Meet an Alameda Pioneer: Captain Alonzo Green

The ferry boat Amador, which for a time was under the command of Alamedan Alonzo Green, docks at Vallejo Junction between Crockett and Rodeo.

Meet an Alameda Pioneer: Captain Alonzo Green

Among the many fascinating lives that played out at least in part here in the Island City was California Pioneer Alonzo Green. Ship captain, hotelier and city trustee (City Councilmember), Green lived a long, notable life in part in Alameda as well as on Bay Farm Island.

A native of Ohio, Green heard early about the Gold Rush and along with a small group of companions began to head west in 1847. At the time, any route to California from parts east posed a tremendous threat. The land route featured the classic prairie schooner wagon and posed an endless list of potential dangers, the most famous probably dying of dysentary. Ship captains dreaded the trip “‘round the Horn” as they would describe the conditions around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America as some of the most dangerous sailing on Earth.

The third option, which Green and his party opted for, presented a challenging hike over the Panama Isthmus. This involved arriving in the Chagres River, hiking on an old Spanish trail through the jungle and picking up a Pacific-based mail steamer or other trader plying their way up the west coast of Panama. The hike through the jungle required a hardy constitution able to withstand sustained effort in unfriendly conditions, exhausting heat and humidity, malaria, yellow fever and more. Still, at 8 weeks, this route often proved faster than taking the route across the Great Plains.

Green and party made it across the isthmus with little to report and managed to secure passage on a small schooner headed north. That’s when things turned for the worse. In what the San Francisco Call termed “a terrific southeaster” the schooner was driven into the cliffs and wrecked near San Luis Bay and Pismo Beach.

Dragging himself from the surf, Green discovered all his carefully prepared provisions and tools from back east, hauled over the isthmus and onto the ship had been completely lost. Starvation seemed imminent and the closest settlement far north in Monterey. The party set out on foot, hoping to eventually reach the town of Yerba Buena (today’s San Francisco).

According to the Call, “For days the party subsisted on roots, acorns ... and rattlesnakes. The reptiles were plentiful and were prepared for consumption much after the manner that eels are cooked.”

Early in 1848 Green’s party made it back to civilization and swiftly made their way to the gold fields in Sonora. Choosing wisely to “mine the miners,” Green and partner E.C. Holden opened what was said to be Sonora’s first hotel, The City Hotel. The building still stands. In 1852 and ’53 Green served as Sonora’s mayor.

Returning to the Bay Area in the early 1870s, by 1873 Green had settled on Bay Farm Island and later invested in property on the Main Island. He returned to politics in 1877 when he was elected to Alameda’s Board of Trustees, the precursor to today’s City Council.

For a number of years, Green operated a steamer in the Bay named the Amador which potentially earned him the title of Captain which appeared before his name in countless newspaper articles. It’s quite possible he earned the title leading his party to the gold fields, as some pioneer groups gave their leaders these honorary titles.

The Amador had served the California Steam Navigation Company starting in 1869 until railroads forced the company under in 1871. Central Pacific Railroad continued using the Amador as a ferry for many years. Green was known to “ply the creek route” which meant traversing the distance between the foot of Broadway in Oakland and the Ferry Building in San Francisco, just as ferries do to this day.

Captain Green was an original member of the Society of California Pioneers founded in 1850. At the time of his death in 1901 at age 92, he was the oldest member of the society. His place of residence was listed as 3237 Encinal Ave. The captain left behind his wife Laura and three children: Addie, Frank and Verdenal.

Eric J. Kos has helped write several local history books including Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.