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Mojave Desert History - Pioneer of the Mojave
Toll Road through the Cajon Pass

A Diarist's Journey Through Cajon Pass

On the other side of the issue, there were some who felt that travel through the pass was much improved because of Brown's turnpike and that he should be commended. One of the few descriptions favorable to travel on the toll road was given by an anonymous author in the journal of a trip he took to Ivanpah. The San Bernardino Guardian published the account in a series of four articles beginning on September 9, 1871.

The journey began on August 8th, when the author, traveling on law business and accompanied by a deputy sheriff, left San Bernardino at nine o'clock in the morning in a somewhat heavy and "by no means handsome" buggy drawn by two mules. They took with them a "nice little outfit of knick knacks in the way of oysters, sardines, crackers, etc.," and did not forget to take along a "demijohn of fine old rye, said to be good for snake bite." After traveling a distance of twelve miles, they stopped to water their animals and refresh themselves at the Cajon Pass station operated by Englishman George Martin.

Martin's Ranch was situated east of what is now Glen Helen Ranch near Devore, and was established at least by 1858. The 1862 Assessor's Record Book shows that Martin was living on public land, and had assets consisting primarily of his house, 32 head of cattle and 12 horses. Over the years he added extensively to the original 160 acres of government land. The 1870 census lists him as owning real estate worth $10,000, and the appraisers of his estate estimated his holdings in Cajon Pass at an impressive 2,700 acres.

Because of the station's strategic location at the mouth of Cajon Canyon, most of the travelers using the pass stopped there, thus it was often referred to in military reports, diary entries, and the newspapers. George ran his "public house" -- the English equivalent for "way station" -- with his wife, Sarah. Living in the home in 1870 were seven of their eight children (the eldest, Charlotte, had married John Prothero). Martin’s Ranch prospered until George's death in 1874, and like Lane's Crossing, it had become associated in the public mind with its owner, and continued to be called by its original name for many years even though the proprietor was no longer there.

The two travelers kept their stay at Martin's brief, about 20 minutes, and then "drove up to the toll gate and through the cañon to a station known as the Upper Toll Gate," arriving there at three o'clock in the afternoon. This way station was run by James Fears, a Tennessee emigrant who moved to Cajon Pass sometime during the 1860s.

He and his wife, Naomi, both 51 years old in 1870, lived in the pass with two of their daughters, aged 14 and 23. Another daughter, Rebecca Ann Bennette, and her two children moved to a separate house in the pass during the late 1860s, following the death of her first husband. One of her children, John, was still living in the Oro Grande area some 40 years later. "Uncle Jim," as Fears was often called by those who knew him, finally left Cajon Pass in 1874 and moved to Spadra, and he remained in that vicinity until his death in 1892.

Fears was well thought of by the people in this area. The editor of the Guardian once stated, "We know Mr. F to be a clever, honest man, one who makes no promises he is not able to fill." Uncle Jim naturally became acquainted with Captain Lane, and the two were on good terms, which is evidenced by their partnership in the Monarch claim in the Ord Mountain Mining District.

The anonymous diarist and the deputy were treated well during their overnight stay at the station. Immediately upon their arrival, Uncle Jim fed and watered their animals. He then took the men in to meet the other travelers, a group apparently comprised of some teamsters who were hauling two wagonloads of goods to Hardyville on the Colorado River, and a soldier who had been discharged recently from the guardhouse at a military post after being tried and cleared for the killing of two Indians.

That evening Mrs. Fears set the dinner table with delicious food and venison steaks "cooked to a nicety as only Mrs. F knows how." After dinner the diarist and his companion took a run up into the hills while there was still daylight, and returned to indulge in a smoke before turning in for the night. At five o'clock the next morning the two men were awakened by Uncle Jim's call for all hands to come to breakfast, and as soon as they finished eating they hitched up the mules and resumed their journey.

The author concluded his narrative on this segment of the trip by entering into his journal a commendation of John Brown's accomplishments on the turnpike:
    Our fellow townsman Mr. John Brown is deserving of the thanks of this community, of the teamsters, and last but not least the poor devils (the mules) who have to pass over this road, for the work that he commenced, finished and still keeps in good order; this route through and over the Cajon Pass. To the many who travel this road it is accepted as a matter of course, but to an old and observing traveller it is really a work reflecting credit on the designer and constructor.
The diarist's and others good opinion of Brown's turnpike was outweighed by those who brought significant commerce into San Bernardino, and by 1874 improvement of the road had become a primary issue. The freighting traffic on the turnpike had escalated greatly, due primarily to the demand for supplies at the new mining town of Panamint and the huge shipments of provisions being sent to the older mining communities in Arizona and the eastern Mojave Desert.

An excellent example of the magnitude of the supply system was given in an article in the Guardian, which described a single wagon train made up of 30 wagons with twelve-mule teams and carrying some 200,000 pounds of freight bound for Hardyville and Prescott, Arizona. For anyone who has visited the upper narrows and has seen the boulder-strewn route through the winding canyon, it is hard to visualize how anyone could have maneuvered such heavy loads and huge teams of animals through there.

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