Johnson Valley History

Indians arrived in Johnson Valley by the end of the ice age about 11,000 years ago. They may have passed through earlier, but the evidence for an earlier passage, even to the American continents is not clear. The archeological items found in Johnson Valley include metates and manos (grinding stones), atlatl points, arrow heads which some people today use in scrapers, knives, shell jewelry, pottery and pot shards from broken pots, pestles and mortars, bighorn sheep horns and petroglyphs (pictures etched in the stone) and pictographs (pictures painted on the stone). These items are generally similar to those found throughout the Mohave Desert, indicating that the Indian cultures in Johnson Valley were not unusual, but fit into cultural patterns common throughout the desert. The most recent Indian Arrivals were the Serranos, found here and across the San Bernardino Mountains. Serranos is Spanish for "mountaineers". The Serranos occupied Johnson Valley only intermittently, for the desert even then would not support many visitors. Old Woman Springs located on the western edge of the valley was more frequently occupied and early pioneers reported many archeological items being found there when the ranch was developed. Some items were trade items from Arizona or from the jasper deposits found further north, indicating that Johnson Valley was a stopover point on a trade route.

When the Indians wandered into the Johnson Valley 11,000 years ago, they would have passed some young creosote bushes that spread in from the Mohave as the climate became hotter and drier following the ice age. These 11,000 year old creosote bushes can still be found today. They are some of the oldest living things on Earth. As the plants grew outward the inner portions died off leaving large ring shaped bushes. Some are 20 or more feet across!

The Spanish began to settle California in the 1700's, but neither they nor their Mexican ancestors seem to have passed through Johnson Valley. Even after California became part of the United States, the valley remained isolated and unoccupied, except by the Indians. Finally in the early 1850's, Colonel Henry Washington (a distant relative to George Washington) arrived at Old Woman Springs. He was a surveyor and was hired to survey the desert area by the county government. He found an old Indian woman at the springs and named them accordingly.

In the 1860's, gold was discovered in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear. Prospectors poured into the Mohave Desert looking for gold. Occasionally they scrawled initials and dates on desert boulders which are still to be seen. The Indians left the desert by the 1870's when epidemics ravaged the tribes. In the 1880's, some cattle grazing may have begun. The Rock Corral is believed to have been built by two brothers named Swett about that time. In 1909, Old Woman Springs Ranch was established by Albert Swarthout. Wells were dug throughout the valley. Cattle grazed on the desert in the winter and were then driven through Rattlesnake Canyon into the cooler mountains for the summer. The first farms were established about this time. They were generally unsuccessful. One of these farmers was named Johnson, giving the valley it's name.

Over the years, settlers occasionally tried again but generally moved on when the effort proved too hard. In the 1940's and 50's, more farms were established, and some of these remain active in the valley's center. In the 1950's, a uranium mining craze struck the nation, and prospectors again returned and dug test holes that can still be seen in the hills about Johnson Valley. The Pomona Mining Company established a quartz mine on the slopes southeast of the valley during that period. This pure white quartz was used for gardens and rooftops.

The 1950's brought the five acre homesteaders to the southeastern portion of the valley. These hardy homesteaders surveyed their land and built their little cabins by the hundreds in Johnson Valley. Some cabins became the bases for larger homes and some of these people settled here. It was these hardy settlers that established the Grandview Improvement association in the 1960's. That association was renamed the Johnson Valley Improvement Association a few years later, and continues the pioneering community spirit of the earlier homesteaders. The Johnson Valley Community continues to grow slowly, but retains the same beauty and clear blue skies seen by those who first came here.