Pioneer of the Mojave:
The Life and Times of Aaron G. Lane
Page 12



While it is true that Captain Lane spent his life on the Mojave Desert in comparative isolation, this was because of his health and not by choice. By all accounts, he very much enjoyed the company of others and became involved in the affairs of the communities in which he lived.

What few records are available show that while in Ione Valley he served at least as a road supervisor and as a member of the Settler's League. During his years in San Bernardino County he served in minor public positions on several occasions. He presided as Judge of the Plains in 1864, and was appointed road overseer in 1858, 1873 and 1874.

Throughout the 1870s and early 1880s Lane volunteered his home as a polling place and served in official positions during the elections, either as an inspector or a judge, making sure that proper procedures were followed and that those who voted were qualified to do so. Functioning in these capacities enabled him to keep abreast of the local political issues, in which he was highly interested.



Being able to vote at a polling place on the Mojave was certainly a privilege that was not unappreciated by the local residents. Prior to August 5, 1871, voters on the desert had to make the long trip into San Bernardino to cast their ballots, but on that date a new voting precinct was established, with the polls located at Martin's Ranch. Although this was still a goodly distance to travel, it was an improvement nonetheless. The Captain, enthused over the new precinct, got himself appointed as an alternate judge on the same day the voting district was formed.

Only fifteen votes were cast in this entire precinct during the September 1871 election, which shows the region was lightly inhabited, even though the voting district included Lytle Creek, Cajon Pass and all of the desert. The political leaning of the precinct at that time was clearly demonstrated when these fifteen citizens voted en bloc for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry Haight, and for all the other Democrats running for state offices as well.

A Three-Way Race for Sheriff

In the local races, on the other hand, the votes were split. Perhaps the most hotly contested county office over the years was that of sheriff; not only was this the most highly paid position, but it was also the most prestigious, since the sheriff was seen as a leader of the community in pioneer times.

This particular year there was a three-way race between Newton Noble, Frank McKenney and Benjamin Mathews, all well-known and very popular candidates. McKenney was the same individual who owned the station a mile downstream from the Stoddard Wells crossing of the Mojave River, and he was living there at least part of the time. This makes him the first person from Victorville to run for a countywide office. However, even with the edge he had as the desert candidate, he received only five votes from the Martin precinct, Noble getting seven and Mathews three.

Noble, who was a desert freighter, was well acquainted with the residents in this precinct. He traveled often to the Panamint mines, in which he had invested heavily, and which eventually ruined him financially when the mines failed to provide the expected strikes. Overall in the election for sheriff, McKenney lost to Noble by a margin of 62 votes, 308 to 370, with Mathews receiving 250.

Mojave Precinct is Established

On August 16, 1873, the Board of Supervisors ordered that the new precinct of Belleville be opened, with A. G. Lane appointed as inspector, and A. H. Pearl and John J. Atkinson as judges. The Captain's home was the first polling site in the new voting district, which by the time of the September election had been appropriately renamed "Mojave precinct."

Ten voters came to cast their ballots on election day, and to have some refreshments and talk politics around Lane's table. Thereafter, prospective voters were listed in the Mojave precinct when signing the Great Register of Voters, instead of being lumped together with those of the San Bernardino precinct, making it much easier to determine who was living on the desert.

Mojave School District Begins

Among the four who registered that first year of 1873 as living in the Mojave precinct was John Brown’s son-in-law, William Wozencraft, who formerly lived and taught school in San Bernardino. This is the earliest indication that a teacher was residing in the area.

There cannot have been very many children on the desert at that time; the 1870 census shows only two attending school. It was not until February of 1878 that there were enough children to warrant the establishment of the Mojave School District, and by the end of the decade Mojave School had an attendance of 29 students. The education of the desert youngsters was important to Captain Lane, and in 1882 he deeded over two acres of his Bryman property to the Mojave School District.

Picture of Bryman schoolhouse
Photo courtesy Mohahve Historical Society

Miners Were a Significant Bloc of Voters

The Board of Supervisors once again appointed Lane as an election inspector in September of 1875, and named William Lightfoot and Joseph Brown as judges. The polling place that year was at Cottonwoods, with a turnout of 12 voters. In this election every state office except one received a split 6-6 vote in the Mojave precinct, which was quite a contrast to the bloc voting four years earlier.

In 1876 and 1877 the voting site was again at Lane's house, and each of these years there was a slight increase in the number of voters. Lane's last precinct appointment was on October 8, 1882, at which time he was named as an election judge. That year the election brought in 31 votes from the Mojave precinct.

Although the Mojave voting district was established in 1873, the desert citizens who registered prior to that time remained listed in the San Bernardino precinct. Beginning in 1880, everyone in the Mojave precinct was required to reregister, and the 75 names entered from 1880 to 1884 reads like a Who's Who of desert residents.

Significantly, 28 of those who registered listed their occupation as "miner," or "mining," which was a reflection of the mining boom in Oro Grande. By this time there were miners spread throughout the county. Six new desert precincts had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, most of them mining camps. In 1882 there were 7 voters at Ivanpah, 14 at Fish Ponds, 17 at Hawley's station, 31 at Waterman's Mill, 44 at Providence, and 101 at Calico.

Backroom Political Shenanigans

That Aaron was not just an interested observer, but actually had a strong voice in the politics of the community, was made evident when the May 30, 1879, San Bernardino Daily Times commented, "Captain Lane, the political Nestor of the Mohave, has been in town during the past two days as bluff and debonair as ever."

Politics that year were even more on the front burner than usual, largely because of the controversies surrounding a proposed new constitution for California. Excitement also had been stirred up by the new Workingman's Party, a political faction headed by a fiery Irishman named Dennis Kearney, whose main program centered on agitation against the Chinese in the state.

At the local level, Democrats held a county convention in order to recommend a slate of candidates for office. Of the two candidates vying for the party's nomination for the Office of Sheriff, the Daily Times had been vigorously supporting the incumbent, William Davies. All through the first half of the year the pro-Democratic paper had spoken of Sheriff Davies in the most laudatory fashion. As late as June 2, 1879, it published an article that was positively exultant over Davies' capabilities:

His administration is not clouded by even a mistake, much less a blunder. No man can do better in the position than Mr. Davies has done, and is doing; few -- very few -- could do as well. His record will bear comparison with the most efficient, most successful and most trusted officers who have had similar positions in California.... He has given unbounded satisfaction to the people; has their confidence, their esteem and their respect; is one of themost popular men who ever held office in the county....

However, in the very next issue of the Daily Times, the paper did an unexpected and astounding turnabout, and ran an article commending Davies' opponent:

Elsewhere will be found the announcement of Mr. John C. King for Sheriff.... He is one of our ablest citizens, a thorough business man, enterprising, faithful and able.... His ability is unquestioned; years of active business life have given him the necessary qualifications for the office, while his well-known firmness and integrity would insure a perfect and honorable administration of the duties of the office. If nominated his election will be a mere matter of form.

This has the appearance of some backroom shenanigans, and the Daily Times itself acknowledged that there had been a great degree of "dickering and trickering." The paper defended its switch in endorsements in an editorial labeled "The Primary," in which it stated that it reserved the right to change its mind.

The Captain had been paying particular attention to this race, and had become, if not disgusted, at least wryly amused by all the political goings on. It was in that frame of mind that he concocted an advertisement for a bogus auction for the job of sheriff, with the setting as the Charter Oak Saloon in San Bernardino, at the time a popular watering hole for Democrats:

Captain Lane wishes to announce to the people of the county that he has put the Sheriff's office up at auction -- bids to be received up to 9 o'clock A. M., July 4th. Rich men may bid liberally for the office for the honor of holding it; poor, worthy men, such as wood choppers, hay pressers, etc., are expected to bid reasonably and on the understanding that only $150 per month will be allowed as salary.

The Captain wishes to inform bidders that the bids will be opened by him in front of the Charter Oak saloon on the morning of July 4th, at 9 o'clock to the second. All bids to be addressed to Captain A. Lane, Mohave River.

John King won the nomination at the Democratic convention, defeating William Davies 46 to 36, and the last-minute endorsement by the Daily Times may have swung the votes that provided him the winning margin. King also prevailed in the general election and won the coveted post.



Captain Lane was never reticent about speaking up on matters that were of concern to his community, nor did he hesitate to take a stand when he felt an injustice was being done. In July of 1880 he took up the cause for two Mexicans whose new mining district was being threatened, in his estimation, by slick claim-jumpers "in full dress and a high-toned buggy."

The Red Mountain Gold and Silver Mining District, as the two men christened it, was six miles square, with its western boundary located six miles from the Mojave River. The Mexicans were actively prospecting the district, and work was being pushed on the most promising mine when efforts were made "to gobble it," according to Lane, by "dilletanti prospectors." He expressed his wrath over this action, saying he would protect the rights of the Mexican discoverers "against any and all dandified jumpers." These were pretty bold words from the Captain, who at the time of this incident, was over 60 years old.

His anger about the claim-jumpers was quickly replaced by his outrage over what he saw as another attempt to try to cheat people, this time having to do with the assessment of property. During July and August of 1880, the County Board of Supervisors, meeting as the Board of Equalization, convened to discuss fiscal matters such as the tax rate for the county, the salary of its officers, and the county's indebtedness. On July 24th the Board reviewed the individual property assessments of many of the area's leading citizens to determine whether the County Assessor had properly appraised them.

Finding that many were undervalued, the Supervisors made adjustments and then sent notice to the property owners to appear before the Board and show cause why their assessments should not be raised. Some of the adjustments were substantial. For the Yorba family alone, the increase amounted to several thousand dollars.

There was bound to be contention over this, given the heavy costs incurred from the reappraisals and the fact that the most influential citizens were affected. The most controversial of the reassessments, as it turned out, had to do with cattle belonging to a Mojave rancher, which was an unusual case in that most of the adjustments dealt with real estate.

The Weekly Times got word of the matter, and during the last week of July it announced that the Board of Supervisors was "endeavoring to adjust equably the assessment of one of the Mohave cattle kings." An article in another column stated solicitously that the paper wished to "remind the people, many of whom are disposed to indulge in hostile criticism of the Board, that the work of equalizing is tedious, difficult in judgment, and that with their limited means of acquiring information it is impossible for the Board to do much better than it is at present."

A third item in the same issue gave quite a different slant. There was "Trouble among the Mohave cattle people," it said, and explained cryptically that "Some developments have come to our knowledge which are startling, but as they will probably be investigated in Court, we will postpone comment."

Two weeks later the Weekly Times published a letter of complaint, dated August 7, 1880, from a citizen on the Mojave River:

Ed. Times: -- Can you inform me how it is that a certain party assessed on this River is allowed to turn in his cattle at 500 in number, when I can prove to the satisfaction of any impartial person, by count, that he has 1200 head on his ranch? This thing is becoming too common. Some time ago he played the county the same way and in larger proportion. Are the Supervisors going to let this thing of cheating the Assessor become the rule? If they want to learn the facts let them call upon me.

Yours truly,

Elsewhere in the newspaper it was explained that the Mojave communication was truly from a pioneer, and it was inserted only after repeated refusals from the editor, who finally acquiesced to relieve the constant requests to publish it. One could easily find out who "Pioneer" was, said the editor, "without walking around a very long 'lane.'" The use of the alias "Pioneer" may have been an editorial decision, since the article concluded with the statement that the correspondent "had no desire to conceal [his name]. Far from it; he is too confoundedly combative to shield himself anonymously."

Picture of James Waters

The Weekly Times did not reveal the name of the party who supposedly was favored with the underassessment, but a review of the Board's records shows that when Joseph and James Brown appeared before the Supervisors on July 31st, they had been reassessed for 500 head of cattle. The brothers contested even this number, but the Board ordered that the "matter stand as assessed."

In his letter, Captain Lane not only accuses the rancher of cheating the assessor, but also implies the Board was guilty Picture of Byron Waters of favoritism by "allowing" the low appraisal. This notion was probably based on the fact that a very close friend of the Brown family, James W. Waters, was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and he would have had a dominant influence in the matter of assessments. James Waters and John Brown, Sr., had been friends since their mountain men days decades earlier, and James' nephew, Byron, had married into the Brown clan.

This conflict has the appearance of a continuation of the Lane-Brown feud going back at least to the lawsuit over the toll road. The outcome of the incident remains a mystery, though, as there is no information about it in the public records. The court case never materialized, nor was there any further mention in the Weekly Times of the "startling" developments.



In October 1880, two months following the protest over the Board's assessment, Captain Lane had to contend with further frustration when his endeavor to get mail service in his area met with failure. In June of 1879, the federal government had advertised a new contract for delivering mail between Colton and Mohave City, Arizona. That September the Captain completed the paperwork necessary to establish a post office on his ranch in Bryman, and on October 24, 1879, he received his appointment as postmaster.

Lane called the mail station "Coyote," and may have chosen the name because it was a mining term. "Coyote mining was popular with the Mexicans," one source states, and according to legend the name derived from the resemblance of the miners to coyotes when they would "pop out" of the holes they had dug at "the approach of night or any alarm...."

The government contract called for the mail to leave each terminus three times a week -- Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays -- and to travel through Tecopa and Ivanpah. Up to this time the mail had been dependent on "transient" teams that went to the various camps.

It was estimated that nine-tenths of all correspondence with the mines originated in the locale of San Bernardino, and that the establishment of a secure line of communication would induce potential financiers to more readily invest in the distant mines. The stages or wagons would provide rapid and comfortable travel, and, as the paper phrased it, the "horrors of the desert" would come under the civilizing influence.

The new mail service was of no advantage to Captain Lane or the others living nearby on the Mojave River. The contractor had chosen to use the shorter Stoddard Wells route, thus the settlers on the river were completely bypassed. They were understandably displeased with the situation, and their complaints reached the newspapers:

We learn from the Times that people living on the Mojave River, in the vicinity of Lane's, complain that they are not served by mail.... The mail goes past them tri-weekly...but they are unable to get the mail nearer than San Bernardino. We are reliably informed that the post office at Lane's named Coyote is some ten miles off the mail route.... The office at Coyote has been established since the contract was let, and, thus far no provision has been made to supply that office.

The Captain was unable to convince the mail contractor to use the longer route, and on October 5, 1880, the Coyote station was discontinued. Several months later, on March 28, 1881, a second post office, called "Desert," was approved for the Mojave River, and its postmaster was Samuel Rogers.

The Desert station was north of the Mojave River on the Stoddard Wells road, and was ideally located along the mail route, but it eventually was discontinued on December 17, 1883. Its closure evidently was due to the mail route's having been switched to the river road the preceding year, following the installation of a third post office in the vicinity; on January 3, 1882, the Halleck mail station had been established at Oro Grande, with Gerard D. Blasdel appointed as its first postmaster.

Blasdel was not the original petitioner for the station. The application to the Post Office Department requesting the establishment of the Halleck station was dated February 21st of 1881, almost a year prior to Blasdel's appointment, and was submitted by Abner J. Spencer, who listed himself as the intended postmaster.

The post office was named after E. G. Hallock, one of the original investors of the Oro Grande Mining Company. When Spencer filled out his application, he mistakenly wrote the name as "Halleck," an understandable error. The mining company, either in an effort to correct the misspelling or simply to honor a company founder, used the address of Hallock, San Bernardino County, California, on its letterhead. But it was too late; the incorrect spelling had been officially approved by the postal authorities and the area was known as Halleck until the name of the post office was changed to Oro Grande in 1925.

Picture of Hallock Letterhead
Courtesy Huntington Library

Abner Spencer never was able to get his post office appointment, so apparently he could not find the political backing necessary to get the mail rerouted. Politics were behind many of the decisions made regarding post office matters in the 19th Century. In Gerard Blasdel’s case, his sister was married to Edward P. Johnson, the manager of the Oro Grande Mining Company, thus Blasdel had a strong connection to the politically influential men who owned the company. This would explain not only his appointment, but also the ability to have the mail switched from the Stoddard Wells route to the river route.



The Captain's term as postmaster was disappointingly short-lived, but he kept himself active with his mining and ranching interests, as well as with his various election offices. In 1883 he suffered a bout of ill health that was so severe it was necessary for his niece, Eldora Richmond, to give him nursing care. "Dora" was the daughter of Aaron's brother, Moses, who died in 1852 en route to California, probably on his way to join Aaron in Ione. She and her husband, George, along with their two daughters, Clara and Maude, lived in a house just south of Aaron's.

Dora originally served as Aaron's housekeeper from June of 1882 until March 1883, at which time her duties changed to that of nurse and housekeeper, a result of Aaron's failing health. During this period her husband worked as superintendent of the ranch and also provided nursing care when it became necessary. Aaron was unable to rebound from his illness. This was one time his indomitable spirit and the wondrous desert air failed him, and he died on September 14, 1883.

The probate records do not specify what his final illness was, but he must have been seriously incapacitated, for he died intestate. Public Administrator Hyland W. Rice handled the estate, and Robert Turner, F. M. Johnson and A. H. Pearl were appointed as appraisers. Their appraisal showed the value of the estate to be $9,391.45.

On December 17, 1883, auctioneer Ed Hall submitted a statement to the court that he had disposed of almost all Lane’s personal property -- stock, farm equipment, and other items -- and a total of $4,402.85 was realized. The biggest item was 167 head of cattle sold to W. R. Porter, which went for $3,882.75. Lane’s house at Oro Grande was the only real property to be offered, and it sold for $80.

The inventory also listed 50 horses worth $1,851, an average of $37 each. Seven were sold at the auction and brought $223.50. The other horses were put up for auction at the same time, but did not sell. Rice reported to the court that the value of the animals was depreciating from lack of care, plus the horses were liable to be lost or stolen, so he recommended selling them as a lot at a private sale.

The court gave permission to do so, and shortly thereafter Rice sold to his father-in-law Robert W. Waterman, the future governor of California, "all the horses, mares and colts which the administrator may deliver" for the sum of $12 per head. Given the initial appraisal, this was a disappointing figure for the estate, amounting to only $372 based on Rice’s final accounting of 31 horses, down twelve from the original 43.

No record has been found on the disposition of Aaron's remaining real property, which, according to the probate, consisted of the 240-acre ranch in Section 36, worth about $2,500, and the possessory claim to the adjacent 400 acres, which appraised at $750. The land was still in possession of the Lane family as late as 1886, as the property belonging to the "heirs of A. G. Lane, deceased" appeared on the Delinquent Tax List published in the paper that year.

Public Administrator Rice became sick before completing the probate, and died in July 1884 without giving an account of Lane's estate to the court. His wife, Mary P. Rice, was named executrix in August. The next month, on September 2, 1884, the court awarded "letters of administration" to W. B. Garner.

Garner sued Mrs. Rice in mid-September in order to get the estate settled. He showed that the Rices had collected $5,664.25 and paid out in expenses $1,553.91, a difference of $4,110.34, but the court ruled that Mrs. Rice only owed the estate $3,310.34. In addition to the $1,553.91 already disbursed, another $1,967.49 was allowed by the court, leaving the 30 or so relatives listed as heirs on the probate the sum of $1,342.85 to divide amongst themselves -- a paltry fraction of the appraised value of almost $9,400.

So ended the life and affairs of Captain A. G. Lane. The Captain lived to be almost 65 years old, which, considering the illness he had to overcome, is a tribute to his courage and determination.


Captain Lane was a rugged scrapper -- he had to be to survive on the desert -- and he took guff from no man. He himself wrote "Cap neither loves nor fears his enemies, and no mistake." If he thought someone was trying to take advantage of him, he got his dander up. On one occasion, the details of which have not come to light, he was so mad about some ill treatment he received at the hands of a Mr. Frank Hoffman, that he offered a $100 reward for the man -- dead or alive.

In another instance a customer failed to meet his obligation to Lane, and the result was a mortifying notice in the newspaper:


John Perceival, as he calls himself, an admiral's son of Portsmouth, N.H., in company with a man by the name of Jackson, and a Pi-Ute Indian, had one of their horses taken sick almost eight days ago. Being in a hurry to go inside, they hired a horse from me to be back in one week. My horse was left here on the 10th, about 11 o'clock in the night, and their horse taken away. If they will settle for 60 pounds of corn, keeping and doctoring their horse, it will be all right.

Capt. A. G. Lane

The advertisement bore fruit. Either the gentleman paid up, or one of his traveling companions had made the switch without his knowledge, for in a subsequent issue of the paper Lane exonerated him from all blame.

Captain Lane was not without compassion. He believed in helping those who were in trouble. One newspaper story tells of his kindness to a total stranger passing through the area. On this occasion he opened his home to a man from Visalia who was suffering from consumption, and had come to the desert seeking relief in the dry air.

He spent his last weeks at Lane's "surrounded by strangers who proved themselves friends." He received every possible care and attention, and following his death, he was interred temporarily on the Mojave until arrangements were made to send his remains to relatives.

There were many who came to the Captain's door in need of assistance, and he helped them even if they were destitute. Cap "has always clothed the naked and fed the hungry," he wrote for the paper; "The poor devils you always will have after I leave you." This last is a paraphrase of Bible verse, John 12:8, probably as Lane remembered it from his childhood lessons.

It is owing to the profusion of such snippets of information from newspaper items that a history of Captain Lane's life on the Mojave is possible. There are over 60 articles in contemporary newspapers in which he or his way station is the subject -- and that is exclusive of any items that appear in the great number of issues that are no longer available, a void which applies especially to the 1880s. This is a rather remarkable amount of press and compares favorably with men who were much more financially prominent in the community.

Furthermore, Lane was never cast in a negative light, despite the fact that perhaps a dozen editors for six different newspapers wrote about him over a period of 25 years. Some of these editors counted him as a friend, as did so many other people in the Southland.

When his name appeared in print it was not unusual to see it accompanied by terms of the utmost respect, such as "our old and esteemed friend," "our venerable friend," and "the venerable veteran." However, from what is known of Captain Lane, with his years of hard work and his love of the desert and its settlements, he was pleased the most when the paper honored him with the distinction of being "The Pioneer of the Mojave."


Decoration END Decoration

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