The Dark History of San Bernardino County (The Chimney Rock Incident)
The High Desert has not always been a Mecca for Walmarts, parolees, and section 8 housing. This area hides a rich and interesting history, and plays an immense role In the legacy of the Wild West. Tales of gunslingers, Spanish conquistadors, Ancient native inhabitants, and Mysterious mystical energies are abound in this dry and harsh landscape. Seemingly void of life and variety, this area holds many secrets, many of which are dark. and upon learning the history of the area, one may find that it is a history that can hardly be ignored.
A small part of this history includes a large rock precipice located outside a remote desert community named Lucerne Valley. This ominous rock pinnacle aptly named, "Chimney rock" for its smokestack like appearance looms over an ancient dry lake bed, like a dwarf skyscraper, silent and foreboding. This eerie geological wonder was made infamous for being the site of one of the last Indian/settler confrontations in the west.
During the early days of San Bernardino , toward the mid 1800s, logging in the local mountains had become a very lucrative business, The ancestral hunting grounds of the local natives were becoming encroached upon by the logging industry and ranchers, which had eventually imposed upon the livelihood of the Indians, who depended on these lands for their survival. Hostilities of the Indians gradually increased toward the "invaders" which consisted mostly of White and Mexican settlers. Many of these settlers consisted of Mormon migrants from Utah, instructed by Brigham young to colonize the fertile valley.
Many attempts were made time and again to drive the settlers from sacred tribal lands. Sawmills were razed, ranches were burnt to the ground. Cattle, horses guns and provisions were stolen, and a Spanish man named Polito was murdered . Several small skirmishes between Indian and Settler took place in the mountains, passes, and valley below, but the confrontation that took place in the winter of 1867, would mark a pivotal and tragic point in the history of San Bernardino County and all the the Western United States.
During the winter of 1866 a small band of about 30 to 40 starving Indians had devised a raiding party on the local Dunlap ranch, now known as the "Las Flores Ranch" in summit Valley Ca, The raiding party had infiltrated the ranch while most of the inhabitants were away on cattle drive, Looting provisions and stealing horses and livestock. Three employees that remained on the ranch, were ambushed by the raiders, who killed and skinned the poor ranch hands, leaving the mutilated bodies on display, discovered on the grounds later around sunset. One article written by desert historian Bill Mann mentions of a young woman that was also abducted by the marauders as well. This unfortunate incident created a torrent of anger toward all Indians of the area. The angry settlers would no longer tolerate the Indian attacks, and the answered the Indian's extreme taunts with unforgiving fury.
Some of San Bernardino's prominent figures of the time, as well as several relatives of the murdered Ranch hands,, Had organized a large posse of about 400 to 500 hundred men. In February 1867 the posse's scouts had tracked the Indians to a large towering rock formation, across a large dry lake bed, where they knew the rogue Indians would be hiding among a large Indian encampment of approximately two to three hundred Indians, which included women and children. The posse initiated the attack In the cold darkness of early dawn, surprising the sleeping Indians. The Indians fought fiercely. Many of them were killed. Among the ones that were not killed or did not retreat into the vast desert, according to the story, were a 14 year old boy, three squaws and a baby.
This dramatic event had been the zenith of the wars between Indians and settlers in California, "thus ending the Indian problem" as mentioned in one publication of the time, reflecting the bitter sentiment towards Indians in those times. Other writers have even been so bold as to label the event as a "massacre".
One of the things we can learn from this tragic event is like many other places we may see, visit or even pass by everyday, is that there may be a story to be told or heard. We may not always know it, but it is there. It can be inspiring, often tragic and sometimes a complete mystery. Giving us new insights into ourselves as human beings. In a different time, people with different lives and minds have been there, they have left something behind, a part in a continuing saga, waiting to be rediscovered by us and told again and again.
As readers I implore you to explore and appreciate your surrounding history, by doing so we play a part in a continuing story, one that is part of a bigger story, and perpetuate its legacy for future generations.
© 2015 Krishna dasa