short drive north of Big Bear Lake is Holcomb Valley and what little
remains of the historic
town of Belleville. During the
1860s, Holcomb Valley was the richest gold mining area of southern
supporting some 10,000 residents. Belleville, the largest town
in Holcomb Valley almost overtook
San Bernardino as the county
Gold was first discovered here by William
F. Holcomb in 1860. After Holcomb filed five gold claims, word
spread fast and prospectors rushed to the area. Before long, a gold
camp sprang up east of where the gold was first discovered.
On a fourth of July
celebration, Mrs. Jed Van Dusen made a flag out of her petticoats. To honor her for her patriotism, the town was named after her daughter
Belle, the first child to be born in the camp.
1860 was also an election year, and the population of
Holcomb Valley was growing so fast that the voters soon outnumbered
the rest of the county. One of the matters that needed to be
decided was where the
San Bernardino county seat
would be located. The city of
San Bernardino barely won the
contest by only two votes.
In the beginning, the route to
Holcomb Valley was a difficult trek through the Santa Ana Canyon. In June, 1861, Jed Van Dusen, a blacksmith, built a wagon road down
the back side through Hesperia and the
Cajon Pass at a cost of
$1,500. Making it easier to access the camp, the settlement grew
quickly and soon supported a store, two butcher shops, two laundries,
a bakery, three carpenter shops, two blacksmiths, a stamp mill and a
sawmill. Of course, there were also the ever present
and a place called the Octagon House where "painted
ladies” danced and "entertained” men in small dimly lit cubicles.
Belleville brought travelers into
the camp by a regular stage, which took two days to reach from
San Bernardino. With the
influx of miners, also came the ever present violence of
mining camps. By 1962, there had been 50 murders in Holcomb Valley. Soon,
a large tree was designated as the hanging tree from which many a men
found their deaths at the end of a rope.