The legal post office name of which is Halleck, is forty-five miles northwest of
San Bernardino on the California Southern Railway. The town contains a post office with
two daily mails, telegraph, telephone, express office, and several stores. The water is
pure and good and in plentiful supply. The mining operations at Oro Grande are probably
second in importance only to Colton.
The character of the ore brought to light here seems to justify the eagerness with
which capitalists, speculators, and miners are pouring in from all directions. There are
extensive lime and marble quarries in the vicinity, but the all-absorbing interest at
present is the recent rich strikes in gold and silver. In the surrounding country are many
stock ranches, producing the finest meat that reaches the city market.
Thus ran one of the advertisements in a local newspaper during the year 1890. This was
an apt description of the growing of the newly-founded town of Oro Grande in the vast
regions of the Mojave Desert of Southern California.
Oro Grande is located in San Bernardino County with 20,160 sq. miles, which is
America's largest county, located in the historical crossroads of a great State. The
county was created in 1853 and incorporated in 1854. The present courthouse is located on
the site of the original Mormon stockade in the city of San Bernardino Recreational
facilities in the county include swimming, boating, snow and water skiing, ice skating,
fishing and hunting in the valleys, mountains, and desert.
Oro Grande lies in the Victor Valley which lies immediately north of the Sierra Madre
Range and the San Bernardino Mountains. With an area of 2400 sq. miles the Valley consists
of gentle slopes and mesas at an elevation of from 3,500 to 4,000 feet merging into a wide
valley about 2,700 feet above sea level. It is about 50 miles from east to west and 40
miles from north to south. Extensions or sections of Victor Valley include Adelanto, Apple
Valley, El Mirage, Helendale, Hesperia, Los Flores, Lucerne Valley, Oro Grande, Phelan,
Victorville and Wrightwood.
Passing through Oro Grande and into the Victor Valley the historical Mojave Trail, the
Santa Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Spanish Trail converged to lead to Cajon Pass,
the only gateway through the San Bernardino Mountains negotiable by wagon trains. Along
this trail traveled Indians, Spanish Padres, trappers, explorers, and scouts who lead
wagon trains through, as well as members of military scout detachments protecting the
travelers from marauders. Indians from the interior land, Father Hermenegildo Garces,
Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson all trod the famous trails Through here passed a large caravan
of Mormons on their way from Salt Lake City to settle and build the city of San
One of the greatest assets of this area is the Mojave River. Having its source in the
streams and creeks below Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory, the Mojave is fed from the
timbered watersheds of the San Bernardino Mountains. While many sections of it run
underground, reliable sources and records show that at the Victorville narrows and for a
distance ending directly north of Oro Grande it has never run dry.
White men first traversed the Oro Grande area as early as 1776, Francisco Hermenegildo
Garces, coming from Mexico via the Colorado River and Needles, followed the course of the
Mojave River through Oro Grande, then over the mountains to San Bernardino. This was the
beginning of the Spanish Trail. In 1826, Jedediah Smith camped on the Mojave River in the
vicinity of Oro Grande. Thus, the first party came through on what was later to be known
as the Mormon Trail. Other parties of Mormons came through the deserts following the
Mormon Trail through Oro Grande. The second group, led by Jedediah Smith, headed directly
south from the Mojave narrows at Oro Grande and blazed the Cajon Pass gateway to San
After Jedediah Smith came visitors of a less desirable nature - marauding Ute Indian
bands headed by the war chief Walkara, who turned the Cajon gateway into the
"Horsethief Trail", and left that name on two of the presently existing canyons.
White men called him Walker, but he preferred the title of "Hawk of the
Mountains". Walkara was an expert with the gun and pistol, and was a master horseman.
He and his band of well-armed and well- mounted Utes, Piutes, and Snakes, extorted tribute
from the caravans that passed along the Spanish Trail through Oro Grande. These bands of
raiders also supplied Navajos and Mexicans with Indian slaves (women and children) in
exchange for horses. Walkara's greatest and most vicious horse-stealing raid took place
early in 1840. working with two shrewd mountain men, Pegleg Smith and Jim Beckwourths
their bands struck in different places from San Luis Obispo to the Santa Ana River. It is
said that "at least five thousand horses were sent thundering through Cajon Pass, of
which less than two thousand were recovered by the aroused and fighting CALIFORNIOS...the
running battle that followed was vicious and merciless and many of the pursuing
CALIFORNIOS were trapped at a Mojave water hole, and fought their way through Oro Grande
and into the vicinity of Daggett. Many of the men who survived the attack lost even the
horses they were riding and returned to their ranchos on foot".
The enormous cloud of dust raised by the running horses during this raid hung over the
Los Angeles and San Bernardino area for many weeks. Raids continued on the San Bernardino
Valley with monotonous regularity, with the raiders traveling over the Mormon Trail,
usually during the full of the moon. In 1846, California became a part of the United
States, and a major army unit garrisoned at Cajon Pass effectively halted the horse
thieves for the first time.
By the spring of 1849 the rush to the gold fields of California was on. There were many
routes to California from the east. The direct, northern routes were good only during the
spring, summer, and early fall. Wagon parties chose the longer, southern routes which are
open all the year. Wagon trains chose the Old Spanish Trail and crossed the Mojave Desert
on their way to the gold fields, after suffering great hardships. Other, great caravans of
gold-seekers migrated to the West following the Mormon Trail through Oro Grande and over
the Cajon Pass.
To protect travelers and immigrants from Indian attacks, the United States Government
established Fort Mojave on the Colorado River in 1859, and Camp Cady, midway on the
desert, in the spring of 1860. This military protection and the availability of supplies
brought the first homesteaders, followed by stock and agricultural development in Victor
In 1852, an ex-army Captain, J.H. Lane built a store and station on the trail through
Oro Grande. This was located at the lower narrows of the Mojave River near Oro Grande.
Another trading post was established ten miles downstream these two posts were the only
settled places until the Verde Ranch was established in Victorville in 1867. Mines were
established east of Victorville and Oro Grande, where Meeker and Johnson erected the first
mill on the river. The Oro Grande gold mill refined the first gold and silver ore from the
Calico discovery of the 1880's. Later, this mill was moved to the Calico area.
The history of Oro Grande may actually be said to begin with the founding of this
trading post, established to deal with the Indians and Mormon travelers on their way to
the settlements beyond Cajon Pass. During the period of gold discoveries, the first mine
was given the name of Oro Grande Mine, which means "Big Gold". The first houses
were built and a post office established. In the year 1885, the first railroad came
through Cajon Pass from San Bernardino; it was the Southern California Railway, a
subsidiary of Santa Fe. The name of the town was changed to Halleck by the Post Office
Department for a brief period of time, but later the name was changed again to Oro Grande.
The need for transportation brought a weekly stage through to Panamint, the route
following the Mojave River through Oro Grande. Butterfield stage coaches blazed a brief
historical path through the southwest during the period from 1858 to 1861. Stage coaches
made stops in Oro Grande, the location still in existence, though replaced by a more
modern structure built during the early part of the 20th century. The site is now occupied
by the Langley & Seals General Store.
The coming of the railroad changed the complexion of the desert. Trading posts and
mining towns expanded; more people arrived; new towns blossomed along the railroad line.
Huge deposits of silica and lime were discovered, and non-metallic mining came into being.
In 1907, an English concern headed by a Mrs. Potts started a cement plant near the
railroad line in Oro Grande. Previous to that time there had been a few crude hand built
kilns called Pot Kilns. With cottonwood from the riverbanks as fuel, the operators
manufactured a crude lime used in mixing the mortar.
The present cement industry in Oro Grande has its origins in these early beginnings. In
1909, Oro Grande was still a famous mining town. The mills began to produce Bear Brand
cement at the newly- established Golden State Cement Plant. The Plant was financed by
British capital furnished by Mrs. Potts, who was an aunt of Mrs. Dorothy Volk (whose
husband is the Judge of Victor Judicial District Court). It is said that Mrs. Potts, who
was a fine business woman, promoted the money for Golden State Cement Plant by showing
rich gold ore from the Carbonate Aline. She told those English investors that by quarrying
the limestone for the cement plant, rich deposits of gold ore would be uncovered, thus -
in effect - furnishing a double return on their investment; gold and cement! Thus, the
plant was built with British pounds sterling.
Closed down immediately following the "great depression" of the '30's, the
plant started as a war effort in 1942 as a "baling wire operation" under the
organizational name of Riverside Cement Company. Looking into the "crystal
ball", a decision was made in 1947 to modernize and enlarge the plant. Based on
anticipated growth of cities and industries in Southern California, the plant was enlarged
and completely rebuilt. After 1953-1954, a complete modern steam-generating plant was
installed which now furnishes all of the power needed for the production and maintenance
needs of the plant and "town site". It is stated that a total of 50 million
dollars was invested in this new industry. According to Mr. John Sauer, Plant
Superintendent, the plant is able to produce 24 million sacks of cement annually, and is
"among the twelve largest cement plants in the United States and Canada", with a
total of approximately 300 plants operating in the United States and Canada. A newly-built
central office-lab center is the nerve center of this industrial plant in which 350 people
produce 6.5 million barrels of cement annually. This laboratory controls the chemical and
physical properties through continuous samplings of raw materials. These samplings are
sped to the laboratory; an electronic digital computer controls the blends and composition
of the multi-layered, bedded storage piles of raw materials.
All quarrying operations for limestone are carried on at three mines located here.
Limestone is quarried at the Shay-Klondike Quarry, and Sparkuhle Quarry. Clay is brought
in from Corona, iron ore and gypsum are purchased from various sources. Reserves of
limestone are available to meet the demands for the next 50 years.
Primary crushing operations involve crushing 1500 tons of rock per hour, up to a
maximum diameter of five feet. The entire crushing system, primary and secondary is
controlled by one operator, using elaborate control panels and closed circuit television.
SCHOOL SYSTEM The school system of Oro Grande can be traced back to 1883, at which time
the first school building was erected on the Atwood Homestead, the present site of the
Osborne Tank and Supply Co. This one-teacher school, with an enrollment of seven pupils,
was replaced in 1890 by a newer structure.
One of the few remaining landmarks remaining in the Mojave River Valley from the days
when mining was the principal occupation is the second school building which was built in
1890 to replace the original building. Mr. Newton Morrow father of Oro Grande's famous R.
V. "Penny" Morrow and J. P. Jones were instrumental in getting this building
constructed. This frame schoolhouse was in use for classes until about 1923 when it was
replaced by the third school building - a modern, stucco structure. Consisting of two
rooms, this 312,000.00 schoolhouse was financed by a loan acquired through the efforts of
"Penny" Morrow who served as School Trustee during this time.
The continued growth of the community led to construction of the present, modern, steel
and concrete structure. The first seven rooms of this new unit were built in 1947;
subsequent additions in 1952 and 1957 have completed the present plant which includes
eight classrooms, a multi-purpose room, a fully equipped library- audio-visual room, and a
centrally located office unit, as well as facilities for serving state-approved
"Class A" hot lunches.
With an enrollment of about 200 pupils, eight teachers and a principal, the 1/4 million
dollar school building continues to serve the pupils of Oro Grande from its beginnings in
Moved from its original site and its belfrey removed, the second schoolhouse still
stands as a landmark in Oro Grande. The third schoolhouse building was completely
remodeled and placed into use as a Community Center when the new, larger school building
was completed. Extracts from some of the early registers reveal the following bits of
philosophy pertaining to teachers and pupils.
EXHORTATIONS TO TEACHERS (1883) "Teachers will.... ...endeavor to make themselves
acquainted with parents and guardians to better understand the temperaments,
characteristics, and wants of the children."
...make daily examinations of the lessons of their various classes and make such
special preparation upon them, if necessary, as not to be constantly confined to the
textbook, and instruct all their pupils, without partiality, with those branches of school
studies which their various classes may be pursuing, and to strive to impress on their
minds, both by precepts and example, the great importance of continued efforts for
improvement in morals and manners, and deportment, as well as useful learning."
...only use the text-book for occasional reference, and should not permit it to be
taken to the recitation to be referred to by the pupils except in cases of such exercises
as absolutely require it."
...at all times exhibit proper animation themselves, manifesting a lively interest in
the subject taught; avoid all heavy, plodding movements, all formal routine in teaching,
lest the pupil be dull and drowsy, and imbibe the notion that he studies only to
EXHORTATIONS TO PUPILS (1883) "Pupils shall be instructed in the proper respect
for thrift and saving. Each pupil shall be urged to ponder the following:
The centimes of the peasants of France were a potent factor in furnishing the money
needed so much in the early days of the war before aid came from other sources. Before the
war, France had a greater per capita in savings accounts than any other country.
'Charge it,' 'Your Credit is Good,' 'A Dollar Down, and a Dollar a week' are financial
pitfalls which the youth of America should early learn to avoid. This suggestion of a
pledge to be given by pupils is offered for your consideration:
I solemnly promise to live up to the following:
I will not buy what I do not need.
I will save some part of my earnings.
I will not waste or wantonly destroy either my own or the property of the State.
ROLL OF HONOR (1886-87)
Mr. L.F. Norman, the teacher at Oro Grande School during this period, wrote this remark
concerning the Honor Roll: "The name of every pupil that attended school during 1887
should be enrolled on this page without exception. None being first. All equal."
Among the early pioneers of Oro Grande are the Morrows. Until the death of Jim Morrow
in 1961, the four Morrow Brothers had accumulated a total of 334 years of living in Oro
Grande (or Halleck). The three remaining brothers, Roy (90), Harry (84), and R. V.
"Penny" (77) are living in retirement in the community.
The Morrow family was of enterprising pioneer stock. Penny's grandfather, Newton
Morrow, made two trips across the plains from St. Joseph, Mo. to Stockton, California,
driving herds of cattle. When Penny was about three years old, the family moved to Oro
Grande, leaving for a brief period before returning to stay permanently in 1908.
"Penney's" father, Newton Morrow, was the first Justice of the Peace and
Recorder for Oro Grande. The boys later operated extensive mining interests in the area.
Up until the mid century mark, "Penny" had devoted his life to running a
general store, post office, barber shop, serving as a school trustee, county road
commissioner, scout master, and constable. At present, any historian seeking the facts
about lost mines, gold strikes, records of yields in the early days, still find the Morrow
Brothers a rich source of information.
During the early days of the gold strikes, the railroad company followed its standard
procedure of shunting a boxcar onto a siding in Oro Grande to use as railroad depot Since
this unsightly facility added nothing to the town's civic pride, petitions were started
requesting that the boxcar be replaced by a depot which would be in keeping with the
town's growth and importance. The petitions fell on deaf ears, however, and time went by.
According to a news report, the Christmas season came by and the entire country-side
turned out for the annual Christmas Program at the town hall. Not a few of the audience
"had had a wee bit of cheer at the corner saloon" before the program began. In
the midst of the activities, a cry went up, "FIRE! FIRE! the depot's on fire!"
Buckets materialized from somewhere and the town's citizens prepared to extinguish the
blaze when Penny Morrow dashed up and shouted: "Folks, look at you! You're getting
your good clothes ruined! And besides that, we need a new depot!"
And with that, the crowed stood around and watched while the boxcar burned to the
ground. A short time later, construction was started on a railroad station which the
citizens felt really did justice to the growing town of Halleck and its rich gold mine,
the ORO GRANDE. This depot still stands in the community, serving as a freight center.
The nearby Oro Grande Hotel which served the various passengers who arrived and
departed from this point, was razed several years ago to make way for modern improvements.
This hotel was widely publicized in glowing terms. It was said that, "The Oro Grande
Hotel was the hostelry of the Mojave, being one of the 'Popular Havens of Rest' for those
traveling the sands of the Kingdom of the Sun".
Another well-known, long-time resident of Oro Grande is Bill Hewson who settled in the
area in 1911. His story of pioneering days is the history of our Valley. Bill Hewson comes
from an environment which is entirely alien to desert residents.
Bill is a sailor who lives on the desert by preference. Born in Nova Scotia at a little
community which overlooks the Bay of Funday, he observed daily tides which reached heights
of 30 feet.
"When I was a boy and young man," said Bill, "we were building two and
three ships at once -- three-masters."
He moved "west" to California, however, and began a small industry in the
Bryman-Helendale region. It was a silica plant (chalk). Bill and his four men blasted out
the silica in the mountain quarries four miles away then hauled the raw material to the
grinding and refining plant by mule train.
The plant has been operated by Ralph Hillwig until recently. Bill and his wife, Lottie,
have retired to an attractive ranch located on the National Trails Highway, just north of
Oro Grande. Their home has Nova Scotia ship's lanterns and a fine old ship's bronze clock
which keeps time and chimes the two-hour watch hours for the Hewson family. But nobody
paces the quarter-deck anymore - those days are gone forever!
Later pioneers who came to ranch and farm include the Hillwigs (who developed famous
fruit orchards) and Carters, who came in the 20's; the Corrington, Hill, and Harris
families who came in the 30's. Typical of the conditions under which these early residents
worked are best described by the experiences of the Hill family.
Among the early settlers along the banks of the Mojave River were the Hill Brothers
Bruce, Kenny, and Gilbert who were raised on a section of land in the northwestern part of
Oro Grande. Since the ranch was located across the river, the boys reached the nearest bus
stop by riding a horse across a fiord, then left him in a small corral near the stop until
school was out and they rode him home again. Originally, the only way into the ranch was a
back way via the mesa on top of the bluff with a long trip around through Adelanto. A road
was built through from the Oro Grande side of the river, with black powder being used to
blast some sections.
During the time of their arrival, Oro Grande had 500 people, or less. The crops of hay
were mown and gathered by horse power, while the land had previously been leveled with a
"Fresno", a horse-drawn earth leveler. Traces of the Spanish and Mormon Trails
are still seen; some Indian artifacts have been found. Today, the Hill Ranch has normal
crops of hay of "six to seven tons per acre, five cuttings per year". Onions,
watermelons, cantaloupes, and other produce are raised.
MODERN ORO GRANDE Under the direction of Mr. Don Pfeiffer, Director of the Oro Grande
Foundation, Oro Grande has been developing feelings of pride and self-identification, and
was encouraged to strive "for a significant role in the development of the
area". Today, Oro Grande has facilities of municipalities many times its size. Modern
water system, disposal system, surfaced streets, curbs, sidewalks, street lights,
playgrounds, trash collection, a community center, ballparks, a fine elementary school and
two churches, usually describes a "progressive and perhaps incorporated city",
Mr. Pfeiffer states.
A condemned school building was purchased and reconditioned into a modern community
center building, complete with stage, film, and public address facilities. Concurrently, a
fully landscaped ballpark was constructed on the property and equipped with fencing,
backstops, two diamonds, floodlights, dugouts, a public address system. This is in
addition to two small playgrounds developed with the usual equipment such as wading pool,
roller skating rink, swings, outdoor barbeques and lawn areas.
The recreational facilities were greatly implemented with a summer recreational program
originated in 1958 and now in its fifth year. Planned and supervised activities staffed by
professionally trained persons, the net cost is in excess of $2,000 per year. The eight
week program involves varied recreational activities including weekly bowling tournaments
and swimming in nearby Victorville. Several trips are taken to mountain and beach areas;
such as a trip to Pacific Ocean Park, Calico Ghost Town, and Marineland.
In 1957, the company management became interested in a type of playground such as had
been spearheaded in Monterey by the Jr. Chamber of Commerce. Hank Ketchum of "Dennis
the Menace" cartoon fame helped make it imaginative and creative. A similar
playground took shape at Oro Grande. The major expense of $50,000 was paid by Riverside
Cement Company; time, materials, and money equaling that that came from private citizens
and organizations. Construction took 33 months. The Griffith Henshaw Memorial Playground
opened April 30, 1961, and during the first summer season, attendance topped 28,000. A
swimming pool and a clubhouse is being planned for construction in the near future.
Originally started as a primary extraction center, then developing into an agricultural
area, Oro Grande (Halleck) grew slowly into a rural agricultural-industrial community.
Mining and cement exist in close proximity with ranches. Along the river there are
"more than a thousand acres of alfalfa and other crops under irrigation" on
various small farms. There is considerable dairying and cattle raising. Thoroughbred and
quarter-horse farms are being developed. Various fruits and vegetables are grown.
It is stated that over two million cars traveled over the National Trails Hig1nway
through Victor Valley in 1961 on their way to the shores of the Blue Pacific. This is a
far cry from the wagon trains of 10 to 50 wagons each following the old trails through
sandy or rocky country, over heart-breaking grades, over long dry stretches of the Mojave
Desert, with scarcity of water and food, and in constant danger of Indian attacks. After
arriving in the vicinity of Cajon Pass, it was often necessary to have the wagons taken
apart, lowered down, then re-assembled on the San Bernardino Valley side before the
parties could proceed to the shores of the Pacific. This then is a brief picture of Oro
Grande, a town in the middle of the largest county in a great nation.
An Epilogue Grateful acknowledgements are given to the many persons who have
contributed their time in providing information and literature on the history of Oro
The Public Relations Department of the California Interstate Telephone Company is given
grateful thanks for permission to reproduce the map of "Pioneer Trails in Victor
Apologies are given to the many residents of this Valley who were overlooked and their
part in the development of Oro Grande not given a proper place. It is hoped, however, that
"The Story of Oro Grande" will be merely a prologue, that this attempt at
writing the history of this community will be picked up at this point and expanded into a
more complete more detailed document which will give a greater coverage to those men (and
women) of vision who arrived in this area in times past and who had such a great share in
developing and contributing to the growth of ORO GRANDE.
by: Wesley Marenczuk
at: Oro Grande, Calif.
on: December 1st, 1962