It all began when William F. Holcomb and his partner, Jack Martin, left Indiana and made the difficult overland trip in search of their fortune in the booming mining camps of Northern California. Discouraged by years of hard luck, they gradually made their way southward. Arriving in Los Angeles, the partners heard of gold being mined at a place called Bear Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Riding into the valley through heavy snow in the winter of 1859, Holcomb and Martin joined the Coldwell party, who were placer mining at Starvation Flat. (This is the area around the intersection of Stanfield Cut-off and Big Bear Boulevard.) After more discouraging results, the partners were on the verge of returning to Los Angeles when a modest strike revived their hopes. They kept on working their claim, each making about five dollars a day.
Late in April, Bill Holcomb was bear hunting on the north ridge when he saw the beautiful little valley that would forever carry his name. On May 5, 1860 – just ten years to the day since leaving his Indiana home – Bill and his friend, Ben Chouteau, began prospecting the new valley and found much gold. The Coldwell party then immediately moved into “Holcomb’s Valley” and began to busily mine.
News of this important strike traveled swiftly, and by July the valley was swarming with people. Soon the little communities of Belleville, Union Flat and Clapboard Town had been built, and Jed Van Duzen was paid $1500 to construct a wagon road down to the desert. It is estimated that between 1500 and 2000 people were in Holcomb Valley during the peak of the boom in the 1860’s when the county seat was lost to San Bernardino by only two votes.