|History - Newberry Springs, CA
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NEWBERRY
By William E. Smith
Much of the early history of the
Newberry Springs area starts in the Ice Age and is derived from archeologists
and anthropologists who have found evidence of the presence of man in the
20,000 + year old tools excavated from the Calico Early Man Site and a
human scull fragment found in the Schuilling Cave dating back at least
19,000 years. There is speculation that man may have inhabited the are
as far back as 500,000 years ago.
As the Ice Age ended, it left much
of the area covered by the ancient Lake Manix. Approximately 18,000 years
ago this lake was drained as a result of a huge earthquake, leaving the
area a series of swamps and marshes. The local inhabitants probably used
these to mire down the larger animals such as mammoths and camels prior
to dispatching them with their stone clubs.
As the weather became dryer, the
evidence of man seems to be centered around water sources. Evidence of
this can be found today in the many pictographs found on the rocks near
streams and springs of the area.
Newberry Springs was never a remote
area as it is bisected by one of the oldest trade routes of the new world
known as the Mojave Trail. There is evidence that this ancient trade route
that parallels the Mojave River was used at least 4,000 years ago by the
Mojave Indians of the Needles area to trade for shells with the coastal
Indians from San Diego to San Louis Obispo.
Two Mojave Indians guided the first
European Padre Francisco Garces through Newberry Springs by way of the
Mojave Trail in 1776 as he headed west in his quest to find a route between
New Mexico and the Missions of California. He mentions in his ledger the
Sarrano Indians encountered along the Mojave River.
In the years to follow the Mojave
trail saw traffic by Piute Indians driving herds of stolen Spanish horses,
mules and cattle eastbound, sometimes being chased in a running battle
by Spanish Dragoons. It was not unusual for the westbound traffic to include
Indian slaves for trade by other Indians to the Spanish Missions of California.
In those days the Mojave river was known as Rio de Los Animas ( the River
of the Spirits).
Trapper/trader Jedediah Smith named
the river "Inconstant" due to the fact that it would not run above ground
at all places. The first time Jed Smith came through Newberry Springs,
he was being chased by a war party of Mojave Indians. Future trips by Jed
were made through Newberry Springs at a more leisurely pace.
Kit Carson with the Ewing Young
trapper party and such other notable names as , George Yount, the Sublett
brothers and Thomas "Peg Leg" Smith traveled the trail in pursuit of beaver.
A yearly Spanish caravan of horses
and mules that was miles long traversed the trail from California to Santa
As the price of beaver declined,
many trappers and traders turned to thievery and joined New Mexicans and
powerful Indian chiefs such as the Ute chief Waraka "Hawk of the Mountains"
in stealing stock from the Spaniards of California and capturing and selling
Indian slaves to the California Missions. The Mojave Trail was the highway
of the day for such illicit endeavors. It was also suspected that the Springs
at Newberry with their abundant grass and water was a perfect place, off
the beaten path of the Mojave Trail as a collection point for both stock
Kit Carson made other trips through
the area. One such trip was with John C. Freemont on his scientific expedition
/ spy mission to California and again as a guide for Lt. Brewerton with
a 200 to 300 man expedition.
The California gold rush of 1849
saw an increase in traffic along the trail due to the fate of the Donner
Party, the Mojave Trail became the southern route to California. The wagon
trains from Salt Lake had to abandon stock and possessions along their
route to survive the trek across the waterless desert until they gained
the banks of the Mojave River at the intersection with the Mojave Trail.
The accounts of seeing the river with its clear fresh water, trees, wild
grapes and game after weeks of hardship, is depicted as like the discovery
of the Garden of Eden. It wasn't just the trek across barren desert with
no food or water for their stock and little for themselves that posed a
problem. Stragglers became fair game to roaming bands of Piute Indians.
There was only safety in a well armed large group. Many, who after recuperating
at the river, decided to backtrack a few miles to retrieve some precious
belonging thrown out along the trail were never seen again. The assortment
of trails the 49ers took from Salt Lake to the junction with the Mojave
Trail was collectively called the Old Spanish Trail, as it was the preferred
route by the New Mexican caravans and skirted the Mojave Indian territory
farther South on the Colorado River.
Sanford & Banning started a
freight and mail route between Salt Lake and San Bernardino in 22 days.
The Mojave Trail from the Mojave
River to Ft. Mojave on the Colorado River was known as the Mojave Road
for a short time until in 1854 it became known as the Government Road.
A pony express type mail service is started. Secretary of War Jeff Davis
hired Beale to experiment with Camels as riding and pack animals for his
soldiers escorting mail and freight along the Government Road. Fort Cady
was established in Newberry Springs at the forks of the road to house horse
and camel mounted cavalry as the Piutes and Chimehueve Indians continue
to prey on travelers and freighters.
Fort Cady was abandoned shortly
after the start of the Civil War and left in the hands of a local rancher.
The Indians took advantage of this fact and increased their raids. Burning
and killing at will. At the close of the war, it was time for revenge.
The fort was reestablished and became the hub for cavalry outposts set
up at every water hole and spring between the Mojave River and Fort Mojave.
The Indians were denied water and weakened, they were rounded up and sent
off to reservations in Southern Utah and Nevada. Even the peaceful Serrano
Indians along the Mojave River were marched off to the reservations. Those
that were missed in the roundup were dispatched by vigilante militia groups
who raided Indian camps killing all inhabitants. By 1868 the last of the
Indians were gone from the area one way or the other.
Mining interests in the area started
with the discovery of Gold and Silver by the 49ers as they took short prospecting
jaunts off the Old Spanish and Mojave Trails. The Alvord stamp mill was
set up on the Mojave River not far from Fort Cady. By the 1880's the area
began to become settled. At first it was traders and freighter stations
along the river. Local farms along the river supplied the needed stock
feed for travelers and the garrison at Fort Cady as well as some produce
for travelers on the Mojave Road. With the beginning of mining and the
resulting boom town of Calico, farming must have been quite lucrative for
those hardy soles. Mesquite wood from along the river and the Western shores
of Troy lake was continuously harvested to power the mills along the river
and at Calico.
In 1885 the railroad that is now
known as the Santa Fe was completed. This event created a slow decline
of travelers along the Mojave Trail. Fort Cady was abandoned. The farmers
along the river concentrated their efforts in supplying the needed feed
for the 20 mule teams bringing Borax into Daggett many of them abandoned
their places as did the trading and freighting stations along the river.
It was evident that the preferred method of travel across the desert was
by rail. Newberry Springs was called "Water" in those days. Water from
"Water" was shipped via tank car to fill all of the tanks and underground
cisterns located at the railroad section houses as far East as Essex. The
water from "Water" and now Newberry Springs has been, and remains, the
life giving force for much of the Eastern Mojave today.
With the advent of automobile travel,
a motor road was built that roughly paralleled the train tracks. This road
became Highway 66 but was not located where Highway 66 is today. In those
days it was further to the South, as it was imperative that it avoid the
marshes at the Springs, the seasonal bogs of Troy dry lake and the deep
sand of the valley floor. Today there are short stretches of this old highway
still visible. An occasional foundation and even graves mark spots along
this road where hearty souls spent their lives providing services to travelers
and local miners.
Eventually as road building methods
improved and the traffic warranted it, Highway 66 was realigned from the
springs East. The community of Water became known as Newberry and boasted
of its own post office.
From the turn of the century to
the 1920's there was little growth in the area except for a few part time
prospectors who lived in shacks in the valley and foothills. Mineral mining
had taken over where gold and silver left off.
In the mid and late 1920's there
was a flurry of homesteading taking place in the valley. Clearing land,
developing water and building a house were requirements for proof of homestead.
Water was plentiful throughout the valley, with average water tables at
12 to 16 feet below the surface. While many crops were tried, melons seemed
to be the favorite. I am sure this was the case partly because trailer
and pickup truck loads of melons packed in straw destined for Los Angeles
markets often contained the most lucrative product of the homesteaders,
Shortly after the great depression
began, there was another population explosion in Newberry. Highway 66 was
packed with Westbound refugees of the dust bowl. Many became stranded at
the springs where their varied assortment of vehicles just gave out for
good. The homesteaders in the valley became overwhelmed by friends and
relatives, city life in the depression was above their means, thus they
turned to desert living and the WPA project of building bridges over the
washes on Highway 91 to Las Vegas for survival. Life in the area was extremely
hard in those days. If it had not been for pure tenacity and the occasional
slaughtering of local ranchers' range cattle (locally dubbed "Slow Elk"),
many could have perished. It is likely that the herds of Desert Burros
in the Newberry and Rodman Mountains met the same fate as the Slow Elk.
As the depression subsided and city
dwelling became affordable the less rugged individuals opted to return
to city life leaving many adobe and clapboard shacks abandoned in the valley.
Travel along highway 66 however was being done by people with money in
their pockets. Consequently, many new establishments catering to the needs
of the tourists sprang up. The valley agriculture became dominated by chicken
ranches, most of them raising chickens for the Knotts Berry Farm chicken
restaurant in Buena Park. Walter Knott and his family had been previous
residents of Newberry and never forgot the assistance rendered to them
by the folks of this area in harder times.
When WWII began, the airport at
Daggett and to some extent the Marine Base near Barstow became places of
employment for many of the homesteaders in Newberry. Highway 66 was bustling
with military convoys. Gas rationing cut into the tourist traffic but there
was a constant flow of westbound traffic by mid westerners seeking defense
jobs on the coast. Everyone who had any hay growing on their places in
the valley raised beef for the black market in Los Angeles.
The end of the war saw another upsurge
in travel and more establishments were constructed along highway 66. At
its height, Newberry sported the following establishments along the highway:
5 gas stations, 4 motels, 4 auto repair garages, one general store, 1 grocery
store, 5 cafes, one rock and curio shop, 1 barber shop, 1 public swimming
pool and 1 or 2 beer joints. Alfalfa and melons became the major crops
of the valley. Turkey ranches joined the many chicken ranches in the livestock
In the late 50's and early 60's
the clean air, sunshine and healthful living of Newberry drew retirees
from the city. The agriculture of the area was now bolstered by catfish
farming. Much of it done by retired people with small ponds who wished
to subsidize their limited incomes. Newberry soon became known for its
many man made private lakes and ponds.
The building of Interstate 40 to
replace highway 66 dealt the highway businesses of Newberry a death blow
that will never recover. The only businesses that remained along highway
66 were those catering to the local inhabitants.
Newberry was renamed Newberry Springs
in 1967. This was partly due to the needs of the U. S. Postal Service,
as much of the mail addressed to Newberry ended up in the Newberry Park
post office. Possibly the delusions of grandeur promoted by local land
developers helped also.
Newberry Springs today is a growing
agricultural and retirement based community with widely scattered small
businesses. The many man made recreational and water-ski lakes in Newberry
Springs attract visitors from far and wide. The main attraction today remains
as it was long ago - WATER.
Copyright 1995, William E. Smith,
All Rights Reserved