Category Archives: Mojave River

The Black Bridge

Railroad bridge Victorville, Mojave River

“One of Victor’s (Jacob Nash Victor) greatest contributions was supervision of a number of bridges constructed in San Bernardino County. The first and longest of these was the railroad crossing of the Mojave River in the lower narrows. It is not known just how directly involved he or Perris (Fred T. Perris) were with this project, since their correspondence includes a letter regarding recommendation from New England of another engineer-bridge builder anxious for employment just then. Whoever was directly responsible, huge granite blocks were shaped to fit snugly into cemented buttresses, which have not cracked or moved in over 100 years of continuous use and several devastating floods. The iron bridge, described as one of the finest structures of its kind on this coast, was brought in sections by railroad to Barstow and freighted from there to the site. This bridge was replaced early in the 20th century, including a second set of tracks, but the subsequent structures have all continued to utilize the same basic foundation buttresses. This would be the oldest structure in the region (the buttresses were built in 1885).”

~ History of the Victor Valley – Lyman
Published by Mohahve Historical Society

The Headless Horseman

The famed “Headless Horseman,” found in the desert in 1965 will finally return home Saturday, May 6, 1972. He will go on display for the first time at the Mojave River Valley Museum during the museum’s annual barbecue at Dana Park. Proceeds from the event will be used to continue research to identify the mysterious horseman who met such a sudden and violent death in the sand dunes of what is now the J.D. Mitchell ranch east of Yermo.

The mystery surrounding the Headless Horseman symbolizes the history of the Mojave Desert and particularly the Mojave River Trail. Bones of the man and his horse were found on October 29, 1965, at a dune area that was being leveled by Don Hughes, the picturesque gray-bearded man who was popularly known as Calico’s “uncle Don.”

Hughes was clearing the land when he spotted a highly mineralized axe head. Retracing his bulldozer cut he found a piece of jawbone and skull, then saw bones protruding from the ground thirty feet away. With the help of Mrs. J.D Mitchell he carefully uncovered the find and discovered human bones astride horse bones.

Lt. James K. Harvey and Deputy E.L. Robinson of the Sheriff’s Substation were notified and conducted an investigation along with Deputy County Coroner Walt Terry. Museum director Dr. Gerald Smith and amateur archaeologist Charles Williams excavated and charted the bones, which have been in the custody of the San Bernardino County Museum at Bloomington ever since.

Soon after the find, a drive was started to collect a building fund for a small museum to house the Headless Horseman at Dana Park. With assistance from Barstow service clubs in supporting the museum’s annual barbecues and from sororities, youth clubs and hundreds of individuals, construction began in 1968. Now the unidentified young horseman is returning home to the desert.

An interpretive study of the Headless Horseman does reveal some facts. He was a male, about 21-23, and he was small, probably 5’1″ or 5’2″. His teeth were slightly ground down, indicating some subsistence on stone-ground food containing stone particles. Assumptions could therefore be made that he might have been part Indian and part Mexican or an Indian who worked on a mission or rancho, and he was probably from New Mexico or Southern California.

Another speculation is that he may be a Ute Indian who joined American trappers in raiding California ranches and missions for horses and mules.

It was first thought the young man had been burned because of a black-greenish material found between him and the horse. Closer examination indicated this was homespun cloth discolored by sand, mold and age. The cloth was of two types, one fine-woven and one a burlap like the New Mexican wool blankets, similar to the one in the museum’s Mexican period display.

Three butcher-type knives were found in the upper torso. Since 1826, Jedediah Smith and other trappers had been trading butcher knives with the Ute Indians. Among other items found with the bones were rounded pieces of wood, possibly the remains of a lance; a small metal box containing lumps of yellow vermilion dye which was used by Indians and used to trade with them; a package of percussion caps used in pistols and rifles even after the Civil War; buttons which have not yet been analyzed or classified and various types of cloth. Microscopic study is needed to compare the items with material found in missions and with museum material in New Mexico, Utah and Los Angeles.

Much has also been learned by approaching the mystery from the historic point of view. The discovery area near Minneola Rd. had permanent pools of water until as recently as 30 years ago and was a natural camping spot for the Paiute or Vanyume Indians. The area still shows signs of Indian occupation, chipped chalcedony flakes, broken pottery and fire-broken camp rocks.

When Antonio Armijo opened the New Mexican caravan route to Los Angeles in 1830-31, this became a stopping place before the long stretches between the water holes of Bitter Spring, Salt Springs, the Amargosa River, to Las Vegas and then New Mexico. In every New Mexican expedition there were Indian vaqueros and servants. Frequently the Paiute or Chemehuevi villages were ruthlessly raided for women and children to be sold as slaves to California or New Mexico ranchers.

There were many legitimate traders bringing blankets, serapes and religious items to trade for horses and mules, but they were outnumbered by illegal traders. Choice mules could be purchased for $10 in California and sold for $50 in New Mexico; yet some New Mexicans stole the mules and tame mares or enticed the California Indians to steal them. The inland valley became a grazing area for stolen animals awaiting the yearly traders from New Mexico. The Mojave River Trail was the entry and escape route from 1833 to 1846.

The camping spot on the “Old Spanish Trail,” which was neither old nor Spanish, east of Yermo became known as “Punta de Agua,” or point of water. When the United States took over and opened the military road to Fort Mohave near Needles, the location became known as Forks in the Road. This historic spot (later John Daggett’s Mill and Hawley’s Station) was as important to travelers then as Barstow is today.

Although we know the Mojave River Trail was the key route for legitimate travelers as well as nefarious adventurers, we do not know all the meetings, plans, camping and rendezvous spots the Mojave Desert held before and after the thrusts into the California rancho lands.

Runaway mission Indians, bitter with hatred toward the Mexicans; desert Indians seeking revenge for the annual two-way slave trade of the New Mexicans; the Mohave Indians with a history of disputes with the Spanish, then with the Mexicans; American trappers seeking profits in a world of declining beaver and falling beaver prices; the New Mexicans plotting, who would check in legally to Los Angeles with passports from New Mexico and who would scout the interior valley to trade for stolen mares and mules; Ute Indians under the famed Walkara (Wakara) making his raiding trips, sometimes 1500 miles round-trip. All were a part of the Mojave River scene during the 18th century.

The camping site of Punta de Agua could tell enough stories to fill 1000 novels. One of these could be the unrecorded ambush of a traveler or wrangler bringing in tired horses or an internal dispute between thieves.

The identity of the Headless Horseman may be forever hidden in the mystery of time, space and secrecy.

~ Cliff Walker

(Wm. Mutschler collection)

 

Victor Valley Crossings

Fr. Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, (April 12, 1738 – July 18, 1781) was a Spanish priest who crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776. This map shows his route across the Victor Valley. Following the Mojave River after crossing at Oro Grande he walked through what is now downtown Victorville bypassing the rocky narrows and connecting back with the river near today’s Mojave Narrows Regional Park. Following the river to where the West fork and Deep Creek join to form the Mojave. He visited with the Indians then made his way up Sawpit Canyon and over the mountain ridge descending into the verdant sycamore grove that is known today as Glen Helen.

This map shows the route of Fr. Garces in 1776 during his crossing west. His diary it describes him being taken to an Indian village in the mountains.

50 years after Fr. Garcés made his way across the Mojave from the Colorado River, in 1826, Jedediah Smith retraced the trail of Garcés along the river then up and over the mountains. In 1827, one year after his first crossing, Smith had lost most of his men in a massacre at the Colorado River. Desperate for the safety of civilization, Smith, after crossing the Mojave River in Oro Grande, made his way directly to the Cajon Pass bypassing the San Bernardino Mountains.

The direct route over the summit and down the pass eliminates the steep climb and descent over the San Bernardino Mountains.

Oro Grande

Crossing the Mojave: Kit Carson (1829)

Leaving the headwaters of the Verde River in Arizona the party traveled to the Colorado River to the Mohave villages scattered along the east bank between what is now Topock and Bullhead City in Arizona.  From there they traveled toward the middle of the desert, possibly on the route of either Fr. Garces in 1776, or further north on the trail taken by Jedediah Smith in 1826 and 1827, these converging at the mouth of the Mojave River east of Afton Canyon.  It was two days before they found water after reaching the Mojave River. This may have placed them just east of today’s Barstow, California at a place that was known years later as Fish Ponds.

After four days travel we found water. Before we reached it, the pack mules were strung along the road for several miles. They smelled the water long before we had any hopes of finding any, it made all the best use of the strength left them after their severe sufferings to reach it as soon as they could. We remained here two days. It would have been impracticable  to continue the march without giving the men and animals the rest which they so much required.

Colorado River at Moab

Colorado River at Moab across from Topock, Az.

After remaining in camp two days we resumed our expedition and for four days traveled over a country similar to that which we had traversed before our arrival at the last water. There was no water to be found during this time, and we suffered extremely on the account of it. On the fourth day we arrived on the Colorado of the West, below the great Canyon.

Mojave River fan

Our joy when we discovered the stream can better be imagined than described. We also had suffered greatly for want of food. We met a party of the Mojave Indians and purchase from them a mare, heavy with foal. The mare was killed and eaten by the party with great gusto; even the foal was devoured.  We encamped on the banks of the Colorado three days, recruiting our animals and trading for provisions with the Indians, from home we procured a few beans and some corn. Then we took a southwestern course and in three days march struck the bed of the stream running northeast,  which rises in the Coast Range and its  lost in the sands of the great basin. We proceeded up the stream for six days, and two days after our arrival on it we found water. We then left the stream and traveled in a westerly direction, and in four days arrived at the of Mission San Gabriel.

 

San Gabriel Mission

At the mission there was one priest, 15 soldiers, and about 1000 Indians. They had about 80,000 head of stock, fine fields and vineyards, in fact, it was a paradise on earth. We remained one day at the mission, receiving good treatment from the inhabitants,  and purchasing from them what deep we required. We had nothing but butcher knives to trade, and for four of these they would give us a  beef.

from: The Autobiography of  Kit Carson

Junior’s Ranch

Mrs. Kemper Campbell
by Eva Neal

Mrs. Kemper Campbell, with her husband and their law partner, Mr. Sorenson, acquired the Verde Ranch in 1924. Mrs. Campbell, now 76 years of age, recalls that the original Verde ranch was approximately 4000 acres. The Campbells  retained the north portion of 1900 acres, while Mr. Sorenson retained the south portion. Part of the Kalin ranch, from the south portion along Bear Valley Road, is now being developed for the new Victor Valley College.

Verde/Kemper Campbell Ranch

Verde/Kemper Campbell Ranch

Mrs. Campbell describes the red House is consisting of nine rooms and in good repair.  The “red house” was built in 1870 by John Brown Sr. and was used by the Mormons as a hotel and stopover. It was a meeting place of the pioneers on  their journeys south to the San Bernardino Valley.  In 1867, John Brown homesteaded the Verde Rancho, which became the first major ranch of the Mojave River Valley.  Horse  and cattle raising and production of alfalfa have been the major uses of the ranch by a succession of owners:  the Coles, Sterlings and Greers before the Campbells and Mr. Sorenson became owners. The Campbells operated their portion as a working ranch. In the 1930s they added attractions for guests, and for many years it was well known as the “North  Verde.”  after the death of their oldest son during World War II the name was changed to “Kemper Campbell Jr. Ranch”  in his memory.

Adapted from Mohahve I – Scrapbooks of History, page 93 – Mohahve Historical Society

Bear Lake, Baldwin Lake and Big Bear Lake

in the summer of 1845, Benjamin D Wilson, own part of the interest in the Jurupa Rancho, site of the present city of Riverside, led a troop of Calvary in search of cattle rustlers.

Setting out from San Bernardino Valley, he divided his command. Most of the men he sent through Cajon Pass, keeping only 22 Mexican troopers with him to follow a trail across the mountains. Two days later, Wilson and his men reached the lake where they  sighted scores of grizzly bears.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Most of the soldiers had been vaqueros. They formed in pairs and drew reatas, each pair attacking a bear. One looped a rope around bear’s  neck;  his companion  roped same bear by a hind foot. Then the men drew apart to stretch  the rope taut and hold the bear  a prisoner. They bagged and  skinned eleven bears, stretched  their  hides and continued across the mountains to join the rest of the command on the desert at Rancho Las Flores, on the Mojave River.

Here the reunited party engaged Indians in a fight, after which Wilson and his 22 vaquero-troopers returned home by the way of the lake. They again found the place overrun with bears, and the same 22 soldiers brought in eleven more bears– enough to give them a bear rug apiece as a trophy. It was then that Wilson gave the name of Bear Lake to the little body of water.

Years later the name was changed to Baldwin Lake. The name survives, however, in Big Bear Lake which was created in the site of the Talmadge Ranch in 1884 when a dam was built to provide a constant water supply for the Redlands District.


adapted from ~ Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County – WPA – 1940.

Scouts & Scalps

The characteristic account of the hazards of traveling through the Mojave during pioneer days appears in the journal of General John Charles Fremont. Leading a party of topographical engineers, with the famous Kit Carson and Alex Godey as scouts, Fremont was on the last leg of an exploration trip through  Oregon and California,  and was headed for Salt Lake City when he called camp at the lagoons 8 miles below Yermo for the purpose of killing and jerking enough beef for the long  “jornada” to the next waterhole.

Here, on the afternoon of April 24, 1844, Fremont was surprised by the sudden appearance of two Mexicans, one a man, Andreas Fuentes, the other an 11-year-old boy named Pablo Hernandez. They were members of an advance party of six men and women who had left Los Angeles well ahead of a large caravan, in order that they might travel leisurely with their head of 30 horses. They had reached Agua Archilette (now Resting Springs) , where they decided to remain until the caravan overtook them. While camped here, they were visited by several seemingly friendly Indians. A few days after this they were surprised to see approaching them a large number of Indians, estimated to be about 100.

Resting Springs, Tecopa Ca.

Agua de Archilette (Resting Springs)

The commander of the Mexican party shouted to Fuentes and Pablo, who were on guard duty, to drive the horses to their former water hole. The guards were mounted according to custom and managed to  stampede the horses through the Indian lines despite a volley  of arrows. Knowing they would be pursued, the man and boy drove the horses about 60 miles, halting only to change mounts. When they reached Agua de Tomaso (now Bitter Springs)  they left the horses there and pressed on, hoping to meet the oncoming caravan. Exhausted, the two were overjoyed to find the Fremont party.

Bitter Springs, Agua de Tomosa

Agua de Tomosa (Bitter Springs)

The Fremont cavalcade broke camp immediately, left the river  and,  turning north, followed the old Spanish trail 25 miles to Agua de Tomaso. Here they found traces of recent origin that showed the Indians had captured the horses and run off with them. Carson and Godey, accompanied by Fuentes, decided to follow the marauders. That evening, Fuentes returned alone, his horse having given out.

The scouts had been taken  about 30 hours. They estimated their trip had taken them about 100 miles. At nightfall of the first day they had entered the mountains. Bright moonlight made the pursuit easy for a time, but when they entered a defile, it became necessary to dismount and feel for the trail with their hands. At midnight they lay down to sleep.

Cold as it was, they dared not to make a fire and till morning when in a little ravine, they kindled a tiny  blaze to  warm themselves  before starting on.

Kit Carson

Christopher “Kit” Carson

At daylight they continued their pursuit and about sunrise ran across a few of the missing horses. Concealing their exhausted mounts behind a pile of rocks, they crept toward the crest of a nearby hill, from which they could look down on four lodges and about 30 Indians were gorging themselves on horse meat.

The cautious movements of the scouts disturbed a horse grazing nearby, which snorted, giving  warning of their presence to the feasting Indians. The scouts charged, shouting as they went. Carson downed in the Indian with his first shot. Godey shot twice and hit another. Godey received an arrow through his shirt collar. The rest of the Indians fled, no doubt believing the two men were the advance of a large party.

Carson stood guard while Godey dashed down to scalp the two prostrate figures. As he stripped the scalp from one of them, the Indian regained consciousness and screamed. An old squaw, ascending a nearby hill, turned, hurled a handful of gravel down on Godey, and screeched maledictions.  Godey  mercifully killed the man. Then the scouts returned to the herd and drove it off without interference.

John C. Fremont

John C. Fremont

The scouts’ story told, Fremont ordered camp broken. The party proceeded north across the open plain. Two days later, Fremont came across the bodies of two men, Hernandez, father of Pablo, and another member of the Mexican advance party. Both had been mutilated. Later the bodies of the two women who completed the advance party were discovered, also murdered and mutilated.

adapted from ~ Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County – WPA – 1940.

Indian Raids

Horse Thief Springs - Kingston Range

Horse Thief Springs – Kingston Range

In 1840, raiders under Peg-leg Smith and Wakara, an Indian renegade, made a simultaneous attack against a number of ranches Southern California, and drove off hundreds of horses. Some of these horses came from as far north as San Luis Obispo, but all were run south and into the Mojave Desert through  the Cajon Pass.

When Peg-leg was asked  how many horses had been stolen, he replied, “Only about 3,000. The Spaniards followed us and got half of what we started away with, damn them.” During that wholesale raid, Wakara, alone, leave to have led about 1,000 tame horses from the mission corral at San Luis Obispo.

In 1843, Michael White obtained a grant to the El Cajon de Muscupiabe Rancho in Cajon Canyon, for the purpose of guarding the pass against the Indian raiders. It was the practice of the marauders to slip through the pass in the San Bernardino Mountains, and, under cover of darkness, to rob and pillage. Their constant raiding depleted the Californian’s herds.

In the  early fall of  1845, Governor Pio Pico sent against the plundering Indians  a force of 80 well-armed men under the command of Benjamin D Wilson. Wilson was a native of Tennessee, and had been a trapper in New Mexico when he joined Workman party which entered San Bernardino County in 1841. In 1843 he purchased one half interest in the Jurupa Grant with Juan Bandini.

Following the instructions of the governor, Wilson planned and outfitted its expeditionary force. A pack train and 58 soldiers passed through the Cajon, and Wilson, with 28 Californians, crossed my. From Bear Valley, the Wilson party followed the East Fork of the Mojave River down to the Mojave desert floor. There they joined the other division. For several days the expedition marched northward along the Mojave River. Wilson, riding a mule, was usually two or 3 miles in advance, looking for Indian signs.

On the fourth or fifth day, Wilson saw four Indians coming toward him along the trail. Certain they had not seen him, he turned his mule into the river bed and kept under cover until he judged he was opposite them. When he climbed the bank he called in the savages responded in a friendly manner.

It had been Wilson’s intention to take the Indians prisoners in order to obtain some much needed information, but one of the four was a renegade Indian for all Southern California had been looking– at the notorious Joaquin. This office state have been trained as a page by the Catholic Church at the San Gabriel mission, but a career of crime at brought him the customary reward: a branded lip any crop year.

Wilson commenced a conversation in Spanish, and the Indians to them to be nothing more than a traveler until his force came into view. Joaquin, realizing that Wilson was the vanguard of this group, jerked an arrow from his quiver and strung his bow. Wilson fired from the hip at the same time Joaquin loosed his arrow. The Indian shaft struck Wilson in the right shoulder; the white man’s bullet pierced Joaquin’s breast area the force of the arrow caused Wilson to drop his gun, but the shot had brought Joaquin to the ground where he lay cursing the white race.

The other three Indians made off across the desert. Wilson ordered his soldiers to take them life. The Indians resisted and were killed. Joaquin watching the  slaying of his kinsman continued to pour profanity on Wilson and his kind until a soldier put him to death.

Upon examination of his wound, Wilson found that he had been struck by an arrow made poisonous by putrid meat blood. The Comanche Indian, Lorenzo Trujillo, who had accompanied Wilson from New Mexico suck the blood from the extremely painful wound. Although the swelling began to reduce, Wilson was unable to travel, so he kept five men with him and sent the remainder down the river to find the Indian camp.

After several days,  his command returned to report that they had struck a fresh Indian trail about 10 leagues below Wilson’s camp. Following the trail up a rocky mountain, they discovered Indians hidden among the rocks. The Californians made an attack but were obliged to retreat  with several badly wounded men, leaving the Indians in command of their natural fortress. Wilson’s wound now healed, this first major battle between San Bernardino settlers and Mojave marauders pronounced a draw, and the punitive expedition withdrew to  return the wounded man home.

adapted from ~ Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County – WPA – 1940.

 

A Story of Four Boys

Devil's Canyon, San Bernardino National Forest, Old Spanish Trail

Devil’s Canyon

One day a wagon train rolled in off the desert to San Bernardino. On this wagon train there were four sick and hungry Paiute Indian boys.

Each one of these boys was placed with separate families in San Bernardino, and each one of the boys, living in a good Mormon home, got better.

One boy went rabbit hunting with his foster brother. There they ran into the Thomas brothers who were also out hunting. One brother got into an argument with the Indian boy. They get louder and louder then the Thomas boy raised and aimed his pistol at the Indian and the Indian immediately raised his rifle and shot Thomas. He fell over dead.

Obviously, it was self-defense and no matter how they looked at it at trial it came out self defense. The Indian was acquitted and went free.

Sawpit Canyon. Old Spanish Trail

Sawpit Canyon

Life went on and things seemed as if things were forgotten and when it came time for the Indian boys to go home, an escort was provided for them. The escort was made up of one of the Thomas’ and several of his friends.

The party left San Bernardino and rather than going up the Cajon Pass, they took the old trail up Devil’s Canyon to the ridge then dropped down into Sawpit Canyon. The area was heavily forested and the young Paiute that had killed the Thomas boy figured out what was going on and slipped into the woods escaping.

Summit Valley, Las Flores Ranch

Summit Valley

The remaining three boys were brought down into what is now the Las Flores Ranch area and summarily murdered. Then they were decapitated and their heads placed on the top of long poles.

Not much was ever mentioned of the incident afterwards most, likely because the boys killed were Indian.

A few years later a caretaker on the property found two of the skulls. He took them and nailed one to each of the gate posts at the entry to the ranch. Being the braggart that he was, he would tell the story of the Indian skulls nailed to the gate and if an Indian wanted to know what that story was, they were welcome to come and an he would happily show them.

(retold from History of Victor Valley – Lyman)