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
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.
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 ...