Copyright
Wallace Melvin Morgan.

History of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; online

. (page 6 of 177)
Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 6 of 177)
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An optimistic correspondent of the Courier in 1870 wrote that the Joe
Walker mine in Walker's basin was doing better than ever since new pumping
machinery, recently installed, had enabled the miners to reach the lower
ores. But water trouble finally caused the abandonment of the mine. Stephen
Barton states that the last eflfort on the Joe Walker was made by Judge Colby
with a Cornish pump that was warranted to throw 100 miners' inches of
water 400 feet high. When the lift had reached 290 feet the pump was labor-
ing very hard, and there was more than 100 inches of water to be handled.
"A week of strain terminated the life of the pump, and the mine was per-
manently closed."

A report from the Kern river mines to the Courier by C. Schofield,
June 3, 1871, said that the Big Blue was in steady operation and keeping a
16-stamp mill going. The mine had been worked with an open cut to a
depth of thirty or forty feet and about seventy feet in width across the
vein. A drift Had been run about thirty-six feet in the direction of the
hanging wall, but neither wall had yet been seen. The ore was running
$17.50 to the ton. About two years before there were thousands of tons of
dump rock, but all of it had then been worked. A shaft was sunk sixty
feet below the bottom of the cut, and a drift run, but the water was so
troublesome that work had to be abandoned on the lower level. The Sumner
ledge, the northeasterly half of the Big Blue, was then owned chiefly by
A. Staples & Co. From the bottom of an 80-foot shaft, ore running as
high as $75 to the ton had been taken out, together with immense quantities
of a lower grade. The hanging wall had been barely touched, and the foot
wall had never yet been seen. A black, massive, sulphuret rock was the best
producing ore, but with the facilities at hand a large part of the sulphurcts
were lost.

Next in importance to the Big Blue at this time was the Bull Run. which
had been worked to a depth of 200 to 300 feet with an engine and hoist, and
from which several hundred thousand dollars had been extracted. Only
two small companies, working on shares, were taking out oi-e at the time,



42 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

and these were working near the east end of the ledge on a vein about two
feet in width which yielded ore running about $20 to the ton.

The Beauregard, which had paid well at the surface, was not worked at
that time. Two small companies were taking ore from a narrow but very-
rich ledge, the rock paying $75 to $100 per ton. All these mines had been
involved in litigation which interfered seriously with their development.

In 1873 a Tehachapi note in the Courier says that Green & Henderson
had just cleaned up $1438 in their hydraulic mine near that place.

For some time past the Owens river mines had been an indirect means of
revenue to Kern county, most of their freighting being via Tehachapi and
Bakersfield to the end of the Southern Pacific railroad, then being built
down the valley. On November 9, 1872, A. Cross arrived in Bakersfield
with three teams bringing 335 bars or 30,000 pounds of bullion from the
foot of Owens lake, to which point it had been brought by steamer from
the furnaces on the opposite side. It took ten days to make the trip from
the lake to Bakersfield. The trip from the lake to Los Angeles consumed
considerably more time, and as a result the railroad officials were hopeful
of getting all the Owens river trade via teams to the end of the track, then
Hearing Tipton.

In 1873 mention is made of the fact that Temple, Boushey & Weston
were about to begin work on their mine near San Emidio, and expected
to ship about 500 tons of ore per month over the railroad to San Francisco
■for treatment — provided it paid to do so, as apparently it did not.

During the eight days ending June 7, 1873, 1000 bars, or 45 tons of
base bullion passed through Bakersfield from the Cerro Gordo mines in Inyo
county to the railroad terminus, and the traffic to and from the mines
appeared to be increasing. The next month the Kern & Inyo Forwarding
Company was advertising for fifty mule teams to haul between Owens lake
and Tipton, and was guaranteeing full loads both ways.

A letter from the Panamint mountains in November, 1873, tells of a
little ball of silver being taken from the Dolly Varden lode by Edward Hall.
The ledge was three feet in thickness and looked good to the prospectors.
R. C. Jacobs is mentioned as one of the discoverers of the Panamint mines.
About a year later the Panamint excitement was at its height.

In December, 1874, E. R. Burke, who was managing the Big Blue for
himself and Senator Jones, is quoted as saying that the average run of the
ore paid $15 and cost $5 to handle. The season was an active one in the
Long Tom mines.

In 1875 a newspaper note said that the Kernville ledges had been ex-
plored for twenty-five miles.



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 43

CHAPTER IV
The Beginning of Agriculture and Stock-Raising

When the first farmers arrived in Kern county is more a matter of
tradition than of history. In the early '40s an old immigrant trail came
through Tejon canon from the south, skirted the hills below Bear mountain,
wound over the mesa northward, crossing the present line of the Southern
Pacific between Bakersfield and Edison and forded Kern river, or Rio Bravo,
as it was then known, a short distance above the present bridge between
the China grade and the Kern river oil fields. There is reason to believe that
sons of men who pioneered the virgin forests and prairies of Tennessee,
Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas, driven westward and westward by the
hereditary wanderlust, paused on their way to the older sections of the state
to feed their stock and let their children stretch their legs among the trees
and grassy hills around Tejon and along the fertile banks of Kern river
where Bakersfield now stands. Back in the Tejon hills in the earliest days
were gaunt mountaineers of the Tennessee stock, and the first known set-
tlers on Kern Island tell of predecessors or signs of predecessors.

These first comers, however, or those, at least, who paused in the
valley, were sojourners only. At most they may have hunted and fished for
a season and replenished their stores of corn with a crop grown on the quickly
responding soil of the Kern delta where it was necessary only to drop the
seed and cover it with a little earth scraped up with the foot. Then they
passed on, and the next flood or the next sand storm wiped out all trace
of their habitation.

John Woodhouse Audubon, in his Western Journal, says that when
he passed through what is now Kern coimty he saw one party of settlers
preparing to make permanent homes. Audubon came up from Los Angeles
through Tejon caiion in the latter part of November, 1849, with ten men and
forty-six mules. Coming through the pass they had to wade knee deep in a
torrent of water that poured down the trail. The mountain tops about were
covered with snow, and when they emerged on the plain they were greeted
with a blast of hail in their faces, swept on by a wind that uprooted cotton-
wood trees at the caiion's mouth. The plain was wet and boggy, and the
party skirted the hills and made long detours to keep on fairly solid ground.
Audubon also saw an Indian village and many scattered huts where the
natives were grinding acorns and fanning grass seeds for their winter larder.
The Indians, he says, were friendly, but he does not undertake to fix the
location either of the Indian village or of the settlement of whites. A Lewis
woodpecker, Stellar's jay and a new hawk with a white tail were objects
that fixed Audubon's attention to quite as great a degree as did the beginning
of civilization upon the Kern delta— if that is where the settlers he mentions
were pitching their tents.

The first settlers who came and stayed were those of the South Fork,
Walker's basin, and other mountain districts contiguous to the early mines.
Mr. Seibert is said to have first located in South Fork Valley in 1846. Frank
Barrows about 1857 established a claim on the South Fork on the site of the
present home of P. T. Brady. John Nicoll came about the same time. William
Scodie and Thomas H. Smith settled in the upper end of South Fork valley



44 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

in 1861-62, and the latter resides there to this day. In 1857 William Weldon
settled in Walker's basin, moving thence to the South Fork. Weldon ami
J. V. Roberts in connection with their stock ranch, ran a butcher business
and supplied most of the beef consumed by the Keysville miners. In 1858
A. T. Lightner, Sr., sold his mining and milling interests at Keysville and
bought a settler's claim in Walker's basin for $1600. With the claim went
certain farming implements and a band of 100 to 150 head of Spanish cattle,
little and lean and wild.

Other settlers of the South Fork valley were William W. Landers;
George Clancy, who came in 1861 ; and J. L. Mack, who arrived about 1864.
John McCray, who had lived with his parents for a few years on Kern Island
about 1859-60 and later around Visalia, went to the South Fork as a boy in
August, 1870, and worked for W. W. Landers until he had acquired cattle and
land of his own. Landers was one of the largest stock men of the mountain
section, running about 2000 head in the early days and as high as 10,000
head in the '90s.

The raising of hay, vegetables and beef constituted the chief occupation
of the early mountain farmers, and all their produce found a ready market in
the mining camps. Lightner sold hay at Keysville for $40 to $50 per ton,
and a little later hay delivered to the soldiers at Fort Tejon brought, some-
times, as high as $60 per ton. It was while hauling hay to Havilah in 1867
that Lightner lost his life. The morning was cold and frosty, and while going
down a hill his foot slipped from the brake and he was thrown forward under
the wagon wheels.

Farming in the mountains in these early days was not without other than
purely pastoral interest. In the very earhest times there was more or less
danger from Indians and bear as well as white marauders and renegades,
and on the breaking out of the Civil war the division of sentiment in the state
between Union and Confederate was made the excuse for the organization of
guerrilla bands, the real object of which was only theft and pillage. Neither
the organized bands nor the individual marauders appear to have inflicted
any serious harm on the settlers, but they helped to keep their nerves at
tension by not infrequent visits. The three Kelso brothers, for example,
often demanded the hospitality of the Lightner home, and always, of course,
were entertained. They slept on the floor with their clothes all on, their
feet toward the hearthstone and their heads on a pile of murderous guns.
A. T. Lightner, Jr., had a toy revolver made of the barrel of an abandoned
gun with a handle whittled out of wood and thrust into the breech. One of
the Kelso brothers, seeing this one night, secured it and while his youngest
brother slept, stealthily placed it under his head and drew away one of the
small cannon that comprised the desperado's armament. The youthful owner
of the toy was a fearful witness of the prank, and his opinion of the desperate
character of the youngest Kelso was not changed when the latter awoke
and cursed and glowered for hours over the trick that had been played
upon him.

The Mason and Henry gang was one of the bands of murderers and horse
thieves organized under the cloak of patriotism. About the time the war
broke out Mason and Henry called a meeting on Cottonwood creek a short
distance south of the mouth of Kern river caiion, for the stated purpose of
organizing a company of men to join the Confederate army. A large number
of Confederate sympathizers, among them W. R. Bower, afterward sheriff



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 45

of the county, responded, but the real character of the gang soon becoming
known, Bower and many others withdrew. Later Bower saddled his horse,
rode it through to Missouri and served four years under the snuthern flag,
returning to Kern county after a wound in his ankle had put him out of the
fight.

The outlaw gang, either before or after the meeting mentioned, built a
stone corral or fort, as they called it, on the banks of Cottonwood creek,
where remains of it are to be seen to this day. Mason and Henry formerly
were employes of the stage line at Elkhorn station and started on their career
of crime by stealing so many of the stage animals as they thought they
needed. They acted a notable part in the drama of outlawry played out in the
San Joaquin valley in the early days of its history.

The South Fork Valley

The South Fork valley is about twenty miles in length and from one to
three miles in width. Despite its elevation and the stream that flows through
it, it was practically a desert when the first settlers arrived. The ground,
very fertile when water was applied, was covered in its virgin state with
high sage brush and was suitable for nothing but a rough range for cattle.
The very earliest of the settlers cleared about ten acres each about their
homes and devoted their energies to herding their cattle up and down the
river. From 1861 to 1881 the construction of irrigation ditches to carry
water over the valley progressed with more or less industry until finally
the whole of the level land was watered and the valley became one of the
most productive areas of the state.

John A. Benson surveyed the valley in 1875, charging the settlers at the
rate of $150 per quarter section, and such an artistic and satisfactory job
did he do, it is said, that hardly a settler was obliged to move more than a
few rods of the fences built on section lines run out by instinct and the polar
star.

The distribution of the water occasioned a little more difficulty. A number
of suits were brought between settlers to determine their respective rights,
but few were carried to a conclusion, and to this day there has not been a
court decision covering the South Fork irrigation rights generally. About
1899, however, owners of the different ditches drew up and signed an agree-
ment, setting aside to each quarter section 150 miner's inches of water and
establishing the right of precedence according to priority of location.

In 1885 South Fork failed fully to supply the irrigation ditches, and the
waters of Whitney creek were diverted from the North Fork to the South
Fork through a. tunnel six feet high and si.x feet wide, driven 350 feet
through a hill. The tunnel caved in, and Jeff Gillum was given a contract to
make the tunnel an open cut for $1000. He failed to get the cut down to
grade, and in the suit over the settlement expert witnesses said that the
job could not be done under $3500. The farmers paid the bill, and put a
dam across the creek to force the water through the unfinished cut.

In 1895 Miller & Lux and the Kern County Land Company with their
affiliated canal companies filed a suit asking for an order of the court enjoining
the farmers of the South Fork from using the water they had appropriated,
claiming a prior right to all the waters of Kern river and its aflfluents.
The suit was never pressed to a trial, however, and a similar suit filed
by the same parties some six years later followed a similar course. In 1908 a
third suit was filed and is still pending in the early stages. It is stated that



46 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

the plaintiffs have no expectation of depriving the South Fork irrigators of
their water, but desire a court decision fixing the amount they are entitled to
divert.

Very recently a government agent made a careful inspection of the
South Fork irrigation system and gathered data regarding the suits that
had been filed, but the purpose was not given out, and no further develop-
ments as yet have indicated what action, if any, the government may have in
view.

The height of the cattle business in the South Fork valley was in 1890 to
1899. From then on the restrictions of the Federal Forest Reserve have
curtailed the free range which the stockmen previously enjoyed, and the
herds accordingly have been reduced to what may be kept on the owners'
lands and pastured to the extent permitted within the limits of the reserve.

The revival of activity in the Big Blue mine in 1875 gave farming in
the South Fork valley its first great stimulus, and beside the cattle, large
quantities of hogs, grain, vegetables and other products were delivered to
the mines. In 1872 the culture of alfalfa was begun in the valley by an
Englishman named Jack Waterworth on the present home ranch of William
Landers. Gradually the growing of alfalfa took the place of wheat raising,
and now alfalfa is the principal farm product of the South Fork.

Early Settlers on the Kern Delta

John McCray, now a resident of Bakersfield but best known over the
county as a large stock raiser and rancher of the South Fork valley, carries
the story of farming on the Kern river delta back a little farther than anyone
else the writer has been able thus far to find. John McCray, Sr., with a
party of west-bound pioneers under the leadership of Capt. Johnny Roberts,
drove a band of 1000 Durham cattle across the plains from Missouri in the
early '50s, and John McCray, Jr., was born on the journey, somewhere near
Donner lake. The family settled first in Tuolumne county, and went from
there to Centerville, on Kings river. At the latter place they were troubled
so much with malaria that in 1859 they came to the Kern delta, establishing
themselves about three miles south of the present boundaries of Bakersfield.
In passing it is to be mentioned that from then until 1864, when the McCrays
moved to Visalia to give their children the benefit of schools, not one of the
family had a chill.

In 1859 the overland or immigrant road entered the valley through Tejon
pass, going from the fort east of Adobe and then drifting westward and
northward and crossing the old south fork about eight miles south of what
was later the Poindexter place. From there it followed about the course of the
present Kern Island road to what was then the Walker Shirley place and
what is now the Lowell addition to Bakersfield. The road ran through the
present townsite and crossed the river about where the old Jewett avenue
bridge formerly stood. From the other side of the river the road followed
the present road to Poso creek, past Mon's place and Willow Springs, crossed
White river at Irish John's place, and thence past Fountain springs to Porter-
ville and Tulare.

The old Butterfield stage road followed the same route from Visalia to a
point near the Kern river oil fields, where it headed down a canon to a point
just above the present China grade bridge, where a ferry was operated by
Major Gordon between 1861 and 1864, and previously, according to some
accounts, by a man named Gale. Major Gordon had an adobe house by his



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 47

ferry, and a pile of dirt remains to this day to mark the spot. From the ferry
the stage road turned east along the flat between the river and the bluffs and
sought an easy place to scale the latter some distance up the stream from the
bottom of the present China grade. The old road is still in use to some extent,
about a mile and a half above the bridge. Out east of the Southern Pacific
round house a few miles was the first stage station south of the river. Twelve
miles farther south there was another, and at Rose station there was another.
They changed teams every twelve miles on the entire route, 2888 miles from
some place back in Texas through New Mexico and Arizona close to the
present route of the Southern Pacific railroad, through Yuma to Los Angeles,
thence via Fort Tejon, Kern river, Visalia, Pacheco pass and Gilroy to San
Francisco. Between stations the horses went at a gallop, dragging the lum-
bering Concord stage with its twelve passengers (and more if the traffic
demanded) and the United States mails. They got letters through to San
Francisco from St. Louis via El Paso in twenty-four days, and the govern-
ment paid the company $600,000 a year subsidy. The cancelled stamps
amounted to about $27,000. On the breaking out of the war this mail route
was discontinued, and transcontinental letters came via the northern route
only.

In 1858 the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company started stringing
its wires along this stage route, and in 1860 the line was completed to Los
Angeles, where the work, planned to continue east, was halted. Later the
Western Union consolidated all the telegraph lines of the coast.

Site of Bakersfield in 1859

The present site of Bakersfield was not, as some reports would make it
seem, in the least like a swamp in the '50s. The main channel of the river was
down what later came to be known as Panama slough, leaving the present
river channel a little way west of the point of Panorama heights and crossing
the present intersection of Nineteenth and B streets. It was not a deep
channel, although occasional deep holes were bored out of the soft, alluvial
bed by the swirling current.

The south fork, flowing a little way west of the present course of the
Kern Island canal, was the second largest of the channels that divided the
waters of Kern river. It was narrower than the Panama channel, and the
banks were steep in most places, making it necessary to choose a place down
which a horse could be ridden and often to swim the animal down stream to
find a place where he could scramble out on the other side. Lesser sloughs
and channels of that day were unimportant except as they encouraged the
growth of willows on their banks and tules in their beds and helped the process
of sub-irrigation which caused sunflowers, cockleburs, tumble weed and
other riotous wild vegetation to grow to fabulous heights over all the inter-
vening land.

Beginning of the County's Cattle Industry

The McCrays brought their Durham cattle, between 150 and 200 head,
to their new home, and are entitled to the distinction of bringing the first
blooded stock to Kern county. About the only other cattleman in this end of
the valley at that time was Don David Alexander, who had his headquarters
at San Emidio about 1861, and whose 20,000 or 25,000 head of wild. Spanish
cattle ranged all over the San Emidio hills and around Kern and Buena
Vista lake and the lower reaches of Kern river. Alexander bought all of



48 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

McCray's bull calves and gradually built up the quality of his herd. Cattle
were marketed then in San Francisco, and the herds of beeves were driven
up the valley to the bay with as little concern for the long journey as many
a farmer feels now in driving his stock. to the nearest railroad station, six
or a dozen miles away.

It was later on that the Crockers, J. C. and Ed, established themselves
at Temblor and went into the cattle business on a large scale in connection
with Henry Miller. J. C. Crocker was an important figure in the stock
business for a score of years following his arrival at Temblor. He acted as
Miller's agent in the purchase of both cattle and land, and helped to build
up the immense property of Miller & Lux in the San Joaquin valley. It is
reported that at the end of twenty years of loose, indefinite partnership with
Miller, Crocker asked for an accounting. Miller discouraged the idea and
wanted to know what was the use, but Crocker insisted that he was getting
on in years and would like to know how much money he was worth. Finally
Miller sent him to the book-keepers at the San Francisco office, where
Crocker was informed, after due search of the ledgers, that he owed the firm
a hundred thousand dollars. Despite these discouraging figures, however,
Crocker soon became the owner of one of the finest of the Miller ranches in
the Kern delta, long known as the Crocker ranch, and later as the Balfour-
Guthrie ranch near Panama. In addition to his renown as a cattle man, Jim
Crocker was known throughout the length of the valley as a hunter of out-
laws. He was one of the leaders in the successful expedition against Joaquin
Murietta, and helped also to mete out summary justice to other evil doers
of less unenviable fame.

By 1868 there were many cattlemen and many herds both in the valley
and in the mountains and hills. In 1870 John Funk had succeeded Alexander
at San Emidio, and was the possessor of great herds.

Meantime the cattlemen were well established in the valleys about
Tehachapi, in Walker's basin, in the South Fork valley, around Poso Flat
and Granite and in Linn's valley, where Staniford & Dunlap made their
headquarters and ranged their herds all through the mountains and foot-



Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; → online text (page 6 of 177)