The history of the East Fork begins with the Indigenous whose livelihood depended on the San Gabriels. It was not until the early 19th century that the first American miners came through the Kern River. The mining boom days of the East Fork centered along Eldoradoville, a wild west town.
East Fork chaparral: Fiber from the Yucca leaves was used for sandals, cloth, and rope.
For centuries, the San Gabriel Mountains provided sustenance for the Indigenous people, existing as a place for permanent habitation, food, water, and building materials. Moreover, an ancient Indian trail once passed through San Gabriel Canyon. It might have been the site of one or more Tongva-Gabrielino villages.
However, violent floods have periodically swept the San Gabriel River, sweeping away most artifacts. Still, massive boulders with pictographs have been seen and studied along ancient footpaths. Graveyard Canyon, a tributary of East Fork, got its name because of Indian burial mounds found there. A few additional burial plots, artifacts, and mortars have been found throughout the East Fork.
Eventually, Spanish missionary conquest in the 18th century strongly influenced the removal of the indigenous from the mountains. Consequently their arrival ended the Tongva-Gabrielino population.
It’s not clear when exactly mining began in the East Fork but stories tell of early mining by Indians for their Spanish masters. Subsequent mining operations uncovered old “gophering” tunnels. These tunnels had their gold removed already. “Gophering” was a type of primitive mining in which tunnels were dug about a yard wide, just large enough to fit one body.
The gopher holes were just large enough to admit the body of one Indian, who passed the gold-bearing ore out of the slender tunnel via a leather pouch attached to a long rawhide thong, according to one story
John W. Robinson
However, no written evidence exists to authenticate any pre-1850’s gold discovery. When and who dug out these tunnels is forever a mystery!
Thars Gold in Them Thar Hills- Booms Days on the East Fork
The first American miners known to have prospect San Gabriel Canyon drifted down south from the Kern River gold rush via Cajon Pass. Captain William K. Henninger (who would later homestead the area we know as Henninger Flats) led a wave of these prospectors and surveyed the upper San Gabriel area.
An arrastra in early San Gabriel Canyon. Credit: Seaver Center for Western History Research, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
It wasn’t before long that the miners entered the upper reaches of East Fork. Here they found gold and began to recover small amounts. First news of the strike appeared in Los Angeles Star of September 21, 1854
Small placer mining continued at a slow rate for several years in the East Fork. Prospectors panned out $6-$7 a day. The occasional strike and a good year of rain attracted more men to the canyon. Soon, they covered the entire length of the East Fork.
The increase in mining created a demand for supply shops. Prospect Bar, a rudimentary mining camp, sprang up near Cattle Canyon and the East fork. It consisted of a “boarding house, 2 or 3 stores, blacksmith shop, butcher shop, etc.”
The only way up the mines followed a rough road along the canyon bottom. In fact, the road forded the San Gabriel river at least twenty times. Stage line services were established from Los Angeles to the canyon mouth or directly to the mines. The Roberts and Williams stage line left Los Angeles at 7am to arrive at the mines by 4pm
Eventually, mining companies replaced the lone man and his gold pan. Companies usually consisted of 5-20 miners working for one man. They employed increasingly profitable gold recovery methods like hydraulic washing.