City of Rocks
Historic Resources Study
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History tells of 'Granite City' where the immigrant wagons rolled, indian massacres, rattling of stage coaches and of hidden gold. I wish to tell of the simple life and dreams of these settlers who came in around the year of 1910. Water was usually dug for by a shovel and it wasn't far from the surface; and the sage brush grew high and a horseman could ride through without being seen. [11]

Distinct historic themes pertinent to the City of Rocks National Reserve include American Indian habitation, the fur trade, westward migration, the development of national and regional transportation networks, agricultural development, and recreation and tourism. Stories of conflict between Indians and newcomers, stagecoach bandits, and range wars represented fleeting moments in the history of the region. However, because they personify the Wild West, these events captured the imagination of local residents and of visitors, and stories thereof have been repeated and embellished accordingly. Overland migration was similarly fleeting, yet ultimately led to the settlement of the West, to homestead legislation, and to the growth of agricultural communities — the region's most consistent and long term land use in the post-settlement era.

The local agricultural industry followed a progression witnessed throughout the semi-arid West. The early open-range cattle industry was devastated by the winter of 1889 and disrupted by the arrival of "wool growers" and farmers. Early (ca. 1880-1900) homesteaders laid claim to irrigable land in the valley bottoms; small-scale irrigated farming was supplemented with cattle or sheep ranching. Stock grazed during the summer months on public land and were pastured (and fed) throughout the winter on the home ranch. Later settlers were relegated to dryland and grazing tracts, patented under the terms of the Enlarged Homestead, Forest Homestead, or Stockraising Homestead acts. The regional drought beginning ca. 1917 and the depression of the 1920s and 1930s resulted in the whole-scale exodus of this later community. By the 1930s, recreational use of the "beautiful" but unwatered and unproductive land was seen as the logical economic alternative to farming.

Three threads link all phases of area development: Water (or the lack thereof) brought the fur traders and the emigrants, and determined the physical characteristics and the success or failure of area farms. Transportation routes (or the lack thereof) have had a causative and resultant impact on the history of the region: the City of Rocks was at center stage of a phenomenal national emigration. Yet the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system — neither of which is dependent upon the presence of water, grass, or gentle grades — have passed the region by. The unique natural features of the region elicited extensive comment from westward emigrants. For those who settled and stayed, the City of Rocks has served as a community picnic ground, a point of geographic reference, and a cultural compass bearing on the importance of their community in the history of the nation and of the West (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Key Features, City of Rocks National Reserve (map prepared by USDI, NPS, 1994). (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 12-Jul-2004