Have you ever traveled along Interstate 15, north and exited on Highway 138 to rest and purchase food at the McDonald’s?
If you drive until the road ends, you will see white concrete obelisk with a golden sphere affixed at its peak. This 12-foot object is the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument, according to Mark Landis, an author and local history enthusiast.
Landis, who recently painted the monument, said it was built in 1917.
“This monument was built to honor the original pioneers and settlers that came through this area (Cajon Pass) and the blazed the trails to Southern California.”
Over the decades, the monument has been relocated at least three times. There is a stone plaque with the names of the original men that were the true trailblazers of San Bernardino and Southern California.
They were, in the order listed, Sheldon Stoddard, Sydney P. Waite, John Brown Jr., George Miller, George M. Cooley, Silas C. Cox, Richard Weip and Jasper N Corbett.
The white obelisk is starkly contrasted with the earthen tones and panoramic views of the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains and the foothills of San Bernardino. Landis believes that all eight of those inscribed were present at the monument’s commemoration in December 1917.
“They would tell their stories about coming through the pass and how rugged it was at the time and how difficult it was to get through the area,” said Landis.
John Brown Jr. is commemorated on the plaque. He was a prominent resident and an attorney in San Bernardino.
“His father was John Brown Sr.” said Landis. “He was responsible for civil projects, like the construction of roads.
“John Brown Sr. was a rugged mountain man. He was one of the original, real live, mountain men that migrated to Southern California in the San Bernardino Valley in the early 1850s. He put his roots down there.
“He was one of the original pioneers who came through and built the very first wagon road through the Cajon Pass.”
In 1851, the original road was rugged for the Mormon settlement wagon train that started the city of San Bernardino. The wagon road did not function as a true road.
Around the bend from the monument is a place called Crowder Canyon.
Landis said Crowder Canyon was more of a passageway and that it was an extremely difficult gorge to navigate.
Travel through the pass was difficult. The early settlers had to disassemble their wagons and reassemble them to make it through the uneven and rocky artery that connected travelers to the west.
As time went on, there were different trails and routes for pioneers to find their way through the pass.
“The road was so dilapidated that Brown Sr. decided to construct a toll road through the Cajon Pass,” said Landis.
In 1861, John Brown Sr. got a franchise to build the John Brown Toll Road. He and a group of approximately 30 to 40 men dynamited and forged a long thoroughfare that was barely able to accommodate a wagon, Landis said.
The toll road had a lower tollgate and an upper tollgate.
The lower tollhouse started in an area known today as Blue Cut.
The upper tollhouse was in the upper section of the Cajon Pass toward the summit toward Victorville. It is on the right-hand side.
“From Highway 138, it is possible to see where the original tollhouse was,” said Landis.
“The residents and businesses in the area were unhappy that there was a toll that was to be paid to travel through Cajon Pass. They felt that they should travel on it free of charge.”
Brown arguably felt that a toll was appropriate since he was the one who built the road, ran it and maintained it.
Brown eventually sold the road to a pair of investors by the name of Lawrence and Tay.
The franchise eventually expired, and the toll road became a county road, circa 1870.
John Brown Sr. lived in Yucaipa and eventually settled in San Bernardino.
The monument sits on a piece of road that used to be a section of the famous Route 66.
Stay tuned next week to learn more about the traiblazers of Southern California and Mark Landis.
The Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument is at 3396, 2800 Wagon Train Road, Phelan.
There is no cost.
Do you know anything interesting about history of the Inland Empire or Highland? I would like to hear from you. You can contact me at (909) 816-0318