An Odd Experience.
A little over a year ago, a party of pleasant people gathered
at a hospitable home in Bakersfield, with the intent of going
on a couple of week's picnic under the grand oaks and in
the pleasant places of historic Fort Tejon, forty miles away.
There was a complete assortment; husbands, wives, men,
maidens, little children and a jewel of a cook. Fort Tejon
was invested by gradual approaches in the nature of an evening
drive to the James Ranch — 10 miles from town; then a
rest of people and teams until early dawn; next a trip across
the plains before yet the sun had time to cause discomfort;
an early breakfast in the "Little canyon of the Grapes,"
beside a babbling mountain brook, and ere noon a safe
arrival at the Fort — a place, in early days, resounding to the
tramp of armed men, now a sylvan solitude, beautifully
shaded, delightfully watered, and abounding in vegetation
and varied delights for the lovers of nature.
Before the start, a captain was appointed. Experienced
picknickers always recognize the fact that there should be
one responsible head, and that his will must be law. Within
the crowd was one admirably fitted for the position. The
honor and responsibility was forced upon him, and in the
course of events confirmed unto him forever and forever
The site for this fort, commanding the only available
approach from the coast to the upper end of the San Joaquin
Valley, was selected in 1852 by General (then Lieutenant) E.F.
Beale. Uncle Sam laid out a magnificent parade ground,
and surrounded it with massive buildings ample for the
accommodation of a regiment a thousand strong. Alack! it
is a pity that from sheer thoughtlessness, closely akin to vandalism,
these magnificent cenotaphs of a former day and generation
should have been let decay, until now the place of
safety and defense, erected with such care, skill and thoroughness,
is nothing but a mass of ruins. The buildings are
rootless and untenanted; the parade ground, once so trim
and neat, is unkempt and desolate; even the soldier dead lie
in their little acre unmarked and unknown. The one marble
slab, having as inscription:
IN MEMORY OF
THOMAS F. CASTOR.
COMPANY A. 1ST REGT.
U. S. DRAGOONS.
DIED AT FORT TEJON,
SEPT 8. 1855.
AGED 35 YRS.
is not only rent from its base, but is broken in twain, and,
even where he lay, in whose memory it was erected, cannot
now be told. And yet, a martial genius pervades the place.
It even may be that at dead of night, the forgotten return
again, and in rank and file with the light step of that which
has no substance, to the music of long ago, deploy and manoeuvre
even as if of the living present. Certes, the place is
haunted with martial memories, and the spirit of those who
now are not, still lingers lovingly around the deserted ruins.
In such an aroma, organization a la militaire became a
necessity, and, after rule and pattern — in which orderly
things human nature does so truly delight — a company was
formed, christened The Foxtail Rangers, with the foreordained
captain at the head, and other officers in ample supply, according
to wonted needs in piping times of peace. That all were
officers goes without saying, but that all alike were willing to
obey and to help, bespoke a happy degree of comfort not
always present in a picnic party, and so the happy days flew
by, each vieing for entertainment of the others, and all enjoying
the delights of the land.
One day there occurred a genuine sensation. Years before
the recorded occupation of this country by white men, someone
who will be forever unknown, had carefully chiseled in
the bard wood of one of the giant oaks which here abound,
the following inscription:
A x BEAR
In repairing ravages the tree had gradually put forth new
growth, until this inscription of 52 years ago was almost
covered from sight. Disputing about a letter, part of which
could be seen, one of the party cut into the new growth with
an axe. It was found that the old wood had rotted away
from the embrace of the new, leaving quite a cavity. Into
this hole, one of the ladies of the party put her hand and felt
letters in relief. The result was that the new growth, with
bark and wood together nearly three inches thick, was cut
away from the old escar [sic; eschar] and there in relief was Nature's
stereotype of man's inscription to Peter Lebeck. More remarkable
still, the new bark on its face shows some of the
letters of inscription in relief, while the obverse of the new
growth has the reverse imprint or ster[e]otype. It is perhaps
easy to understand how the new growth started gradually
from the sides of the cut and in time filled every wound
made upon the tree, its parent. It sought to repair what it
considered the ruthless damage of the past and with the
tight embrace of youth filled every cavity; but how and why
this new mantle should bear upon its face in bold relief, the
scar that for so many patient years it grew to conceal, is beyond
the ken of wistful man.
The new growth inscription was carefully packed and
safely taken to Bakersfield by the returning rangers. At the
time of the great fire, it was one of the first things to be
taken to a place of safety. Since then it has been carefully
examined by many and numerous speculations as to its how
and why have resulted. Photographs of it have been taken
and for a long time its permanent place seemed to vibrate
between Gen. Beal[e']s Washington home and the Smithsonian
Institute. The General finally sensibly settled its status and
it now lies safely in a bank vault at Bakersfield, subject to
the control of the Captain of the Foxtail Rangers.
And so the Rangers journeyed home again bearing happy
memories and mementos of a pleasant trip. But there was
also something to think about. The inscription to Peter
Lebeck carved so deeply in the oak tree and so astonishingly
reproduced by nature could not help but cause reflection and
in due time there crystallized in the minds of all the Rangers
this one thought: "What more can we learn and what else
can we find about this man whose only memento is a carefully
carved inscription antedating all other known records
of the advent of white men into this territory?" The desire
to discover more became unanimous while what might be
done came to be spoken of with bated breath. Such feeling
in due time passes from speculation to deed, and in the natural
course of things it occurred that one evening each of
the Rangers received the following:
Bakersfield, July 12, 1890.
General order No. 23, Series B, General Attention Company!
"The time for the annual sojourn of the rangers approacheth.
Hence therefore, you and all of you, collectively and
severally, are ordered upon pain of expulsion to prepare
yourselves and on Thursday, July 17, 1890 at 8 o'clock P.M.
fall into line at Encampment H, ready for the yearly pilgrimage
to the hills, the oaks and the pleasant places of Fort
Per order, —
— Post Chaplain."
Ready for much more than the order expresses, that is to
say, with the wish dear to all explorers, to discover and to
conquer, the little company of twenty two met promptly on
time, and were soon on the road driving to the James Ranch,
there to rest and afterward with early morning start to pleasantly
course over the valley and reach the mountains ere the
heat of the day. So it was done and once again beside the
babbling brook a hearty breakfast was enjoyed, and after a
delightful drive through the mountain canon, winding with
the brooks' devious ways and always climbing up and up until
Fort Tejon was reached. A lovely resting place and in no
wise unsubstantial, for bad not the cook with his load of
bedding, tents, delicacies and comestibles reached the place
at early dawn and was there not a smoking meal ready for
the hungry — when all were hungry? Aye! so there was.
It is a place fit for the gods and closely accommodates itself
to lesser wants. Some one gets ambitious for a deer. Make
ready, climb the mountain sides, stalk a little after the manner
of a careful hunter, and soon straight away into camp
comes the victor with his vanquished. A bear is desired. It
takes skill, endurance and acumen, but somehow, bear meat
soon comes to be less than a camp luxury. The ladies with
pea rifles, rarely venturing to the lawless extreme of a shot
gun, are continually bringing into camp some little thing or
other, sometimes welcome for a stew, again better fitted to
adorn a bat or perhaps illumine some dream in calico. The
little tots even venture out of their own accords and come
back laden with wild roses, clematis and tales of thrilling adventures.
On every side there awaits a new experience.
And all were comfortable, lazily enjoying the delights of
the land day by day and night after night, yet each haunted
with a put off and unspoken wish. The deed had to be done
and so one pleasant morning the captain gave the order to
"fall in by twos." Led by two tiny girls hand in hand, the
Rangers marched from camp to the Peter Lebeck tree, where
arriving, the little leaders divided, marching one upon the
one side, one upon the other, the elders following, so that
upon the command "halt," the Rangers stood in horse-shoe
form around a place which was supposed to be the grave of
The captain then said: "Comrades; as we well know the attempt
before us in one which has had serious consideration
and is dear to our hearts. When Gen. Beale suggested that
an effort should be made to discover, if possible, any relics
of the first recorded pioneer of Kern County, and promised
in the event thereof to have a facsimile of the original inscription
done in marble and placed upon this tree at the
head of Peter Lebeck's grave, he voiced the unanimous wish
of us all. We are here to-day for that purpose, and not as
vandals but with tender hearts, do we now intend to make
an attempt to uncover the remains of Peter Lebeck. The
adjutant will now read that extract from Gen. Beale's speech
at the banquet tendered to him two years ago, which refers
to Peter Lebeck."
The adjutant advanced and read as follows:
"As the name implied, he must have been one of that remarkable
class of men, once better known than now, the
Canadian voyageurs. That he was a great man among them
is almost certain from the care with which the inscription
had been made. The lettering was well executed and had
been deeply cut. It was formed to remain while the tree
lasted, but the incisions have long since closed, and now
the inscription stands out in bold relief, as if Nature herself
were inclined to aid in preserving the memory of our first
pioneer. In connection with this simple record of death, a
tale might be imagined more pathetic than Evangeline. Who
knows by whom he may have been loved and mourned in
the same Arcadia on the far shores of the Atlantic? Fancy
the sentiment, the love, the hopes and the holy ambitions
that may have prompted an expedition, the toils, dangers
and tediousness of which the young man of the present day
cannot even imagine. From what direction he may have
come there is no sign. He may have reached this coast
through the wilds of Canada and Oregon and been this far,
by way of the interior valleys of California, on his route to
the hamlet of Los Angeles, of which he may have heard,
intending to return by a route that would have taken him
through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and thence through
the uninhabited Western wilderness to the St. Lawrence and
to his home. But of his long wanderings, whether he was
travelling Northward or Southward, we can only conjecture.
This simple, pathetic record alone remains to tell that he was
the first pioneer of Kern County, and as such he should be
Then at a sign from the Captain, the Post Chaplain took
up the theme, saying: "Peter Lebeck! Peter Lebeck! Peter
Lebeck! No answer? Is there no key which will unlock a
door tightly closed and sealed for three and fifty years? Is
there no way by which we can look through the mold and
gloom of this grave, back to the time when he was sentient
and a living man among his fellows? What manner of man
was he? Did he leave a home in some far off Arcadia with
deliberate purpose and launch forth upon the stream of life,
self centered, well equipped in mental powers, determined to
conquer and in due time return to his own and his dear ones
with a golden argosy — yet, by unforeseen disaster lie stranded
here? Or, did he float out like a waif upon the ocean of
life, drifted to and fro, buffeted hither and thither by adverse
tides and detaining storms until at last, here lies of his
life only its flotsam and jetsam? May there have been an
Evangeline who patiently, hopefully, perpetually followed,
always behind, ever apart, and who now lies in some faraway,
never reunited with her own?
What may have been is only conjecture, but it is certain
that by kindly hands he was tenderly laid to rest. And in
what a place! Greater than mausoleum of king or potentate!
Shaded from midday sun by these giant oaks, amid whose
shimmering leaves the twittering birds sing daily requiem.
By night, the twinkling stars look down upon this quiet
grave guarded by stately sentinels. In pleasant days here is
a sylvan solitude, disturbed only by bird songs and the busy
hum of countless insects, which have nature's right to live.
And in time of storm, when these mighty branches creak
and writhe in the embrace of the tempest, the tender
grasses over his head gently bow before the blast, when the
storm is over to rise again. Arise again! The hope of immortality
is the one and only alleviation of the bitterness of
death. And, it is wide as all humanity. When, one by one
each of this little party with unwilling feet steps slowly
down into the embrace of death, our friends and dear ones
left behind, in full hope and faith will say of us: "Ye shall
We of another day and generation are here gathered around
the grave of one who was not of our time, was of another
nationality, speaking perhaps a different tongue, differing
from us in thought, habit and custom, and yet with one
accord we hopefully and reverently say: 'Thou too shall
arise again Peter Lebeck.'"
Then a hymn was sung.
The preliminaries had been done, each in its turn. The
Rangers bad become impressed and stood, little ones and all
in theis proper order, serious and expectant.
With a mingled sense of relief and gruesomeness the captain's
voice was heard, saying "to pick and shovel, each
man working five minutes in his turn." It is no slight affair
to disentomb the dead. There is a graveyard creepiness
about it and back of that, the instinctive sense of all humanity,
to "let the dead rest." Yet, the Rangers had visited
that spot for a purpose and were determined, reverently, yet
persistently to make a careful search for the remains of
Kern's earliest known pioneer. A place upon the east side
of the oak and inscription had been chosen, carefully laid out
by compass, and here the work commenced. At nearly four
feet from the surface human remains were encountered, and
with intense interest and in almost deathly stillness the
bones of Peter Lebeck after a burial of three years [sic; fifty-three years] were exposed
to the light of day.
The body bad been carefully laid in the tomb, due east and
west by magnetic meridian. The left arm was folded upon
a fleshless breast. The right forearm was missing, as also
both feet and the left hand. Two ribs upon the left side
were broken. It was considered strange that feet and left
hand should all be gone, apparently unjointed, when that
little bone the hyoides was intact, unless upon the presumption
that the bear which killed him had gnawed the
extremities. The skeleton was nearly six feet long and
broad in proportion. the skull is noble, with lofty brow,
wide between the eyes and jaws and deep.
But one tooth was missing, a right lower molar. The
bones were copper colored and in a remarkable state of preservation.
Upon finding the skeleton, shovels were discarded
and with every possible attempt not to displace the remains
from their bed of earth, the dirt surrounding was carefully
removed with case-knives and fingers until the frame work
of the so long dead was exposed to the light of day, when
several photographs were taken. the surrounding earth was
carefully worked over by hand, in the hope that something
of metallic nature, even a button, could be found to be religiously
preserved as a relic of this almost prehistoric pioneer.
Nothing in the way of sign or symbol or message
from a day long since gone by could be discovered. The inference
was that he was probably clad in buckskin, and upon
being lowered into the grave his remains were carefully laid
out and then covered to await the coming of the resurrection.
The sealed past bad been broken in upon. The quiet rest
of over half a century had been invaded and nothing remained
but to re-cover the ancient tomb; and after a brief
exposure to the sunlight of the present day, the historic remains
of Peter Lebeck were again gently put from human
sight. The re-made grave was carefully mounded over, a
temporary paling erected, around it, and the ladies covered
the mound with flowers.
Thus ends a strange, eventful history, but its recollections
with patient tendrils will weave in and around and forever
remain in the hearts of the Foxtail Rangers.
— Post Chaplain.
Bakersfield, Cal., July 31, 1890.
Further reading: Download The Weekly Breeder and Sportsman: Full Year 1890 (1,200 pp, .pdf).
Story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.
Click to enlarge.
The Foxtail Rangers
Participate in an Interesting Ceremony at Fort Tejon.
San Francisco Morning Call | Sunday, July 27, 1890.
The Foxtail Rangers returned from their annual trip to Fort Tejon Tuesday. During their stay a very interesting experience happened at the request of General Beale, being no less than uncovering the remains of Peter Lebeck at the foot of a great oak, which bore the inscription, "IHS † Peter Lebeck, killed by a bear Oct. 18th, 1837."
The ceremonies attendant thereto were very impressive. The company formed in twos at camp, led by two little girls, and marched to the tree, grouping around it in the form of a horse-shoe. Short addresses were made, the remarks of General E.F. Beale at his banquet two years ago were read and a piece of sacred music was sung and then the work of uncovering was begun.
About four feet below the surface the skeleton of Peter Lebeck was found in a remarkable state of preservation. The remains had been carefully laid in the tomb, the left arm crossed upon his breast. The right fore-arm was missing, also both hands and both feet. Two ribs were broken. Otherwise in its fifty-three years of quiet rest beneath the sod the skeleton was intact. The skull was wide, deep, and with a lofty dome. The man himself must have been of great stature, at least 6 feet high, and broad-shouldered in proportion.
Great pains were taken to move the bones as little as possible from their bed of earth. The dirt was carefully scraped away so as to bring out the shape of the skeleton, and when this was done several negatives were taken. After this the remains were recovered, the mound heaped up and covered with flowers by the ladies, and then a temporary paling was erected around the remade grave.
Finding these insures the erection by General Beale of a marble slab, with an inscription as nearly as possible a fac-simile of that originally carved in the solid oak over his remains. Thus, after fifty-three years, the remains of the first known white pioneer of this whole country have for a few moments seen the light of day.
— Kern County California, July 26th.
News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.