November 2006 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts






Tour Information

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Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at:

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty

From Freight Wagons to Fine Hotels

 by Cecile Page Vargo

          In the fall of 1861, a savvy French Canadian named Remi Nadeau arrived in Los Angeles  and ran into a well known local businessman, named Prudent Beaudry.  Mr. Nadeau asked  Mr. Beaudry for $600 which he quickly invested in a wagon and six mules so he could start up a little freighting business.

          Remi Nadeauís  first freight route covered nearly 700 miles and thirty five days across the Great Basin between Salt Lake City, and Utah, to Los Angeles. By 1864, he and others like him were teaming 1,100 miles and sixty days to the camps of Bannock and Virginia City, Montana. By 1868, the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads,  threatened the freight wagon business.

          In December of 1868, Nadeau's freight wagons were rolling with full loads of 18 inch,85 pound silver lead ingots headed down to Los Angeles from the Inyo Mountain mining camp of Cerro Gordo. The wagons would then make the return 230 mile trip along the Bullion Trail to Cerro Gordo with wine, brandy, fruits and nuts, potatoes, corn and other necessities.

          By 1871, with more than 2,246 tons of bullion coming out of the high desert mountain top,  the Los Angeles based  News was  proclaiming that Nadeau  "has given employment to more men, and purchased more produce, and introduced more trade to Los Angeles than any other five men in this city."

View of Cerro Gordo taken between 1879 and 1887. View is looking down canyon to Owens Lake.

Victor Beaudry's smelter is at the right of the photo.                          (Photo: Robert C. Likes collection)

          With the expiration of Remi Nadeau's Cerro Gordo freighting contract in December of 1871,  the business went to James Brady, the superintendent of the Owens Lake Company smelter. Bradyís furnace and the launch of the Bessie Brady steamer  six months later, controlled the entire Cerro Gordo bullion. The little steamer carrying ingots across the Owens Lake saved three days wagon travel, but  the wagon subcontractor hired by Brady couldnít haul the silver bars from the lakeside fast enough. Although others would try their hand at moving the bullion, Nadeau eventually, wound up with the contract once again.

Although this photo was made in 1909, similar sized bars of Cerro Gordo silver-lead bullion piled up on the south end of Owens Lake after Nadeau's first freighting contract expired.

          Nadeau joined hands with Mortimer Belshaw and Victor Beaudry of the Cerro Gordo mines,  to form the Cerro Gordo Freighting Company.  As his empire grew, he had eighty teams,  each consisting of fourteen mules and three high sided wagons, carrying freight from Cerro Gordo and other mining camps to Los Angeles and back again.  He also built stations at 13 to 21 mile intervals along the trail, providing stopovers for tired freighters and their worn mules. Remi Nadeau was the premier freight mogul for the Eastern Sierra trade for the next nine years.

          The jingle bells of the Cerro Gordo Freight Company's mules, were eventually  silenced by the thunderous sounds of the Iron Horses, as rails were completed from Mojave  to Los Angeles. Remi Nadeau turned his interests elsewhere. In November, 1882, the famous freight wagons delivered mill machinery for the last time to Providence near Mitchell caverns in the Eastern Mojave, and the Bonanza King Mine. The following year, mule teams, jingle bells, wagons and all were sold to Nadeau's wagon boss who still managed to find freighting jobs between Calico and Daggett.

          In 1880, aware that it was a changing age, Nadeau began importing sugar beet seeds, and invested in a $100,000 sugar beet factory. He owned several hundred acres of land east of Florence, which were now devoted to the sugar beet venture. Many of the farmers in Los Angeles County made use of the seed distributed by Nadeau. By the fall of 1880, 1100 acres  had been planted on Nadeau's farms, as well as others. At the mouth of Ballona Creek, he planted another 2800 acres of sugar beet.  Sadly, the sugar refinery failed to work. Nadeauís friend, Harris Newmark wrote, "bad at best, and the more sugar one put in coffee, the blacker the coffee became."

          Nadeau decided to turn his sweet failure to success, and began purchasing and planting a million cuttings of wine grapes. In November of 1881, Nadeau's sugar beet fields turned into vineyards of mission, zinfandel, and Charbonneau grapes. Less than three years later, he had 2,000,000 grape cuttings on his 3,600 acres east of Florence. This was proclaimed to be the largest vineyard in the world.

          Successes in winery, led Nadeau to try his hand at growing barley. 31,000 acres in what is now Inglewood became the site of the largest barley crop in the world. The infamous droughts of Southern California, however, soon put an end to Remi Nadeau's ambitions as a barley king.

          Even before his freighting business was gone, in 1878, Nadeau had purchased some land at the southwest corner of First and Spring Streets in Los Angeles for $20,000. The property contained an old adobe with a horse corral a block in the distance from it. The Plaza was still the place for thriving businesses in the late 1870's, and Nadeau was laughed at for purchasing property so far south. Friend, Harris Newmark, told him he was "crazy". With money from a windfall in barley speculation in 1882, Nadeau's designs were on a 1500 seat showplace theater for Los Angeles, much like the great theaters of San Francisco. He even hired an architect to study the San Francisco theaters and draw up plans.

The Nadeau Hotel offered first rate accommodations in early Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times building now occupies the location near present day Los Angeles City Hall.

          Plans for an elaborate theater somehow changed to a four-story business block, with a passenger elevator, the first of its kind in Los Angeles. The old adobe on the Nadeau property was torn down and the ground preparations began. Los Angeles gossiped of "Nadeau's Folly". Nadeau's folly, and original plans for stores, professional offices and private residences, however, turned into the Nadeau Hotel, when a local hotelier leased the entire building in May 1886. On July 5th, the hotel opened with a magnificent banquet and ball. Through the turn of the century, Nadeau's hotel was the place to be for Los Angelinos. The Nadeau Hotel stood at the site of the present day Los Angeles Times building.

           The following letter describes a visit to old Los Angeles and the Nadeau Hotel in 1888:

Los Angeles Cal
Monday 17th Septr 1888
Nadeau Hotel

My dear Son

     Yesterday morning when we left San Francisco the weather was delightfully cool and our journey was pleasant up to 3 pm when we got into hot weather and dust, and we have had it hot ever since.

The journey was very uninteresting - a repetition of the Prairie from Omaha to California. We passed through as great deal of the Alkali [desert] too, this morning.

The town looks quite lively, being dressed in flags and arches. The Odd Fellows are having a picnic here this week. I believe they are coming from all parts of the U.S. Do not know whether it is a convention or a conclave, but I have as above called it a picnic.

This seems to be quite a thriving City. Has horse cars, cable cars, and all the modern improvements in lighting. But it is a long journey to get here. Hotel very good.

Have not yet seen the theatre. I do anticipate having rehearsals this week, so will be able to tell you more about the place in my next letter.

No more at present, but love and Kisses from your loving Mother.

          The ensuing years, brought declining fortunes and messy private affairs for Remi Nadeau. The great boom of the 1880's did manage to bring declining  property values back up long enough for him to secure $225,000 in funds through a new mortgage on the Nadeau Hotel. This paid off debts he had accrued from unsuccessful sugar beet and barley farming, but could not buy him his health. In the middle of January, 1887, Remi Nadeau succumbed to complications from Bright's Disease.



The City Makers

by Remi Nadeau

Trans Anglo Books


From This Mountain, Cerro Gordo

by Robert C. Likes & Glenn R. Day

Chalfant Press


The Silver Seekers

by Remi Nadeau

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