“Kern River, with its towering granite walls, banks lined with brilliant green, and deep-throated roar is the gateway to one of California’s most fascinating mountain regions. Here, in this stupendous natural setting, romance, comedy and tragedy were once enacted during one of California’s most important gold rushes.” — Historical Spots in California by Mildred Hoover
In 1853—during the California Gold Rush—gold was discovered in considerable quantities along the Kern River. Miners from all over the state began rushing to the region, creating a gold rush of huge proportions. Southern California miners and merchants were elated as they saw new opportunity for fortunes that had previously been monopolized by their San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento rivals. Keyesville—first named Hogeye—was the first town to spring up in this area. It was named after Richard Keyes, who had discovered the "Keyes Mine" in the gulches of the Greenhorn Mountains in 1854.
Between 1853 and the early 1870s, Keyesville was a center for both placer and hardrock gold mining. By 1857, Keyesville was at the height of its prosperity with several hundred miners living in the town. The town sat in a cove of the Greenhorn Mountains, its dwelling houses and wooden stores scattered randomly over the steep mountainsides, and its rough trails used as streets. The area was so remote and steep, that supplies coming from Visalia were nearly impossible to transport.
Similar to camps in the North, Keyesville was the scene of gambling resorts, wild gunmen and Native American conflict. In 1856—during which neighboring towns were under attack by San Joaquin Indians—residents erected a rude fort on the knoll just outside of town. Having recently killed five Native Americans nearby, Keyesville was expecting the worse; however, after requesting reinforcements from Fort Tejon and Los Angeles, there ended up being no attack after all. On April 19, 1863, however, Keyesville was the site of the Keyesville Massacre in which white settlers and soldiers banded together to murder 35 Kawaiisu Indian men.
Although never used in action, outlines of Keyesville’s historically important fort can still be seen today. Reached by a beautifully scenic dirt road, this pioneer mining camp has only one original building remaining. The entrance to the Keyes Mine can be visited in a gulch to the north of town. Keyesville's landmark marker can be seen on Black Gulch Road, 2 miles south of Highway 155 (3.3 miles west of Lake Isabella.)
Kern County was named after the Kern River, which Captain John C. Frémont had named in honor of Edward Kern (a topographer who traveled with him throughout the west during his 1845-46 expedition). Established in 1866 from parts of Los Angeles and Tulare Counties, this county is known for its early explorers and trailblazers and its historical travel routes. Important routes such as the Grapevine, the Butterfield Overland Route, Walker's Pass, the Tejon Passes, and the Tehachapi Passes are all a part of this county.