Holcomb said he reached Los Angeles in the fall of 1859, where he heard from an old mountaineer, of a valley about a hundred miles to the east with a number of bear. He and a friend, Jack Martin, got horses, bacon, salt and flour, and set out. They went up the Santa Ana Canyon, where F. M. Van Leuven directed them to a party already in the mountains. "They received us kindly - pioneer fashion," Holcomb noted. They encountered deep snow, but started prospecting. Days and weeks rolled by, with little success. Martin decided to abandon the attempt and return to Los Angeles to his family, but Holcomb said to Martin:
" 'We have prospected every likely place we have seen in the (Bear) valley, now let us try this hillside where we are sure there is no gold.' He objected, but I insisted and shoveled up a pan of dirt off the naked bedrock, pine leaves and all. Martin took it to the foot of the hill to wash out while I sat down and waited. Presently I noticed that he seemed excited and he came rushing up the hill to exhibit about ten cent's worth of fine gold. ...we had at last struck 'pay diggings' ... and ... we could make about five dollars a day."1
"Uncle Billy" Holcomb
When Martin returned to Los Angeles to get his family and buy provisions, he exhibited his gold dust both there and in San Bernardino, and the rush was on. People at once began to pour into Bear Valley. Holcomb remembers, "About this time I one day took my gun and strolled northward to look over the country. When I reached the summit of the ridge that divides the head waters of the Santa Ana and the Mojave, I looked down from this eminence in a northerly direction and saw about two miles distant, a beautiful little valley ... 'Holcomb's Valley' as they jokingly called it ... One of the party, Ben Choteau, proposed to go with me and prospect the new valley. The first day we wounded a bear and in following its trail came upon a quartz ledge. We stopped to examine it and found gold ... When we returned to the camp in Bear Valley there was great rejoicing and a big bonfire to celebrate the discovery of gold in 'Holcomb's Valley'.2
1 Ingersol, op. cit., p. 358
2 Ibid. p. 359.