Gold Discovered in Big Bear Valley

In 1848 gold was discovered in northern California. This caused many thousands of men and women to come to California form all over the United States and from all over the world. Gold fever had struck! People hoped to get rich by panning and mining for gold. Some of these men came to southern California in search of gold. One of them was Bill Holcomb. He had tried his luck at the gold fields up north and was now heading south. He had heard that there might be gold in Big Bear Valley, but he was not sure how to get there.

After asking around in San Bernardino, he finally found someone who knew where the valley was. Bill Holcomb followed the directions and he arrived in the valley in 1859. There he met up with some other miners who had been trying their luck at what they named "Starvation Flat" or "Poverty Flat." These were good names for this area since hard working miners only brought in about $5.00 a day. The area they mined and settled is just south of what is today Stanfield Cutoff, just above Big Bear Boulevard, near the Stater Brother's Shopping Center.

Bill Holcomb and his partner, Jack Martin, were both sad that they had not found gold. Jack Martin decided to return to his family in Los Angeles. Bill decided to stay and hunt bears for food.

Bill Holcomb

Bill Holcomb shot a bear, wounding it. Bill and another miner, Ben Chouteau, decided to follow the wounded bear. They tracked the bear into a beautiful little valley just north of Big Bear Valley. When Holcomb returned to the camp to tell his friends of the new discovery, people began to call it Holcomb Valley.

Early hunters with a huge grizzly and a deer.

Later, Bill and Ben decided to go back into the valley in hopes of finding more bear. While they were there, they tried a little gold panning. Much to their excitement and surprise, they found gold.

The men returned the next day to the valley to stake their claims. This was on May 5, 1860, just ten days after Bill Holcomb had left the state of Indiana to come to California to seek his fortune.

News of the gold discovery traveled fast, since secrets of such wealth were hard to keep. Soon hundreds of hundreds of men and women had arrived in Holcomb Valley to mine.


Check Your Facts

1. Why did Bill Holcomb come to California?

2. Why was Starvation Flats a good name for the area Bill Holcomb and his partners first tried to mine?

3. What was Bill chasing when he discovered Holcomb Valley?

Think About It

Holcomb and his men tried to keep their discovery a secret, but it was impossible. Do you find it hard to keep a secret? Why do you suppose the men could not keep their secret?

Create a Venn Diagram about how the Big Bear gold rush and the California Gold Rush compare. Look at the length of the rush. Compare the worth of the gold from each rush. Look at the area covered by the events. Compare the timelines of each. Identify the important people involved in each.


The Town of Belleville is Built

Soon Holcomb Valley was filled with many shacks and buildings. Most of the buildings were put up very quickly and were not well built. To celebrate the Fourth of July, the wife of one of the miners, Mrs. Jed Van Duesen sewed an American flag. Legend said it was made of cloth from miner's shirts and the skirts of dance hall girls.

Soon after, the miners raised $1,500 to build a wagon road from Holcomb Valley to Cajon Pass. Mr. Jed Van Duesen was asked to build the road. Once the road was finished, machinery and lumber were able to be brought into the valley much more easily. Today you can travel a portion of this wagon road when you go down Van Duesen Canyon Road in Big Bear City.

Jed Van Duesen

The miners got together and decided to name the town that was now in Holcomb Valley. In honor of Mr. and Mrs. Van Duesen's daughter Belle, they named the town Belleville.

More and more miners arrived in Belleville. Very soon it became a lawless town with gunfights, fist fights, and murders.

Something had to be done to bring law and order to the town. A constable was elected. A constable is like a sheriff. The people of Belleville who wanted law and order finally won out over the gangs of miners who wanted to steal and kill. Many bad men lost their lives on the Hanging Tree.

The gold rush in Holcomb Valley lasted about 10 years, from 1860-1870. One by one the people of Belleville began to move away from the area. The gold was becoming harder and harder to find. In 1873 gold was discovered at the east end of Holcomb Valley. Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin found out about it and built a large stamp mill at the edge of a cliff on Gold Mountain. The stamp mill used heavy machinery to stamp the rock and crush it. Water was then washed over the crushed rock. Since gold is heavy it was left behind after the rock was washed away. The crashing noise of the stamp mill could be heard throughout the valley as tons of rock were crushed in hopes of finding gold.

The Lucky Baldwin Mine

The Gold Mountain Stamp Mill ran for about 20 years. The gold again became harder and harder to find. Soon it was felt that it cost more to get the gold than it was actually worth.

Because of the discovery of gold in Holcomb Valley, more people came and many improvements were made. A road was carved through the mountains to the bottom of the hill. Electricity was brought over the mountains from Victorville (then called Victor). Telegraph and telephone wires were strung up. Most important, the first communities were built. The town of Doble grew up at the foot of Gold Mountain during the years when Baldwin Stamp Mine was running. By 1915 most of the people had moved away from Doble.



Check Your Facts

1. How did Belleville get its name?

2. Who built the first road out of Holcomb Valley?

3. What is a constable?

4. What is a stamp mill?

5. How long did the gold rush last in Holcomb Valley?

6. What improvements came as a result of the gold discovered in Holcomb Valley?

Think About It

When gold was first discovered, the town of Belleville was built in a very short time. It was not well built, however. Why do you suppose the miners built their shelters quickly and without much care?

Write a diary entry as if you were among the people trying to find gold in Holcomb Valley. Include what your daily life was like, who you spent time with, and what your home was like.


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