The Button Hole, Part 1: 1862

This summer, students in SBTHP’s archaeological field school excavated a Civil War-era button at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park.  Below is Wayne Sherman’s account of how that button might have found its way into the earth behind the Presidio Chapel.

Four-button sack coat, part of a Cavalry-style uniform of the type worn by Company C, California Native Cavalry Battalion from Santa Barbara, during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of Wayne Sherman.

There’s no telling when he lost it exactly. Most likely, somewhere between 1862 and 1867. That’s when that style was worn in Santa Barbara. Dashing young gentlemen with sky blue pants would parade through town, footwear polished bright and gilt buttons gleaming. They wore their hats rakishly and quickened the pulse of many a local senorita when they smartly marched past glancing, a quick and furtive “Eyes right!”

They enjoyed fandangos when allowed and performed their newly learned skills in front of the local citizenry, bringing a sense of security to the town. That’s why they were sent; Santa Barbara was rumored to be in trouble.  California was in trouble as was the whole United States. The Enemy was in the foothills and gaining strength every minute. Santa Barbara could use some protection or, at the very least, someone to visit and spend some Yankee dollars.

The first arrived in town on January 2 of 1862 to what must have been a real spectacle for the citizens of quiet Santa Barbara. In those days it would have been very hard to miss noticing when two hundred new souls show up in town all at once. Many of these men were from the San Francisco area with many of the others from Placerville and the gold country.  But, as it was the town’s request that these men should come, they were welcomed with open arms and warm tortillas. However, it did not take long to realize there was no enemy in the hills and none along the coast for that matter and, four months after arrival, they left town. One of these fine fellows could have lost the button.

In January of 1864 another hundred men arrived in town. This group was from Auburn and Marysville and performed the same duty as the first, wearing the same eye catching dress. But, unlike the first two hundred, these men stayed almost a whole year before leaving, quickly as the others, in November of 1864. So, I would guess, there is an even better chance that one of these boys left town with an unsecured button hole.

Then again, the local boys saw the flush in the senoritas cheeks as these out of town fops paraded about in their fancy dress. So, before the last group left town, one hundred Santa Barbara men took the sacred oath to wear the blue coat with gilded buttons.  This group, after having performed similar service on the Arizona border, returned home in 1866 to a grand fiesta at Casa de la Guerra. Maybe one of these native sons visited the Presidio that festive night to assure himself he was home. The next morning he awoke to fold his coat of gilded buttons and put it away to return to the life he once knew, never noticing the vacant hole.

To be continued soon in The Button Hole, Part II: 2011

Wayne Sherman is SBTHP’s Santa Inés Mission Mills Steward and a Civil War re-enactor with the Fort Tejon Historical Association’s Civil War program. He portrays a Cavalry Trooper with Company a 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry aka “The California Hundred.”

Our summer wheat crop from the Presidio Garden

This spring we planted white Sonora wheat on the Northeast corner of the Presidio with the help of local third graders participating in our Early California Days program.

Mother and daughter planting wheat in the field prepared by archaeological intern Frank Arredondo. Photo by Frank Arredondo.
Garden interns Ila Rutten, Emily Johnson, and Alyssa Gregory from nearby Anacapa School tended the wheat field throughout the spring.

This month we harvested our crop and will save a portion of the wheat berries to plant a new crop next spring.We plan to grind remainder of the berries into flour for making bread and tortillas. The stalks or “wheat straw” are a great source of fuel and will be saved the next firing of our demonstration pottery kiln.

Archaeologist Mike Imwalle with the Presidio garden’s first wheat harvest. The plants are harvested after thoroughly drying in the field. Photo by Mike Imwalle.
After the heads of dry wheat are threshed, dry plant material or “chaff” is blown free, leaving the wheat berries to be planted next season. Demonstrated here by Associate Director Anne Petersen. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

White Sonora wheat was the most important crop during the California’s Mission period. Its glutinous white flour makes stretchable dough suitable for large tortillas. Because of this wheat, large white flour tortillas largely replaced corn tortillas in Mexico’s Northwest and the United States’ Southwest. It was the source of most of California’s flour through the Civil War. This variety is the oldest known in North America.

A portion of this year’s wheat berries, which will be saved for seed. Photo by Mike Imwalle.

Sometimes you find archaeologists in surprising places!

Mike Imwalle monitoring the well excavation. Photo by Anne Petersen

On September 7th and 8th SBTHP archaeologist Mike Imwalle (in the blue hat) monitored excavation for a water quality monitoring well for the Chevron gas station site at the corner of Anacapa and Canon Perdido Streets in Santa Barbara.  Contractors for environmental consultants Holguin, Faha, & Associates will drill down thirty-five feet below ground level to install the well. The work, which has been ongoing since 2006, is required by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District in order to ensure that environmental pollutants do not enter the ground water.

Now a parking lot, and part of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, the gas station site lies near the Presidio northwest corner defense wall. Mike’s archaeological monitoring is required as a condition of the California State Parks’ environmental review in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to ensure that archaeological resources within the site of the Santa Barbara Presidio are not adversely affected by the testing.

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