Article Index
History of Big Bear
Discovery And Naming of Big Bear Valley
Gold Rush Days
Logging And The Sawmills
Mountain Cattle Ranchers
The Big Bear Valley Dams
Early Big Bear Valley Resorts
Fox Farming
Winter Sports
The San Bernardino Mountains
All Pages


Benjamin D. Wilson was born in Tennessee in 1811. He worked as a trapper in New Mexico as a young man, and came to California in 1841. By 1843 Wilson had purchased a large ranch where the City of Riverside is now located, and the following year married Ramona Yorba, a daughter of one of California's most prominent families.

That same year, Jose Figueroa, the governor of the State, had issued the edict for the secularization of all Indians. Released from the control of the mission fathers, many of the Indians reverted to their primitive ways and some became raiders and cattle rustlers. This situation became a constant problem to the missions and cattle ranchers, and in July of 1845, Don Pio Pico authorized Benjamin Wilson to take a force of eighty well-armed men to pursue the raiders and teach them a lesson.

Don Benito, as he was affectionately called by his men, split his force, sending the main body through Cajon Pass while he rode into the mountains following the "San Bernardino River". On the evening of the second day, they arrived in a high mountain valley where "the whole lake and swamp seemed alive with bear." Don Benito Wilson later wrote: "Twenty-two Californians went out in pairs, and each pair lassoed one bear, and brought the result to camp, so that we had at one and the same time eleven bears. That prompted me to give the Lake the name it now bears."

The natural body of water Wilson saw and named Bear Lake in 1845 is now called Baldwin Lake. Only a stream and marshy meadows existed at the site of Big Bear Lake in those days.

Ben Wilson is not only remembered for giving Big Bear its name, but he went on to become an important figure in Southern California history. Among his accomplishments, he is remembered as the first mayor of Los Angeles. He was also a two term California state senator, and he built the first railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. Wilson died on March 11, 1878, but before he died, he donated land and buildings for the construction of a college. This new college eventually became the University of Southern California.  Wilson's energy and leadership qualities were passed down through his children to his grandchildren. One of those grandchildren was famous World War II General, George S. Patton.