Welcome to the historic gold country of San Bernardino National Forest. This overland route takes you through the now tranquil Holcomb Valley that was once thriving with activity during the gold rush of the 1860's. At 12 selected markers you will live the history of there area.
Please keep your vehicles on the designated roads and use the parking areas at numbered stops. When walking to the historical sites off the road, please stay on the trial.
William F. Holcomb left Iowa in 1850 and went west to seek his fortune in the mining camps of Northern California. Discouraged by poor luck, he drifted southward. Intrigued by rumors of a small gold discovery in the San Bernardino Mountains, Holcomb left Los Angeles in November of 1859, joining up with others, and camped in the aptly named Starvation Flats.
The section behind Holcomb Campground 3N05 closes for the winter.
Snow is common in the winter, please plan ahead.
1. Big Bear Discovery Center
Big Bear Discovery Center
40971 North Shore Drive/ Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333
2. Holcomb View Trail
Bill Holcomb was hired by other prospectors to hunt bear in the hills. On a hunting trip up Polique Canyon, he first saw Holcomb Valley off to the North just 2 miles away. The group back at Starvation Flats later named this area Holcomb's Valley.
The following day, Bill and Ben Choteau (Cherokee Indian), wounded a "Monster Grizzly." The blood trail lead them to a quartz ledge which caught Bills attention. While up there, they took some large pieces of the quartz where they planned on taking back to town to test it and while washing the rock off in the stream they discovered abundant amount of gold lying in the stream bed.
The news spread quickly and by July 1860 the valley was swarming with prospectors.
(Park and follow the Pacific Crest Trail 250 feet east to the view of Holcomb Valley)
3. Last Chance Placer
Placer mining is a simple technique where gold is separated from sand or gravel with water.
The miners worked this area so heavily that they worked it all the way to the bedrock. When the black sand was found (pay dirt), they transported it by horse and cart to be sluiced in the rockers. These sluices were built near common run off areas where water was plentiful with the snow melt.
The mounds of tailings are from the mines after it was worked for gold. To this date, the mother load has never been found.
(Drive in 200 feet to the split rail fence around a mining pit)
4. Two Gun Bill's Saloon
A white lie, this site was believed to be the site of the famous saloon, dance hall, and bordello. The story was told so much that even the locals believed it. The truth is the real famous saloon was 1.5 miles to the southeast at the corner of 3N16 and 3N12. The remains are of a very large cabin that was occupied as late as the 1930's. Unfortunately the area has been picked over by visitors over the last 10 years and has almost completely removed all resemblance of the Cabin.
(Walk in 300 feet to the scattered remnants of this historic log structure)
5. Jonathan Tibbetts' Grasshopper Quartz Mill
"Chinamen's Knoll" the center of activity was a high piece of ground in the area. In this spot Tibbetts operated a 5-stamp mill powered by Pico Steam Engine. The heavy iron heads rhythmically pulverized the gold ore from the John Bull Mines.
The sand mounds are tailings from the mining.
(Walk 900 feet past the sand mounds to the remains of the water pump)
6. Hangman's Tree
Where money can be found, so can crime. As the miners and prospectors found their fortunes, outlaws, claim jumpers, gamblers, and other trouble makers followed close behind. In August 1861, the valley was attacked by house thieves from Salt Lake City, known as the Button's Gang.
It was estimated that 50 murders were committed in the first 2 years of the valley.
For those outlaws who were unable to avoid the law, they found themselves at the end of a rope on this tree.
The real hangmen's tree was burnt down by careless visitors not so long ago by the Belleville Cabin, after this happened they renamed this trail the hangmen's tree because of its scary looks.
(The trail is just to the east of the trail, you can't miss it)
7. Original Gold Diggings
The spot where Bill Holcomb made his famous discovery. The stream is hard to see. Some of the purest gold that was ever discovered in California was discovered in this area along the river with panning and digging.
IN 1861 and 1862, thousands of claims were staked throughout the valley.
(Look in the meadow (the stream is not usually visible)
On the outskirts of the haphazard town, earthen dugouts and hastily built shacks were thrown together by the miners. These include a brewery and the infamous "Octagon House," an 8 sided saloon and dance hall, where glittered girls entertained.
In 1861, at the peak of the rush, 1500 people lived in Holcomb Valley, in which Belleville missed taking the county seat from the San Bernardino by a mere 2 votes. The population was typical of a mining town, with good men and industrious works, balanced by degenerates and professional lawbreakers.
(A lone log cabin sits in the meadow on the left, just no longer there)
9. Arrastres (Gold Ore Grinder)
The oldest tool for recovering gold from rocks. The arrastre wheel was introduced my Mexican miners. The early arrastres consisted of a low rock wall banked around large, flat and fairly level stones. In a hole in the center was an upright post, and on this pivoted a long horizontal beam. A donkey or mule harnessed to the end of the beam provided the power by walking in an endless circle.
The ore was crushed between the stones then slowly tendius process of grinding a single pile of ore took about four hours. Over 100 gold grinding quartz arrastres once dotted Holcomb Valley.
(150 feet to the west of the Belleville Cabin.)
10. Ross' Grave
Little is known of Ross except he was accidently killed while cutting down a tree.
Like most other items in the Valley, people have stolen parts of the grave including the hand carved picket fence. To save what was left, the SBNF Rangers relocated some of the fence to the Big Bear Discover Center.
(A 500 foot trail leads to the gravesite)
11. Pygmy Cabin Site
The original cabin was burned down in November 1983. The forest service rebuilt the cabin to represent what it was once before. The original cabin only had 4 foot tall walls and at the highest point in the roof was from the ground to ceiling 6 foot.
(Across the road from Stop #9, a winding 900 foot trail leas to the original cabin remains.)
12. Metzger Mine
After most of the placer sites were staked, gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered in the hills to the north and down through Jacoby Gulch to the east. The vein the miners followed when they dug this underground horizontal passage is still visible above the main entrance.
Lode claims could not be worked without heavy machinery, so a wagon road became essential. The miners pledged $1500 and a road was cut by Jed Van Dusen down through Lower Holcomb connecting with the "New" toll road in Cajon Pass. Soon after, a wagon hauled in a four-ton boiler to power the first quartz mill. The trip took 27 days from Los Angeles to Holcomb Valley.
(800 foot trail to the mine entrance)
13. Gold Mountain (Also known as "Lucky Baldwin" Mine
The last major gold discovery occurred in 1873 when Barney and Charley Carter were enroute to the Ross Mine. While camped for the night along the North Shore of Baldwin Lake, Barney went to inspect the "Shiny Stuff" in the quartz ledge immediately above their camp. His brief exploration led to the a mountain of gold ore. Elais J. "Lucky" Baldwin purchased "Carters' Quartz Hill" for $30,000.
By 1876, Baldwin had 180 men working his mine and a 40 stamp mill was in place. The concrete footings can be seen to the west. The site of the large mill and cyanide processing plant was added in 1899. The mill was in operation as late as 1923.
(Watch for the wooden structure on the right / south side of the road. This was once a Ore Bin, built in 1945.)