As early as 1857, cattle and sheep were grazing in the San Bemardino Mountains in large numbers, and by 1863 the Mojave Rancho (later called the Las Flores) had been established. This was followed by Antonio Maldine’s “Cox Rancha” in 1867. Both of these ranches were on the desert side near Cajon Pass.
The peak of mountain cattle ranching lasted for about 60 years, from the 1880’s until the 1940’s, with most of the activity concentrated in the Bear Valley area.
The names of the cattlemen who ranched here during that fascinating period are deeply engraved in Bear Valley history. There was Gus Knight, Sr., James W. Smart, William Hitchcock, Robert Hitchcock, John Metcalf, Will Shay, Jim Erwin, John, Frank, and Will Talmadge, Charles Barker, Peter Davidson, Robert Gamer, Jim Stocker, A1 Swarthout, Dale Gentry, George Rathbun, Tom and Lawrence Hamilton, and others with smaller ranches.
Cattle rustlers were not unknown either! Jim McHaney headed a gang who headquartered in Santa Ana Canyon, and for a period of years around the 1880’s, stole cattle from the mountain ranches. Jim was finally convicted for another type of crime in 1900, and paroled 17 years later an aged and broken man.
It has been decades since the last roundup was held and a bawling herd driven down Rattlesnake Canyon to the desert winter range. However, the memory will always remain with those who rode that long trail for a final time as a great and remarkable era in Western history came to a close.