• Email
  • Print

Early Day Travel Through Cajon Pass was No Easy Drive

Mary Wixom Crandall

By

Nicholas R. Cataldo (2001)


Mary Wixom Crandall

Thousands of travelers motor along Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass each day. The vast majority of them also tend to get a bit frustrated when their desired 70 (and up) speed limit is interrupted by heavy traffic, fog, or strong winds. But these problems were a piece of cake compared to what Southern Californians had to wrestle with while attempting to make their way through the pass a century and half ago. One such participant was a pioneer woman named Mary Wixom Crandall.

One of twelve children born to Nathan and Betsey Wixom, Mary was 15 years of age when her family left their Illinois home after hearing the exciting news about the Northern California gold strike of 1849. The young teenager helped her folks in crossing the rugged Rocky Mountains and vast plains and deserts by driving an ox team. And, when her shoes wore out and couldn't be patched up anymore, she drove the team barefoot!

In 1851, the Wixoms decided to join the first group of Mormon colonists in what would eventually become the city of San Bernardino. Prior to that year, the Salt Lake Road (which is what all most caravans followed) entered the Cajon Pass by way of a narrow boulder strewn creek bed just southeast of where Highway 138 intersects I-15. Unfortunately, the old byway was far more advantageous for pack mules. In fact, the few wagoneers that boldly attempted to squeak through in previous years were forced to dismantle their vehicles and drag the contents over the rocks.

So when William Sanford's alternative route by way of West Cajon (near the Mojave Desert region of Baldy Mesa) was broken out just in time for the Mormons' arrival from Salt Lake, the Wixoms were eager to take the "new and improved" cutoff. Little did they know the adventure that laid ahead.

According to what Mary Wixom (1834-1927) recalled in her later years to historian and author John Brown Jr., while crossing the range of mountains leading into the Pass in December 1851, the wagons had to descend a 60 foot steep and narrow ridge called, the "Hog Back". To get down the slope, one yoke of oxen was used to keep the wagons on the ridge while the other animals yoked behind in order to hold the wagon back and keep it from turning somersaults on the foreword oxen and possibly rolling down the side of the cliff hundreds of feet below.

Before the clan finally made it into the San Bernardino Valley, the Wixoms were in for more excitement.

While working their way down the pass (west of the 1-15 truck scales) the weather turned chilly. As Mary was driving her two oxen team, her mother hovered with the shivering younger children around a small wagon stove. All of a sudden, a violent Santa Ana gust of wind came and lifted the wagon box off the running gear. Blowing off the side of the road went mother, the kids, the stove, etc. Then a fire from started from the tipped over stove and started to burn the wagon cover. Fortunately, Mary wisely extinguished it by grabbing the churn filled with buttermilk and poured the contents quickly on the fire which saved the lives of everyone.

Now, doesn't that make present day freeway problems seem like a stroll through the park?


Mary Wixom Crandall, pictured second from left

Back to Pioneer Women