The Spanish had a dramatic impact on the Native Americans who frequented Pinnacles. They traveled into California from Mexico and eventually established 21 religious missions between 1769 and 1823, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma known as "El Camino Real". The mission closest to Pinnacles was built in Soledad in 1791. The Spanish sought to establish a route from Mexico or New Spain up to northern California, they believed they had a God-given right to claim land for Christ and the King. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition to establish an overland route to the San Francisco Bay Area from Mexico. Visit this site to learn more about Juan Bautista de Anza.
The Chalon Indians lived in the area east of Soledad Mission -- close to what is now the western side of Pinnacles National Park. Willingly or not, many of the Chalon and Amah Mutsun people became neophytes (baptized mission workers); however, the mission way of life was devastating to native people. A combination of diseases brought by the Spaniards and harsh changes to their way of life killed many Chalon and Mutsun people, and damaged their cultures. In 1770 the native population in California, which was already dropping from the effects of European diseases, was estimated at 300,000. By the mid-1800s, it was cut in half.
Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 so California became a territory of Mexico. The Californios of the state rebelled against Mexican rule to establish its own republic, which lasted only a year. California was converted again during the Mexican-American War when it was claimed by the United States in 1847. There was often ethnic tension in the Pinnacles area, between natives, hispanics and white homesteaders. Another interesting character present in the early history of Pinnacles was Tiburcio Vasquez, one of California's most notorious historic outlaws. He was born in Monterey in 1835 and roamed through the state during a twenty year career of cattle rustling and larceny. He settled near the quicksilver mines of New Idria in 1870 and he was known by many homesteaders from Bear Valley all the way to the Salinas Valley. Many stories told of him hiding in the rocks and caves of Pinnacles.
Spanish Missionaries and Early Settlers
In 1891 Schuyler Hain, a homesteader, arrived in the Pinnacles area from Michigan. At first he did not consider Pinnacles much more than a local curiosity but his opinion began to change as local newspaper reporters began traveling specifically to Pinnacles to take in the sights. One reporter wrote an article praising the beauty of the rocks and attention spread to other residents of nearby towns. Hain realized that Pinnacles was unique enough to draw outsiders and that by protecting the land, it would draw visitors, help the local economy and preserve it against private exploitation. During the next twenty years he became known as the "Father of Pinnacles," leading tours up through Bear Valley and into the caves. Hain wrote articles urging for the preservation of the area and acted as unofficial caretaker for many years. His efforts proved fruitful with the establishment of Pinnacles as a 2500 acre national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The Bacon family were neighbors and friends to Hain and were also involved with the establishment of Pinnacles National Monument, the family grew up playing amongst the trees and creeks of Pinnacles. Horace Bacon established a ranch opposite the eastern entrance and was the school master at Bear Valley School (located on Hwy 25 one mile north of the Hwy 25 and Hwy 146 junction) for twenty years. The Bacon Ranch was eventually acquired by the National Park Service in 2006 and can be accessed via a short hike on a dirt road behind the visitor center. The Bacon family, Hain and a group of other locals known as the Pinnacles boys were responsible for much of the public infrastructure and development of the park in the early years of its establishment. They helped build the first entrance road into the Bear Gulch area, a one way road with designated times for travel. Their efforts laid the groundwork for further development of the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Hermann Melville, who lived on the west side of Pinnacles spent a great deal of time exploring the peaks looking for copper and other mining opportunities. He owned the Copper Mountain Mining Compant, he lead tours and owned much of the land in the Balconies and Old Pinnacles area. After Melville's death in 1933, the park service added his land to Pinnacles which included most of the western entrance.
Last updated: March 22, 2018