Mountain History

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A Short History of the San Jacinto Mountains (continued)


Adventurer, miner, and rancher Charles Thomas, seeking a place to graze cattle when the valleys below dried up, came upon what is now known as Garner Valley in 1861. He bartered with the Cahuilla for an informal right to graze cattle from his Temecula ranch. During the great California drought of the early 1860s, Thomas and other valley ranchers began to drive sheep and cattle into the mountains for summer grazing. Their destinations included Strawberry Valley, the site of today’s Idyllwild, and Tahquitz Valley, which lies high beyond the ridge that overshadows Idyllwild to the east. This practice died out in the 20th century with the settlement of Strawberry Valley and gradual enforcement of public-lands grazing regulations by the federal government. By then, a number of ranches in addition to Thomas’s vast holding were well established in the foothill valleys, and a few remain active today.


The presence of timber resources in the San Jacintos was widely known by 1872, but it took construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s Sunset Route through San Gorgonio Pass to draw the first logging crews into the forest in 1875. This enterprise at the site of today’s Lake Fulmor removed lumber for ties and locomotive fuel, but quickly folded as railroad construction moved


aCattle ranching in Garner Valley.

eastward. Despite the hazards of bringing lumber down precipitous mountainsides, by 1878 several commercial loggers moved into both the nearby Fuller Mill Creek basin and Strawberry Valley, launching an industry that would spread as far south as the fringes of Garner Valley.

Although scattered operations continued into the 1920s, logging was ultimately doomed by federal creation of the San Jacinto Forest Reserve in 1897. Since 2001, there has been a modest resurgence of activity in and around mountain communities. This was triggered by federal support for forest thinning and salvage logging, to reduce the intensity of wildfires that might feed on a forest grown excessively dense, many of its trees killed by bark beetles.