Unique San Bernardino Heritage Day Celebrates Multiple Cultures

Contributed By Marilyn Mills, Area Church History Adviser, North America West Area

  • 25 May 2018

California living history missionaries from the San Bernardino District participate in San Bernardino Heritage Day. Photo courtesy of Russell and Naomi Harper.

Over 3,500 people in the Inland Region of Southern California experienced a unique “Pioneer Day” celebration on May 5, held on pioneer land in Yucaipa.

Based on the history of the colony in San Bernardino established by LDS Church members in 1851, San Bernardino Heritage Day included music, food, and activities with volunteers and visitors representing LDS, black, and Jewish pioneers, as well as Native Americans, Spanish rancho families, and Polynesians in period dress.

“It was important that we teach this significant pioneer history,” said Charles C. Rich, event chairman and great-great-grandson of Apostle Charles C. Rich, who served in the colony. “It is culturally diverse and most members could represent their own heritage.”

Pioneer journals indicate that as colonists began building homes in 1851, they learned of an imminent attack by mountain Indians. The valley’s Cahuilla Indian chief prevented the attack and befriended the pioneers. Jewish merchants began arriving, one traveling with a Mormon wagon train, bringing the region’s first Torah. Spanish rancho families frequented the colony, and converts from Polynesia also arrived.

Colonist Mary Ann Rich, wife of Apostle Charles C. Rich, wrote that the citizens “worked almost as one family, they were so united“ (“True Community,” Ensign, Feb. 2003). Following the colony’s legacy of “true community,” elected and religious leaders participated in Heritage Day ceremonies. Yucaipa Mayor Greg Bogh, a member of the Yucaipa stake and descendant of Apostle and colonist Amasa Lyman, greeted guests. San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, a member of the San Bernardino stake, reviewed the pioneer history and explained the first two city mayors were Apostles Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich. Elder Kevin Miskin, an Area Seventy, encouraged visitors to remember the sacrifices of the pioneers.

James Ramos, former San Manuel Indian tribal chairman and current San Bernardino County supervisor, performed Cahuilla and Serrano Indian songs.

”It is important for us to remember how the city and county developed through the diverse cultures and people coming together,“ he told the crowds.

Redlands stake members Amanda Himle, left, and her daughter Oliva Himle make a pioneer doll during San Bernardino Heritage Day. Photo courtesy of Russell and Naomi Harper.

Rabbi Hillel Cohn, from Temple Emanu El in Redlands, told stories of Jewish pioneers.

”In our blessed valley, Jews and Saints have a history of over 150 years of mutual respect, shared values, [and] respect for differences,“ said Steve Becker, also of Temple Emanu El.

Activity booths taught pioneer, Spanish, and Indian skills, such as blacksmithing, gold panning, and making arrowheads and tortillas. Live chickens were displayed near the Olive Tenney schoolhouse, showing how pioneers hatched hundreds of baby chicks. Children “helped” chase loose chickens.

Area Seventy Kevin K. Miskin, center, and his wife, Robin, left, taste salsa prepared by sisters from the Upland 4th Branch during San Bernardino Heritage Day. Photo courtesy of Russell and Naomi Harper.

Pioneer music was heard throughout the day from the concert booth where performers used dulcimers and other pioneer instruments. Spanish and Polynesian dancing groups performed on stage, along with the Special Destiny presentation recounting black pioneer history. A new musical debuted about the San Bernardino colony, written and performed by the Ontario Stake.

California living history missionary Ed Allebest, who taught pioneer history while riding in wagons with guests, said Heritage Day “was a delightful history-learning, skill-building, memory-making experience.”

Performer Sylvia Taylor, center, and California living history missionary Keith Bond, right, participate in San Bernardino Heritage Day. Bond portrayed Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Photo courtesy of Russell and Naomi Harper.