The Right Coast

June 06, 2005
Immortality for Jamul
By Tom Smith

Somehow I missed it, but the February 2005 edition of Sunset Magazine ran a feature on my very own strip of paradise, the stretch of Highway 94 that runs from Jamul to Jacumba, on the Mexican border. It calls the stretch "one of the best backroad drives in California." Golly!

I learned some important facts about my adopted home I did not know. For example, I did not know that Highway 94 was once one of the main thoroughfares of the West, being the Yuma to San Diego stage coach route. It was superceded in 1920 with the construction of Old Highway 80, now replaced in turn by various interstate highways. Noted also are Simpson's famous nursery, which has great prices, but which does not deliver and does not take credit cards, two features most modern homeowners find useful, and the Dulzura Cafe. Could that cafe really be 100 years old? If you looked at it, you would guess yes. I have never eaten there, something about large groups of big motorcycles making feel just un peu unwelcome. I have eaten at the Barrett Cafe, however, consuming the famous fried fish and hush puppies. For those of us more familiar with seared Ahai than Crisco, it is an experience. I would not suggest doing it less than 72 hours before exercise, however.

I was impressed to discover also that Campo, and in particular Gaskill's general store, was the site of one of the more bloody civilian gun battles in the old West, in 1875. (If 3 dead gets you to that status, then a lot of Westerns must be greatly exagerated.) Mexican banditos, or what we now call trans-border persons of extra-legal disposition, attempted to rob the store and flee back across the border. To their surprise, but not to mine, they encountered some well armed gringos. Here is the touching story from a website on the history of Campo.

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."

Out here in East County, that's called "due process."