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California Hot Springs

by Bill Horst

 

Native people = Bokninuwad Yokuts/Hoeynche

Their Name for the Place= Hoeyn Tineu (Deer's Hole)

Their Name for the Hot Springs= Hoyen Idik (Ilik)

Their Name for Deer Creek Canyon= Hoyen Tooltuh

The name these people were called by location by others = Hoeynche (Deer People)

 

Last known use by the Yokuts comes from a statement by Jose Vera (Lawhawseh) Tulumne Yokuts. Some Time in the early 1800's he and his family were barred from further use of, and their traditional trips to the Hot Springs.

 

 

Historic Use

 

Some time in the late 1870's T. J. and N. B. Witt filed claim to the upper Deer Creek drainages, which included the several hot springs now known as California Hot Springs. There are references about the hot mineral springs on upper Deer Creek in several promotional articles on Tulare County's mineral wealth, saying these could be of great value for health purposes.

 

Napoleon Bonapart Witt (Bony Witt) started operating a camping area and built some small individual bath houses and charged for service, this was sometime in the early 1880's. Shortly afterward, in 1889, they sold this 300 plus acres, "the resort", to "Firebaugh, Pike and Wingrove". Then in 1901 a Dr. Bernhard bought the interests of Messers. Firebaugh, Pike, He and Mr. L.S. Wingrove operated it until the death of the doctor in 1904. during the time the Doctor and Mr. Wingrove operated it a hotel, small cabins with baths and built bathhouses, camping was still allowed and they had a small store. Mr. Wingrove remained a staunch supporter and promoter for the Hot Springs area, after all in 1889 or shortly thereafter he was appointed postmaster and opened the Hot Springs P.O. so he had planned on staying.

 

In 1904 Mr. Wingrove brought in J.H. Williams, Susman Mitchell, Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Newbury and formed CA Hot Springs Incorporated , Mr. Williams was president until his death in 1910 at which time his widow Mrs. E.H. Williams became president. Joseph Mitchell was vice president and manager, Lilburn S. Wingrove was secretary and Susman Mitchell was Treasurer.

 

Between 1904 and 1910 the hotel was improved with a golf course and private residences were added, by 1920 a dancehall/skating rink was added as well as an icehouse. The services one could expect, as advertised, were golf, swimming, horseback riding, fishing, tennis, dancing, skating and mountain climbing. The baths consist of a plunge modern bathhouse for men and women equipped with shower and tub baths, a modern laundry and ice plant are maintained for the benefit of guests. There's a general store, a government post office and long distance telephone lines connecting the springs with outside points. In 1911 Mr. Wingrove had organized and become president of Ducor Telegraph and Telephone Company. After the creation of the Sequoia National Forest in 1915, the headquarters were at California Hot Springs, in 1928 they moved to Porterville and the old buildings, below Hot Springs, were the district offices.

 

Available to visitors in 1920 were several options, you could stay in

a tent for $3.50 per day per person to $9.00 a day for a bungalow room with a private bath. Breakfast and lunch at the Hotel Del Venado was .75 cents per meal, dinner was $1.00 and a special Sunday dinner was $1.25, there were times when 200 plus people would be served on a Sunday, prior to 1910 the prices were half that. People who visited there in the early days said some would stay for a month or more at a time for the curative powers of the hot baths. Tourists would come to Ducor or Porterville by train to take the California Hot Springs stage line in the springs.

 

The First stage road up to the area, other than the trail, went up Deer Creek then in the late 1890's another road was brought up from White River. By 1910 a route from Ducor through Fountain Springs was being developed, this would be known as "the Old Control Road" It may still be traveled by high center vehicles if there are no rock falls or opposing vehicles met. On the control you could go up on even hours and down on odd hours, it is said there were those who it seemed could not tell time. The "new road" was completed in the early 1930's and was improved on in the 1940's and 1950's because it was still a very popular resort.

 

There was a crushing blow to the resort in 1932 when a kitchen fire destroyed the Hotel Del Venado, an imposing three level building and the ice plant, after the fire and over the next twenty years the resort went through three different owners. During the 1920's and 1930's it became very popular with the Japanese of the Central Valley but the war years stopped their patronage. The 1950's and 1960's saw the resorts patronage start to improve, then again in 1968 a fire destroyed the bathhouse, bar, restaurant, store and post office. Only a few rental cottages, the dance hall and swimming pools were left.

 

For a number of years the only sign of life there were the few private residents and old garage remaining just west of the old resort a few hundred yards, and the area just east of the dancehall mobile post office, with the old cottages, were called by some "Jap Hollow". The owner at the time of the last fire was a man called Pop Baxter by all who knew him. he held on into his nineties hoping for someone, with a vision of what it could be again, young and vigorous enough to pull it off. He found those people in the Gilbert Family; now to find out what the new California Hot Springs Resort is like you need to go there!

 

I said the owner at the time of the last fire was a man called "Pop Baxter" by all that knew him, but they didn't know that wasn't his birth name. I visited Mr. Baxter a number of times while he was waiting for someone who would be able to develop the old springs again. He said that when he arrived in this country about 1915 he had his name pinned to the front of his coat and the first official who he talked to looked at it but couldn't pronounce it so he changed Bagdasarian to Baxter and said "that's your name now, next" He said I didn't know I could object and didn't speak English well enough to anyways so I'm Baxter.

 

 

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