Everyone stopped at Martin’s Ranch in the 1800s, today’s Glen Helen Regional Park – Press Enterprise

Before railroads, those traveling west by wagon were in for hours of cramped, sleepless, dust-choking anguish. Not only was the average speed of a wagon rambling along a “good” road no more than 3 to 4 mph, but the exhausted oxen or mules doing the work needed to rest every few hours. Combine that with the fact that everyone (man and beast) could go only so long without fueling up with grub, made the scattered ranches, called “way stations,” along the route, a welcome site.

As the primary corridor bridging the Mojave Desert with the San Bernardino Valley, the Cajon Pass hosted several of these stations along John Brown’s toll road. They greeted weary travelers between 1861 and the late 1880s. One of these was Martin’s Ranch.

According to his court testimony in 1870, George Martin and his wife, Sarah, along with their four children, Charlotte, Archibald, Abigail and George Jr., arrived in the San Bernardino Valley on May 28, 1854. He proceeded to settle on 160 acres of government land east of what is now Glen Helen Park in Devore.

On the land he established a ranch, often referred to as the Martin Relay Station. As this was located at the southern terminus of the Cajon Pass route, George and his wife Sarah held an open house to all who passed that way.

A table, which was published in the San Bernardino Guardian on Aug. 1, 1868, shows the distances between stage stops, including that of George Martin's. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)
A table, which was published in the San Bernardino Guardian on Aug. 1, 1868, shows the distances between stage stops, including that of George Martin’s. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)

The 1862 assessor’s record book shows the Martins were living on public land, and had assets consisting primarily of his house, 32 head of cattle and 12 horses.

George added extensively to the original 160 acres over the years. The 1870 census lists him as owning real estate worth $10,000, and the appraisers of his estate estimated his holdings in Cajon Pass at 2,700 acres.

Because of the strategic location, almost everyone passing through stopped at Martin’s Ranch (Relay Station) and many references appeared in military reports, diary entries, and the newspapers.

In 1858, Maj. William Hoffman, who was to scout the Mojave Desert for military post sites, stated in his log of reconnaissance about stopping at the ranch on Dec. 25 of that year and made an encampment nearby.

News correspondent, R.A. de St. Georges reported in Alta, California for July 30, 1864:

“On the 5th after attending a ball at Pine’s Hotel (in San Bernardino), on the previous evening, we took the wagon road for Holcombe Valley. At noon we dined and rested our horses at Mr. Martin’s public house, situated at the Cajon Pass, twelve miles from San Bernardino.”

Later that year diarist Sarah Jane Rousseau happily noted as her family, along with three others — led by wagon master Nicholas Earp, father of the legendary Old West legend, Wyatt Earp — were headed for Martin’s Ranch. The wagon train was about to make its final descent into the San Bernardino Valley after seven months of grueling travel starting from Pella, Iowa.

On Saturday, Dec. 18, 1864, the wagon train approached the 4,200-foot summit of the Cajon Pass — which Rousseau mistakenly called “the Sierra Nevada Mountains” — and began the descent into San Bernardino, her final diary entry noted:

Sarah Jane Rousseau was in a wagon train led by wagon master Nicholas Earp, father of the legendary Wyatt Earp. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)
Sarah Jane Rousseau was in a wagon train led by wagon master Nicholas Earp, father of the legendary Wyatt Earp. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)

“A very cold freezing morning. The ground covered with snow. Started up from camp about an hour before day, got to the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by daylight. From the foot of the mountain to the top is 22 miles. Then we went down a very steep hill, it is down hill all the way to San Bernardino.  We were away before the clouds this morning. It looks quite singular. We are now at Martin’s ranch, the appearance of the country is quite different from what it has been for some time back. Everything has a green lively look. The grass growing nicely, it looks like spring instead of the middle of winter. Got into San Bernardino about sun down.”

Three years later, William U H. Jackson noted in his diary of 1867:

“At Martin’s, a comfortable-looking little place, found good water and wood. Baked up bread and had a good hot supper.”

According to grandson William Ardis Martin’s recollections during an interview in 1965, after George Martin’s death in December 1874, his oldest son, Arch, started selling out.

The San Bernardino Daily Times for May 18, 1880 made Martin’s Ranch (by then no longer owned by the family) out to be somewhat of a swank pioneer nightclub.

“There will be a party given at Martin’s Station in the Cajon Pass on Friday evening next, which promises to be one of these regular jolly times which seem to belong to country parties. All the young ladies for miles around will be there, and besides, many young folks from town have expressed their intention of going.”

The land encompassing the former Martin property passed into the hands of several people. However, the ranch was so closely identified with the original owner, people continued to call it Martin’s even though the namesake was no longer there. One of those owners was Robert Wilson. The San Bernardino Index reported on July 29, 1883:

“John Hancock has sold to Mr. Wilson of Los Angeles, the fine ranch — long a landmark in San Bernardino — situated in the Cajon Pass, and long known as Martin’s Station. It is really splendid ranch, with some living streams on itself. However, we hear about Mr. Wilson is about to secure additional water for the Martin Ranch, from Lytle creek, and if so he will have a magnificent property. The Cajon is being rapidly settled, and by 1890 it will be a populace and prosperous section of the county. There are no finer fruit lands anywhere than in this section, and with engineering skill there is water enough to irrigate every foot of them. “

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