History of Whites
Most of us love Catalina as our haven away from the active every day life. Though busy on weekends, the remaining periods can be peaceful and much the way it always has been. The benign climate, clear water and an almost unexploited interior wilderness area are treasures today.
Some of the rocks of Catalina were once part of the ocean floor and situated on the Farallon Plate. This plate traveled toward the Continental Plate, moving under it and resulting in terrific heat and structural changes. Eons later volcanic rock squeezed through this unction causing the formation of valuable minerals which later brought on the several mining booms. Some geologists have suggested that Catalina may be much older land mass than the other Channel Islands or the nearby mainland, possibly 30 million years older. Most beaches are coarse and rocky, the two best being our Whites Cove and Little Harbor. Looking up from our site is the highest point on the island, Mt. Orizaba, at 2,109 feet. Catalina is thought to be going through a period of submergence, a few feet a century, which is why we have so many good coves and harbors compared to the other nearby islands.
Cabrillo discovered the island in October 1542, and named it San Salvador. At that time it was known as Pimugna by the natives. He anchored his fleet just below Long Point and off Whites Cove. Later, in 1602, Vizcaino came to the island and renamed it Santa Catalina after Saint Catherine. The last Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico, granted the island to Thomas Robbins in 1846, said to be in exchange for a horse and a silver mounted saddle. Ownership was transferred three or four times until the Banning family bought it in 1891 and created an enticing vacation spot. William Wrigley acquired it in 1919 and made it into the world renowned vacation resort we know.
Some archeologists think the natives came from South America. Others from Asia or possibly our Mid-West. Known as the Shoshonean Indians they were also thought to occupy San Clemente and San Nicholas islands. Cabrillo's log noted that they were friendly compared to the warlike Chumash Indians on the other Channel Islands, and that their skins appeared lighter, almost like the Spanish. They were quite skilled people having acquired the arts of fishing, stone carving, canoe building, and some farming. Archeological digs have revealed several different stages of Indian life, the first thought to be over 4,000 years ago. The different periods are noted by the change from the crude earliest artifacts to the later beautifully carved and ornamented findings. The eagle and the raven were their sacred birds. The native culture continued to be truly stone age until the arrival of the Spanish. By about 1830 they were extinct!
Prof. Ralph Glidden, of the Museum of American Indians in New York, spent about 15 years excavating for Indian artifacts. His efforts result in a display of some forty to fifty cases filled with beads, stone, knives, mortors, pestles, fishooks, arrowheads, utensils, and over 400 skeletons. It has been estimated that before the Spanish came there were 3,000-4,000 inhabitants. There may not be many more permanent residents at present.
The large settlements were divided into three or four groups, with maybe 30-40 smaller locations. Almost any spot with water had a settlement of some sort. Excavations of their kitchen middens, where for centuries they cooked their abundant food from the sea, show cooking remains 20-30 feet deep. There is evidence that they cultivated land and made a kind of bread using maize, nuts and other things. Of some hundreds of skeletons dug up at Whites by Glidden about 97 percent appeared to be female indicating the possibility of a matriarchal society. Some of the excavations were up to 30 feet deep.
The skeletons were found on their side, knees bent, and heads pointing north. Cabrillo's log mentions the 25-30 foot skillfully made canoes, at times manned by up to 15 paddlers. These canoes were constructed of overlapping planks that were stitched together their whole length with deer or seal sinews and sealed with pitch. The effort of hacking a plank from a log with a stone axe or other stone tools must have been tremendous! Trade was carried on with other islands and the mainland. The large steatite (soapstone) deposit above Empire Cove made it possible for them to carve many objects, one being stone ollas used for cooking. Some of the ollas were inlaid with pieces of abalone shell and beautifully polished. These along with sea otter and seal skins could be traded for things they needed.
Charles F. Holder of Throop College (now Cal-Tech) and founder of the Tuna Club wrote several books on Catalina and the Channel Islands about 1900. One, a movie, The Adventures of Torqua, in which Torqua sailed his fleet of canoes through the "Great Arch" at Whites Cove. Prof. Holder also conducted several archeological digs on Catalina. Later archeologists are still putting bits and pieces together, the thinking now being that the Indians may have come from our Great Plains area. Wrigley leaned toward conservation and stopped the "pot hunter" type digs. Since the majority of the island was turned over to the Catalina Conservancy any archeological work is investigated in a scientific manner.