Gold Mining History
The first time we visited the valley I killed two bear and we had no time for examining our surroundings. The next day we took donkeys and went over after our bear, it took all day to make the trip and at night we had a general jollification our bear steak and “that valley of Holcomb’s.” One of the party, Ben Choteau, proposed to go with me and prospect the new valley. The first day we wounded a bear and in following its trail came upon a quartz ledge. We stopped to examine it and found gold. We let the gold go and taking some dirt in a handkerchief, went down and dug a whole in the main gulch and washed it out. To our joy we found that we had a good prospect, and after further examination we were positive of our find.
When we returned to our camp in Bear Valley there was great rejoicing and a big bonfire to celebrate the discovery of gold in “Holcomb’s Valley.” The next day, May 5th, 1860, we returned and located our claims. Many people were now in Bear Valley and log cabins were going up. A store with a liquor bar of the most infamous sort, had been started by one Sam Kelly while John M. Stewart had established a blacksmith shop. The place began to assume the appearance of a busy little village.
We moved into the new valley and camped on the main gulch between what is now called upper and lower Holcomb Valley. There were eight in our party and we met with good success from the start. We had not worked long before our gold dust began to be scattered about in different avenues of trade and excitement grew. People came in from every direction, some on horseback, some with pack animals and some with the outfits on their backs. Most of this immigration was made up of honest, industrious men who were anxious to make a few honest dollars. Every day strangers would call upon us and question us about the diggings. We made it a point to tell them truthfully that we were making five to ten dollars to the man. Before the end of July many buildings –some mere brush huts, some of a more substantial character –were going up. A number of new claims were paying well.
The water gave out at our first camp and we had to move to lower Holcomb Valley where we built a comfortable log cabin. We brought our pay dirt down with a horse and cart or in sacks on burros. Scarcity of water in the valley greatly hindered mining operations.
Some new developments of water and of mines were made in upper Holcomb, and a new town sprang up there in a very short time. It was here that we made our first Fourth of July Celebration. Mrs. Van Dusen, the blacksmith’s wife, furnished the flag for the occasion and we named the place, on that account, Belleville, after her little girl, Belle.
Lumber was scare and very high. Provisions must all be brought in by pack mules and were of course very dear. The necessity of a wagon road was so great that the miners subscribed $1500.00, and a road was constructed down the easterly slope of the mountains to connect with the old toll road through Cajon Pass. This road proved to be a great advantage to the valley and later another road was constructed from Holcomb to Bear Valley, thus giving that section an outlet. The roads were built entirely by settlers and were free to all. At the presidential election of that fall, Belleville, the new precinct, which had grown up in little more than six months, cast a vote of nearly 100, while the entire vote of the county was 820.