Lawlessness in San Bernardino County, California

Lawlessness in 1859-60, politics ran high in San Bernardino County. There was a strong secessionist element, to oppose which John Brown rode over the country convoking the Union men thereof to rally at the old school-house ” to form a political organization. There were present at the first meeting John Brown, Charles G. Hill, William Heap, Moses Martin, and one other man and two ladies, Mrs. Highmoor and Mrs. Blackburn. The meeting was interrupted by the advent of nineteen roughs, armed with various weapons, from clubs to cheese-knives and guns, who cursed the speaker and made other violent demonstrations, but who were finally persuaded to desist by the eloquence of John Brown, and their departure left the meeting free to continue. The Union League presently attained considerable power, and to its endeavors, in all probability, was due the local result of the presidential election, which showed a plurality of eighty-three for Lincoln-the first success of the party in the county. “Uncle George” Lord, now a veteran eighty-seven years old, was the president of the league, and the Mrs. Highmoor, mentioned as attending the first meeting, played the bass drum at the rallies.

At this period a strict watch was kept in this county and in Arizona along the route to be pursued, in order to prevent from passing through the country armed bands in sympathy with, and going to the assistance of, the Confederate forces. A regular organization for this purpose existed in Holcomb valley, being connected with similar leagues extending northward along the Sierra Nevada. The conditions of the section, largely populated by an immigration attracted by the gold mines, were peculiarly fitted to protect and foster enterprises of this character.

From political differences also arose a due in 1861, between Mr. Shoalwater and C. W. Piercy, who had been elected the preceding year to represent San Bernardino County in the Assembly. Mr. Piercy was killed in this combat.

In 1861 there was so large a population gathered at the mines in Holcomb valley that the precinct, at the general election, polled a vote of 230, which was nearly as much as all the rest of the county.

The position of San Bernardino as a frontier county, and the heterogeneous elements attracted by the mines, contributed greatly to local lawlessness and disorder. Not a few of the county offices having been captured by representatives of a desperado class attracted thither by the opportunity for crime and spoil, it became necessary to take protectionary measures; and there fore the best citizens united into a party pledged to support the law and maintain order. The county was almost bankrupted during the sea-son of misrule, which lasted about four years. In those days, and indeed, for about twelve years, no attention was paid to Whigs, Democratic or Republican proclivities in politics, men being nominated for office by their friends, irrespective of party. As an instance of the little respect shown to ” the majesty of the law” by the community at large, the following episode may be related: A man belonging to one clan or clique, stabbed to death a member of another clan, near Holcomb valley, and he was indicted and placed on trial at San Bernardino. Soon after the case opened fifteen men entered the courtroom, heavily armed, and without removing their hats, they seated themselves near the jury. Judge Boren recognized them as friends of the accused, and read their purpose in their demeanor, their hard, determined faces, and their resolution in having marched forty miles for the occasion. Not a word spoke the intruders, paying the closest attention to the proceedings. After a time, these somber visitors adjourned to a source of liquid refreshment, and the magistrate also adjourned court until the afternoon. During the recess, the authorities had time for deliberation, and the jury, under-standing that conviction of the prisoner would entail an outbreak and bloodshed, decided to acquit him, and did so.

About this time it was that J. M. Greenwade, who held the combined offices of County Clerk, Recorder and Auditor, became dissatisfied with the mode of procedure of the board of supervisors in the transaction of county business, drew his six-shooter and cleared the room of all those functionaries. Shortly after this, the same man, while intoxicated, met Judge Boren unarmed on the street, and, putting a pistol to the Judge’s breast with one hand, with the other struck the Judge with a stick. Judge Boren retreated to where he could procure a gun, but was then prevented by the outsiders from shooting his county clerk, for which, as he has often expressed himself, he since feels profoundly content.

The winter of 1861-’62 was characterized by excessive rains, and in January 1862, a heavy flood inundated the settlement of Agua Mansa, and the people barely escaped with their lives, fleeing homeless and beggared to the hills, while the angry waters swept away their homes, their stock, their fields and orchards, leaving a waste of sand-beds in place of the fruitful colony.

In 1862 John Brown, Sr., established a ferry across the Colorado River.

In 1863 the census showed the county to contain 1,072 children of the age prescribed as eligible for attendance at the public schools.

In 1864-’65-’66 hydraulic gold mining was extensively carried on in the Lytle creek canon.
During the civil war-1861-’65-there was no regular company mustered into service from San Bernardino County, although numerous individuals departed from that section, to join one or the other of the combatants. For three months there was, moreover, an encampment near the timber, of two companies, which went to Texas.

The winter of 1867 is said to have been the rainiest season on record, the rain being almost continuous for six weeks, and the rainfall being twice to thrice that of the average years. The ground remained wet from this excess of moisture for some years thereafter.

In February 1867, a company of rangers, fitted out by the citizens of San Bernardino, made an expedition to the Mohave Desert, for the purpose of chastising Indians who had been committing depredations. On the 18th, this party, consisting of some fifteen men, had a battle with some 100 Indians, Chimehueva, Mohave and Pahute, and four of the Indians were killed, one of the whites having his arm fractured by a ball.

In April 1867, a small company on the way to Borax Lake, found a rancheria of hostile Indians, and killed its denizens, finding relics of some of the whites previously slain by these Indians.

These marauders in this year massacred Parish, Bemis, and Whiteside, who at the time were herding their stock near the north base of the sierra; and indeed it is but of very late years that it has been safe to attempt to effect a settlement or to pasture stock near the verge of the desert.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.

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