Friday, December 16, 2011

Bear Valley

Mariposa County – August 25, 2009 

From landmark #518 we mosey 16 miles on Highway 49 to the community of Bear Valley, population 125. In its early days the town had the habit of naming itself after the most important guy of the day and was called  Haydenville, Biddle's Camp, Biddleville, Simpsonville, and Johnsonville before settling on Bear Valley, which is tied to John C. Fremont’s part in the Bear Flag Revolt and not so much bears in the valley.

Fremont got the 44,387 acre parcel in what is now Mariposa County by accident in 1847. Having settled in the San Francisco Bay area, he wanted a ranch in San Jose and gave $3000 to the American consul, Thomas Larkin who came back with a ‘floating grant’ for Rancho Las Mariposas in the Sierra foothills. ‘Floating’ meant the boundaries were not firm so when gold rush began in 1848, Fremont floated his boundaries into the hills where gold was likely, and proving to be very lucrative.   

Oso House - 1860 Bear Valley, Ca
Carleton E. Watkins photo
Salt print

From The Getty: “This image reveals Carleton Watkins's skill for choosing the right spot to place his camera.Taking the picture on a winter day with the bright sun low in the sky allowed him to expose the image in a short time--possibly a twenty-fifth of a second. The speed captured only one individual moving his head and leg, on the far left; the five men on and inside the stagecoach and all but one of the twelve men standing nearby remained perfectly still for the brief period of the exposure. Watkins made the photograph to document John C. Frémont's departure from Bear Valley for Europe. Frémont is the second man from the right, on top of the stagecoach.”

To this observer the stage appears to be a very high end ‘coach and four’ (as they’d describe it then), with the short wheelbase and thick wheels indicating it was what they called a ‘mud wagon’, lighter and more agile than a Concord Coach. In other words, this shot of Fremont and friends is like George Clooney posing with buddies and his Ferrari.

Oso House was the centerpiece of this boomtown of 3000 promoted by Fremont and it’s unfortunate that it no longer stands, for it would have made a fine stopover point for tourists making the trek on Highway 49. By 1935 only one man was staying at the hotel, stating that he’d moved from Chicago to escape the noise. Fire destroyed the hotel in 1937.

Plaque inscription: NO. 331 BEAR VALLEY (L) - First called Johnsonville, Bear Valley had a population of 3,000, including Chinese, Cornish, and Mexicans. During 1850-60 when Col. John C. Frémont's Ride Tree and Josephine Mines were producing, Frémont's elegant hotel, Oso House, was built with lumber brought around the Horn. It no longer stands. After a fire in 1888, structures were rebuilt. Some still standing are Bon Ton Saloon, Trabucco Store, Odd Fellows Hall, school house and remains of jail.
Location: On State Hwy 49 (P.M. 29.2), Bear Valley 37° 34.123′ N, 120° 7.132′ W. Marker is in Bear Valley, California, in Mariposa County. Marker is on State Highway 49 south of Bear Valley Road, on the left when traveling south. About 7802 CA- 49, Mariposa CA 95338
GPS: 37.568477,-120.118783

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