Sunday, November 8, 2009

Charles Vincent

Vincent's headstone in the Los Angeles National Cemetery

Charles Vincent Dougherty
Born: 1838 (Ohio)
Died: September 8, 1926 (Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California) -- Natural Causes
Interred: Los Angeles National Cemetery, Los Angeles (Sawtelle), Los Angeles County, California -- Section 9, Row G, Grave 22
Occupations: Soldier, hunter, prospector, miner

A rare photo of him, near his cabin

Was he, or wasn't he?

In September, 1926, a thin, frail old man lay dying in a Los Angeles hospital. He was a bit of a legend in the Southern California area. People knew him as Charles Tom Vincent. That old, grouchy, anti-social miner who lived in the San Gabriel Mountains.

He was a loner who lived off the land, associating with only a small handful of acquaintances. He survived by hunting, something he was very skilled at, and prospecting near the San Gabriel River's East Fork. Since the late 1870s, he had lived in a small one-room cabin he built on the east side of what would later become known as Mount Baden-Powell (named for Lord Baden-Powell, a lieutenant-general in the British Army and founder of the Scouting Movement, precursor to today's Boy Scouts of America.). Vincent dug a moat around his cabin to keep insects out of his home, filling the moat by using a piping system he devised to bring in water from a nearby stream. Vincent's cabin was filled with his numerous hunting trophies: horns from big horn sheep, antlers from mule deer, and the pelts from many bears, deer and sheep, as well as smaller game.

Vincent's cabin

Inside Vincent's cabin

Vincent's cabin

An article in the October 6, 1888 issue of the Los Angeles Times told a story about one of his close encounters with the local grizzly bear population. There are no grizzlies in Southern California today, but in the 1800's they were pretty common in the local mountains. Today, we only have black bears here.

In 1888, Vincent and his partner DeLancey were out hunting for big horn sheep when they came upon three grizzly bears. One bear immediately began to attack, going after DeLancey. Before it could reach him, Vincent dropped the bear with a .50-caliber bullet through it's head. This angered the other two bears who also attacked, one after each man. Again, Vincent stopped the bear that was headed for DeLancey, this time with a bullet in it's chest. Before he had a chance to shoot the third bear it was on him and knocked him to the ground. As they struggled on the ground, Vincent pulled his knife and stabbed the bear deep in the neck as DeLancey finally managed to fire his own gun, putting a bullet through the last bear's head. Vincent was not seriously injured, though he was scratched up quite a bit in the incident. He kept the hides from the three bears, with heads and claws intact, among his many hunting trophies at his cabin.

Other than his two partners, one of Vincent's few friends was Bob Pallett (for whom nearby Pallett Mountain was later named). Pallett was a rancher from Valyermo who occasionally brought Vincent's mail to him at his cabin. On one of his visits to deliver Vincent's mail, Valyermo postmistress Dorothy Evans Noble accompanied him. She later described Vincent as "a thin old man in blue jeans and a faded blue shirt that barely covered his barrel chest, with piercing blue eyes that glared from under tufted white eyebrows and a little white beard under an aggressive chin."

In 1895, while on one of his many hunting expeditions for big horn sheep, he discovered gold at about 7,000' in elevation on the steep eastern slope of Mount Baden-Powell, a couple miles from his cabin. He and his two partners, DeLancey and Lockwood, began developing the mine, digging several tunnels and extracting the ore. But, they could not afford to mill or transport the ore, so they began trying to entice investors to finance their venture. Unsuccessful at finding investors, they eventually were forced to sell the claim in 1902 to the Lowell and California Mining Company.

The stamp mill, perched precariously on the steep east slope of Mount Baden-Powell

Inside the stamp mill, looking east, toward Mount San Antonio (the highest point in Los Angeles County, at 10,064')

Inside the Big Horn Mine, looking back toward the upper shaft entrance (on the right)

The rickety ladder that leads from the stamp mill to the upper shaft entrance

The Big Horn Mine, so named by Vincent after the sheep he was hunting when he discovered it, eventually became the largest gold mine in Los Angeles County, with miles of tunnels spread over six levels, and a ten stamp mill was erected near the mine's main tunnel entrance. In it's heyday it was thought to be the richest mine in the world, but after several years of digging it proved to be anything but that. During it's operational life the mine yielded only about $100,000 to $200,000, a paltry sum when compared to many of the other gold mines of the day. Lowell and California were forced to close the mine. It was reopened and reworked a few times over the following 40 years with no spectacular results, and eventually shut down for good when World War II stopped all gold mining activity in the United States.

Vincent was secretive about his past and never talked about his life before he arrived in the San Gabriel Mountains. As he lay in that hospital bed in 1926, he knew he didn't have much time left. One day he told his doctor he had a confession to make. He said he wanted to be buried in the National Cemetery in Sawtelle (now part of Los Angeles, near Westwood), but the only way that could happen was if he revealed his true identity so his military records could be verified. He told his doctor his name was really Charles Vincent Dougherty, and he was a wanted man.

On April 24, 1861 he enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Five days later he became a Private in the newly formed 8th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, part of the Army of the Potomac, organized in Fremont, Ohio. He was assigned to Company F and spent the next three years fighting against the Confederate Army. In 1863 he was wounded at either Gettysburg or Chancellorsville, depending on whose account of his story you choose to believe. (Maybe both?) He was mustered out of the army on July 13, 1864.

After his discharge from the army he headed west, eventually winding up in Arizona where, with his partner Lockwood, he prospected. They located a claim and began mining. One day after many long hours of work on their claim they returned home to discover three thieves ransacking their cabin. Vincent and Lockwood shot the three thieves, then immediately buried the bodies. Fearing the legal repercussions of this act, they abandoned their claim and cabin and fled to California, ending up in Los Angeles. Lockwood stayed in Los Angeles, but Vincent didn't like life in the city and he soon wandered off to prospect in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and around Death Valley. (While researching this story I did find a U.S. census record for a Charles Vincent living in Bodie during this period, but since that record indicated the man was born in Ireland, I believe he was probably a different person.) Years later, Vincent eventually drifted south to the San Gabriel Mountains where he lived out the final 40 years of his life.

Vincent loaned his name to a few locations in Los Angeles County, such as the Vincent Hill Station restaurant and saloon in the Antelope Valley, between Palmdale and Acton. Also named for him was Vincent Gulch, a tributary of the San Gabriel River's East Fork, near where Vincent built his cabin. And, there is Vincent Gap, a popular opening between peaks along Angeles Crest Highway, also near his cabin.

While those last two locations are popular with hikers, his nearby cabin is still very secluded and difficult to find unless you really know where to look. Several years ago when I deliberately set out to find the cabin I unknowingly trekked right past it until I paused about a mile or so later. Something in the back of my mind told me I knew where I had missed a significant clue. I backtracked until I found that faintest hint of a trail I had passed earlier, and within a few hundred feet, I found myself at his cabin.

The obligatory photo of Ashley (and me) at Vincent's cabin

According to author John W. Robinson, Vincent's last home before moving to the hospital where he died, was that cabin. While doing my research I uncovered some evidence that seems to suggest otherwise. It appears to me that as he became old and probably not very capable of caring for himself, he left his mountain home and moved to the city. I found him in the 1910 census, incorrectly transcribed by as Charles Turart, living in a Los Angeles boarding house at the age of 72. It's easy to see how made their error, though. That census page is extremely difficult to read!

The 1910 census for Los Angeles, showing Charles Turart (aka Charles Vincent) as a lodger (line 10)

By 1920, six years before his death, he appears to have moved in with a nephew and his family, also living in Los Angeles.

The 1920 census for Los Angeles, showing Charles Vincent as a retired miner, living with his nephew (line 34)

* * *

Early last year, several months after I moved to Palmdale, I received an email from someone I had known online back in the 1980's on the local BBSes in the San Fernando Valley (on the opposite side of the San Gabriel Mountain range from where I now live). His email told me he had been reading that morning's edition of the Antelope Valley Press, a newspaper here in Palmdale, and had seen a story in the "local history" section that mentioned my name. I was intrigued! Not only about getting back in touch with an old friend I hadn't heard from in 20 years, of course. I also wanted to find out why my name was in the local newspaper.

So, the next morning, on my way home from work, I stopped at the Antelope Valley Press office and picked up a copy of the now two-day old issue. I found the article my old friend was talking about in section C, on page 8. It was an article about Vincent, and my name was mentioned several times as the article's author quoted the short bio I had written about Vincent many years ago for Find-A-Grave.

An infrared shot of Vincent's cabin

Inside the flooded lower level of the Big Horn Mine

The closed main entrance to the Big Horn Mine

The upper level mine entrance, behind the stamp mill

Ore car rails at the upper level mine entrance

Inside the mine

Inside the mine

The San Gabriels by John W. Robinson (1991)
Mines Of The San Gabriels by John W. Robinson (1973)
Mines of the East Fork by John W. Robinson (1980)
Antelope Valley Press - May 1, 2008 - Page C8
Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry web site
Comments left on the Find-A-Grave page I created for him


  1. US Census 1880 shows a "Charles Vincent" living in Charleston, Arizona (near Tombstone). Charles was born in Ohio, single and a miner. In a press article from 1883 he is briefly mentioned and identified as "Charles Vincent, a Civil War veteran..." Could this be the same Charles Vincent?

  2. I suppose it's possible that could have been him, but I would tend to think it's unlikely. He didn't start using the name Charles Vincent until he fled Arizona after the killing of those three robbers. Until that time he would have still been using his real last name of Dougherty. Of course, my sources didn't mention the exact year the killings happened or how much time he and his partner took as they headed for California. Maybe it happened in late 1879 or early 1880, and they left the immediate area, but stayed in Arizona long enough to be counted in the 1880 census under new aliases? I just don't know. Your guess is as good as mine.

  3. Hey - very cool! I would love to see this cabin. Can you email me? I would keep it a secret. Thanks,

    Allen Riedel

    Author - 100 Classic Hikes in Southern California

  4. Dear Mr. DeCloedt: I recently have researched the family of James and Josephine Dougherty, early residents of Fremont, Ohio. I believed that I had discovered all of their children - except one. A descendant of a sibling believed there was one named Charles. I had found a child named "Vincent" in early church records. However, there was no evidence of him after his service in the 8th Ohio with his brother James. I decided to "google" Charles Vincent Dougherty. Up popped your blog with your superb research of Charles Tom Vincent, who was actually Charles Vincent Dougherty, who lived as a child in Fremont, Ohio. His parents and most of his siblings are buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Fremont. I am writing a short article for my monthly column about local history for a free advertiser. May I ask permission to use your fine photo of his cabin? Of course, I would credit you...and I have mentioned your extensive research on your fine blog! I thank you for your consideration. NFC

  5. I'm so glad to hear I was able to help you unravel a mystery or two in your own research, Nan! I love getting comments like this! :D As for my photos here, as long as they're used for genealogical research purposes in a not-for-profit manner, go right ahead and take what you need. Take care.

  6. Hello Lonnie,
    I stumbled across your website today as I was going through some old slides of mine. The pictures were of the Big Horn Mine and Vincent's Cabin shot late summer 1977. You see, I used to live in the Antelope Valley (Littlerock) for about 18 years from 1963 to 1981.

    Myself, I used a story from Pearl Comfort Fisher's "the Mountaineers to try to find the cabin. I had found the book at the CSU Northridge Library one day and used the clues in the story to find the cabin. I remember the feeling of discovery that day as I came down the hill from the main trail, hopped over a couple downed trees and there it was.

    I shot a couple interior and exterior slides of the cabin which I still have.

    I live in Northern California so I don't get down there often, but when I get a chance to I do like to hike to the mine and see the cabin. Thanks for keeping the history of this man alive.

    Jeff Bagley.

  7. Thanks for the comment, Jeff. It's been a few years since I've visited the cabin. I should probably try to get out there again sometime next spring after the snow melts.

  8. Any chance of getting the photos here working??