Bear Valley (No. 331 California Historical Landmark)

Bear Valley is located 11 miles northwest of Mariposa and the site of Colonel John C. Fremont’s headquarters. He arrived there after the close of the Bear Flag Revolt that resulted in taking California from Mexico at the end of the Mexican American War. He bought a 44,000-acre parcel of the Mexican land grant, Rancho Las Mariposas, and claimed it as Bear Valley. Before he arrived, the area had been called Johnsonville, Haydenville, Biddle’s Camp, Biddleville and Simpsonville to honor former residents of the area. At its peak, Bear Valley was home to 3,000 people. At the time of the 2010 census, the population of Bear Valley decreased to 125.

Fremont was granted official title in 1859.  His mines were reported to have yielded $200,000 worth of gold within four months. Fremont built a two-story hotel and later a store and home, “The White House,” on his property. Ruins of the Bon Ton Saloon, Trabucco store, Odd Fellows Hall, school house and jail built in 1850 are still visible. The elegant Oso Hotel that Fremont built along with his home and other structures burned in 1888. His initial $3,000 investment yielded a huge profit when Fremont eventually sold the property in 1863 for $6,000,000.

Evidence of mining can be still seen on the road from Mariposa to Benton Mills, which was once the largest of Fremont’s mills along the Merced River. Remnants of a thriving Chinese community are still standing on the road to Coulterville. Along the drive to Coulterville and looking down the ridge is the center of the area known as Hells Hollow. A carpet of purple godetias blankets the canyon in the springtime. The drive that winds down the grade passes several of Fremont’s mines, including those at Horseshoe Bend, Split Rock and Sherlock Gulch. Nearby Exchequer was a mining area on the way to the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The Exchequer Dam created Lake McClure for the purpose of providing water and electrical power to Merced County farmers.

The marker is located on State Highway 49 (P.M. 29.2), Bear Valley.

Mariposa County

The wonders of the Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs lie in eastern Mariposa County. The small settlements in the western foothills of the county sprang up during the Gold Rush. The people in these early mining towns made many decisions affecting statewide mining law.

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Latitude: 37.568889 Longitude: -120.119444 Elevation: 2051 ft

About this Establishment

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

Share your experience. Please leave a comment below if you've visited this historical landmark.

Time Period Represented



My great-great-grandmother owned the Bon Ton Saloon with her first husband, Joseph Bigler. He was murdered there and the only known "suspect" was my great-great-grandfather Maurice Henry Newman, Wells Fargo Agent and town administrator at the Mariposa Courthouse. Margaret was called the "first white woman in Bear Valley". Her house was purchased from Fremont and she initially paid him rent for the saloon. After Joseph's death, she turned the saloon into a bakery. E Clampus Vitus published her obituary in 1925 as a "covered wagon pioneer". Her maiden name was Margaret Kester (Castor).

Bronwen Edwards, 6/15/2013

My great grandparents lived and mined here. I was able to go to the museum many years ago where I found Mr Delgadillo’s in the general store ledgers and bank ledgers from 1901-1903. I found pages of items he had purchased, and his savings account information. I'd like to take a ride back with my father to show him. Hoping those things are still around near the general store.

Nellie Kathain, 1/7/2015

My grandfather, George Webley, mined near Bear Valley in Pine Tree Mine, would have been 1937 or 1938. There was a cave in in the mine, and he was "mortally wounded." My grandmother and dad were headed to join him there when they got the telegram. I’d love to know more history of that area and if anyone knows of the Pine Tree Mine. In the late 50’s our family took a vacation, and my dad located the mine.

Paula Webley Bauer, 1/17/2015

My great-grandfather George "Alfred" Walker was a hotel keeper in Bear Valley based on the June 21, 1900 census, along with his wife Martha. My grandfather was born there and was two. I'm hoping to discover the name of the hotel and more about him.

Marta Walker Betts, 9/3/2015

Correction....great-grandfather was Alfred Godfrey Walker. Still can't find further information about the lodge or his mining claim.

Marta Walker Betts, 2/20/2016

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