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Lucerne Valley, Ca.

Lucerne Valley History Notes

Working timeline

1873 First settlers
1877 Indian fight
1883 Pete Davidson
1886 W.W. Brown arrives at Box S.
1897 James Goulding - Swarthout to OWS
1909 Willie Boy
1911 Russell
1912 July 4 Celebration
1928 Electricity

The First White Settlers

1873, Peter Davidson recorded the first claim in 1873--building his way station at Rabbit Springs. John Cushenbury followed, providing a way station near where the present Mitsubishi Cement Plant now stands. In 1884, the way stations proved vital to the teamsters traveling from Victorville up to Big Bear where a dam was being built. They would load their cement in Victorville and travel to one of the way stations to spend the night before making the rigorous climb up the mountain.

In 1897, James Goulding moved to the valley and became a pivotal figure in the growth of Lucerne Valley throughout the next several years. At the turn of the century, homesteaders began to filter into the valley, facing a brutal, windswept desert in which to prove up claims and survive. The majority of these pioneer homesteaders were overcome by the challenge; but a few strong families succeeded in forming a close community of "rugged individuals." Although there were conflicts amongst these proud groups, each year they would come together on the 4th of July to celebrate and give thanksgiving for their success in creating a community out of the sands of the desert.

(Excerpt from the Chamber of Commerce 1984 edition of GUIDE TO HIGH DESERT LIVING)

"Willie Boy" Terrorizes the High Desert

In 1909, Lucerne Valley was in all the newspapers due to the infamous exploits of Willie Boy,a Paiute Indian. From October 16-21, 1909, Willie Boy held the High Desert in a state of panic.

Willie Boy had murdered a man in Banning, precipitating a chase across the desert. He was on foot, dragging his girlfriend behind him part of the way before shooting her. Unencumbered, he arrived at Lucerne Valley seeking refuge from the fast approaching posse. Unable to get assistance, he fled into the hills behind Rock Corral for a final stand. When the posse arrived, he shot and wounded a deputy before taking his own life, ending one of the most dramatic chases ever witnessed in Southern California.

(Excerpt from the Chamber of Commerce 1984 edition of GUIDE TO HIGH DESERT LIVING.)

Growing Through The Decades

By Pat Judkins, Leader Correspondent

Five men: L.D. Wilson, John E. McFee, W.S. Manning, W.P. Morrison, and a man whose last name was Holmes laid claim to Rabbit Springs and 100 surrounding acres according to a recorded document. This gave each of them 20 acres.

Peter Davidson, the first white man to homestead in this valley, operated a Way Station at Rabbit Springs after his arrival in 1883. This was the only place food and lodging could be had for many miles, and was sought out by teamsters, miners, and other travelers. “Uncle Pete’s” grave, maintained by the L.V. Museum Association, may be seen at Kendall and Rabbit Springs Roads.

Box S Ranch Era

W. W. Brown and his family arrived here in 1886, and were the first to reside on the then unnamed Box S Ranch property. Ten years later, Al Swarthout bought the property. Box S was his cattle brand. In 1897 he moved further east to Old Woman Springs Ranch.

"Old Time cattlemen of Big Bear country at a 1937 Moonridge gathering; they are left to right-Cliff Shay, Dale Gentry, Harry Allison (county clerk) Al Swarthout, John Cram, John and Will Talmadge, Will Shay and Sheriff Emmett Shay."-From Foxfire, 100 years of Cow Ranching in the San Bernardino Mts/Mojave Desert, by Kendall Stone; 1989 Sagebrush Publishing-

At that time James and Anna Goulding and their children took over the Box S Ranch. The entire area had been known, and shown on county maps, simply as the Box S until about 1916. Goulding, who was successful in growing alfalfa (called lucerne), named the locale “Lucerne Valley”.

Box S was composed of a rough, dirt road with only a few houses and isolated homestead shacks out in the sagebrush. However, the city of Victor (now Victorville) 21 miles away, and the city of Hesperia were already being promoted.

Goulding, accepted as the founder of Lucerne Valley, developed the Box S Ranch to play a vital part in local history. The first school, library, and post office were established there. The ranch and Way Station became the center of both the community and social functions. Old-timers would have a hot meal there for 35 cents, use the blacksmith shop, and socialize while hunting for their mail in an old wash tub.

For these early residents, the days were mixed with the bountiful beauty of the High Desert and the problems of surviving in the remote area. Sixteen-year-old Helene Koehly was stalked by a coyote on her way to school one day.

The first July 4 celebration was held at Box S in 1912. The Goulding’s home was the center of all local activities then--when the population was approximately 105 residents. Festivities included “shooting the anvil” (for noise), playing croquet and horseshoes, and the men swam nude in the reservoir back near the alfalfa field.

The Box S era ended recently when Dr. Rao V. and Devi S. Davuloy purchased the remaining 2.88 acre property in 1989 for $180,000. The last of the historic buildings have now been demolished. All that remains is a brick fireplace that once kept the Box S family and guests warm-- now standing among the few cottonwood trees that are left. Here, voices from the past seem to call out to us.

Local Library

In 1916, after a storm damaged many books, the combination public and school library was moved to the Boom Ranch on Wilshire, northeast of Midway. After being closed during World War I, the library opened again in 1918. It continued serving both the school and the public until it became a Community Branch of the County Library System in 1928. It took five more moves before the present L.V. County Branch Library was built west of Pioneer Park in 1988.

Electric Utilities

Electricity reached the valley abut 1928, but most people still used kerosene lamps. Valley resident since 1949, John Russell, says: “Most people didn’t care about electricity. There were no air conditioners. Radios were battery operated. Oil lamps or propane were used for lights. The ones who wanted to be here then enjoyed the life. In 1949, we had 3 feet of snow which isolated a lot of people for about a week. In those days people didn’t panic. That’s the way it was. You sit and wait for it to melt!”

Russell Tract

John Russell’s father, William Russell, homesteaded 320 acres here in 1911. Those acres now comprise the Russell Tract. The senior Russell opened the first cafe in Victorville-- the Oasis Cafe on D Street. The telephone number was 27.

That same year (1911), William Russell, “Dad” Goulding and other pioneers, measured the distance from this valley to Victor, along Highway 18, by tying a rag around a wagon spoke and counting each turn along the way. They recorded this for the County of San Bernardino in order to get the dirt road accepted.

Also that same year the Gobar family arrived here. They traveled from Victor to Box S in a two-seater buckboard, but the men found they could make better time walking so they walked most of the way.

Also in 1911, Theodore and Stella Owen filed on 640 acres here on Midway Rd. (first known as Owen Road.). The senior Owen was the first scoutmaster here, and their son, Dick, was the first Boy Scout. The Owen family operated the Theodore P. Owen Turkey Ranch, boasting possibly the largest turkey hatchery in the U.S.

Local Post Office

In 1912 the L.V. Post Office was first established at the ranch home of John and Rosa Koehly at Rabbit Springs and Post Office Roads. Postmaster Rosa’s salary was the amount of stamps canceled; some days she earned eight cents. It took four more moves before the modern post office was built in 1987 on Highland Avenue, south of Highway 18.

Film Industry

In the 1920s and 1930s this valley became a popular setting for the great western movies to be filmed. For some time, Hollywood came to the desert, helping the economy and hiring residents here as extras. In 1996 and 1997, the film industry seems to once again be using our beautiful scenery.

Tegelberg Cactus Garden

Gilbert H. Tegelberg, Sr. homesteaded in Lucerne Valley in 1930, and his famous Tegelberg Cactus Gardens were the tourist attraction of the valley until its demise about five years ago.

Local "Hot Spot"

In the early 1940s all roads led to Lucerne Valley and the dances at Ewing’s Desert Dome Ballroom (now Manna Mission). The maple hardwood floor, with benches built into the walls all around and a stage for the piano drums, ect., was perfect for all types of dances.

Fire Department

A Volunteer Fire Department was organized during World War II--along with Fire Watchers, Sky Watchers, Plane Watchers, and other Civil Defense organizations. Dick Owen was the first local volunteer fireman. In the early 1950s a firehouse was built with donated material and volunteer labor. It was located where Old Woman Springs Road and Highway 18 meet to form a “Y”. To report a fire, residents would telephone Dick Grobaty at Dick’s Center Store. To summon the volunteer firemen, Dick would press a button on his wall which was wired to a siren on top of the firehouse. The alarm could be heard all over the valley. At night a similar procedure went into effect when Grobaty pushed a button in his L.V. Motel room.

A County Fire District was formed in 1962-63. When first implemented, it still operated with volunteer firemen and one paid chief. Then it became part of the San Bernardino County Fire Agency manned by a permanent staff headed by an Agency Chief.

The Fifties

A lot happened here in the 1950s as this valley really began to grow. John Russell and a friend extended electricity from Midway School for 2 1/2 miles at a cost of 35 cents per foot. Lucerne Valley was known as the Guest Ranch Capitol then. Joe and Janice Horst bought 120 acres and built the Desert Hills Guest Ranch (now Desert Gardens Retirement Home) on Crystal Creek Road. They catered to artists and celebrities who enjoyed privacy. Steve McQueen stayed there while filming “On Any Sunday.” Many celebrities like Clark Gable and Roy Rogers used the popular Lions Club Gun Range facilities. There were about 30 telephones here, and they were 8-10 party lines.

In the 1950s Dick Grobaty was selling 150 gallons of ice cream per week, with a choice of 20 flavors, at the Malt Shop. Roy Rogers often stopped there in his jeep with Buttermilk and Trigger in the trailer.

Grobaty’s friend, and perhaps the valley’s most famous resident was a French man named Rene Belbenoit who opened Rene’s Ranch Store about the same time Grobaty opened the Malt Shop. Belbenoit bought the lot for $500., and John Russell built the building that still stands there. It is now the home of The Bottom Dollar Antique and Thrift Store, and Son’s Satellites. Belbenoit wrote books based on his escape from the notorious prison colony, Devil’s Island. His best seller, “I Escaped From Devil’s Island”, played an integral role in the shutting down of that murderous penal institution. After Belbenoit’s death in 1959, Grobaty moved from the Malt Shop to that location and opened Dick’s Center Store where he served the community for the next 30 years.

By 1950 many chicken plants were in place here. Permanente Cement Company purchased some hill acreage south of the valley and brought to it the first payroll; a supermarket, drug store, beauty shops, medical building with a resident physician, restaurants, a school, five churches, a weekly newspaper (The Leader), two motels, power and telephone lines--and the settlement became a town. Industry entered the valley as the cement and limestone plants began mining operations at the base of the San Bernardino mountains. The Mitsubishi plant, near Cushenbury Springs, is the largest of its kind in North America.

Local Cemetery

In the 1960s, the county began getting stricter about records being kept of the local cemetery. “Dad” Goulding was the cemetery curator. McDougall drilled a well there; John Russell donated a pump; the Lions Club fenced the property. The county eventually took over the perpetual maintenance fund. It was the County Cemetery District before CSA 29 came into being.


For many years students above elementary school grades were bussed to Apple Valley and Victorville to junior and senior high schools. In 1987 the L.V. Middle School was built. In 1992 L.V. High School was opened.

It has been estimated that close to 11,000 Lucerne Valley residents are spread out over about 500 square miles.

Sources for this information include, but not limited to:
Range One East, By Virginia Hemphill Gobar
Raising The Dust, By Virginia Hemphill Gobar
Quick History of Lucerne Valley, By Ethel Owen
Lucerne Valley Leader Newspaper articles
Interviews of residents like John Russell and Ethel Owen
L.V. County Branch LibraryResources

The Last Indian Fight In Southern California

Occurred in 1877 at Lucerne Valley

For a detailed account of this event read the Chimney Rock article by local resident Cindy Lazenby.

According to historians, regional Paiutes fought fiercely against any intervention by the whiteman.

In 1876, Paiute warriors ambushed a sawmill in the nearby Big Bear Lake area killing three young boys, and escaped unscathed. Although there was great fear of the warring Indian bands, white men continued to operate the sawmill. The next year (1877), the Indians attacked again-- this time meeting a much stronger opposition. The beaten warriors were driven down into the Valley where they holed up near Chimney Rock at the Western end of the dry lake along Hwy. 18. They were met by a strong force of white men and were defeated. The Chimney Rock Battle marked the last confrontation between white men and Indians in Southern California, leaving the High Desert safe for the pioneers.

(Excerpt from the Chamber of Commerce 1984 edition, GUIDE TO HIGH DESERT LIVING)

Early Nomadic Residents of Lucerne Valley

Through the centuries, Lucerne Valley was a temporary home to nomadic Indians. The Paiute Indians figured most prominently in Lucerne Valley's history. The term "Paiute" was used to designate most of the Shoshonean tribes which are widely scattered through many western states. During the period of settlement in the West, the Paiutes were generally friendly to the whites.

Location and Statistics

Lucerne Valley is located at an elevation of 3,000 feet in the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert.

It encompasses about 400 square miles and is sometimes referred to as the "Crossroads of the High Desert".
It is located 35 miles south of Barstow, 45 miles northwest of Yucca Valley on State Highway 247.
It is 15 miles southeast of Apple Valley, the home of Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans.
It is also 25 miles from the mountain resort area of Big Bear Lake on Hwy. 18 that bisects the town area.


Chimney Rock

Two accounts of the Battle of Chimney Rock.
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