The San Jacintos: The Mountain Country from Banning to Borrego Valley.
By John W. Robinson and Bruce D. Risher. Arcadia, CA: Big Santa Anita Historical Society, 1993. 252 pages.
Reviewed by James D. Newland, Curator of the Stone Store Museum in Campo, California and former Historian for the Cleveland National Forest.
The San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County have long had a connection with San Diego. For thousands of years the Cahuilla Indians and their southern neighbors, the Kumeyaay, moved back and forth from the coastal valleys and Colorado Desert to the mountains of Southern California’s coastal and transverse ranges coexisting in a similar habitat. In the historic period, the San Jacintos saw the same types of land use during the Hispanic Era as did San Diego — and the ranchos were often owned by the same pioneer families. The formation of San Diego County in 1850 included the San Jacinto Range. The same hearty stock of settler who brought ranching, farming, and mining to San Diego’s backcountry, helped settle the San Jacintos. Even after the formation of Riverside County in 1892, the establishment of the short-lived San Jacinto National Forest (the precursor to the current Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County) linked the direction of the San Jacintos with that of San Diego County’s mountain and forest regions.
Those with an interest in San Diego history will likely find John W. Robinson and Bruce Risher’s book a well written, solidly researched, and interesting look into this neighboring region’s past. Over 450 historic and contemporary photographs and illustrations help readers visualize the places and people of the San Jacintos. The text is comprised of twenty chapters, which cover such topics as native culture history, the exploration and settlement of the area from the Spanish through the Mexican eras, and the opening of the region by American surveyors and settlers. The stories of the development of the region’s industries, including the ranching, mining, timbering, and resort businesses are examined. The histories of local communities, institutions, and landmarks — such as Hemet, Idyllwild, the Forest Service, the State Park System, the Ramona Pageant, and the Palm Springs Tramway — are placed in the contexts of the San Jacinto area as well as the larger Southern California region. One of the highlights of the book is the chapter on the devastating ordeal of the Cahuilla Indians during the early Anglo-American period. Robinson and Risher investigate the real tragedy that motivated Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona and the melodramatic play that is the focus of the area’s annual Ramona Pageant.
All in all, Robinson and Risher have provided another impressive addition to Southern California local history. They have bypassed the usual failures of many popular local histories which often focus on individual biographies, anecdotes, and unsubstantiated tall-tales, and instead have produced a scholarly, yet entertaining work.