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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 dead.

Burial Number 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: 1906-2181.

"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 1920s?

Sometime before 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

21 "Pistol 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.

22 "Mexico 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 183).

23 "Died: Ignacio (sic) Martinez," The Citrograph 38 (no. 21, whole number 988, Saturday, 9 June 1906), p. 6, col. 4.

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.

Speculations as 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.

February 1905:

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.
Professor of Information Studies, UCLA




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Old wells at Rasor Road

Soda Dry Lake off of Zzyzx Road at Rasor Road California Desert. The Mojave Road crosses though it.