Category Archives: Trails & Trains

Death Valley Scotty Special

Death Valley Scotty Special

In 1905, in an attempt to break the speed record from Los Angeles to Chicago, Walter “Death Valley Scotty” Scott paid the Santa Fe Railroad a purported $5500 to rent a three car train pulled by 19 different steam locomotives. The trip began in Los Angeles on 9 July and arrived in Chicago 44 hours 54 minutes later, a record that stood until 1936  when it was broken by the Super Chief.  The  Barstow to Needles segment of the run took just three hours and 15 minutes. Also known as the Coyote Special.

from:
Mojave Desert Dictionary – Patricia A. Schoffstall
Mojave River Valley Museum
 Barstow, California

Ghost Train: Tall Tale

Bill Sanger was known to have ridden the rods all over the map. In his time he had seen all there was to see. One day he was talking with Jim Craig about  mirages. Mirages are common sites. You see a lot of them, millions of them, in the dry lake bed out there at Amboy.

Bristol Lake - Amboy, CA.

Bristol Lake – Amboy, CA.

“Bill,”  said Jim, “did you ever see the city that  gleams out there on  the lake in hot weather?”
“Yeah,”  Bill replied.
“What you make of it?”  said Jim.
Nothing,”  Bill answered.  “I do not hold with those dude scientists, that try to explain goes by saying the light rays pick up the picture hundreds of miles away and then bend it back and drop that same picture out there on the lake.  It do not make sense. They’re ghosts, that is what they are. Just plain ghosts.
“One time,” Bill went on, “I nearly killed myself trying to hop a ghost train pulling out across Bristol Lake. I was walking out toward the salt works when  along came a freight, not going very fast. I forgot where I was, and made a run for it.  it started to pick up speed, so I gave a leap and grabbed on– nothing!
“I sprawled out flat on that dry lake bed. I looked up and saw the ghost train running in long as nice as you please– 42 cars and one caboose I counted.  they road right smack over me and never even must my shirt. They are ghosts I tell you. Ghosts!”
from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

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

Back on the Trail

Photo of a possible trace of the Old Spanish Trail/Mormon Road near Hesperia

“It looked a lot straighter on the map.” – Anonymous

The Mormon Road going south across the Oro Grande Wash would come up and head straight into the Joshua trees and juniper woodland.  The slope was fair, the ground hard and the trail reasonably straight.  There were variations, though.  To the eyes of one, one way around a bush may look easier than it does to another.  Trails evolve.  If one branch is significantly better than another, that branch becomes wider and more popular. These branches and shortcuts may join together later.  These variations due to mankind and weather begin a process I have heard to be called, “braiding.”  It is quite possible for the main alignment, the busiest, the center-most version in the corridor to remain in use providing its continued existence to this very day.

The Father of San Bernardino County

Captain Jefferson Hunt
b. January 20, 1803
d. May 11, 1879

picture of Jefferson Hunt

Jefferson Hunt – LDS photo.

… Jefferson Hunt had rejoined his family at Salt Lake Valley after the close of his military service, and he was called by President Young in November of 1847 to return to California to purchase seed, livestock and supplies for the people of the Church. There were eighteen in the company, including his sons, Gilbert, John and Peter Nease. On this trip they suffered greatly for food, having to subsist for some days upon the flesh of their work mules, but through all such ordeals, Great Grandfather rose to the occasion and manifested the great strength of body and mind necessary for a wise father and leader of men to possess. The little boys, John and Peter, suffered greatly on this trip, being only 14 years old and not accustomed to starving. They returned to Salt Lake in May, 1848, bringing horses, mules, cattle, seed and provisions. During the following two or three years he acted as pilot and guide to companies of gold seekers going to California.

In 1851, Jefferson Hunt was called by the leaders of the Church to go with Apostle Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich to establish a Mormon colony in San Bernardino, California.

In the years that followed, he served his church as a member of the High Council of San Bernardino. He served his church and the State of California as a member of the legislature for six years, and he was appointed with a delegation of California lawmakers to go on a special mission to Washington D.C. Their trip from California to Independence Missouri was all accomplished on horseback.

With the coming of Johnston’s Army to Utah in 1857, Jefferson Hunt responded to the call of Brigham Young, and with the other loyal members of the church they left their homes in San Bernardino and came to Utah.

His service to the State of California was recognized in tribute paid to him by the California historian Ingersol: “Captain Hunt was a man of strong character, deeply religious by nature, he believed with his heart in the divine revelations of the Mormon Doctrines. Energetic, clear sighted and indomitable in will, he was especially fitted for the leadership, which he always acquired in whatever position he was placed. Generous to a fault, his home was open to his less fortunate brethren, and he gave a helping hand to many a needy man, saint and gentile alike for he was above petty distinction. He deserves a large place in the memory of the citizens of San Bernardino for he filled a large place in the early and vital events in the history of the town and country. While he served as legislator he introduced the bill to divide Los Angeles County from San Bernardino County, and has been known since as the Father of San Bernardino County.”
~

Adapted from a copy of an address given at the dedication of a monument erected at the grave of Captain Jefferson Hunt in 1950. The speaker was his great grandson, Jesse A Udall.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22927878

Las Vegas Valley – Setting the Stage

During the Spanish Colonial Period (1542-1821) in the American Southwest, the Spanish empire was competing for control over resources with the British, French, and Russian monarchies. They attempted to link colonies in the Spanish territories, later known as the New Mexico and California, by establishing trade routes to form a passageway across the entire Southwest desert region. The Old Spanish Trail was used commercially to link the towns that would later become Los Angeles, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1829 until 1848. The abundant spring water available in the Las Vegas (meaning “the meadows” in Spanish) Valley made it an ideal resting point on the trail.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

The presence of the valley springs also drew the Southern Paiute Indians, a nomadic people moving frequently during the year, who made the valley their winter homeland. They raised small crops near the springs in the valley, which provided water and food for the Indians inhabiting the area and later for travelers making their way across the desert.

The Las Vegas Valley would become an attractive place for other European-American settlers as well. One group of settlers looking for a new home was the Mormons–also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–a religious sect organized by Joseph Smith in New York in 1830. Based on the Book of Mormon, which Smith said was revealed to him by heavenly messengers, this religious body felt called to restore the authentic church established by Jesus and his Apostles. The history of the Mormons is dramatic–filled with persecution, an exodus from the eastern part of the United States, and ultimately successful establishment of a thriving religious society in a desert. The Mormons formed in upstate New York, an area where the Second Great Awakening was most popular as the United States underwent a widespread flowering of religious sentiment and unprecedented expansion of church membership. The group was forced to move several times because of conflicts with residents in various places where they settled, including Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. They were accused of blasphemy and inciting slave insurrections. After Smith was killed by an angry mob in Illinois in 1844, it became necessary for the Mormons to find a new home once again.

A new leader emerged to guide the Mormons to a new Zion at the Great Salt Lake. Under the direction of Brigham Young, they began an arduous journey West to what would become Utah, where they arrived in July of 1847. In 1848, after the war with Mexico, the United States acquired the majority of what now constitutes the American Southwest. The Mormons petitioned Congress to become the State of Deseret, a word from the Book of Mormon signifying honeybee which was considered an industrious creature, but they were only allowed territorial status. Congress established the Territory of Utah, named for a local Indian tribe, and President Fillmore appointed Brigham Young governor in 1851. Young also became superintendent of Indian affairs. He oversaw the building of Salt Lake City and hundreds of other southwestern communities.

In the middle of the 19th century, the idea of “Manifest Destiny”–a phrase used to explain continental expansion by the U.S.–was embraced by many American people, including the Mormons. They began an industrious campaign to colonize Utah and beyond, establishing hundreds of settlements throughout the West and Southwest. As part of this process, Brigham Young called on volunteers to create a Las Vegas Mission, which would be strategically located alongside the Mormon Road (a portion of the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California), halfway between the Mormon settlements of southern Utah and the San Bernardino Mission in southern California. There were eventually 96 settlements that included Lehi, Provo, Payson, Nephi, Fillmore, Beaver, Parowan and Cedar City. Meanwhile, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 made southern Nevada a corridor for westward emigrants and gold seekers. A gold seeker wrote in his diary on November 21, 1849 about stopping at the Las Vegas creek. Offering the only reliable supply of water for a 55-mile stretch along the Mormon Road, the Las Vegas Valley’s springs were important for watering the mules, horses and oxen of travelers crossing the region’s harsh desert environment. With the opening of the San Bernardino settlement in 1851, there was an additional need for a way station at the Las Vegas springs to provide supplies and rest. The mission the Mormons established as part of the Church’s westward expansion out of Utah became the first non-native settlement in the area, and the Mormons hoped to bring the American Indians into their flock. Although the Mormons occupied the site only from 1855 to 1858, it affected the development of what was to become southern Nevada.

Source – National Park Service

Huntington’s Station

Huntington’s Station was the first trading post in the area, and although Heber Huntington only owned it from 1873 to 1878, it remained known as Huntington’s Station until the the railroad came through and renamed it Victor. The river crossing with a few modern exceptions as the Narrows Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, and the cement plant looks much the same today as it did in 1872 when Mecham built what has become Stoddard Wells Road.

Mojave River, Victorville

Mojave River at Huntington’s Crossing

 

Little Ellen Baley – Lost in the Desert Night

During this phase of the journey the wagon train was doing much of its traveling at night, owing to the great daytime heat of the desert and the long distances between water holes. At regular intervals during the night they would stop for a short rest. At one of these rest stops, eleven-year-old Ellen Baley, a daughter of Gillum and Permelia Baley, fell asleep and failed to awaken when the wagon train moved on. Somehow, she was not missed until the train traveled some distance. The poor girl awoke to find herself alone in the middle of a vast hostile desert. Filled with fright, she began running to catch up with the wagon train, but in her confusion she took off in the opposite direction. When she was discovered missing, her father and older brother, George, immediately rode back to where they had stopped. To their horror, she was not there! Captured by the Indians must have been their conclusion! Nevertheless, they continued their search by calling out the little girl’s name at the top of their voices as they rode back.Their efforts were soon rewarded when, far off in the distance, came a faint cry, “Papa, Papa.” Her father immediately answered and kept calling her name until he caught up with her.When reunited with her family and the other members of the wagon train, Ellen had a tale which would be told and retold by family members until the present day.

from –
Disaster at the Colorado
Beale’s Wagon Road and the First Emigrant Party

~ Charles W. Baley

I’ve been Working on the Railword

Train rolling through Mojave Desert

Southbound out of Barstow, Ca.


“BOOMER—Drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time on each job or each road. This term dates back to pioneer days when men followed boom camps. The opposite is home guard. Boomers should not be confused with tramps, although they occasionally became tramps. Boomers were railroad workers often in big demand because of their wide experience, sometimes blackballed because their tenure of stay was uncertain. Their common practice was to follow the “rushes”-that is, to apply for seasonal jobs when and where they were most needed, when the movement of strawberry crops, watermelons, grain, etc., was making the railroads temporarily short-handed. There are virtually no boomers in North America today. When men are needed for seasonal jobs they are called from the extra board”

~ from Railroad Avenue, by Freeman H. Hubbard – 1945

Train Wreck

In August of 1907 a brakeman at Cajon Summit station failed to secure a train while unhitching helper engines and over fifty cars began rolling out of control down the grade into the Victor Valley.  After seven miles of plummeting down the tracks thirteen cars derailed.  A few miles further thirty more cars failed to make the curve before passing through the Upper Narrows. One after another they hurtled into the river bursting into flames.  There were cattle on the train too. Many survived the initial accident, but died soon afterward.  The last nine cars, with a frightened local rancher on the lead caboose, rolled to a stop in Oro Grande.mojave desert train derailment

In the ashes of one car that burned for over a week, there wear four hats found. The brakeman, it was discovered, had been selling rides to hobos for $1.  Those at the scene agreed that there were at least that many that died.599-train-wreck-2Photos – courtesy B.F. Minister