Miguel Blanco

The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon in the Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino
Hundreds and sometimes even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal.  The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the  Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.

Narrows, Crowder Cyn., Cajon Pass

Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.

The rich ranchos of southern California.

In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.

Devore, ca.
From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for the horse thieves entering the Cajon.

He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock and in debt.

The Old Spanish Trail went down this slope to behind Miguel Blanco’s rough-hewn homestead. Indians would watch from this forest for Miguel to leave and they would slip down and steal everything that could be stolen.

Miguel sold his property, however, Miguel had misread the grant, letting the rancho go for much less than it was worth. The land described on the grant was roughly 5 times larger than Miguel thought.  Blanco brought a suit but lost.

Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco
Muscupiabe Rancho

As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback. With California becoming a state frontiersmen such as Beckwourth and Peg Leg Smith would not steal from fellow Americans. Horse-thieving under U.S. law had become a crime where before it was just stealing horses from Mexicans. That was only serious if caught in the act. Americans would never extradite them. For the most part, that was the end of the horse stealing raids.

Mormon Battalion


Mormon Battalion, flag

The Mormon Battalion was a United States Army volunteer unit composed primarily of Latter-day Saint (Mormon) men. It was formed during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The battalion played a significant role in the western expansion of the United States and the development of the American West.

Here are some key points about the Mormon Battalion:

  1. Formation: The Mormon Battalion was officially organized on July 16, 1846, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, had been forced to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, and were headed west to the Salt Lake Valley.
  2. Purpose: The battalion was created to support the U.S. war effort in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The U.S. government, in need of troops to secure the territory acquired in the Southwest, allowed the Mormons to form their unit.
  3. Service: The Mormon Battalion marched over 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs to San Diego, California, through harsh and challenging conditions. They were mustered out of service in July 1847.
  4. Contribution to Western Expansion: The journey of the Mormon Battalion played a role in opening up a southern wagon route to California and exploring potential routes for future transportation and communication lines.
  5. Legacy: The legacy of the Mormon Battalion is still remembered today. Many battalion members settled in California after their service, and their contributions are commemorated in various historical sites and monuments. The battalion is also remembered as a unique episode in American military history and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Mormon Battalion’s journey was a remarkable chapter in the American West’s history and the United States’s expansion during the 19th century.

Indian Queho

Queho was a historical figure known as the “Red Rock Canyon Renegade” or “Indian Queho.” Queho was a Native American Paiute who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the region of Nevada, particularly around the Red Rock Canyon area.

Queho gained notoriety for being accused of committing a series of violent murders and then staying on the run for over 30 years. His story is shrouded in mystery and controversy, with conflicting accounts of his actions and motivations.

Some consider Queho a renegade and a killer, while others argue that he may have been unfairly scapegoated due to racism and prejudice against Native Americans during that time. The details of Queho’s life and the events surrounding his alleged crimes are not entirely clear, and various versions of his story exist.

Joshua Tree National Park Geology

Joshua Tree National Park, located in southeastern California, is known for its unique and stunning geological features. The park’s geology results from a complex history of tectonic activity and erosion. Here are some key aspects of the geology of Joshua Tree National Park:

Rocks and Formations:

The park is primarily composed of two major types of rocks: granites and monzogranites, which are igneous rocks, and Pinto gneiss, which is a metamorphic rock. These rocks provide the foundation for many of the park’s iconic landscapes.

Faults and Tectonic Activity:

The park is situated at the intersection of the San Andreas Fault and the Pinto Mountain Fault. These fault systems have played a significant role in shaping the landscape over millions of years. The motion along these faults has created uplifts, valleys, and rock fractures.

Uplift and Erosion:

The park’s rugged terrain is the result of the gradual uplift of the rock formations, followed by extensive erosion. Over millions of years, water, wind, and temperature fluctuations have sculpted the rocks into unique shapes and formations throughout the park.

Rock Piles and Boulders:

One of the most recognizable features of Joshua Tree National Park is the abundance of massive boulders and rock piles. These rocks have been exposed through erosion and have unique shapes and textures, making them a popular destination for rock climbers and hikers.

Arch Rock:

Arch Rock is a famous natural arch formation in the park, which erosional forces have created. It’s a popular spot for visitors and photographers.

Wonderland of Rocks:

The Wonderland of Rocks is an area within the park characterized by a maze of large rock formations. It’s a fantastic place for rock climbing and hiking, with numerous granite formations that the elements have sculpted.

Desert Landscape:

In addition to its distinctive rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park features a diverse desert landscape with unique flora, including the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), which gave the park its name. The park is also home to various cacti, shrubs, and wildlife.

Indian Cove:

Indian Cove is another popular area in the park known for its large boulders and rock formations. It’s a favorite spot for rock climbers and offers a unique camping experience.

Visitors to Joshua Tree National Park can explore its geology through hiking, rock climbing, and scenic drives. The park’s fascinating geological features and stunning desert landscapes make it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and geology enthusiasts alike.

About Water

Two stories about water, its availability, and value

Not long ago a respectable citizen of a little California town had to cross the desert at a point where water-holes were few and far apart. He depended upon obtaining water at a certain ranch, established at one of the oases on his route, and when he arrived there he and his guide and burros were in sad condition, having been several hours without water. He gave his guide a five-dollar gold piece and told him to see the rancher and purchase the water necessary to carry them to the next watering place. It happened that the rancher’s well was in danger of going dry, and he declined the money, refusing to part with any water. Pleadings were unavailing, and the guide returned to his employer and reported his inability to make a deal. Then the staid citizen arose in his wrath and, with a ten-dollar gold piece in one hand and a revolver in the other, he sought the rancher.

“There is ten dollars for the water, if you will sell it,” he said; “and if not, I will send you to Hades and take it, anyway! Now which will it be?”

There was but one reply to an argument of that kind ; the rancher sulkily accepted the money, the brackish water was drawn from the well, and the journey was soon resumed. As a result of this transaction, however, the rancher was obliged to take a forty-mile journey over the desert and back, to replenish his water-supply from another well.

John F. McPherson, of Los Angeles, manager of the Nevada Land Office, left Los
Angeles, in August, 1900, to traverse the Great Mojave Desert, on his way to look over the lands in the Parumph Valley, in Nevada. His experience, which was by no means uncommon, is best related by himself.

“I left Los Angeles by team,” he says, “to retrace the Government surveys and make field notes. I had with me two companions, one Samuel Baker and a young man from the East. We proceeded over the foothills to Cajon Pass, thence to Victor, out on the desert. It was in the burning days of a fierce, dry summer. The earth was fervid, and the air quivered with the sun’s intense heat, which poured its burning rays from a cloudless sky. Bad luck accompanied us from the very start. At Pomona, thirty miles from Los Angeles, we lost a horse and had to purchase another. At Daggett, out in the desert, which place we reached on the second day of our desert travel, we found the thermometer registering 128 degrees in the shade. We passed through Daggett and made camp ten miles
farther on, at dark.

“Eighteen miles beyond Daggett is Coyote Holes, where we expected to find water to replenish the supply with which we left Daggett at seven o’clock in the morning. We found the well dry when we reached there, and the place red with alkali. Near the well, two pieces of two by four scantling marked the grave of some traveler who had preceded us and who had run short of water before reaching the Holes. He had arrived too far gone to go farther, and his companions had remained with him till the end and had given him a burial in the sand and set the scantlings to mark the spot. Those scantlings proved our salvation a little later.

“By noon we had consumed all but about three gallons of our water -and we determined to save this till the last extremity, for we had yet eighteen miles to go to the next watering-place, Garlic Springs. Our horses were already in bad shape and nearly crazed for want of water. In their eagerness to reach it they plunged forward at a pace that threatened soon to exhaust them. Our efforts to restrain them by means of the reins were unavailing, and we were obliged to take off our coats and throw them over the heads of the animals and then lead them by the bits in this blinded condition.

“Just beyond Coyote Holes, on the road to Garlic Springs, is a fearful sink known as Dry Lake. Here the ground is shifty and treacherous and the wheels of the wagon sank deep into the sand. Just as we had reached the farther side of the lake the forward axle of the wagon broke, letting the front part of the wagon fall to the ground. This frightened the horses so that they became almost unmanageable. They seemed to realize that this delay meant possible death, and their cries were almost human-like and were indeed pitiable to hear.

“By this time the condition of my companions and myself was dire, and we realized that time was of the greatest importance. The thermometer registered 130 in the shade and no available shade. To add to our misery and increase our danger a terrible sand storm arose, blinding, stinging, and almost smothering us.

“It was like standing before a blast furnace, opening the door, and catching at the blast. There were 1600 pounds of provisions in the wagon at the time, and
if we abandoned that, we would perish of starvation. It could not be thought of. “We unhitched the horses and tied them to the wagon’s rear and stretched the heavy canvas which had covered the wagon over them to protect them from the sand storm. Our salvation lay with the horses. If they became exhausted or broke loose, we knew our bones would be left to bleach upon the desert sands, as have the bones of so many desert travelers.

“The young Easterner lost his courage and cried like a baby. The three gallons of water were divided among man and beast, and then Baker started back to Coyote Holes to get the two pieces of scantling to mend our broken wagon. While he was gone, the young Easterner and I threw the freight from the wagon to make ready for trussing up the rig when Baker returned with the scantlings.

” The storm continued to increase and soon became as dark as midnight. When it came time for Baker’s return, the storm was so high that we feared he would have perished in it or had lost his way. Hour after hour passed, but he still did not return, and we lost hope. At about 9 o’clock in the evening, however, he came into camp with the scantlings. His mouth was bleeding from thirst, and he was nearly blinded by the sand, but he had the material to repair the wagon, and hope returned to all our hearts.

” With stout wires and the timbers, we soon had our wagon in shape, and the freight was speedily loaded upon it, and we prepared to resume our journey. Our
ill luck, however, was not at an end, for when we attempted to attach the tongue of the wagon, the kingbolt was not to be found. It was midnight when we had our wagon repaired and loaded, and it was two o’clock before we succeeded in pawing the kingbolt out of the sand where it had fallen. Then we had twelve weary miles to travel before reaching the water. We were all in a terrible state when we started, and the wagon sank so deeply in the sand that our progress was fearfully slow.

“Twenty-four hours without water in the desert is a terrible thing. Baker went mad before we had covered half the distance to Garlic Springs. He was for abandoning the party, which meant certain death to one in his condition. There was only one thing I could think of to prevent him, and I did. I pulled out my revolver and told him I would shoot him if he attempted to leave the party. He had enough sense or sanity to heed the admonition and stayed with us. I had to carry my revolver in my hand, however, and constantly keep an eye on him. We reached the springs at ten o’clock and were all on the verge of delirium. It was several hours before our swollen and parched throats would admit more than a few drops of water at a time. We bathed in the water, soaked towels in it and sucked at the ends, and by degrees, fought away the demon of thirst. Baker spent five weeks in a hospital after reaching civilization, and we all were unfitted for hard work for a long time.”

It is easy to gather tales of this sort from the towns bordering upon the deserts. There are still more disastrous tales that remain untold because none survive to relate them.

The Mystic Mid-Region
The Deserts of the Southwest
By Arthur J. Burdick – 1904

Just California

Augustin S. Macdonald, comp.
A Collection of Verse by California Poets. 1914.

Camp Cajon
Camp Cajon Dedication

By John S. McGroarty

’TWIXT the seas and the deserts,
’Twixt the wastes and the waves,
Between the sands of buried lands
And the ocean’s coral caves,
It lies not East nor West,
But like a scroll unfurled,
Where the hand of God hath hung it,
Down the middle of the world.

It lies where God hath spread it,
In the gladness of his eyes,
Like a flame of jeweled tapestry
Beneath His shining skies,
With the green of woven meadows,
And the hills in golden chains,
The light of leaping rivers,
And the flash of poppied plains.

Days rise that gleam in glory,
Days die with sunset’s breeze,
While from Cathay that was of old
Sail countless argosies;
Morns break again in splendor
O’er the giant, new-born West,
But of all the lands God fashioned,
’Tis this land is the best.

Sun and dews that kiss it,
Balmy winds that blow,
The stars in clustered diadems
Upon its peaks of snow;
The mighty mountains o’er it,
Below, the white seas swirled—
Just California stretching down
The middle of the world.

Camp Cajon
Camp Cajon Dedication

Ancestral Mojave River

Dry lakes along the Mojave River were formed as the river itself evolved and the land took shape. Only 500,000 years ago the Mojave sloped toward the ocean and as the Transverse Ranges pushed the desert up the slope reversed and the river began to form lakes from the water flowing inland instead of toward the sea. The river would fill a swamp and then a lake, and the lake would flood and stretch the river a bit further and further to one lake and then another until the ultimate inland termination, Death Valley and its Lake Manly.

Original presentation by Dr. Norman Meek, Advisor Bob Reynolds, Images Walter Feller

click the map to read the presentation;