Ok, next time you're driving over the Grapevine, take the exit and stop to visit Fort Tejon State Historic Park. I know you've seen the signs and wondered what it was all about. It'll take you less than an hour to walk the grounds and check out what's there. It's pretty cool.
The fort was first garrisoned by the United States Army back in 1854, with the directive to protect and control the Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation, and also to protect both the Indians and the white settlers from raids by other Indian groups in the area. The fort was manned by the First U.S. Dragoons, but with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, they were sent south to guard Los Angeles for a short while, before being sent back east. Three cavalry companies of California Volunteers re-occupied the fort for a short while, but a mere ten years after it was established, Fort Tejon was abandoned in 1864.
But during its ten-year existence, some interesting things happened in the area. One was the Earthquake of 1857, which was one of the strongest quakes ever registered in the United States, estimated to be in the 8.0 range. The quake occurred on January 9, around 8:20 am.
Imagine such a strong earthquake happening today, better yet, let's not think about that.
For a short time between 1859-1860, a group of camels was stabled at Fort Tejon. They were part of a "camel experiment" that sadly never proved successful. Read more about the "camel corps" HERE.
And then of course, think about the everyday occurrences of living in such a place during the 1850s. Travelers passing through, soldiers making their rounds, and the folks and families who lived at the fort. It must have been an interesting place to be.
Today, the grounds of the old fort are a California State Historic Park. There's not much left to see that dates back to the original fort, but there are several buildings that have been either restored or reconstructed. A few of them can be entered and have different exhibits inside. Fort Tejon is definitely worth a visit. Keep reading to see what I found.
This is a reconstruction of one of the two barracks buildings that stood at this spot. You can walk inside and see some exhibits of what the soldiers wore and carried while they were stationed here, and also what the living quarters probably looked like back in the 1860s.
This is what the Barracks Building looked like back in 1914. Another building is visible at the far right, but it no longer stands today.
This is a reconstruction of the Quartermaster Shops. The blacksmith shop is at the left end.
Captain Gardiner's Quarter's. Seems natural that the man in charge would have a pretty nice place to live. This is a two-story adobe building, with a kitchen in the rear. The lower floors were used for entertaining and eating, the upstairs held the sleeping quarters. It also has a cellar, where the perishables could be kept cool. This building was rebuilt in the 1950s on its original foundation. You can go inside and see some exhibits of how the rooms probably looked back when the fort was in operation.
The stairs are pretty steep and narrow, I wonder how many people fell down them over the years.
This is a photo of the Captain's quarters taken by a NPS employee back in 1937.
The Orderly's Quarters. I think this may be the only surviving original building at the fort. The adobe walls have been buttressed on all sides and the metal plates visible on the outside of the walls anchor poles inside the building to help keep the walls standing.
Inside view of the Orderly's Quarters, survivor of many earthquakes.
The Orderly's Quarters as seen in 1937. The building on the right hand edge of the photo was most likely another Officer's Quarters.
An adobe brick pit, with bricks.
A cistern used to store water. This one has some water in it.
Peter Le Beck was buried beneath the branches of this huge Valley Oak. He was apparently killed by a bear on October 17 of 1837. The "Killed by a Bear..." inscription on this stone is a reproduction of what was originally carved into the tree behind it. The story goes that after the mountain man was killed, he was buried here and the inscription was carved into the tree. As the years went by and the tree grew, the inscription eventually disappeared. Years and years later, a ranger at the fort happened to notice an imprint of wording on a piece of bark that had fallen from the tree. She pulled the rest of the bark off the tree, revealing the entire inscription.
The Jailhouse holds three small cells. Not a place I'd want to be kept locked up, especially on a hot day.
The Guardhouse is right next door, with its door facing the door of the Jailhouse. The Guardhouse contains one main room, with a raised platform on one side.
There are a number of fenced off foundation ruins scattered about the grounds of the fort, where adobe buildings once stood. They've fallen to the ravages of time, weather, decay and neglect. Hopefully at some point, more of these ghost buildings will be rebuilt, making Fort Tejon even more interesting. Although, I kind of like it the way it is.
A brochure map of the grounds. So next time you're driving by on I-5, pull off in a safe manner and spend an hour walking the grounds of Fort Tejon.