Gold Fever in Big Bear

William Holcomb

Not many people are aware that only a short drive north of Big Bear Lake lies what little remains of the historic town of Belleville in an area known as Holcomb Valley, appropriately named after the American prospector, William Francis ("Grizzly Bill" Holcomb) who was the first to discover gold in the region on May 5, 1860. The areas claim to fame is that the location produced the largest gold strike in Southern California. Read on to find out how the biggest gold rush in southern California began.......

In 1859 while in Los Angeles, Holcomb and a companion Jack Martin heard of the Bear Valley diggings near San Bernardino. They set out to make another try at mining. It was rugged terrain and frigid temperatures that they had to force their horses through deep snow to reach the location of the diggings. Already Bear Valley had been dubbed "Starvation Flatts" by its discouraged group of miners, who were finding little. Soon after Holcomb's arrival, one of the miners panned some gold from under the pine trees a few hundred feet up the hillside and saved the Bear Valley diggings from abandonment. 

Like the others, Holcomb suffered from the lack of supplies and minimal gold finds in the rural mountain community. Called 'the best sharpshooter west of the Mississippi", Holcomb was asked by the miners to shoot some of the grizzly bears living in the area for their meat. Holcomb was able to bring back dead bears to feed the starving miners. He was nicknamed "Grizzly Bill" because he was known to have killed many bears. He was said to have finished off all the bears in the Bear Valley.

While hunting bears, Holcomb kept his eye out for gold, and he took chunks of likely rock. About five miles from Bear Valley, he discovered gold. On May 5, 1860, Holcomb and Ben Ware arrived at the office of the County Recorder to record five gold claims located just five miles north of Bear Valley.

That spring, the Bear Valley miners chipped in and sent Martin to San Bernardino for flour. The people there knew Bear Valley was producing little gold, so when Martin paid with gold dust for his flour, the men in San Bernardino followed him back and found out about Holcomb Valley. They rushed to mine its rich sand and shale placers. That was the beginning of the Holcomb Valley gold rush. By July miners poured into the Valley, as the news of gold spread far and wide. The gold rush was on, the area supported approximately 10,000 residents and miners founded the short-lived boom town of Belleville there. For ten years it was the third or fourth largest town in Southern California. Holcomb Valley became the source of more gold than any other part of Southern California.