|Pioneer of the Mojave: The Life and Times of Aaron G. Lane by
Richard D. Thompson
THE TOLL ROAD THROUGH CAJON PASS
The economy of the desert community in pioneer days was,
and still is for that matter, tied inextricably to the road through Cajon
Pass. Practically everyone used this route to travel back and forth between
the desert and the inland valleys or the coast. The miners and ranchers,
as well as the immigrants and freighters, utilized the pass, and the supplies
and services provided to the desert dwellers by those "down below" came
through the same corridor. In 1861 John Brown significantly improved a
pack trail through Cajon Pass and charged toll for its use.
During the early 1870s the toll road, or "turnpike" as
many called it, was kept in poor condition in the opinion of many of the
teamsters, desert residents and others who regularly used the road. In
the spring of 1875 Captain Lane and his friend, George Blake, determined
to take action to correct the problem and ran an advertisement in the March
29th issue of the San Bernardino Weekly Argus:
|THE UNDERSIGNED gives notice that in consequence of the
bad condition of the Cajon Toll Road, that unless the road is put in thorough
repair by the 1st. day of May, the citizens living between the Point of
Rocks and Lane's Crossing, they will decline to pay toll after the above
A. G. LANE
The deadline lapsed, and true to his word, Lane circumvented
the tollhouse gate on several occasions. In the summer of 1875 John J.
Driggers, who had leased the road from John Brown, was compelled to sue
Lane in San Bernardino District Court in order to get him to cease the
Brown participated in the case of Driggers v Lane on behalf
of Driggers, and thus two well-known and respected pioneers became pitted
against each other. The case soon developed in complexity, extending far
beyond the original issue of maintenance. Before it ended, even Brown's
authority to charge toll was brought into question.
Photo from Thompson Collection
TOLL ROAD OWNER JOHN BROWN SR. (SEATED), WITH
PIONEER SILAS COX, ON AN OUTING IN THE MOUNTAINS
SANFORD'S ROAD THROUGH CAJON PASS
The toll road was an adaptation of the old Spanish Trail,
which, prior to Brown's improvement, was suitable only for pack trains,
although wagons could be taken through with extreme difficulty. Sydney
Waite and Sheldon Stoddard used the road on their trip into California
in 1849, and their wagons had to be unloaded and actually dismantled in
order to traverse the steep and narrow, boulder-strewn canyons characterizing
the east Cajon route.
The following year, freighters Phineas Banning and W.
T. B. Sanford constructed a much better wagon road through the west Cajon
valley. The route was not nearly as rough as the crossing on the old Spanish
Trail five or six miles to the east, but it lengthened the travel by several
miles and it was described as being excessively steep at the summit.
In 1855 the west Cajon route was further improved by Sanford,
who constructed a new summit crossing about one and one-half miles west
of his original road. The grades of this road were stated to be "only 30%,"
although the last 150 yards were acknowledged to be "precipitous." In the
case of one caravan of fifteen wagons, it was reported that the usual unloading
and reloading of the freight was avoided only by hitching 32 mules, in
turn, to each wagon.
BROWN'S TURNPIKE AND
VAN DUSEN'S ROAD BUILT
So while Sanford's road was definitely an improvement,
the trip over the summit was still arduous for those hauling heavily loaded
conveyances. The steep grade vexed the freighters for years, and it was
not until 1861, with the increased trade to the mines and the need to transport
heavy machinery to Holcomb Valley, that the impetus was provided to do
something about the situation. The Los Angeles Star ran an article on April
6, 1861, proclaiming that it was essential to improve the road that was
so vital to the economy of the Southland:
|This road is the great thoroughfare from Los Angeles
and San Bernardino to the great gold and silver fields now known to exist
and which at present are being worked, east of the Sierra Nevada and Coast
Range Mountains. And not only this, but over it all the travel from the
north, not passing over the San Fernando Mountain, going southward, must
pass. At the head of the cañon is one of the steepest mountains
in the State, over which a road passes, and teamsters have always complained
of the great difficulties encountered in the ascent.
So severely has this been felt, that many of them have
offered $5 a load toll to any parties who would cut down the mountain and
make a turnpike road of it. As the travel on this road has been greatly
increased of late by the trade to the mines, it has become absolutely necessary
to take steps to improve the mountain pass road. For this purpose subscription
lists have been circulated this week here and in San Bernardino, to raise
money to cut down the road across the mountain, and thus facilitate transit
to the mines.
Although it is not clear from this article, there were
actually two separate roads under review. One would connect the mines at
Holcomb Valley with Cajon Pass by traversing down the north slope of the
San Bernardino Mountains, and this was the one to be constructed with funds
obtained from subscriptions. The other road was proposed to go through
the pass and link the desert to the valley, and was to be built as a private
venture for the purpose of collecting toll.
On April 20th, the Star reported that prospective subscribers
for the Holcomb Valley road had appointed a committee consisting of prominent
Cucamonga citizen John Rains, freighter W. T. B. Sanford and Los Angeles
merchant Francis Mellus, who had examined the road and had returned with
recommendations for alternative alignments. The cost was less than the
$2,000 previously estimated, and it turned out the amount needed had already
been collected. Elsewhere in the same issue of the Star, an article stated
that Jed Van Dusen, the miner who later built the Holcomb Valley road,
had been over the proposed route a second time, and he felt it was much
better than he originally had supposed.
Meanwhile, on April 17th the state had passed legislation
entitled, "An Act to Authorize the Construction of a Wagon Road in the
Cajon Pass," which gave John Brown, Henry M. Willis and George L. Tucker
the right to construct a road and to collect toll for its use at rates
to be determined each year by the County Board of Supervisors. Work began
immediately under a contract granted to Sydney P. Waite, Horace C. Rolfe
and David N. Smith, who directed a crew of 30 to 40 workers. The job before
them would not be easy, since the route went through some very difficult
The road began at Martin's Ranch near present-day Devore
and traversed Cajon Canyon. Partway up the canyon, at what is now Blue
Cut, was the narrowest segment of the lower portion of the road, known
at that time as the "lower narrows." Continuing up the canyon along the
bank of the creek, the road entered a ravine currently called Crowder Canyon,
but known as Coyote Canyon in pioneer times.
Glenn Edgerton photo
COYOTE CANYON AT THE UPPER NARROWS. THE TOLL ROAD
CAN BARELY BE SEEN AS A HORIZONTAL LINE A FEW FEET ABOVE
THE FLOOR OF THE CREEK, BEHIND THE TOP OF THE BUSH.
This area, which was referred to as the "upper narrows,"
is extremely constricted in places, and is strewn with boulders, many of
considerable size. The road followed the canyon bottom for a distance before
turning up the steep ascent towards the summit. This was the section of
road that caused the most trouble, both during the initial construction
and subsequently with maintenance. By midsummer the construction was complete,
and the Board of Supervisors established what seems to be a fairly stiff
|Man & Horse-------------------------------------.25
Wagon and one Span of Horses-----------1.00
Each additional Span---------------------------.25
Loose Stock Cattle or Horses per head----.05
Horse Cart or Buggy--------------------------- .50
Shortly after the completion of the turnpike and Van Dusen's
road, Mellus hired the freighting firm of Banning and Hinchman to move
a boiler weighing 8,000 pounds from Los Angeles to Holcomb Valley. The
boiler was to be used at the quartz mill, where they crushed the ore. There
were differences of opinion on whether the monstrous apparatus could be
hauled over the mountains, but under the direction of the capable Sanford,
the feat was accomplished.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 12, 1879
TRANSPORTING HEAVY MACHINERY UP STEEP MOUNTAIN
ROADS WAS A MONUMENTAL JOB. TEAMS IN CAJON
PASS OFTEN CONSISTED OF 12 MULES OR HORSES.
The wagons left Los Angeles on the 17th of July and arrived
at Holcomb Valley on August 13th. This had been the first major challenge
for Brown and his road, and he had done everything in his power to assist
Sanford in his efforts. The Los Angeles Star, reporting on their success,
said, "All wagons from Los Angeles and San Bernardino now go by the turnpike
-- the old Spanish trail, made into a good wagon road, having grass and
water within easy distances."
BROWN FACES HARDSHIPS DUE
TO FLOODS AND MARAUDERS
The toll road was associated with John Brown from the
very beginning, the other two men being financial backers. Henry Willis
was a lawyer at the time and later a judge, and he became very prominent
in the San Bernardino area. George L. Tucker, referred to as "the Major,"
was a successful investor.
In July of 1861 Tucker received the attention of the press
when he bought the American Exchange, a saloon located across from the
well-known Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles. "Major Tucker," said the Star,
"has been in enterprises in this section heretofore, having been one of
the joint purchasers of San Bernardino rancho in 1857, when the Mormons
sold out and left that place."
Willis and Tucker lent Brown $213.50 each, a total of
$427, to build the road. This must have been in addition to the money they
put up for their own shares. The funds were lent at three-percent interest
per month, a common figure for the time, and were to be paid back out of
the proceeds from the toll collection. Brown was in a position to buy out
Willis' interest in the road before the end of 1861, and was able to buy
Tucker's share by April of 1863.
Photo from Heritage of the Valley, courtesy Kay Beattie
FRANCIS MELLUS' 8,000-POUND BOILER IN HOLCOMB VALLEY
In February 1862 the Board released Brown from paying
taxes on the toll road, for reasons not entirely clear from the minutes,
but presumably having to do with the damage done to the road by the terrible
storms that inundated San Bernardino County in the winter of 1861/62. There
was some question whether Brown would be able to restore the road at all,
due to financial concerns.
The rains had begun in late December of 1861, and by early
January much of the area had already experienced heavy flooding. On January
10th, a Holcomb Valley man by the name of J. G. Nichols hiked out of the
mountains by way of the desert road, and according to his reports the Mojave
River was running very high, and he could see lakes all over the desert
where none had been before. In describing the pass, he said, "...there
is no road at all, the torrents have swept every thing out of their way."
John Brown, though devastated by the loss of his road,
resolved to rebuild it, and as can be seen in this January 12th correspondence
to Judge Benjamin Hayes, Brown's biggest obstacle was funding for the project:
|It has been raining three weeks steadily at San Bernardino.
My road...is all washed away; all my former work is lost; I have now to
make a new road, or lose all that I have expended. Some people advise me
to quit road-building, but I am determined to build a road at all hazards.
I returned from the road yesterday, and shall go back to-morrow with the
men, etc., to build it up again. My greatest trouble is the money to pay.
Is Godey or Miguel Ortiz in Los Angeles?
Brown did restore the road, but it took most of his assets.
He was forced to sell all of his hay and the larger portion of his cattle.
John Brown might not have been so determined to rebuild
his road if he had known of the headaches that were in store for him. One
of his problems, at least for the original tollhouse, was marauders. He
had built the structure in the upper narrows, and its vulnerable location
below a bluff made it an inviting target.
|In May of 1862 Indians attacked and wounded the keeper
of the tollgate, David Noble Smith. According to an account given by W.
F. Holcomb, the attack occurred around sundown, when Smith and a hired
man named Larkin Reeder were working outside in the yard in front of the
tollhouse (John Brown had left the area to take his family to the safety
of the city, because he had seen several signs of Indians in the Cajon
area). The Indians slipped up into some cover on the steep bluff overlooking
the station and began firing on the two men, which sent both of them running
for the tollhouse. Before reaching safety, Smith was seriously, though
not mortally, wounded.
A few days later Holcomb passed through the area on his
way to the mountains and learned of the attack. He enlisted the aid of
three others and tracked the band of Indians up Lytle Creek, over the mountains
and out into the desert, eventually giving up the chase at Tehachapi.
Another incident, which made the news, occurred a year
later in May of 1863, when the tollhouse was visited by horse thieves.
Some "light-fingered gents" entered Brown's pasture at the station and
stole two of his fine mules and a saddle horse, plus two additional horses
belonging to a man freighting goods to Holcomb Valley. They sent for the
sheriff, who tracked the thieves for some distance into the desert, but
was unable to catch up with them. The newspaper warned, "If there are any
more of the same breed of dogs left behind, expecting to make a similar
haul, I would advise them not to be seen lurking in the vicinity of the
tollgate," and offered a bet that "Don Juan gets the scalp of the first
suspicious individual he catches about his premises."
A SECOND TOLLHOUSE BECOMES NECESSARY
John Brown's daughter, Louisa, who married San Bernardino
attorney Byron Waters, recalled some of the events that took place in Cajon
Pass in a story she wrote for a magazine article many decades later. She
said her father's principal duties were to collect tolls, keep the road
in good repair, and keep an eye out for hostile Indians.
Early on it was discovered that some cattlemen were avoiding
the toll by skirting the tollhouse in the upper narrows. This was simple
enough to do by merely going through the west Cajon valley over Sanford's
road, which connected to Brown's turnpike below the tollhouse. Louisa wrote
that the solution to the problem was the construction of another tollhouse
at the lower narrows.
Based on statements in the judge's instructions to the
jury in Driggers v Lane, the lower tollhouse was put in place three or
four years after the road was built. Thanks to a July 1864 trip to the
Arizona mines by celebrated chemist and metallurgist Benjamin Silliman,
Jr., the date can be even further pinpointed. Silliman wrote a report of
his journey, in which he mentioned the new tollgate:
|An adventurous pioneer on the outskirts of civilization
has erected a toll gate just before entering the Cajon Pass, where he exacts
a fee of all passers in return for some labor bestowed upon the road at
that point; this 'black mail' is cheerfully paid to the self-constituted
Louisa does not mention the names of the cattlemen who
avoided the toll, but the revenue lost from Lane's few livestock, or that
of any other single Mojave dweller at that time, was not enough to warrant
constructing and manning a new station. The one exception might have been
the Parrish ranch in Summit Valley, but it is more likely that the source
was the herds of "foreign" stock, such as those brought by J. E. Pleasants
and others from the Los Angeles area.
Pleasants, in fact, admits that on his trip in 1864, the
drovers took the wagons "through the toll gates, but took the stock up
the canyon, not having to go through the gate." Brown's loss in this one
incident was $150 (five cents times 3,000 head of cattle), which makes
Pleasants' cattle drive the prime candidate for the reason the tollhouse
was constructed at the lower narrows -- and the dates jibe.
MORE PROBLEMS WITH INDIANS AND FLOODS
The keepers of the lower tollhouse fared much better with
the Indians than those at the upper station. Louisa Waters wrote that her
father had taken precautions against the Indians by building high board
fences around both tollhouses, and that at the lower station he had dug
a cave into an embankment to be used as refuge during an attack. Actually,
it was more likely that the cave was used for storing supplies, as stated
in an anonymous article appearing in a Covered Wagon Days program. The
precautions at the lower tollhouse proved unnecessary, as the only difficulty
with Indians there was when eight of their best horses were stolen.
1949 Covered Wagon Days program
SITE OF BROWN'S ORIGINAL TOLLGATE IN THE LOWER NARROWS.
THE CAVE HE DUG INTO THE BANK, MOST OF WHICH STILL EXISTS, APPEARS AT BOTTOM
RIGHT OF PHOTO.
The upper tollhouse was not as fortunate. There were further
incidents involving Indians in and around the upper narrows, one of which
was recounted by pioneer George Miller. Miller tells the story of the time
Sydney P. Waite noticed a bluejay darting down on something concealed in
the bushes on the bluff. Always on the alert for Indians, Waite was suspicious
and fired a shot into the area where the bird was flitting about. Nothing
moved, nor was there any sound, but after thinking about it overnight,
he investigated the spot the next day and found the dead body of an Indian.
In December of 1867 another round of major storms began,
and soon after the first of the new year, reports came in that the road
had been greatly damaged and that the floods had "torn it all to pieces."
It was virtually impassable, but Brown gave assurances that he would repair
it as soon as the weather permitted. In a letter to the editor of the San
Bernardino Guardian dated January 22nd, Brown wrote that he was making
steady, if not rapid, progress on the restoration of his road:
|I am way up here above the clouds, amidst the snow-capped
peaks of the Sierra Nevada, trying to repair the damage done to the Cajon
road during the floods; I feel confident for the task, and am making good
headway. Only two places remain bad and they are not so as to prevent teams
from passing through the Cañon. A government train, heavily loaded,
passed on the way to Camp Cady safe on Friday last.
I would have made better progress in repairing my road,
had not some villain broke my iron scrapers to pieces, carrying off my
chains and injuring the tools I have to work with.
In a report to the Board of Supervisors, Brown gave a
financial statement for the year ending December 31, 1867. He showed total
expenses on the road equaled $8,203.45, while total receipts were only
$6,261.68, for a net loss of $1,941.77. The report was included in the
minutes of the November 19, 1867, meeting, so his figures had been projected
to the end of the year. His costs, therefore, could not have included his
losses from the heavy damages caused by the floods, and thus appear to
be quite high for ordinary annual expenses.
In spite of Brown's declared losses, the Board ordered
the toll rate to remain as originally established. This decision did not
seem to be in accordance with the legislative act, which stipulated that
the Supervisors "shall not so establish, or reduce, the rates of toll,
so as to make the dividend on said road less than three per cent. per month
upon a fair valuation of the said road...." A complete accounting is not
given in the Board's minutes, so the reasons behind the decision to leave
the toll unchanged are not fully known.
One area where Brown did receive some assistance was in
a reduced appraisal, and therefore, a reduced tax. The toll road originally
had been assessed at $1,000, but in 1867 the figure had declined to $800,
and by 1869, the assessment was only $600. However, though the declining
appraisals were a temporary financial advantage, they actually represented
a reduction in the value of the road, which meant that Brown's investment
was being undermined by the constant flooding problems.
LEASES ROAD TO MCKENNEY AND MATHEWS
In April of 1868 Brown ran an advertisement announcing
he had leased the road out to others for a period of one year so that he
could take a vacation:
|The undersigned...would respectfully inform his friends
and the public that he has leased his Toll Road in the Cajon Pass, to the
enterprising gentlemen, McKenney & Mathews, for the term of one year,
they taking possession on the 25th Inst., and are to keep the road in good
This road is twelve miles in length, crossing the entire
range of the Sierra Nevada, and like all other mountain Roads is subject
to damage by floods. The proprietor has spared no pains in keeping the
Road in repair at all Seasons of the year. No Road in the State is kept
in better condition....
Brown did not reveal in his announcement whether the burdens
of tending to his hellish road had anything to do with his decision, but
he did make what seem to be somewhat defensive comments about the job he
had been doing in maintaining the road. Brown often sounded defensive about
the turnpike, so there must have been more than just a few complaints,
however it was not until the mid-1870s that the condition of the toll road
became a major issue.
Flooding problems revisited the pass in March 1869, when
torrents of rain from a cloudburst did extensive damage to Brown's toll
road. The road was impassable for heavily loaded wagons, and a large work
crew was needed to restore it.
The road crossed Cajon Creek about one-half mile above
the lower narrows on what was then the site of the Faurot house (later
called Bear Flat Ranch or Station, and now known as Cosy Dell). During
the storm, three men attempted to cross the creek at this spot, but the
flooding was so bad they lost their wagon and everything in it, their four
horses drowned, and the men only narrowly escaped with their own lives.
The destruction once again of his road must have made
Brown feel the job he had taken on was next to impossible. But some of
the travelers on the turnpike were unsympathetic to the problems he faced
in maintaining it, and as the traffic on the road grew over the years,
so did the protests about the condition in which it was kept.
Historical accounts show that the trip over the toll road
was difficult, to say the least. In 1865 Elliot Coues had traveled through
Cajon Pass on a journey in which he retraced the route taken by Francisco
Garces in 1775-76, and the data Coues gathered on the trip was later published
in his book, On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer. He described Brown's turnpike
as a "narrow, deep and tortuous canyon, the roughest I have ever traversed
on wheels; there was ten miles of this from the tollgate to Martin's ranch."
Others were just as dissatisfied as Coues. In 1873, after
receiving increasing complaints and a petition from teamsters objecting
to the sorry state of the road, the Board of Supervisors agreed there was
a need to address the problem, although no action was taken at that time.
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.
D'Heureuse photo, courtesy Bancroft Library
MARTIN'S RANCH IN CAJON PASS
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
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.
BROWN MAKES IMPROVEMENTS TO TOLL ROAD
In the latter part of 1874, John Brown finally decided
to make some improvements to the turnpike, a decision no doubt spurred
for the most part by the explosion of activity created by the Panamint
mines, and the constant flow of traffic between there and the Southern
Pacific railhead at Spadra. The increase in toll collections from this
traffic was substantial enough to support a major reconstruction on the
steepest segment of the road near the summit.
THE UPPER TOLLHOUSE IN 1863
In September Brown promised to relocate the road, so that
teams could "go through the low gap to the right of the top of the hill,
thereby avoiding the high ascent of the present road." He also planned
to improve the new route by blasting a 185-foot segment in order to reduce
the grade even further. In early December it was reported that a "splendid
highway" was under construction, and Brown announced he would "spare no
expense in improving it to perfection." On December 28th the San Bernardino
Weekly Argus gave a glowing account of the project:
|THE NEW ROAD -- The new road being built by Mr. Brown
is certainly a great improvement. It intercepts the toll road about a mile
above Fear's station and runs in a direct line for Panamint and is nearer
Bear and Holcomb valleys, and other mining districts, than the old road.
Mr. Brown has had considerable experience in road building
and has selected an excellent grade over the summit, perfectly straight,
and wide enough for teams to pass each other nearly all the way. The summit
is a hard cement formation and has to be blasted. Several cuts are being
made and hollows filled, some a long distance. The work was finished in
early February, and Brown, in an ebullient mood, said, "I wish...to inform
the traveling public that the so-much-talked-of new wagon road through
the Cajon Pass, is finished, the last spike driven."
LEASES ROAD TO DRIGGERS
Brown was finally on the verge of success with this most
difficult endeavor. He had every prospect for enormous profits from the
Panamint trade, yet he apparently decided he had had enough of its never-ending
maintenance problems and he leased the road to John J. Driggers of San
The lease, which began on May 1, 1875, was for a period
of one year at $125 per month, and included all the houses and barns at
the lower tollgate. Driggers was to maintain the turnpike in such condition
that "ten and twelve mule teams and wagons" could safely "and conveniently
pass along and over said road." Brown reserved the right for his family,
and the families of his sons-in-law, Sydney P. Waite, Byron Waters and
W. R. Wozencraft, to use the road free of charge, not to exceed two freight
wagons and one stage.
Though Brown's turnpike had undergone a total reconstruction
at the summit, repair elsewhere on the road had been neglected. There were
people who were still dissatisfied, Captain Lane among them. It was in
the month following completion of the project that he and George Blake
published their notice that they and the other Mojave River settlers would
"decline" to pay toll after May 1st if the road was not repaired.
DRIGGERS V LANE
Within three weeks after the deadline passed, Lane began
making good his proclamation, and Driggers, now in control of the turnpike,
was forced to file suit against him. The attorneys representing Driggers
were Rolfe, Waters and John Brown, Jr. Lane used the law firm of Paris,
Bledsoe and Goodcell. The complaint listed six declarations, which are
noted here in brief:
|1) The State Legislature passed an act authorizing the
construction of the road and the collection of toll for a 20-year period.
2) The road was surveyed and constructed as required,
commencing at Martin's Station and ending at a point two and one-half miles
northeast of Fears' Station.
3) Willis and Tucker sold their interests in the road
4) Brown leased the road to Driggers.
5) On May 19 and May 21, 1875, defendant A. G. Lane "forcibly
passed through the toll-gate thereon with one two-horse wagon without paying
and refusing to pay the legal toll"; and again on June 12th, June 15th
and July 21st, he "turned out of said road with his said two horse team,
and passed around said gate on ground adjacent thereto, and again entered
said road and continued traveling on the same without paying and refusing
to pay the legal toll...."
6) "That defendant is indebted to said plaintiff for said
legal toll in the sum of $6 and according to law, for turning out of said
road three times to avoid paying the legal toll $5; for each offense, $15,
and for forcibly passing through said gate three times without paying the
legal toll, $25 for each offense, $75, amounting in all to $96."
Lane's response to the suit took an interesting turn when
he or his lawyers decided to challenge Brown's right to operate the lower
tollgate at the southern end of the turnpike, where travel over the public
road had been blocked. Obstruction of the public highway was expressly
forbidden in Section 3 of the legislative act for the toll road, which
stated, "Said road...shall not hinder nor obstruct the existing traveled
road through said pass."
This was recognized even during construction, as the June
1, 1861, issue of the Los Angeles Star stated:
|This road does not in the least infringe upon, impede
or obstruct the travel on the present road through the Pass, but the grant
locates the turnpike through the canyon that was traveled by the large
immigration that came into this valley in 1847, which pass for some eight
or ten years has been almost entirely abandoned, except occasionally its
being used as a pack trail.
In his answer to the complaint, Lane alleged that Brown
could not legally collect toll at all on the lower portion of the turnpike,
since for the most part that stretch of road had not been a new construction,
but merely an improvement of the existing public road. "...Plaintiff is
not now and has not been in charge of any toll road upon which he was authorized
to collect toll," Lane asserted. Further, "...Said road is not and never
has been a toll road, but the same is a Public highway free for all persons
to travel over and has been so for twenty years last past."
His final allegation stated, "...Plaintiff has Erected
and is Keeping a toll gate upon a public highway that has been in use for
twenty years...and was used as a Public highway ten years before the passage
of the act of Legislature...."
The public highway utilized Sanford's road in the west
Cajon valley and then followed an alignment of the old Spanish Trail. Lane
was not challenging Brown's right to charge toll for the section of his
road in the east Cajon that crossed over the summit and ran down through
Crowder Canyon. He was contesting that portion southerly of the present-day
truck scales operated by the California Highway Patrol on Interstate 15,
which was where Brown's turnpike and the public road both came together
and followed the alignment of the Spanish Trail. This section was open
to the public until Brown built the lower tollhouse at a point where the
narrows were just a few yards in width.
SECTION OF 1875 LOS ANGELES AND INDEPENDENCE RAILWAY
MAP, FROM MARTIN'S RANCH TO FEARS' HOUSE. FAUROT'S HOUSE IS LATER CALLED
BEAR FLAT RANCH, TO WHERE THE LOWER TOLLGATE WAS EVENTUALLY MOVED. THE
FORK AT THE NORTH END OF THE MAP IS WHERE THE TOLL ROAD JOINS WITH THE
ROAD FROM SANFORD'S PASS. THE SITE NAMES ARE TOO SMALL TO READ, SO THEY
HAVE BEEN TYPED IN.
The group of witnesses called upon to testify was an impressive
assemblage of early pioneers who might have been expected to know every
aspect of the history of the road, or of travel in Cajon Pass for that
matter. Included were David Noble Smith and Sydney P. Waite, both of whom
helped build the road and at one time served as tollkeepers on the turnpike.
Also giving testimony were David Seely, Parley Heap, Chris Taylor, J. B.
Forbes, Archibald Martin, a Mr. Prothero (probably John), and a half-dozen
others. Surveyor Fred T. Perris and his chainman, J. E. Pick, also were
called upon to testify.
Altogether fifteen witnesses were paid for appearing in
court, most of them for three days. Fred Perris was paid an additional
$50 for "diagnosis," which most likely meant he served as the equivalent
of today's "expert witness."
The statements of the witnesses were not transcribed,
but the judge's instructions to the jury were recorded, and show that the
focus of the case centered on construction that was done 13 years previously
in the vicinity of the lower tollhouse. The road in this area was extensively
damaged in the 1862 storms, and Brown graded a new one on higher ground
for about one-half mile parallel to the original road. This became the
crux of Lane's defense, since Brown's tollhouse, fences and structures
blocked the original track from public use.
The judge's instructions are summarized here, as they
assist in understanding the direction of the case:
| 1) The toll road could not be constructed in such
a manner as to hinder travel to such a degree as to cause the public road
to fall into disuse. If the jury found from the evidence that the public
road had been so obstructed by Brown, then plaintiff could not recover
2) If any portion of the public road was taken over by
the plaintiff, and toll demanded from the defendant for passing over that
section, then that toll was unlawful and the jury should not find for the
3) This point introduces the issue of Brown's blockage
of the old road that was damaged in the 1862 storms. The instructions reveal
that the public was allowed free access to his newly-graded road until
the lower tollhouse was constructed. The judge stated that if the jury
found that at this time Brown had erected a fence, or corral and barn,
or other obstruction across the narrows for the purpose of preventing the
public from using the old track, then the plaintiff was to lose the suit.
4) If the jury found that Brown had built any obstruction
for the purpose of causing the one-half mile of old road to be abandoned
by travelers so that it would fall into disuse, then the verdict should
be for the defendant.
5) If the road was simply straightened and improved at
the narrows so as to cause the public to travel upon these improvements
for three or four years prior to erecting the toll gate, then plaintiff
could not win the suit.
6) If the old road had been abandoned and had fallen into
disuse before the erection of the fence, then the building of the fence
did not affect the right to collect toll, and the jury could find for the
From the instructions it can be seen that the issues are
complex, but essentially the jury is being asked to decide whether Brown
had intentionally caused a section of the old road to fall into disuse,
or whether it had been abandoned simply because a better road was available.
If the latter were the case, then toll could be collected legally, in that
the old road had become public because of usage over the years, and if
several years passed without the road being traveled, the public lost that
The case was argued before the court on the evening of
October 3, 1875, and after a short deliberation, the jury found for the
plaintiff. The press received information that this was not the end of
the issue, for on October 5th it was reported, "There will probably be
more of the case.... We learn that another suit will be brought and that
the case recently decided will be appealed to the Supreme Court." The decision
was never appealed nor were there any other lawsuits, but the issue of
excessive tolls and poor maintenance did not subside until the turnpike
became a public road and the fees were discontinued.
Captain Lane was not ready to give up yet in his fight
for a public highway. During the trial the judge had directed that if any
individuals wanted a toll adjustment when utilizing the public road, they
must apply to the Supervisors. The Board alone, he stated, had the right
to regulate toll on the road.
Lane subsequently circulated a petition, which was signed
by D. Cahill, William Pierce, John Prothero, and others living on the river,
requesting that they be allowed to reopen the old road at the earliest
opportunity. The petition was submitted to the Board and discussed during
the meeting of December 7, 1875. It read, in part:
|Your petitioners living on the Mojave River being heavily
taxed in consequence of the high rates of toll charged on the Toll Road
running through the Cajon Pass in the County, and the old Road formerly
running through the said Pass having been hindered and totally obstructed
by the owner of the said Toll Road, which is itself almost impassable,
respectfully ask that they be allowed the privilege of opening the old
road through the said Cajon Pass.
The Board granted the petition without further comment,
thereby setting up a potential confrontation, though no reports of subsequent
conflicts can be found.
The Board's grant of the petition came to naught, and
complaints about the toll road resumed. In October of 1876 the newspaper
published an editorial on the issue, being very careful not to accuse the
respected proprietor of the turnpike of being remiss:
|We have heard many complaints from persons living on
the Mojave on account of the expense they are under in traveling to and
from town by having to pay high rates of toll and many of the settlers
are even talking of transfering their trade from this town to Mojave Station
[Kern County railroad station]. No complaints are made of the road or its
proprietor, who is under very heavy expenses in keeping the same in repair,
and to whom they give the credit of doing his duty faithfully, but they
think that, as the county is benefitted by their trade it should furnish
them a road at public expense and relieve them of the onerous tax to which
they are now subjected.
A burden which is crushing to the few becomes light when
supported by the many. If a fair figure were offered, the proprietor would
undoubtedly dispose of his franchise and the road could be opened to the
public. It may be well for our Supervisors to give this matter their serious
consideration as we are not strong enough to bear the loss of the business
of so important a tract as the Mohave.
JOHN BROWN, SR.
Months passed with no action being taken, until finally
the Supervisors ordered John Brown to appear before them and explain why
the toll should not be reduced. Following a delay due to illness, Brown
did appear before the Board on March 11, 1878, to plead his case. He successfully
argued to keep the old toll rates, but the Board ordered one modification
in the toll collection: he was to allow teams and wagons hauling forage
to the summit to pay only one way, provided they returned empty.
Brown also was ordered to construct two turnarounds in
the upper narrows, and to improve the road at a place called Point of Rocks,
also located in the upper narrows (not to be confused with Point of Rocks
on the Mojave River). He was given a deadline of June 1, 1878, to complete
One week before the deadline, on May 24, 1878, Brown sold
the toll road franchise to Jesse Tay and Charles M. Lawrence, both of whom
were miners prior to coming to San Bernardino in 1875. Having learned from
his experience with the Driggers case and perhaps fearing further action
by the Board of Supervisors, Brown inserted a clause in the transfer documents
to protect himself from future grief:
|The grantor in no way guarantees the right to collect
tolls on said road nor the validity of the said franchise nor its duration
nor the legality of such tolls, but the grantees assume all risk as to
those matters, and to take this transfer subject to such risk and no claim
or adjudication in any way impairing or annulling the right to collect
on diminished tolls on said road shall ever in any manner create any liability
On the same day as the sale, Tay and Lawrence took out
a mortgage that included the Bear Flat Ranch property and all of its improvements.
They then moved the lower tollgate to the ranch, and headquartered all
their operations there.
Wallace W. Elliott, History of San Bernardino and San
Diego Counties, 1883
TAY AND LAWRENCE'S LOWER TOLLHOUSE
AT THE BEAR FLAT RANCH (NOW COSY DELL)
1880 photo of the lower Cozy Dell Tollhouse
October 17, 1882, was a day for the Mojave settlers to
celebrate. That was the day the charter for the turnpike finally expired,
and the road became a public thoroughfare. One of the newspapers reported,
"Some ingenious person has draped the toll gate pole in black and swung
it over the road so travelers may mourn over the event of its demise, but
at the top of the pole is a sprig of evergreen, emblematic, we suppose,
that no more toll has to be paid." It is easy to imagine Aaron as one of
those who had a hand in the ceremonial last rites for the tollgate, but
the responsible parties remain anonymous.
Another great article by Richard D. Thompson.....SAGEBRUSH
ANNIE AND THE SAGEBRUSH ROUTE by Richard D. Thompson
You will find it and other on his main web site. Mojave
History by Richard D. Thompson
I suggest you take sometime and look what he has. CH