Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Camp at Marl Springs
Located six miles northeast of Kelso,
San Bernardino County, the post at Marl Springs in the Mojave
Desert was first garrisoned by the Army as an outpost by troops
from Camps Cady and Rock
Spring on October 5. 1867 and was occupied continuously until
May 22. 1868, at which time it was abandoned permanently. The
number of troops stationed there was usually minuscule. The site
apparently was never given official status by the Army except
as an informal outpost of Camp Cady. Marl Springs, however, continued
to be an important station on the travel route across the Mojave
Desert also serving as the site for several trading posts. Many
deserted structures and ruins now occupy the site. Crumbling
rock walls mark the site of the old Army post that was erected
by John Drum and his troops in 1867.
Encyclopedia of Historic
Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United
Camp at Marl
by Colonel Herbert M.
Hart, USMC (Retired)
It may have been the last of the desert
redoubts to be established, but Camp Marl Springs' history indicates
it was one of the most important. Location
had a lot to do with the importance. It was about halfway between
Camp Cady and the Colorado River. And, more so, it was flanked
on the east by a 12-mile valley that had a 1,400 foot elevation
change, a torturous trail of loose gravel and sand repeatedly
crisscrossed by dry washes. To the west, it was even worse. Devil's
Playground was the nickname pinned on a 17-mile stretch of drifting
sand that had neither tracks to follow nor water to drink.
Especially for the eastbound traveler, Marl Springs was a welcome
sight. In 1852, John Brown later the ferry owner at Fort Mojave,
found the springs a life saver. When his party had become exhausted
in the blowing sand dunes of the playground,' Brown had struck
out ahead for Marl Springs. The peaks of the Old Dad Mountains
showed him the way out of the windswept bowl, then he marked
his desperate route between the bare, rocky wastes of the Kelso
Marl Mountains, on his right, and rolling lava hills on his left.
He dropped into Marl Springs without ceremony
and filled his belly. After the life had returned to his joints
and veins, and a keg had been filled with water, he returned
to the wagon train. His keg provided enough refreshment to get
the travelers and their stock to Marl Springs and a new life.
A couple of dozen Piutes met Brown at the spring both times,
but "they behaved well."
Marl Springs was not one of the original
Carleton redoubts across the desert. The intention was that roving
patrols between Rock Springs and Hancock Redoubt (at Soda Lake)
would keep the area clear of roving Indians.
The springs were an important water source
on the road. The Whipple Survey party of 1854 spent a night at
the site on March 7, reporting "excellent grass . . . scant
wood . . windy . . . cold." They found the springs "small,
not half enough water for the mules, but it constantly flowed
and after a while there was enough to satisfy the mules."
The flow was so regular that they were able to refill their kegs
and also have enough for the camp's use.
The water that drew the traveler also
drew the opposition. Fifteen or 20 Piutes were reported harassing
wagon trains on the western half of the road in 1863."It
is said that they killed one of the mules belonging to a citizen
at Marl Springs," the Fort Mojave commander wrote to headquarters.
A year later, rumors of Indian depredations again were heard.
The Mojave commander received a letter from a civil officer "stating
that four horses and a bullock had been killed and eaten by Indians
at Marl Springs." But this was a false alarm; two days later
the official reported that the stock had been found, neither
killed nor eaten.
With traffic on the road increasing, the
Army put token protection at Marl Springs in order to provide
some type of cover from attack. The tiny post sat at the foot
of a spur of the granite Marl Mountains. Commanded on two sides
by high had to sacrifice defensibility in order to command the
spring. The facts of desert life were bluntly a matter of defending
from a poor spot that had water instead of a good but dry location
that could prove a trap.
In 1867, the post was surrounded by hostile
Indians. During a 24-hour siege, the station had a full test
of its position. There were only three men there but they came
out with their scalps intact. In the true spirit of the romanticized
West, just at dawn a rescue column of soldiers cut through the
besieging circle of Indians to save the post.
TO GET THERE: Marl Springs shows on the
Kelso 1:62,500 Quadrangle. The private road passing through Rainbow
Wells is usable; pick it up east of Baker from U.S. 91. Two and
a half miles south of Rainbow Wells, take right set of tracks
toward Marl Mountains. Site of camp is at foot, next to spring.
A U.S. Geological Survey marker is about 25 yards from spring.
Do not attempt to proceed to other fort sites west or east directly
from here; traces of the Government road have been eroded and
the way is impassable.
Two dugouts of this type
probably served as living quarters, a use suggested by holes
and primitive chimney for smoke escape. Dugouts probably were
caves hollowed out of hillside next to corral, and roofs have
collapsed since use. A fireplace was inside, as suggested by
soot-blackened hole and smoke traces. Pile of rocks surrounds
ceiling hole and served as chimney.
Marl Springs is in immediate
foreground in this view looking east toward Providence Mountains.
In center foreground, rectangular watering trough at spring can
be seen between posts. Corral is to immediate left with corral
building most obvious. In immediate left foreground, side walls
of possible headquarters building can be seen against side of
slope. Dugouts were in row to right, obscured by brush. Government
Road across valley to east goes 12 miles before reaching foot
of mountains. Valley is 300 feel below level of Marl Springs.
From low point in valley to pass leading to Rock Springs; road
increases in elevation 1,200 feet in eight miles. Al though it
is only 18 miles from Marl to Rock Springs by Government Road,
six miles of it in this valley have eroded away and direct route
Marl Springs' military post
might have looked like this; at least this is how ground remains
look today. This patte is based on a studied guess of traces
present in 1964 which may have come from old Army site, or from
later use. Corral apparently was square area surrounded by rock
wall with rock building against southwest corner. Two "barracks,"
a guess as to use, are suggested by dugouts in hill side while
"headquarters" is at location of outlines of stone
building. (Drawn from 1964 site inspection.)
was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West,
published in 1965