Portal:Relic Hunters

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Young pot hunter, Jack Ruhmland,
displaying part of his collection, March 19, 1934.



INDIAN RELIC HUNTING by amateur enthusiasts was a popular past time on the California Channel Islands in the late 19th and early 20 centuries. July 15, 1931, The Islander, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island published names of well known relic hunters with private collections:



In the News~

August 22, 1875 [DAC]: “The Smithsonian Institute has received the largest and most interesting collection of relics ever gathered in the United States. The collection, which is from [the] Santa Barbara Island[s], California, consists of stone implements of every description, and amounts to twenty tons in weight. They were found in vast mounds and excavated from innumerable graves, traces of which were almost obliterated.”


March 5, 1881 [SBDP]: “Aboriginal relics. Extensive search is being made for Indian relics in the region south of Santa Barbara… At More’s Landing, at several places on the Santa Ynez River, and on the islands across the channel, the same discoveries are made…”


May 11, 1881 [SBDP]: “Chittenden’s work… I have seen at the Centennial, the Smithsonian Institute, and also in the handsome parlors of Hayward and Muzzall, of Santa Barbara, exceedingly interesting collections of the relics of these people, exhumed from the numerous burying places found along the sea and on the opposite islands…”


July 7, 1883 [LAT]: “Island curiosities. The Santa Barbara Press says that the sloop Ocean King, Captain A. Larco, returned to that port last Sunday after a week’s trip to the northern islands… While at the islands they gathered a large assortment of curiosities. One of them is a petrification of a small tree, which is very perfect. Some queer relics of wrecks and the old aboriginal residents were picked up...” [also LAT]


November 4, 1883 [WP]: “Relics have been exhumed from aboriginal graves on the Santa Barbara islands, of California, showing that the inhabitants of those islands, nobody knows how many centuries ago, were accustomed to the use of false teeth. They were made of shell and adjusted to the roof of the mouth, outside of the gums.”


November 23, 1883 [SBDP]: “A gentleman at Santa Barbara has in his cabinet of curiosities several sets of false teeth, exhumed from the graves of aborigines on the Santa Barbara Islands. They are formed each from a shell, which was fashioned to fit the mouth, and could be adjusted outside the gums. These false teeth are perfectly formed and easily adjusted.” [also LAT 11/7/83]


March 1, 1885 [NYT]: “Mr. Hoffmann says that in various burial places in Southern California and in the islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel, he has found instruments which he believes were used for tattooing purposes.”


April 26, 1885 [NYT]: “Prehistoric fishing in Europe and North America by Charles Rau… Professor Rauy writes: ‘Pointed bones from Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California, are common and look as if they were used for fishing…” CHECK THIS ARTICLE FOR NAME


March 15, 1886 [SBDP]: “Clark Streator, taxidermist, Fred Forbush and Captain Lord left in the Rosita this morning for a relic hunting expedition to the islands.”


August 12, 1886 [SBDP]: “Frank Leyva and a party is preparing for a relic-hunting trip to the Channel Islands.”


November 15, 1893 [LAH]: “There are very few people in Los Angeles who are aware that there is in the city the completest collection of Indian relics, pertaining to the Indians of Southern California. Yet such is the fact, and Dr. F. M. Palmer, the collector and owner, yesterday exhibited his treasures to Mr. Joseph Medill, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Tribune, H. O. Collins, Esq., and a Herald reporter. For 15 years past Dr. Palmer has been engaged upon his labor of love, and although his collections have been drawn on twice for eastern museums, yet the cream of them all he has kept, and the remarkable display was described by him with pardonable pride in its ethnological importance and completeness. The articles were arranged systematically on tables in his cozy cottage at the corner of Toberman and Seventeenth streets, and number several thousand. The most remarkable feature of the exhibit is the preservation of the articles. All broken and marred specimens he was able to reject, owing to the abundance of the supply, so that the entire list is composed of specimens without blemish. The articles have most of them been found by Dr. Palmer himself in his researches and came from the counties of Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino, and the Channel Islands of Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolas, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. They comprise vessels of stone for grinding corn and stone implements of all kinds, bone and shell ornaments and implements for fishing and hunting, arrow heads, spear heads, and curious articles of stone, the use of which can only be conjectured The islands appear to have been the most prolific field of search, and one marked characteristic of the articles is the ingenuity and taste which the tribe of Southern California Indians displayed...”


March 17, 1894 [PTO]: “Coveted islands… The Smithsonian Institution has removed over thirty tons of relics of stoneware excavated from these islands…”


August 15, 1895 [LAT]: “The aborigines of Southern California… Among the stone vessels in Dr. Palmer’s collection is a beautiful and perfect model of a boat in brown sandstone…”


September 30, 1896 [LAT/SCat]: “Messrs. William C. Harris, editor of the American Angler, and John L. Petrie, an artist of note; H. E. Graves, secretary of the Puente Oil Company; J. A. Graves of Graves, O’Melveny & Shankland, and F. W. Henshaw of Oakland have returned from a visit to the islands of San Clemente and San Nicolas. They returned with Indian curios and all kinds of fish…”


May 11, 1897 [LAT]: “The expedition under the auspices of the [Pasadena] Academy of Sciences will leave tomorrow (Tuesday) for scientific research on the Santa Barbara islands. A schooner has been chartered, and fully equipped. The party will consist of Joseph Grinnell, Horace Gaylord, Harry Gaylord and James Britton. They will probably be joined later by Professor Hoag of Throop, and F. S. Daggett. The plan is to spend the first week on Santa Barbara Island, the second on San Nicolas, and about two weeks on San Clemente.”


May 30, 1897 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. At sundown last night a party of fishermen in Chris Hoffmann’s yacht of San Pedro dropped anchor in Avalon Harbor. The yacht had been cruising among the various islands for Indian curios and abalone shells. The party left for San Pedro at daybreak.”


June 11, 1897 [LAT/P]: “Messrs. H. D. Gaylord, Joseph Grinnell, J. R. Britton and Horace Gaylord of the Pasadena Academy of Sciences expedition to the Santa Barbara islands, returned late last night, bringing back many interesting and valuable relics. They have been gone thirty days and their finds were so valuable that another expedition will be sent out within a few days... A hermit was found living on San Clemente. Otherwise the islands are uninhabited.”


August 8, 1897 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A. B. Chappell has an interesting collection of Indian relics in a tent back of town, including skulls, fish hooks, mortars and pestles, abalone ornaments, and other articles made by the primitive people who inhabited San Nicolas Island years ago, collected by him during a ten weeks’ sojourn on the island. The inhabitants of each of these islands had their own style of manufacture. They lived mainly on the abalone, of which enormous heaps of shells remain. Digging for relics is now forbidden by the company on Catalina.”


March 3, 1898 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. While the provision made for enabling visitors here to pass the time pleasantly are varied and not few in number, none surpass in popularity the glass-bottom boats. As these seem to be the only ones in existence, they are as much of a novelty to the widely traveled man and the professional globe-trotter as to those who have left home on their first trip. A Leadville lady in the exuberance of the delight remarked today: ‘Why, a ride in the glass-bottom boat is alone worth the trip from the Rocky Mountains to this coast. I had no idea that the bottom of the ocean is so beautiful. It has been a revelation to me to see the beauties of the marine world. I imagine the bottom of the sea from glass-bottom boat appears to us as the land will when we come to soar above it in the flying machine of the future.’ “


June 13, 1901 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Hugo’s glass-bottom boat, which went adrift in a storm three weeks ago, was recovered after an exciting experience by George Michaelis, who, with his little launch, accompanied by Hugo, went to Newport after the craft Monday morning. They started homeward with the glass-bottom boat in tow, at 9 A.M. A heavy wind and rough sea sprung up, and after a hard struggle for several hours, it became apparent that the launch and her tow could not make the island. The fear of running out of gasoline in mid-channel in the raging seas, determined them to run to San Pedro for safety. They headed about and a hundred times they thought they would be obliged to cast the glass-bottom boat adrift, or go down with it. Still they held on, and just at nightfall made the harbor, with only a teacupful of gasoline remaining. Procuring supplies they arrived here yesterday morning. Hugo, who has been a sailor his whole life, says he would not take such chances again for all the boats in Avalon Bay.”


March 30, 1902 [LAT]: “The launch Donahue left this morning with a party and will spend three or four days cruising about the Channel Islands. A search will be made for curios.”


February 2, 1905 [SFCall]: “Los Angeles, February 1. …San Nicolas Island is a bleak and barren spot about eighty miles almost southwest of San Pedro. It is seldom visited except by abalone fishermen or exploring parties, who go there to dig for relics of the race which once inhabited the place. A fine collection of these relics was secured there last summer for the Smithsonian Institution.”


July 12, 1905 [LAH]: “A large collection of Indian relics is being displayed in the show window of O. L. Overholtzer as the result of the excursion of the Pomona party to San Nicolas Island.”


April 13, 1909 [LAH]: “Long Beach, April 12. Five boys who returned yesterday after a cruise among the Santa Barbara and San Nicolas islands witnessed a fight between a whale, thresher shark and swordfish near San Nicolas. They say the memory of the terrific struggle between the three monsters of the deep will remain long in their minds. The lads found many remarkable curios, including Indian bones, war implements, beads, hammers and other things.”


August 9, 1912 [LAT]: “Avalon. Equipped for a two months’ cruise, the yacht Yankee, Captain C. E. Miller of San Francisco, arrived in this port late last evening after visiting Santa Cruz and several of the Channel Islands… While at San Miguel and San Nicolas islands many Indian relics were obtained by those of the yachting party. On San Miguel Island several large ollas, flint arrows and other curios of value were found…”


July 16, 1913 [LAT]: “Clipper and Wasp [racing yachts] make trip… A skeleton was unearthed and a perfect arrowhead found, reminding the boys of the days when the Indians inhabited the coast and near-by Channel Islands…”


August 7, 1915 [SBMP]: “Artistic race dwelt on Santa Barbara Channel Isles: Dr. Alliot says relics found indicate form of culture… evidence of the artistic temperament of this prehistoric race is shown in the collection of whistles and pipes, presumably used in the ceremonial rites of the tribe, and in the large collection of clubs, fight implements and even crude statuary gathered by Dr. Alliot. The deposits of asphaltum were advantageously used by the inhabitants. Practically every object collected has been treated with a coating of asphaltum, with broken bits of abalone shell inlaid in fantastic designs… casks were coated with asphaltum and, in some cases, decorated with abalone shells.”


December 6, 1915 [LAT]: “San Francisco. The collection of Indian relics of the late Professor T. S. C. Lowe, which took more than thirty-five years to gather and is valued at $200,000, has been given to San Francisco… The collection contains 20,000 objects… and contains 1400 specimens of California Indian baskets, pottery, carved beads, stone pipes, musical instruments and shell money from the Santa Barbara islands…”