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History Index



California Genealogy and History Archives


Kern County History


Memorial and Biographical History of the counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kern, California
Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1892


Buena Vista County/Kern County California


Early History 227 Newspapers 265
First Settlement 227 Courthouse 267
Early Mining 227 Lynch Law 267
Beginnings 229 Singular Bank Robbery 267
Governmental, etc. 229 Legal Lights. 268
County Statistics, Values, etc. 233 Freights Shipped 269
Population 234 Gas and Electric-Light Company 269
Public Schools 234 Churches and Societies 269
County Officials 235
Kern County as it is 237 SMALLER TOWNS 
Its Topography 238 Poso 272
Products 239 Woody Precinct 273
Resources 240 Delano 273
Scenery 243 Glennville 274
The Kern Delta 245 Kernville 274
Railroads 247 Tehachapi 274
Water Supply 247 Cummings' Valley 276
Irrigation 250 Bear Valley 276
Artesian Belt 250 Mojave Desert 276
Canals 251 Post Offices in the county 277
Transportation 258
Colony Settlement 258
Oil Field 259
Physicians 259
Climate and Healthfulness 261


THE great gold rush of 1855 {transcribers note: the gold rush was underway in California in 1849} was accompanied with the usual fond dreams of future greatness for the region, and plans for self-government were the quite natural result of these dreams.

Hence, a move was launched for the creation of a new County, and the efforts of the proponents of the move were crowned with at least partial success.

A bill was introduced in the California Legislature calling for the creation of Kern County out of the Southern portion of Tulare County. After amending the bill by substituting the name Buena Vista for Kern, the bill was passed by both the Senate and the Assembly, and was signed by Governor John Bigler, April 13, 1855.

The bill for the creation of Kern County was introduced by none other than Colonel Thomas Baker, then a member of the Assembly from Tulare County, who was later to gain much prominence as the pioneer developer of Kern County, and who was to give his name to the county's chief city. The amendment changing the name of Buena Vista County was introduced by Assemblyman C. T. Ryland of Santa Clara County, who evidently desired a more poetic name than that suggested in Colonel Baker's bill.

The act provided that when a majority of the voters of the proposed new county, together with a majority of the voters of Tulare County, had signed petitions for the formation of the new county, an election should be called for the purpose of choosing county officers.

The territory of Buena Vista County was defined in the first section of the statute in these words: "All that portion of the county of Tulare South of the township line dividing Townships Number Twenty-one and Twenty-two South, shall constitute a new county to be called Buena Vista County."
When the Legislature of 1856 convened, the provisions of the act had not been complied with, and hence the county was not functioning, but plans for the new county were by no means dead, as will be seen by the following act, formally approved April 16, 1856, amending the original act:

SECTION I.-All that portion of the County of Tulare situated south of the township line dividing Townships Number Twenty and Twenty-one South shall constitute a new county by the name of Buena Vista.

SECTION 2.-Section 9 of said act is hereby amended to read as follows: "The salary of the County Judge of said County shall be $500 per annum, and the salary of the District Attorney of said County shall be $250 per annum.

The salaries had been previously set at twice these amounts.

One can not help but wonder if there were references in those days to "high salaried public officials."

The year 1856 did not-nor did the year 1857-see the requirements of the original legislation complied with, but hope for the new county was still cherished, for on March 3, 1858, we find the California law-making body officially approving the following amendment:

SECTION I.-The provisions of an Act entitled "An Act to organize the County of Buena Vista," approved April 13, 1855, are hereby extended and shall apply to the year A. D. 1859.

SECTION 2.-The Act, entitled "An Act to Amend An Act to Organize Buena Vista County," approved April 16, 1856, is hereby repealed."

Despite the apparent continued interest on the part of both the residents of the district and the California State Legislature, Buena Vista County never came into full legal existence. It is interesting to note, however, that even as late as 1860, Buena Vista County was recognized as a political subdivision of the State: On a map compiled in that year by one Vincent, whose Christian name is unknown, a generous block of pink occupies the space within the county's boundaries, and imprinted thereon in letters of commanding proportions are the words Buena Vista County.

Incidentally the following place names appear within Buena Vista County's borders, on this interesting old map: Vern River (note the spelling) Kern Lake (it will be noted that the K is used here), Buena Vista Lake, Keyville (note the absence of the S in this name), Maltby's Mill, Dutch Bar, Gordon's Ferry, Salt Sp., Leonard's H. (the H is evidently the geographer's abbreviation for House, or possibly Hill), Lynn's River and Posa Flat. Incidentally Fort Tejon was not included in Buena Vista County, an irregular line leaving  it in Los Angeles County. This interesting old map, beautifully printed in colors, is still in a most excellent state of preservation in the Henry E. Huntington Library at San Marino. In the margin it is stated that it was engraved by Ch. Smith, and printed by Mangeon & Jacques, but the address of the printers is not given.

Buena Vista County never got beyond the stage of being designated as a county by the Legislature and by the map makers, but the partially successful effort to create it undoubtedly marked the planting of the seed from which the county of Kern was later to grow.

Before its total demise Buena Vista County, itself a division of Tulare County, figured in a plan for division not only of the county, but of the state! There have been from time to time many plans for state division, but this one came nearer consummation than any attempted before or since, and had it been totally consummated Buena Vista County would have found itself partially in one state and partially in another, with the creation of another new county a natural result.

An act of the Legislature, officially approved April, 1859, gave the consent of the State governing body for a vote on the division of the State, and the creation in the Southern part of the State of a "Territorial or other form of government under the name of the Territory of Colorado, or such other name as may be deemed meet and proper."

Section Two of the act said that "The Governor shall in his proclamation for the next General Election direct the voters of the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and a part of Buena Vista, to wit: such part as shall include all of the precincts South of the Sixth Standard Parallel South of Mount Diablo Meridian, at such General Election vote 'For a Territory,' or 'Against a Territory,' and in case two-thirds of a whole number of voters voting thereon shall vote for a change of government, the consent hereby given shall be deemed consummated."

In accordance with the Governor's Election Proclamation, the election was held in September, 1859, and as will be seen by the following detailed figures on the vote, it actually carried. The vote was as follows:

For-Los Angeles County, 1407; San Bernardino County, 441; San Luis Obispo County, 10; San Diego County, 207; Santa Barbara County, 395; Buena Vista County, 17; Total, 2477.

Against-Los Angeles County, 441; San Bernardino County, 29; San Luis Obispo County, 283; San Diego County, 24; Santa Barbara County, 51; Buena Vista County, 0; Total, 828. (Although the vote here is given for Buena Vista County, it was legally the vote of a portion of Tulare County, since Buena Vista County was not officially functioning as a county.)

When this vote was taken, Civil War clouds were commencing to hover over the land, and the heavy vote in favor of division represented the vote of the Southern sympathizers. In 1860, a representative, who, although a Republican, had strong Southern sympathies, was sent to Washington to plead the cause of recognition of the proposed new state or territory, in the United States Senate. The Senate had other and more important troubles before it, and little attention was paid to the pleas for a new state or territory. In the same year-1860-there was a bill introduced in the California Legislature to rescind the action taken on this matter by the Legislature of 1859. However, this bill got no further than the introduction stage. So, both the State and Buena Vista County were actually divided, if the action of the California Legislature of 1859 and the subsequent vote of the people were legal; but nothing has ever come of it, as we all well know.

Local historians claim that there was a move at one time to create a county to be known as Tejon County, but there appears to be no official record of it. When the name Buena Vista was substituted for Kern, the name of "Tejon" County may have been suggested; or, more likely still, "Tejon" might have been suggested as the name of the new county that would have necessarily been created had the State division plan come to full fruition.

All through the 50's and the 60's the mining districts continued to be the magnets to attract new arrivals, but there were a few who were agriculturally-minded, and settlers on the soil commenced to come in small numbers at somewhat wide intervals.
Among the real early settlers was Isaac Hart, William Weldon and J. V. Roberts were among the first settlers in Walker Basin. They came in the early 50's, and made a good thing supplying the miners of Keysville with beef, bringing the supplies from Los Angeles by pack train unti11857 or 1858 when the pack trains were succeeded by ox-team freighters. Weldon later removed to the South Fork of the Kern River.

Frank Barrows and John Nicoll are also listed among the South Fork settlers of 1857. William Scodie and Thomas Smith settled on the upper end of the South Fork in 1861 or 1862. Other early settlers on the South Fork were William W. Lander and George Cancy, 1861; J. L. Mack, 1864.

Myron Angell tells us:
In 1861 the first white man camped and settled on what has since been designated as Kern Island. In 1862 two or  three others followed, and in a short time were joined by Thomas Baker, better known as Colonel Baker, a man of foresight and good judgment.

The only means of communication at that day with the outside world was two stage lines-one via Havilah to Los Angeles, the other via Havilah to Owen's River. From Havilah the road crossed Greenhorn Mountains to Visalia.

Colonel Baker, with his usual energy built at great expense a toll road from the foot of the mountain, a distance of 27 miles, to Havilah, and a desultory communication was established.

September 28, 1850, the Congress of the United States passed the "Swamp Act," giving the swamp and overflow lands to the states. In 1857 the California Legislature passed an act providing for the reclamation of all swamp and overflowed land within Kern County's present borders, and extending North beyond Tulare Lake, a half million acres or so being involved. W. F. Montgomery, Joseph Montgomery, A. J. Downes and F. W. Sampson were given the franchise to reclaim all this land; but their rights were shortly thereafter acquired by Colonel Thomas Baker and Harvey S. Brown, Baker being the active and aggressive head of the co-partnership.

This action marked a phase of development in Kern County's history of outstanding importance-yes, super importance-but it will be dealt with in more detail in a succeeding chapter.

The story of the Kern district's earliest settlements might have been entirely different had the aims of the Reverend Eugene McNamara been realized, for he planned to colonize the district with 10,000 Irishmen, in 1845.

Father McNamara was a native of Ireland, a Catholic priest and apostolic missionary. He advanced a scheme to the Mexican government for the colonization of Alta California, agreeing to immediately import 2,000 Irish families, totaling 10,000 persons, and place them on the soil, provided Mexico would grant him vast tracts of land along the AIta California Coast. The Mexicans balked at parting with the valuable coast lands, but agreed to, and did actually, want vast areas in the San Joaquin Valley, including much of the territory in what is now Kern County. It was Father McNamara's plan to place his first 10,000 Irish settlers on the South end of the grant (Kern County of today), but it was held that the grant had been actually signed some few days after Mexico had relinquished control of Alta California to the United States, and as a result the Kern district failed to become the stamping ground of a contingent of agriculturalists from the Emerald Isle.

There is still some dispute among certain historians as to the actual date of signing of the McNamara grant, but in any event, the grant was held to be invalid, and the plan never matured. Incidentally, the plan was looked upon in some quarters as a British scheme to gain peaceable domination in Alta California, Father McNamara merely being selected as a British emissary on account of his faith, which matched that of the ruling powers of Mexico, and served, so it was thought, to hide the real issue at stake.

Chapter V

Where Rolls the Kern, A History of Kern County, California
Enterprise Press, 1934 Herbert G Comfort

Transcribed by Carolyn Feroben