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Mojave Desert History: Pioneer of the Mojave
Old Skeletons & New Trails


The site on which Aaron made his new home was witness to some fascinating history prior to his arrival. Besides the exploration and immigration periods of the 1800s, the land saw centuries of Indian occupation stretching back into antiquity. Artifacts have been discovered on the site, which is located on present-day Turner Ranch in Victorville, about one-half mile downstream of the lower narrows bridge. On one occasion the unearthing of burial grounds nearly sent a man to jail.

The incident over the uncovered graves began early Wednesday morning, November 27, 1940, when Frank Turner sent a farm hand to plow some virgin land on his ranch. The area he had selected was near some sandhills, a distance away from the lowland previously cultivated in the overflow of the Mojave River.

Frank's daughter, Frances, was tagging along behind the plow, playing in the furrows, when what looked like a gray rock was thrown into her path. Stooping down to inspect it more closely, she found that it was not a rock at all, but a human skull. As it turned out, it was one of many human bones exposed by the plow.

Frank called the Sheriff's Office and the next day deputies Robert White and Carl McNew were on hand to investigate. Newspaper publisher J. E. Barry was present as well, and he wrote an article which appeared in the San Bernardino Daily Sun the following day. "Five skeletons were dug from a desert grave," said Barry, "on the...Turner Ranch north of Victorville. Each of the skeletons was in a sitting position facing the Mojave River." After describing the area of the find, Barry concluded:

Experts are of the opinion that the skeletons are those of pioneers who traveled the old Mormon trail....They pointed out that the teeth of the two children, two men and a woman, were free of any indication of dental care, and in a perfect state of preservation. Their chief concern was an explanation for the odd positions in which the family was found to have been buried.

Since no other individuals are mentioned in the article as being in attendance, and as the photo accompanying the article shows only the two deputies and the newspaperman, it may be surmised that these are the experts to whom Barry refers. Why the "experts" did not even consider the possibility that these were Indian remains is hard to understand. And in light of Frank Turner's description of the site years later to local historian Helen Graves, it becomes even more imponderable.

According to Frank, the bodies were in a crouching or kneeling position, all facing the river, and all had beads around their necks. There were 26 or 27 bodies altogether, but five or six were in better condition than the others. The remains had been cremated, and buried in the graves with them were large rocks (Helen Graves thought these may have been heated and used for the cremation process).

Not only were the deputies slow in identifying who was buried in the graves, but they also decided to charge Frank with the crime of desecrating a cemetery. They were ready to take him in, but after contacting the District Attorney, Jerome Cavanaugh, and Judge Allison, Frank was assured he would not be arrested if he reburied the skeletons.

His troubles were still not over. Barry's article had created much public interest and the next weekend there were so many people at the ranch that Frank could not even get into his own driveway. He told Helen Graves he was accused of being a publicity seeker. The last indignity over this incident was that some said "there was a trough full of artifacts" which had disappeared, strongly hinting that he was responsible. In truth, these artifacts wound up in the San Bernardino County Museum.

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Picture of Barry holding skeletal heads
Copyright, San Bernardino County Sun, courtesy Frances Coillot

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