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Oasis of mara

1100065 A Oasis of Mara Palm Trees Black

Visit the Oasis of Mara with The Real Desert (now Southwest Stories), and tour the oasis with award-winning naturalist Pat Flanagan.

The Oasis of Mara has been welcoming visitors for thousands of years - at least over 9,000.  It's been a source of water - and life - for Native Americans, prospectors, homesteaders, and even Willie Boy, the fugitive who eluded his pursuers during the last posse manhunt of the West in 1909.

First settled by the Serrano, who called it "Mara," "the place of little springs and much grass," the legend says they were told to settle here by a medicine man because it was a good place to live and they would have many boy babies.  The legend - and it sounds like a legend - is that the medicine man told them to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born.  In the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm here.

Of course, the palms didn't just provide the Serrano with baby boys, but also with food, material to make clothing, cooking implements, and housing.  When Colonel Washington's survey party arrived here in the 1850s, they found the Serrano cultivating corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash with the waters that rise to the surface at this oasis because of the fault that runs roughly east to west.

The Chemehuevi joined the Serrano at the oasis in the 1860s.  Before the Serrano had settled here, the oasis had been long used on a temporary or seasonal basis by a number of tribes.

By 1870, white prospectors, continuing their search for gold in California, began exploring the area.  Mines, like the Anaconda Mine, began operation in 1874, with many more to follow.  The mining operations resulted in heavier use of the oasis, with trees being cut and water taken for the mines and mills.  The Old and New Dale mining districts lie not far to the east.

Cattlemen moved into the area in the 1880s, and cattle rustlers followed.  The McHaney brothers operated a cattle trading business and were reputed to sometimes trade in stolen cattle that they kept out of sight around Hidden Valley (now, a nice walk in Joshua Tree National Park).

Bill McHaney became the first white man to make the Oasis of Mara his home.  His "Old Adobe" home, made in 1879, stood for more than 40 years, serving as a home, stage line stop, and meeting place.  A well was dug around 1900 to support the growing population.

By 1902, 37 Serrano and Chemehuevi still lived at the oasis, but as more non-Indians began to settle around the oasis, they began to move away.  By 1913, they were gone (there is a Chemehuevi cemetery at the Oasis of Mara as a understated reminder of their time here).

At the conclusion of World War I, the Twentynine Palms area saw a significant influx of veterans, sent to the desert to seek relief from the effects of poison gas inhalation, and homesteading took off.  Today, the Oasis of Mara, which is over a half-mile long and runs along a fault line that forces its water to the surface, lies partially within Joshua Tree National Park (which has an oasis trail running from the nearby Oasis Visitor Center), and partially on the grounds of the historic 29 Palms Inn which continues to grow food for its restaurant guests at the oasis, perpetuating a history that began long ago (the Inn welcomes visitors to the Oasis of Mara).  We think you'll agree that there's something magical about an authentic desert oasis.

Our thanks to the 29 Palms Historical Society for much of this information.  Read their history of the Oasis of Mara HERE.

Read Joshua Tree National Park's history of the Oasis of Mara HERE.


Historian Paul Smith, owner of the Smoketree Oasis Cottage, investigates a trench dug for an archeological study of the Oasis of Mara.

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