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Mojave Desert History - Pioneer of the Mojave
An Esteemed and Confoundedly Combatitive Pioneer

Early Voting Precincts and Politics

Being able to vote at a polling place on the Mojave was certainly a privilege that was not unappreciated by the local residents. Prior to August 5, 1871, voters on the desert had to make the long trip into San Bernardino to cast their ballots, but on that date a new voting precinct was established, with the polls located at Martin's Ranch. Although this was still a goodly distance to travel, it was an improvement nonetheless. The Captain, enthused over the new precinct, got himself appointed as an alternate judge on the same day the voting district was formed.

Only fifteen votes were cast in this entire precinct during the September 1871 election, which shows the region was lightly inhabited, even though the voting district included Lytle Creek, Cajon Pass and all of the desert. The political leaning of the precinct at that time was clearly demonstrated when these fifteen citizens voted en bloc for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry Haight, and for all the other Democrats running for state offices as well.

A Three-Way Race for Sheriff

In the local races, on the other hand, the votes were split. Perhaps the most hotly contested county office over the years was that of sheriff; not only was this the most highly paid position, but it was also the most prestigious, since the sheriff was seen as a leader of the community in pioneer times.

This particular year there was a three-way race between Newton Noble, Frank McKenney and Benjamin Mathews, all well-known and very popular candidates. McKenney was the same individual who owned the station a mile downstream from the Stoddard Wells crossing of the Mojave River, and he was living there at least part of the time. This makes him the first person from Victorville to run for a countywide office. However, even with the edge he had as the desert candidate, he received only five votes from the Martin precinct, Noble getting seven and Mathews three.

Noble, who was a desert freighter, was well acquainted with the residents in this precinct. He traveled often to the Panamint mines, in which he had invested heavily, and which eventually ruined him financially when the mines failed to provide the expected strikes. Overall in the election for sheriff, McKenney lost to Noble by a margin of 62 votes, 308 to 370, with Mathews receiving 250.

Mojave Precinct is Established

On August 16, 1873, the Board of Supervisors ordered that the new precinct of Belleville be opened, with A. G. Lane appointed as inspector, and A. H. Pearl and John J. Atkinson as judges. The Captain's home was the first polling site in the new voting district, which by the time of the September election had been appropriately renamed "Mojave precinct."

Ten voters came to cast their ballots on election day, and to have some refreshments and talk politics around Lane's table. Thereafter, prospective voters were listed in the Mojave precinct when signing the Great Register of Voters, instead of being lumped together with those of the San Bernardino precinct, making it much easier to determine who was living on the desert.

Mojave School District Begins

Among the four who registered that first year of 1873 as living in the Mojave precinct was John Brown’s son-in-law, William Wozencraft, who formerly lived and taught school in San Bernardino. This is the earliest indication that a teacher was residing in the area.

There cannot have been very many children on the desert at that time; the 1870 census shows only two attending school. It was not until February of 1878 that there were enough children to warrant the establishment of the Mojave School District, and by the end of the decade Mojave School had an attendance of 29 students. The education of the desert youngsters was important to Captain Lane, and in 1882 he deeded over two acres of his Bryman property to the Mojave School District.

Miners Were a Significant Bloc of Voters

The Board of Supervisors once again appointed Lane as an election inspector in September of 1875, and named William Lightfoot and Joseph Brown as judges. The polling place that year was at Cottonwoods, with a turnout of 12 voters. In this election every state office except one received a split 6-6 vote in the Mojave precinct, which was quite a contrast to the bloc voting four years earlier.

In 1876 and 1877 the voting site was again at Lane's house, and each of these years there was a slight increase in the number of voters. Lane's last precinct appointment was on October 8, 1882, at which time he was named as an election judge. That year the election brought in 31 votes from the Mojave precinct.

Although the Mojave voting district was established in 1873, the desert citizens who registered prior to that time remained listed in the San Bernardino precinct. Beginning in 1880, everyone in the Mojave precinct was required to reregister, and the 75 names entered from 1880 to 1884 reads like a Who's Who of desert residents.

Significantly, 28 of those who registered listed their occupation as "miner," or "mining," which was a reflection of the mining boom in Oro Grande. By this time there were miners spread throughout the county. Six new desert precincts had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, most of them mining camps. In 1882 there were 7 voters at Ivanpah, 14 at Fish Ponds, 17 at Hawley's station, 31 at Waterman's Mill, 44 at Providence, and 101 at Calico.

Backroom Political Shenanigans

That Aaron was not just an interested observer, but actually had a strong voice in the politics of the community, was made evident when the May 30, 1879, San Bernardino Daily Times commented, "Captain Lane, the political Nestor of the Mohave, has been in town during the past two days as bluff and debonair as ever."

Politics that year were even more on the front burner than usual, largely because of the controversies surrounding a proposed new constitution for California. Excitement also had been stirred up by the new Workingman's Party, a political faction headed by a fiery Irishman named Dennis Kearney, whose main program centered on agitation against the Chinese in the state.

At the local level, Democrats held a county convention in order to recommend a slate of candidates for office. Of the two candidates vying for the party's nomination for the Office of Sheriff, the Daily Times had been vigorously supporting the incumbent, William Davies. All through the first half of the year the pro-Democratic paper had spoken of Sheriff Davies in the most laudatory fashion. As late as June 2, 1879, it published an article that was positively exultant over Davies' capabilities:

His administration is not clouded by even a mistake, much less a blunder. No man can do better in the position than Mr. Davies has done, and is doing; few -- very few -- could do as well. His record will bear comparison with the most efficient, most successful and most trusted officers who have had similar positions in California.... He has given unbounded satisfaction to the people; has their confidence, their esteem and their respect; is one of themost popular men who ever held office in the county....

However, in the very next issue of the Daily Times, the paper did an unexpected and astounding turnabout, and ran an article commending Davies' opponent:
    Elsewhere will be found the announcement of Mr. John C. King for Sheriff.... He is one of our ablest citizens, a thorough business man, enterprising, faithful and able.... His ability is unquestioned; years of active business life have given him the necessary qualifications for the office, while his well-known firmness and integrity would insure a perfect and honorable administration of the duties of the office. If nominated his election will be a mere matter of form.
This has the appearance of some backroom shenanigans, and the Daily Times itself acknowledged that there had been a great degree of "dickering and trickering." The paper defended its switch in endorsements in an editorial labeled "The Primary," in which it stated that it reserved the right to change its mind.

The Captain had been paying particular attention to this race, and had become, if not disgusted, at least wryly amused by all the political goings on. It was in that frame of mind that he concocted an advertisement for a bogus auction for the job of sheriff, with the setting as the Charter Oak Saloon in San Bernardino, at the time a popular watering hole for Democrats:
    Captain Lane wishes to announce to the people of the county that he has put the Sheriff's office up at auction -- bids to be received up to 9 o'clock A. M., July 4th. Rich men may bid liberally for the office for the honor of holding it; poor, worthy men, such as wood choppers, hay pressers, etc., are expected to bid reasonably and on the understanding that only $150 per month will be allowed as salary.

    The Captain wishes to inform bidders that the bids will be opened by him in front of the Charter Oak saloon on the morning of July 4th, at 9 o'clock to the second. All bids to be addressed to Captain A. Lane, Mohave River.
John King won the nomination at the Democratic convention, defeating William Davies 46 to 36, and the last-minute endorsement by the Daily Times may have swung the votes that provided him the winning margin. King also prevailed in the general election and won the coveted post.

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