Author Archives: Walter

Jim Beckwourth – Stealing Horses

Notes:
Mountain man Jim Beckwourth flees California during the Bear Flag Revolt Stealing Horses Along the Way

James Beckwourth

I had but little time to deliberate. My people was at war with the country I was living in; I had become security to the authorities for the good behavior of several of my fellow-countrymen, and I was under recognizances for my own conduct. The least misadventure would compromise me, and I was impatient to get away. My only retreat was eastward; so, considering all things fair in time of war, I, together with five trusty Americans, collected eighteen hundred stray horses we found roaming on the Californian ranchos, and started with our utmost speed from Pueblo de Angeles. This was a fair capture, and our morals justified it, for it was war-time. We knew we should be pursued, and we lost no time in making our way toward home. We kept our herd jogging for five days and nights, only resting once a day to eat, and afford the animals time to crop a mouthful of grass. We killed a fat colt occasionally, which supplied us with meat, and very delicious meat too rather costly, but the cheapest and handiest we could obtain. After five days’ chase our pursuers relaxed their speed, and we ourselves drove more leisurely. We again found the advantage that I have often spoken of before of having a drove of horses before us, for, as the animals we bestrode gave out, we could shift to a fresh one, while our pursuers were confined to one steed.

When we arrived at my fort on the Arkansas, we had over one thousand head of horses, all in good condition. There was a general rejoicing among the little community at my safe arrival, the Indians also coming in to bid me welcome. I found my wife married again, having been deceived by a false communication. Her present husband had brought her a missive, purporting to be of my inditing, wherein I expressed indifference toward her person, disinclination to return home, and tendering her a discharge from all connubial obligation. She accepted the document as authentic, and solaced her abandonment by espousing her husband’s messenger. My return acquainted her with the truth of the matter. She manifested extreme regret at having suffered herself to be imposed upon so readily, and, as a remedy for the evil, offered herself back again; but I declined, preferring to enjoy once more the sweets of single blessedness.

I left the fort on a visit to San Fernandez. I found business very dull there on account of the war, and great apprehensions were felt by my friends in regard to the result. Perceiving that was no very desirable place to remove to, I returned to my community. General Kearney was just then on his march to Santa Fe. I took a drove of my horses, and proceeded down the Arkansas to meet him on his route; for it was probable there might be an opportunity of effecting some advantageous exchanges. The general came up, and found me in waiting with my stock; we had been acquainted for several years, and he gave me a very cordial reception.

“Beckwourth,” said the general, you have a splendid lot of horses, really; they must have cost you a great sum of money.”

“No, general,” I replied, “but they cost me a great many miles of hard riding.”

“How so?” he inquired.

“Why, I was in California at the time the war broke out, and, not having men enough at my command to take part in the fighting, I thought I could assist my country a little by starting off a small drove of the enemy’s horses, in order to prevent their being used against us.”

“Ah, Beckwourth, you are truly a wonderful man to possess so much forethought,” and he laughed heartily. “However,” added he, ” trade them off as quickly as possible, for I want you to accompany me. You like war, and I have good use for you now.”  …

from: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth
Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians

 

The Great Indian Fight at Little Bear Valley

The Indian troubles in San Bernardino County during the 1860s were not indigenous to a certain area. They were merely responses to a situation caused by the white man himself, as he gradually usurped — in Indian eyes — the new continent.

Camp Cady – Jean Goldbranson

At first the Indians lost with resentment, then smoldering rage as the newcomers slaughtered his animals, stole the land and ravaged its natural resources without regard for the future.

Although held at bay for a time by the presence of troops, the fortunes of war gave them one last chance to strike back.

There were a few Indians like the Cahuillas  who welcomed the coming of missionaries and became Christians under the auspices of the Catholic Church, but others like Paiutes and Chemehuevis roamed free across the Mojave Desert; itching for a chance to gain revenge.

During the Civil War, sporadic Indian raids by these two tribes led to the establishment of Camp Cady  on the Mojave Desert and its troops regularly patrolled the Mojave Trail from Oro Grande  and Soda Lake in a more or less successful attempt to quell the problem.

This did not stop local incidents from happening, like the occasional stealing of horses or cattle from the San Bernardino mountains and valley, were the wounding of Dr. David N. Smith  at the upper gate of John Brown’s toll road in 1862. After his recovery, Smith founded what later became known as the Arrowhead Hot Springs sanitarium.

When the war ended, United States war department reorganized their Western forces and in the early part of 1866 withdrew troops from Camp Cady  and other points between Los Angeles and Fort Mojave.

Only a few weeks later,  at the Dunlap ranch (now the Las Flores ranch)  on the West Forks of the Mojave, H.E. Parish, Nephi Beamis and Pratt Whiteside were writing up a small canyon looking for strays when they were ambushed by Indians in their body stripped and mutilated.

Their deaths were attributed to the withdrawal of troops from Camp Cady  and the incident brought forth storms protest from incensed town citizens who gave them the largest funeral ever held in San Bernardino up to that time.

But the troop’s continued absence set the stage for yet another violent attack. in January 1867, a large band of Paiutes and Chemehuevis  invaded Little Bear Valley, apparently bent on stealing horses and cattle grazing there.

They burned a small sawmill and cabin standing near today’s Lake Arrowhead dam  and then continued up the valley, looting and burning another cabin near the present Lake Arrowhead Village.

George Lish  and John DeWitt, to local mill men, had just returned to the area with a load of provisions from downtown San Bernardino when they saw the Indians running towards them. Fortunately they had a head start and out ran the savages to nearby Talmadge’s Mill (now Blue Jay)  and bolted themselves within.

The following morning, after someone helped arrive from San Bernardino, and the women and children have been barricaded inside the mill, Frank Talmadge, Bill Kane,  Jonathan Richardson and Bill Armstrong took to saddle horses in a pack animal and started out after the Indians.

A fresh, 6-inch pack of snow made the Indian tracks easy to follow and at the head of Willow Canyon they surprised eight savages, who turned and ran. Talmadge and Kane,  On horseback, chased them down the canyon and were within shooting distance when the Indians suddenly jumped behind a large log.

As their pursuers galloped past, the Indians fired a volley of shots, wounding Kane’s horse, who reared and threw his rider heavily to the snow. as Kane fell he dropped his rifle in the Indians tried to kill him before he could retrieve it. During the furious scuffle, Talmadge   leapt off his mount in the shot and killed one Indian who was drawing a bead on Kane.

The savages then circled about Talmadge  while Kane, still unarmed, took refuge behind a tree.

Talmadge  was armed with the double barreled rifle and when he fired a second time without reloading, the Indians —  accustomed to fighting only with single shot weapons —  became confused and fled. Talmadge and his men,  shaken by the furious action, then returned to the mill, ending round one of the fight.

The following day, bolstered by the arrival of more men from San Bernardino, they started out again. This time they had just crossed a ridge several hundred yards from the mill when they met a force of some 60 Indians, armed with rifles and bows and arrows.

During the ensuing encounter both sides fought from behind trees, “Indian style,”  several hundred shots were fired, two Indians killed and two white men wounded before each side withdrew to tend to their wounded.

That evening, during a heated meeting held inside the mill, the men decided to mount a campaign to drive the Indians out of the mountains for good. For this purpose reinforcements arrived, including Indian fighter W. F. “Billy”  Holcomb, along with a wagon load of provisions from San Bernardino.

Although it was found the Indians had retreated to the desert, the heavily armed company followed them down,  determined to wipe them out.

Following Holcomb’s advice, they establish camps at the Dunlap ranch  and the Verde ranch on the Mojave River at Little Meadow  and every morning divided the group into smaller units with each following a different trail in trying to flush out the Indians.

They finally located the main Indian party encamped on a rock covered mountain northwest of Rabbit Springs. Although an attack was planned for daybreak and carried out, the Indians were forewarned by stray shots and most of them escaped.

But not for long. The chase continued and most of the savages were pinned down in small bands and destroyed one by one.

The entire campaign lasted 32 days and after it was over, some of the men almost died after running out of food and water.

But the operation accomplished its purpose. The troubles with the Mojave Desert tribes were over, and they would never attack in force again.

From:

Heritage Tales 1988
by Fred Holladay
published by the City of San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society

also see …

Chimney Rock
the site of the last Indian fight in California. To understand the climax …

Holcomb Valley, Big Bear
Chimney Rock in Lucerne Valley was the site of the last Indian fight in California. … Bill Holcomb formed a posse and followed the Indians but had to give up the

Chemehuevi History – American Period
After this, the U. S. Army established a military camp at Camp Rock Spring near … settlers organized a surprise attack on Indians assembled at Chimney Rock,

The Stoddard Boys

Of all the brother acts operating in and around San Bernardino County during the Mormon period, Few accomplished more for the ultimate benefit of the area than the Stoddard boys, Arvin and Sheldon.

Neither cut an imposing figure. Arvin, the quiet one, was only 5’5″ tall and weighed 135 pounds soaking wet, while Sheldon wasn’t much larger.  But what they lacked in height they more than made up in spirit.

Arvin, however,   had an imposing ally in his wife Caroline. She was 6 feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds —  a formidable Amazon and an extremely vocal one too. One is tempted to ask if she carried him across the threshold on their wedding night.

She became Arvin’s mouthpiece and  did not hesitate to make her opinions known, particularly when the chips were down. As their grandson, R. Jackson Stoddard  wrote in the March 1970 issue of the LA Westerners Branding Iron, “For although she followed the will of her husband, in many cases the will of her husband was truly only a reflection of her own wants and desires.”

Stoddard Mountain

Stoddard Mountain

Today, a stretch of the Mojave Desert between Victorville and Daggett is blanketed with sites bearing the Stoddard’s names. They include the Stoddard Mountains, Stoddard Hills, Stoddard gulch, Stoddard Valley, Stoddard Well and Stoddard Wells Road —  all  directly attributable  to Arvin’s work in the area during the 1850s and 60s.

Flag of the Mormon Battailion

Flag of the Mormon Battailion (note spelling)

There were four Stoddard Brothers at the beginning; Rufus, Albert, Arvin and Sheldon, who were all born in Canada. When their father died in 1838, mother Jane gathered them all up and crossed the United States border, first to Ohio in then to Warsaw, Illinois, where she became hooked on the Mormon religion. When the church made it’s great trek to Salt Lake City in 1847, she and her boys were in the initial contingent.

Rufus was the first of the boys to reach California, arriving in San Diego as a member of the Mormon Battalion. After his group was disbanded in Los Angeles, he remained in the area for almost a year before he rejoining his family at Salt Lake City in 1849.

Sheldon was the next to go. Leaving Salt Lake in 1848, along with  30 other men found for the placer diggings near hang town, they traveled as far as Mountain Meadows with a larger company who hired Capt. Jefferson Hunt to guide them to Los Angeles over the Old Spanish Trail.

At the Meadows they left Hunt’s party and turned west to take what they thought was a shortcut to the gold fields and for the next 17 days blindly followed a false trail without a guide, compass or map to go by.

On the 18th day, hopelessly lost in facing death without water their lives were spared when a sudden rain squall drenched the area.   As Sheldon later wrote, “We caught the water by spreading out our rubber blankets on the ground and drank it with a spoon.”

They then turned east on the Muddy River, followed at South until they fortunately encountered Capt. Hunt’s company again and accompanied it up the Mojave River, through Cajon Pass and down to the Chino Ranch.

Crowder Canyon, Cajon Pass

Crowder Canyon – Old Spanish Trail

Tragically enough, on the same trip another group of would-be minors left Hunt’s command at Provo, Utah, insisting they also knew a shorter route to the gold fields, only to blunder into Death Valley, where five died before the survivors made it to Los Angeles.

Death Valley

Death Valley

From Chino the party went on to Mariposa, where they broke up to mine, while Stoddard ran a trading post in nearby Carson Valley  for a few months before returning to Salt Lake with a herd of horses and mules.

in March 1851 Sheldon married Jane Hunt, daughter of Capt. Hunt, and the following month they accompanied the first group of Mormon colonizers to the San Bernardino Valley, making temporary camp at Sycamore Grove.

After the Mormons purchased the San Bernardino Rancho that September, and moved down into the valley, Sheldon built the first  log cabin in the settlement on First Street,, west of I Street. His cabin was later moved to and made part of the Westside of this stockade constructed on the present courthouse site as protection against hostile Indians.

For the next 14 years Sheldon Stoddard was engaged in freighting and carrying mail between San Bernardino and Salt Lake City, crossing the Mojave 24 times in all. In 1865 he made one trip to Nevada in Montana with a mule team which covered  over 1300 miles, and took six months to complete.

Arvin Stoddard and his wife also came to San Bernardino with the first Mormon train and lived in the stockade for three years before receiving an urgent message from Mormon leader Brigham Young, authorizing him to investigate a gold strike in the Calico Hills to see if he could ” obtain as much gold as possible to help finance the founding and furtherance of the faith,”  keeping only enough to live on during the venture.

Calico hills

Calico Hills

Arvin and Caroline,  ardent church devotees, packed their wagon and with their poor young children in tow, headed for the hills without hesitation.

Mojave River at Afton Canyon

Mojave River at Afton Canyon

But before looking for gold, Arvin  search for water to raise crops to feed his family and stock and to flush through sluice boxes used to separate flakes of gold from the desert sand.

One of his more successful wells, known as Stoddard Well, is still flowing today and besides furnishing the family with ample water, also  provided and impetus  for others to break out a new road on almost a straight line from Lane’s Crossing,  near today’s Oro Grande, to Fish Ponds Station  between present-day Barstow and Daggett, thereby saving many miles compared with the old route, which followed the westward band of the Mojave River.

Although it took him almost 8 years of prospecting, Arvin  finally struck a rich claim and extracted a sum that Caroline estimated at  $60,000   before calling it quits  and lighting out for Salt Lake City to hand to Brigham Young.

But before they reach the Mormon Temple, they were held up by Indians and robbed of all their hard-earned loot, except for a few thousand dollars hidden in Caroline’s underwear.

As her grandson related, “The Indians were neither red nor brown.  they were more white than any Indian she (Caroline)  had ever seen.”  Caroline deduced they were renegade Mormons, acting on behalf of the church, and  although her suspicions were never resolved, her once benevolent attitude toward the Mormon hierarchy  changed overnight and led to her eventual break  with the church.

In 1869 the Arvin Stoddards  move to Milford, Utah, where they build a hotel called, naturally, “The  Stoddard House,”  where they lived until Caroline died in 1904.

Sheldon Stoddard remained in San Bernardino for the rest of his life, Rev. and honored by all who knew him for his contributions to the county and state.

Blue Cut - Cajon Pass

Blue Cut – Cajon Pass

After serving as president of the pioneer society, he spent his final years  surrounded by old friends like John Brown and Billy Holcomb. They camped and fished together in their mountain retreats and dedicated monuments to the pioneers in Cajon Pass.  he was active up to the day of his death in 1919 at the age of 89.

From:

Heritage Tales 1988
by Fred Holladay
published by the City of San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society

This May Save Your Life!

Letters from the Editor:

Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

“I wanted you to know about my recent brush with death.  I am still shaking a bit but wanted to make sure I wrote down the events exactly as they happened so anyone else in the same situation will know how to save themselves.

I was in my mine. I live in there because the rent is free, I’m close to work, and the temperature is always the same no matter what the season is or what is going on up top.  Well, one day there was a cave-in that sealed off  my exit from the mine and I was stuck in the little room I use for reading. Not much in there, a lantern, a table, a chair, a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.

Certainly this was a dilemma that would take all of my resourcefulness to solve. First, I looked all around the room to see what I ‘saw.’  Then I took the ‘saw’ and cut the table in half.  Well, everyone knows that two halves make a hole so I put them together and crawled right out. Nothing to it–I live to tell the tale.

Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

He always signs like that.

True story!

A Windy City — Barstow

Letters from the Editor:

Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

“Once I was up near Barstow a bit after sunset and it was getting pretty dark so I decided I better head home. I will tell you, it was as windy as I have ever seen it–and it was so windy in fact, that when I turned on the headlights to my truck the wind just blew the light beams right back under the truck. I like to think I am smarter than that, so I turned the truck around and backed up all the way home.

Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

He always signs like that.

Aphid Loaf

Reeds along Big Bear Lake
I have heard the Indians would go to the reeds in the riparian areas where aphids fed in large numbers, brush away the tiny bugs and scrape their shiny-sticky waste from the blades. En masse the material would be shaped into a large, heavy loaf with a hardness and sweetness similar to rock candy. In Jedediah Smith’s first expedition across the Mojave his guides recovered a cache of the sweet bread to supplement their then meatless diet.

“But men accustomed to living on meat and at the same time travelling hard will Eat a surprising quantity of corn and Beans which at this time constituted our principal subsistence.”
~ J.Smith, 1826

Hesperia Lake

This compound is across the dirt road east of the lake. I’ve heard different things about what this complex is, was, was supposed to be and ended up being as well as a couple different things along the way. Mostly, at this point in time, it has been under construction.  It looks cool though and is one of the 7 wonders of Hesperia. I think it probably shrinks anyone who goes inside to about 3/4 scale. I have never seen anyone come out
Round buildings and igloos at Hesperia Lake

Round buildings and igloos at Hesperia Lake

Hesperia Lake:
http://digital-desert.com/a/hesperialake/

Differences

Sometimes the scenery appears to be the same– It looks like that here and there and over there.  Look closer–this sameness is the differences. There are no gradual changes or blending. Everything is this or that.  Hard contrast.  Then, instead of becoming this faceless hole in our memory, we can become aware of our attachment to common reality.

Cajon Pass
Mormon Rocks

Erosion at Mormon Rocks

The sameness of the differences at Mormon Rocks in the Cajon Pass

Dolomite Ghost Town

Dolomite ghost town, Owens Valley

Downtown Dolomite

I suppose the good news is, is that I got this photo of a shack in the little ghost town of Dolomite. I suppose the bad news is that I shot it in 2001 with a low resolution camera. Then again, some good news is that I doubled the size of it and cleaned up a few rough spots on it with my fancy software. And I suppose the bad news is, is that for all my efforts, Dolomite isn’t an authentic ghost town. I’m finding out that it was built for a movie set. It is a bit of good news that the movie was Nevada Smith starring Steve McQueen, one of my favorite movies. The bad news is that I won’t e able to reshoot it because of circumstances beyond my control at the moment. That’s good because it was on private property. It could have been worse when I was caught trespassing the first time. The owner chased me down and started giving me hell for being on his property. So it was a good thing I told him I came in a few miles over and followed the base of the mountain shooting some other ruins while I went along. It was another good thing when he laughed at my little truck and said, “I wouldn’t think you could make it through there in that.” I told him I was just taking some pictures. He told me to “Have at it.”

At least I didn’t get shot.

Dolomite ghost town photos