|Bakersfield National Cemetery Support Committee|
Unique among all other national cemeteries, the 500-acre Bakersfield National Cemetery in the White Wolf area of the Tehachapi Mountains is nestled amidst wide-open stretches, mountain vistas and rolling grazing land where both cattle and camels once roamed. Dating back to the days of the Mexican land grants when California was still part of Mexico, the land has hosted vaqueros and cowboys, as well as the short-lived U.S. Army Camel Corps that was based in nearby Fort Tejon from 1857 to 1863.
The cemetery site is surrounded by the 270,000-acre (422-square-mile) Tejon Ranch, the largest ranch in California, and one of the largest in the United States.
The cemetery itself was originally part of a Mexican land grant that dates back to Nov. 24, 1843. That was when Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena gave the land to the original owners, Jose Antonio Aguirre and Ignacio de Valle. They called the land Rancho el Tejon.
In the 1850s and 1860s, General Edward Fitzgerald Beale, hero of the Battle of San Pasqual and former superintendent of Indian affairs and surveyor-general of California, purchased Rancho el Tejon and three other land grants and assembled them into what he called the Ranchos el Tejon, now known simply as Tejon Ranch. Rancho el Tejon was the largest of the four. The White Wolf area, where the cemetery is located, was historically used for grazing and that practice continues today. It was so named because of the packs of white wolves that roamed the area. The vaqueros reported seeing them as late as 1875.
Tejon Ranch Company donated the 500 acres for the cemetery in 2008. The cemetery is large enough to serve as the final resting place for 20,000 men and women.
Congress authorized the addition of new national cemeteries in 2003, including one in the Bakersfield area. When Tejon Ranch Company President Robert A. Stine heard about it, he contacted Congressman Bill Thomas and suggested that the White Wolf area of Tejon Ranch would be a good location. Barry Zoeller, Tejon's vice president of communications and marketing, recalls that Thomas agreed, saying it would be added to the list of possible sites. But when Stine said Tejon Ranch would be willing to donate the land, Thomas said that would probably put the site near the top of the list.
Zoeller said that before Stine called Congressman Thomas, "he had a telephonic board meeting, and suggested this would be the right thing to do. In what may be the quickest board meeting on record, the directors unanimously agreed.”
That was in 2003. Tejon Ranch offered a choice of several locations in the White Wolf area, with the National Cemetery Administration eventually selecting the 500-acre site located just south of Highway 58 and west of Highway 223. The final transfer of land took place in 2008, and the first interment was on July 1, 2009, the 1,000th was March 4, 2011.
Earle Crowe, Men of El Tejon. THE WARD RITCHIE PRESS: Los Angeles, 1957: p. 62.
Gerald Thompson, Edward F. Beale & The American West. UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS, 1983: p. xi.
Bonnie Ketterl Kane, A View from the Ridge Route: Volume III The Ranchos, RIDGE ROUTE COMMUNITIES MUSEUM AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 2005, p. 69.
Frank F. Latta, Saga of Rancho El Tejon, BEAR STATE BOOKS, 1976, 2006: p. 199.
Remarks of Robert A. Stine, President and CEO of Tejon Ranch Company, at transfer ceremonies of Bakersfield National Cemetery, November 8, 2008.