Camp Cajon historian Mark Landis

Mark Landis, historian for Camp Cajon, explaining the narrowness of Crowder Canyon to engaged audience, during a meeting for the Highland Area Historical Society.

Mark Landis, Gary Smith and the many individuals involved with Camp Cajon affectionately call the Cajon Pass the Gateway to Southern California.

Landis and Smith, along with John Lenau of the Wrightwood Historical Society and Museum, have worked countless hours researching the history of Camp Cajon and the highways and byways that lead to the historic area.

In conjunction with learning about Camp Cajon, the three historians had to research the roads through the Cajon Pass, and why Camp Cajon became the Gateway to the South that it was.

Landis spoke of John Brown, an entrepreneur who secured a franchise to construct the first wagon road in the Cajon Pass, in 1861.

“By the summer [of] 1862, he and a group of men hacked out a very rough wagon road through the Cajon Pass,” said Landis.

The crude facsimile of a road was passable by wagons and animals, according to Landis.

“Brown’s road was, really, the first reasonably passable road, through the Cajon Pass,” said Landis.

The area that Brown chose to make his road was through an area called Crowder Canyon. The canyon was extremely treacherous terrain and prone to flooding and rockslides.

When Brown received his franchise to build the road, he had to procure funding to pay for the endeavor himself.

In return, he was granted permission to charge a fee for travelers to use his road. This way, he was able to recuperate his investment and hopefully receive a return on his investment.

The fee for a man and horse to pass was 25 cents.

The fee for a wagon and a one-span of horses was a dollar.

Landis commented that the public was outraged that a man and a horse had to pay 25 cents to travel the “lousy rugged toll road”.

Landis believes that the cost, which was the equivalent of a bottle of whiskey, had something to do with the public’s dissatisfaction.

“Brown really spent a lot of time and money just maintaining the road, constructing the road, in the first place, and then maintaining it,” said Landis.

Landis then described the areas that surrounded the two toll houses that were at each end of Brown’s toll road.

“The lower toll house was built around 1864,” said Landis.

Landis explained that Brown built this lower toll house to exact a fee from travelers on the toll road that were circumventing the upper toll house. They were not paying the fee.

The lower toll house was in a narrower part of the canyon, which forced riders and wagons toward it.

In the end, Brown sold the rights to his toll road in 1878.

It was never a profitable venture for Brown, according to Landis.

Brown had to contend with flooding, the maintenance of the road and attacks by Native Americans, said Landis.

“Mr. Smith, the founder of Arrowhead Springs Hotel, was working for Brown,” said Landis. “He was actually shot and had an arrow wound from an [Native American] attack when working at one of Brown’s toll houses.

“It was a dangerous place to work. It was isolated, not close to any towns or anything.”

Landis explained that the location of the lower toll was moved onto the property of the new owners of the toll road.

The original Crowder Canyon road built by Brown is now part of the Pacific Crest Trail, said Landis.

“This area is just full of hikers,” said Landis. “They’re just traveling down this trail, like crazy.”

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