Pilgrims in the Desert
The Early History of the East Mojave Desert and Baker, California
Many of you will recognize one or more of the men on the cover. From left to right they are:
Father Francisco Garces the first
European known to have crossed the Mojave Desert. Garces made several exploratory trips North from what is now Southern
Arizona. On one of those trips he came across Indians living along the Colorado River who had various shells and ornaments
from the seacoast. The Indians led Garces across the Mojave to the Pacific Ocean in 1776.
John C. Fremont "The Great
Pathfinder" had made one earlier expedition into the little known lands of the West. On this, his second expedition, he and
his men had wintered in the San Joaquin Valley. They left there in March of 1844 traveling South to avoid the Sierra Mountains
which were still covered with snow. He and his men crossed through the Tehachapi Pass and entered the Mojave Desert at a point
near present day Victorville.
Jedediah Smith, a "Mountain Man" who was apparently searching for a route to the pacific coast to find
a more convenient market for his Beaver pelts. He was also guided across the Mojave by Indians living along the Colorado River.
His first crossing was in 1826. He crossed again in 1827 under extremely difficult conditions. Parts of his journal are
included in the book.
Christopher "Kit" Carson, a pathfinder in his own right is 4th from the left. He was hired by Fremont and
spent many years exploring the western lands. Both Carson and Fremont kept diaries, excerpts of which you will find on these
Wyatt Earp is on the far right. We are led to believe Wyatt spent most of his years as a lawman in the wild west cattle
towns. In fact he spent many years in the Mojave and lived out his final years on the eastern edge of the Mojave.
The Post Office at Earp, California, across the river from Parker, AZ is named after him.
The men on the cover were but a few of the early "Pilgrims in the Desert". There were many-many more, such as:
Antonio Armijo a
trader who traveled from Santa Fe, New Mexico to California in 1829 trading hand woven woolen products for Horses and Mules which
were very valuable in Santa Fe. He pioneered the route known today as "The Old Spanish Trail".
Allexey Von Schmidt who, in 1872,
attempted the third survey to determine the eastern boundary of California. His survey was inaccurate and confusing, but some
maps today still show the real boundary and a dashed line as the "Von Schmidt Line".
Lt. Robert Williamson, an Army Surveyor, who traveled
through present day Baker in 1853 and determined that the Mojave River ended just North of Baker and did not flow into the Colorado
River as was thought at the time.
Aaron G. Lane who established himself in the area of present day Cajon Pass during the Civil War
and became known as the first permanent white settler in the high desert.
Harry Wade who, along with his family and others, became
stranded in Death Valley in 1849 while seeking a shortcut to the gold fields in California. Later he led his
group out of Death Valley and joined the Old Spanish Trail 30 miles north of Baker. Pilgrims in the Desert
also chronicles the experiences of later Pilgrims, such as:
Francis M. "Borax" Smith who, in 1906-07 built the Tonopah and
Tidewater (T&T) Railroad through the area known as "Berry", later renamed "Baker" in recognition of Richard C. Baker, his English
partner in the Borax Business.
Ralph Jacobus "Dad" Fairbanks who established Shoshone, California and in 1926 opened one
of the first businesses in Baker.
Bill and Edna Price whose travels, including their time in Baker, were later documented in the
book "Burro Bill and Me".Some of the materials, including photographs, were provided by their son, now retired and living in Central