinet maker and miner in the Bay Area and then acceded to a request by C.C. Rich and the aforementioned Amasa Lyman to invest in the new San Bernardino community. He built a home on a ten acre ranch there and thereafter acquired another 160 acres.
San Bernardino at that time was being rapidly built up by the Mormons living there. One testimony to the steely determination and heartiness of those in the settling party was the road they built running 23 miles up into the San Bernardino Mountains, wide enough for the passage of two horse drawn wagons, all without the benefit of modern machinery.
William Crosby was born on September 19, 1808 in Knox County, Indiana. Succumbing to some proselytizing, he converted to Mormonism and he married Sara Harmon, another member of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church in Monroe County, Kentucky in 1832. He departed on his own to Utah’s Salt Lake Valley on April 6, 1846 and then returned to Kentucky to move his family to Utah in October 1848.
Crosby and his family were among the hundreds of Mormons who sojourned to California at the behest of Brigham Young in wagon trains led by Amasa Lyman and Charles Rich. The Mormon Party, which consited of 150 wagons, settled into the 80,000-acre Rancho de San Bernardino on October 1, 1851.
William Crosby was ordained a bishop in the church in San Bernardino. His ecclesiastical duties brought him into close contact with each member of the community. He purchased part ownership in a sawmill and operated a hotel in San Bernardino.
Louis Robidoux( variant spelling: Rubidoux) was born near St. Louis, Missouri on July 7, 1796. As a young man he worked as a fur trader. He picked up a fluency in Spanish, French and some Indian dialects as a consequence of his trade and came to Taos, New Mexico in the late 1820s. He married Guadalupe Garcia while there and shortly thereafter, in 1829, obtained Mexican citizenship. He and Guadalupe had eight children.
As a Mexican citizen, Robidoux became involved in politics, serving as an election district official in Santa Fe in 1830 and being elected an alderman on the Santa Fe Town Council in 1834. In 1839, he was elected alcalde, i.e., mayor, of Santa Fe. A contemporary esteemed him as being “shrewd, aggressive and an ambitious man of high intellect.”
Robidoux and his family moved to California in 1844, having taken with them his cattle and sheep. They settled at an abode near what is now Riverside. He purchased land and sold it in parcels to others coming to the area. He built the first flour mill in the region. With the onset of the Bear Flag Revolt, Robidoux fought on the side of the Americans and was wounded and captured in a battle near Chino. He was imprisoned and almost executed as a traitor to Mexico, but survived the war and profited by supplying stock and goods to the influx of 49ers during the Gold Rush. He was the only non-Mormon member of the original San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
On August 6, 1855, both Stark and Crosby resigned from the board of supervisors, having been in office, less than five months. They were replaced by Norman Taylor and Charles Rich, respectively, both of whom were hand-picked by the Mormon leadership to take on the county supervisorial positions. Norman Taylor served just 16 months and was replaced by his father, Benjamin. Benjamin Taylor served as supervisor ten months and was replaced by Stark, who once again was approved to serve by the church. In the Second District, Charles Rich lasted as supervisor just a single month, and was replaced by another church designee, William Cox.
Meanwhile, in the Third District, Robidoux’s first term as supervisor lasted until December 1856, at which time he was replaced by Cornelius Jensen. Robidoux would return as supervisor twice more, from September 1857 until October 1858 and from August 1859 until October 1861, alternating in office each time with Jensen.
A major event impacting the stability of San Bernardino County and the longevity of the early members of the board of supervisors in their posts was the contretemps between the Mormon Church and the United States Government. In April 1857, shortly after James Buchanan became president, it appeared that the U.S. Army was marshalling its forces for an attack on Salt Lake City. Later that year, Brigham Young issued a summons for all of the church members in their far flung settlements out west to return to Salt Lake to defend the city and its tabernacle, the church, their families, and their way of life. Like Joseph in the Old Testament who obeyed the command of the Angel of the Lord to kill his own son, many Mormons complied with Young’s edict, renouncing ownership of the homes they had toiled for years to establish, abandoning their settlements and the vast improvements they made. The majority of the San Bernardino Mormon community, though not all of it, returned to Salt Lake City. Despite that abrupt outflex of more than half of its population and more than two thirds of its skilled laborers, artisans and craftsmen, the city – and the county that had grown up around it – survived.
By Mark Gutglueck