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Stephen Bowers

Rev. Dr. Stephen Bowers of Ventura, California was born in Indiana in 1832 and studied for the ministry. He moved to Santa Barbara, California around 1874, following the death of his wife, and became an avid amateur archeologist, geologist, paleontologist, mineralogist and newspaper editor. He was the publisher of The Fallbrook Observer in the 1890s and Pacific Science Monthly in 1885-1887.

Bowers was a Methodist minister. The website for the First United Methodist Church of Santa Barbara shows Bowers as the minister there in 1874. He was also one of the earliest residents of Santa Barbara to take an interest in the artifacts left behind by early Native Americans in that area. Other people on the Mesa also showed him their finds when they dug wells on their farms. In 1876 Bowers headed a group financed by the Smithsonian Institution that spent a month collecting Indian artifacts on Santa Rosa Island. Nearly three tons of “antiquities and geological specimens” were collected; many of the items were sent to the Smithsonian to be used in their exhibition at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

The March 1894 issue of The Fallbrook Observer described the Fallbrook District, including a discussion of tourmaline and a variety of other minerals. He reported on San Nicolas Island, Ventura County in Report of the [California] State Mineralogist for the Year Ending December 1, 1889, published by the California State Mining Bureau. And he reported on the archeology of Santa Rosa Island for Smithsonian Annual Report for 1877, wherein he writes of his exhumation of more than 5000 bodies. He also supplied the Field Museum in Chicago with an archeological collection gathered in southern California in the early 1890s. Some today view him as a pioneering archeologist and others view him as a notorious and unscientific looter who excavated Indian burial grounds and left detailed notes and disturbed archeological sites as a legacy.

According to one story, on May 2, 1884 a young man named McCoy Pyle discovered a cave in the hills above the present Chiquita Canyon Landfill, north of Highway 126. Inside he found many large Chumash-tribe woven baskets containing stone axe heads, obsidian knife blades, crystals, whistles made from deer bones, headdresses and capes made of iridescent condor and flicker feathers, and four ceremonial scepters consisting of painted stone discs attached to wooden handles. Stephen Bowers purchased the entire collection for $1,500. He then sold the items to private collectors all over the world. Some of the "Bowers Cave" collection was sold to the Peabody Museum of American Ethnology at Harvard University, where it remains today. The fate of the rest is unknown.

When the Natural History Society of Santa Barbara, the forerunner of today's Museum of Natural History, was founded in 1876, Stephen Bowers was the first president of the group and also headed the archaeology committee. Sometime in the 1880s, Bowers moved to Ventura, California and became publisher of the Ventura Free Press.

BENSON, A. I. (1982) "The Noontide Sun: The Field Notes and Unpublished Manuscripts of the Rev. Stephen Bowers." Master's thesis, California State University at Northridge. Paperback: Ballena Press October, 1997.
SMITH, W. E. (19--) The Reverend Stephen Bowers, Curiosity Hunter of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. California History Magazine, 62, 26-47.
JOHNSON, R. (Es.)(1904)The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. 10 volumes. Boston: The Biographical Society.
GREEN, BETSY J. (2015) Personal communication.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
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