By Dean Greenwalt
In the early Twenties, Warren and Gertie Bowen and their five children were living in Los Angeles. Their son Glenn had become sickly after having gotten pneumonia and losing a lung. The doctor advised moving him to a drier climate, and so they first considered moving to Palm Springs to raise fruit. Then a neighbor Herbert Nolan inspired Warren with glowing accounts of the last available homesteading opportunity, Juniper Flats. At great effort, Nolan had built a 3 mile road from Mark Law’s homestead following the ruts of wagons used by Native Americans for annual pilgrimages to the hot springs. Nolan staked his claim on 160 acres, later called Chalfant and then Moss Ranch. On visiting Nolan’s homestead and cabin, Bowen was captivated by the land and hot springs, and decided to homestead the adjacent 160 acres.
In her book “Bowen Escapades”, Gertie Bowen writes that in early May 1924, they sold their home and packed the children into their 1916 Buick. Their personal belongings were loaded onto a Model T truck covered with a tarp. Making a late start, Warren drove the truck and Gertie followed in the Buick, winding up the Cajon Pass and on to Rock Springs. On Nolan’s narrow road, they soon got stuck in the sand climbing out of the creek at Law’s homestead. Following an exhausting and lengthy struggle, they drove the last three miles and arrived very late, pitching their tents under large junipers at their new home, elevation 6,200 feet. It was the beginning of a grand adventure for the Bowen family.
Olive (Bowen) Corrington was only three weeks old when they moved. She told local historian Richard Thompson, “It was kind of scary for my mother-it was a hard life- come October it snowed. Finally in 1925 dad got us a little house, so to speak, built, the best he could, but the weather being so bad, and he would be gone for days upon days we would put canvases up to keep out the bitter cold….with a wood stove. The little house didn’t have a kitchen at first, he finally added a kitchen, which was help, but never had a bathroom, only an outhouse. It was a houseful, with two bedrooms, and we slept on cots outside all summer, or in the barn, wherever we might sleep. Dad was a Spanish American War Veteran, 18 years older than my mother, and is pension was $18 a month and that is what we lived off of. Everything was bought in a 100 pound sack, which was mostly beans, potatoes, onions, flour and sugar. Mother made all of the bread for us, she did everything.”
In her book, Gertie described cooking meals on a two-burner gasoline stove. A small oven placed over the burners marginally served to bake bread and biscuits for the hearty appetites. Lacking a stewpot of adequate size, an enamel pail was pressed into service. Rabbit (stewed, baked, fried or with dumplings) augmented garden vegetables. Olive tells of hard times when they couldn’t raise anything, and survived by hunting ducks and deer and fishing in Deep Creek. “And rabbits, we had rabbits galore to eat. We all went rabbit hunting.”
Of her father, she says, “For his age he was quite a young man, he was a hard worker, and so was mother. Mother worked right along, but I wouldn’t trade my life as a child up there for anything.”
This story was written by Dean Greenwalt for the Friends of Juniper Flats Newsletter March 2007. It was a huge loss when Dean was killed by a driver involved in a high speed chase in 2009. Dean was the previous owner of Rock Springs Ranch and although he lived in the city he spent much of his time on the ranch. He also spent time researching the history of the area’s various ranches. We will be reprinting those stories here. Olive Bowen was a member of Friends of Juniper Flats in the early 2000s, but since Dean’s passing we have lost contact.
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The photos in this article and more information can be found at the Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley. For a fee to the owner, you may still park and camp at Bowen Ranch and take the same walk as the Bowen Family down to the Deep Creek Hot Springs (it is a clothing optional location). To get to Bowen Ranch take Bear Valley Road east from I-15 freeway. Continue to Central Rd and turn south. Turn east on Ocotillo and follow it to Bowen Ranch Road. Take Bowen Ranch Road (dirt road) south to the junction of Coxey Truck Trail and continue for another 3.3 miles to Bowen Ranch.