By Cindy Lazenby
Lucerne Valley, CA
Chimney Rock in Lucerne Valley was the site of the last Indian fight in California. To understand the climax of the battle, we must first go back to the events leading up to the historic fight. Indians had used the mountain areas of San Bernardino for many years to supply food for their families. When the white man began cutting down trees and building sawmills, the Indians felt their hunting grounds were being ruined. This began a campaign to rid the area of the white man. (1)
In 1863 the Indians killed a Spanish man named Polito at the mouth of the Little Sand Canyon. As they escaped, the Indians stole a mule from Sam Pine and ate it. A short time after that, they shot a horse and mule belonging to W. F. Holcolmb and Pete Smith. About the same time the Indians shot Dr. Smith in Cajon Pass but did not kill him. Bill Holcomb formed a posse and followed the Indians but had to give up the chase for lack of provisions. Meanwhile in Cajon Pass, S. P. Waite killed an Indian when he shot at an object a blue jay was darting after. He did not realize until the next morning that the object he shot at was an Indian. (4) and (5)
In 1866 J. W. Gillette, Ed Parrish, and Nephi Bemis (3) started out to round up some stray cattle at the Dunlap Ranch. Gillette’s mule was worn out so he was sent back to get Pratt Whiteside to take his place. Gillette stayed with the herd Whiteside had been guarding. A while later the horses of Parrish and Bemis came back; the Parrish horse had blood on the saddle. Gillette went back to the ranch house to inform a sick Mr. Dunlap of the discovery and to gather more men and arms.
The body of Bemis was found about sundown. The searchers found evidence that he had been killed by about 30 or 40 Chemehuevi Indians. The bodies of Whiteside and Parrish were found the next morning. Parrish still had a stone in his hand that he had been using to defend himself. The Indians had taken the clothing from all three bodies along with Whiteside’s riding rig and pistol. The Indians returned to the desert that evening after eating Whiteside’s horse. (2)
The following winter in 1867, the Indians returned to the mountains and looted some houses in Little Bear Valley. From there they went to the home of Bill Kane and stole the horses, supplies and guns of George Lish and John Dewitt. The next morning, Frank Talmage, Jonathan Richardson, George Armstrong, and Bill Kane started after the Indians. The men went back to Kane’s home and found it burned to the ground and all items the Indians could not carry had been destroyed.
The families of the men were protected at the mill, and help from San Bernardino was on the way, so the men continued to track the Indians through some new fallen snow. This made the hunt easier. At Willow Canyon they saw eight Indians. Talmage and Kane chased after them with their horses and Richardson and Armstrong followed with the pack animal on foot.
The Indians hid behind a log. Kane was on top of them but didn’t realize it. The Indians shot Kane’s horse and it threw him off. Kane lost his gun but still had his pistol. The Indians were trying to kill Kane, who was behind a tree, but Talmage arrived in tine to prevent it. Talmage killed one Indian and the others scattered. The men returned to the mill to get more ammunition and more men to help fight the Indians.
The next day Talmage, Kane, Richardson and Armstrong were joined by William Caley, A.J. Currey, “Noisy” Tom Enrufty, Henry Law, George Lish, Tom Welty, Frank Blair, and Joab Roar. In some thick timber at the top of the first ridge past the mill, the posse met up with about sixty Indians. The Indians opened fire with guns and bows and arrows. After several hundred shots were fired, the Indians took their wounded and headed for the desert. The posse let them go and returned to the mill with their wounded. Tom Welty had been shot in the shoulder and Bill Kane in the leg. One Indian had been killed.
More men and supplies arrived from San Bernardino. The posse split up with some men some going through the mountains and the others going through Cajon Pass. They met at the Dunlap ranch on the Mojave River. This posse consisted of W.F. Holcomb, Jack Martin, John St. John, Samuel Bemis, Edwin Bemis, Bill Bemis, Harrison Bemis, Bart Smithson, John McGarr, Johnathan Richardson, Frank Blair, George Armstrong, George Birdwell, Joseph Mecham, Jack Ayres, George Miller and an unknown man. The posse located the Indians on a rocky mountain northwest of Rabbit Springs. Three or four men became sick and went home, but a few additional men arrived the next day. David Wixom, ‘Noisy’ Tom Enrufty, Sam Button, a preacher named Stout, Stout’s son and son-in-law (Griffith) joined the posse.
That night the men divided into two parties St. John was leader of the party who went north of the mountain and Stout was leader of the party of men who took the wagon road. The north party arrived late, and at daylight the south party was already in place. The south party saw no Indians, fired some shots to let the north party know where they were, and started back down to the wagons. The noise woke the Indians who only saw the south party and they began to try and cut the men off from the wagons. The north party began to climb the rocks and were unseen by the Indians until they were upon them. The arrows and bullets began to fly and Richardson was struck in the breast with an arrow. He fell into the arms of George Miller who tried to remove the arrow but could not get the tip out. Miller went to get help but met St. John along the way. St. John told him guard a pile of rocks the Indians were escaping through. Miller was to try and stop their escape while St. John went to get the other men.
The Indians yelled like coyotes during the battle and all escaped except two squaws, a fourteen year old boy, a ten year old girl, and a baby. The Indians were surprised by the attack and scattered when they thought they were trapped. The men took the prisoners and Richardson back to the wagons. Holcomb, Button, Armstrong, and Blair took Richardson to San Bernardino for medical attention. The next day, Martin, Miller, Bill Bemis, and Ed Bemis went back to the battle scene to pick up the Indians’ trail. When they found the trail, they discovered that the Indians had gotten together again. From the tracks, they determined that there were about 150 or 200 Indians. They heard a shot but decided to turn around because it was almost sundown and they had a six mile walk back to camp with no water. The next morning all the men except three who stayed in camp picked up the trail where it had been left the evening before. The men discovered from the tracks that the Indians had been close to them on both sides of the canyon; had they gone any further the evening before, they would have all been killed.
They followed the tracks traveling in a half circle until 3:00 in the afternoon. They decided to return to camp which was closer to them now than when they had left that morning. They met Stout’s son who had two extra horses, a canteen of water, and a lunch for his father and brother-in-law. These three decided to continue and follow the Indians against the advice of St. John and Martin. When the other men at camp began to eat their dinner, they heard gunshots. Miller looked through a field glass and saw Stout’s son coming on a bald faced horse across the dry lake. The men in camp hurried to help and arrived just in time to save the two men the Indians were closing in on. Stout’s horse had been shot and his son-in-law had a broken arm. The Indians had lain in wait in the rocks and opened fire on them as they came through a small pass. The posse exchanged fire with the Indians and they again scattered. The men took Stout’s wounded son-in-law back to camp. The posse decided that after men left to take him to San Bernardino for medical treatment, there would not be enough men left to fight the Indians so they all went back home. This ended a thirty two day campaign against the Indians and stopped the Indians’ mountain raiding parties. (4) and (5)
Note: I originally wrote this paper in 1989 for a college history class at Victor Valley College. I retain all rights to this paper. If someone wants to reprint or use any information in this article, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for permission.
Many newspaper and magazine articles were written about this event; however, I wanted to base this paper on eyewitness accounts of the events. I spent considerable time researching old documents and microfilm archives at the California Room of the San Bernardino City Library. I went through the accounts and tried to put the stories of J. W. Gillette, the eyewitness at the Dunlap ranch incident, together with the letter from George Miller, and the interview Miller gave in 1937 of his Chimney Rock battle in the proper time sequence.
The article by William Talmage gives much information; however, he was not an eyewitness and was only retelling stories of his father, Frank Talmage. I only used his information on the speculated reasons the Indians began the attacks.
The article by Phil Perretta was only used to supply the first name of Ed Parrish.
(1) Talmage, William S. as told to John F. Barry “Indian Massacre in Lucerne Valley”. San Bernardino Sun Covered Wagon Days Edition Nov. 13. 1938. Frank Talmage’s son tells of his childhood remembrances and blames the raids on the white man’s lumbering which threatened the Indians hunting.
(2) Gillette. J.W. “An 1866 Witness Describes Indians - Historic Bloody Massacre Seen”. San Bernardino Museum Association Quarterly Vol. 5 No. 3, March 31st. 1866. A letter addressed to the widow of H. F. Parrish fromJ. W. Gillette describes the killing of the cowboys on the Dunlap ranch, states that the Indians are Chemehuevi.
(3) Perretta, Phil “The Battle at Chimney Rock” Spring 1986 Billy Holcomb Chapter E. Clampus Vitus. Paper explains the Chimney Rock and Dunlap Ranch incidents. Gives first names of the cowboys killed on the Dunlap ranch.
(4) Mills. Dr. H.W. “De Palo Astilla” Historical Society of Southern California Annual 1917, Gives an eyewitness account of the Chimney Rock battle in a letter dated July 18, 1916 by George Miller. States the Indians are Piute, Chemehuevi, and a few renegades.
(5) Momyer. George P. “The Mojave Indian Fight”. San Bernardino Museum Association Quarterly Vol. 9 No. 2 winter 1962. Written in 1937, this is an account of an 87 year old George Miller telling of his Chimney Rock battle. It conflicts in a few areas with the “De Palo Astilla” letter.