Category Archives: Trails & Trains

Fort Piute

Piute Hill Fort Best Preserved Mojave Outpost

By L. BURR BELDEN

Fortifications along the western extension of the Santa Fe trail, route of the Whipple survey, were built initially because of Indian attacks on covered wagon trains of settlers. The Mojave War followed the massacre of one train by Indians at the Colorado River crossing a few miles above the present Needles.

Paiute Creek

Paiute Creek

The Army was not slow in punishing the Mojave tribes, and entire regiment being collected at Fort Yuma and going upstream. This was in the winter of 1858-59. The initial fort, Ft. Mojave, was established at the time. Supplying of this river outpost was both expensive and difficult.

Soldiers attacked

Lt. Col. William Hoffman

Lt. Col. William Hoffman

The road over the desert San Bernardino had been given a bad name by Lt. Col. William Hoffman would take in the company of mounted infantry in a small dragoon escort from the Cajon Pass to the river. Hoffman’s command had been attacked by Indians in route. The Col. was under orders to find a site for a desert fort. He saw nothing between Summit Valley in the river he considered a likely site. In fact, Hoffman condemned the entire route as unsuited for travel.

It is probable the Hoffman report influenced the Army in initially supplying Fort Mojave by steamer from Yuma.  When the river was slow and supplies could not be taken at far upstream the fort garrison was desperate. At this juncture In Winfred Scott Hancock, the same officer who appeared in a recent issue of the series, called on the Banning stage and freight lines to take supplies through. Banning’s experience Teamsters had no trouble They drove again heavy freight wagons, each drawn by eight mule teams to the river in 16 days. The Fort Mojave garrison again had both food and ammunition.

Cady Old Site

Hancock at the time an assistant quartermaster, prove that not only the Mojave Valley road was practical. He also reduce the Army’s transport expense to Fort Mojave by two thirds. The hall from drum barracks at Wilmington to the Colorado River via Cajon Pass cost only a third as much per pound as the long water haul around Baja California and transfer shipment to river  steamer.

Ives Expedition steamboat and crew heading up the Colorado River, 1857.

Ives Expedition steamboat and crew heading up the Colorado River, 1857.

The site of Camp Cady  was used as an Indian “fort” even before California became a part of the United States. Indians engaged in stealing horses from the Mexican ranchos built a crude sort of stronghold on the rocky hillsides of the Mojave River near that spot. It was a few miles East of the old Spanish Trail and also guarded the entrance to narrow Afton Canyon which could serve as an escape route if pursuit became too hot.

Afton Canyon

Afton Canyon

There is documentary evidence of the Indian use of their crude stronghold in 1845 point Benjamin Wilson, the Don Benito of Mexican rule, meeting Indians there in battle in 1845 a few days after the historic discovery of Bear Valley.

California Governor Pio Pico

Governor Pio Pico

Wilson’s account of the pursuit of the horse thieves attributed depredations to renegade Indians from Mission San Gabriel but it is probable Sun desert tribes had Braves in the raiding parties. Wilson was alcalde  at Jurupa  and was called upon by Gov. Pico to punish the Indians. The acalde  gathered a large posse including 22 young Californians mounted on fleet horses. The larger party in fact train went up Cajon Pass. Wilson in the young ranchers took the route up to Santa Ana Canyon, enjoyed hunting bear in what Wilson named Bear Valley, and joined the pack train somewhere near Rancho Verde  in the present Apple Valley.

Wilson, wounded by a poisoned arrow, had his life saved by Lorenzo Trujillo. Trujillo, a New Mexican, was leader in the little colony of Agua Mansa  and its twin town, Trujillo. In the Apple Valley fight the Indians were defeated in three of them killed. Wilson shot the notorious Joaquin, the ex-mission Indian, who was a ringleader among the horse thieves.

Don Benito Wilson

Don Benito Wilson

Several of Wilson’s Horseman pursued the remnant of the Indians down the Mojave  though the wounded Wilson was forced to turn back. Nothing Indians halted in their crude fort near the site of Camp Cady. There, though the entrenched behind rocks, they were again defeated and dispersed.

In addition to the soldiers at the Mojave Desert forts there were a few civilians quartered at some of the posts. For instance, the returns of Camp Cady for December 1866  indicate an assistant wagon master was stationed there. He was paid $75 a month. Teamsters, their number not specified, received hundred and $75 a month, and herders $35 a month.  Other notations would indicate the herders, at least some of them, were Indians. The Teamsters, whose work was the most skilled, where the aristocrats of the road whether they drove Concord stages and six horses or whipped along multiple freight teams. The Army officers themselves received far less pay.

There were also, at least at Cady  and Mojave, sutler stores. The Army had no canteen or post exchange in that. And contractors, called settlers,  were granted the privilege of establishing stores on military reservations and also, for that matter, with armies in the field. Suites that supplemented the monotonous menu, tobacco and whiskey as well as such notions as red, writing paper and ink were for sale at the  sutler stores.

Summit Valley

He (Hoffman) saw nothing between Summit Valley in the river he considered a likely site. In fact, Hoffman condemned the entire route as unsuited for travel.

Soldiers receiving $7.50 a month did not have much money to spend but there was no place to go and as a result the software store almost invariably raked in the Army man’s wages. Passing travelers also helps well the sutler income.

The system was a poor one, and the cause of continuous complaint. The soldier, at times was victimized both by high prices in shoddy material. At one juncture soldier resentment in Camp Cady  passed the usual grumbling stage and the garrison simply looted the store.

Looting did not satisfy the enraged soldiery. They set fire to the store and literally drove the hated  sutler from the camp. The sutler came to San Bernardino and swore out complaints.  That was in August 1867 after Camp Cady  was manned by regulars.

First Lieut. Manual Eyre Jr.  in command at Cady, reported the affair to first Lieut. C. H. Shepherd, assistant adjutant general at Fort Mojave. He said:

“Yesterday the sheriff was here and took with him five of my men for preliminary examination under charges of arson and robbery. The case is stated in my letter addressed to a AAAG  at your headquarters, dated August 8, 1867. I should, I think, be in San Bernardino during the trial of these men, if they are held for trial. I also desire to present before the grand jury’s citizens who have harbored deserters.

“The posted by you till will be established under superintendence of an officer from Mojave. Could not an officer be spared temporarily to  relieved Lieut. Drum and allow him to relieve me for 10 days or two weeks? If the Rock Springs garrison is withdrawn, I can leave Lieut. Drum here in command until my return?

“The intention of this man Dead (the sutler)  is evident to me. He will try to obtain money from these men to let them off. If so, I would like to be present to prosecute him for attempting to compound a felony. I am of the opinion that, as much as  I dislike it, I should be in San Bernardino as soon as possible, even if the men are released after preliminary examination when, of course they would be turned loose 100 miles from camp to find their way as they see fit.”

Both because it served as a headquarters post, and because it was maintained long after the little way stations along the Old Government Road were abandoned, Fort Mojave is far better known than such points as Fort Piute, Rock Springs, Marl Spring, Fort Soda, Bitter Spring, Resting Springs or even Cady.

Fort Pah-ute ruins

Fort Pah-ute ruins

Until recent years Fort Mojave was maintained as an Indian school. When it ceased to be an army post, however, it is records were moved. Some were taken to Whipple barracks in Prescott, others to the Presidio at San Francisco. For Mojave, however had a wealth of old records that escaped attention of the detail entrusted to their moving. Within the past few years the grounds of the old fort were converted to agricultural use. The remains of an old adobe building were bulldozed flat. In the process the bulldozer broke through an old wooden floor long covered with several inches of earth. The accident disclosed a long forgotten cellar. In it were scores of packing boxes containing more records. These were assembled and shipped to Washington. Stacked in a line these rediscovered records stretch 29 feet.

As yet this latest ” mine”  of Pioneer Army records has not been made available to historical researchers. Presumably in a few years, however, they will have been cleaned, indexed and deposited in the national archives and will furnish a far more detailed commentary on conditions in the Southwest during the pre-railroad decades,, and on Army activities at a dozen or more all but forgotten published such as Las Vegas, Resting Springs, El Dorado Canyon, and numerous early Arizona camps. Frequent transfers of headquarters seem to have  made Fort Mojave a convenient depository  for numerous papers no one wanted to which, under regulations, could not be destroyed. Paperwork in the military was almost as involved in the mid-19th century as it is today. Doubtless the company clerk of the Battalion Sgt. major of 1867 rebelled inwardly at the detail required of his job and doubtless to adjutants were hard put to find storage space for the growing mountains of paper but to their credit it must be noted they observed the rules and did not indulge in the periodic bonfires that mark some of the other branches of the federal service. For instance, research on Colorado River steamers is difficult because the customs offices of registry made it a practice to destroy old records.

 

 

 

Victor Valley Volcano

The Wheeler map made in the 1880s shows a volcano between what is Victorville and Barstow.

The questions is; Is the “Volcano” either Stoddard Mountain or Bell Mountain?

Wheeler map 1880s Mojave Desert

Volcano location on 1880s map.

Stoddard Mountain and Bell Mountain (USGS map.

This USGS map shows the location of both Stoddard Mountain (yellow dot) and Bell Mountain (blue dot).

Both maps are superimposed and reconciled to critical match points.

The USGS map layer is replaced with the 1880s map layer and the layer with the location dots is turned on.

So it looks as if the “Volcano” is nowadays known as Stoddard Mountain.

Maybe next time; Is Stoddard Mountain a real volcano?

The High Desert Illusion

Does this …
… Blow your mind?

profile of elevations in the cajon pass - chard walker
— Cajon Junction (el. 2950′) at I-15 and Hwy. 138 is actually at about a 300′ higher elevation than Victorville (el. 2650′). The slope from the summit to Victorville is gradual, not as noticeable, and provides us with the illusion that we are further up than we actually are.

 

Michael White (Miguel Blanco) & Rancho Muscupiabe

The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.

Map of some of the land grants and ranchos in southern California

The rich ranchos of southern California.

California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal.  The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the  Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.

Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.

Devore, ca. at mouth of Cajon Pass

From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for horse thieves entering the Cajon.

 

In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.

Map of Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco

Muscupiabe Rancho

 

 

 

Crowder Canyon/Coyote Canyon along Old Spanish Trail/John Brown Toll Road

Hundreds and sometime even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock, in debt and bitter.

Crowder Canyon map in Cajon Pass

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon – Initially named ‘Coyote’ canyon for Chief Coyote, a horse thief who was killed by Miguel Blanco within the narrow canyon walls.

As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback.

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.

September 1883 – the Cajon Pass

September 1883 to California Southern Railroad, with Santa Fe backing, completed its line northward from National City ( just south of San Diego)  to San Bernardino. The next step was to build a line to connect with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad’s line  from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Needles, and the California Southern Extension Railroad was formed for this purpose. The A&P was known as the  35th Parallel Route and was a joint venture  by  the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (the AT&SF  railroad became the AT&SF  railway in December 1895)   and the St. Louis in San Francisco Railway (Frisco).

Cajon Canyon

A railroad line across the Mojave desert from Mojave to needles, at the Colorado River,  had been built by the Southern Pacific in 1882- 1883 to thwart the A&P’s  westward advance,  but was later acquired by the A&P  in a trade wherein SP  obtained Santa Fe’s line to Guaymas, Mexico. Prior to this swap,  the A&P  least the  Needles-Mojave  line from the SP beginning October 1, 1884, and its trains make connection with SP trains at Mojave.

The SP plan to build a line overcome would pass to connect its San Joaquin Valley line with its line from Los Angeles to El Paso, and kept a watchful eye for any activity that might indicate that another railroad was intending to build through the Pass.  Thus, when CSRR’s  chief engineer, Fred T Perris, and his survey party settled up their horses and headed eastward from San Bernardino through San Gorgonio Pass  at Beaumont indents to Morongo Valley,   some 40 miles (64km)  east of Cajon Pass,  SP observers were confident that this CSRR  had a different route in mind and would not attempt to build through Cajon.

Then Perris, one certainly was not being followed, headed westward through Lucerne Valley in approach cone pass from the east by a more southerly route,  where the Pass  could be entered at a much lower elevation than the LA&I’s  abandoned, several miles to the northwest. No tunnel would be needed along this route, but extensive cutting and filling would be required in the first few miles below the canyon rim.

by the time the SP realized what Paris was up to, his party had staked a line through the Pass, and the California Southern Extension Railroad was soon being constructed between San Bernardino and Waterman Junction (shortly to be renamed Barstow after William Barstow Strong, president of the Santa Fe)  on the A&P The last spike was driven November 9, 1885, and the city of San Diego now had a rail connection to the east.

More than eight decades would pass before SP rails entered the Cajon Pass.

A network of railroads grew rapidly throughout Southern California, and in 1889  the California Southern Railroad  and two other short lines were merged into Southern California Railway Company.  in 1897, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company took over the A&P  and reorganized it under the name Santa Fe Pacific. In 1902 the  Santa Fe Pacific became just another part of the AT&SF, and in 1906 the Southern California Railway lost its name to the Santa Fe system.

from:
Cajon,  Rail Passage to the Pacific by Chard  L. Walker
Trans-Anglo BooksGlendale, California

An Invitation to Summit

Dear Sir:

When I came over here three months ago, I brought four copies of Desert with me. Needless to say they have become rather dogeared as I have read them from cover to cover several times, and passed them around to my friends who have enjoyed them immensely.

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

The last day I was in sunny Southern California (it rained all the time I was in Frisco waiting to embark), I made one last sojourn to our desert retreat—the summit of Cajon pass. Few people know of this unique retreat, except those who pass by on the trains, and then all they see is a street-car tucked awav on the side of a hill, 200 yards from the tracks.

The street-car is the former Los Angeles railway’s funeral car Descanso. A group of railfans, known as Railroad Boosters, became interested when it was known the car was to be scrapped,and decided something should be done about it. So far as we were able to tell the Descanso was the only funeral car in existence, and to delegate such an ornate car to the junk heap was not a very fitting end. The L. A. railway then told us that if we could find a place to put it we could have it as a sort of museum piece. After several months of scouting around, we decided on summit. On July 4, 1940, the Descanso was hauled up to summit by flatcar on the Santa Fe. Eight of us spent a very strenuous day unloading the car. It weighed 18 tons.

Chard Walker watching trains pass from the terrace beside the Decanso in 1954. From his book, “Railroading in the Pass”

Three weekends were spent in getting the car to its present position, by the tedious process of laying a section of track in front, pulling the car up with a truck by means of block and tackle, then picking up the section in the rear, placing it up front again, etc. Then began the process of scraping off the old paint, removing the seats, and taking out a few of the unnecessary controllers, etc.

Route 66, Cajon Pass

Route 66, Cajon Pass

In the two years that have passed since its arrival at summit, the Descanso has gradually transformed from a dirty looking old streetcar, to that of a newly painted, well furnished cabin. From the exterior it still has the same general appearance of a streetcar as it still is on wheels on a section of rail, the trolley is still up, and still has the stained glass in the upper halves of the windows.

Quite a change has taken place on the interior though. Only two of the original seats are left in place with a folding table in between. A pot bellied stove, and a wheesy old phonograph well stocked with records, dominate the center of the car, while an icebox, a few chairs and another table and a small but complete kitchen take up the rest of the available space. Eventually we may put some folding bunks in one end, but due to material shortage, we content ourselves with sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags.

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon - Summit Valley

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon (Summit Valley)

We find it an ideal spot to go on a weekend, either as a home camp for a small hunting expedition, or for hiking up and down the railroad, the mountains, or just to lie around in the sun and watch the trains go by.

For anyone wishing to visit Summit, just go up Cajon Pass on U. S. 66 to Camp Cajon, and turn east (right if leaving from San Bernardino). This road is known as the back road to Arrowhead. It’s about five miles from 66 to Summit which can’t be missed as the road leaves the twisting mountain road onto the level Summit valley road. Off to the left about a quarter of a mile is the railroad station of Summit with its scattering of section houses and the post office. The Descanso is directly behind the station.

Summit

Summit

In closing I wish to extend a cordial welcome to anyone visiting Summit, and wish I could be there and meet them personally. Until the war ends I’ve got to be content to visit the desert via Desert Magazine.

Robert W. McGrew – Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii

1864 Travel Tip – Hold Hostages

From the diary of Sarah J. Rousseau , 1864:
Regarding traveling with Indians across the Mojave

Sunday, November 6 … The lava that has been thrown out looks like cinders. The mountains, some of them have a grand appearance, some a red color while others have a white appearance. Some of them I think must be 400 feet high. This canyon is called Diamond. at the mouth it takes us into Santa Clara Valley which we traveled through and down a pretty dangerous hill to Santa Clara Creek where we got food and shelter for horses. Here came a number of Paiute Indians. they are a tribe that is very fond of horse flesh to eat, and will steal anything they can lay their hands on. We have came today 20 miles.

Santa Clara/Virgin River divide

Monday, November 7. Started from camp late this morning. It is a cold, windy time. The Dr. had to prescribe and deal out medicine for a little child that belonged to a Mormon Bishop. About breakfast time a number of Indians came to the camp and we gave some their breakfast. When we started four of them started with us, three of them on foot and one on horseback. They are miserable looking creatures. Some of them almost entirely destitute of clothing. I believe it is their intention to go to the Muddy with us. as for me I would rather have their room than their company. I am afraid of them. We have crossed the Santa Clara 15 times this morning, and have now camped. It is cold and windy, a real disagreeable time.

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Tuesday, November 8. A cold blustering morning, the wind blowing hard all night. Started from our camp rather late with an escort of from 10 to 15 Paiute Indians. Last night two of them stayed with us as prisoners. Our guide, Mr. Hatten, said it would not do to let them leave camp after dark, as they might get some other Indians, come back and do us some mischief. We started from camp with five, which increased to 15 of them. We crossed the Santa Clara this morning 14 times in after going 12 miles made a dry camp at Camp Springs, having filled our kegs the last crossing place. the Indian chief told the guide we must all give them something for traveling through their country, to renumerate them for using water and grass. We all gave them some flour. We intend to let them have the care of our horses tonight, they are going to take the cattle as well. The Chief with four others we kept as prisoners till morning when they bring back the stock. Then they will be free.

Virgin River

Virgin River

Wednesday, November 9. A pretty warm morning. Started from camp about sunup. The Indians brought back the stock safely back. Left camp with our escort, traveled over some rough roads till noon. This afternoon the road’s much better. Passed over the summit between the Clara and Virgin, went 5 miles in the canyon and camped. Some grass for the stock but no water.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp Wyatt's dad.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp

Thursday, November 10. A cool but pleasant morning. Last night the Indians were prisoners again. They left the stock go on to the mountains to feed. We fed five among us. All are willing to do so but Mr. Earp. He swears and cuts up about it, although he derives the same benefit as the rest of us. I fear he may cause us some trouble when we get to the Muddy. … “

Trains & Railroads

Victor Valley

Van Dusen Road Notes

Point of Van Dusen Road crossing Mojave River, Hesperia, CA. Looking toward Apple Valley and Marianas Mountains

The Van Dusen Road branched off from John Brown’s toll road heading east along the ridge after reaching the Cajon Summit.   The road  found its way down the Antelope Valley Wash to the Mojave River.  At this point the trail crossed through the soft sand and ascended through a small  canyon  at the base of the mountains, finding its way east then southeast to Rock Springs. From the springs the road then branched to the left heading east to Holcomb Valley becoming what is now known as the Coxey Truck Trail.

Looking west up Antelope Valley Wash from the Mojave River toward Cajon Summit

by Walter Feller – 2017