ANTELOPE VALLEY HISTORY
Antelope Valley is rich with western history. Tales of early day explorers, Native American Indians, cattle barons and gold mines abound here. The valley took its name early in recognition of a great antelope herd that once roamed this range. The last antelope known disappeared in 1872.
Native Americans of the Paiute Tribe were here generations before the first white man in 1844 of the Bartelson-Bidwell emigrant party. Conducting his second expedition to California, General John C. Fremont with his brigade traveled through this area with great difficulty as they struggled through the depths of a severe winter. With thick snow and freezing temperatures, finding a way over the Sierra to the west created enormous problems.
One of these problems was the cannon. On this second expedition, Fremont had with him a carriage-mounted brass howitzer that fired 12- pound cannonballs. This field piece, weighing several hundred pounds, was much esteemed by Fremont while to his men who dragged it along, a great burden. With deep snowdrifts, weak livestock and starving men, Fremont had little choice but to abandon the gun. Lost Cannon Peak and Lost Cannon Creek, in the mountains bordering the west side of the Valley, are testimony to this event.
By 1860, pioneers had discovered the beautiful valley. To use the abundant water of Walker River, they dug irrigation ditches to divert that precious water to the agricultural land. As the rich pastures expanded, raising beef and dairy cows, horses and sheep had become a way of life. It was also not uncommon to see orchards of apples, plums and peaches and extensive fields of beans, berries and melons.Tall stalks of corn and delicious tomatoes all grew in the fertile region. Beehives were active and the honey was thought to be the
best in the area.
Gold and Silver were discovered in the mountains east of Antelope. As the booming mining towns of Aurora and Bodie grew, the farmers and ranchers supplied these towns with their produce. The road that winds through Walker Canyon (Hwy 395) was completed by the early 1870's, which connected Carson City with Emigrant Pass, now known as Sonora Pass. This was an important junction for both the grower and the traveler alike. The hearty souls who survived the journey over the Sierra were eager to buy or trade for fresh milk, meat, fruit and vegetables.
Antelope Valley is the home of three communities, Walker, Coleville and Topaz. Walker the town, Walker River, the lake, the mountain and pass are all named after Joseph R. Walker (I 798-1876). Joseph, an extraordinary mountain man, was held in high regard by his peers. He led wagon train parties safely through the rugged and dangerous Sierra. His career was the most distinguished life of any frontiersman in American history.
Coleville, a few miles north of Walker, was the original settlement of the Valley. Once known as Centerville because of its location, it was also dubbed as Doubletown for its high prices. It soon became an important stop for the Carson City-Bodie Stage Line to pickup or deliver passengers and packages. Overnight travelers stayed at the Barnett Hotel, a favorite stop-over with them, because the hotel featured an orchard of - - apples, peaches and plums. Guests were allowed to eat all they wanted.
In 1867, Fred Cole built a stage station, a blacksmith shop and a store, and soon the name of the town was changed to Coleville. By 1868, Coleville was made official with a post office and a school. His original buildings still stand south of the present day elementary school.
The impressive rock cliffs of Centennial Hill towers along the west side of Highway 395, just south of Coleville. Here is the site of a historical event that occurred on July 4th 1876. A traditional Independence Day celebration was carried out with a picnic of homemade treats, challenging games and crackling fireworks. The highlight of this event that would make history, was when three men, Wood Larsen, John Connell and one of the Cole brothers carried a locust pole to the summit, anchored it firmly in a crevice and raised the American Flag. The cheers of the crowd from below drifted up to what was thereafter known as Centennial Hill.
Among the many events that tried the courage of the early settlers, devastation struck the town in 1878. A diphtheria epidemic swept silently through many homes, killing a few adults and over half the children residing in the Valley. This horrible ordeal brought sorrow and discouragement to almost every family. The graves of many of the victims can still be found in the cemetery north of Coleville.
Many people admire the lofty cottonwood trees that boarder Hwy 395 in Topaz. These pillars of time were planted by Henry Dickson around 1900. His handicapped daughter took pleasure in a buggy ride every afternoon and he wanted her to enjoy the protective shade from the summer sun.
In the early 1880's,Thomas B. Rickey, known as the "Cattle King of the West," arrived in Antelope Valley with ambitious schemes, His presence would change the Valley significantly and would have a huge influence on the area. He purchased a large plot of land in Topaz. By 1885, Rickey had spread his wealth and owned not only 47,000 acres of Antelope Valley, but also thousands of acres on the eastern slope of the Sierra. A cowboy was quoted, " Could go clear to Utah and camp every night on his ground. The Rickey Land and Cattle Company headquarters were built in Topaz and consisted of a post office, company stores, a hotel, residences and ranch buildings. This large company employed several hundred men. One of these cowboys would be remembered as a talented author and artist. Will James worked for Rickey at Topaz busting broncos for a living.
But Rickey's wealth and power were to decline. In 1904, disease and death struck most of his cattle. He suffered great losses, which destroyed his ranch holdings completely. A lawsuit over water rights cost the company its life. Drowning in debt, Rickey was reduced to auctioning his properties at a forced sale. Thereafter, during the years 1920-1930, his property was sold in parcels and individual families took over the ranching industry.