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Local History - Mojave River Valley

Heritage of the Mojave River Valley

Approximately 3500 years ago, semi-civilized tribes of prehistoric man had their homes in the Mojave River Valley, were the hunted waterfowl, mined deposits of turquoise and sent off trade caravans to such distant places far off Yucatán.the Stone Age tools and weapons of this early man have been found recently by scientific groups excavating in caves at Newberry and in gem mines of great antiquity explored in the Baker area to the north. because of these discoveries, it is not improbable that some of today's freeways are in part, but superimposed on the foot trails of the ancient dwellers.

The Mojave River valley's written history begins in 1776 when Francisco Hermenegildo Garces, a missionary priest, came overland from the Colorado River, following a trail parallel to the Mojave River on his way to the San Gabriel Mission. Father Garces' is important to us today because he was the leader of a colorful pageant of travel that brought successive waves of civilization to this desert area then occupied by the semi-nomadic Chemehuevi Indian tribes.

Fifty years later devout Anglo-Saxon mountain man named Jedediah Strong Smith, a renowned trapper and explorer, came west over the same trail from the Colorado. his arrival caused consternation in the Spanish-Mexican province of California. the next year, 1827, he returned this time fleeing from massacre near the present Needles, where the formerly friendly Indians had turned on his men to rob and kill.

In the 1830s and 1840s, the old trail along the Mojave was followed by gaily garbed traders from the province of New Mexico, intent upon trading their fruit of the loom for the colorful abalone shells and Yankee notions brought to California by ship. The Santa Fe caravans suffered continuous harassment from an Indian chief named Walkara and his hard-driving band of outlaw tribesmen who swept like a scourge through the Mojave, stealing horses by the thousands from California's ranchos. Often he was in ally with unscrupulous men such as Jim Beckworth and Thomas (Peg-leg) Smith.

In the same period, the great American pathfinder, John Charles Fremont, returned East from an exploring expedition accompanied by his peerless scouts, Kit Carson and Alexis Godey. En route, these fearless Westerners avenged an outlaw Indian attack on a New Mexican caravan trader.

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Adapted from: Romantic Heritage of the Mojave River Valley - A Saga of Transportation and Desert Frontiers - (c)California Interstate Telephone Company.

Newberry Cave

Waterman Ranch

Jedediah Smith

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