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First Non-Indian Landowner in San Jacinto was Former Slave

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By Cheryl Brown
The Black Voice News


California has a history steeped in Black people who were formerly enslaved, freed, and during and after slavery expanded to the West Coast.  The mountains were formidable barriers to travel and many came by sea.  Those who came  into Southern Calif. by land came through the Cajon Pass.

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James Hamilton (1823-1897), part African American, was the first non-Indian settler in the Cahuilla (Anza) Valley area, arriving about 1873. His ranch was at the eastern edge of the valley. Bible-toting “Uncle Jim” was highly respected and loved. His sons and grandsons continued as cattlemen in the Anza and Garner valley country. -- Photo, property of Dolores Arnatz
One of these people was James Hamilton.  Born in 1822, he was the first resident who wasn't a native Indian to live in the Anza  area.  The year he arrived was 1873, just 12 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

According to the "San Jacintos" by John F. W. Robinson and Bruce Risher, Hamilton was sometimes called "Uncle Jim" or "Nigger Jim" even the downgrade rode to Anza was known as "Nigger Jim" Grade.  After traveling west from Ohio with an 1847 Mormon wagon train, he lived with Sioux Indians and in the early 1850s he arrived in San Bernardino.
 
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Hamilton School named in honor of James Hamilton
He tried to homestead a claim on Mexican land and because the claim was not valid he moved on to Vail Lake, an area close to Temecula.  There he and his children were again unsuccessful in staking a claim.  His third try was a charm.  He successfully obtained 160 acres located in the area of present day Anza.  Even by today's standards he and his sons built a sizable ranch.

Hamilton and his sons, Joe, Henry, and Frank suffered discrimination living in the area.  In 1897 two years before his own death, his son Frank, who was a lawman, was murdered.

The family remained in the area.  Several sections of the land homesteaded by Hamilton included the area of Kenworthy, Cahuilla Valley and Anza Valley.  Lincoln the last of the Hamilton cowboys died in 1976.  

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Hamilton Creek
Today Hamilton's presence is still obvious in the naming of Hamilton Creek and Hamilton School and the Hamilton Museum.

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