OF THE ANTELOPE VALLEY
Lake Mojave Period (Part 1 of 4)
The relatively short history of East Kern County, or specifically the Antelope Valley, is proceeded by a long and richly varied history for the region in general. The prehistoric record of Native American Occupation of the area may extend back 10,000 years or more.
Aside from a few exceptions such as the “early man” site east of Barstow, the first well established period of the Mojave Desert is the “Lake Mojave” period. This period began around 10,000 years ago and lasted to about 6,000 years ago. The end of the Pleistocene Epoch in geological history coincides with the end of the last major glacial period in North America, the Wisconsin Ice Age.
As this last major ice advance began to retreat, a combination of glacial melt, cool temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns produced a situation in which precipitation and runoff exceeded evaporation. The result was the formation of the long chain of large lakes which ran from Northern Nevada all the way down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through today’s Mojave Desert, and down to the Gulf of California. The remnants of these large lakes, are known to our desert residents, as “Dry Lakes”.
The environment of the Mojave Desert 10,000 years ago, in the system of lakes, was very different from what it is today. Water and vegetation were abundant with large numbers of animals present. With the animals, followed man.
The humans of the “Lake Mojave” period led a relatively simple life moving randomly up and down the string of lakes hunting the large animals who frequented the area. Maintaining a simple but efficient “stone age” technology, moving about frequently and carrying his belongings with them, these people left relatively little evidence of their passing. The sites of their living and hunting camps, usually located around ancient shorelines of these lakes, tell us little of the overall way of life of these people.
The nearest of these ancient lakes from this period, to East Kern County, is Rogers Dry Lake, on Edwards Air Force Base.
Pinto Basin Period (Part 2 of 4)
Following the “Lake Mojave” period, for human pre-history, is the “Pinto Basin” Period. Its time span is roughly between 6,000 to 3,000 years before present. This period is distinguished from the “Lake Mojave” Period, with more evident human sites, which were larger and more widely distributed. These sites also portrayed a more complex and sophisticated human structure.
Many of the evolved changes, were a result of environmental changes due to shrinking lakes and the disappearance of many of the large animals from the previous period. There were patterns of adaptation and resource utilization by the people. Attention seemed to turn with greater intensity to the resources of the lakes. Smaller animals, water fowl and vegetation appeared to replace the reliance on the hunting of big game. Population movements were restricted and seasonal cycles were more acutely represented in the “Pinto Basin” Period.
Amargosa-Shoshone Period (Part 3 of 4)
The third and last period in Mojave Desert Pre-history, is identified as the “Amargosa-Shoshone” Period. It begins approximately 3,000 years ago and extends into historic times. This phase of human culture is very different in many ways from the proceeding periods. The Amargosa-Shoshone Period reflects a degree of complexity and sophistication not even approached in the earlier periods.
Generally speaking, by 3,000 years ago the Mojave Desert had begun to take on the characteristics commonly associated with it today. It was certainly not exactly like it is today, but the transition had begun. The lakes, by 3,000 years ago, were either gone, or disappearing, and desert conditions were spreading out and intensifying. The people became more and more dependent on the water and food sources of the foothill and mountain borders of the desert, and less dependant upon the food sources of the desert floor itself. This led to the people coming into contact with many other groups of people living west of the mountains in the Central Valley and coastal areas of California. This contact began an elaborate system involving the exchange of ideas and things between quite different cultures, living in quite different environments.
The resulting exchange of diversified resources between areas was of benefit to everyone concerned. Steatite (soapstone) found in the southern part of the Antelope Valley, salt gathered in Death Valley, and many exotic items brought in from the Colorado River area, were exported to the peoples of the San Joaquin Valley, Santa Barbara coast, and the Los Angeles basin. In return, the desert peoples received seashell beads, natural asphalt, and many other goods of non-desert origin.
Goods of various sorts were not the only elements exchanged. Ideas were also a popular commodity. New concepts relating to social and political organization, religious beliefs and practices, and many linguistic elements were exchanged. Anthropologists surveying the Western Mojave Desert and the Antelope Valley around the turn of the twentieth century, recorded an extremely sophisticated culture, unique in many ways within the southwestern United States.
Missionaries, Explorers and Early Settlers of the Antelope Valley (Part 4 of 4)
1772 to 1925
The Antelope Valley’s early history is unlike that of other regions of California. Its vast expanses of terrain were home to Native Americans and were later traversed by countless early explorers. Although the valley had no mission settlements, it served as a crossroads for Franciscan padres and explorers, as well as migrating Indian tribes, famous American pathfinders and settlers.
The first known inhabitants of the Antelope Valley were Shoshonean-speaking Indians known as the Kitanamuks, who primarily lived in the Tehachapi Mountains and wandered into the arid valley lowlands in cooler seasons of the year. They traveled in small bands hunting small game and gathering nuts.
The largest Indian campsites that archaeologists have found are concentrated near springs in the foothills of the Littlerock area to the south, in the Lovejoy Springs area to the east and in the Willow Springs area. Isolated by California’s rugged terrain, the inhabitants enjoyed a comparatively peaceful life, living in crude shelters constructed of willow poles and grass.
The historic period in the Antelope Valley opens in the year 1772 with Pedro Fagas, associated with the famous DeAnza expedition, crossing the southern part of the Antelope Valley. Fagas was looking for military deserters, who was thought to be hiding among the Indians.
Francisco Garces followed shortly in 1776, with a more lengthy and more extensive visit to the Antelope Valley. In the Castle Butte area, east of California City, a boulder was found to contain an inscription believed to commemorate Garces’ visit to this area. In the early 1980’s, the boulder was on display inside the museum at California City, when the building caught fire. Sadly, the boulder was destroyed during fire-fighting efforts, and a huge part of history was lost forever.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, several other visitors passed through the area. Jedediah Smith entered the Antelope Valley in 1827. John C Fremont and Kit Carson camped at Willow Springs in 1844. Rogers and Manly passed through the area in 1849 seeking help in Los Angeles for their stranded party in Death Valley. Edward Beale introduced camels to the Antelope Valley in 1857 on his way to Fort Tejon.
Permanent settlement of the Antelope Valley dates from the early 1860’s with the first efforts being made in the Tehachapi foothills and the Lake Hughes-Lake Elizabeth region of the San Gabriel Mountains to the south. The discovery of borax in 1873, by John and Dennis Searles around what is now called Searles Dry Lake (Trona area) and the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad through the town of Mojave, evolved next.
Although Borax mining experienced a slow and confusing beginning, it rapidly grew to become one of the leading industries of the Northern Mojave Desert. The borax industry and the gold and silver industries combined to make the town of Mojave a very important place in the late 1870’s and 1880’s. In 1884 the Southern Pacific route was joined by the Santa Fe line at Mojave, providing even greater access to supplies and markets.
20 Mule Teams
The Twenty Mule Teams, hauling huge loads of borax, operated between Death Valley and Mojave from 1883 to 1889. Some early ranching and farming efforts such as the Conklin Ranch, began around the turn of the century in the California City area, but this settlement was slow and sporadic over many decades.
Financial setbacks and alternate hauling methods, and with most of the borax mines closing in Death Valley, ended borax deliveries to Mojave. This was many years before the major strike of borax near the town of Boron in 1925.
In 1913, Dr. J. K. Suckow was drilling a well for water 4½ miles northwest of present-day Boron when he discovered colemanite, a borax ore. The Pacific Coast Borax Company, acquired local claims, including the discovery well. The company then started explorations to determine the extent of the orebody. Suckow continued to have an interest in the area, working prospects east of his discovery well. In the Spring of 1925, William M. Dowsing and J. L. Hannan discovered a huge deposit just 1½ miles west of Suckow's shaft, which they kept a secret until its extent was proven. Sold to the Pacific Coast Borax Company in early 1926, it became known as the Baker Mine.
Pacific Coast Borax Company (1890-1956)
In 1956, the Pacific Coast Borax Company merged with United States Potash Corporation to form U.S. Borax, which itself was acquired by the Rio Tinto Group in 1967. As a wholly owned subsidiary, the company is now known as Rio Tinto Borax and continues to supply nearly half the world's borates. It operates the largest open-pit mine in California next to the company town of Boron, east of Mojave, California.