Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fort Tejon

Kern County August 16, 1993. The ’51 Cadillac Series 62 sedan purrs its way north through the grapevine and back on track for this column’s chronological timeline. With the old edition the state’s California Landmarks book and a pile of AAA maps and highlight markers it’s off to a gig in Roseberg, Oregon up Interstate 5 with a nose renewed for landmark finding. Though there were two other state landmarks nearby, this contributor remained a novice at finding them and time would pass before they were found in those pre GPS days. This state historic park is a great place to take a break and get off the hamster wheel that interstate 5. 

With a garrison of 250, Fort Tejon wasn’t a large fort by US standards yet 15 of its officers went on to being generals in the Civil War; eight for the union, and seven for the confederacy.

OAC photo

Plaque inscription: No. 129 Fort Tejon This military post was established by the United States Army on June 24, 1854 to suppress stock rustling and for the protection of Indians in the San Joaquin Valley. As regimental headquarters of the First Dragoons, Fort Tejon was an important military, social, and political center. Camels for transportation were introduced here in 1858. The fort was abandoned September 11, 1864.

OAC photo

There is another landmark and plaque at this site but it sits here without state or county recognition. Before being the president of the confederacy, Jefferson Davis was a congressman, senator, secretary of war and presidential advisor…and the vision of an improved road transcending the US and up the west coast. This was really more of concept than anything else but naming highways rather than numbering in the early 20th century was common practice and as the
Lincoln Highway
took shape the Daughters of the Confederacy and other groups wanted a Jefferson Davis highway for his route of interest. There are several landmarks along their route, which was to follow US 99 “from San Diego to San Francisco”. That’s interesting because 99 went to neither city. None the less, there’s one on the Arizona border, one in Horton Plaza in San Diego, one in Bakersfield, and one here at Fort Tejon   

OAC photo

Plaque inscription:
Camel Trail Terminus
Jefferson Davis, father of national highways, as Secretary of War 1853-57 sponsored the importation of 77 camels for transporting military supplies to the west coast. The camel trail survey ran from San Antonio, Texas, to Fort Tejon which marks the western terminus, part of the
Jefferson Davis Highway
The Army Camel Corps arrived at this fort in November, 1857, with Lt. Edward F. Beale in command.

Edward Beale’s name pops up in 19th century California history more than Mel Blanc’s voice in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Speaking of film, Hollywood made a movie back in 1954 with Rod Cameron as Beale about the Camel Corps called ‘Southwest Passage’. From Internet Movie Database:
‘Edward Beale is in charge of finding a shorter trail across the American desert and to also test the practicality of using camels in the west in this 3-D western. (An actual test once conducted in the Big Bend area of Texas.) Clint MacDoanld, a bank robber one jump ahead of a posse, joins the caravan by posing as a doctor. His sweetheart, Lilly, also comes along and signs on. There is a whole lot of footage of the grueling trek across the desert, but it begins to move when mule-skinner Matt Carroll becomes aware of MacDonald's true profession and he wants the gold from the bank robbery. The Apaches have shied away from attacking the train, because of their fear of the camels, but a camel dies and the jig is up as they lose their fear and here they come.’
- Bugs, in ‘Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk’ was perhaps a more historically accurate venture.

Location: Fort Tejon State Historic Park, on Lebec Rd, 2.8 mi N of Lebec.
Google maps: 34.874846,-118.893254


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