History CV: Stagecoaches brought the first non-Native settlers to the Coachella Valley, but the railroad helped them stay


Prior to the arrival of white settlers, the Coachella Valley was populated by Cahuilla Desert Indians – and they would not be permanently joined by outsiders until the arrival of the railroad in the latter part of the 19th century.

The 1774 Anza Expedition traveled south to the Coachella Valley and what would become Palm Springs. By the early 1800s, some Cahuilla Indians had been baptized into Catholicism and given Spanish names through the San Gabriel Mission, according to historical records. It has also been noted that the Cahuillas assisted the Franciscan Fathers with irrigation and agricultural projects in the Redlands and San Bernardino areas beginning around 1819. None of these Anglo/Cahuilla encounters, however, happened in the Coachella Valley.

By the mid-1850s, several white men had settled in the San Gorgonio Pass area, but there is no record of any of them living at or around the hot springs of Agua Caliente ( later renamed Palm Springs), although outsiders have visited it several times. .

Some horseback riders have stopped at Agua Caliente/Palm Springs for water, but it will be years before the stagecoaches stop at the springs as well. The first overland stop in California was the San Antonio and San Diego Mail Line, followed by the Butterfield Overland Mail, which lasted from 1857 to 1861. Their routes passed south of Palm Springs, but they opened the door to other mail companies. enterprising theatre.

In 1872, the Grant Stage stretched from Prescott, Arizona to San Bernardino, but the greatest impact on Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley came from the Bradshaw Stage Line, which ran from 1863 to 1877.

Gold had been discovered in La Paz, New Mexico Territory (near present-day Ehrenberg, Arizona), and Los Angeles residents were expected to travel there. This prompted an enterprising Southern gentleman named William D. (Big Bill) Bradshaw to spring into action. He explored the Coachella Valley in 1862 and was able to ask Chief Cahuilla Cabezon and a Maricopan Indian to show him the best route to the Colorado River. Later that year, Bradshaw wrote the Los Angeles Star and describes sites and stops along the new trail, including Agua Caliente (now Palm Springs), Sand Hole (now Palm Desert), Indian Wells (now Indio), Toro, Martin’s House, Lone Palm, Dos Palmas, Chuckwalla Well, and others.

Bradshaw teamed up with a man named William Warrington, and they established a Colorado River ferry just north of present-day Interstate 10 to complete the route. With the ferry crossing, the Bradshaw Trail was extended from San Bernardino to Beaumont, Banning, Cabazon, Whitewater and all of the Coachella Valley to the gold fields and point east. Its route, although it included expensive ferry fees, became the most popular route from California to Arizona for decades.

The Bradshaw line carried American mail as well as travelers, prospectors, prospectors and assorted vagrants. The stage is said to have been ambushed on its first return trip over San Gorgonio Pass, and the driver and another man were murdered, robbed of $5,000 worth of gold dust.

A map of Bradshaw Trail, by Norton Allen.

The Bradshaw Line not only stopped at Agua Caliente, but had a station built there. Bradshaw hired Jack Summers to operate the Agua Caliente Road Station; Summers thus became the first white settler in Palm Springs, living in an adobe hut from 1865 to 1877.

According to chef Francisco Patencio in his 1943 book Palm Springs Indian Stories and Legends“Jack Summers was an agent in Palm Springs. He was the first white man to live here. He leased 10 to 12 acres where The Desert Inn now stands and hired the Indians to raise barley for his horse. …Summers and his wife lived in an adobe station. It was made of sticks and brushes coated in adobe mud. This adobe was bought from the Indians. He came from spring.

This hot springs mud hut that housed Jack Summers remained standing until the 1920s.

Stage lines brought early travelers to the area, before the railroad drove them out of business. The railroad brought public attention to Palm Springs and the surrounding area.

In 1875, the Southern Pacific Railroad hired some of the Indians, including future chief Francisco Patencio, to haul lumber and logs and lay track. The railway finally opened in 1877, spelling the end of the stage lines.

The Bradshaw stage station run by Summers has closed. The railroad tracks passed north of Agua Caliente at a place called Seven Palms, about six miles away. There would be a train stop there, which remains to this day, near Interstate 10 and Indian Canyon Drive.

Railroad construction also gave rise to the city of Indio, as the railroad town came into being in 1876 as the Southern Pacific Railroad built the lines between Yuma and Los Angeles. The engines needed a place to fill their water, and the workers needed accommodation and local supplies. The first South Pacific facilities at what was then called Indian Wells consisted of “a reservoir and well, a freight and passenger house, and a coal silo.” The town’s name was changed to Indio in 1877.

That same year, the competing Santa Fe railroad reached Los Angeles, forcing the South Pacific into a rate war. Low fares created a land boom for areas served by the railroad, and it wouldn’t be long before the ancient hot springs once called Agua Caliente were one of those areas.

The title of “first land speculators in Palm Springs” must go to WE Van Slyke and Mr. Byrne of San Bernardino. They had already purchased 320 acres of prime land in Palm Springs from the Southern Pacific Railroad and were seeing more. In 1880, Van Slyke and Byrne paid Pedro Chino $150 for his 10-acre ranch between the hot springs and the mountains. (That area is now called Chino Canyon, located at the foot of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.) Fruit trees irrigated by the waters of the canyon surrounded his one-room adobe house.

It was the first real estate transaction in the valley, and the fact that Pedro Chino didn’t even own the land didn’t deter anyone. The land actually belonged to the railroad, but Chino had lived there for years and thought he had the right to it.

It wasn’t long before others found their way to the Coachella Valley, including John Guthrie McCallum, who in 1884 became the first non-Indian permanent settler in Palm Springs. He began buying land and held a large auction in 1887. It was a success, as the railroad drew crowds of people; 137 plots were sold on the first day. Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley were poised to welcome pioneers who would eventually develop desert-dwelling resorts.

Sources for this article include The Golden Years of the Coachella Valley by Ole Nordland, Coachella Valley Water District, 1978; The McCallum saga by Katherine Ainsworth, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1973; and Palm Springs Indian Stories and Legends by Chief Francisco Patencio, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1943.


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