The Grave Site in Afton Canyon
Five Burials in the Afton Cemetery
Moving from left to right from uphill to downhill,
there are five graves, oriented to the sunrise in the
east. In a Christian context, this orientation is
thought to be in anticipation of the coming
Resurrection. Each is covered by a cairn or tumulus,
which is a slight mound of dirt covered with
cobble-sized local rocks, perhaps designed to protect
the bodies from predatory animals or to somehow
discourage grave robbers. it was also customary for
visitors to add stones as a mark of piety and
remembrance as well as keeping the dead from escaping.
The first or uppermost grave is bordered by railroad
ties, symbolic of the locale. The wooden Latin crosses
at the head of the graves certainly indicate Christian
belief on the part of those responsible for burying the
One, José Flores (about 1882 – 29 June 1906)
|Five feet, seven inches.
Medium build; About 145 pounds.
Dark eyes, dark hair.
See "State of California, County of San
Bernardino, Before H. Pittman, Coroner, In
the Matter of the Inquisition Upon the Body
of Gose Floris, deceased." Report Number:
"Mexico Trio In A Bad Melee: Railroad Cholos
Attack The Foreman, One Killed; San
Bernardino Sheriff Reports Lively Doings At
Afton, Near The Caves--Laborers Go After
White Man With Knives--Two Surviving
Mexicans Not Expected To Live," Los Angeles
Times, Wednesday, 30 May 1906, p. II8.
Based on an online search of the
Los Angeles Times, the print versions of the San
Bernardino Daily Sun, and the Citrograph as
well as the San Bernardino County Coroner’s reports, I
now know that one of the five burials is that of a
Mexican national named Gose Floris, more accurately
rendered in today’s orthography as José Flores.
Early Tuesday morning, 29 May 1906,
three workers (Floris, Garcia, and Martinez) came out
from Los Angeles on the eastbound Number Two train. They
arrived intoxicated. When Section Foreman Robert Y.
Williams told them that he would not hire them,
they attacked him with knives and a rock around 5:30
am, about three-fourths of an hour after arriving.
Suffering a broken right shoulder, broken ribs, and a
smashed mouth, Williams fired his six-shooter in
self-defense from the ground, instantly killing José
Flores, a native of Mexico living in Los Angeles, and
fatally wounding Inocencia Martinez, a native of
Mexico who was living in Rancho Santa Anita at the
time. Nineteen-year-old Martinez died on the third of
June in the San Bernardino County Hospital, but Ramon
Garcia, wounded in the hip, survived.
Burial Two, Male, after 1873 or
1988, "A BLM archaeologist dug into one and found a
skeleton clad in Levi’s jeans, but no clue to the dead
man’s identity or fate."25 The 20 May
Barks Mexicans Dead: Cholos Assault Salt Lake Section
Foreman: One Aborigine is Carted Away Still Clutching
Bloody Knife," San Bernardino Daily Sun 25 (no.
94, 30 May 1906), p. 1, col. 4 and "A Hot Battle But
Foreman Scores: Cholos Wounded at Afton Brought to
Local Hospital," The San Bernardino Daily Sun
25 (no. 95, 31 May 1906), p. 2, col. 3.
Trio In A Bad Melee: Railroad Cholos [i.e., of mixed
ancestry] Attack The Foreman, One Killed; San
Bernardino Sheriff Reports Lively Doings At Afton,
Near The Caves—Laborers Go After White Man With
Knives—Two Surviving Mexicans Not Expected To Live,"
Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, 30 May 1906, p.
II8. San Bernardino County Coroner Henderson Pittman
investigated by holding two inquests: see "In the
Matter of the Inquisition upon the Body of Gores
Floris, deceased," (SBC Coroner Report 1906-2nd
ledger, page 181) and "Inquest on Inocencia Martinez,"
3 June (SBC Coroner Report, 1906-2nd Ledger, page
Ignacio (sic) Martinez," The Citrograph 38 (no.
21, whole number 988, Saturday, 9 June 1906), p. 6,
24 "In the
Matter of the Inquisition upon the Body of Gores
Floris, deceased" page 5. Martinez, aged 19 years, was
buried in San Bernardino’s Catholic Cemetery known as
Mt. View’s Calvary Section; see, Lois Headley, "Four
Cemeteries, San Bernardino, California," San
Bernardino County Museum Association Quarterly 14
(no. 2, Winter 1966): 27ff.
25 Sam Atwood,
"BLM Moves to Restore Afton Canyon," San Bernardino
Sun (Sunday, 23 October 1988):
Burials Number Three through Five
As for the other
three remaining graves, likely burial dates could range
from about 1904 to about 1960; certainly, typhoid or the
influenza of 1918 could account for them.28 Given the
morbidity rates in the late 19th and early 20th century,
the burials are most likely those of males.
to potential nationalities include: the track
maintenance workers who mostly likely would be
immigrants from Greece, Japan or especially Mexico (see
the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad experience)29 as well
as foremen from Scotland or Ireland.
Afton Station (1904-1943)
Located on the east side of the Mojave River at an
elevation of 1407 feet, Afton was founded by the SP, LA,
and SL Railroad when it provided the settlement with a
429 foot deep well drilled into the alluvium—"the depth
to water at the time of completion in August 1904, was
17 feet."4 Because the first official train arrived in
Las Vegas from Los Angeles on 1 May 1905, some number of
inhabitants, eventually including bridge foremen,
section laborers, track walkers, telegraphers and water
pump engineers, must have been present.
As an aside, telegraphers reported back to the
dispatcher on the passing of trains; “section laborers
work as members of a gang to perform routine and
non-routine track and roadbed maintenance and repair,
including installation of rails, ties, switches,
ballast, and other track materials, using hand-held
equipment and tools, including power tools." Of all the
duties of a section foreman
the keeping of track in gauge is one of the most
important. This should never be neglected, and he must
be familiar with the flagging rules and know that men
whom he sends out to flag trains also know. Switches
need looking after continually and should be examined
regularly; fences should be looked after to keep stock
out, thus saving money for stock claims.
Two men constitute the town,
or more accurately speaking, did constitute the town
until yesterday. One is the operator who sleeps
alongside the telegraph instrument in his tent; the
other is an engineer in charge of the pump station, he
is working only to get a stake to go seeking mines in
the hills; he "batches" in his tent alongside the tent
of the operator…[Then,] two days ago a work train
stopped there and unloaded new handcars, tools, picks
and shovels and a gang of six or eight Mexicans. The
boss was unloaded, too, a little wizened up Irishman
who is to live all alone in the pretty section cottage
which looks like a Swiss chalet
Most of the tents would be
replaced by two section houses, a mover car house,
telegraph house, pump house, the depot and living
quarters along with an outhouse and a clothes washing
area as well as the aforementioned section foreman’s
house. A separate section for Mexicans existed as well.
In this regard, Afton was something like other desert
stations in terms of structures. A school teacher, Jean
Lucas, arrived in September 1924, using "the large
center room of the section-house for class work."
Interestingly, the US Bureau of
the Census did not consider Afton, California worth
counting as a separate settlement in 1900, 1910, 1920,
or 1930. In fact, the entire population of San
Bernardino County was only 27,929 (1900), which was up
from 25,497 (1890). According to the 14th Census of the
United States in 1930, Barstow Township did not have a
recorded population in 1900, but in 1910 it was 1,026
and 1,538 in 1920. If we accept Rider’s estimate of 789
as the population for Barstow, then Afton at the highest
could barely have had a theoretical population of 600,
at most. Since Afton was not a division point (such as
Yermo or Las Vegas) where there were maintenance crews,
it had to be much smaller; a couple of dozen residents
at most. Nonetheless, a perusal of the Census District
142 enumeration reveals many Mexican surnames such as
Murrilla, Reyez, Romero, Soliz, Vazquez, Villes, Ybarra,
and Zanchez, among the 442 families enumerated.
By February 1938, Afton is
described as "an isolated train order office midway in
the gorge," according to Signor. However, Robert C. Rowe
writes engagingly of his two years in Afton as a
telegrapher in 1942-1943. Finally, Afton started its
decline as a settlement with the installation of central
traffic control (CTC) which replaced the need for an
on-site telegrapher in Afton by the end of World War II.
Information supplied by:
John V. Richardson Jr., Ph.D.
Information Studies, UCLA