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Fort San Bernardino

By Steven Shaw

(Maps and photographs provided by the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society)

When the Mormons arrived in 1851, there was wide spread fear of a general uprising among the Utes, Chemehuevis and other desert Indians. The Mormons decided to build a fort similar to a stockade built in Salt Lake on the arrival of Mormons at that point.


(The fort as depicted in a 1976 painting by Hazel C. Olson)

They built a "palisade enclosure" or stockade on the east side and the two ends. Trunks of willow trees and cottonwood were split in half, straightening the edges so they would fit closely together. They stood upright side by side, set 3 feet in the ground and standing 12 feet high. The west side of the enclosure was made up of houses which had been built in various places before the need of a fort arose. The houses were moved with the their outside walls adjoining to form a tight exterior wall. Other small one-story houses of logs and adobe were inside running parallel with the stockade. The principle entrance was on the east side.


(The actual layout of the Fort of San Bernardino in 1851)

Within the fort, a stream of water was brought for domestic purposes through a ditch from Lytle Creek. Located along this stream were two water basins. Had this water supply been cut off, wells could be easily dug.

In addition to homes the following buildings were located inside the fort:

  • Meeting and School House
  • Fabun's Wagon Shop
  • Colony Office
  • Tithing and Store House

    Occupants of the Fort


    (Location of the homes, offices and shops within the fort)

Somewhat more than 100 families occupied the fort, together with a number of men without families. The 150 plus able-bodied men were divided into 3 companies with their respective captains, David Seely, Andrew Lytle and Jefferson Hunt.

Records are incomplete, as easily seen in the missing plat numbers on the list of occupants. However, there is some additional information concerning several of the residents:

William Crosby Bishop
A.J. Cox Kept restaurant
Clark S. Fabun Wagon shop
Louis Glazer Store
Richard R. Hopkins Kept store
Miner Kept store
Charles C. Rich Apostle
Henry Rollins Store
Mrs. Rowan (Lizzie Flake) African-American
William Stout 1st Schoolmaster
Gilbert Summee Blacksmith
Nathan C. Tenney Bishop


(Captain Jefferson Hunt)

Jefferson Hunt, the senior captain, was in charge of the whole group. Most of the men owned firearms. Grief Embers (Uncle Grief), an African-American, was the bugler. He blew his large 6 foot horn to assemble the men.

There was never any attack on the fort. It was said that the American Indians seeing the elaborate preparation for protection made no attempt to raid the valley.

The Fort, 750 feet long and 320 feet wide, was at the site of the present day San Bernardino County Courthouse at Arrowhead and Court.

The Town of San Bernardino - 1853-1854

In 1853, San Bernardino was laid out like a miniature Salt Lake City. The town was one mile square, laid out in blocks containing 8 acres, with wide streets running at right angles each one bordered by a zanja or irrigation ditch. The streets were given good Mormon names which continued for years.


(The Master Plan for the City of San Bernardino - 1853)

Below is a list of the original Mormon street names and the current names of the streets. Looking at the north-south streets, starting from right to left:

Street Name in 1853 Current Name
Kirtland Street Sierra Way
Camel Street Mountain View Avenue
Grafton Street Arrowhead Avenue
Utah Street D Street
Salt Lake Street E Street
California Street F Street
Independence Street G Street
Nauvoo Street H Street
Far West Street I Street


The east-west streets were numbered and the numbers remain the same today as they were in 1853 with the exception of 1st Street which is now called Rialto Avenue.

A block-square public park (later called Pioneer Park) was established in the center of the 1853 town.


San Bernardino County was created on April 26, 1853, and in April, 1854, the Legislature incorporated the City of San Bernardino.