Growing up in Bakersfield, the story of how it was named after Colonel Thomas Baker’s field is commonplace. However, I didn’t really know anything about how it came to be called Kern County. I stumbled on this in the course of my research today, and though it is a matter of little consequence, thought that I should write it down.

For anyone familiar with the terrain, there is of course the Kern River, Kern Island, etc., and all of them seem to stem from the same person. It’s a more interesting story than the Baker’s field story, though I suspect that the best story is of how the neighboring community of Taft, California, got its original name. I wish I knew that one, but I don’t. Taft began as a town named Moron. I’m not joking, but I digress.

There were three Kern brothers, originally from Philadelphia. All three were artists. Dr. Benjamin Jordan Kern was a member of Fremont’s fourth expedition on the Missouri River, and was slain by Ute Indians on March 14th, 1849. The youngest, Richard Kern, was the most talented and prolific sketch artist. However, on an expedition near the Colorado-Utah border in 1853:

The sun had not yet risen, most of the party being at breakfast, when the surrounding quietness and silence of this vast plain was broken by the discharge of a volley of rifles and a shower of arrows through that devoted camp, mingled with the savage yells of a large band of Pah-Utah Indians almost in the midst of the camp, for, under the cover of the thick bushes, they had approached undiscovered to within twenty-five yards of the campfires. The surprise was complete. At the first discharge, the call to ‘seize your arms’ had little effect. All was confusion. Captain Gunnison, stepping from his tent, called to his savage murderers that he was their friend; but this had no effect. Gunnison’s cry did have the effect of drawing the attention of the Indians, for he fell, his body pierced with fifteen arrows.

As soon as the news was received by the camp, relief was dispatched from the main camp, relief was dispatched in the hope that other survivors could be rescued but only eight bodies mutilated by Indians and wolves were found [including Richard Kern]. (Report of Richard Beckwith)

Interestingly, his sketchbooks were later recovered from the Indians and copied by other artists to sketch the terrain.

However, Richard wasn’t the Kern the geography in California was named for. Edward M. Kern, who traveled on Fremont’s third expedition, was the one. I don’t know much about him except that his diaries and such are in the Huntington museum. It was Richard Kern that I was researching. Who knew that I grew up in a county named after sketch artist, from a family of sketch artists? At least I thought it was interesting, anyhow.

2 thoughts on “Kern(s)”

  1. I passed through Bakersfield this summer on my way to San Francisco. I took a few photographs, but they came out fuzzy. One was of a clock tower that displays FOX on all four sides. I thought of you as I stared out the window.

  2. I was checking out sites involving Kern family history. I stopped and read yours because of the comments about sketch artists. There are several people in my family, including myself, who can draw. I went through Kern county once on a vacation to California. I am from Indiana. Interesting piece of history…I’ll pass it on at the next Kern family reunion.

Comments are closed.