MEETING # 1625
December 2, 1999
Gus Knight Jr.
Entrepreneur of Bear Valley
And Rogue Sportsman
by Harold M. Hill M.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
Gus Knight Jr. was a prominent San Bernardino business man
and sportsman who in 1888 built the first and very successful hostelry at the newly
created Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Gus Knight fed his customers on wild fish and game initially and later engaged in
commercial hunting and fishing, often illegally. He was particularly prominent in
controlling and exploiting the duck hunting on Baldwin Lake.
Knight was instrumental in developing several access roads from the valley to Bear Lake
during the early years. Redlands affluent businessman were also important in the early
development of the Bear Valley resort. Duck hunting at Baldwin Lake was very popular with
Redlands sportsman in the early in the early decades of this century.
Background of the Author
Harold Hill is a third generation Redlander on both sides
of his family. His paternal grandparents, Dr. Merrill Washington and Ella Hill, arrived
here in 1887 and his maternal grandparents Peter and Elizabeth Arth, arrived here in 1889.
He is understandably interested in local history, both human history and natural history.
Dr. Hill is a graduate of Redlands public schools, the University of Redlands, Stanford
University for his medical degree and the University of Michigan for medical specialty
training. He returned to Redlands to practice with his father and brother, specializing in
internal medicine. He practiced here for thirty seven years, retiring in 1984. He is a
fourth generation physician, third generation in Redlands. He has two sons living in
Redlands and two daughters, one living in Running Springs, California and the other in
Ithaca, New York. He and his wife Marjorie regularly attend the First Baptist Church where
they are coordinators of the Questers Sunday School Class. Marjorie is prominent in
volunteer, civic organizations.
His avocation is natural history, especially ornithology. He has published several
papers in this field and on other natural history subjects. He was one of the founders of
the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society chapter, and a lecturer on National Audubon
Screen Tours. He has been a Commissioner of the San Bernardino County Museum and is
presently a member of the Board of Directors of the Museum Association. He also served on
the Foundation Board of Redlands Community Hospital. He has been a member of the Redlands
City Parks Commission and the citrus committee that manages the City's groves. He was
instrumental in organizing and coordinating the planting of Caroline Park. Other interests
have include ranch management in connection with the Stillman Berry Ranch in Montana and
management of a hunting club for waterfowl in the San Jacinto Valley. He was named "Redlands' Man of the Year" in 1990.
This paper should have been presented to Fortnightly 75
years ago, as most of the principal characters would have been well known to the FN
members of the time, and the members of 50 to 60 years ago would have remembered many of
them to some extent, as I can, though far before my FN years.
However, those present FN members who may be steeped in Redlands history, as Larry
Burgess along with his Heritage Room staff, and Tom Atchley will recognize most of the
This paper, as some of my previous FN papers, is rather narrowly focused on the
wildlife of our valley and its attendant mountains. But, again, because of the paper's
local orientation and historical features should have enough of general interest to hold
your attention. I trust there will be no more than the traditional 3 or 4 nodding heads,
of which mine has been one on occasion.
Most of the information about Gus Knight Jr.'s activities
in Bear Valley came from the early Redlands' newspapers: Scipio Craig's Citrograph
(1887-1908), The Moore Family's Redlands Facts (1892- ), and the Redlands Review
(1901-1919). It would have been virtually impossible for me personally to have researched
these newspapers for the period between 1887 to 1925, which this paper covers.
Fortunately, this has been done by one of our dedicated local historians, Tom Atchley. He
created a detailed card file index of the Citrograph from 1897 to 1895, which is in the
Heritage Room here in the Smiley Library. Additionally, while researching a proposed
chapter on wildlife and hunting for John Robinson's recently published history of our
mountains titled "The San Bernardinos", Atchley collected many newspaper
references from the Redlands Facts and Redlands Review. These he kindly made available to
me and they have been extremely helpful.
Reference volumes that were used include particularly Robinson's "The San
Bernardinos" and La Fuzes's "the Saga of the San Bernardinos". Ingersol's
"Annals of San Bernardino" supplied the biographical information of the Knight
Information has also been obtained from interviews and conversations with "old
time" hunters whom I have known. This includes Leon Atwood, Jr., Frank Loge, Waldo
Burroughs, Leslie Gay, all of Redlands area, and Charles Tayles of Big Bear.
GUS KNIGHT JR., ENTREPRENEUR OF BEAR VALLEY AND
Augustus Knight Jr. was a colorful
sportsman and business man of San Bernardino, California, who in 1888 built the first and
very successful hostelry at the newly created Big Bear Lake in the nearby San Bernardino
Mountains. This large reservoir is located at the then remote headwaters of the Santa Ana
River, in those days a two days ride by horseback from the San Bernardino Valley.
While an aggressive businessman, Knight's passion was for
exploiting the abundant wildlife in and about the mountain lakes, the wild ducks, trout,
and deer, often with little regard for the laws of the time. Because of his near monopoly
on duck hunting on the adjacent Baldwin Lake at one time, where the hunting was
concentrated, the newspapers of the time labeled him the "Duck Baron of Bear
One can, perhaps, understand Gus Knight Jr.'s adventures
and misadventures better if his paternal background is briefly reviewed, as he and his
father were both of a similar disposition; they both were enterprising pioneers in the San
Gus Knight Sr. came to San Bernardino in 1871 and began
freighting from there to the Colorado River, first by ox team and later progressed to a
stage line. Next he became famous for installing a locomotive steam circular saw for
lumbering at Seeley Flats in the San Bernardino Mountains. He sold this and built a cedar
shingle mill on the upper Santa Ana River. Then he settled in Bear Valley and raised
cattle with 2500 head at one time. Additionally be built and operated a hotel on the north
shore of Baldwin Lake at Bairdstown, a transient boom town which serviced Lucky Baldwin's
short-lived great stamp mill on Gold Mountain.
Young Gus Knight Jr. started into the
cattle business with his father and ran cattle on the Mojave River prior to his
involvement with Bear Valley and the new lake there.
Gus Knight Jr. was a sporting gentleman of the times, an
ardent trap shooter, hunter, and fisherman. The newspaper account of 1890 reported that he
was the champion wing-shot of San Bernardino. He defeated Dr. Taber at Cole's Race Track
in a live pigeon shoot, and the next year he competed against Aaron Wiley of Riverside for
the championship and a $500 wager, a princely sum for the times. This same year, 1891, he
married Nannie Henry, "one of the prizes of San Bernardino."
Gus Knight rose to prominence in Bear Valley when at the
age of 21 in 1888, in partnership with John Metcalf, his sister's husband, he built the
first hotel at the new lake. The hotel was an immediate success and soon overbooked.
Knight's Landing and Metcalf Bay are prominent reminders today of these earliest
developers of Bear Valley.
Before we come to the further exploits of Gus Knight at
the mountain lakes, it will be helpful to briefly review the history of Bear Valley. The
valley was named for its numerous California grizzly bear when it was first discovered by
the pioneers, notably by Benjamin Wilson of the Jurupa Rancho in the Riverside area when
pursuing a band of renegade Indians from the Mojave River in 1845. His men lassoed and
killed 13 grizzly bear when camped in the valley and repeated the fete killing 13 more
bear on their return trip back through the mountains.
Bear Valley, an elongated mountain valley of several miles
length, was a marshy meadow used for summer cattle grazing prior to the time of
construction of the Bear Valley Dam in 1884. At the east end of the valley lay Baldwin
Lake, a shallow alkaline basin becoming a lake during wet weather cycles. At such times
the marshy west end of Baldwin Lake would be filled with submerged pond weed which
attracted great number of migratory waterfowl. Just over the ridge to the north lay
Holcomb Valley, where in the 1860s, a flourishing gold rush settlement h ad come and gone.
It was so populous that it was within a few votes of becoming the San Bernardino County
Frank Brown, a young engineer from
Redlands, conceived and constructed in 1883-84 the Bear Valley dam, a unique single-arch
masonry dam for which he was quite famous. This turned the valley into a beautiful
mountain lake surrounded by pine forests, which almost immediately became a very popular
mountain resort area. The lake was planned, and proved to be, the main water resource for
irrigation of the east San Bernardino Valley, spawning the Redlands world-renowned navel
The rains were good in 1885, the first year of they
completed dam, and the newspaper reported there was a sparkling lake five miles along.
Trout were planted and large numbers of waterfowl appeared in the fall. Hunters and
fisherman soon found a Mecca with their numbers increasing yearly, leading to Gus Knight's
venture in 1888, the first hostelry in the mountain valley.
Access to Bear Valley from Redlands or San Bernardino was
not quick or easy; in those days it was a two day trip by whatever route one chose. From
Redlands in the 1880s one could take a Concord stage to Thurman's burro pack station in
Mill Creek Canyon, then by horseback up Mountain Home Canyon to Camp Angelus (now Angelus
Oaks), down into the Santa Canyon to Seven Oaks where one could find lodging for the
night. Then it was up the trail and over the 7900 foot ridge to the north and down into
Bear Valley. From San Bernardino one might go out through Cajon Pass, around the desert
side of the mountains, and up the Cushenbury Grade wagon road to Baldwin Lake and down to
Bear Lake, the route used in building the Bear Valley Dam.
Gus Knight's Bear Lake Hotel of 1888 immediately
prospered. The frame building designed for thirty was soon over-booked and expanded to a
fifty person occupancy by adding cots. Table fare at the start was trout and venison. Such
was the optimism that there was even talk of a railroad to Bear Valley which could also
supply ice to southern California in place of that imported from Lake Tahoe at the time.
Mule trains were used at that time to bring 100 pound chunks of ice from ponds in the high
San Bernardino mountains to San Bernardino where they were met by brewery wagons which
hauled them to Los Angeles.
In three years, by 1891, Knight and Metcalf had so many
guests they were killing six beeves a week. This was a seasonal operation; a newspaper in
October of that year stated "Gus Knight has closed his hotel in Bear Valley and he
and his bride will winter at the county seat."
The following year, in 1892,twenty more rooms were added
to the hotel and, ever the entrepreneur, Knight was offering lots for sale. The following
year the hotel "was consumed by fire -- a total loss, there being no insurance."
The hotel was rebuilt and Knight's enterprises continued to prosper. He also continued to
be the outstanding sportsman of San Bernardino and in 1895 "won all marksmanship
In 1900 the hotel again burned to the ground, was rebuilt,
and sold to Knight's brother in law Charles Henry who added 10 more cabins and in 1906
sold the resort, including 112 acres. It was sold to a syndicate of affluent Redlanders
know as "the group of unlimited means" and renamed the Pine Knot Resort. This
group included such wealthy Redlanders as oil Millionaire Henry Fisher and son John,
banker Frank Morrison (built Burgess's house), mining magnate Anthony Hubbard (Hubbard
building), and Herbert Garstin of Bear Valley Mutual Water Co. who owned and built on the
island in the lake.
After Knight sold his original hotel property he developed
other properties and apparently prospered. He subdivided for cabins and by 1918 Knight's
Camp had a dining room,, dance pavilion, store, garage, and 40 cabins.
Over the next few years after establishing his original
hostelry Knight began constructing shorter and quicker routes to promote his developments
in Bear Valley. In 1892 he and Metcalf had extended the City Creek lumber Road running
from Highland to the Brooking's Lumber Co. mill in the Running Springs area, through Green
Valley to Bear Valley. This reduced travel time from the valley to one and one half days.
Next, in 1899, Knight and Hiram Clark constructed the historic Clark's Grade Road from
Clark's Ranch, near Seven Oaks in upper Santa Canyon, over the ridge into Bear Valley. At
the same time Knight was organizing a group to build a road up Santa Ana Canyon from the
valley to Clark's Grade, further reducing the travel time from Redlands to one day. I can
recall traveling by Clark's Grade road in the 1920s. It was then still a one way control
road; up on certain hours, down on other hours. The present high-gear access road through
Mill Creek, Barton Flats, and over Onyx Summit, finally completed in 1961, has reduced
travel time from the early two days to less than two hours.
Four thousand Lake Tahoe trout were planted in 1887 in the
new lake. In the early years at Bear Lake the trout fishing was phenomenal regarding both
the size and abundance of trout. This is usually the case with new lakes as there is an
abundance of nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil that eventually leach out. These
nutrients support an abundance of miniscule aquatic organisms upon which the small fish
feed, which in turn are fed upon by the larger fish. In 1891 a 13 pound trout was boated
and the next year an amazing 16 pounder was recorded. A later reporter stated "The
burly rainbow trout of Bear Lake -- made the lake famous from ocean to ocean, as unique in
its way as Catalina Island is for the marine "Big Game [Fish]." Fishing was also
phenomenal in Bear Creek below the dam and in the upper Santa Ana River which it joins. In
1890 a party of four boasted of catching 685 trout in one day before noon.
A newspaper of May 1893 reported, "Gus Knight, Jr. is
said to have caught 49 trout at the Bear Valley Dam aggregating 300 lbs. ,i.e., averaging
six lbs. apiece." If Gus had simply told it himself it would have been considered
reasonably truthful, but the verification of the Times-Index fixes it." He was cited
several times for exceeding the fish limit. Dynamiting fish was reportedly done on
occasion. It appears that such huge catches were commercially motivated as some years
later in 1913 he was fined $100 for shipping 49 six to seven pound Big Bear trout from
Victorville. The legal limit was 10 pounds and one fish. Knight claimed they were
steelhead trout which allowed a commercial limit of 50 fish To have been steelhead they
would have to have swum down the Santa Ana River to the ocean and then returned back up
the Santa Ana and over the dam! Two years later, even after the $100 fine, Gus was
appointed Fish and Game Commissioner of Bear Valley. Such is politics!
In 1910 Gus was cited by the game warden for eight limits
of ducks in possession destined for the L. A. and Santa Monica restaurants and clubs.
Selling game then was not illegal if the legal limit, then 50 ducks in possession, was not
exceeded. Gus claimed that the limits were from his two some, two workmen, and three
independent hunters. In 1911 Frank Loge of Redlands when hunting recalls seeing a wagon
load of ducks from Gus Knight going down the grade to the railroad at Victorville for
shipping to the Los Angeles market. He also recalled hunting with Mrs. Knight who was an
expert shot. A newspaper reported, "A warrant was served on Gus Knight for dispensing
liquor without a license, but that would not dampen him anymore than arrests for catching
fish out of season or selling wild ducks [illegally] on the market."
While Gus Knight was prominent in many ways in Bear Valley
he was perhaps best known for the developing of commercial duck hunting activities for
sportsman, centered on Baldwin Lake, which he promoted and largely controlled for many
years, hence his title, according to one newspaper account, of "The Duck Baron of
Bear Valley". Starting in the winter of 1904-05 there was a prolonged wet cycle
lasting about two decades which kept Baldwin Lake from drying up, which occurs during dry
weather cycles. By this time roads to Bear Valley were becoming much improved. With the
coastal Los Angeles and Orange County wetlands being progressively eliminated by
urbanization, except for private duck clubs, Baldwin and Bear Lakes were the main focus
for much of southern California duck hunting. Popular Gus Knight rode the crest of the
wave for a number of years. The newspaper reported in 1915, "Hunting [at Bear Valley]
was not the same without Gus Knight to center the sportsman crowd." Gus Knight
exploited the duck hunting both by illegal market hunting and by legally supplying the
sportsmen with room and board, renting them boats and blinds.
Duck hunting was very popular in Redlands during these
years and the local newspapers often gave detailed reports of duck hunting trips by
prominent citizens during the duck season. On November 11, 1911 Will Thornquest, Chauncy
Clem, A. L. Moore, Frank Mulvihill and Oliver West, "left for Bear Valley for a week
of duck shooting. Loaded with shot guns and ammunition they will Make Gus Knight's record
for duck killing look like 30 cents. They have bought a cabin and several canoes and
intend to make the trip every year." In December Dr. W. W. Phelps, S. E. Kanady, Ed
Mossbaugh and H. E. Sellheimer reported the best eight days of sport they ever had, each
getting their limit of 50 ducks per day.
In 1913 it was reported that, "a [Redlands] party of
C. J. Trip, S. E. Kanady, John Sering, Fred Hill, Dr. Pugh, and Glen Hoover in two days of
hunting each got their daily limit, reduced this year to 25.
On the opening of the duck season on October 14, 1914 the
newspaper reported, "Bear Valley will be Mecca for many local hunters. Thursday is
the day when the law declares war on the duck tribe legal. Many of the nimrods are
planning to be ready for the slaughter when the day breaks and the season is declared
open. Harry Beal, the [prominent black] mountain stage man will take two loads of hunters
to the valley on Wednesday including [prominent citizens] H. H. Ford, W. T. Thornquest,
Fred Gowland, C. J. Tripp Jr., Walter Alden, Henry Crain and others.
The good years continued. In 1917 a news article reported, "In reviewing California duck season generally, numerous [hunting] camps have been
established [in Bear Valley] by former market hunters who no longer find it profitable to
operate under bag limit restrictions [of 25 ducks] and turned to guiding hunters as more
legitimate and paying better besides." "Preparation for the opening of duck
season in the resort centers dedicated to the sport have made records this year. Bear
Valley has gone into the duck business on a most expansive scale. Dozens of tank blinds
have been sunk in Baldwin Lake by Gus Knight, boats are at a premium and the greatest
opening day attendance is predicted."
Historian of our local mountains La Fuze writes, "Gus
Knight had done something different: from the Oxam [Gold Mountain mines] estate he had
obtained all the lands around Baldwin Lake and rushed to build on the north shore a log
clubhouse with a pier and numerous duck blinds." The Review of October 7, 1917
reported, "It had been reported that Knight was the 'Duck Baron of Bear Valley' and
had everything cornered. Here's the real situation: Gus Knight has not leased all of
Baldwin Lake shore and there is no monopoly on the ducks. G. K. has purchased or leased
about 1/4 of the Baldwin Lake shore [the best hunting area], fenced the land, and has put
in three groups of blinds. There are about 40 blinds for guests at Knight's camp for a
3/day [hunt with one day] at each group of blinds, a keeper to boat hunters to their
blinds, scare up the ducks by motor boat, and pick up their ducks." Gus explains
further, "My arrangement will be a boost to the sport and in the common cause, for
the land I heave secured [by fence] is in three pieces. All these pieces will not be used
at the same time except on busy days, and the ducks will have a protected place to light
and rest. The arrangement will serve the same as 'rest ponds' maintained by all big gun
clubs -- the valley is full of ducks."
Waterfowl were unbelievably numerous in those days and
duck hunting was very popular, probably reaching its zenith in 1919 when the Redlands
Daily Facts reported that an estimated 5,000 ducks were killed in the first two days of
the season. On Baldwin Lake there were an estimated 300 hunters with 90 boats plus many
shore blinds. Gus Knight said that he had never seen so many ducks. Between the duck
hunting fever and concurrent quail season opener, Redlands was largely depopulated of its
male population on opening day of the season.
In 1920 Gus Knight sold his Bear Lake resort, retiring to
a hunting and fishing life in the mountains and to his orange ranch in the valley in
Highland where he built a modern home.
For his mountain recreation he built in 1920 a hunting
lodge on the north shore of Baldwin Lake to entertain his friends and guests.
In the early 1920s, without Knight's control of the
Baldwin waterfowl hunting, a number of duck camps sprang up, supplying boats for hunting
and also some duck blinds and lodging. I have found no description of this period of
Baldwin hunting except for a few brief newspaper incidents and some notes from
conversations with some of my "hunting patients" and friends from the early
years of my practice. Fred Gowland recalled that Jim Stocker had a duck camp on Baldwin
which rented boats. The Daily Facts of January 1922 stated that a total of 76 ducks, field
dressed and hung out to freeze over night, were stolen from the Stocker, Knight and Belt
In December 1923 Leon Atwood Jr. recalled hunting at
Stocker's Camp on the northwest side of Baldwin Lake. There was a small zoo there with
raccoons, bobcat and coyote. Leon, then a teenager was hunting wit his father Leon Atwood,
Sr., Ernest Shay, and Jim Stocker. He described the duck camp as "a hunting lodge of
sorts." Hunting was from boats or sometimes along the shore from brush blinds or from
a promontory. On this occasion Leon recalls that the mountains experienced a fierce wind,
and torrential rains. The lake came up one and half feet, swamping boats along the shore.
Leon, a great raconteur, recalled "The thin-walled cabins seemed to expand and
contract with the blasts of wind almost as if breathing." Steel cables attached to a
dead man in the ground kept the cabins from blowing away.
Waldo Burroughs, former mayor of Redlands hunted at Belt's
Camp in 1924. Belt had "a duck hunting rental operation on the northwest shore of
Baldwin with stilt blinds in the lake and about a dozen row boats renting for two
dollars." Waldo also did pass-shooting between the lakes especially from a hogback on
the northwest shore.
Charles Tayles who had a boat rental and dock in Boulder
Bay on Big Bear Lake for many years and was an avid duck hunter, recalls from the 1920s
that there was also Ballard's Camp on Baldwin's east shore in an area referred to as
According to Leon Atwood Jr., from 1920 through 1923 an
annual wild duck dinner was given for the participants and members of the National Orange
show organization in San Bernardino. Three hundred to four hundred dinners were provided
with wild ducks supplied by a group of prominent San Bernardino duck hunters. This
included such well known sportsman as Dale Gentry (hotel owner), Jim Stocker (County
Sheriff), Harry Allison (County Clerk), the Shay brothers, and Leon Atwood Sr. These ducks
were usually obtained at Baldwin Lake and consisted of about 60% canvasback, the preferred
species, and the rest mostly redheads. The limit then was 25 but one could have 50 in
possession on a two day hunt. Five hundred ducks were usually supplied for these events.
The ducks were accumulated for the event in 10 gallon creamery cans and frozen.
In 1924 the lake was low and there was apparently less
hunting during the late 20s.
My first personal recollection of Baldwin Lake was in the
30s when the lake was completely dry with a white alkali flat in the bottom except for a
small marshy area at the west end. There was no evidence of former hunting camps or
habitation about the lake except for a derelict shack on the east shore with remnants of a
small dock on a shore line well above the alkali flat and blue dots in the white alkali
from ancient brass shotgun shell hulls, the copper in the brass reacting with alkaline
salts of the lake bed.
However, when the wet years have periodically returned, so
have the ducks, though never as numerous as before the great duck depression of the 30s
during the "dust bowl years." Bear Lake has been closed to hunting for a number
of years due to the proximity of dwellings and the heavy boating and fishing recreational
use. Baldwin Lake's hunting was spared this same fate when in 1985 the County Supervisors
were about to also close Baldwin Lake for hunting due to the melee of uncontrolled
shooting during duck openers. Local hunters, California Fish and Game, and the U. S.
Forest Service, with my intervention, worked out a plan of controlled hunting from boats
with reservations which has proved satisfactory.
When the weatherman fills the lake, Baldwin can still be
one of the better southern California duck hunting places for the unattached hunter.
Hopefully, reclaimed water from the Bear Valley sewage plant will be upgraded and made
available to maintain a permanent waterfowl area to perpetuate our waterfowl heritage for
bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, and hunters as well.