The People

The Native People of Big Bear Valley

For many, many years the only humans to see Big Bear Valley were the Indians. Several tribes lived around the San Bernardino mountains. Most people from were desert tribes who spent the winters in what are now Lucerne and Apple Valleys and the summers in Big Bear Valley. The Native americans hunted small animals like jack rabbits with traps and bows and arrows. While in Big Bear Valley, they also gathered pinon nuts. The Indians ground the nuts into a powder and mixed this powder with water to form a paste. They would flatten the "dough" until it looked like a tortilla, then cooked it. This was their main food.

These Native Americans were called the Serrano. Today, you can find places where they camped by walking into the woods just north of Division Street in Big Bear City. Among the high rocks you will find holes in the boulders. These holes are where the Serrano ground the pinon nuts into flour.

Serrano mortar rocks

The Eleanor Abbott Museum in Bear City Park has many Indian objects to see. They were collected mainly at the east end of the valley. The Indians made their home here in the summer, when the desert below was too hot for them.

Drawn From Serrano Petroglyphs

At the present their meanings are unknown.

The Serrano didn't live in Big Bear Valley all year long. The winters were too cold. The style of home they built did not keep them warm in harsh mountain winters. Instead, they traveled or migrated from the desert to the mountains. They lived where it was most comfortable for them.


Check Your Facts

1. Why did the Indians come to Big Bear Valley?

2. What is the name of the major Indian tribe that lived seasonally in the valley?

3. Why didn't the Indians live in Big Bear all year long?

Try Something New

Gather some pinon nuts and use a nutcracker to open them. Have an adult help you roast them. You might want to try to grind them into powder and add some water to make a pinon nut "tortilla." Cook it on a hot griddle. Make up a recipe using your newly created "tortilla."

Using yarn or colored string and a plastic strawberry container, create a basket like the Serrano basket pictured at the top of this page. Try to create patterns and symbols like the one above.



Wilson finds Big Bear Valley

The story of how other peoples came to the valley actually begins in the town of San Bernardino. San Bernardino was settled by Mormons in the early 1800's, near the Spanish mission. In the 1840's the area around San Bernardino was rocked by many earthquakes. This caused the local tribe to become very nervous. Many of them felt that the reason there were these earthquakes was because the Great Spirit was angry with them for letting the white man to settle there. As a result, the Indians began to raid the ranches around the tiny town of San Bernardino. They stole the ranchers' cattle and burned their crops and barns.

In 1845 the citizens of San Bernardino became angry with the Indians. The Indians would raid at night and escape back into the mountains before the sun came up. One of the ranchers, Benjamin David Wilson (also called Don Benito Wilson by the Spanish), offered to take a posse of men into the mountains to catch the Indians.

Benjamin David Wilson

Benjamin Wilson and his men went on horseback over what is now Cajon Pass. They chased the Indians over the pass and through what is now Lucerne Valley. The Indians headed over the mountains from the desert side. Benjamin Wilson and his men followed.

What they found was a valley covered with many pine trees and a swamp at the east end. A stream ran down the center of the valley. They never caught the Indians, but they did find many bears living in the valley. The men roped and teased the bears. Soon they returned to San Bernardino and Benjamin David Wilson named the valley he had discovered Big Bear Valley.

At that time there was no Big Bear Lake as there is today. Wilson did name the swampy area he found at the east end of the valley Bear Lake. This is what we now call Baldwin Lake.

Benjamin David Wilson who discovered Big Bear Valley, later became the mayor of Los Angeles. Mount Wilson is named after him.

Wilson and second wife, Margaret Hereford


Check Your Facts

1. Why did the Indians raid the ranches around San Bernardino?

2. Who was the non-Indian who first entered Big Bear Valley?

3. How did Big Bear get its name?

4. What was Baldwin Lake first named?

Try Something New

Create a map that shows the route Benjamin Wilson used as he chased the Indians from San Bernardino to Big Bear Valley. Include San Bernardino, Cajon Pass, Lucerne Valley, and Big Bear Valley.

Find out information about the original bears of Bear Valley. Create a presentation that covers information on their range, diet, hunting habits, current population, and why they are not found in Big Bear anymore. Check with the Moonridge Zoo as a start.



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