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Camp Emerald Bay - History - Pre-1925  
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Native American Inhabitants & European Contact

          Santa Catalina Island has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years. Prior to 1800, Chumash/Tongva Indians known as Pimungans (or Pimuvit) settled in most of the coves around the Island which they called Pimu. Archeologists from U.C.L.A. and other institutions have discovered numerous fragments of abalone shell utensils in the soil of "North Hill" at Camp Emerald Bay where Pimungan's established a cooking site. The black dusty soil on North Hill is actually charcoal at a depth of three to four feet, indicating the site had been inhabited for several hundred years.
          A burial ground at Emerald Bay containing skeletons laid side-by-side was unearthed by Scouts over fifty years ago during the construction of the original Miramar Staff Cabin, also located on North Hill. The burial area was covered and left just as it was found. Unfortunately, respectful treatment of Native American sites on Catalina has not always been the case. During the 1920's, self-styled archeologist, Ralph Glidden, dug up hundreds of Indian graves and put their bones and contents on public display. It is now thought that his unscientific plundering disregarded "the sanctity of human remains" and inflicted "near-permanent damage" on research into local Native American life. Even early Scout campers at Emerald Bay lacked an awareness at the time for proper treatment of indigenous peoples. A newspaper article dating to the first year at Camp in 1925, documents how a grave site was unearthed by Scouts and the contents, including skulls, were removed and saved as mementos. 
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's Spanish exploratory expedition up the California coast stopped at Catalina Island on October 7, 1542. The ship's log documents the Indians being invited on board his galleon where gifts were exchanged. The precise cove in which his small fleet anchored is not known. Cabrillo, a Portuguese, claimed the Island for the King of Spain, naming it San Salvador, after his ship. The following day, the ships continued up the coast, turning around somewhere near Pt. Reyes, CA, and completely missing the entrance of San Francisco Bay just as Sir Francis Drake did some years later. On November 23, 1542, the little fleet arrived back in "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. Apparently, the return trip did not go so well with the local Indians. On Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled onto a jagged rock while trying to rescue some of his men from attacking Pimunga warriors. The injury became infected and developed gangrene. He died on January 3, 1543 and was buried. A possible headstone was later found on San Miguel Island.  The second European contact came sixty years later on November 24, 1602, when Spanish explorer, Sebastian Viscaino, sighted the Island. Viscaino renamed it Santa Catalina in honor of Saint Catherine. Many hundreds of ships from Spain and other countries were to follow.
          Further evidence of Native American residence at Emerald Bay are the many pieces of pottery and artifacts found there over the last 100 years. A glass cup was unearthed during excavation of the North Hill showers in 1967. Later proven to be of Spanish origin and dating to the 1790's, the cup is thought to have been traded to the Indians by a passing Spanish ship. The goats that even today roam the high country of Catalina descended from those brought by the same Spanish trading ships of that time.
          By the early 1820's, all Pimungans had been moved off Catalina Island by Spanish missionaries. They were relocated to Mission San Gabriel outside of Pueblo Los Angeles where they were put to work (including enslavement by some reports) and converted to Christianity. Their language and culture were obliterated while many of them died from "white man's diseases" like measles and small pox. This dark chapter in early California history under the Spanish brought a sad end to Native American influence and heritage on the land of Camp Emerald Bay.

                                               Pirates, Treasure and Silver

           With the resident indigenous population gone, Catalina Island, including Emerald Bay, became an uncontested base for pirates in the early 1800's. They used fast boats to intercept ships using the inland passage between South America and San Francisco. Doctor's Point at Camp Emerald Bay is the narrowest constriction of the channel, only 19 miles from Point Vicente on the mainland, making the Camp's location an ideal launch for pirate activity. Over the years, legend and rumor of fantastic buried treasure has abounded, most specifically at Smuggler's Cove. In 1950-51, the National Geographic Society attempted a dredge of the infamous cove but ocean surges made the work impractical, leading to abandonment of the project. Over sixty years later, the rumors and legends persist.,
          On Christmas eve, 1828 (or 1824 by some accounts), Massachusetts (or Rhode Island) born Samuel Prentiss (also spelled Prentice) survived a shipwreck of the brig "Danube" off San Pedro. He and other survivors ended up at Mission San Gabriel (coincidentally where the Pimunga Indians spent their final days). Prentiss befriended a seventy year old Indian at the mission named Turei who told of buried treasure on Catalina. A map was supposedly drawn, then lost, of the treasure's location at a cove, presumably unnamed, on the west end of the Island. Prentiss made his way to Emerald Bay becoming the first permanent white settler to live on Catalina. The story, complete with many inconsistencies in the historical record, seems more like a movie script than reality. None-the-less, Prentiss spent the next 25 to 30 years digging around Emerald Bay for the treasure he never found. (In another coincidence, John Prentiss, no relation to Samuel, was an integral part of the Camp Emerald Bay staff from the first year in 1925-the mid 1930's.)Emerald Bay
          Samuel Prentiss died at Emerald Bay in 1854. A grave stone erected in 1900 by the Banning Family (owners of Catalina at the turn of the last Century) as a replacement for a wooden marker, rests on North Hill. But before he died, Prentiss passed the treasure story on to the son of a fellow Danube shipwreck survivor, Santos Louis Bouchette. Bouchette built a cabin at Emerald Bay in 1850 where he too sought to find his fortune. Silver prospecting, however, proved to be his lucky strike, including finds at "Silver Mine" in Bouchette Canyon and mines at Cherry Valley and Fourth of July Cove.
          The silver mining boom peaked in 1862 and 1863 and Bouchette lived the life of a wealthy man. He built a 40-room boarding house for his workers and himself at Emerald Bay. Another mansion in the hills behind Parson's Beach was built in the 1870's for Bouchette and his young French dance-hall wife. Furniture was purchased from Europe including mahogany chairs and fancy mirrors. One day in 1876, the couple were seen loading silver onto a channel-crossing boat and were never heard from again. Equipment, furniture and items of value were gradually pilfered from the abandoned mines and houses until after many decades, evidence of their existence was gone. The fate of Bouchette and his wife remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

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                                                        Johnsons Landing

           In 1854, the same year that Samuel Prentiss died, John L. and James Charles Johnson (aka Johnson Brothers) arrived on Catalina Island. They squatted a tract of land west of Emerald Bay and built a ranch around where the tent camp sites of Camp Emerald Bay are Johnsons Landing Catalinalocated today. During this era, squatters often moved onto the land and laid claim by virtue of possession. Many squatters built ranches on western Catalina during the 1850's-1860's, the largest being the cattle ranch of William Howland started in 1858,. The Johnsons ranching operation lasted into the 1880's where they ran several hundred head of sheep, cattle and horses. It is their Landing that became the place-name seen on maps from the late 1800's through the present day and is the actual location of Camp Emerald Bay.
          Another early resident at Johnsons Landing was German born John Behn (also spelled Benn) and his wife, Paula Gastelum, who built a small house there around 1857. Their daughter, Louisa Behn Stoll (1857-1935) is believed to have been the first white (non-Native American) child born on Catalina Island. Paula died in 1858 and John remarried the following year, living in the house until his death in 1868.
          As might be expected, several centuries of foreign contact and occupation of Catalina also brought the introduction of non-indigenous animal species and plant life to the pristine Island environment. Rattle snakes, of all things, were brought to Catalina by ships during the 1800's. Goats were brought by Spanish trading ships. Cattle brought for ranching were free to roam when ranchers left. Pigs (wild boar), which are partially immune to rattle snake venom, were introduced around 1920 as natural predators to control the exploding snake population. Bison were brought (and subsequently left behind) in 1924 by a movie crew filming a Zane Grey Western called the Vanishing American.  And the infamous Australian Eucalyptus at Emerald Bay, largest tree on Catalina Island, was planted around 1880, the exact circumstances being unknown. Some evidence, unconfirmed by early photos, suggests it might be two trees planted in close proximity that grew together.

View of Johnsons Landing
(AKA Camp Emerald Bay)
circa 1900

Earliest known view of Johnsons Landing (or Johnsons Bay as labeled on the photo) and future location of
Camp Emerald Bay. The house and fenced animal yard may be the John and Paula Behn home built in 1857
and lived in by John until his death in 1868. The photo can be dated approximately by the size of the
eucalyptus tree which is thought to have been planted around 1880. In this image it stands over two stories
high but only half the size of the same tree encountered by the Scouts in 1925 when Camp Emerald Bay opened.
This difference in tree size from the 1925/26 photo suggests this picture may have been taken around 1900.
When the Crescent Bay Scouts arrived at their new Catalina summer camp in 1925, the only trees seen for miles
in any direction were the eucalyptus tree and three fig trees (seen behind and west of the house). The home,
which served as a visible landmark of Johnsons Bay, was gone, having been demolished some time earlier.

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            Beginning of Crescent Bay Scout Camping on Catalina

 Santa Monica Outlook Article
December 30, 1910 pg. 1

          Westside Scouts and Troops were camping on Catalina Island well before

Crescent Bay District Council was organized in 1922. While information on these summer encampments is scant at best, the earliest documentation dates to December 1910, just months after the Boy Scouts started. It is important to note that Scouting on the Westside of Los Angeles began as the American Boy Scouts (ABS) and not the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). ABS was a competing Scout organization started by William Randolf Hearst. Venice and then Santa Monica organized as ABS troops in 1910, later to become Troop 1 in each community. Up to eight or more community troops formed as ABS troops over the next two years in the Crescent Bay Area.
          The 1910 Catalina camp was held over Christmas break.  Merritt Van Sant served as the first "Captain" (the equivalent of Senior Patrol Leader in BSA) of the Santa Monica Scouts who boarded the Steamer Hermosa out of San Pedro for the trip to Avalon. Eight other Westside Scouts attended the three day camp with Van Sant, joining "several hundred" Scouts from Los Angeles.

The following summer, scouts from Santa Monica participated in a ten-day camp on Catalina. The 1911 camp marked the first time camping scouts were in uniform. Competitions were held and  Merritt Van Sant won the silver Tullis Cup, offered up by Santa Monica jeweler O. G. Tullis, as one of three loving cup trophies donated in 1911 by supporters of the Scouts for competitions held by the fledgling local American Boy Scout organization.


Santa Monica Outlook Article
August 1,1911 pg. 4




          By 1917, Scouting on the westside had grown with a second troop in Santa Monica organized by Donald Monroe as Scoutmaster and a new troop in Venice. That year,       
theEmerald Bay Scouts of Venice and Santa Monica Troop 2 attended Los Angeles District Council's Summer Camp at Catalina. The exact location of the three week encampment is unclear but it was not located in Avalon.
          Venice Scouts were reported to be at summer camp on Catalina the following summer in 1918. In July of 1920, a bicycle race in Santa Monica was postponed, in part, because many of the entrants were at the scout summer camp on Catalina Island. Troop 2 of Santa Monica made plans for their own Catalina trip in September 1920.Merrit Van Sant Emerald Bay And Crescent Bay Council's first "Super Scout" dating back to 1910, Merrit Van Sant, again won the Tullis Cup at the Catalina summer camp in 1921. Van Sant graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1918 and was considered to be the best athlete in the school's history at the time.

              Crescent Bay's Search for a Summer Camp 1922-24
 Emerald Bay
          Within months of the formation of Crescent Bay District Council in 1922, new Scout Executive Donald Monroe made it a priority to secure a permanent summer camp location for Scouts within the Council. Topanga and Rustic Canyons were considered but surprisingly, Catalina Island was not on the list. An appeal was made to the public for suggestions and property owners for offers. In the end, Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades was chosen for Crescent Bay's first summer camp in 1922.
          It was agreed early on in 1923 that the Temescal Canyon Camp, while a huge success, was not large enough to accommodate the rapidly expanding number of Scouts within the Council. In the year following Crescent Bay's formation, the Council had expanded from 7 to 34 troops with an additional 12 to 14 more in the process of organizing. So the search was on again for a permanent summer camp location. In February 1923, Donald Monroe and Capt. Horatio Seymour set out on a 250 mile trip around Southern California in hopes of landing a new summer venue. Word of the impending donation of Camp Slauson in 1923 was briefly thought to be the answer to Crescent Bay Council's quest but it was not meant to be. The Slauson location in Topanga Glen had no running water, latrine facilities, swimming area or any of the other necessities required to hold a large encampment.               Ultimately, Russell Ranch, west of Calabasas near what is now known as West Lake Village, CA, was selected as the summer venue for 1923. Very little is known about the Russell Ranch Camp other than it was surrounded by oaks, with a stream running through it. The summer camp was held jointly with San Antonio District of Los Angeles Metropolitan Council. It is thought Crescent Bay's decisionRussell Ranch Camp to use the Ranch may have been a last minute choice when it was realized that Camp Slauson was not going to be the answer. When camp was over in 1923, the search for a permanent summer location was on again. 
          In February, 1924, Council Scout officials selected a campsite near Wheeler Hot Springs in Ventura County for the 1924 annual summer encampment. But a week later, Donald Monroe and director Dr. Frank Knause announced a different location in Fish Canyon, 17 miles northwest of Saugus in what was then the Santa Barbara Kee Koo Too Yeh CampNational Forest (Los Padres National Forest today). Crescent Bay Council named the camp Kee-Koo-Too- Yeh meaning "hidden waters" in an unknown Indian language.
          Kee-Koo-Too-Yeh was considered a success but the location, if stories can be believed, proved to be Russell Ranch Campfraught with problems. Temperatures over 110 degrees in the shade (and there was no shade) made the two and one-half mile hike over a rocky trail into camp quite challenging, if not dangerous. Apparently, the swimming hole quickly got too dirty to swim in. If that wasn't enough, swarming insects and lots of Rattle snakes served to convince Council leaders that they had not yet found their permanent summer camp site. 
First hand accounts say when camp was over, the Council staff was in such a hurry to
leave that they left all the Council camping equipment behind, not to be retrieved until Easter break the following year in 1925. The rescue attempt ended with a horse drawn wagon going over the side of a narrow canyon road, depositing all of the gear in the bottom of a steep ravine. According to camp attendee, Bill Van Slyke, the name Kee-Koo-Too-Yeh came to mean "Bad Luck".
          As summer of 1925 approached, the Council was facing its fourth new camp location in four years, not exactly what Donald Monroe was thinking when he set out to find a permanent site in 1922. Little did he know at the time, but Crescent Bay Council's fourth attempt in 1925 to secure the perfect summer venue at Johnson's Landing on Emerald Bay would prove to become one of the greatest and most enduring Boy Scout camps in the entire Country.

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