MTM Logo
Please consider a tax deductible donation to the Mojave Transportation Museum

History Of the Mojave Area

The Name: The Mohave Indians are a sub tribe of the Yuman Foragers, a general name given to all the tribes located along the lower Colorado River. These tribes were legendary for the distance they traveled across the hot deserts on foot to trade with other tribes in California. In the Yuman Indian language the word three translates into "Homok" and the word mountain was derived from the word "ave". Therefore the Yuman Indian version of Mohave was pronounced Mac-ha-ves and the Piute version was similarly pronounced A-mac-ha-ves.

This name probably denoted the area in which the Mohaves were settled. (There are many Indian tribal names in the Southwest which are spelled one way by the tribe and otherwise on place names. The reason for this is probably the translation from the Indian words to Spanish and English. Examples are the Mohave tribe and the Mojave Desert. Similarly, you will find Navaho and Navajo and Walapai and Hualapai. The "j" in Spanish is pronounced the same as the English "H".) Early settlers and Indians alike gave testimony to an old myth that recalls a Piute Indian and a Yuman Indian on an antelope hunt on horseback in the foothills. When they came to a resting place on the crest of a steep hill, the Yuman Indian sneezed violently into the desert wind and it came out as Mahavee!

The two Indians agreed on the name and both repeated the name in unison a second time after which they rode off into the sunset. There is no documentation to show that this story is true but even today, it's repeated among the Mohave Indians.

The Mojave River was christened by john C. Fremont in 1844. The desert area was named for the river and the town of Mojave was named by the Southern Pacific after the desert in 1876 (unless you believe the other story!).

The People and The Place: In 1776, Padre Francisco Garces traveled through the Mojave Desert in hopes of finding an overland route from Sonora, Mexico to Monterey, California. The shorter route would allow the California territory to be more quickly settled and better supplied than was possible using ships. Garces was accompanied by two Mohave Indians. Father Garces'started at the Gila River in Arizona, and crisscrossed much of California. His trip ended at Mission San Xavier Del Bac in Tucson, a journey of about 2,700 miles. They paused briefly during their trek at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains, probably at Willow Springs just southwest of present day Mojave .

Throughout the 1800's many well known people of western history came through the area. In 1827 Jedediah Smith, the famous frontiersman, was the first American to pass through Mojave. In 1844, John C. Fremont on one of his Western expeditions named the Mojave River for no other reason than he had met three Mohave Indians that day.

In 1845, Kit Carson brought a herd of cattle through the area and had several unfriendly encounters with the Indians. A group from the Infamous Donner Pass pioneer party came through the valley about the same time. Then In 1869 Wyatt
Earp drove a wagon through the hot desert and later found his gold mine here In Mojave. Most of these visitors in the 1800s came through the area by following the Midland Trail which roughly parallels present day Highway 14 north of Mojave.

In 1876 the Southern Pacific Railroad Company named the township at the planned terminus of their line, Mojave. The township was laid out by the railroad with streets and lots. Soon after the town was named, the railroad hotel was constructed. Mojave began to flourish. On August 8 , 1876 the first passenger train reached Mojave.

On August 25, 1884 the town burned down. As the Tulare Register stated, Tulare Register: "Mojave was not a large town, so that the burning of seven or eight buildings about wiped it out." Then once again on November 15, 1884, the railroad depot was destroyed by fire and explosion. Ninety cases of giant powder in the freight room, the equivalent of 600 kegs of blasting powder went up, obliterating the buildings of Mojave. The explosion was heard 25 miles away.

Over the next several decades fires were a common occurrence due to the sparks from the train wheels, the wind and the dryness of the area. In the 1890's and early 1900's the big story was GOLD! Gold was the rage as miners and prospectors staked claims everywhere leaving pock marks on all the foothills surrounding Mojave. Soon the Asher Queen, Elephant, Echo and the Yellow Dog claims would become the talk of the town. Gold fever permeated the brawling little town.

Although Mojave had a drab exterior it did have a general merchandise store, a post office in the variety store, the railroad hotel and a water tank supplied water from Cameron Station 11 miles north of town. There were a couple of saloons, a dozen residences and the famous Harvey House in the railroad depot.

The cooking was so good and convenient that "Meals by Fred Harvey" became a byword with all hungry travelers. The girls that worked the Harvey House were unmarried and ranged from 18 to 30 years old. They were imported from as far away as St. Louis. After meeting the handsome railroad workers, locals and travelers, many of the girls broke their contracts of servitude. Part of those contracts was an agreement not to marry for a year as payment for their passage west. Mr. Harvey however, had a soft spot for his own name and would let the girls off the hook if they named their first born after him. As
folklore has it, there were lots of little boys named Fred or Harvey roaming the Mojave area "back then".

In September of 1884 the first school opened In a one room building and had 14 students who were taught by Miss Jesse Gregory. From the days of the stagecoach, the area East of town was called the "Hat Ranch". The stagecoach would stop in Mojave and the passengers would lose their bonnets, sombreros or fedoras to the Mojave wind. The local store always had a good selection available to replace the lost hats. Should those same travelers return, the next time through town they could buy the hats they lost on the prevIous trip The Mojave Zephers were well known but it was said that It seldom blew so hard that a body couldn't hold his hat on using both hands.

In 1910 , the Jawbone Line extension of the railroad was completed its from its origination point in Independence, California to Mojave to assist with the building of the Los Angeles aqueduct.

The gold mining boom fizzled out and all but stopped in 1914 when the War Emergency Act of World War I completely cut off supplies. Mining was not resumed in the area until the 1930's when the demand for precious metals increased. The claims on Soledad Mountain (just South of Mojave) were renamed the Golden Queen and the Silver Queen. Limited gold mining is still going on today in the area.

While the gold mining boom is the more glamourous, other kinds of mining have been going on in the area for many years. The borax mines in Death Valley are part of Mojave's history as well. From 1884 to 1889, the "20 Mule Team" wagons met the railroad in Mojave after a 160 mile journey through the desert.

The wagons were built in Mojave by J.W.S. Perry at a cost of $900 each. They weighted 7,800 pounds each, empty. Loaded, they carried 24,000 pounds of borax. The rear wheels were 7 feet high and 8 inches wide banded in steel to handle the rough terrain. The wagons traveled 15-18 miles per day. through the soaring desert temperatures. Those mule skinners must have really enjoyed seeing Mojave after that trip. One of the old barns used to house those wagons still stands in Mojave.

Between Mojave and Tehachapi were many limestone mines, the end product being used for cement. Today the California
Portland Cement plant built in 1955 can be seen straight west of town in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains on Oak
Creek Road.

This mine is still operating on around-the-clock shifts. On Highway 58 to Bakersfield just before the town of Tehachapi is the Monolith Plant.

The Monolith Plant was built by Mulholland as the Chief Engineer for the City Of Los Angeles in 1908 to provide cement for the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

That aqueduct provides water for Los Angeles from the Owens Valley. The building of the aqueduct which comes into Mojave from the northeast and roughly parallels Highway 14
provided another Mojave boom period from 1907-1913. The
Monolith Plant later supplied the cement for the construction
of Hoover Dam. In May, 1935, the local celebration,
"Gold Rush Days" began. There were parades, a rodeo, a Gold Rush
Queen as well as all kinds of fun events. Later the event was moved
to the fall to escape the spring Windstorms. Today It is celebrated
in September each year.

In the 1940 's the U.S. Marine Corp. built the Mojave
Marine Air Stati on and used it until the late 1950 's.
During WW II it was a pliot training station for
SBD dive bombers and F-4U Corsa irs. Mojave again
enjoyed some boom years adding new businesses to
the smal l town. The base was closed in 1959 and
transferred to Kern County.

In 1972, through the efforts of Dan Sabovich and
others the Mojave Airport District (later changed to
the East Kern Airport District) was formed by a
special election. While no scheduled airlines use
the facility, It is totally self-supported without
utilizing its ability to levy a tax assessment. The incomes
from building and land leases, its use as a movie and
television commercial location and more recently its
storage of airliners generate ample revenues.

The airport is probably best known for being the
birthplace of the Voyager, which, designed by
Burt Rutan and piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana
Yeager, made its record setting round the world, nonstop,
non refueled flight in 1986, While that flight originated at
Edwards because of their longer runways and the option
of using the dry lake as an emergency area, all testing was
done from Mojave Airport. The Voyager is now on display
in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C .

When the Mojave history of the 1980s and 1990s (at least)
is written, it may well be known as the period of the
Wind Generators, The windmills located between Tehachapi
and Mojave are the largest single source of wind generated
electricity in the world. These turbines provide a clean source
of electricity sufficient to handle the needs of over 150,000
households a year.

about us  |  contact