Thompson’s death prompts look at history

Thompson’s death prompts look at historyBy PATRICIA FARRIS

News Review Publisher

Memorial services for Robert Hoskins Thompson will be held today, Nov. 15, at 11 a.m. at Inyokern Methodist Church.

He was last of the third generation of the pioneering family who founded Inyokern. His grandfather, Robert Richardson Thompson, and his partner David Shanks were developers in Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

They were drawn to Indian Wells Valley when they learned of plans to build an aqueduct and railroad through here. The pair formed a company called Inyo-Kern to support that development in 1908. According to his family history, the pioneering Thompson got a vision of bringing people here to plant crops during his many trips between Los Angeles and Independence.

In those earliest days, Thompson and Shanks set up a test garden located in what is now downtown Inyokern. The purpose was to see what crops might grow best in the desert. The family says that those experiments proved to be remarkably successful.

Family photo albums show grain fields, alfalfa, vegetables, melon patches and fruit orchards. The success of these ventures attracted homesteaders to the area.

In 1908 there were no wells in the Indian Wells Valley. By 1920 there were more than 300. The first was drilled at the Thompson family home on what is now Locust Street in downtown Inyokern. The well house and some original outbuildings remain today.

The Inyo-Kern partners worked with those families to clear land, drill wells, process homestead documents and build other necessary infrastructure. The partners also built a hotel, restaurant and mercantile store to serve locals as well as miners and workers on the aqueduct and railroad.

Inyo-Kern later acquired a power transmission line routed though the valley to bring electricity to residents.

Thompson was also regarded as a philanthropist, since he donated the land that would become the original townsite of Inyokern. The tract map was filed in 1914.

He also donated the parcel for Inyokern School, built in 1913. Much of the original building still serves children of Inyokern today.

R. R. Thompson died in 1920, and the family heirs continued to hold substantial real estate formerly owned by the Inyo-Kern Company.

The town of Inyokern got its name from the founder’s son, Robert Hurd Thompson, who was 17 at the time.

The fourth generation of Thompsons include Robert T. Thompson, who lives with his family and serves as a pastor in Fresno, and Thomas Thompson, who took care of his father in Inyokern until his recent death. Thomas lives with his family in Escondido, but still spends some of his time in Inyokern.

Today, most of the agricultural industry in the area has shifted to predominantly pistachio orchards and a few alfalfa fields.

While our valley residents associate our present identity with the mission of the Navy at China Lake, it started with the vision of R. R. Thompson.

Because of what Thompson established in Inyokern, Clarence Ives built his own homestead and businesses here in those early days. Among his contributions was the airstrip that called attention to our valley, and prompted Dr. Charles C. Lauritsen of Caltech to bring the Navy-civilian partnership here.

Pictured: The Lindsy brothers, pictured at center, stand next to the first well drilled in the Indian Wells Valley, located on the Thompson family property in what is now downtown Inyokern. The brothers were responsible for drilling about 300 wells in the early days. Seated on the barrel is Robert R. Thompson, around age 14. Also shown in the background is the original Inyokern Methodist Church before it burned down. — Photo courtesy of the Thompson family

Story First Published: 2019-11-15