Memories of some of the valley’s earliest homesteaders

Memories of some of the valley’s earliest homesteadersBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Lisa Carr Rains and Craig Carr’s grandparents, Vernon L. and Anabel Gaffney Carr, left the Midwest and traveled to California before meeting in Glendale, marrying, and heading to Leiliter in Indian Wells Valley to homestead.

The homesteading Carrs were known as “Granny and Grandpa” to folks in the Inyokern area, which is where you found Leiliter. Health and warmer climates pulled them to California. Lisa tells about Granny, “It was so cold where she came from in Iowa. She was a teacher and had to go by horseback to the school, it caused some harm to her lungs. One of her uncles suggested that she go to California.” Craig says of Grandpa, “He was worried about tuberculosis because his father’s first wife and two kids died from TB.”

Granny and Grandpa traveled to the Indian Wells Valley with their infant son, Robert, and an uncle in 1909. Vernon and his brother, Victor, had by then assembled a prefab house with a well and pump before bringing the mother and infant Robert. Their son, Clarence, was born the next year and has the distinction of being the first non-Native American born in the valley.

Lisa says, “I saw letters from Granny to her cousin and niece talking about how beautiful it was in the springtime – and then it was summer. And it was hot.” She reflects, “Think about it. They didn’t have a cooler, they had nothing to keep them cool. They already had Robert and she had Dad August 31, 1910, you know how that would have been. And then she had five more kids after that. Trying to keep them all cool. And it would blow real hard sometimes, and there would be a lot of dust in the wind.

By the time all the kids had come along, the boards of the prefab house had shrunk and the dust would come through. So she would get all the kids with a wet cloth over their faces and she would put them in a closet where they could breathe all right. She would then be outside in the dust, with her bad lungs. She was the toughest lady.” Wet cloths over heads and necks was a usual remedy for the heat. Much of the year, the family would sleep outside at night.

Although Granny was quoted years later as saying, “Leave it to Vernon to pick a place where it was so hard to grow anything,” they were able to grow vegetables and Lisa says, “Lots of neat watermelon.”

Eventually Grandpa would sell his produce in Trona and drive to Lancaster to buy additional vegetables to sell. They had horses, cows, and chickens from 1910 until 1944. Then the government started buying land for the base. Craig says, “Granny went to see the Commander on the base. Asked him why they had to move them off of their property so suddenly and not pay a fair price. The Commander was sympathetic, but he couldn’t do anything about it but give her an ear.” Lisa adds,

“The government paid forty cents an acre. They didn’t have time to go back and get all their things before they were told at the gate ‘Sorry, you’re too late.’ She wanted to be patriotic but the way they did it didn’t seem fair.”

Granny and Grandpa moved to Little Lake for a little while where their daughter and her husband, Tom Bramlette, owned the property. Lisa says, “Granny’s granddaughter, Arlyne Bramlette, said she remembered she got to walk with Granny every day to milk the cows in the barn. She really liked having her there.” Although they had their own house on the property Granny wanted her own home and so they bought a house that was built from railroad ties on what is now called Carr Road. It was only a few miles in Indian Wells Valley from their old homestead, but off the new Navy Base land. There they resumed their homestead lifestyle.

“I remember going to the Homestead on the weekends,“ says Lisa, “Granny was an emotional person. She didn’t hide her emotions. Grandpa was a quiet, easy-going, mild-mannered man. They were total opposites.

My dad said that the only time he could remember his dad getting mad at him was during a trip to Lancaster with his brothers. The boys were young. There was a place with a deep gulch and a gate at the top of the gulch. He left the boys in the car saying, ‘Just sit and be quiet. Don’t get into any trouble.’ He got out and went to the gate, he turned around and the boys had been messing around and released the brake.” The car began rolling up and down from the front, backwards, back up again repeatedly. “Pretty soon Grandpa is running back and forth yelling, ‘Stop it, stop it.’ That’s the only time my Dad saw his dad get mad.”

Craig remembers, “Grandpa worked on the Aqueduct for some time. He had horses and the horses came in handy because they could reach places that motorized vehicles couldn’t. He said that the horses made more money than he did.”

Although they were displeased with being forced from their original homestead, Granny and Grandpa maintained a relationship with the base. Craig says, “They helped start the annual China Lake Flower Show that takes place on the base.” He adds, “They knew all the names of the flowers. They had and read lots of books.” Lisa interjects, “They were so very intelligent, always reading, always learning.”

There are cousins and some of their grandchildren still in the region. Their father, Clarence, worked in Trona before WWII and returned after the war. Their parents married in 1936. Their father would work at the plant and stay in tent city during the week and go home to the homestead on the weekends. After the war their parents moved to Trona.

Lisa has lived in Trona all of her life. Craig also lives in Trona. Lisa and Craig are both retired. Lisa retired from the base and Craig served in Vietnam and retired from the Trona plant. Neither of them grow vegetables, but some of the grandchildren and great grandchildren grow food. Lisa is looking forward to traveling when her husband retires. Craig works on genealogy sometimes and likes to walk for exercise.

Asked if he helped his grandparents on their homestead, Craig replies, “One time I got into their bathroom and mixed together all of their shampoo and lotions. I tried to help them by making it a better concoction. It didn’t go over very well, and my parents and I heard about it the very next weekend.”

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Note: I was privileged to meet the Carr family, Vernon and Anabel, more than 80 years ago when my family, the Tharps, moved to Ridgecrest. There were about thirty families in Ridgecrest with fewer families in Inyokern but the communities were together in social, school, and church events. Vernon was a member of the Inyokern School Board and the family was active in the leadership of the Inyokern United Methodist Church. Anabel served as a Sunday school teacher for the high school students and I was priviledged to sit under her teaching. The Carr family was respected as staunch in their Christian values. Vernon was noted for his deep bass voice that was most effective in the church choir. The Inyokern Methodist Church in partnership with the Randsburg Methodist Church hosted the annual Easter Sunrise Service in Red Rock Canyon with the church choir providing the music. The tradition began in the late 1920’s. — Patricia Farris, publisher

Laura Austin photo: Craig Carr and Lisa Carr Rains reminisce while looking at photos of their grandparents.

Story First Published: 2021-07-30