By Mark Gutglueck
David H. Wixom lived out a multitude of roles in the early years of San Bernardino, both before and after its incorporation as a municipality.
Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on February 7, 1848, Wixom was the son of Nathan and Betsy E. (Hadlock) Wixom, both of whom were natives of New York. Nathan Wixom, a farmer and trader in the East for many years, heard of the boom in California following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. He was not among the first wave of Forty-niners, but set out for the Golden State with his wife and family in 1851, reaching his destination in December of that year, after a typically perilous journey by means of an ox team.
David H. Wixom was one of a family of twelve children, the tenth in order of birth, the others being Reuben; Clarissa, eventually the wife of Charles Ferguson; Elizabeth, the future wife of Richard Matthews; Mary Ann, who became the wife of Lucian D. Crandall; Willard; Elmira; Jasper; Eliza, the eventual wife of a Mr. Muchman; Cynthia, who became the wife of Joseph Paine; Charles W.; and Chauncey.
The Wixoms located first in Monterey County, but shortly afterward came to San Bernardino and there, Nathan and Betsy established their home, engaging in farming and stock raising. Nathan Wixom set up a ranch on Lytle Creek, which was subsequently known as the Glenn Ranch, and he also ran a feed stable and he built property which he rented.
David Wixom was educated for a short time in Monterey County public schools and then in the public schools of San Bernardino, also attending a private school and a night school.
In 1866, Nathan Wixom died. That same year, the events which led to what was the defining event of his son David Wixom’s life took place.
Over the previous decade and a half, corresponding roughly to the time the Wixom family was in San Bernardino County, white men, ones from the United States who were even more aggressive than the Spanish settlers before them, inserted themselves into the hunting grounds of the Native American Indians living in the Mojave Desert. These white men had gone into the desert and the San Bernardino Mountains, fencing off grazing land, farms and ranches; digging mines; disturbing the soil; erecting sawmills and cutting down trees. Their way of life threatened or already ruined, the Indians set out to rid the area of the white man.
In late March 1866, J. W. Gillette, Ed Parrish, and Nephi Bemis, three cowboys working in the Mojave Desert north of Cajon Summit set out to round up some stray cattle at the Dunlap Ranch. Gillette’s mule fatigued and became obstinate, so he went back to get Pratt Whiteside, who was guarding that portion of the herd that had already been located, to take his place. Gillette stayed with the herd and Whiteside rode off on his horse to join Parrish and Bemis.
On March 25, Parrish and Bemis’s horse came back; the Parrish horse had blood on the saddle. Gillette went back to the Dunlap Ranch to inform the owner and enlist more men and arms. Around sundown, Bemis’s body was found. The party found indication he had been set upon and killed by a party of at least 30 and perhaps as many as 40 Chemehuevi Indians. The following morning, the searchers came upon Whiteside and Parrish, also dead and disrobed. Clutched in Parrish’s hand was a stone he had apparently been attempting to use as a weapon of defense. The Indians had claimed the clothing from all three cowboys, partially mutilated their corpses, took possession of Whiteside’s riding rig and pistol, and had eaten his horse.
The Chemehuevi raiding party then headed toward the Mojave River, burning some structures on the ranch, before reaching the Mojave Narrows near what is present day Victorville.
What is surmised to be the same raiding party of Chemehuevi, in the winter of 1866/67 went into the San Bernardino Mountains, looting some cabins in Little Bear Valley, before absconding with Bill Kane’s horses and George Lish and John Dewitt’s provisions and guns. The next morning, Frank Talmage, Jonathan Richardson, George Armstrong, and Bill Kane heavily armed themselves and set out after the Indians. Their initial pursuit proved fruitless and when they returned to Kane’s cabin they found it burned to the ground. Those of Kane’s possessions the Indians had not carted off were destroyed.
Having secured their families at the mill under the protection of the operators there, Talmage, Richardson, Armstrong and Kane redoubled their effort to track down the Indians through the recently fallen snow. They spotted eight Indians at Willow Canyon. On horseback, Talmage and Kane gave chase, with Richardson and Armstrong following behind, looking after their supplies being carried by a mule.
The Indians were lying in wait further ahead, hiding themselves behind trees and logs. When Kane advanced to where they were, his horse was shot out from underneath him. Kane lost his rifle, but he yet had his pistol. Kane, outnumbered and surrounded, faced certain death but was spared when Talmadge came onto the scene and shot one of the Indians dead. The Indians scattered and fled.
The four white men returned to the mill to get more supplies, horses, guns, ammunition and more men to assist them in the pursuit of the Indians. William Caley, A.J. Currey, “Noisy” Tom Enrufty, Henry Law, George Lish, Tom Welty, Frank Blair, and Joab Roar consented to join Talmage, Kane, Richardson and Armstrong in their pursuit. The next day, well stocked with supplies, the party departed. They did not get far, to a thickly wooded point along the top of the first ridge beyond the mill, when they came up against some five dozen Indians, armed with both guns and bows and arrows. A battle ensued. After several hundred shots were fired, one Indian was killed. The Indians, bearing their wounded, headed for the desert. The pursuit party, which had sustained casualties including Bill Kane being shot in the leg and Tom Welty in the shoulder, did not pursue the retreating Indians but themselves went back to the mill.
Shortly thereafter, men and supplies from San Bernardino arrived. The posse divided itself into two groups, with one taking a route following the Indians on their path of retreat through the mountains. The other group skirted around the south periphery of the mountains and then up the Cajon Pass. They converged at the Dunlap Ranch on the Mojave River. This posse at that point consisted of Bill Holcomb, 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 one other unidentified man. Three of those who had sustained injuries or had become ill headed back to San Bernardino, but were replaced the next day by ‘Noisy’ Tom Enrufty, Sam Button, a preacher named Stout, Stout’s son and son-in-law, and seventeen-year-old David Wixom. The posse located the Indians on a mountain northwest of Rabbit Springs.
The posse divided itself into two parties, with St. John leading a contingent who went north of the mountain and Stout taking a wagon route to the south. The next morning they converged on the Indians’ position. The Indians, from their vantage point could see Stout’s party but did not see St. John and his men approaching. Nor did Stout know the exact location of St. John. When Stout and his men headed back to their wagons, the Indians, who outnumbered them, sought to take the battle to the white men before they could get to their wagons. An exchange of gunfire and arrows ensued. Richardson was shot in the chest by an arrow. St. John’s men then arrived and entered the fray. The greater numbers of the Indians were matched by the superior firepower of the posse, resulting in a stand off, followed by the Indians making a full-scale retreat. Attempts to prevent the Indians’ escape was in the main unsuccessful, with the exception of the capture of two squaws, a fourteen year old boy, a ten year old girl, and a baby.
Richardson’s wounding necessitated that Holcomb, Button, Armstrong, and Blair take him to San Bernardino for medical attention. After sun-up the next day, a party that included Martin, Miller, Bill Bemis, and Ed Bemis went back to the battleground, and headed out the trail they surmised the Indians had used to escape.
By that point the Indians’ ranks had swelled to some 150 to 200, who had placed themselves in hiding at a spot further up the canyon. That portion of the posse went a limited distance into the mouth of the canyon, but stopped short of advancing far enough to fall into the trap being laid for them, having turned back because of a lack of provisions, water and the approaching evening. The following morning, when the party retraced their steps the more than six miles up the canyon they had gone the previous day and beyond, they discovered from the tracks left by the Indians just what they had been up against and how close to death they had come.
They followed the tracks somewhat further but set back toward their camp, being greeted on the way by Stout’s son who had with him two extra horses, water and some food. Against the counsel of St. John and Martin, the trio of Stout, his son and son-in-law pressed on in their effort to locate and confront the Indians. Indeed, the three found the Indians at some point further on, as the Chemehuevi had lain in wait amongst the rocks in the rugged terrain. Stout’s horse was shot out from under him. Stout and his son-in-law, who had a broken arm, made a desperate effort, through constant reloading and firing of their weapons, to hold back the horde of Indians they had run into. Stout’s son rode his horse in a mad dash back toward the camp over unforgivingly rough chaparral to reach the camp. St. John, Martin and the men in the camp, who included Wixom, with night approaching rushed back to the spot where Stout and his son-in-law were making their stand. Remarkably, both were yet alive. The posse was able to bring its superior firepower to bear, and the Indians, who had been on the brink of vanquishing Stout and his son-in-law, scattered. Stout and his wounded son-in-law were taken back to camp. Stout’s son in law was then transported back to San Bernardino for medical treatment he badly needed. At that point, the danger and futility of the depleted posse seeking to fight the Indians on their ancestral territory was obvious, and the 32-day campaign against the Indians, which had resulted in four Indians being killed and a handful of non-fatal casualties to the white men who participated, was brought to a close. The participants returned to their various homes in Little Bear Valley and San Bernardino. The Indians, too, seemed to draw a lesson from the episode, now known historically as the Battle of Chimney Rock, recognizing that the white men, with their superior fire power and determination, could not be attacked with impunity. The Indians ceased their raiding parties soon thereafter and this became the second to last major clash between white men and Indians in San Bernardino County.
Some two months later, in April 1867, a small company on the way to Borax Lake, encountered a rancheria of hostile Indians. At that spot, the last such mortal confrontation between the white man and Indians in California, all of the Indians were killed. Found among the Indians’ effects were the clothes and possessions of the white men – including Whitesdie, Parrish and Bemis – killed by the Indians the previous year.
This experience, shortly after his father’s death and as he was reaching manhood, undoubtedly cast something of a shadow over young Wixom.
Just prior to his February 1867 adventure, or misadventure, in the San Bernardino Mountains and Mojave Desert, Wixom, on December, 25, 1866, married Mary Ann Stuchberry, a native of Australia, the daughter of John and Emma (Cadd) Stuchberry. Mary Ann’s parents were natives of London, England. Mr. Stuchberry moved to Australia as a young man. In 1858, however, he left the land down under for good, crossing the ocean to America with his family in a sail boat that arrived at San Pedro in November of that year. Stuchberry brought his family to San Bernardino, where he settled. He and his wife remained there until their deaths.
After his father’s death, David Wixom became a farmer. At the age of eighteen, in addition to farming he went into teaming, that is, harnessing animals for transporting and plowing. He operated his farm just outside of San Bernardino, and engaged in teaming to Prescott, Arizona.
In 1882 he was elected city marshal in San Bernardino and served two terms. In 1885 his mother died and he took charge of her business, caring for the property she owned for four years.
Wixom was deputy assessor for four years, and was appointed chief of the fire department and filled that office for almost five years.
Wixom then decided to return to private life and bought a ranch at Highland, and became an apiarist with three hundred colonies of bees, and stayed there four years, He moved back into San Bernardino, where he was next elected a member of the city council and served two terms, being re-elected. He was also a trustee for Mt. Vernon School. In 1897 he went into the laundry business with Dr. Clarence Dickey, but sold out and retired.
He then took up a homestead in the San Bernardino Mountains, planting four hundred apple trees and building a fine house. One of its amenities was a large fish pond. Certainly while he was there his mind must have wondered to his experience in February, 1867.
He and his wife were the parents of Emma Louisa, the wife of W. B. Reeves, of San Bernardino. W.B. and Emma were the parents of Maud L; Blanche, married to William Amblen, of San Bernardino; Ellen, the wife of Dr. Clarence Dickey, Jr., of San Bernardino; Frank Wixom Reeves, who moved to Texas; and Elizabeth. David Wixom and Mary Ann Wixom also had a son, David William, of San Bernardino, who married Elizabeth Smith. They had three children: Mabel, married to Carl Barco of Colton; Ennis, married to Olive Switzer, and Percy. Another of David Wixom and Mary Ann Wixom’s children was Laura E., who married Frank M. Meisner of San Bernardino. She had one child by a former marriage. Another of Wixom’s sons, Arthur H., married Norah May Harmon, and they had three children: Clifford, Frances and David. David and Mary Ann also had a son, Nathan Chauncey, who died in 1875, at the age of two.
Mr. Wixom was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, of Woodmen of World and of the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers. Mrs. Wixom was also a member of the Pythian Sisters, Women of Woodcraft and the Maccabees.
Death found David Wixom on January 4, 1923 in San Bernardino.
By Mark Gutglueck