The Journal of San Diego History
San Diego Historical Society Quarterly
April 1959, Volume 5, Number 2
Jerry Macmullen, Editor

By C. F. Spearman

NOTE: The wreck of the steamer Yankee Blade in the desolate Point Conception-Point Arguello sector of western Santa Barbara County, on September 30, 1854, is one of the Pacific Coast’s classical tales of barratry. Carrying gold bullion variously reported as all the way from more than $100,000 to nearly ten times that much, she allegedly was run ashore deliberately, by a gang of criminals who had boarded her at San Francisco.

There was considerable loss of life. Survivors were rescued by the San Diego-bound steamer Goliah, which landed them here during the first week of October. Among them was C. F. Spearman, who later served as a Major, presumably during the Civil War, and then settled in Keosauqua, Iowa. His account of the wreck is from the Pioneer Society files, and is of interest not only as a first-hand account, but because it differs considerably from hitherto published accounts of the reign of terror aboard the doomed vessel. His letters, apparently in reply to written queries, are printed with no corrections of form or spelling.

Disaster at Point Conception --  A contemporary lithographer's impression of the wreck of the steamer <i>Yankee Blade</i>. Courtesy of California Historical Society, San Francisco.
I was on the Yankee Blade when she was wrecked off the coast of Point Conception.

About Sixty miles above Los Angeles About one mile from the Coast. It was about 12 oclock. I was standing in my State room waiting for the dinner bell to ring when the ship Struck the rock.

I ran up on Deck and found out what had happened. I started back to my room for my Satchel but found I could not get to my room on account of the Ship was filling with watter. I went back on Deck. There I found all the passengers (Eleven Hundred) crowded on the front part of the Ship to keep out of the watter. We were there from about 12 oclck the first day untill one the Second day.

About one o’clock during the night and day the life boats were taking off the passengers. It was Slow work for they had to go down the anchor chain. The Sea between the Ship and Shore was full of breakers so the life boats had to go quite a distance to get to the shore the boats the women got into were over come by breakers and they were drowned About one oclock the Second day we saw a ship anchor about one half mile away They sent their life boats to help us. We all got off by dark.

It was a ship that ran from San Diego to San Francisco they took us to San Diego the third day. San Diego was a Mexican town. All the houses were of mud it had a Hotell that was run by an American. We had been three days with-out Anything to eat except one cracker and a Small piece of Salt Fish. There was a butcher Shop where we landed. The boys soon cleaned it out. We went down town and Soon cleaned the town out of all they had to eat. Before night the Mexicans in the Country heard of us and brought in what they had to eat to feed us with. The next day we had an oversuply Such as it was we staid there about ten days. Then when Another Ship came down from San Francisco and took us back to San Francisco I was back to San Diego in 1910. Fifty four years afterwards I went down to old San Diego. The mud houses were fallen down except two. The Hotell had been moved away, the town had been deserted, Five or six houses were all that was left and the post office.

I still have my Meal ticket that I had in my hand when the ship struck. Will send my Phota if this isent Satisfactory write and I’ll try an Answer any thing more

Maj C. F. Spearman