Chimney Rock in Lucerne Valley was the site of the last Indian fight in Southern California. There were many events that lead up to the historic fight.
Indians had used the mountain areas of San Bernardino for many years to supply food for their families. When the white man began cutting down trees and building their sawmills the Indians felt their hunting grounds were being ruined. This began a campaign to rid the area of the white man.
In 1863 the Indians killed a Spanish man named Polito at the mouth of the Little Sand Canyon. As they made their escape, the Indians stole a mule from Sam Pine and ate it. A short time after this, the Indians shot a horse and mule belonging to W. F. Holcolm and Pete Smith. About the same time this was occurring, some Indians shot and wounded Dr. Smith in Cajon Pass. Bill Holcolm formed a posse and followed the Indians, but he had to give up the chase for lack of provisions.
Meanwhile, in Cajon Pass, S. P. Waite killed an Indian when he shot at an object a blue jay was darting after. He did not realize until the next morning that the object was an Indian.
In 1866, J.W. Gillette, Ed Parrish and Nephi Bemis started out to round up some stray cattle at the Dunlap Ranch. Gillette's mule was worn out, so he was sent back to get Pratt Whiteside to take his place. Gillette then stayed with the herd that Whiteside had been guarding. A short while later, the horses of Parrish and Bemis came back without any riders. The Parrish horse had blood on the saddle. Gillette went back to the ranch house to inform a sick Mr. Dunlap of the discovery and to gather more men and weapons.
The body of Nephi Bemis was found about sundown. The searchers determined from the evidence that about 30 or 40 Chemehuevi Indians had killed him. The bodies of Pratt Whiteside and Ed Parrish were found the next morning. Parrish still had a stone in his hand that he had been using to defend himself against the attack. The Indians had removed all the clothing from the three bodies along with Whiteside's riding rig and pistol. The Indians ate Whiteside's horse then returned to the desert the same evening.
The following winter in 1867, the Indians returned to the mountains and looted some homes in Little Bear Valley. The Indians went to the home of Bill Kane and they stole horses, supplies and guns from George Lish and John Dewitt. The next morning, Frank Talmage, Jonathan Richardson, George Armstrong and Bill Kane decided to go after the Indians. The men had returned to Kane's house and found it burned to the ground. Every item that the Indians could not carry had been destroyed.
The families of the men were sent to the mill for protection. Help from San Bernardino was on the way, so the men decided to track the Indians through the new fallen snow. At Willow Canyon they spotted eight Indians. Talmage and Kane chased after them on horseback while Richardson and Armstrong followed on foot with the pack animal.
The Indians hid behind a log. Kane was on top of them, but he didn't realize it. The Indians shot Kane's horse and it threw him. Kane lost his gun, but he still had his pistol. The Indians were trying to kill Kane as he hid behind a tree. Talmage arrived in time to save Kane from the Indians. Talmage killed one Indian and the others scattered. The men returned to the mill to gather more ammunition and more men to fight the Indians.
The next day, Talmage, William Caley, A.J. Currey, “Noisy” Tom Enfufty, Henry Law, George Lish, Tom Welty, Frank Blair and Jacob Roar joined Kane, Richardson and Armstrong. The posse now contained twelve men. The posse met up with about sixty Indians in some thick timber on the top of the first ridge past the mill. The Indians opened fire on the men with guns, bows and arrows. After several hundred shots were fired, the Indians took their wounded and headed for the desert. The posse let them go and returned to the mill with their wounded men. Tom Welty was shot in the shoulder and Bill Kane was shot in the leg. The posse had killed one Indian.
Men and supplies arrived from San Bernardino. The new posse split up with some men going through the mountains while others went through Cajon Pass. The posse reunited at the Dunlap Ranch on the Mojave River. W.F. Holcolm, Jack Martin, John St. John, Samuel Bemis, Edwin Bemis, Bill Bemis, Harrison Bemis, Bart Smithson, John McGarr, Johnathan Richardson, Frank Blair, George Armstrong, George Birdwell, Joseph Mecham, Jack Ayres, George Miller, and another unnamed man were the seventeen men who started out as the final posse.
The posse located the Indians on a rocky mountain in the desert Northwest of Rabbit Springs. About three or four of the men became sick and went home. David Wixom, “Noisy” Tom Enrufty, Sam Button, a preacher named Stout, Stout's son and son-in-law, Griffith, joined the men and completed the final posse.
That night, the men divided themselves into two parties. St. John was the leader of the party that headed North and Stout was the leader of the party that took the wagon road to the South. At daylight, the Southern party was in place, but the Northern party arrived late. The Southern party saw no Indians and fired some shots to let the Northern party know where they were. The men then turned to start back down to their wagons.
The noise of the gunfire woke the Indians who only saw the Southern party. The Indians began to try to cut the men off from their wagons. The Northern party began to climb the rocks and were unseen by the Indians until the posse was upon them. The arrows and bullets began to fly. Richardson was struck in the breast by an arrow. He fell into the arms of George Miller. Miller tried to remove the arrow but the tip would not come out. Miller went to get help. Miller met St. John who told him to guard an opening in a pile of rocks because the Indians were escaping through it. Miller tried to stop the Indians while St. John went to get other men.
The Indians yelled like coyotes during the battle. All of the Indians escaped except two women, a fourteen year old boy, a ten year old girl and a baby. The Indians had been surprised by the attack and when they thought they were trapped, they scattered. The posse took the prisoners and Richardson back to the wagons. Holcolm, Button, Armstrong, and Blair took Richardson to San Bernardino for medical attention.
The next day, Martin, Miller, Bill Bemis and Ed Bemis went back to the battle scene to pick up the Indian's trail. They tracked the Indians and discovered that they had come back together. From examining the tracks, they determined that there were about 150 to 200 Indians. The men heard a shot, but decide to turn back. It was almost sundown, they had run out of water, and they had a six mile walk to camp.
The next morning, three men stayed in camp while the others returned to the trail to track the Indians. The men arrived at the place where the others had turned back the night before and discovered that the Indians had been waiting on both sides of the canyon. If the men had gone any further the evening before, they would have been ambushed and killed by the Indians.
The posse followed the Indian's tracks. They traveled in a half-circle until 3:00 P.M. They decide to return to camp, which was closer to them now than when they had left that morning. Stout's son met the posse. He had two extra horses, a canteen of water and lunch for his father and brother-in-law. The three men decided to continue to look for the Indians against the advice of St. John and Martin.
The posse was eating their dinner at camp when they heard gunshots. Miller looked through a field glass and saw Stout's son running across the dry lake on a bald-faced horse. The Indians had laid in wait on the rocks and opened fire on the three men as they came through a small pass. The men from the camp hurried to help, and arrived just in time to save the two men from the Indians who were closing in on them. Stout's horse had been shot and Griffith, Stout's son-in-law, had a broken arm. The posse exchanged fire with the Indians and they scattered again.
The posse took Griffith back to camp. They determined that after they sent men to take Griffith to San Bernardino for medical treatment, they would not have enough men left to fight the Indians. The posse disbanded and went home. This ended the thirty-two day campaign against the Indians and stopped the Indians from raiding the mountain areas.
Writer's notes: The Chimney Rock site is a registered California Historical Landmark (# 737). Although the marker indicates that the site was the last Indian battle in California, historical records show that the last battle in California was during the Modoc War on April 11, 1873. Chimney Rock was most likely the last Indian battle in Southern California.
Here is a photo of Chimney Rock from a distance:
Here are two photos we took there recently. The first showing Chimney Rock near the top and the other looking out of the sniper's nest on the NW side of the rock formation. The dry lake mentioned in the article is visible in the image.