Panorama Vista Preserve
in the Context of Kern County History



Part 1:
Location of Panorama Vista

Part 2:
The Yowlumne Yokuts
Part 3:
The Spanish and Mexican Period (1769-1848)
Part 4:
The American Period 1850-1997
Bibliography
Additional Resources:

Location of Panorama Vista Preserve

The Panorama Vista Preserve lies north and south of the Kern River and east and west from Gordon's Ferry to near Manor Street.  Oil fields border it on the north and to the south rise the Panorama Bluffs;  the Preserve includes some of the steep slopes of the Bluffs.

The Kern River is easily seen from the top of the Bluffs; an especially good view can be gotten from near the parking lot at the intersection of  River Blvd.  and Panorama Drive.    From there, we can see the river as it meanders along  in a series of lazy curves, edged with willows, cottonwoods and other trees.  It is a living river where fish still swim, water birds still wade, and beavers occasionally build dams.

 From the Bluffs we can also see that there are two canals.  The closer  is the Carrier Canal  which runs parallel to the river on the south along the edge of the Bluffs;  its headgate is within the Preserve.  Its historic name is the Kern Island Canal, a reminder that the original name of Bakersfield was Kern Island.

Also visible from the Bluffs but north of the river is the Beardsley Canal. The Beardsley taps into the Kern River east of Gordon's Ferry and so its headgate is not included within the Preserve. However,  a narrow strip of land at the northern edge of the canal does belong to the Preserve.

Immediately next to the river,  one sees a band of dense green riparian vegetation (e.g. willows, cottonwoods, nettles, sycamores, wild grapes, etc.)  but beyond that green band plant life shifts to more open land with scattered elderberries, bright yellow-flowered bladderpods,  mulefat,  and arrowweed.  The California sycamores and cottonwoods seen in in this zone are deep-rooted remnants from long ago when the river regularly flooded high up on the land.  

Moving farther from the river, we see that the terrain becomes increasingly arid and the predominant native plants are saltbush and other dry-land plants;    (Unfortunately, some of the green spots are  tumbleweeds and many other non-native, invasive plants which tend to crowd out the native plants.)

If we had been able to see the same scene from the Bluffs a century and a half ago, we would have seen a much broader band of vegetation and a great deal more water in the river. In times of heavy Sierra Nevada snowmelt or heavy rains, there would have been glimmers of water as far as one might see,  sheets of water spreading out from the river and its channels.

In those days,  the Kern River rushed unimpeded down the steep Kern Canyon  (a 2000 foot drop over 20 miles.)  When it reached the valley floor, it spread southward into multiple branches, shallow swamps, and large shallow lakes (Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake and Goose Lake.)  (small map below)There was nowhere else for the water to go since there was no natural outlet to the sea.   

River
                                                  channels

However, in times of especially great Sierra snowmelt or especially heavy rain,  Kern system water could join with the northernTulare Lake system  which, in turn,  could merge with the drainage of the lower San Joaquin and from there,  to the Sacramento River--- and to San Francisco Bay.  The map  below shows how the Kern, Tulare Lake, and San Joaquin River systems could become connected when the water ran high in the sloughs, rivers, and lakes.  

The water network of river channels, sloughs, and lakes shaped human occupation of the southern San Joaquin Valley.  The Yowlumne and other valley Yokuts tribes adapted to it;  Americans forced the river system to adapt to them and their needs, as we will see farther down on this page.

High
                                                  water map



Medium line  Medium line  Medium line

The Yowlumne Yokuts

The Yowlumne in Pre-Contact Times:

Before American settlers came along, a century and a half ago, the lower San Joaquin Valley, and the little corner that is now Panorama Vista Preserve, was its own small isolated world and it was dominated by the Native Californians known as the Yowlumne Yokuts. 

Yowlumne ancestral land was tucked into a wide strip that ran from a short distance in the Kern Canyon to the east side of Buena Vista Lake, the north side of Kern lake, and the Sierra Nevada on the east.     It is estimated that the Yowlumne pre-historic population was 1,300.   (Wallace, 1978.  449)

Map Yowlumne
                                                territory


 




Granary

Courtesy Buena Vista Museum, Bakersfield

Yokuts
                                                basketmaker

Courtesy USC Library


The main Yowlumne  village was called Woilu and it was located near a channel of the Kern River that flowed along the general route of Truxtun Avenue in today's downtown Bakersfield. The village was safely atop a  a hill where yearly flooding could not reach it.  Smaller Yowlumne villages and seasonal encampments were scattered down river and up river, on either side of present Panorama Vista Preserve.  On the Preserve itself, there is evidence of a  temporary hunting or gathering  camp on higher ground above one of the side flood channels.

No trace of Woilu exists today.  It lies beneath the Santa Fe Railroad parking lot just off Truxtun Avenue, next to the railroad tracks.  The hill was levelled in 1898 for construction of the Santa Fe Depot;  in the process,  Indian bones, grinding bowls,  and arrowheads  were uncovered.  Today, such a discovery would legally require  a halt in construction while archaeologists and a Native California monitor examined the site and conducted an archaeological dig.  In 1898, of course, such an idea or requirement did not exist.  Today, the depot no longer exists;  Bakerfield residents may recall that in the 1970s Santa Fe abruptly pulled the depot down to make way for the parking lot.  Here today, gone tomorrow.

Nature provided the Yowlumne with abundant food in game, fish, and plants.  On just the small portion that today is Panorama Vista,  there would have been rabbits galore and ground squirrels, possibly deer, fish and freshwater mussels,  and an abundant number of plants for gathering for food, fiber and weapons.  See the Native Plants page of this site for photos and descriptions of some of the plants.  There is a good stand of arrowweed  on the Preserve, many elderberries, a forest of willows and cottonwoodd and various grasses.  Click here for a table of native plants in Yowlumne territory and the uses to which the people put those plants.   for the exceptionally fine baskets for which the Yokuts are known.   The extremely high reeds or tules which grew abundantly along the river were used for  many purposes such covering the sides of their homes or construction of rafts or boats like the one in the photograph below.  


It once was thought that the Indians did nothing to change nature – that they took it the way it came and did nothing to alter it.  Scholars now know  they did manipulate nature to benefit themselves. the animals and plants around them.  For instance, they did routine control burns;  they cleaned out the fuel that would burn so hot that it would kill the bushes and trees they depended upon.  They did not know it but  were avoiding the catastrophic wildfires we see today.  Controlled burning  would encourage new shoots to come up straight, strong and quickly  Willows, for example, come back    fast after a burn (see the photo below, one week after a fire). 

 

Shoots from buttonwillow, elderberry, and arrowweed would come up straight, ideal for arrow shafts.  There are seeds of many California native plants that need fire in order germinate.  Perhaps it was intuition that told the Indians this was so or perhaps they observed and learned how native plants benefited from fire. 

 

Yowlumne and other California Indians also learned that pruning plants and even periodicially cutting them down to the ground (but not uprooting) was beneficial;  the plants came back stronger than before, more open to sunlight, more nutritious both to themselves and the animals who fed on the plants.

Ripe elderberriesPhoto by Roberta Robertson



Willows recovering from
                                    firePhoto by Robeta Robertson

reeds

  The Spanish and Mexican Periods

In the Spanish period (1769-1821), no towns (pueblos), forts (presidios), land grants (ranchos)  or missions were located within the San Joaquin Valley.  As seen elsewhere,  the primary contact between Spaniards and the valley was when missionaries or soldiers entered to explore and/or retrieve runaway mission Indians or soldiers.

The first Spaniards to enter the Valley were neither missionaries nor explorers -- they were deserters from the presidio at San Diego.   (Bolton, 1935.  9, 12)  In 1772, Pedro Fages came into the Valley from the south  to search for these men.  He entered via  the pass that follows Tejon Creek (not the presently called "Tejon Pass" but farther east.  A beautiful view ("buena vista") of a "labyrinth and tulares" shimmered on the valley floor below him.  He did not find the refugees and left the valley the way he had come.

The next Spanish explorer to enter the Valley was missionary Father Francisco Garcés in 1776.    He entered by way of the Tehachapis and went north. He followed an Indian trade trail down to the Kern River (which he called  it the "Rio de San Felipe." )  The river was running noisy and high  and he would not have been able to cross except for the help of friendly Yowlumne men.  His explorations took him out of Yowlumne territory and up to the White River before he turned around.  In visiting various Indian villages, he heard of  Spaniards who had come into the valley, most likely including the deserters Fages had been after, plus  others.  Two had been killed by the Indians for their brutality.   One, however,  had married an Indian woman, settled down, and had a son.  Garces did not personally meet him.  On his way out of the  valley, he crossed the river west of his previous crossing and picked a possible place for a mission up on the heights  above the high bluffs that flank the river on the south.  (Boyd, Ludeke, & Rump,1982:  2-3

The Yowlumne in the Spanish and Mexican Periods

The valley became known "Los Tulares," Land of the Tules, to the Spanish.  The swamps, the lakes, the river, and heavy stands tules (which stood 10-15 feet high and possibly 20 miles wide.)   Spanish (or Mexican) soldiers, their horses, and their armament could not easily pass through this protective band of tules. For the Indians, the tules became a crucial line of defense, a place where they could easily hide if necessary.  However, they fought when they needed to, and around 1800, they learned to ride horses and  became  mounted warriors  and horse thiefs.

In the early Mexican period, groups from Mission Santa Barbara and La Purísima showed their rejection of mission life with a massive revolt, the great Chumash Uprising of 1824.  After rising up, the rebels headed for the Central Valley where they took refuge among the Tulamniu of Buena Vista Lake.  Spanish soldiers pursued them to the tules but could not go further.  After extensive negotiations, however, the rebels returned to the coast. The Yowlumne played no direct role in this event but most likely received word of it from their Buena Vista neighbors;  in fact, the Spanish suspected that a rebel leader had gone among other Yokuts tribes to enlist them as allies against the Spanish.   

Two  most outstanding developments of the Mexican period were the breakup of the missions followed by the division of mission lands as grants (ranchos) to Mexican citizens or favored foreigners (e,g, John Sutter in the north).   Here in the southern San Joaquin there were 4 or 5  land grants:  San Emigdio; Castac, El Tejon, Los Alamos y Agua Caliente, and La Liebre.    However, none of the Mexican grantees did much to put cattle on the ranchos or to build the necessary corral and house stipulated by Mexican law.  Fear of the Indians was an important reason for their failure to live up to the law.  For example, Rancho el Tejón was developed according to law even those its grantees were still paper owners of the land in the 1850s after the beginning of the American period.

Mexican independence had little meaning for Yokuts of the southern San Joaquin.  The same solders (now called  "Mexican" instead of "Spanish") chased mission or military fugitives into the valley.  There is a new generation of historians today who recognize that the Yokuts, including the Yowlumne, did not sit back passively watch these invasions of their land;  they did not forget when atrocities were committed by soldiers against them.  They resisted Spanish or Mexican authority and took revenge when they could.  When push came to shove, they shoved.    Sometimes this was in the form of direct attacks, sometimes it was indirect by raiding coastal ranchos or missions for livestock. 


Stealing horses was easiest because they could be driven away fast;  Indians, including women,  first prized horses as food but soon also learned to ride.  They became mounted raiders and coast rancheros (and later American ranchers) came to fear and hate them.  Many "Horse Thief" Indian leaders were ex-neophytes whose stay in the missions educated them in missionary/ranchero ways and weaknesses.  One such leader was the remarkable Emeterio, a Yowlumne headman, more of whom will appear later. 

 
The Yowlumne during the American Period (1848-1865  )
 
Before contact with Hispanic or white Americans, Yowlumne populationwas 1300;  by 1850, it was 280.  Probably diseases that spread from the missions or were unknowingly introduced by soldiers accounted for many deaths.  However, it was the  Gold Rush that was an absolute disaster for California Indians because "the World Rushed In" to California and eventually reached even the most remote portions of the state.
 
The Yowlumne were well to the south of the original gold strike but did not escape spill-over effects. Miners, hunters, cattle herders,and would-be farmers began moving into Kern County.  Conflict between them and the Indians was inevitable  an in the 1850s, life changed drastically for the Yowlumne.  They saw the natural world they knew disappear under their eyes as hunters came down from the mines and hunted out valley elk and under game;  they saw native planats go under the hooves of cows, sheeps, and  hogs;  they oak trees cut down for mining equipment, fence posts, etc.  Nature had rarely let the Yowlumne and other Yokuts go hungry;  there now seemed a possility of it.  The Indians also learned that many (most?) whites thought of them as an enemy which either had to wiped out or pushed to one side.

 In 1851-1852, the federal government attempted to set aside lands to which California Indians could be moved.  Eighteen treaties were worked out with 139 tribes whereby they would give up ancestral lands and move but receive compensation in the form of new land and government food rations. .   The Yowlumne were one of the tribes that signed such a treaty with the federal government.  Their leader was Emeterio, mentioned above.  He had been born at Lake Buena Vista but was only a boy when he ended up at Mission San Fernando where he was baptized.  At some point, he left the mission and  became headman of one of the Yowlumnue towns (not Woilu.) 

These treaties were thoroughly and loudly damned by whites who felt too much valuable mining and farmland to Indians was being given away at settler expense.  The political pressure from California was so great that none of the 18 treaties was ever ratified by the U.S. Senate.  In fact, the Senate had the treaties sealed and hidden;  they remained scret for the next 90 years.  Large reservations would never be tolerated;  smaller ones might, especially if a military fort was nearby.  Enter Edward F. Beale and the first reservation in California history.


Edward F. Beale had supported the treaties was a realist;  he  now established the relatively small Tejon (or Sebastian) Reservation on Rancho El Tejon (east of present Highway 99.)   In his mind, the Spanish mission should be its model -- where Indians would live, learn "civilized" ways, but not be  free to leave.   The Yowlumne leader Emeterio and his people  moved  there along with a number of other Yokuts neighbors;  they moved in among Indian villages already there (Sebastian Reservation residents were a mix of valley and mountain peoples.

Although the reservation at first seemed successful (in terms of creation of agricultural fields, digging of irrigation ditches, etc.) in the long run it failed because of ismangement, drought, and white intrusions that went unpunished.  Finally, in the mid-1860s, the reservation was closed  (and so was neighboring Fort Tejon.) Some residents stayed, others was closed  were moved to the Tule River Reservation, including Emeterio or more likely his sons.   It is interesting that the last name of Emeterio appears on U.S. Indian Census rolls around the turn of the 20th century. 
The Yowlumne held on to  their tribal identity and their language became the dominant one on the Rule River Reservation.
 
Some Yowlumne never went to a reservation;  they worked in white settlers’ households in Bakerfield (originally named Kern Island.)  A few stayed up on the Tejon Ranch as workers (e.g. sheep-shearers) for Edward F. Beale.  Beale became one of the largest landowners in California history; 1855-1865,  he  purchased all of the ranchos mentioned above except San Emigdio.  He consolidated these 4 ranchos into Tejon Ranch.

 Line Line Line Line


The American Period 1850-1997

 Gordon's Ferry

In the meantime, more white ranchers, miners, settlers, and businessmen were moving into California and  they demanded and a need for improved transportation.   Stage coach and wagon traffic increased between Los Angeles and Sacramento and points in between such as Kern Island or the thriving metropolis of Visalia.   When wagons or coaches entered the lower San Joaquin Valley and wished to head north via the Kern River, they found few good access points across the river except at a ford now known as Gordon's Ferry.  This is one edge of the Panorama Vista Preserve but farther west than where Yowlumne men swam Fr. Gacrés across the river.

So, as the day of the Yowlumne along the Kern River faded, the day of American businessmen and settlers dawned.  One of the very early businessmen was Aneas B. Gordon, who established a ferry across the Kern River in 1853, known as Gordon's Ferry.  


Example cable ferry

Stage and wagon travelers needed a way to get across the Kern, but most access points were blocked by the thick tule swamps that were still a major natural feature along the river. The ferry was  a flat-bottomed boat and overhead cable arrangement and was located at a natural ford in the river. (No physical evidence of the old ferry operation remains but it probably resembled the one in this vintage photo from Alabama.  The overhead cable is barely visible.)  The eastern edge of the Preserve is near the present Gordon's Ferry bridge.

Map


Overland Stage


Central Overland and Pike's
                                      Peak Express
New residents of California demanded better transportation -- and they also wanted dependable mail deilvery from the East Coasot.  The critical location of Gordon's Ferry secured its inclusion on the Butterfield Stage route when Congress gave it a mail contract ca. 1856.    In 1857 the Butterfield Overland Mail system was established by  John W. Butterfield to connect St. Louis, Missouri to booming San Francisco,  a distance of more than 2700 miles;  the line went into operation the next year.   It was more practical to enter California by the snow-free, relatively flat southern route rather than over the Sierra Nevada, and so the stages crossed the Colorado at Fort Yuma, sped on to Los Angeles,  headed north via Tejon Pass and crossed the Kern, as we have seen, at Gordon's Ferry.   The Los Angeles to San Francisco  leg (Division One in  the Butterfield organization) was was one of the longer stretches in terms of mileage and hours needed to traverse it (462 miles and 80 hours). 


Butterfield set up stations every ten miles or slightly more over this route and six stations were located in Kern County.  In the mountains, the stage stopped at  Fort Tejon, descended to the valley floor and  went east of the Kern River Slough along part of the route of the later East Side Canal.  From the Sinks of Tejon, travelers passed northeast, went east of the present Lamont and, eight miles north, curved west to near where Fairfax School is now located, and then headed north to the river bluffs.  There a steep road led down to the river.  Here they crossed the Kern at Gordon's Ferry, also known as the Kern River Station.    Left bottom:  Overland Stage poster, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

The main priority of the Butterfield Stage was to get the mail through, and the comfort and convenience of passengers was secondary.  Few attempted the 25 day non-stop journey from St.Louis, but one who did was Eastern journalist Waterman L. Ormsby, who wrote this of his crossing at Gordon's Ferry:

The Kern River is a rapid running stream and has to be crossed on boats. A man named Gordon keeps the ferry and has a large flatboat which being out of order, at this time, the stages could not cross and we had to cross in a small boat propelled stern first, with a shovel… The company have [sic] a station here and no detention is experienced as horses and another wagon are waiting on the other side.  The land along the river bottom is good.  (Ormsby, 118)


  After 1861, Gordon's Ferry ceased to be a Butterfield stop, for two reasons:   One was political -- the coming of the Civil War because the company had to re-route its whole line of communications, moving stations, livestock, and personnel northward.   The other reason was technological:  In 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was finished and it was neither necessary nor economical to rely on stage coach lines to carry mail.  The Butterfield lost its contract from  Congress and went out of business.  However, Gordon's Ferry was still an important river crossing and continued to be used by local stage and wagon traffic and during the Civil War it had special importance as the site of  a  telegraph station during the Civil War.  (Gia, 2010)

Ranching, Agriculture, and Canals

In the 1850s and 1860s livestock ranchers (cattle, sheep, and hogs)  trickled into former Yowlumne territory.  The Indians began to find themselves in direct competition with the whiteman's animals  for wild foodstuffs.  Cows, sheep, and hogs did great  damage to the habitat on which the Indians depended.  Native grasses and other plants began to disappear into the hungry mouths of cattle and sheep.  Hogs plowed up the gound with their snouts looking for food.  They were simply let loose in the tules or in the mountains to feed however they could,  or "Root, Hog, or Die" as the old saying went.   (Boyd, 1972:  97;   Boyd Research Notebooks, Kern County Library).  Acorns, bulbs, roots, and rhizomes and anything remotely edible went down their maws.  The ground would have looked bulldozed afterward.   

Indians found it increasingly difficult to gather in traditional ways;  plants they relied on for food were more scarce.    Hunting was difficult also:  wild game was not as plentiful  and there were not even the numbers of horses they once caught and ate.   Hunger and even starvation now stalked their land.  As we have seen above, some sought protection and food from the U.S. Government by signing treaties and agreeing to move to a reservation.  Others, attempted to stay on their old land but found it necessary to work in the homes of early white settlers.  (Latta, 1977: 280)

The earliest farmers that attempted to settle Kern Island (later called Bakersfield) found it was rough going.  They had to cope with floods of Biblical proportions and hordes of mosquitos (also of Biblical proportions).  They had to brave the area's reputation for unhealthfulness, especially malaria.  In that era, it was generally believed in the U.S. and Europe  that  sickness was a result of “bad air” (or “miasmas”) born from rotting vegetation in marshes. This was the "miasmatic" theory of disease.   People knew nothing of germs, viruses, bacteria or mosquito-born ailments and so  it seemed the miasmas hovered like a deadly vapor over Kern Island and vicinity.  No wonder the first county seat in Kern was located up in the mountains at Havilah.

Pioneer farmers also coped with the fact that land around them was either too wet or too dry.  Near the river it was "mostly over-grown with an unsightly crop of worthless willows, weeds, and briars."  (Bakersfield Courier, November 18, 1871, pg 2, col 3); away from the river was desert (which was lucky to get 7 inches of rain a year.)

However, canals could solve many problems:   drain the swamps, drive away the miasmas, and create irrigated cropland.   Build canals and settlers would come. 

Under the federal Swampland Act (1850) if swampland was federal land and if a settler successfully drained it, the land became his.  This was a powerful inducement to build canals.  In the early 1860s, Col. Thomas Baker of Kern Island was one of the first in Kern County to take advantage;  he gained many thousands of acres, planted crops, and invited travelers to pasture their stock on his field;  "Kern Island" became "Bakersfield."  Bakersfield's population increased during the decades of the 1860s and enterprising businessmen saw an even more prosperous future with more canals that could reach deeper into the countryside. 

The enthusiasm for canals even led to an idea of one that would permanently connect the watershed of the Kern with Tulare Lake and beyond, all the way up the San Joaquin River to the Sacramento and to San Francisco Bay itself.  Steamboats were already on the San Joaquin (see illustration below)  and on Tulare Lake;  why not make Kern Island into a port city?  This wonderfully exciting scheme, however, died for  insufficient financial backing.  (Boyd, 1972:  90)  

Hutchings  (Hutchings, 1859) 


In 1870, Kern County's great era of agricultural canals began.  The first was the  Kern Island/Carrier Canal,  starting below the Panorama Bluffs.  followed by Beardsley Canal (in 1873).    The headgate of the Kern Island Canal is on Panorama Vista; the canal runs west and south into and through  Bakersfield and went miles south to Kern Lake.  The Kern Island Canal was partially excavated with the Souther Ditch Plow, a gigantic machine that weighted 1,400 pounds, was pulled by 40 oxen, and cut a furrow 5 feet wide by 3 feet deep.  It was the largest plow ever seen in Kern County at the time (1870.)

Three years later,  the Beardsley Canal was dug;  it begins east of Panorama Vista,  runs along its northern boundary and turns north.  

Headgate 1    Kern Island Canal  Courtesy Kern County Library

Agriculture developed rapidly with construction of these two canals and with the many other canals that were soon built.   So many canals radiated outward from the river going west, north  and south, that in fact  Bakersfield was compared to  an "American Holland " or sometimes to Venice.   (Boyd, 1972:  101)  Before the canals, people were more likely to call the area "Panama" on account of the heavy swamp vegetation and mosquitos.  (Boyd, 1972: 98) (However, as a local place name,  Panama remains prominent while Holland and Venice do not.)     Eventually most canals including the Kern Island Canal became the property of Haggin and Tevis's Kern County Land Company;  in 1892, KCL boasted that "Through 300 miles of main canals and 1,100 miles of laterals, the great Kern River furnishes enough moisture to slake the thirst of  the 400,000 acres [it was offering for sale.] ... Drought is out of the question."    (Kern County Land Company advertisement, 1892)


Machines Used in Building the Canals or Preparing Ground to Farm

   

Fresno
                                            Scraper ad 

--Left:  Late 1800s Ad for The Fresno Scraper,
Endorsed by Miller and Lux Superintendant

--Middle:  the Scraper In Use

--Far Right:  A dredge scoop

PHOTO
                                            Fresno scraper

Scoop

As the land was reclaimed by the canals, farmers rejoiced in its "soil of unsurpassed richness" and  gave thanks to "the expansion of the irrigation system that has occurred in Kern County...."  (Bakersfield Daily Californian.   June 24, 1902  pg 6, cols 3-4)   

The Kern Island Canal today is better known as the Carrier Canal.  However, a stretch running through downtown Bakersfield has recently been named "Mill Creek"  (in reference to a historic flour mill) with a linear park along its banks .   Few visitors probably realize this is not a creek but a landmark canal which originates below the Panorama Bluffs on the Preserve.

Development of the Kern River Oil Field

The Preserve is a small corner of Kern County but was a little world of  changes taking place  in the whole county. Not only was it the site of the first great canal that opened up agricultural development around Bakersfield but the birth of the county's great petroleum industry took place on its doorstep,  scant .7 miles from the eastern boundary of the Preseve oil.

In May 1899, the Elwood brothers began digging on a spot  north of the Kern River and east of Gordon’s Ferry. .  Using hand tools, the they found oil sand 43 feet down;  a plaque on Round Mountain Road commemorates this place as  the "Discovery Well."  Very soon, only a few hundred feet away, a commercial well was drilled and went into production.   (Robinson, 41)

Oil wagonThe Gordon's Ferry river crossing  came to life again  when a wooden bridge was built in 1901 for the convenience of teamsters hauling the oil away in wagons.  A significant amount of oil slopped from the wagons into the river.  

Soon an oil boom was well underway in the region that was so big that by 1903 the Kern River Oilfield made California the nation's #1 oil-producing state  (and  Bakersfield gained a reputation as a rough, tough oil town.)   In 1900, a Southern Pacific spur was opened to  carried the oil to market   (Los Angeles Herald, 26 July 1900, "In the San Joaquin Southern Pacific Engineers in Kern River Field," California Digital Newspaper Collection ) this means of transportation was far more efficient than loading it into wagons and its inexpensiveness played a large role in making the Kern River Field spectacularly profitable.


 Refinery, train,
                                      field

To the left is an oil refinery, in the center tanker cars mark the route of old railroad spur, to the right in background is the Kern River Field, and in the foreground is the Panorama Vista Preserve Brown Grove where a planting project had just been completed.  June 2011.











early
                                            2010

 By 2006, the Kern River Oil Field had produced 2 billion barrels of oil and as of 2013 is still very productive.  Visitors to the Panorama Vista Preserve can still see pumpjacks bobbing up and down and hear them creaking;  sight and sound are inseparable parts of our local history.

 In petroleum industry language, the Kern River Oil Field is a "supergiant" in terms of overall productiveness from 1899 to the present. 



 Pipe Pipe Old Equipment  

Rusted remnants of old operations once dotted the landscape, some of them looking like ancient cannons or periscopes coming up from the earth.  Most have been removed.

 


How A Series of Land Sales led to Ownership by the Kern River Corridor Endowment


Sign

Notice the initials of the Kern County Land Company, one of the great land empires of California history.


In 1967,   KCL sold its land to Tenneco (Tenneco West);  in 1987, Castle & Cooke bought Tenneco's California farmlands.  In 1995, Castle & Cooke sold 83.55 acres of land below the Panorama Bluff to a coalition of public interest groups composed of the Kern River Equestrians for the Preservation of Trails, the Kern River Parkway Foundation and the Kern River Public Access Committee (the “KRPAC”).  This small land acquisition was followed by purchase of 758 acres from ARCO (which retained mineral rights.)    Chevron succeeded ARCO. In the years to come, Panorama Vista Preserve came into existence on lands acquired from Castle & Cook and ARCO. 

Next page will be a Time Line since 1995 showing how Panorama Vista Preserve has grown.

KCL Building 19 and
                                      H

1894 photo.  Headquarters of the Kern County Land Company, downtown Bakersfield.  This building still exists and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.



Bibliography:

Anderson, M. Kat.  Tending the Wild.  Berkeley:  University of California Press .  2006.

The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.  BANC PIC 1963.002:0316—DCr/

"California Treaties Made, Yet Never Ratified."  Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.  Accessed Sept. 14, 2013   http://www.pechanga-nsn.gov/page?pageId=164

National Park Service.  Tejon Indian Reservation Five Views:  An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California.   Accessed Sept. 4, 2013.  http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/5views/5views1h92.htm

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  Sept. 21,  2013

 © Sasha Honig