In the beginning...
The Spirit of Tehachapi
February 13, 2021
Tehachapi was once a vast, spacious valley with tall, waving grasses, wild game and running streams. Magnificent oaks, centuries old, grew in profusion along with pines and fir. With the Tehachapi Mountains to the south (one of the Traverse Mountain Systems of the U.S.) and the last of the great Sierra Nevada to the north, the valley between was blessed with pleasant summers and enough rain and snowfall to grow the crops needed. Although the vast Mojave Desert began just over the Tehachapi range, it didn't seem to intrude upon its first residents, the Kawaiisu or the Nuwa (The People), as they called themselves.
They were peaceful Native Americans and welcomed the first explorers into their land. In 1776 Padre Francis Garces was treated kindly by these people. In later years one would have found trekking through their valley Kit Carson, Jedidiah Smith and a little later, John C. Fremont.
I read in some writings that John C. Fremont actually took the wrong turn at the Tehachapis and meant to go farther into the Owens Valley area. Well, we all take a wrong turn, even today on our fine, paved roads. "Don't worry about it, John C., old fellow!"
I would like to enlarge on another Tehachapi traveler. Padre William Denpflin, a Catholic priest of the Dominican Order who began his yearly trips through the valley in 1879. He was know to the Kawaiisu as Padre Blancho. His precise Germanic habits found him establishing such an orderly routine for his visits that the Kawaiisu were able to send scouts ahead so as to announce his coming. Thus, they would have time to construct rude brush chapels (called Kahnis) so he could celebrate Mass.
They were somewhat in awe of him because of his large stature, thick red beard and white robes. He was treated kindly with welcoming hospitality the years he was in the area.
Padre Blanco left for Rome in 1896 and was next heard of in the mission fields of Guatemala. Years later, old and weatherbeaten, he was to die in a New York hospital. His last request echoed his love for the California Native Americans, who had befriended him, when he requested an Indian blanket be put around his shoulders.
The Land of Four Seasons, the friendly Kawaiisu, hang in there, Tehachapi.
Let's carry on. We need one another.