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

Fighting Injustices

Captain Lane was never reticent about speaking up on matters that were of concern to his community, nor did he hesitate to take a stand when he felt an injustice was being done. In July of 1880 he took up the cause for two Mexicans whose new mining district was being threatened, in his estimation, by slick claim-jumpers "in full dress and a high-toned buggy."

The Red Mountain Gold and Silver Mining District, as the two men christened it, was six miles square, with its western boundary located six miles from the Mojave River. The Mexicans were actively prospecting the district, and work was being pushed on the most promising mine when efforts were made "to gobble it," according to Lane, by "dilletanti prospectors." He expressed his wrath over this action, saying he would protect the rights of the Mexican discoverers "against any and all dandified jumpers." These were pretty bold words from the Captain, who at the time of this incident, was over 60 years old.

His anger about the claim-jumpers was quickly replaced by his outrage over what he saw as another attempt to try to cheat people, this time having to do with the assessment of property. During July and August of 1880, the County Board of Supervisors, meeting as the Board of Equalization, convened to discuss fiscal matters such as the tax rate for the county, the salary of its officers, and the county's indebtedness. On July 24th the Board reviewed the individual property assessments of many of the area's leading citizens to determine whether the County Assessor had properly appraised them.

Finding that many were undervalued, the Supervisors made adjustments and then sent notice to the property owners to appear before the Board and show cause why their assessments should not be raised. Some of the adjustments were substantial. For the Yorba family alone, the increase amounted to several thousand dollars.

There was bound to be contention over this, given the heavy costs incurred from the reappraisals and the fact that the most influential citizens were affected. The most controversial of the reassessments, as it turned out, had to do with cattle belonging to a Mojave rancher, which was an unusual case in that most of the adjustments dealt with real estate.

The Weekly Times got word of the matter, and during the last week of July it announced that the Board of Supervisors was "endeavoring to adjust equably the assessment of one of the Mohave cattle kings." An article in another column stated solicitously that the paper wished to "remind the people, many of whom are disposed to indulge in hostile criticism of the Board, that the work of equalizing is tedious, difficult in judgment, and that with their limited means of acquiring information it is impossible for the Board to do much better than it is at present."

A third item in the same issue gave quite a different slant. There was "Trouble among the Mohave cattle people," it said, and explained cryptically that "Some developments have come to our knowledge which are startling, but as they will probably be investigated in Court, we will postpone comment."

Two weeks later the Weekly Times published a letter of complaint, dated August 7, 1880, from a citizen on the Mojave River:
    Ed. Times: -- Can you inform me how it is that a certain party assessed on this River is allowed to turn in his cattle at 500 in number, when I can prove to the satisfaction of any impartial person, by count, that he has 1200 head on his ranch? This thing is becoming too common. Some time ago he played the county the same way and in larger proportion. Are the Supervisors going to let this thing of cheating the Assessor become the rule? If they want to learn the facts let them call upon me.

    Yours truly,
Elsewhere in the newspaper it was explained that the Mojave communication was truly from a pioneer, and it was inserted only after repeated refusals from the editor, who finally acquiesced to relieve the constant requests to publish it. One could easily find out who "Pioneer" was, said the editor, "without walking around a very long 'lane.'" The use of the alias "Pioneer" may have been an editorial decision, since the article concluded with the statement that the correspondent "had no desire to conceal [his name]. Far from it; he is too confoundedly combative to shield himself anonymously."

The Weekly Times did not reveal the name of the party who supposedly was favored with the underassessment, but a review of the Board's records shows that when Joseph and James Brown appeared before the Supervisors on July 31st, they had been reassessed for 500 head of cattle. The brothers contested even this number, but the Board ordered that the "matter stand as assessed."

In his letter, Captain Lane not only accuses the rancher of cheating the assessor, but also implies the Board was guilty Picture of Byron Waters of favoritism by "allowing" the low appraisal. This notion was probably based on the fact that a very close friend of the Brown family, James W. Waters, was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and he would have had a dominant influence in the matter of assessments. James Waters and John Brown, Sr., had been friends since their mountain men days decades earlier, and James' nephew, Byron, had married into the Brown clan.

This conflict has the appearance of a continuation of the Lane-Brown feud going back at least to the lawsuit over the toll road. The outcome of the incident remains a mystery, though, as there is no information about it in the public records. The court case never materialized, nor was there any further mention in the Weekly Times of the "startling" developments.

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