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An Incomplete History of Antonio Souza

Assistant Keeper at Point San Luis and Point Conception Lighthouses 1890 – 1907

By Kathy Mastako

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In 1890, the first year of operation of California’s Point San Luis Light Station’s operation, Antonio Souza was appointed its 2nd assistant keeper. He served under head keeper Henry Young and 1st assistant keeper Stephen Ballou. For a time, it appeared all was well; the keeper seemed to get along with Mr. Souza. But by 1900, this was no longer true.

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California’s Point San Luis Light Station as it ...

Antonio Souza was born in Portugal in 1851 and came to the United States in 1872. In 1881, he married Francisca (née Oliveira), who was born in 1858, also in Portugal, and who came to the U.S. in 1876. At the time of their marriage, both lived in San Luis Obispo County. The couple had no children.

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Civil War veteran Stephen D. Ballou (May 8, ...

In February of 1881, Goodall, Perkins & Co., agents for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, wrote to U.S. Senator James Thompson Farley urging that a government light and fog signal be installed at Point San Luis. They pointed out San Luis Obispo’s importance as a center of shipping commerce between San Francisco and San Diego, noted the volume of steamer traffic and sailing vessels passing San Luis Bay, and praised its fine harbor. The letter also stressed how dangerous the approach to the harbor could be at night and in foggy weather due to the underwater rocks surrounding its entrance. In addition, for ships passing up and down the coast, the lack of a light meant no illumination between Point Conception Lighthouse and Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, a distance of some 40 miles.

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The Point Conception Lighthouse Station near ...

Frustrated by the government’s inaction, Goodall and Perkins took matters into their own hands. In June of 1881, the local paper reported that a new light was installed at Point San Luis by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.

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Vintage image of California’s Point Conception ...

Uncle Sam Derelict.

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In 1900 Irby H. Engels, shown here, traded ...

Port Harford is assuming such importance as a shipping port, that it is quite necessary that there be a light house at “the Point.” Messrs. Goodall, Perkins & Co. have been unable to get the Government to take hold of this project, and have attended to the matter at their own expense. The lantern and fixtures came down on the [steamship] Orizaba last trip, and from this time forward the light will regularly send out its radiance over the oft-troubled waters. The entire expense of building the light-house, together with that of employing a man to keep the lights trimmed and lighted, is borne by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. San Luis Obispo Tribune, June 25, 1881

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Shown here (circa 1915) in front of the Santa ...

One of the men employed was most certainly Antonio Souza. In some paperwork he completed in 1904, shortly after the Lighthouse Service was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Department of Commerce and Labor, he wrote that his prior occupation was keeping the steamship company’s private light.

Eight years later, in 1889, a contract for the construction of a government light station on Point San Luis was finally awarded:

The Secretary of the Treasury has awarded the contract for the construction of a lighthouse, double keeper’s dwelling, fog signal building, etc. for Point San Luis, California, light station to Geo. W. Kenney, of Santa Barbara, at $18,893. Los Angeles Herald, July 31, 1889

Kenney’s bid was the lowest by far of the bids received, and he lost a great deal of money on the project. The contract called for the station to be completed by December 15, 1889. On May 14, 1890, Kenney finally finished, 149 and one half days late, incurring a penalty of $3,737.50, which was twenty five dollars for each late day. The lighthouse district engineer wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury that the delay was caused by the “indifference, carelessness and lack of ability on the part of the contractor who throughout a great portion of the time neglected his work by absenting himself therefrom.”

On June 30, 1890, the Point San Luis Light Station began operation:

Notice is hereby given that, on or about June 30, 1890, a light of the 4th order, showing red and white flashes alternately, with intervals of 30 seconds between flashes, will be exhibited by the structure recently erected at San Luis Obispo. Notice to Mariners (No. 38, of 1890)

In July of 1890, the San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune reported a dog attack at the lighthouse:

Mr. Barnett, of San Francisco, who has been at the light house as an expert placing the [illuminating] apparatus, was severely bitten by a dog and was compelled to return to his home for treatment. It seems that the dog, which was a bull of a dangerous description, came jumping up on Barnett, as he supposed in a playful way, but suddenly without warning grabbed him by the throat, sinking his fangs in deeply, and was taken off with some difficulty, making a terrible wound, from which the most frightful consequences may result. The dog belonged to Antonio Souza and was shot by its owner immediately.

Antonia Souza became a naturalized citizen on October 3, 1890. A few days later, because of the departure of John P. Devereux, who had come from the Point Reyes Light Station and then resigned after serving only a couple of months. On October 17, 1890, Antonio Souza was hired as the 2nd assistant lighthouse keeper at Point San Luis Lighthouse .

Even before his hiring as an assistant keeper, Antonio Souza may have worked as a substitute keeper at the light station for day laborer wages, filling in when one of the regular keepers was away. This would explain why he was at the lighthouse when his dog bit Barnett.

In 1892, the San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune reported on the good jobs the keepers were doing:

The government’s light house supply steamer, Madroño, departed this morning, having left coal and general supplies at the light house. Capt. Young with Souza and the irrepressible Ballou keep everything in and about the lighthouse shining…and the inspector was immensely pleased with their conduct of the government property.

In 1894, 1st assistant keeper Stephen Ballou left the Lighthouse Service to run for county sheriff (he won). Antonio Souza was promoted to replace him.

At that time Irby Engels was hired as the new 2nd assistant. In September 1899, Irby Engels was transferred to Point Conception Lighthouse as the 1st assistant. He was replaced at Point San Luis by Frank Berk, who transferred from Point Bonita Lighthouse.

Antonio Souza was in his 10th year of service at Point San Luis when head keeper Henry W. Young filed charges against him in a letter to U.S. Navy Commander Uriel Sebree, the Inspector for the 12th Lighthouse District:

February 16, 1900

I have to complain of Mr. Souza’s conduct for the last two or three weeks. On the 30th of last month he maliciously disfigured two of the most important trees on this station.

The two gum trees beside the entrance gate should now be at least twenty feet high, with the branches meeting a few feet above the gate, forming an arch which would add much to the appearance of the place, but Mr. Souza would not have it so.

Three years ago he sawed the branches off the inside of both trees, without speaking to me, and spoiled them.

I told him at that time not to touch the trees again without orders, all the same he repeated the operation on the above date. On asking him why he did such a mean thing he said the trees interfered with the view of the road, and that he cut the trees partly to please his wife. What the other part or reason was he did not say.

I had made up my mind not to bother you with such a complaint when he brings on more trouble.

Yesterday morning he went to town and I gave him permission to keep the boat at the wharf till his return at noon.

My wife came down on the same train and naturally expected to be taken home, but Mr. Souza could not be seen, and after waiting for a long time (I should judge about half an hour, as the train arrived before noon and the boat landed at our wharf at 12:45 pm) she asked a young fisherman to take her over. He answered that as his boat was dirty and that if he took his boat his brother and father would be idle till his return he could not do it, but would willingly and without charge take her in the Light-House boat, and return with the boat for Mr. Souza.

Of course the woman was glad to go, but just after starting Mr. Souza hove in sight and began screaming and jumping about the wharf as if crazy, using such language as God dam [sic] you, come back with that boat or I will send the sheriff after you.

He admits using some bad language but it was for the benefit of the fisherman, not for Mrs. Young.

As the young fisherman was innocent of wrong, and had a brother and father on the spot at the time, who saw and heard all that occurred, and who were quite capable of making him repent the insult, it looks as if he meant to humble the Keeper through the poor woman.

If that was his intention he has succeeded for my wife will be ashamed to land at that wharf for some time to come.

We have always had the respect of the people about us. What must they think now, after such a scene, if I don’t report him and have him punished.

In civil life he would not dare do such a thing to me or mine.

And all because I called him to account for destroying the property under my charge.

Sir: I charge Mr. Antonio Souza with willful destruction of government property, disobedience of orders, of using insulting language while under the influence of liquor, in the presence of, if not to, a respectable woman.

I have handed to Mr. Souza a copy of the charges, word for word, and will hold this till he is ready with his answer to them.

H. W. Young

Keeper

In another letter to Sebree, dated February 19, 1900, Young wrote:

I had an interview this morning with Mr. John Beck, the father of the fisherman who volunteered to take my wife over to our wharf on the 15th instant.

He told me that if Mr. Souza had treated his wife as he had mine, he would have made him go down on his knees and beg her pardon, or else send him to the hospital, no matter what the cost.

Souza answered Young’s charges in a letter to inspector Sebree, which has suffered badly from the ravages of time. The words in brackets are my best efforts at filling in missing or illegible text:

I have this day received a copy of Mr. Young’s complaint which I understand has been mailed to you, charging me with “willful destruction of government property, disobedience of orders, and using insulting language while under the influence of liquor in the presence of, if not to, a respectable woman.”

After 10 years of continued service this charge seems to me so remote and insignificant that it should bear but little weight. However, I shall endeavor to treat upon the charges as above described.

Some three years ago Mr. Young instructed me to cut the branches of some of the larger trees to conform with the smaller ones [to make them more] uniform. I spoke to Mr. Young some time ago about the trees mentioned in his complaint, requesting permission to remove some of the branches that were shutting out the light and obstructing the view and he made no objection at the time.

Mr. Young makes the charge of disobedience of orders, but fails to make any specific case.

The last but not least, “using insulting language while under the influence of liquor in presence of a lady,” I took the boat with permission of Mr. Young and went to Port Harford, made the boat fast to one of the moorings, took the 9 A.M. train for San Luis Obispo, returned on the 11:45 A.M. train.

On the arrival went to the post office on the end of the wharf to write and post a letter and on my return to the boat I found it had been taken from the mooring, and occupied by a fisherman’s son, J. Beck, and Mrs. Young who had also returned on the 11:45 A.M. train.

I called to the young man to return with the boat (as he was only about 10 rods from the wharf) but he [refused]. [I said if he] did not return, I would make aid for the sheriff to recover it.

On his return he stated that Mrs. Young instructed him not to turn back. I am ignorant of any authority invested in Mrs. Young, she be the wife of a keeper, that will allow her to take the boat while in my possession and without my knowledge. There are 8 to 10 boats moored at the wharf, which any of them could be used, which is owned by Mr. Beck who offered to take her home in his boat but she would not consent to this insisting that the Light-House boat be used knowing that I was at the post office and that I would be put to the inconvenience of getting home and in total ignorance of the whereabouts of the boat. I used no profane language, neither was I under the influence of liquor. I am not addicted to either vice and after living on this Point 27 years there is no one who can say truthfully that they ever saw me under the influence of strong drink. [This is what] took place and if you desire I will gladly [swear to] a statement of them.

As stated in my letter of recent date that a certain feeling of enmity existed on the part of Mr. Young that made [continued service] undesirable and requested if [possible] to transfer me to some other place but it seems Mr. Young does not wish it that way, prefers to see me dishonorably discharged from my service. I am in correspondence with a party with the view of making a change as outlined in your [letter] and as soon as concluded I will advise you the result. You can readily see that the charges are groundless and only made to [give vent to] the pent-up feeling of enmity that has existed for some time.

Antonio Souza

Commander Sebree, the district lighthouse inspector, was quick to react to the charges and counter charges and went to visit the lighthouse and conduct his own first hand investigation. While he found that the tree had been trimmed without authorization, he found, after interviewing various people, that there was no indication that Antonia Souza had ever been intoxicated. As far as the verbal language used by assistant keeper Souza that his “remarks were made to the Boatman and not to the Keeper’s wife, and as the boat was taken without his authority or knowledge, there was some excuse for his getting excited.”

The inspector also concluded that the light station had always been kept in perfect order and that the two men had a number of other differences, not previously brought up in official reports or letters and there was simply a “row” between them.

Because Antonia Souza had previously requested a transfer to another station, the inspector arranged for assistant Souza be transferred to Point Conception Lighthouse in an exchange with Irby H. Engels, who would move from Point Conception Lighthouse back to Point San Luis Lighthouse, where he had been previously been stationed.

Memories

Antonio Souza was fondly remembered by the son of Harley A. Weeks, who was the head keeper at Point Conception Lighthouse from 1895 to 1913, in these excerpts from “Harry Weeks – The Keeper’s Son,” published in the Winter 2001 issue of The Keeper’s Log, published by the United States Lighthouse Society.

We lived in a house right at the top of the bluff. The larger double dwelling was next to ours, where the 1st and 2nd Assistant keepers and families lived.

At first I was the only child at the station. Although the assistants were married, none had children.

Mr. Souza was a man of many talents and he taught me many things. His wife was a small, wiry, excitable woman, bubbling with energy, who often visited our house to chat with my mother.

Mr. Souza liked practical jokes. Sometimes stirring a cup of coffee, he would look me straight in the eye, talking until he had my full attention, then suddenly he would pull his spoon out of the coffee and touch my hand. Although it wasn’t hot enough to burn, it did cause me to jump. The Souzas were very hospitable and insisted on serving food and drink to anyone stopping by.

One day, Uncle George came with his wife and my cousin Eva to visit. Eva was a pretty little girl about my age. I showed her my favorite sights, but she was most impressed with my shell collection. I was flattered and looked for other ways to impress her. Our house had a high porch on the back and we took turns jumping off it. Every time I jumped Eva “oohed” and “ahhed,” which goaded me into leaping farther. I ran the length of the porch and flew toward an area which sloped away from the yard and I ended up going farther than intended. I landed in a heap, causing a searing pain in my leg, which turned out to be broken. As I couldn’t get up, Eva ran for help.

The break appeared to be a simple fracture, so my parents decided to set it themselves with the aid of an assistant who had some medical training. Mom held my hand while the men set my leg and put on splints. It was apparent that there would be no running and climbing for some time. My summer appeared ruined. Mr. Souza fashioned me a pair of crutches.

Mr. Souza taught me to swim. He was a powerful swimmer who swam far offshore and dove to deep depths.

Summer was especially a time for painting and renovating the light station. Mr. Souza was a fine carpenter and he built cupboards and fences and did a lot of repairs. The government furnished a very high grade of paint for the main buildings, but Mr. Souza mixed up a whitewash for the fences and outbuildings that seemed even better, because the salt spray didn’t discolor it as much.

One night a fierce storm came up with low scudding clouds and high winds. I was sitting with Dad that night when suddenly there was a loud crash. The weight cable (of the clockworks) had broken. Dad began to turn the lens by hand, while I went to get help. I donned a slicker and ploughed through pounding rain to Mr. Souza’s house, which was nearest the lighthouse. Then I returned to help Dad.

Turning the lens by hand wasn’t too difficult because it was on ball bearings. We took turns, and while one turned it the other timed the turns with a stopwatch. There were 16 sides, or flash panels, and the characteristic was a flash every 30 seconds, so the lens made a full rotation every eight minutes. Mr. Souza arrived with the other two keepers and it took them two hours to rig a new cable and attach the weights.

A bond of loyalty and close friendship held these men together in a common cause. No matter what came up: bad weather, machine failure or health problems, they were bound to keep that light flashing all night, every night.

After many years of working at the station, Mr. Souza retired. The Souzas purchased a home in Goleta and I helped them move. They were good friends as long as I can remember. My parents considered them family, their lives were so interwoven with ours, and I felt a deep sense of loss at their leaving even though I would visit them occasionally. He had taught me so much over the years.

Souza’s letter of resignation, dated July 1, 1907, was a simple one:

Please accept my resignation as 1st Assistant Keeper at this station to take effect August 31, 1907.

He gave no reason for his resignation.

When Souza and his wife moved to Goleta, in Santa Barbara County, they took up farming. The 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses place the couple in the Goleta Township, on Fairview Avenue. Antonio passed away in 1931, Francisca in 1936. They are buried in Santa Barbara’s Calvary Cemetery.

Epilogue:

In one of the wills made shortly before her death, Francisca Souza left small sums to her nephews Martin, John E., and Frankie Marshall, and a niece, Mary Marshall Faria. All had been frequent visitors at the Point San Luis lighthouse during the 1890s. Their parents were Francisca’s sister, Rita Isabel Oliveira Marshall, and John Souza Marshall. Aurelia and her parents are buried in Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo. Minnie Morrell, owner of Minnie’s Café, inherited the bulk of Francisca Souza’s estate. She was a neighbor and good friend in Goleta who took care of Francisca during the long illness preceding her death.

Although not in his lighthouse service records, Antonio Souza’s legal name was apparently Antonio Souza Coelho. This is the name he used each time he registered to vote, and is the full name listed on his death certificate.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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