Arrowhead (Landmark)

Arrowhead (Landmark)
(Photograph taken in 2005 by Steve Henthorn)

Arrowhead (Landmark)

One of the most famous landmarks in the Inland Empire is the Arrowhead. Located in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains directly above the City of San Bernardino, the Arrowhead can be seen for miles around. This important landmark has for centuries been a symbol of the San Bernardino Valley to the Native Americans and then to the pioneers and settlers that followed.

The Arrowhead is 1,375 feet in length and 449 feet in width. Though the outline is so perfect, it may appear to be man-made or artificial; the phenomenon is, in fact, natural. The face of the Arrowhead consists of light quartz, supporting a growth of short white sage. This lighter vegetation shows in sharp contrast to the surrounding chaparral and greasewood.

Many legends exist about the Arrowhead. The most ancient legend, perhaps, is one handed down from the Native Americans. The story goes that the Great Spirit had an arrow, which, like the Israelite's Pillar of Fire, was to guide them to the spot where they were to live. The Great Spirit having selected the place, fixed the arrow to mark it forever.

It has been said that Native Americans who inhabited the San Bernardino Valley believed that the Arrowhead pointed the way to the hot springs below, with healing qualities, and thus considered it holy ground. Through the years, numerous forest fires have caused some erosion. However, the Arrowhead landmark continues to preserve its uniqueness and remains a symbol of the 'pioneer spirit' of the San Bernardino Valley.

The Arrowhead is located in the foothills just north of San Bernardino's Wildwood Park (40th Street and Waterman Avenue).

Legend of the Arrowhead

(Originally Published May, 1980
Odyssey Newsletter, San Bernardino Historical & Pioneer Society)

(Editor's Note: The following legend appeared in the June 17, 1876 issue of the San Bernardino Weekly Times and is, perhaps, the first legend of the Arrowhead to appear in print. The story has been edited to omit several introductory paragraphs which do not pertain to local history and to omit later references to the introduction.)

The tourist visiting the valley of San Bernardino, approaching it from the East or South, or West, cannot fail to have its attention attracted by a curious landmark called "The Arrowhead". Sheer up against the face of a precipitous cliff, it stands out bold and distinct, and is visible from a distance of many miles.
Arrowhead Landmark in 1883
The Arrowhead in 1883, Courtesy of the San Bernardino Historical & Pioneer Society
It is an exact representation of the traditional flint head of an Indian's arrow. The earliest Spanish settlers of this region found it perfect on their arrival but none of them, nor from any of the later comers among other nationalities, either Gentile or Mormon, have I ever heard any attempt to account for this singular scar upon the mountainside. Its extent, embracing perhaps forty acres, and its precision of detail forbid the idea that it was the work of the hand of man.

I had abandoned the hope of gratifying the curiosity with which it, in common with all who beheld it, inspired me, when in my rambles among the adjacent canyons, I happened to come upon an Indian Rancheria, the solitary occupant of which was an old man whose shriveled countenance and snow white hair and extreme infirmity betokened a very old age. I endeavored to draw him into conversation, but was for a long time repulsed, not rudely, but with a dignity and gentle firmness which would not have been out of place in the courtly halls of hereditary rank. During my travels in Arizona nearly twenty years ago, I happened to have it in my power to do, what was considered by him a very great favor for a Maricopa Chief. As an evidence of his gratitude he, first pledging me never to reveal either sign or word to any white man, gave me a shibboleth and a sign, which he assured me would secure me respectful and kindly treatment from any Indian Chief when his tribe was at peace with the white race.

As a last result I hailed my old companion of the Rancheria with the mystic word and sign and in a short time found myself entirely at home with him. Our conversation was carried on in the Spanish language and from his lips I heard, what probably no white man has ever heard before, the tradition of the Arrowhead. And it was only after repeated urging on my part that he consented to unveil, what, to him and many generations of his race, has been the profoundest secret and the most sacred mystery of their lives. Prefacing his story with the statement that he alone of all his tribe was the custodian of the secret, that he was by unmistakable signs that his days were numbered and that in a few short years not one of his race would be left to look upon the pleasant scene where for hundreds of years his brethren had roamed, sole masters of the soil, he entered upon the recital of the strange and which I hope will prove to the reader, not uninteresting story. I give it merely in his own words, simply avoiding the peculiar idioms which as a matter of course would distinguish his speech.

Many, ah so many years ago, so many that these great trees upon the mountain tops and in the canyons were but slender saplings when our forefathers first saw them, my people dwelt in fertile plains far beyond yonder mountains to the East. That barren desert beyond them rivaled the valley which stretches out before us in beauty and productiveness. Pleasant streams coursed downward from the mountain and shady groves of willow and cottonwood, pinyon and palm, a few of the latter, of which remain to this day, made pleasant resting places for the hunter and sheltered our villages from the heat. Two nations, and two only, dwelt between the Snowy Range and the great river which you call the Colorado. The tribe from which I have descended lived nearer the mountains and delighted in cultivating the soil and dwelling in peace. The dwellers by the river were fierce and warlike and held but little intercourse with us. We worshipped the Great Spirit in flowery meadows, and our offerings were the first fruit of our orchards and fields. Those who dwelt beyond us built great temples of stone, which they stained with the blood of captives in war, and with a certain number of their first born children.

A mountain range, which has long since disappeared, divided our respective territories, while the difference between our habits and customs, served as still more effective barriers to any general intercourse. Once in every five years, however, it was the custom of the two nations to meet by their chosen representatives upon the summit of the dividing ridge and settle, amicably, any dispute which might have arisen by reason of chance incursions of hunting parties of one tribe upon their territory of the other.

It was upon one of these occasions that the dwellers by the river brought tidings of a hitherto unheard of danger which threatened them. The waters of the river had been rising gradually for several moons past; that the flood did not come from the melting of the winter's snow in the northern mountains was apparent from the total lack of current in the usually turbid stream. Those who had dipped their buckets in the river reported the water brackish and unfit for use. Nothing was then known of the big sea water far beyond. The time when the awful truth would force itself upon the dwellers by the river was not far distant. Our forefathers had scarcely returned from the conference I have spoken of when swift messengers arrived bearing the intelligence that the waters were rising with redoubled fury, and craving a place of refuge for the fleeing nation. A council was held and it was agreed that the fugitives should be made welcome, since there was room and food to spare for all. Here my aged companion gave signs of deep seated woe. Rising to his feet he seized a handful of ashes and flung the upwards, uttering loud lamentations in his native tongue.


When the old chief's grief had subsided he resumed the narrative:

It was an evil day for my tribe he said: when the stranger entered upon our hitherto peaceful fields, they brought with them the fierce and warlike spirit which had ruled them in their former homes. For a few years they restrained themselves, but all too soon we found it necessary to arm ourselves against the predatory hordes of newcomers. It was impossible to drive them back beyond the dividing ridge. The mighty water had arisen and laved the eastern base of the hills from which we had been wont to look down upon the homes of a mighty people. It would be too long to tell of the countless battles between the new comers and those upon whom they had intruded.

The dread demands of constant war left our fields neglected, and want and famine stared us in the face. Year by year our unwelcome guests encroached further and further upon that portion of our valley which we had reserved for ourselves, until in solemn council it was resolved to make one last desperate stand for our rights. In the turmoil of the times our sacrifices to the Great Spirit had been neglected, and there were not wanting those who, still clinging to the simple faith of the peaceful and happy days of our prosperity, reproached the people with their own sins. Through all these troublous times, intermarriages between the two had been unknown. Our women were virtuous and cared only for their household and domestic duties. Once indeed, the son of a leading chief of the new comers had sought the hand of the fairest maiden of our nation, but her father, our leader in peace and war, had sternly refused and an understanding of the tribe had forbidden marriage with any of the hated usurpers.

At this point my old friend grew garrulous and went into a long disquisition about the utter impossibility of doing anything with a woman when she had made her mind up to marry; for it seems, according to the old man's account, that this young Indian Princess had regarded the suit of the lover above referred to quite formally and had made her mind up to marry him of any opportunity was offered. We shall see what came of it. The narrator resumed.

It was finally decided that a pitched battle would be fought, the result of which should determine which party should be masters of the situation; in short, who should be the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the other, for nothing else would satisfy the warlike but ungrateful fugitives from the East.

Here again my old friend branched off into a long disquisition upon the religious rites and ceremonies of his ancestors which would doubtless be interesting to students of Indian antiquities, but which does not concern the general reader further than to know that in times of great danger, the tribe from which he was descended, specially set apart and consecrated the most beautiful young maiden among them to seek the will and purpose of the Great Spirit, her recitations being received as immutable law. When the elders of the tribe had assembled for the purpose of the consecration, the maiden who had been selected, and who was none other than the one sought in marriage by the young chief of their enemies, was not to be found. A day and night were spent in anxious search without avail, and it came to be the general opinion that she had deserted to the enemy, and confusion worse confounded followed.

To add thereto, rumors of the swift and further rising of the flood, which had overwhelmed the lands of their enemies were borne throughout the camp. Suddenly, and without a moment's warning, the hostile forces of the enemy burst upon them, and, as men will do who fight despairingly for their homes, the attacking foes were forced to contest every inch of ground. The battle raged all day, and when night came ---as come it must ---it brought a pall of utter blackness.

But one prisoner was taken by my old friend's party, the darling youth whose overtures for marriage had been so scornfully rejected by the tribe, among whom he now found himself a prisoner of war, with but little hope of mercy. He was questioned as to the whereabouts of the maiden, but denied all knowledge thereof. Fury seized the assembled council, and it was resolved to put him to the torture. The preliminaries had scarcely been arranged when, like an apparition from another world, the missing girl appeared clad in the white robe which only the consecrated Sybil of the tribe was allowed to wear. "Behold," said she, "I come from council with the Great Spirit. He bids you flee, for his wrath is riding on the water. Before the sun shall again ascend to the mid-heavens, the flood shall swell above yonder mountain and sweep onward even to the base of the Snowy Range. Ye have been false to you duties, but yonder enemies have shed innocent blood and the waters shall overtake them. Touch not your prisoner. Flee for your lives! I lead the way. And that ye may believe me, the Great Spirit has promised to set his sign in the heavens by night and by day. I lead the way. Follow and not look back."

Even while she spoke, said my old friend, a sudden light, brighter than the sun, shone from above, and looking upward, the awe-stricken multitude saw a flaming arrowhead of immense proportions hanging in the heavens and pointing to the west. Before it gleamed a mellow, golden light, which lighted every ravine and canyon in the mountains up whose unknown and precipitous heights seemed to lie their way. Behind the strange and weird apparition was impenetrable gloom. The multitude as by one impulse followed their young guide. At day break they had reached a mountain crest, and as the sun arose they saw their mysterious omen fade and grow dim, and heard behind them a mighty roar of rising floods, obeying the imperious gesture of their prophetess, looked backward, and saw their enemies engulfed in the waters which had burst their mountain barrier and overwhelmed them, one and all. Beneath them was a seething waste of waters, above them rode triumphant the morning sun; around them rose the frowning ramparts of the mountain range, snow clad and splendid in the morning light.

A glad shout of triumph swelled from the assembled throng when suddenly, vague and misty, and still pointing to the west, the mysterious symbol, which had been to them a pillar of fire during the awful night which had just passed, again challenged their wondering vision. "Behold," cried the Sybil, "the Great Spirit sends his messenger. Follow where it leads, and when it shall stand above your future home its mission shall be accomplished. For many generations it shall be given you to dwell in peace. But in the fullness of time a race, not of your own blood, shall come from beyond the far off seas and the Pale Faces shall occupy your lands."

Day after day they pursued their toilsome search, while the cloudy symbol guided their weary steps. Night after night it flamed in the cloudless heavens, when at length, worn with fatigue, they reached the summit of a commanding hill at nightfall. All through the night the supernatural messenger gleamed above the weary camp, and just as day dawned, a fearful peal of thunder burst through the startled air, and the hill on which the host had rested, rocked to and fro as if the foundations of the earth had been riven.

An impenetrable mist shrouded every surrounding object. Hour after hour passed in gloom and dread. The captive chief and prophetess were not to be found. Search was abandoned and despair seemed to have taken possession of the camp. Suddenly as if by enchantment the cloudy curtain rolled away and there, where you could see it, the form and impress of the mysterious messenger from the Great Spirit stood out clear and distinct against the hill. Before them in all the vernal beauty stretched out the lovely valley, now, alas, the adobe of a race to whom we are but as strangers and unwelcome guests. At its base welled up the boiling streams which to this day remain and which were used for centuries by my now fast vanishing race for the health of the tribes. Upon its apex stood the Sybil and her lover and by their side a shining form who waved a golden wand. Slowly they faded from the sight of those who gazed, but ere they vanished, her voice was heard like softest music, breathing a sad but sweet farewell. She bade her people return to the simplicity of their pastoral life, charged them to be hospitable to strangers and charitable to each other. The Great Spirit, she said, had promised her a home in the Sunset Land with her lover. She would not, she said, bring a stranger and an alien into her father's lodge.

...That it occurred just as the old gentleman related it, does not admit of a doubt, for the mark of the Arrowhead can be seen any clear day without the aid of a spy-glass. Corroborative evidence of the main facts in this somewhat singular case can be found in the indisputable fact that the whole region east of the San Gorgonio Pass, where the scene of the earlier transactions related in the veracious narrative is laid, was at one time an inland sea from which the waters have long since receded. And there are unmistakable evidences of the existence at a remote period of a transverse chain of hills running from north to south about midway between Whitewater and the Colorado. As near as I can figure it up the site of the City of Seven Palms was the original location of the battlefield where the dwellers by the river made their last effort to obtain the victory over the simple-minded people of the Whitewater plains. In this, however, I may be mistaken as I frequently am.