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Mojave History - Military: Bitter Springs - Fort Irwin

Gold - Silver in Them Thar' Hills!

The early Native Americans that traveled in this region were called, Kawaiisu and they named this large valley floor, Coso Timbisha (Fire-Red Rock) or “Valley of Fire” in the day time and spoke of it being luminous at night under a bright moon reflection across the salt bed.

A lost party, the Bennett, Arcane and Wade families had taken a different route trying to traverse the mountain ranges. The Wade family, traveling behind the others, were the only ones to find their way out of (today’s) Death Valley with their wagons intact. The Bennett and Arcane families felt they could not go on after suffering terrible hardships. Two members made their way out on foot and returned with food and supplies to rescuer the others. Actually only one member of the party died from starvation and lack of water and was buried there. Legend has it as the party crested over the rim on there way out of that forbidden valley, Juliet Brier, a women noted the following in her diary, “Goodbye death valley.” (NOTE: From Irving Stones book, “Men to Match My Mountains”

The 1848 California “Gold Rush” began at Sutter's Mill (now Sutter's Fort), which brought massive amounts of immigrants from around the world into California. During one of the 1849 crossings, a member of the Hunt's party noted the rock formations and mineral contents along the way. Gold was found on the northern end of what is today's Fort Irwin and silver shortly thereafter. In addition, copper and turquoise has been discovered in this region.

After the military pulled out of Camp Cady in 1866, there was no significant presence of law enforcement/protection for travelers throughout this region. Most of the wooden and adobe structure of the camp had begun a natural state of deterioration.

(NOTE: Until the spring 1938 when an abnormal amount of rains flooded the entire Southern California region to the extent that Lake Arrowhead Dam had to open flood water gates to release pressure which added to the already in-troubled Mojave region. The entire Camp Cady structures that were still remaining, disappeared in the floodwaters.)

Therefore, law enforcement and protection for miners was under the jurisdiction of the local sheriffs. Several stories about shootings of “claim jumpers” and run-ins with the law heavily influenced the history of this Bitter Springs region. There are old graves and ruins of buildings still baking in the sun as a reminder of the early history out there on Fort Irwin.

As in all mining endeavors, when the veins ran out prospectors began looking for another "Mother Lode" waiting just around the next bend. With mines opening and closing, the miners could only live a very basic lifestyle of tents or one room shacks. Some even dug small caves into the mountainside to get out of the heat of the day or they would often work in the mines during the day and came out during the cool of the night. "Grub runs" into town were often the miners' only contact with other people for long periods. While in town, they would need a "mine watch". This was a person who would guard the site until the miner returned, thus keeping an eye on their property for them. One famous "mine watch" was Louis L'amour, the author, who referred to his time in this region of the desert as a "mine watch" in his novel, Education of a Wandering Man.

In the late 1930's the U.S. Army began to develop the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range and active mining began to decline. Most mines are privately owned and some were abandoned. The Army is serving as a caretaker and all mines are restricted areas. Some miners still work the site in-between military training rotations, but most are paid a small stipend to “not work” the mines any longer. The actual reason is considering the amount of demolitions, explosions and earthquakes, etc. the caves/mines are no longer safe.

Mining Profile

Northwest San Bernardino Co.

The northwest portion of San Bernardino County has been one of the most prolific sources of silver in the state, and has produced ...

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