Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Oatman History: A trip into the past

Author Jackie Rowland-Murray, president of the Oatman Historical Society and vice president of the Arizona Historical Route 66 Association, gave a talk highlighting some of Oatman’s most colorful historic moments on Saturday at the Laughlin Library. “I’ve spent so much time researching the area’s history, I’d feel bad if I didn’t use what I’ve learned,” Rowland-Murray said. “I enjoy all of it.” (DK McDONALD/The Daily News)

Mohave Valley Daily News

LAUGHLIN — For some, history is the chronicle of a society’s evolution. For others, history is blueprint for the future.

“I get upset when schools don’t teach history,” said historian and author Jackie Rowland-Murray. “If you don’t know what the history is, it is going to repeat big-time and not in a good way.”

President of the Oatman Historical Society and vice president of the Arizona Historical Route 66 Association,
Rowland-Murray spoke on some of Oatman’s most colorful historic moments Saturday at the Laughlin Library.

Rowland-Murray’s 90-minute presentation traced Oatman’s history from the first known contact with Native people by Spanish Franciscan friar Francisco Garces, to its birth in the early 1800s to the present day. With emphasis on events such as the Oatman Massacre and the kidnapping of Olive Oatman, Rowland-Murray also related stories of the Rose-Bailey Massacre, Beale’s road expedition on the 35th Parallel and the region’s gold mines that produced $40 million in gold.

“I’ve heard her speak before,” said Elsie Needles, president of the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum. “She wrote a great book on the history of Oatman. She is so knowledgeable and a really good speaker.”

The public history lesson was presented in partnership with the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum. Rowland-Murray, the author of “Oatman: History, Recipes & Ghost Stories,” said she enjoys sharing history for its own sake.

“I’ve spent so much time researching the area’s history, I’d feel bad if I didn’t use what I’ve learned,” she said. “It’s information that just begs to be shared.”

Rowland-Murray‘s research has resulted in a variety of subjects to present, she said. Including the Oatman history lecture, she offers presentations on how women lived in the 1800s, on Olive Oatman’s life, and two presentations on the “Strong women of the Colorado River,” split between women from Yuma to this area of Mohave County, and northern women, covering women from the Grand Canyon to the northern state line.

“I also have a presentation solely on mining,” said Rowland-Murray. “That one made me nervous, because the first time I presented it was to a room full of prospectors.”

The mining stories are her favorite to relate, she said.

“Mining in Oatman is a real interesting story,” Rowland-Murray said. “It had huge effects on the area, the state and the whole world.”

The presentation didn’t stop with the camels, the burros, the gold or the massacres. Rowland-Murray made the connections between Oatman’s history and the present day.

“Oatman sees more than 400,000 visitors every year, some tracing the history of Route 66 and some who want to see a bit of the Old West,” Rowland-Murray said. “Oatman has never legally been designated a town, although during its heyday it boasted a population between 8,000 and 10,000 people. Oatman is classified as a roadside attraction which makes it difficult to get some things done.”

The 2000 census found 128 residents in Oatman.

“We’re different,” Rowland-Murray said. “It’s a small and quiet community. There is no grocery store. There is no school. There’s no gas station, either, although a couple guys keep extra 5-gallon cans in their backyards in case of an emergency. We like to say, ‘If you need it, we don’t have it.’ But people are drawn here. It has a rich history. It’s interesting.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

John Brown Sr., A True San Bernardino Pioneer

Five of the most prominent founding members of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society are immortalized in this classic western portrait taken circa 1895. Left to right: W.F. Holcomb, John Brown Jr., John Brown Sr., George Miller, B.B. Harris. (From the collection of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society)

By Mark Landis
San Bernardino Sun

The amazing life story of mountain man John Brown Sr. wasn’t glamorized in a movie or a television show like some of his fellow trailblazers from the 1840s, but his real-life adventures were so remarkable — they read like chapters from an Old West dime novel.

Unlike many of the famed mountain men of the early 1800s, Brown Sr. used his later “civilized” years in San Bernardino to distinguish himself as a respected pioneer, and civic leader.

In his older years, Brown chronicled some of his life’s experiences in a book, “Mediumistic Experiences of John Brown; The Medium of The Rockies.”

In the book, Brown describes his extensive travels from childhood, to his years in California. Brown was a devout spiritualist, and much of the book is filled with odd ramblings about his spiritual adventures and experiences as a medium, which he claimed, began in his youth.

John Brown Sr., was born in Worcester, Mass., Dec. 22, 1817. His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and he was orphaned at an early age.

According to his biography in L.A. Ingersoll’s “Century Annals of San Bernardino County, California,” Brown began his travels as a young boy rafting down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He survived a shipwreck while traveling to Galveston, Texas, and later continued to Fort Leavenworth.

In 1836, Brown was at the famed battle of San Jacinto, and saw Mexican president Santa Anna taken prisoner. From Texas, he joined a group of mountaineers and trappers, and spent 14 years in the Rocky Mountains, hunting, trading, and exploring.

While in the Rockies, Brown and his hunting companions helped build some of the early frontier forts that served as outposts for the great western migration. Brown’s companions read like a “who’s who” of mountain men, including Kit Carson, Alexander Godey, Joseph Bridger, and William and Charles Bent, founders of Bent’s Fort, Colorado.

According to his biographies, John Brown and his companions acted as guides for Gen. John C. Fremont’s crossing of the Rocky Mountains.

Around 1844, John Brown traveled to Taos, New Mexico, which had become an outpost for fur traders. It was here that Brown met and married Maria Louisa Sandoval, his lifetime partner. John and Louisa’s first child, Mary Matilda was born in 1844, in Taos. Louisa gave John 5 more daughters, and 4 sons, for a remarkable total of 10 children. She proved to be John’s equal as she endured years of frontier life, while raising small children in the most rugged conditions.

In 1849, John Brown and his fur trading companions were struck with gold fever. Brown packed up his young family and headed to the gold fields at Sutter’s Fort, California, arriving in September 1849.

Like most of the 49ers who swarmed into California, Brown and his friends had little success panning for gold. Within months, they struck out for Monterey and opened a small boarding house named the St. John’s Hotel. Louisa and the children were finally indoors, but John began to suffer with health problems from the cool sea air.

In April of 1852, Brown took the advice of his physician to leave Monterey, and reside in the warmer, drier climate of Southern California. Brown moved his family to the newly founded Mormon settlement of San Bernardino, where he purchased a small log cabin within the San Bernardino Fort for $50.

Brown quickly began developing friendships with many of the pioneers who had traveled from Salt Lake City to build the Southern California outpost. According to his “Medium of The Rockies,” Brown became the “resident spiritualist” of the town, and was called upon as a medium, and for spiritual insight and healing.

Apparently still not ready to settle, John Brown moved his family to nearby Yucaipa in 1854, and went into the stock business. The Browns moved back to San Bernardino in 1857, and by this time, John and Louisa had 8 children.

As if the Brown household wasn’t full enough, John took in a boarder named David Noble Smith in the fall of 1857. D.N. Smith was also a spiritualist, and a lasting friendship was struck.

John Brown transferred a piece of land he had homesteaded at Arrowhead Springs to Smith who went on to establish the first sanitarium on the property. This early sanitarium for treating tuberculosis patients evolved into the famed Arrowhead Springs resort that occupies the site today.

In 1860, gold was discovered in Holcomb Valley, in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains.

Brown was once again tempted by gold fever, but his business sense took over. Sensing the need to transport materials to the new gold fields, Brown petitioned the state Legislature for a franchise to build a toll road through the Cajon Pass.

In spring of 1861, Brown’s crew of 30-40 men carved out the first graded wagon road through the pass, and built upper and lower toll booths to manage the route.

With the Cajon Pass toll road built, Brown set his sights on furthering the development of trade routes and built a ferry to cross the Colorado River at Fort Mohave in 1862.

John Brown’s business success allowed him to donate funds and materials to improve public areas in San Bernardino. Brown also took an active role in local politics, and he served in several public service positions.

In January of 1888, the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers was organized by a noteworthy group of pioneers who helped establish the city in the early 1850s. John Brown Sr. was later elected president of the society, and he served in that position until his death.

This group has since become the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society, which is still very active in the community today.

Louisa Brown passed away suddenly on May 16, 1891, at the age of 66, at the family home in San Bernardino.

John Brown Sr. died April 20, 1899, at the age of 81, in San Bernardino. Brown’s funeral was held at the family home at the corner of D and Sixth Streets, in San Bernardino.

Holding true to his spiritualistic beliefs to the end, Brown’s funeral service was conducted by Mrs. J. A. Marchant, superintendent of the First Spiritual Society of San Bernardino.

Reverend A.J. White, of the Presbyterian Church of Colton also performed duties at the service.

John Brown Sr.’s lasting contributions to the region were carried on by his extensive family, most notably, John Brown Jr. who went on to become a successful lawyer, and a leading citizen of the area.

For more information on mountain men, visit the “Mountain Men in San Bernardino County 1826 – 1850” display at the San Bernardino County Museum, at 2024 Orange Tree Lane, Redlands.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ward Valley history: Mojave Desert spared a nuclear waste dump

Fatimah Hameed
People's World

This date in 1999 recalls a colossal environmental victory.

Ward Valley, Calif., was decided upon in 1988 as the preferred location for a nuclear waste dump to be operated by U.S. Ecology. The state of California had to buy the Mojave Desert acreage from the Bureau of Land Management, and then grant the firm permission to build only 20 miles away from the Colorado River. For a decade legal, cultural and environmental issues, involving the rights of local Native Americans, an endangered species of desert tortoise, as well as the track record and competence of U.S. Ecology, roiled the state.

Such environmental activist groups as Greenpeace and the Bay Area Nuclear Waste Coalition, joined with the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance (CRNNA) to stop the project. In late 1995, they occupied the land, coming and going to conform to policies on camping in the desert. At a demonstration in front of the Federal Building of Los Angeles in December, CRNNA called upon the sacred importance of the environment to the Native communities. The Department of Interior refused to grant the CRNNA standing, however, thus denying the native peoples a voice in the required Environmental Impact Statement on the dump. Later the CRNNA filed a claim under the Civil Rights Act due to the sacred status of the Ward Valley. Rev. Jesse Jackson agreed with the analysis of "environmental racism," and became a strong ally.

For the next couple of years the encampments continued. Activists blockaded the dumpsite entrance, even after the Department of Interior ordered the occupation closed. Volunteers kept arriving from near and far to try and stop the dump. Afraid of provoking a confrontation, the Bureau of Land Management removed its law-enforcement officers from the area. The occupation ended in June 1998, but the activist coalition continued to pressure state officials, including Governor Gray Davis, to cancel the project.

On April 2, 1999, U.S. Ecology and the state of California lost a federal lawsuit. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt refused to sell the land to the state, and with a final U.S. Court of Appeals judgment the next year, the Ward Valley nuclear land dump plan came to an end.

There really is no 100% safe way to store radioactive waste for all time. Any waste dump anywhere is in effect a time bomb waiting to explode. Other energy and industrial waste is also problematic. Technological advances require responsible disposal or conversion for dangerous by-products. Although consciousness over these issues has grown exponentially, the people's will is far ahead of governmental policy in most countries, including our own.