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Man Unearths History

The following was written by Nita Hltner for the Press-Enterprise in the summer of 2011

A look back: Man unearths history of thoroughfare

Little did John Hockaday realize buying land and building a house on Lytle Creek Road 40 years ago would lead him to research the Spanish Trail and other landmark trails in the area. He recently presented his information to the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society.

Hockaday said a local, Grandpa Gretchel, told him about an old wagon road, and soon Hockaday found that the Spanish Trail, Mojave Indian Trail and the Los Angeles to Cajon wagon road all went through his property.

He said that Ute legend tells of a trade route from Utah to the California coast, used for thousands of years. The Mojave Indians were master traders from their villages near Needles. The Ute trade route joined the Mojave Trail and followed the Mojave River to near today's Silverwood Lake.

The trail continued over the San Bernardino Mountains to near the mouth of Cajon Pass, past the Indian village, San Tissima Trinidad, in the lower end of the Glen Helen Hills. After crossing Lytle Creek, it rounded the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains toward the coast.

John Hockaday

The Cajon Pass section became the west-bound favorite of the New Mexican traders, leaving the main trail and the river at today's Oro Grande and following the Oro Grande Wash to today's Summit Inn. It reached the main canyon at the Rancheria Muscupiabit, partly buried by the I-15 truck scales complex. The trail continued to Glen Helen Park before it turned west. Hockaday said the 16- to 18-inch wide trail can still be seen in the desert.

The famous have traversed the trail, including Father Garces, the first non-Indian to use the main trail, in 1776. Other famous travelers included mountain man Jedediah Smith in 1826 and trappers Ewing Young, Peg Leg Smith and Kit Carson in 1829.

After selling pelts to American sea captains along the coast, Peg Leg Smith terrorized the Los Angeles pueblo, stealing and driving 300 horses through the Cajon Pass to Utah, the beginning of the horse thieving industry.

New Mexico trade began in 1829 when Antonio Armijo put together the first mule train caravan loaded with trade goods to take to California. The caravan began in November, but by January the travelers turned to its horses, then its mules for food. The caravan passed the Cajon summit on Jan. 28 and reached the San Gabriel Mission Jan. 31.

New Mexican wool was traded for horses, mules and cattle, all more valuable outside California. Trade goods from ships along the southern California coast went through the Cajon Pass to New Mexico for the next 20 years. Horse thieves preferred the lush route between Cajon Pass and Summit Valley so they could fatten up the horses for the long desert trek.

In April1848, a caravan led by J. I. Martinez included one woman, 209 men, 4,500 horses and mules, the largest and last of its kind, crossed the desert on the 1,200 mile journey to New Mexico, the end of a "colorful era."