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May 16, 1863: Indian Wells

May 16, 2013

Clouds rolling over the edge of the Sierra Mountains at Inyokern, CA - randsburg41

Sierra Nevada from Inyokern; by mlhradio, on Flickr

[Today] we came on to the Indian Wells, through the pass, twenty-eight miles. The valley narrows above Roberts’, but the slope is gradual, although we rise so high. It grows more and more barren, the granite mountains grow less and less timber as we work east. The summit is reached, 5,302 feet above the sea, where a strong breeze draws through, and, although so high, the air is as dry as in a severe drought at home—no wonder that a desert stretches so far on the east. This desert basin is very high, from three thousand to four thousand feet. As we look out on the plain, mountains rise from it in every direction, but they are but detached chains—one can travel all the way to the Colorado River on the plain, which is everywhere a terrible desert. One of the mountain chains, fifty miles distant, is the Slate Range, now creating much excitement because of silver mines discovered there.

This desert is but a continuation of the one described in my last letter. It has less yucca, but like that, is covered with scattered bushes, such as can stand a dryness you cannot appreciate East. Doctor Horn, of Camp Independence, in Owens Valley, a perfectly reliable man, was stationed in that valley last August. He has kept a rain gauge, and from that time to this, the rainy season, there has fallen in the aggregate less than a quarter of an inch of rain! None can fall now until next winter, and possibly not then, and yet these shrubs can live in such a climate, if they get a good wetting every two or three years. A view, comprising a field as large, or nearly as large, as the state of Connecticut, has not a single tree in sight. Such are the Californian deserts.

We descended gradually and curved around the hills for about fourteen miles from the summit to the Indian Wells, where we stopped. A more god-forsaken, cheerless place I have seldom seen—a spring of water—nothing else. Here was a cabin, where we got our suppers. There was not a particle of feed. A little grass (bunch grass) that can grow in a dry climate, occurs four miles distant—it is cut with a sickle, tied up in little bundles, and sold at ten cents per pound—and cracked corn at fifteen cents per pound. This we got for our horses. You can well imagine that the inhabitants of such a place are not the most refined, but they hold a claim four miles distant—“ranch,” they call it—where there is water and some feed, and keep horses that get used up on the desert.

On arriving at this miserable hole the first greeting was inquiries about Indians. Two men had reported seeing a band in the pass where we had come through. Several horses and mules had been discovered shot near there that day, and one man was missing. We had seen no Indians, although we had been well on the lookout.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2013 10:34 am

    Here’s a GigaPan of Robbers Roost, between Walker Pass and Indian Wells –

    it remains a fairly “god-forsaken, cheerless place”, though 150 years later one can pass this way in less than an hour in an air-conditioned vehicle, thankfully.

  2. May 16, 2013 10:49 am

    It’s surprising to me that Brewer didn’t comment on the Joshua Trees, for they are as dramatic on the ride through Walker Pass as any place I’ve seen. Perhaps this is what he was referring to as “yucca”?

  3. William H. Brewer permalink*
    May 16, 2013 2:03 pm

    Ron, thanks for posting that–another great one!

    Bryan, I think he is referring to Joshua Trees as “yucca” here (technically correct, since it is in the Yucca genus). He talked more about Joshua Trees when crossing the Antelope Valley. That said, I agree with you that the Joshua Tree forest on both sides of Walker Pass is truly impressive.

  4. May 17, 2013 4:35 am

    It would be neat to have a link to locations for your posts, for example on Google Maps. Not sure how difficult that is – just reading what Brewer said about the area is plenty cool!

  5. William H. Brewer permalink*
    May 17, 2013 5:50 am

    There is a map showing locations for this leg of the journey (and links to prior maps are there as well). From the front page, just click on “Maps” at the top.

    (I have been linking to the maps page in the camp number on a lot of posts, but because this trip was just Brewer & Gabb, with no wagons and all, they didn’t assign camp numbers to the places they stayed. Starting at the end of May, when the rest of the crew join them, they’ll get back to numbered camps and there’ll be a link in each post.)

  6. Kathleen permalink
    May 17, 2013 10:45 am

    I’m traveling around California more now to visit places I’ve been meaning to see the last 30 years. Just came back from an SF-Lake Isabella-Eastern Sierra-Tahoe-SF loop. Very excited to see that what I was thinking as I drove along Walker Pass Road to the eastern side was not very different from his thoughts. And despite more settlement, that area is not so different 150 years later.

    Again, thanks for this blog, and to Ron Schott for his gigapans.


  7. May 17, 2013 3:45 pm

    Thanks for the info about the Maps at the top – I missed that somehow. That’s got plenty of locations. 🙂

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