It seems that people have made use of the San Andreas Fault long before automobile or even wagon roads were developed along its seam. Shown is a 1901 U.S.G.S. map where I have traced the route leading from near Blue Cut in the Cajon Pass, just about straight northwest to Valyermo. The dotted line portion shown at the Big Pines saddle may have been either a mule trail or a road possibly impassible or without increased effort by wagon or auto. Indians likely used the features of the fault as a footpath to do as we all do; go from here to there.
It is the strangest thing; the river; I follow it downstream and it becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. With every step, it becomes less and less and less. The water diminishes and depletes until it is just a trickle, until a glisten, until just a wet spot surrounded by damp sand, and then nothing. That is how this river ends–not mightily at an ocean, but quietly, subdued in the sand and rubble and stone becoming as if it never were.
On July 5, nine miles of the Barstow Freeway, known locally as the “Barstow By-Pass”, were opened to traffic by construction contractors Gordon H. Ball and Ball & Simpson.
The project is an extension of the 24-mile freeway from Victorville to Barstow which was opened in January 1959. It makes available the improvement to full freeway standards of an important link of Federal Interstate Route 1 S (U.S. 91) and the first step of freeway improvement of Interstate Route 40 (U.S. 66) toward Needles.
Not all-inclusive, this 1901 map shows basic transportation routes between the Cajon Summit on the west and east from there through either the San Bernardino Mountains or Lucerne Valley to where the two roads meet in the Big Bear Valley.
This map below was made in 1883 and shows an earlier and geographically expanded version of the routes.
The 1883 map is more inclusive and contains a couple of items I want to keep track of. There are differences but the road segments look about the same.
I made a copy of the 1883 roads layer and made it red to stand out better.
There are some nuances between the two maps, and right now the Oro Grande Wash area seems considerably off, fiddling with it some I can get a better fit–but not at these rates. The 1901 would be the more accurate depiction of what went on out there even if it were 35 years or so after the fact.
Note that in the above map the variations of trails from across the valley leading to the Cajon Summit seem not to have been developed at this time and instead the trail along the Mojave River is shown.
Traders in the caravans coming to California did not just trade with those at the missions, but with any group or community they came across. The little settlement of Agua Mansa enjoyed the benefit of being the first village of any size once the mule trains dropped in from the mountains after crossing the deserts.
It was called Aqua Mansa, meaning Gentle Water, and was composed entirely of immigrants from New Mexico, numbering some 200 souls–simple, good souls they were, too, primitive in their style of living, kind and hospitable to strangers, rich in all that went to make people happy and content, never having been, up to that time, vexed by the unceremonious calls of the tax collector, owing allegiance to none save the simple, kindhearted old priest who looked after their spiritual welfare. With peace and plenty surrounding them, the good people of Aqua Mansa went to make as contented and happy of people as could be found in the universe.
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 that 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
Originally, possibly a footpath for trade and society. There is no written record of that. After explorers, and then trade caravans wore in mule trails and braided paths as travelers do, to find the path of least resistance. Following the Mojave River, and to get to the hills and valleys of southern California this route was the most direct way, and indeed it was the only way for miles and miles in either direction where wagons could pass through the mountains.
All the frayed trails come together at essentially one point. Within a few yards either way, most all travelers would pass through this trail bottleneck. If there were remnants or traces of old wagon roads where pioneers and freighters passed through and they could still be seen, it would be here where this faint suggestion of an old trail can be observed.
I have heard that Captain Jefferson Hunt brought the first wagon through the pass. Since he succeeded at that, Captain Hunt became instrumental in bringing the early pioneer wagon trains across the Mojave Desert.
Steep at the top and rocky at the bottom, the solution was to disassemble wagons at the bottom and use mules to pack everything through the rocks on the mule trail, then put it all back together.
Floods were common and so was the erosion which would cause damage to the already rugged trails. One time this way would be good, the next time another.
This road is the great thoroughfare from Los Angeles and San Bernardino to the great gold and silver fields now known to exist and which at present are being worked, east of the Sierra Nevada and Coast Range Mountains. And not only this but over it, all the travel from the north, not passing over the San Fernando Mountain, going southward, must pass. At the head of the cañon is one of the steepest mountains in the State, over which a road passes, and teamsters have always complained of the great difficulties encountered in the ascent. So severely has this been felt, that many of them have offered $5 a load toll to any parties who would cut down the mountain and make a turnpike road of it. As the travel on this road has been greatly increased of late by the trade to the mines, it has become absolutely necessary to take steps to improve the mountain pass road. For this purpose subscription lists have been circulated this week here and in San Bernardino, to raise money to cut down the road across the mountain, and thus facilitate transit to the mines. – Los Angeles Star – April 6, 1861
The road which I followed in 1865 crosses from left to right bank of the river a few miles above the Grapevine place said, continues past Cottonwood to Point of Rocks, 22 miles from Grapevine, on a southwest course; at Point of Rocks it turns due south to what was called Lane’s, or the Upper crossing, and there leaves the river entirely to strike straight south by west for Cajon pass in the mountains, reached in 19 miles from Lane’s. This is the way I went, as my itinerary shows: ” Nov. 9. To Martin’s ranch, 29 miles S. from Lane’s crossing; more than half the distance in open country, and then we entered the Cajon pass in the mountains, where there is a tollgate. The pass is a narrow, deep, and tortuous canon, the roughest I have ever traversed on wheels; there was 10 miles of this from the tollgate to Martin’s ranch.” Now Garces has been sent through Cajon pass, with a query, as by Bancroft, Hist. Cala., i, p. 275; but I do not think he went that way. Taking his courses on their face, he continued up the Mojave.
Francis Brett Hart, known as Bret Harte (August 25, 1836 – May 5, 1902), was an American short story writer and poet, best remembered for his short fiction featuring miners, gamblers, and other romantic figures of the California Gold Rush.
I stood with my shawl and carpetbag in hand, gazing doubtingly on the vehicle. Even in the darkness the red dust of Wingdam was visible on its roof and sides, and the red slime of Slumgullion clung tenaciously to its wheels. I opened the door; the stage creaked easily, and in the gloomy abyss the swaying straps beckoned me, like ghostly hands, to come in now and have my sufferings out at once.
I must not omit to mention the occurrence of a circumstance which struck me as appalling and mysterious. A lounger on the steps of the hotel, who I had reason to suppose was not in any way connected with the stage company, gravely descended, and walking toward the conveyance, tried the handle of the door, opened it, expectorated in the carriage, and returned to the hotel with a serious demeanor. Hardly had he resumed his position when another individual, equally disinterested, impassively walked down the steps, proceeded to the back of the stage, lifted it, expectorated carefully on the axle, and returned slowly and pensively to the hotel. A third spectator wearily disengaged himself from one of the Ionic columns of the portico and walked to the box, remained for a moment in serious and expectorative contemplation of the boot, and then returned to his column. There was something so weird in this baptism that I grew quite nervous.
Perhaps I was out of spirits. A number of infinitesimal annoyances, winding up with the resolute persistency of the clerk at the stage office to enter my name misspelt on the waybill, had not predisposed me to cheerfulness. The inmates of the Eureka House, from a social viewpoint, were not attractive. There was the prevailing opinion–so common to many honest people–that a serious style of deportment and conduct toward a stranger indicates high gentility and elevated station. Obeying this principle, all hilarity ceased on my entrance to supper, and general remark merged into the safer and uncompromising chronicle of several bad cases of diphtheria, then epidemic at Wingdam. When I left the dining-room, with an odd feeling that I had been supping exclusively on mustard and tea leaves, I stopped a moment at the parlor door. A piano, harmoniously related to the dinner bell, tinkled responsive to a diffident and uncertain touch. On the white wall the shadow of an old and sharp profile was bending over several symmetrical and shadowy curls. “I sez to Mariar, Mariar, sez I, ‘Praise to the face is open disgrace.'” I heard no more. Dreading some susceptibility to sincere expression on the subject of female loveliness, I walked away, checking the compliment that otherwise might have risen unbidden to my lips, and have brought shame and sorrow to the household.
It was with the memory of these experiences resting heavily upon me that I stood hesitatingly before the stage door. The driver, about to mount, was for a moment illuminated by the open door of the hotel. He had the wearied look which was the distinguishing expression of Wingdam. Satisfied that I was properly waybilled and receipted for, he took no further notice of me. I looked longingly at the box seat, but he did not respond to the appeal. I flung my carpetbag into the chasm, dived recklessly after it, and–before I was fairly seated–with a great sigh, a creaking of unwilling springs, complaining bolts, and harshly expostulating axle, we moved away. Rather the hotel door slipped behind, the sound of the piano sank to rest, and the night and its shadows moved solemnly upon us.
To say it was dark expressed but faintly the pitchy obscurity that encompassed the vehicle. The roadside trees were scarcely distinguishable as deeper masses of shadow; I knew them only by the peculiar sodden odor that from time to time sluggishly flowed in at the open window as we rolled by. We proceeded slowly; so leisurely that, leaning from the carriage, I more than once detected the fragrant sigh of some astonished cow, whose ruminating repose upon the highway we had ruthlessly disturbed. But in the darkness our progress, more the guidance of some mysterious instinct than any apparent volition of our own, gave an indefinable charm of security to our journey that a moment’s hesitation or indecision on the part of the driver would have destroyed.
I had indulged a hope that in the empty vehicle I might obtain that rest so often denied me in its crowded condition. It was a weak delusion. When I stretched out my limbs it was only to find that the ordinary conveniences for making several people distinctly uncomfortable were distributed throughout my individual frame. At last, resting my arms on the straps, by dint of much gymnastic effort I became sufficiently composed to be aware of a more refined species of torture. The springs of the stage, rising and falling regularly, produced a rhythmical beat which began to absorb my attention painfully. Slowly this thumping merged into a senseless echo of the mysterious female of the hotel parlor, and shaped itself into this awful and benumbing axiom–“Praise-to-the-face-is- open-disgrace. Praise-to-the-face-is-open-disgrace.” Inequalities of the road only quickened its utterance or drawled it to an exasperating length.
It was of no use to consider the statement seriously. It was of no use to except to it indignantly. It was of no use to recall the many instances where praise to the face had redounded to the everlasting honor of praiser and bepraised; of no use to dwell sentimentally on modest genius and courage lifted up and strengthened by open commendation; of no use to except to the mysterious female, to picture her as rearing a thin-blooded generation on selfish and mechanically repeated axioms–all this failed to counteract the monotonous repetition of this sentence. There was nothing to do but to give in–and I was about to accept it weakly, as we too often treat other illusions of darkness and necessity, for the time being, when I became aware of some other annoyance that had been forcing itself upon me for the last few moments. How quiet the driver was!
Was there any driver? Had I any reason to suppose that he was not lying gagged and bound on the roadside, and the highwayman with blackened face who did the thing so quietly driving me–whither? The thing is perfectly feasible. And what is this fancy now being jolted out of me? A story? It’s of no use to keep it back– particularly in this abysmal vehicle, and here it comes: I am a Marquis–a French Marquis; French, because the peerage is not so well known, and the country is better adapted to romantic incident– a Marquis, because the democratic reader delights in the nobility. My name is something LIGNY. I am coming from Paris to my country seat at St. Germain. It is a dark night, and I fall asleep and tell my honest coachman, Andre, not to disturb me, and dream of an angel. The carriage at last stops at the chateau. It is so dark that when I alight I do not recognize the face of the footman who holds the carriage door. But what of that?–PESTE! I am heavy with sleep. The same obscurity also hides the old familiar indecencies of the statues on the terrace; but there is a door, and it opens and shuts behind me smartly. Then I find myself in a trap, in the presence of the brigand who has quietly gagged poor Andre and conducted the carriage thither. There is nothing for me to do, as a gallant French Marquis, but to say, “PARBLEU!” draw my rapier, and die valorously! I am found a week or two after outside a deserted cabaret near the barrier, with a hole through my ruffled linen and my pockets stripped. No; on second thoughts, I am rescued–rescued by the angel I have been dreaming of, who is the assumed daughter of the brigand but the real daughter of an intimate friend.
Looking from the window again, in the vain hope of distinguishing the driver, I found my eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness. I could see the distant horizon, defined by India-inky woods, relieving a lighter sky. A few stars widely spaced in this picture glimmered sadly. I noticed again the infinite depth of patient sorrow in their serene faces; and I hope that the vandal who first applied the flippant “twinkle” to them may not be driven melancholy-mad by their reproachful eyes. I noticed again the mystic charm of space that imparts a sense of individual solitude to each integer of the densest constellation, involving the smallest star with immeasurable loneliness. Something of this calm and solitude crept over me, and I dozed in my gloomy cavern. When I awoke the full moon was rising. Seen from my window, it had an indescribably unreal and theatrical effect. It was the full moon of NORMA–that remarkable celestial phenomenon which rises so palpably to a hushed audience and a sublime andante chorus, until the CASTA DIVA is sung–the “inconstant moon” that then and thereafter remains fixed in the heavens as though it were a part of the solar system inaugurated by Joshua. Again the white-robed Druids filed past me, again I saw that improbable mistletoe cut from that impossible oak, and again cold chills ran down my back with the first strain of the recitative. The thumping springs essayed to beat time, and the private-box-like obscurity of the vehicle lent a cheap enchantment to the view. But it was a vast improvement upon my past experience, and I hugged the fond delusion.
My fears for the driver were dissipated with the rising moon. A familiar sound had assured me of his presence in the full possession of at least one of his most important functions. Frequent and full expectoration convinced me that his lips were as yet not sealed by the gag of highwaymen, and soothed my anxious ear. With this load lifted from my mind, and assisted by the mild presence of Diana, who left, as when she visited Endymion, much of her splendor outside my cavern–I looked around the empty vehicle. On the forward seat lay a woman’s hairpin. I picked it up with an interest that, however, soon abated. There was no scent of the roses to cling to it still, not even of hair oil. No bend or twist in its rigid angles betrayed any trait of its wearer’s character. I tried to think that it might have been “Mariar’s.” I tried to imagine that, confining the symmetrical curls of that girl, it might have heard the soft compliments whispered in her ears which provoked the wrath of the aged female. But in vain. It was reticent and unswerving in its upright fidelity, and at last slipped listlessly through my fingers.
I had dozed repeatedly–waked on the threshold of oblivion by contact with some of the angles of the coach, and feeling that I was unconsciously assuming, in imitation of a humble insect of my childish recollection, that spherical shape which could best resist those impressions, when I perceived that the moon, riding high in the heavens, had begun to separate the formless masses of the shadowy landscape. Trees isolated, in clumps and assemblages, changed places before my window. The sharp outlines of the distant hills came back, as in daylight, but little softened in the dry, cold, dewless air of a California summer night. I was wondering how late it was, and thinking that if the horses of the night traveled as slowly as the team before us, Faustus might have been spared his agonizing prayer, when a sudden spasm of activity attacked my driver. A succession of whip-snappings, like a pack of Chinese crackers, broke from the box before me. The stage leaped forward, and when I could pick myself from under the seat, a long white building had in some mysterious way rolled before my window. It must be Slumgullion! As I descended from the stage I addressed the driver:
“I thought you changed horses on the road?”
“So we did. Two hours ago.”
“That’s odd. I didn’t notice it.”
“Must have been asleep, sir. Hope you had a pleasant nap. Bully place for a nice quiet snooze–empty stage, sir!”
A gentleman named Bill had a hankering to wander about the desert. He had been told the way to really see the desert was to walk through it. He liked the idea and drove as far as Death Valley to start a good distance from all humanity and all things civilized. Here he met a Shoshone Indian Chief who traded him a fine burro for a fine, fairly new car. Off he went for a wonderful, if not occasionally harrowing adventure. Through Nevada into a corner of Utah back into Arizona and down the north rim of the Grand Canyon and back up the south rim to the village and then back to the desert in California. Well over a year had passed when he returned to his wife who was waiting for him in the little town of Baker in the middle of the Mojave. All was well upon his return and his adventures were becoming known far and wide. Bill had become known as ‘Burro’ Bill. One evening there was a knock at the door. Bill was surprised to see his friend, the Shoshone chief. The chief wanted his burro back. ‘Burro’ Bill said the burro was his now. They had been through so much together and he could not bear to part with the beast. The chief explained that a day or two after Bill and the burro departed the car had a flat tire and broke a wheel therefore was not drivable, therefore the deal was no good. The burro was still operable while the car that sat in Death Valley was not.
ref: review Burro Bill and Me, Ramblings in the American Desert Author: Edna Calkins Price
Rather than growing wider and emptying into the sea the Mojave River becomes smaller and smaller finding its way in the sand between the cobbles and rocks curling into crescent -shaped dark meanders and swales transitioning to dry sand and finally, collections of same sized stones.
Just east of the Cajon Summit is where the historic traffic corridor in and out of the Mojave Desert narrows and the various alignments come within hollering distance of each other as they cross over the divide between the high desert and Cajon Canyon.
Traces and fragments of footpaths, trails, wagon roads and early highways can be found next to our modern freeway and here they become interwoven, laced and worn or grown over. None of all of this, by any means, obscures the vision of countless travelers of past ages passing this point.
In 1873 Scottish inventor John Loudon McAdam created an inexpensive type of paving that used rocks and gravel, was put down while it was soft and cured as it was driven on.
John Loudon McAdam and Macadam
Merriam-Webster: In 1783, inventor John Loudon McAdam returned to his native Scotland after amassing a fortune in New York City. He became the road trustee for his district and quickly set his inventiveness to remedying the terrible condition of local roads. After numerous experiments, he created a new road surfacing material made of bits of stone that became compressed into a solid mass as traffic passed over them. His invention revolutionized road construction and transportation, and engineers and the public alike honored him by using his name (respelled macadam) as a generic term for the material or pavement made from it. He is further immortalized in the verb macadamize, which names the process of installing macadam on a road.
The water of Little Salt Lake is as briny, we were told, like that of Great Salt Lake, and we noticed that its shores were covered with saline incrustations for a mile or more from the water’s edge; but the Mormons stated that the salt was of little value, being impregnated with saleratus and other alkaline matter, which rendered it unfit for use. They obtain their supplies of this article from mines of rock salt in the mountains. The excitement occasioned by the threats of Walkah, the Utah chief, continued to increase during the day we spent at Parowan. Families flocked in from Paragoona, and other small settlements and farms, bringing with them their movables, and their flocks and herds. Parties of mounted men, well-armed, patrolled the country; expresses came in from different quarters, bringing accounts of attacks by the Indians, on small parties and unprotected farms and houses. During our stay, Walkah sent in a polite message to Colonel G. A. Smith, who had military command of the district, and governed it by martial law, telling him that, “The Mormons were d—d fools for abandoning their houses and towns, for he did not intend to molest them there, as it was his intention to confine his depredations to their cattle, and that he advised them to return and mind their crops, for, if they neglected them, they would starve, and be obliged to leave the country, which was not what he desired, for then there would be no cattle for him to take.” He ended by declaring war for four years. This message did not tend to allay the fears of the Mormons, who, in this district, were mostly foreigners, and stood in great awe of Indians.
The Utah chieftain who occasioned all this panic and excitement is a man of great subtlety and indomitable energy. He is not a Utah by birth but has acquired such an extraordinary ascendency over that tribe by his daring exploits, that all the restless spirits and ambitious young warriors in it have joined his standard. Having an unlimited supply of fine horses, and being inured to every fatigue and privation, he keeps the territories of New Mexico and Utah, the provinces of Chihuahua and Sonora, and the southern portion of California in constant alarm. His movements are so rapid, and his plans so skillfully and so secretly laid, that he has never once failed in any enterprise and has scarcely disappeared from one district before he is heard of in another. He frequently divides his men into two or more bands, which making their appearance at different points at the same time, each headed, it is given out, by the dreaded Walkah in person, has given him, with the ignorant Mexicans, the attribute of ubiquity. The principal object of his forays is to drive off horses and cattle, but more particularly the first, and among the Utahs we noticed horses with brands familiar to us in New Mexico and California.
This chief had a brother as valiant and crafty as himself to whom he was greatly attached. Both speaking Spanish and broken English they were enabled to maintain intercourse with the whites without the aid of an interpreter. This brother the Mormons thought they had killed, for, having repelled a night attack on a mill, which was led by him, on the next morning they found a rifle and a hatchet which they recognized as his, and also traces of blood and tracks of men apparently carrying a heavy body. Although rejoicing at the death of one of their most implacable enemies, the Mormons dreaded the wrath of the great chieftain, which they felt would not be appeased until he had avenged his brother’s blood in their own. The Mormons were surprised at our having passed in safety through Walkah’s territory, and they did not know to what they were to attribute their escape from destruction. They told us that the cattle tracks which we had seen a few days previously were those of a portion of a large drove lifted by Walkah, and that the mounted men we had noticed in the mountains in the evening of August 1st were scouts sent out by him to watch our movements. They endeavored to dissuade us from prosecuting our journey, for they stated that it was unsafe to travel even between their towns without an escort of from twenty-five to thirty men.
He has adopted the name of Walker (corrupted to Walkah) on account of the close intimacy and friendship which in former days united him to Joe Walker, an old mountaineer, and the same who discovered Walker’s Pass in the Sierra Nevada.
The Mormons had published a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for Walkah’s head, but it was a serious question among them who should “bell the cat.”
“These Indians are Pa utch but not as wild as those above the Mt. their women and children did not run off. I saw at their Lodges a large cake of rock salt weighting 12 or 15 lbs and on enquiry found that they procured it a cave not far distant.”
Journal of Jedediah Smith – 1826
“I turned off to the right across a level piece of ground about 1/2 mile to the foot of a hill which appears to be two or three mile long and 100 or 150 feet high its course being about parallel with the River which is here running S E or E S E.”
“One of my men found a singular substance Some hard and transparent pieces of stone about twice as large as a large pea were firmly fixed in the side of a flat stone. Appearance of an abundance of Iron ore are seen here. and most certainly if a country produces minerals in proportion to its barrenness this must be rich in mineral productions.”
“The River entering a low but rugged mountain below I found it would be necessary to turn off from it to the left and as my guides informed me that it was more than a days travel to the next accessible point on the river between which place and this no water could be found”
I have heard that the Paiute Indians have a legend–a story they would tell about a giant who crossed the desert with an olla full of water in each arm. With each step he would leave his footprint in the ground, and water would spill from the olla into the hole as he walked on. The giant was so large that these waterholes were one day’s walk between each for a normal-sized man. The Indian learned this and used these waterholes to travel great distances and trade with other Peoples beyond the desert. As time went on and things went the way things do, one such trail became the Mojave Road. — Editor
Mataviam described travel in general to Kelly (1933: 23:7) in the following way:
Travelers packed everything on their backs, and wore any kind of foot gear. Children always wore shoes; if the children were too small to walk, their parents took turns carrying them. They also took turns packing the water jar, which was carried in a burden basket (ais) or a net. Blankets, etc., were taken. Women took cooking utensils, including manos, but not metates. Men took weapons and walked ahead. Dogs accompanied the party. Children were given something to carry; perhaps a small skin sack, but not a burden basket or net. Travel along certain routes had to be timed so that people could be sure that there would be water available in drier sections. Timing was particularly important if some of these sources were tanks and sandstone potholes.
from: Southern Paiute – Chemehuevi Trails Across the Mojave Desert: Isabel Kelly=s Data, 1932-33 (Darling/Sneed Symposium, AAA 2004) Catherine S. Fowler University of Nevada, Reno
In April 1855, Brigham young, President of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, called 30 men to leave their families and possessions in the recently settled towns of Utah to serve a mission at the Las Vegas Springs. The verdant meadows watered by the springs had been seasonally inhabited by the Paiute Indians for centuries. The water and meadows made Las Vegas an important stop on the Spanish Trail (called the Mormon Road after 1848).
President Young directed this group of newly called missionaries to become self-sufficient, to provide a place of rest insecurity for travelers between California and Salt Lake City, and to teach the Indians the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the heat of the summer, in June 1855, the missionaries arrived at this site. The mission, intended to be permanent, was first Anglo-American settlement in Las Vegas Valley.
By summer’s end there irrigating gardens were producing fresh vegetables and grains. A new fort was under construction, and a spirit of cooperation and mutual learning was being established with the native inhabitants. They also discovered a deposit of lead or in the nearby mountains. More missionaries were sent to smelt the complex ore in large quantities, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
On 23 February 1857 church leaders sent word to the settlement that the mission was to be disbanded. These early pioneers returned to Utah the left a legacy of faith, devotion, and service shown by their willingness to settle in this hostile environment.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Arvin and Caroline, ardent church devotees, packed their wagon and with their poor young children in tow, headed for the hills without hesitation.
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.
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.
Heritage Tales 1988 by Fred Holladay published by the City of San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society
In 1849 in the rush to the goldfields of California the Bennett-Arcane party of the Mojave-San Joaquin wagon train decided to try an unknown shortcut and became stranded in what is now known as Death Valley. Two young men, William L. Manly and John Rogers walked out, across the desert and into the canyons north of Los Angeles. At a rancho in San Francisquito canyon they managed to get a white horse and a one-eyed mule as well as supplies then they walked back to those who were remaining at the camp. Once they returned they led the lost party to safety. Following are their observations of the topography of the Mojave and how Manly claimed Death Valley got its name.
While waiting for the women Bennett and Arcane wanted to go out and get a good view of the great snowy mountain I had told them so much about. The best point of view was near our camp, perhaps three or four hundred yards away, and I went with them. This place where we now stood was lower than the mountains either north or south, but were difficult to climb, and gave a good view in almost every direction, and there, on the back bone of the ridge we had a grand outlook, but some parts of it brought back doleful recollections. They said they had traveled in sight of that mountain for months and seen many strange formations, but never one like this, as developed from this point. It looked to be seventy-five miles to its base, and to the north and west there was a succession of snowy peaks that seemed to have no end. Bennett and Arcane said they never before supposed America contained mountains so grand with peaks that so nearly seemed to pierce the sky. Nothing except a bird could ever cross such steep ranges as that one.
West and south it seemed level, and low, dark and barren buttes rose from the plain, but never high enough to carry snow, even at this season of the year. I pointed out to them the route we were to follow, noting the prominent points, and it could be traced for fully one hundred and twenty-five miles from the point on which we stood. This plain, with its barren ranges and buttes is now known as the Mojave Desert. This part of the view they seemed to study over, as if to fix every point and water hole upon their memory. We turned to go to camp, but no one looked back on the country we had come over since we first made out the distant snow peak, now so near us, on November 4th 1849. The only butte in this direction that carried snow was the one where we captured the Indian and where the squashes were found.
The range next east of us across the low valley was barren to look upon as a naked, single rock. There were peaks of various heights and colors, yellow, blue fiery red and nearly black. It looked as if it might sometime have been the center of a mammoth furnace. I believe this range is known as the Coffin’s Mountains. It would be difficult to find earth enough in the whole of it to cover a coffin.
Just as we were ready to leave and return to camp we took off our hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering and death spoke the thought uppermost saying:–“_Good bye Death Valley!”_ then faced away and made our steps toward camp. Even after this in speaking of this long and narrow valley over which we had crossed into its nearly central part, and on the edge of which the lone camp was made, for so many days, it was called Death Valley.
Many accounts have been given to the world as to the origin of the name and by whom it was thus designated but ours were the first visible footsteps, and we the party which named it the saddest and most dreadful name that came to us first from its memories.
From: Shoshone Country; Resting Springs – Loafing Along Death Valley Trails by W. Caruthers
Early in 1843, John C. Fremont led a party of 39 men from Salt Lake City northward to Fort Vancouver and in November of that year, started on the return trip to the East. This trip was interrupted when he found his party threatened by cold and starvation and he faced about; crossed the Sierra Nevada and went to Sutter’s Fort. After resting and outfitting, he set out for the East by the southerly route over the old Spanish trail, which leads through the Shoshone region.
At a spring somewhere north of the Mojave River he made camp. The water nauseated some of his men and he moved to another. Identification of these springs has been a matter of dispute and though historians have honestly tried to identify them, the fact remains that none can say “I was there.”
In the vicinity were several springs any of which may have been the one referred to by Fremont in his account of the journey. Among these were two water holes indicated on early maps as Agua de Tio Mesa, and another as Agua de Tomaso.
Kit Carson was Fremont’s guide. Fremont records that two Mexicans rode into his camp on April 27, 1844, and asked him to recover some horses which they declared had been stolen from them by Indians at the Archilette Spring, 13 miles east of Shoshone.
One of the Mexicans was Andreas Fuentes, the other a boy of 11 years—Pablo Hernandez. While the Indians were making the raid, the boy and Fuentes had managed to get away with 30 of the horses and these they had left for safety at a water hole known to them as Agua de Tomaso. They reported that they had left Pablo’s father and mother and a man named Santiago Giacome and his wife at Archilette Spring.
With Fremont, besides Kit Carson, was another famed scout, Alexander Godey, a St. Louis Frenchman—a gay, good looking dare devil who later married Maria Antonia Coronel, daughter of a rich Spanish don and became prominent in California.
In answer to the Mexicans’ plea for help, Fremont turned to his men and asked if any of them wished to aid the victims of the Piute raid. He told them he would furnish horses for such a purpose if anyone cared to volunteer. Of the incident Kit Carson, who learned to write after he was grown, says in his dictated autobiography: “Godey and myself volunteered with the expectation that some men of our party would join us. They did not. We two and the Mexicans … commenced the pursuit.”
Fuentes’ horse gave out and he returned to Fremont’s camp that night, but Godey, Carson, and the boy went on. They had good moonlight at first but upon entering a deep and narrow canyon, utter blackness came, even shutting out starlight, and Carson says they had to “feel for the trail.”
One may with reason surmise that Godey and Carson proceeded through the gorge that leads to the China Ranch and now known as Rainbow Canyon. When they could go no farther they slept an hour, resumed the hunt and shortly after sunrise, saw the Indians feasting on the carcass of one of the stolen horses. They had slain five others and these were being boiled. Carson’s and Godey’s horses were too tired to go farther and were hitched out of sight among the rocks. The hunters took the trail afoot and made their way into the herd of stolen horses.
Says Carson: “A young one got frightened. That frightened the rest. The Indians noticed the commotion … sprang to their arms. We now considered it time to charge on the Indians. They were about 30 in number. We charged. I fired, killing one. Godey fired, missed but reloaded and fired, killing another. There were only three shots fired and two were killed. The remainder ran. I … ascended a hill to keep guard while Godey scalped the dead Indians. He scalped the one he shot and was proceeding toward the one I shot. He was not yet dead and was behind some rocks. As Godey approached he raised, let fly an arrow. It passed through Godey’s shirt collar. He again fell and Godey finished him.”
Subsequently it was discovered that Godey hadn’t missed, but that both men had fired at the same Indian as proven by two bullets found in one of the dead Indians. Godey called these Indians “Diggars.” The one with the two bullets was the one who sent the arrow through Godey’s collar and when Godey was scalping him, “he sprang to his feet, the blood streaming from his skinned head and uttered a hideous yowl.” Godey promptly put him out of his pain.
They returned to camp. Writes Fremont: “A war whoop was heard such as Indians make when returning from a victorious enterprise and soon Carson and Godey appeared, driving before them a band of horses recognized by Fuentes to be part of those they had lost. Two bloody scalps dangling from the end of Godey’s gun….”
Fremont wrote of it later: “The place, object and numbers considered, this expedition of Carson and Godey may be considered among the boldest and most disinterested which the annals of Western adventure so full of daring deeds can present.” It was indeed a gallant response to the plea of unfortunates whom they’d never seen before and would never see again.
When Fremont and his party reached the camp of the Mexicans they found the horribly butchered bodies of Hernandez, Pablo’s father, and Giacome. The naked bodies of the wives were found somewhat removed and shackled to stakes.
Fremont changed the name of the spring from Archilette to Agua de Hernandez and as such it was known for several years. He took the Mexican boy, Pablo Hernandez, with him to Missouri where he was placed with the family of Fremont’s father-in-law, U. S. Senator Thomas H. Benton. The young Mexican didn’t care for civilization and the American way of life and in the spring of 1847 begged to be returned to Mexico. Senator Benton secured transportation for him on the schooner Flirt, by order of the Navy, and he was landed at Vera Cruz—a record of which is preserved in the archives of the 30th Congress, 1848.
Three years later a rumor was circulated that the famed bandit, Joaquin Murietta was no other than Pablo Hernandez.
Lieutenant, afterwards Colonel, Brewerton was at Resting Springs in 1848 with Kit Carson who then was carrying important messages for the government to New Mexico. He found the ground white with the bleached bones of other victims of the desert Indians. Brewerton calls them Pau Eutaws.
(editor’s note: the dates do not match up placing Pablo as either Joaquin Murrieta or his nephew Propacio so this was just a rumor,)
by Van P. Wilkinson – Desert Magazine – July, 1971
Relics lure as many folks into California’s wilderness today as did the precious ores of the 1800s. To get a piece of the action then, the needs were demanding and basic: a weatherproof disposition, an impenetrable faith against stark wilderness, and an inventive craftiness to second-guess nature. Today, it’s a mite simpler: a topographical map, an off-road vehicle, and a slight case of frenzied persistence.
Rattlesnake Canyon is a handy one-day hunting ground for the slightly-morethan-motivated. Here, you’ll find noteworthy mining remains, a scattering of solder-top-age cans and purple glass, and many short 4WD excursions to seldom visited wild areas.
Historically, the San Bernardino Mountains were prospected and mined over a hundred years before the gold migration to the Mother Lode in 1849.
Indians and Spanish found in the San Bernardinos not only beauty and shelter, but trading commodities such as furs and minerals. Holcomb Valley gold, discovered in the early 1860s, created some new geographical problems peculiar to this northeasterly mountain location. The great Mojave Desert trough of Victor, Apple, Lucerne and Johnson valleys was closer than the southwesterly mountain slopes into the “civilized” basins of San Bernardino, Redlands and Riverside.
While selecting appropriate shipping routes from the Big Bear Lake vicinity, trailblazers and last-chance prospectors joined forces in the 1860s and began serious exploring and mapping of the
canyons east and north down to the desert flatlands.
Like all venturers, these men named areas as often by whim as by rationale. Rattlesnakes are common in high desert canyons leading into the mountains, and there are no less than three canyons and three springs in this region which still bear that viperous name. The Rose Mine
is located in another Rattlesnake Canyon (Burns Canyon to Pioneertown); the Balanced Rock Mine east of the Old Mormon Trail is located near another Rattlesnake Spring (between Apple Valley and Fawnskin).
By 1870, the Black Hawk and Silver Reef Mining Districts had been established just a few miles west of Old Woman Springs. It is safe to assume that the initial digs in our Rattlesnake Canyon were made between I860 and 1880. Generous samples of pre-automation cans and shallow
tunnels marked with hand-hewn primitiveness hint at this.
Getting into Rattlesnake Canyon today is not altogether simple. The westerly entrance, via Old Woman Springs, is through private property and prohibited. On Old Woman Springs Road toward Yucca Valley a set of telephone poles flanks the road on the north side. At one point about three miles east of Old Woman Springs there is a support pole on the south side of the road, where the asphalt curves. At this bend, where a taut cable crosses over the road, is the dirt road leading southwesterly into the Bighorn Mountains.
Gentle, dipping and dusty, this road covers some four miles across the alluvial fan toward the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon. The trail narrows and winds near two private corrals at Two Hole
Spring. Then, abruptly, the road dives into the rocky, sandy wash of the canyon. From here to the major mining area (some five miles), it’s either high-clearance 2WD with non-slip differential or 4WD. Why? Because the tracks follow the granular riverbed and at times over breadbasket-sized boulders.
You’ll know you’re on the right path when you reach a cattle gate at the canyon mouth. A sign reads, “Close Gate.” Please do so—stray cattle yield lost revenue and irate ranchers.
Not more than 200 yards on up the southwesterly side of the canyon is Rattlesnake Spring, surrounded by a cattle shed and feed supplies. It was in this area that a couple of glaring bulls blocked the path of our truck while protecting a wary herd-Be careful.
The road dodges and cuts along the wide canyon floor for about two miles, narrow and sandy enough in many places to prohibit campers. Great banks of quartz sediment and loose conglomerate choke the canyon’s south side in a few places as the Bighorn Mountain slopes
begin to near the road. The northerly canyon banks show random mineral prospects and dune-buggy scars.
Mica, quartz-veined granite and schist are common ingredients along Rattlesnake Canyon’s steep sides. Multi-colored quartz specimens lay eroded in various sizes, good for rock gardens or the rock tumbler.
Some three miles from the gate, the canyon walls move in and the road worsens. The tracks bend in several S’s; in this spot, rainfall or flooding would erase the path and trap a vehicle.
Then, the canyon widens at a gentle cluster of desert willows. Up the northeast canyon bank is a narrow 4WD trail leading to several shafts tunnels and collapsed out-buildings of the central
mining activity. One quarter of a mile further up the canyon, another, almost identical trail (but wider) leads in the same direction to a flattened prospector’s shack.
About one quarter of a mile along the canyon the road ends for all but the bravest with a very narrow 4WD vehicle; it is past this “road’s end” about 200 yards that a tunnel strikes west into the canyon wall. Here, in the tailings, is a collector’s “relic’in reward.”
The tailings of the 80-foot tunnel are small, but the abundance of undisturbed cans amidst the debris is amazing. Evidently, those who made it this far in the past were not after relics, just cattle or adventure.
However, the dumps and discards at the area of major activity have been partially investigated. The shafts were probably started in this region before 1900, but have been worked on and off since then—deepened and reinforced. The tunnels at this site are relatively new, and a nearby claim indicates that someone was still investing money in Rattlesnake Canyon as late as 1967.
A steep trail leads south from the flattened prospector’s shack, presumably paralleling the canyon trail to Mound Spring and the Rose Mine region. This is the direction from which explorers came in the 1860s. Another trail, marked on the map, heads southwesterly from
Rattlesnake Canyon up a subsidiary wash toward Granite Peak. Neither of these is for amateurs.
Whether you find in the Bighorn Mountains a chance to test your off-road navigation, or whether you find a relic to add to your collection, there’s one certainty: you’ll be bitten by the lure of Rattlesnake Canyon.
Mountain Meadows–the dark valley where in late 1857 the murder of 135 men, women and children took place. They were rendered defenseless and surrendered after several days of siege on their defensive circle of wagons losing 10 men in the battle. The unsuspecting victims, expecting to be led to a local town were marched up a hill and the slaughter began in earnest.
In 1864 Sarah Rousseau came through the site on her way to California with the Earp family noting the following comments in her diary;
“They arrived here in September, ’57, where they were murdered in cold blood by the Mormons. There was a monument raised to their memory once before, but the Mormons tore it down. This spring sometime in May, some soldiers came through California and erected this monument and dared any of the Mormons to touch it.
There were survivors. She continued;
“There were 150 cruelly butchered men women and children, only six small children, too young to tell the tale, were suffered to live. They are at Salt Lake City. I cannot for a moment suppose that such barbarism will be buried in oblivion. “Oh, it cannot be.” It will be brought to light and the aggressors punished.
Brevet Major Henry Carleton led his troops into the area discovering the hastily buried bodies at the massacre site.
In his special report of 1859 the Major did not hold back his distaste for Mormons and these events;
“In pursuing the bloody thread which runs throughout this picture of sad realities, the question how this crime, that for hellish atrocity has no parallel in our history, can be adequately punished often comes up and seeks in vain for an answer. Judge Cradlebaugh says that with Mormon juries the attempt to administer justice in their Territory is simply a ridiculous farce. He believes the Territory ought at once to be put under martial law. This may be the only practical way in which even a partial punishment can be meted out to these Latter-Day devils.
“But how inadequate would be the punishment of a few, even by death, for this crime for which nearly the whole Mormon population, from Brigham Young down, were more or less instrumental in perpetrating.
In his book, Roughing It, Mark Twain described the reaction of the pubic upon hearing of the mass murder: “The whole United States rang with its horrors.”
Hindered by the Civil War and other events indictments were issued but the only one convicted was a Mr. John D. Lee who was executed by firing squad in 1877, 20 years after the fact.
Two Gunmen ‘Shoot It Out’ when Cowpuncher Meets Up with Man Who Did Not Run’
One Found Sitting Against Wall, Legs Crossed, as Other Fell on Bed
WOMAN MAY BE INVOLVED
Another Dramatic Chapter of Desert History Is Written With Lead ~ By EARL E. BUIE
Matt Burts and Bill Roberts, feudists and two-gun men of Government Holes, met face to face Sunday-night.
True to the first law of the range, “shoot it out”–the law that the quickest on the draw lives–Burts and Roberts never flinched. It was fair; there was no advantage.
“Six-guns” flashed and two of the last of the gunmen of that weird vastness that centers around the water holes In the desert fell, each dying from the other’s bullets. Matt Burts and Bill Roberts died with their boots on: that is the unwritten but the immortal epitaph of the range.
Woman Likely To Be Involved
And even in this lonely desert a woman may he involved, for the wounds on Burts were washed clean and Roberts’ body was lying on a bed when the officers arrived, and woman was known to have been near the scene.
The duel spot is 260 miles by road from San Bernardino in the Ivanpah country, with its open cattle range, famed for lawlessness and gun fights. There last night Deputy Sheriffs Jack H. Brown and Jesus Amarias had not positively concluded that the tragedy with its two deaths was a closed crime. In a telegram to Sheriff Walter A. Shay, the officers bluntly told the story, partly dispelling the first theory that a murderer had slain the two men and fled across the desert hills. The telegram read:
“Bill Roberts and Matt Burts dead. Looks like duel between them, each killing the other. No arrests.”
The duel was but another chanter of Government Holes thrilling history. On the wide and rocky ranges run the herds of “a big cattle outfit” the Rock Springs Land & Cattle company–and those of the “little man.” It Is what is known to cattlemen as an open range, worthless without its water holes. And since beef cattle were driven into the country there has been a never-ending dispute as to water rights. Into the quarrels crept the charges of “rustling,” strong words that brought hard men.
Matt Burts Is Two Gun Man
Matt Burts was one of these men. He carried two guns, one on each hip. In the courts here two years ago when Burts appeared as a witness against Bob Holiman in a “rustling trial, Holiman openly charged that Burts had been imported from Arizona to kill him. During the case, Holiman’s attorney requested the court to have Burts searched for a gun. Burts was then an employe of the Rock Springs outfit, but lately has had his own herd of a few cattle.
Bill Roberts kept his job as foreman of the Rock Springs company because he was a “man who wouldn’t run.” Three foremen ahead of him at Government Holes had been run out of the country by gunmen, threats and by snipers who fired from behind the rocks on the hills overlooking the water hole and the foreman’s shack. Officers of the Rock Springs company charged that, rustlers’ were warring on the foremen, often alone at the holes while range riders were miles away.
Burts, since he left the cattle company, had been a quarrelsome character, drinking heavily and making his threats against his enemies in the district. He wouldn’t leave; that would be cowardly. Stories of his enmity toward Roberts have drifted into the sheriff’s office for weeks.
And in the country, wild and barren as it is, was a woman, a Mrs, Ridell, who lives on a lonely homestead In the Government Holes district. She once was arrested for moonshining when Burts was suspected. But she claimed that the still was hers and took her medicine in the Needles courts without whimpering.
Meanwhile, Roberts virtually lived by his guns. Three weeks ago, the cattle outfit foreman came to his shack after a day on the range and found 13 bullet holes through the house a mute warning that Government Holes was unhealthy for him. But Bill Roberts was, too, a man of the waste lands who wouldn’t leave.
Sunday, the story goes. Burts drove up to Roberts’ place with Mrs. Ridell and her grandson. Burts went up to the house, presumably to ask for a drink. Roberts met in the door. In an instant, their guns were in play, firing simultaneously, for neither Bill Roberts nor Matt Burts had a superior on the range for drawing in a hurry. It was the inevitable. Both shot straight and both died.
Two Men Are Found in Cabin
The bodies of Burts and Roberts were found in a ranch house. Burts had been shot squarely through the forehead. He was found in a sitting position, with his legs crossed and his hat on. All blood had been washed away from the wound. Roberts, shot through the abdomen, was found laid out on a bed. Both men were killed by .44 caliber bullets.
Sheriff Shay received word of the duel at midnight Sunday and immediately sent Deputies Brown and Amarias to the scene. The officers left San Bernardino at 1 o’clock Monday morning and six hours later they were in Goffs, 220 miles away an average of nearly 40 miles an hour across the desert. By 10 o’clock they were on the ground at Government Holes, 40 miles south and east of Lanfair.
The officers may return late today. They will conduct a thorough investigation of the case, however, as the sinister stories that first reached the city have not died down, and the position of bodies indicate a possible new angle in the case. Mrs. Ridell’s grandson was questioned for hours yesterday, but reiterated the duel story.
Government Holes, however, has had its gun duels before. Six years ago it was the scene of the spectacular gun fight between Pat and Roy Woods, father and son, and Bob Holiman. In the fight, Holiman emerged the victor, although not a drop of blood was lost.
Water Hole Was Cause of Feud
Pat Woods and his son, Roy, were cowboys employed by the Rock Springs company. And again it was the rights to the water holes and the enmity between the “little men” against the Rock Springs company that led to the duel. It was commonly known that Roy Woods practiced shooting by killing jack-rabbits with his six-shooter while riding in a flivver and on horse-back And Pat, the father, could break a beer, bottle with his six-shooter 50 yards away.
In the spring during the roundup, Pat and Roy Woods met Bob Holiman on the open range. Pat began shooting and, apparently rattled, missed Holiman. Then Holiman got into action. He shot Pat Woods’ horse out front under him and with a second shot knocked Roy’s hat off his head.
Fate probably saved the Woods from extermination. Holiman was shooting like a sharpshooter when his gun jammed. Holiman’s friends, who were spectators to the duel, shouted to Holiman to “tickle his horse”–sinking the spurs into his horse’s flanks. And Rob “tickled” his horse and galloped away without a return fire from the Woods.
Trial Resembled Movie Location
The trial in the courts here resembled a moving picture outfit on location. Scores of cowboys of the wide ranges attended and there were no convictions. The Woods, however, left Government Holes and so far as known never returned.
Two years ago, Holiman again figured in tho courts in a case involving the ownership of a calf that he killed. Burts, then one of the stout-hearted men hired by the Rock Springs company to protect their cattle, charged that Holiman killed a Rock Springs calf and sold the beef at Needles. Holiman offered no fight when Burts arrested him. In this case, Holiman was not convicted, the jury disagreeing and the charge dismissed.
It was In this case that Burts’ past life was revealed in open court. Burts, six feet tall, handsome, and with coal black hair, was a picturesque figure at the trial. On his right hip he wore a six-shooter. When he was called to testify against Holiman, Attorney Ralph E. Swing began a cross-examination
“Have you removed that revolver that you have been toting around?” asked the attorney.
Burts glared back silently.
Did Not Want Witness Armed
“I wish to interrogate this witness,” Attorney Swing told Judge J. W. Curtis, “and I don’t want him sitting there with a revolver on his hip.”
Burts then arose in his seat, held his coat under his shoulders and turned around slowly. “I took it off.” he explained.
Then the attorney began questioning Burts.
“Were, you ever convicted of a felony?” he asked.
“Yes, twice,” retorted Burts.
“What was the first offense you were convicted of?” Burts was asked.
“And what were you convicted for the second time?”
“For shooting a fellow.”
Burts then explained that he was sentenced to serve five years for the train robbery and was pardoned after serving six months. This was in Arizona. On the second offense, he was sentenced to serve 10 years and was pardoned by the governor after serving five months, he said. That was years ago, Burts said.
His Brother Deputy Sheriff
Burts has a brother, Tom Burts, a deputy sheriff, living at Tucson. The brother yesterday wired Sheriff Shay asking that the body be forwarded to Tucson.
Little is known of Robert’s past history. Walter S. Greening, president of the Rock Springs company, said last night that he did not know where Robert came from, but that he was sent to Rock Springs “because he wouldn’t run.”
And he didn’t.
This story first appeared in The San Bernardino Daily Sun — November 10, 1925
L. Burr Belden San Bernardino Sun-Telegram September 6, 1959
In 1861 the county of San Bernardino contracted with John Brown to build a toll road through the Cajon Pass from Devore to Cajon Summit. That would do fine to get wagons and freight between San Bernardino and the Mojave Desert. At the same time the county also approved a subscription road to be built by Jed Van Dusen from near the summit through the mountains so equipment and supplies could be freighted to the mines in Holcomb Valley.
History in the Making
Mountain Road Cost Miners $2,000 in Gold
Back in the early 1860s the gold rich but food poor miners of Holcomb Valley decided the number one need for their mountain metropolis was a road. in typical pioneer fashion instead of looking to San Bernardino, Sacramento or Washington these miners resolved to build the road.
At the time supplies for Holcomb Valley were brought up by way of a packed train trail up Santa Ana Canyon from the San Bernardino Valley and thence to Holcomb Valley by trails threading either Polique or Van Dusen Canyons. these trails served for burros, mules or horses but the only way to get a wagon to the gold mines was to take it apart and load its pieces on pack animals.
Toll Road up Cajon
The Holcomb Valley mines were reputedly among the richest in California. Free gold, as the placers were known, was becoming hard to obtain in quantities up in the worked over streams of the Mother Lode and accordingly thousands of footloose miners poured into Holcomb Valley making an increasingly heavy strain on the thin supply line.
Down in San Bernardino John Brown Sr. a resourceful Rocky Mountain man, who was one of the leaders in the settlement both during and subsequent to the Mormon regime, had an experienced eye for trade routes. Brown was probably one of the first to vision San Bernardino as a trade center due to its central location and proximity of favorable mountain gateways.
Brown saw that San Bernardino could obtain an even better share of overland travel with better roads. Accordingly he planned to make the Cajon Pass gateway the preferable way east. He applied to the Board of Supervisors and was granted a toll road franchise. His road utilized the East Cajon route which he improved so it could accommodate wagons. Then Brown went farther and started a ferry over the Colorado River at Fort Mohave.
Builder Paid $2,000
The Brown Road diverted Holcomb Valley traffic away from the Santa Ana trail. A new trail was blazed down Holcomb Creek, Willow Creek and Arrastre Creek to reach the Mojave Desert floor in the vicinity of Deadman Point. From Deadman Point it was an easy open path to Brown’s road.
Miners and supply men who used the new trail saw that it could be widened to accommodate wagons. The usual method of making a road would have been for the Holcomb Valley miners to turn out with their picks and shovels, but that meant leaving their claims just when water was high enough for gold washing. Accordingly a person of $2,000 in gold dust was raised and Jed Van Dusen, the camp blacksmith, was hired to build the road. He did just that. Van Dusen was a resourceful fellow. He had assembled a wagon from parts brought up to Holcomb Valley by pack train. In between running his smithy he had some good claims he worked in the canyon that has been given his name. Van Dusen’s chief claim to fame, however, was neither his skill as a road builder, blacksmith or miner. it rested on the fact he was father of a very pretty little girl named Belle.
When the miners cast about for a name for their town in Holcomb Valley they found W. F. (Billy) Holcomb reluctant to have it named for him. Then someone had an idea. Why not name the camp for Jed Van Dusen’s little girl? So Belleville became the name of the big roaring mining camp that had almost as many residents as the rest of the county.
For a dozen years or so the Van Dusen built road carried the heaviest traffic in the county. The travel to the mines, of course, was a great help to the Brown tollway. Heavy machinery needed for quartz mining was hauled over the road as gold veined ledges were discovered. The latter included two of the most famous gold mines San Bernardino County history, E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin’s Gold Hill property and Richard Garvey’s Greenlead.
During Civil War days the Van Dusen – built road carried a strange assortment of passengers and cargo. Liquors for Greek George’s notorious saloons and dance halls, staple goods, the inevitable blasting powder and large bullion shipments. Strangest of all travelers, however, was a ragged troop of filibusters recruited in Visalia who called themselves Confederate calvarymen and commanded by Mariposa County’s stormy Assemblyman Dan Showalter. Showalter and his motley horsemen were trying to reach southern lines in Texas but a few weeks later ran into California volunteers near Warner’s Ranch and were taken prisoner.
This was the same Showalter who had recently slain San Bernardino County’s Assemblyman Charles Piercy in a duel at San Rafael. The duel was fought with rifles at 40 paces. First shots of both antagonists went wild and Showalter allegedly jumped the gun and shot the second time at the count of two, killing Piercy. Showalter was a fugitive when he was in Holcomb Valley but secessionist sentiment plus that of roughs who wanted no government at all served to protect the fact it was San Bernardino County’s legislator he had slain.
The roughs around Belleville ran things with a high hand, at least until Greek George fell mortally wounded from the knife of ” Charlie the Chink” in the drunken aftermath of a Fourth of July celebration. In a reminiscent account written 35 years later Billy Holcomb told of that fatal July 4 and of George’s killing three men before his fatal combat with the celestial.
It was members of George’s gang, left more or less leaderless, who held up an outgoing stagecoach and relieved the Wells Fargo messenger of $60,000. It was the disgusted miners, anxious to drive out the roughs, who pursued the highway men and killed them all. The last bandit was slain a bit too quick for he died while trying to tell where the $60,000 was hidden. As far as is known it has never been found, a sizable cache of gold bars that has lured treasure seekers unsuccessfully for something like 90 years.
Baldwin Garvey Feud
The Van Dusen Road carried the ballot boxes in the weird election when Belleville tried to become county seat, and probably succeeded in polling a countrywide majority but lost on the official count by the “accident” of a Belleville precinct’s box being lost in a bonfire down in San Bernardino.
After the richer placer deposits had been worked Belleville and upstream Beardstown dwindled in size. The emphasis’s one to hard rock mining which required less men more capital and tools. In the hard rock field the giant was Baldwin, who at one time was running a 40- stamp mill at Gold Hill and the operation was supporting a good-sized town, the town of Doble.
Next in size to Baldwin’s operation were those of Garvey. Garvey had owned Gold Hill at one time and reportedly sold it to Baldwin for $200,000. The Garvey family always contended that Baldwin took a bill of sale for the mine but neglected to pay the Irish-born Garvey all the promised money. Garvey trusted his supposed friend.
Garvey held onto the Greenlead, which is almost at the side of the Van Dusen Road in lower Holcomb Valley. When hard times depressed Los Angeles real estate Garvey found he owed $300,000 on the land no longer worth the amount of the mortgages. Three shifts worked the Greenlead and Garvey paid all but $90,000 of the $300,000 debt. The family held onto the Greenlead. It had been leased, sold and worked from time to time. The new owner from Sherman Oaks was on the property a year ago with plans for reopening the long tunnels where there is still said to be quantities of ore rich enough to pay for mining even under current costs.
Long Cattle Drives
In the wake of the minors cattlemen moved into the San Bernardino Mountains. The old road to Holcomb Valley saw huge drives in both spring and fall as cattle were moved from desert ranges to the mountains and back again.
When the first dam was built at Bear Valley in the 1880s A. E. Taylor hauled supplies over the old road, then completed and used the road up Cushenbury direct to Bear Valley. Advent of the Cushenbury gateway, now Highway 18, and the later Mill Creek and crest routes serve to diminish the importance of the old route but it was not closed.
Halfway down to the desert, at the well-known landmark of Coxey’s Ranch, the Forest Service had one of its early ranger stations. It was one of the picturesque log cabin structures typical of such stations 40 years ago. A search for the station earlier this summer disclosed that he had reverted to the status of a guard station and that two or three years ago it was burned when a gasoline lantern or stove exploded. The old corral remains Coxey’s. Today’s guards camp out and have telephone service.
The old road is a popular one with Forest visitors who like to get away from the pavement and camp out. There are public grounds at Horse Springs, Big Pine Flats, and that Hannah Flats. Numerous Springs make the route a well watered one that it is no place for a pavement driver with a low center car.
To the uninitiated, there is something rather uncertain about the reasons why a person will take time to view a location or an artifact. Ask the visitor why they make the trek or handle an object. The response may take the form of a smile, and perhaps the timeworn cliché ” because it was there.” That smile in phrase only does partial justice in explaining personal gratification.
Why should we visit sites where history of any magnitude happened? Perhaps it is because a fresh vista creates a more objective insight in pursuit of historical knowledge. Personal enjoyment and related benefits require one to approach a subject with a receptive and determined mindset.
In stories about stagecoaches and freight wagons we may be entertained or learn about animals, load, dust, storm, good, evil, driver, passenger, comedy, sadness and so forth – a whole range of emotions. a writer may have captured our imagination in words, but obtaining a complete and satisfying grasp of the event is a personal quest.
Often our inquisitiveness may provide answers only by standing on the spot, embracing the environment, and getting the feeling of how it may have been back when. Imagine sound, the smell of man, equipment noise in animals doing the work. Anticipate the next riser dip the road and how it must have affected progress. Consider the impact on those traveling in good, bad, or indifferent weather. Envision people, dress, available tools, and reasons for passing this way. Think of small but important details, such as animal harnesses, conveyancing station construction. Perhaps the preceding thoughts may help create for you a new perspective and enjoyment of history.
from: Indian Wells Valley Stage and Freight Stops 1874 – 1906 Comments and Directions by Lou Pracchia Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert