Politana or Apolitana was the first Spanish settlement in the San Bernardino Valley of California. It was established as a mission chapel and supply station by the Mission San Gabriel in the a rancheria of the Guachama Indians that lived on the bluff that is now known as Bunker Hill. Besides the Guachama, it was also at various times the home for colonists from New Mexico and Cahuilla people. Its most prominent landmark today is the St. Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church on Colton Avenue, just southwest of the Inland Center Mall, in San Bernardino, California.
In 1810 the Mission San Gabriel established a chapel dedicated to San Bernardino and a supply station for travelers coming across the desert from Yuma on the Sonora to Monterey road, at the Guachama rancheria near the place now known as Bunker Hill, between Urbita Springs (now the site of the Inland Center) and what is now Colton. The location was chosen for the abundant of water in that vicinity. When the buildings were completed the padres returned to San Gabriel leaving the chapel, station and a large quantity of supplies in charge of neophyte soldiers, under command of a trustworthy Indian named Hipolito. The settlement, or rancheria of mission Indians, taking its name from this chief became known as Politana. During the next two years the padres made frequent visits to the capilla, the Guachama Indians were friendly and many of them became converted to Christianity. Grain was planted and the settlement seemed successful.
In 1812, known in early California history as "el ano de los temblores" (the year of earthquakes), frequent earthquakes were felt. The hot springs of the valley increased in temperature and a new hot mud spring (a "cienegata"), appeared near Politana, that came to be called Urbita Springs. These hot springs were venerated being associated with their religious ceremonies and were regarded as medicinal springs. These events roused the superstitious fears of the Guachama. Hoping to allay their fears the padres covered the new spring with earth. However this did not work. Looking for a cause, the Guachama believed it was the manifestation of anger of a powerful spirit displeased at the presence of the Christians among them. To appease this spirit and avert his further displeasure, they attacked the settlement, massacred most of the mission Indians and converts and destroyed the buildings. The Guachamas rebuilt the Politana rancheria and in 1819 invited the padres to return to the valley. They did, establishing the San Bernardino de Sena Estancia. Guachama people inhabited Politana until long after the decree of secularization and the incorporation of their lands into the Rancho San Bernardino.
Rancho San Bernardino
Antonio Maria Lugo established Rancho San Bernardino on the former Mission San Gabriel property in the 1830s. By offering land, he convinced a group of settlers from Abiquiu, New Mexico to settle on the rancho at Politania and defend it against Indian raiders and outlaws preying on the herds of the Ranchos in Southern California. These emigrants first colonized Politana on the Rancho San Bernardino in 1842. Don Lorenzo Trujillo brought the first colony of settlers from New Mexico to settle on land provided by the Lugos about one half mile south of the Indian village of La Politana. These colonists included William Walker, Julian Rowland (later owners of Rancho La Puente) and Benito Wilson. After remaining about two years at La Politana, Don Lorenzo, and four other families of colonists were persuaded move to 2,000 acres of land on the east side of the Santa Ana River, on the northern boundary of the Rancho Jurupa offered to them by Don Juan Bandini. This village was known as "La Placita de los Trujillos", later called La Placita.
In 1843 a second party of colonists, commanded by Don Jose Tomas Salazar, arrived at La Politana. Among the settlers of this second colony were Louis Rubidoux and Christobal Slover, both married to Mexican women. In 1845, the Salazar colonists too moved to the Santa Ana River, one mile northeast of La Placita and there founded the village known as Agua Mansa. To replace the New Mexicans as guardians of their herds, the Lugos brought Mountain Cahuilla tribesmen under their leader, Juan Antonio, to settle in Politana. They remained there until 1851, when they killed all but one of the Irving Gang in San Timoteo Canyon. These were American brigands that had raided the Ranchos in the valley and were hunted down on orders of the local justice of the peace. Due to the ill feeling among the American population resulting from this incident, shortly afterward the Cahilla moved east to a new rancheria at Saahatpa in the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning, California.
Decline of Politana
A few Indians remained at the rancheria of Politana when American colonization began. However it was the burial place of the Christian Indians of San Bernardino Valley. This cemetery was a sacred spot, used by the Indians of the whole valley until the graves were leveled and the land placed under cultivation. As the country was settled, the Indians decreased in numbers and dispersed, especially during the smallpox epidemic of 1862-63. The few remaining habitations fell into decay and vanished. Its cemetery became an orange grove in the late 19th century and now the site is an open lot west of the St. Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church on Colton Avenue, just southwest of the Inland Center Mall. There is now no trace of the rancheria or cemetery, except for occasional finds of pieces of tile or pottery.
- HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. pp 37–41
- HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. pp.101-105
- HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. p. 41