History of Campo


Campo, California

A Brief History


Russell F. Kimball



Diegueno Indians. Early history of the present San Diego County area records occupation solely by American Indians from the Central Division of the Yumans and identified as Dieguenos by their proximity to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Their travels led westward from the Yuma River as far as the Pacific Ocean. As seasonal hunter/gatherer’s, they are known to have occupied territory from Carlsbad south along the coastal strip, easterly along the southerly side of present Escondido and northeasterly to the Warner Ranch area. “Northern” Dieguenos now occupy the eastern part of present San Diego County and a somewhat indefinite portion of Baja California. “Southern” Dieguenos inhabit the present district of Campo, La Posta, Manzanita, Laguna, and some territory in Baja California. The Dieguenos have long been proud, independent people resisting intrusion into their lives. During winter they formed small groups living in upland valleys on the desert’s edge. They migrated to the foothills in the spring seeking ripening plant food. Summer was a time for return to their small group life at higher elevations. 1, 2.

The Dieguenos called the Campo district “Milquatay” (Meel-ka tah-ee’) translating to “Big Foot” which describes the general shape of the valley. Early settlers came to know the area as Campo Valley, a natural Spanish description of their campsite by itinerant Mexicans. At a later time, the Milquatay was also known as Ursery Valley.

Early Settlers. By 1869 Milquatay Valley had a population of four hundred people, so many from Texas that the area was known as “Little Texas” or “New Texas” for a time. 3.. They traveled west via Yuma making the difficult trip through the desert and rugged mountain trails with heavy wagons drawn by ox or bull teams and in a number of places had to build the road ahead. Charles F. Emery, at Campo as a boy in the 1870’s, recalled the Burgesses, L.N. and Henry Bailey, the Gaskill brothers (Silas and Lumen), John and Alonso Warren, Jophn Speck, A.P. Herrick, Hochensmith, Chowning, the Clymes, Grays, Haydens, Morrises, and Livingstone – nearly all from Texas. Ella McCain records that “one of the first settlers in Campo Valley was Adam Lawrence and his family who came from Texas in 1866. He filed for homestead but returned to Texas later. 4. Charles H. Cameron, still living in Campo in 1945, recalled for Guard D. Gunn that his family came to Campo in 1868 and the Gaskills and Warrens proceeded them, Joseph A. Warren arriving in 1865. The Camerons and Warrens were pioneer sheep and cattlemen.5.

The Gaskills arrived in the spring of 1868 after several years of homesteading and setting out an orchard and vineyard at San Bernardino and then purchasing a thousand acres at San Jacinto for farming and bee culture. At Campo they purchased large tracts of land and promptly established the town (1.3 miles north of the International Boundary) by building the first store, blacksmith shop, grist mill and other enterprises. They also raised cattle on a range extending into Mexico and Lower California. They developed apiaries of about four hundred colonies that in one summer produced over thirty tons of honey, the second largest output in the United States at that time. being exceeded only by their friend J.S. Harbison of San Diego.6. The Gaskill’s merchandise was supplied from the San Diego area by horse-drawn wagons.


1870 – 1895. Writing for “The Southern California Rancher” In June 1945 Guard D. Gunn quotes Charles H. Cameron’s personal account of the early events including the famous raid on the Gaskills: “I knew Lumen H. Gaskill and his older brother Silas E. Gaskill well and I’ll tell you the true story of the raid on their store, and of the stone store building which the County has made into an historical monument. There was a band of Mexican horse thieves that operated on both sides of the Border and as far north as San Joaquin valley. They would steal horses one place and sell or trade them someplace else. One day five of them crossed the Border on horseback, aiming to rob the Gaskill store which at that time was a frame building straddling the creek where the bridge now is. They tied their horses under some oak trees a short distance away and started to the store. Seeing Lumen in the store, they fired at him and wounded him. He fired, back and wounded one of the Mexicans, then dropped into the creek through a trap door in the store floor. The trap door was used to let fresh meat, butter, eggs, etc. into the cool creek waters – sort of like a refrigerator, you know. Lumen figured he could run to a nearby building and get another loaded gun and keep on fighting. Silas was working in the blacksmith shop back of the store when the fracas began, and running around the side of the store with his gun he wounded another Mexican. Lumen got a third bandit, then the other two ran to their horses and galloped away, leaving their three wounded companions. The captured bandits were put in a cabin near the store and Jimmy Keys was left to guard them. That evening a bunch of cowboys driving some cattle through the country heard of the shooting and came over to Campo. It was a cool evening and about dark they went to the cabin and offered Jimmy a drink of whisky to warm him up a bit. Jimmy took it and was soon fast asleep but the cowboys loafed around until nightfall. Next morning when Jimmy awoke, the cowboys were gone and the three bandits were hanging to a big oak tree nearby. Their bodies were buried near the creek and later the bank washed in and all trace of the graves lost. But the old tree still stands just inside the gate of Camp Lockett (on the south side of the street opposite the present East County Lumber and Ranch Supply building, but now a dead trunk with most of the top cut away). The Mexicans who escaped continued their escapades elsewhere. The old frame store was torn down long ago and the present stone store building was built by the Gaskills in 1885 – I know the date because I helped build it. It took two years to finish it.”

The raid at the old wood frame Gaskill store occurred December 4, 1875. Cruz Lopez was the leader of the band; Jose Alvijo and Raphael Martinez were hung. Lopez died of wounds a year later, having been shot by a French sheepherder who had ridden up just in time to be mortally wounded himself. Alonzo Coto was the only bandit to escape without wounds.7.

Word came to Campo May 1876 that approximately one hundred bandits gathering in the Tecate area planned to rustle Jacumba stage station keeper Pete Larkin’s cattle, “clean out” the Gaskills for food and ammunition and revenge the losses in Lopez band at Campo the previous December. Twenty settlers assembled to reinforce the small cavalry detachment detailed from San Diego to “outpost” duty in the mountains along the border to protect the mail stages and telegraph line. Colonel Barnard in command at San Diego arrived with additional cavalry troops. With that combined presence, the bandits did not follow their original plan. Scouting toward Jacumba, Barnard did find several hundred armed Mexicans and Indians (some Indians were still using bows and arrows) scattered among the rock formations on the Mexican side of the international border. Barnard, minimizing the danger, soon returned to San Diego with his command but left a squad to guard Pete Larkin’s ranch and stage station. The bandits did continue to rustle his cattle for a time before drifting away.

In 1877 two Mexican horse thieves passing by near the Campo valley school house took Andrew and Zachary Elliott’s prized horse tethered outside. The boys immediately left the classroom, borrowed horses and joined by a young Mexican named Mellendez, gave chase. Mellendez obtained a permit from the Alcalde at Tecate for their pursuit into Mexico. The Elliott brothers finally caught up with the horse thieves and killed them. Before they could re-cross the Border a group of Mexicans captured them and took them to San Rafael (about 30 miles south of the border), charged them with murder claiming the Alcalde exceeded his authority in granting the permit. With that development, about a dozen Campo settlers went to the rescue. On the way they were ambushed by a larger Mexican contingent and also became prisoners. After several weeks of negotiation with Mexican authorities at San Rafael by the sheriff of San Diego and finally by a special commissioner appointed from Washington D.C., all were released but with much ill-feeling remaining on the U.S. side of the Border. The Mexicans had cut the telegraph line east and west of Campo and menaced the settlers. At that same time the support of the U.S. Cavalry was gone with their trek to Montana to join in the pursuit of Sioux Indians under Crazy Horse, still “on the loose” after the Custer massacre at the Little Big Horn river.

With continued depredation on Larkin”s cattle, Campo settlers went to an Indian rancheria near Jacumba to resolve the matter. A battle ensued with a party of about forty braves firing on them from rocky cover. The settlers killed one native in returning fire. Finally a truce was arranged with the death of the Indian offsetting the purported killing of cattle for meat. Larkin remained the unsatisfied loser.8.

Thievery, banditry and violence continued along the border area during subsequent years. Cold-blooded murders by Indians, Mexicans and U.S. renegades with only looting as motive were reported from time to time. Stages were frequently held up. Horse-stealing was well organized. Those taken in Mexico were driven north for sale in the Los Angeles area; those taken in the U.S. were run south into Lower California.

Campo settlers were threatened again in 1895 following a revolt at the Ensenada army barracks. Yaqui Indians were often pressed into the army by the Mexican government rather than imprisoned for their depredations. About forty such “soldiers” at Ensenada gained liberty by killing their captain, his wife and a lieutenant. They outfitted themselves with the armory’s Remington rifles and ample ammunition. To return to their Colorado River homeland, they needed horses not available in Ensenada where they had been quickly hidden by owners. The Yaquis headed for the mountain country of Campo. Again, the Gaskills had received word and made ready with the ranchers in the area. U.S. Army Lieutenant Hubert with ten infantrymen appeared after a forced march of fifty miles from San Diego. The Yaquis reached the Adams ranch fifteen miles south of Campo shortly after that family fled for protection at Campo. Looting all the Adams left behind, but still on foot, the Yaquis then learned that Mexican Governor Villagrana with a posse and Captain Rodriguez with twenty militiamen were gaining in the chase. To elude their pursuers they changed direction from Campo to Tecate Valley. Rodriguez caught up with them a mile or two southwest of Jacumba and finally subdued them in battle.9, 10. Ed T. Aiken had purchased the Gaskill store in 1886 and after two years of operation sold it to the Klauber merchandising interests in San Diego. Henry M. Johnson became manager of the stone store with his brother, Murray, as assistant. They extended the business by developing a chain of trading posts at Potrero, Descanso, Tecate and Jacumba – later incorporated as the Mountain Commercial Company. Supplies were brought in from San Diego and La Mesa with a wagon drawn by four horses and later by freight wagon draw by eight mules.11.

1896 – 1915. The Gaskills operated the thousand acre Campo Ranch until 1896 when they sold it to Ed Aiken. Their cattle interests were finally removed to the Colorado River area where Lumen’s sons continued the operation. In 1902 Lumen and Silas dissolved their partnership and established homes in San Diego.12.

By 1911 Campo had a new two-story hotel (east of the stone store) replacing the first hotel adjacent to Gaskill’s original store. The new hotel was flanked on the north side by a one-story wood-frame Customs House and on the south side by the one-story board-and-batten Immigration Office.13. Campo was headquarters for a large staff of Customs and Immigration officers for many years.

1916 – 1940.The San Diego and Arizona Railway reached Campo in 1916 with the first passenger train arriving September 19th. The San Diego “Union” in reporting the event remarked, ” When capitalists, bank presidents and railway agents travel together, something is likely to happen. In this instance it was the unusual appetite which took the crowd direct to the Campo Hotel where Ed Aiken, the host, had provided fried chicken in heaps. John Forward, Jr. ate nearly all the heaps his friends asserted”. In December 1906 John D. Spreckels announced through the San Diego “Union” his intention to build a railroad for a direct connection with the Southern Pacific Railway at El Centro. The San Diego and Arizona Railway was incorporated by Spreckels, his brother Adolph R. Spreckels, J. D. Spreckels Jr., William Clayton and Harry L. Titus with the financial backing of E.H. Harriman, then President of the Southern Pacific Railway. On September 7, 1907 San Diego Mayor John F. Foward led the ground-breaking ceremony near the present intersection of 18th and Main Streets. E.J. Kallright, a top assistant to William Hood, famous Chief Engineer in charge of some of the Southern Pacific’s most difficult construction, was appointed Chief Engineer and acting Superintendent for location and construction. One of Kallright’s youthful engineering assistants starting in 1914 was Carl Eichenlaub, a native son of San Diego who advanced to Superintendent and was with the railroad forty-seven years until his retirement in 1961.14.

After financial delays, resolved by additional support through shared ownership by the Southern Pacific, the line had been extended across Campo Creek by the steel trestle bridge approximately eleven and one-half miles east of the Campo depot. Construction was then continued eastward to Jacumba and on through the extremely difficult and rugged Carriso Gorge to meet with track laid earlier from Seeley westward. The San Diego “Union” November 16, 1919 records: ” At a point 1000 yards cast of Tunnel Number 8, Division Engineer A.C. Dubbers and Track Gang Boss C.A. Vincent laid the last rail in place. John D. Spreckels made a short speech from a flat car, jumped down, stripped off his coat and drove the final golden spike. A thousand spectators observed. Six hundred had come from San Diego by train. After thirteen years of labor and $17,000,000 in cost (over 100,000 per mile) San Diego achieved a direct link with the East”. Ownership was transferred to the Southern Pacific in 1932 when the San Diego and Arizona Railway was re-named San Diego and, Arizona Eastern Railway.

By 1918 the Mountain Commercial Company had a new larger store just southeast across Campo Creek from the old stone store. The newer building is occupied today as the Campo Trading Post. The two-story Gaskill “Mansion” constructed in the 1880 ‘s was still located several hundred feet southeast of the new store. A picture in the San Diego “Tribune” December 2, 1931 shows “Inspectors of the mounted customs service from District 25 at U.S. Custom Patrol House at Campo”. The building was the same Gaskill house after relocation at the approximate site of the original one-story Customs House.

Ed Aiken continued operation of the Campo Ranch until 1923 when sold to Byron Walters. Later owners were Henry J. Adams of La Mesa and Ellsworth M. Statler, son of the founder of the Statler hotel chain, who operated the ranch as the “Circle ‘S'” until the U.S. Government bought part of the acreage for Camp Lockett.15.

The Camp Lockett site was first used as a cavalry camp in 1878 when sixteen troopers bivouacked for several months in Campo Valley. “E” Troop of the 11th Cavalry was stationed there in 1918 with a succession of “horse soldiers” also stationed “where road and railroad return to the United States after dipping into Baja California en route from San Diego to Yuma”.16. The 11th Cavalry Regiment spent the intervening years until 1940 at the Presidio of Monterey.

1941 – 1985. One of the Regimental squadrons of the 11th Cavalry arrived at Campo on Thanksgiving Day 1941 after 54 days of maneuvers at Live Oak Springs. The Regiment was ordered to Camp Seeley in the Imperial Valley November 4, 1940 and rode in to Camp Lockett the night of December 10, 1941 under wartime organization with 70 officers and 1351 enlisted men. The camp of the World War II years (1941-1945) was officially named for Colonel Lockett, a highly resected cavalry officer with a brilliant career spanning forty-four years of service from U.S. Military Academy entry in 1875 to retirement in 1919. ground was broken June 23, 1941.17.

Later there were as many as 5000 troopers of the 10th, 11th and 28th Cavalry Regiments based at the Camp. With mechanization and departure of the cavalry the Camp was converted for use as Mitchell Convalescent Hospital. As many as 200 Italian, prisoners of war were assigned to Camp Lockett from the larger Camp Haan in Riverside County. They worked in hospital services, mess halls, warehouses, shops and on the roads and grounds. The stockade in which they were housed never had a locked gate! None tried to escape. Campo residents describe them as being cheerful, singing as they went out on their work parties and feeling lucky to be alive. Their masonry work is still evident at many locations about the Camp.18.

The expanse of the Camp is still apparent and nearly all the structures within the site today are of World War II construction. George Duckworth’s barn was an Army blacksmith shop. The gymnasium constructed in 1943 on Sheridan Drive was used later by the Mountain Empire Union High School until occupancy of the new facility on Buckman Springs Road half way between Campo and Pine Valley in 1976. The gymnasium building is now the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Car Shop. The Camp Lockett complex was declared surplus by the General Services Administration June 19, 1946. By 1949 thirty-nine acres with all improvements had been transferred to the Mountain Empire Union School District for use as the Junior and Senior High School. San Diego County acquired 600 acres with all improvements in 1950.

The final passenger run on the SD and AE to Calexico was Thursday, January 11, 1951. Freight runs continued with interruptions after Hurricane Kathleen September 10, 1976. Willis Kyle, a short line contractor, was finally able to run freight trains again in 1982. A brush fire burned two trestles June 18, 1983. That, coupled with diminished freight traffic, terminated through runs to El Centro. The Campo Milling Corporation building next to the railroad towards the northern edge of the valley stands as a landmark to mining and milling of feldspar from Houser Canyon Mine 1921 – 1934 for vitreous china products, enamel and porcelain.

Campo Valley today is still a pleasant rural community with a population of approximately 1100 including Cameron Corners named after the pioneer family. Descendents of the original inhabitants are still in the Milquatay, now living ranch type life at the northwest portion of the valley. The whistles, bells and horns of the railway of yesteryear have returned with the present activities and developments of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association just north of the Campo depot.


  1. Mrs. V. Anderson, “Diegueno Indians”, San Diego Historical Society Research Paper, November 26, 1969.
  2. Ruth Underhill, “Indians of Southern California”, Branch of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of The Interior (Haskill Press, Sherman Pamphlets, Number 2).
  3. John Davidson, “Campo, Milquatay (Big Foot) Valley”, San Diego “Tribune”, December 14, 1934.
  4. Ella McCain, “Memories of the Early Settlements Dulzura, Potrero and Campo”, (South Bay Press, 1955)
  5. Guard D. Gunn, “Historic Old Campo”, The Southern California Rancher, June 1945.
  6. J.M. Guinn, “History of California – History and Biographical Record” (Historic Record Company, 1907).
  7. Ibid, p. 1300.
  8. M. C. Hensley, “Wild Times at Old Campo”, The Southern California Rancher, May 1950.
  9. Ibid, p. 34.
  10. Guinn, “History of California”, p. 1299.
  11. San Diego “Union”, December 9, 1951. p. D-11.
  12. Guinn, “History of California”, p. 1299.
  13. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives, Photograph Number 1697.
  14. H. Brad Atwood, Public Relations Manager, Southern Pacific Company discussion with San Diego Radio Station KGB, October 7, 1962.
  15. Gunn, “The Southern California Rancher”, June 1945.
  16. Pamphlet on Camp Lockett, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.
  17. Ibid.
  18. James W. Hinds, “The Camp Locket Military Reservation, Campo, California 1941 – 1946”, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives (typewritten copy dated 1984).