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Julian California and the Early Settlers

Updated on February 1, 2014
Once the former "Robinson Inn"
Once the former "Robinson Inn" | Source
Early buildings in Julian still in use today
Early buildings in Julian still in use today | Source
Early farm equipment dot the landscape in Julian
Early farm equipment dot the landscape in Julian | Source
Pioneer Cemetery in Julian.
Pioneer Cemetery in Julian. | Source
Plaque honoring early Black settlers to Julian
Plaque honoring early Black settlers to Julian | Source
The "Law" in Julian. Street performers walk the downtown in Julian as they did in the early days.
The "Law" in Julian. Street performers walk the downtown in Julian as they did in the early days. | Source
Scenic back roads to Julian
Scenic back roads to Julian | Source
On Highway 79 to Julian
On Highway 79 to Julian | Source

California Gold Rush and Pioneers of Julian California

Suffering from winter cabin fever and craving a long road trip, I wrangled my husband and off we went in our Honda winding through the scenic country side of San Diego county. The back roads of Highway 79 to Highway 76 where motorcycle riders appear as modern day cowboys straddling their silver horses was much needed therapy offering an escape from hectic lives.

We went looking for a peaceful walk around an old western town and the hope of learning a little more about Julian and the pioneer days. We were amazed to discover both and an interesting look back at how post Civil war veterans and freed slaves helped to shape Julian.

Julian's History Discovered

It had been decades since we visited Julian. So long ago, we could not recall exactly when or with whom we may have ventured these roads with before. Our only memories were of tasting the best apple pie ever at a little cafe and exploring the historic buildings turned gift shops that line the main street of Julian.

We learned of the town's early settlers, the discovery of gold, the town's people and the seemingly friendly co-existence among former Confederate soldiers and freed slaves--freed slaves who became successful business owners in the community.

If we are to believe the historians of Julian, town folk was made up of new immigrants to America, freed slaves and former Confederate soldiers from the South-all apparently got along well. If the town's cemetery is any confirmation about the town's race relations, it seems Whites were buried next to Blacks unlike other places in the not so distant past of America, early Black pioneers were not limited to burial in some separate cemetery outside of town in the pioneer days of Julian.

Of course, as with any history, there are some who disagree and have written about it. We, however, are going with the version the current town's historical markers have lead us to understand, that being: Julian was ahead of history and progressive, they were the first town on the West to offer some semblance of integration , equal rights; and hopefully, true friendship based on character not skin color.

For all the gold mining and the wild west surroundings, there does not appear to be any rowdy times in Julian, at least not that we learned of during our tour of the town's museum. Early Julian residents seemed to work, mine and farm peacefully.

Civil War Veterans-Founding Fathers of Julian

Julian is an easy day trip from San Diego, Los Angeles or Riverside counties. A beautiful, off the beaten path back road trip through the mountains above San Diego. Surrounded by beautiful rolling hills that turn a deep green in Spring. Small ranchitos dot the hill side with grazing cows or pasture horses. Several golden hawks circle above and land on ancient oaks or pines that were surely here back in the founding father days of Julian.

The founders of Julian are recorded as being Drury Bailey "Dru" and his cousin, Mike Julian. The two came from Georgia. Both were Civil War veterans having served in the Confederate army. It is unknown which regiment either of them served under.

The war being over, the two returned to Rome, Georgia only to find nothing for them there. The town was devastated and prospects of their future dim if staying there. Probably not unlike most of their generation, returning to their homes, finding not much future staying there and not interested in heading North where they were probably not wanted, Dru and Mike settled on heading West in hopes of building a life either farming or perhaps mining for gold.

Dru and Mike, along with two more family members headed West. First stopping in Utah and finding work as road crews building mine roads. It was probably in Utah where Dru and Mike heard about the "gold just lying on the ground" in California. These campfire stories from other road workers fueled the flames of hope and fortune for Mike and Dru.

How Dru Bailey and Mike Julian came to own the land (if they did rightfully own the land) is not clear in any historical research we could find. Back during the time Dru and MIke came West, California was owned by Mexico. Mexican Governor Pio Pico seemed to know it was certain California was destine to succeed from Mexico to become part of the United States.Apparently, Pico started to grant land to various Mexican government officials residing in California. The area where Julian is today was part of a 35,000 acre land parcel Pico granted to Augustin Olvera. Several years later and after the discovery of gold on the land, lawsuits and boundary issues arose. Convoluted legal issues were resolved to the favor of the miners who staked claims for mines where they found gold.

Julian originally was started as a tent city sprung up from miners who flocked to the area when word of the gold discoveries spread. The town got its name from Dru who felt his cousin Mike Julian was "better looking" and thus the town should be rightfully named after him. Both Dru, Mike and their offspring are buried in the town's cemetery high on a hill looking down on their city.

With the discovery of gold by Frederick Coleman the town had hundreds flock to them and a boom began.

Frederick Coleman, freed slave discovers gold near Julian

We found a fascinating history about Julian---the involvement of freed slaves in the founding of the town with ironically two former Confederate soldiers.

Julian's Pioneer Museum tells us at the time of the town's founding, there were 55 black people in all of San Diego County, 33 of them lived in the small town of Julian were the entire population was about 150 at the time. It was not exactly half of the population of Julian was made up of people of color but still an impressive amount considering the times. One of the town's people who happened to be a former slave was the first to find gold in Julian's surrounding area and it set off a mini-gold rush into this peaceful little mountain town.

The year was 1869 and A.J Coleman "Fred" a former slave now working as a cattle herder for a local ranch, was riding through the area when he stopped to water his horse. In the small creek he noticed shiny flakes that upon further inspection, turned out to be gold.

Coleman was an experienced miner having apparently come first to California in search of gold in the Northern part of the State at Sutter's Mill sometime between 1848 and 1855. Julian's historical society states Frederick Coleman was a "freed slave" but there is no information about what part of the Country Frederick had left. Coleman apparently did not find success in the gold mines of Northern California and eventually made his way South ending up in the Julian area which at the time was inhabited by Indian tribes known today as the Pechanga and Puamas.

Frederick Coleman used some of his gold to buy land and grated a road to Julian for prospectors. He operated a toll road that would bring people from the City of San Diego located in the valley below the mountains to the gold area and the booming town. The road today is called "Coleman Road". Mr. Coleman also became Julian's Recorder, which was an elected position, for the town's booming "Coleman's Mining District". Coleman must have been one of the few, if not the first elected African American, anywhere in America but sadly how many students of history know of Frederick Coleman?

The Julian gold rush lasted about 10 years. About $5 million in gold was extracted from the mines. Coleman received a hefty pay day from his find. He lived in Julian on a ranch with his Native American wife and children.

Frederick Coleman was not the only former slave to help shape post-Civil war California. Our historical visit to Julian enlightened us to many others.

Early African American Entrepreneurs in Julian

The oldest continuing operating hotel in California was once known as the Hotel Robinson named for the original owner operator. Albert Robinson, also a freed slaved, came to Julian to work on a nearby ranch as a cook. He met Margaret Tull and they married. We learned that Margaret's, step-father was the first African American to serve as a juror in San Diego County something the Tulls were very proud of and should be regardless of today when we all try to get dismissed from jury duty.

Albert and Margaret soon set their eyes on bigger things and integrated into the small businesses of Julian setting up first a small bakery and restaurant which morphed into, from all accounts, a rather upscale Inn named appropriately the Robinson Inn.

From all accounts it appears the Robinsons were highly regarded by Julian towns folk and others. When it came time to construct the Robinson Inn, Albert Robinson received help from two prominent Julian citizens, C.R Wellington and F.L Blanc. There is not much information on Wellington but Blanc, as our history research discovered was the first Minister in Julian and was quite the businessman. Blanc besides being the Preacher for Julian was an industrious landlord, building and renting out several business spaces plus opening and running his own lumber and mercantile store. Details of Blanc's business agreement with Albert Robinson are apparently not recorded anywhere but it appears Blanc built the Robinson Inn but had no part in running the hotel leaving Robinson and his wife to operate fully and freely as any White owner might.

Historical information and newspaper reports from back in the days when the Robinsons operated the hotel all indicate the Robinsons were very liked by all the town's people. One article indicates each year there was a dance attended by all the town folk where they would dance until mid-night then head over to the Robinson Inn where Margaret would "prepare a feast eaten by all with delight" then they would dance off their meal until dawn.

Albert and Margaret had a flourishing business, so successful the hotel is still in business and has the acclaim of being the oldest still operating hotel in California. After Albert passed away, Margaret continued to operate the Robinson Inn until she could no longer do so and the Inn was sold. The Inn is now known as the Julian Inn but the new owners continue to operate the hotel just as Albert and Margaret did so many years ago.

America Newton was another prominent African American entrepreneur of the gold rush days of Julian. America who changed her name from Dyer Newton, came to Julian from Independence, Missouri around 1872. She was a freed slave who saw opportunity in the gold rush by providing laundry services to the multitude of miners who flocked to the area after Frederick Coleman discovered gold. America became a very successful laundress and managed to homestead 80 acres of land outside Julian where today one street still bears her name and a gift shop in the town is dedicated to her.

Pioneer Cemetery

One of the ways to learn about the history of any old town is to visit the cemetery. Julian's Pioneer Cemetery is at the end of the town high on a hill. It is a real work out to get up to the graves but once there, the view is spectacular. A peaceful cemetery inhabited by the graves of all of the founders of Julian. There you will find the families of Blanc, Julian and Bailey.

Sad headstones bearing the names of children that never made it to their first birthdays or women bared next to their children apparently dying giving birth to a child that did not live.

We wondered, where are the graves of the Robinsons, Newtons or Colemans would we find in the graveyard a story of segregation and provide a glimpse into Julian race relations during the gold rush time? We found the graves of the former Black pioneers to Julian, located seemingly among other Julian citizens who passed on with no apparent segregation in death thus leading us to believe in life things were fairly the same. Curiously though we did notice new head stones on the graves of the Black pioneers buried there.

After visiting Julian our hunger to know more about early life in Julian especially among the Black and White pioneers we researched and learn a historian David Lewis for the Julian cemetery had been painstakingly trying to locate the graves of the Robinsons, Newtons, and Colemans for Black History month a few years ago. Mr. Lewis did find the graves which were faintly marked on a simple hand chiseled headstone (as were White headstones of that era) in an area of the cemetery mingled with other early deceased pioneers of all ethnic backgrounds. For Black History month new headstones were placed on the graves and an unveiling planned.

With any historical past especially one dealing in race relations there will be passionate discussions and disagreements. The Julian Black Pioneer History Committee compassionately and diligently worked to locate the graves, honor the dead and celebrate their lives with the new head stones and the rightful placing of those pioneers in the Julian history but some have question whether the Black pioneers were actually allowed burial in the cemetery and dispute their graves are actually in the town cemetery rather than 50 miles outside of town in the "Black cemetery" that was bulldozed over to make way for roads and a housing development. Nothing in historian David Lewis' research apparently found a "black cemetery" and based on early records of the cemetery, Mr. Lewis is certain the graves of the black pioneers are where he has determined.

We would like to think that early Julian which history documents was a melting pot of freed slaves of African descent, Polish, German, Italian all working together for a common goal: to build a thriving town where all could live in peace.

Pioneer Museum

Besides a visit to the cemetery another place to learn about a town's history is their museum. Julian has an excellent museum found on Washington Street just off the main drag of the town. It is located in one of the original buildings from the 1800's and filled with interesting things from Julian's history including the "largest lace" collection anywhere in the World. There is an original "buggy" from Julian along with Native American artifacts from the area, period clothing, old photographs and a hand made bookcase that was once Ulysses Grant's.

The museum is small but we found we could spend hours there reading, looking and wondering about life in Julian during the hustle and bustle of gold rush days.

In Search of Pie-Apple Pie

During the gold rush days of Julian, the story goes a young lad named James Madison brought a wagon full of young apple trees to Julian and started an orchard. The trees flourished and a bountiful harvest was started. To this day, Julian is known for its apple harvest which produces yummy apple cider and apple pie.

After our walk around town and heads spinning with thoughts of the historical past lives of the inhabitants, we were in need of coffee and fresh apple pie.

We only needed to follow our noses and the delightful smell of fresh baked apple pie to, what else, Mom's Pie House on Main Street. There they have, of course apple pie, but topped with cinnamon ice cream! We opted for the apple dumpling warmed and topped with the cinnamon ice cream-heavenly. It was a nice way to topped off our visit before leaving to return to modern life.

As we left, the local "lawman" dressed as the sheriff would have dressed back in 1876 tipped his hat to us and admonished us to "behave".

Julian is a peaceful place filled with history. As we drove down the oak dotted winding road toward our home, we could not help but think on this Martin Luther King Day about the pioneers of all races who lived in Julian and shared hopes, dreams, sadness, rejoicing and all in the spirit of King a hundred years or more before he marched for equality.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice article! yes lots of history out there, very good summary!

    • Askme profile imageAUTHOR

      By O'Reilly 

      5 years ago

      faythef, Yes and this time of year it is crisp and cool. Perfect weather for a slice of apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Yum!

    • faythef profile image

      Faythe Payne 

      5 years ago from USA

      I love going to Julian, although I haven't been in years, I feel a road trip coming on..


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