looking back

‘Looking Back’: Pioneer Log Cabin

By Kinen Carvala

What is the story behind California’s grizzly bear symbol?

Tensions were high in Mexican California in early 1846. The Mexican government was weary of the increasing number of foreign – mostly American – settlers in the area and was suspicious of U.S. Officer John C. Frémont, who claimed his expedition in California was for exploratory, not military, purposes.

The American settlers in turn heard rumors Commander General José Castro wanted to expel non-Mexican settlers from California and that more than 250 armed men were pillaging crops on their way to confront Frémont, according to Major Thomas R. Warren’s thesis “Operations in California During the Mexican-American War.” Consequently, a group of American settlers seized control of the town of Sonoma on June 14, 1846 and raised a Bear Flag labeled “California Republic” to reject Mexican authority. 

The California Republic wasn’t independent for long; the men behind the revolt agreed to be annexed to the United States in a July 5 meeting with U.S. Army Captain John Charles Frémont. On July 6, U.S. Navy Commodore John Drake Sloat took control of the capital of California, Monterey, and proclaimed “henceforward California would be a portion of the United States.”

American settlers seized control of the town of Sonoma on June 14, 1846 and raised a Bear Flag labeled “California Republic” to reject Mexican authority. 

California became the 31st state on Sept. 9, 1850; in 1853 the California grizzly became the state animal.

For the 50th anniversary of California’s statehood, Mrs. Tirza J. Wear Martin published an open letter in a San Francisco newspaper on Aug. 12, 1900, asking for contact information of pioneer women. She wanted to organize a club for pioneer women that would be a sister club of the Society of California Pioneers and be able to take part in the anniversary celebrations. 

As a 15-year-old, Wear arrived in Sutter’s Fort on Nov. 20, 1849, having left Missouri six months earlier, according to a Sept. 9, 1900, San Francisco Chronicle interview with her. She later married Dr. Noble Martin, a California state senator who represented Placer and El Dorado counties until he died in office on Sept. 1, 1896. Mrs. Martin’s open letter led to the formation of the Association of Pioneer Women of California. Martin became the first president.

The Association had a meeting place in downtown San Francisco which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, according to an Outside Lands Podcast. The Pioneer Log Cabin in Golden Gate Park was built as a replacement.

The Pioneer Log Cabin near Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park was dedicated in 1911. It is still in great shape because it is made of interlocking unpeeled redwood logs. Redwood is resistant to both insects and rot if water is not left to collect on it. Photos by Michael Durand.

The Pioneer Log Cabin was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1911. The 500 attendees included Park Commissioner William K. Gutzkow and his mother, a pioneer mother of 1847. The mayor of San Francisco at the time, Patrick Henry McCarthy, was scheduled for the opening address but was unable to attend. Mrs. J. J. Donnelly on behalf of the Pioneer Daughters of California presented a silk Bear Flag, which was raised by Laura Hargrave Keyser, daughter of a Bear Flag Revolt participant William Hargrave. The dedication was also attended by Angelina Gardner, president of the Association of Pioneer Women of California and former president Mary Palmer Pendergast. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Call covered the dedication.

The year 1911 was also when the Bear Flag was officially adopted as California’s state flag.

In 1913, Association member Kathryn L. Cole and Congressman Julius Kahn acquired a cannon and 80 cannonballs stacked like pyramids to place in front of the Cabin, according to the Nov. 23, 1913 story in the San Francisco Chronicle. The cannon and cannonballs are no longer there.

The Cabin was expanded in 1931 and a “new log cabin museum of pioneer days” was dedicated on March 18, 1932. In attendance were California Gov. James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Jr. and Park Superintendent John McLaren, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

A 1934 plaque on the Cabin commemorates the John W. Cherry family. Cherry was the recorder of San Francisco for many years and his daughter Jennie Cherry gave money to the Association for “building purposes,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Other members included in the Association’s ledger were:

•  Martha Lorina Bequette, whose mother (Mary Ann Graves Clarke) was a survivor from the ill-fated Donner Party.

• Leticia Scott Reid Oakes, whose mother (Ann Elizabeth Regson Reid) was described as “first white child (other than Spanish) born in California of those who came across the plains, around the Horn or by way of the Isthmus of Panama.”

• Mary R. Carillo Chantry, whose mother (Maria Ygnacia Lopez de Carrillo) moved to Sonoma County around 1837 and “obtained a government land grant in her own name” according to Eric Stanley, associate director and history curator of the Museum of Sonoma County.

The Pioneer Log Cabin is made of interlocking unpeeled redwood logs from Humboldt County. Redwood is resistant to both insects and rot if water isn’t left to collect on it, according to Edwin Thomas writing for SFGate.

The Association disbanded in the 1970s, according to the Society of California Pioneers.

Photo of the west side of the Pioneer Log Cabin’s interlocking unpeeled redwood logs.

The cabin, approximately 17 feet tall, was renovated in 1995.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, park business took place at the Pioneer Log Cabin. Those interested in getting a permit for an event in Golden Gate Park – reserving a picnic table, athletic field, or other venue for a family get-together, wedding or other occasions – needed to visit the Pioneer Log Cabin.

The cabin is on the south side of Stow Lake Drive, about halfway between JFK Drive and the Stow Lake Boathouse.

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