Bear Valley Springs today is known as the picturesque, oak-dappled home to thousands of Tehachapi area residents. Prior to the development of Bear Valley 50 years ago as gated community, however, it was a 24,000-acre cattle ranch owned by a single family.

There are only two people left alive who lived in Bear Valley during that earlier time when it was a cattle ranch. One of them, Fred Fickert, was in Tehachapi last weekend to share and celebrate his family's long history in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Fred, 72, and his wife, Ann, were honored guests of the Tehachapi community for several different events. At noon on Saturday, Oct. 5, the Fickerts and a group of guests entered the Errea House Museum on Green Street where a bedroom has been largely furnished with historic items from the Fickert Ranch, including an ornate bed, a wood stove that was used in the original one-room Bear Valley School that later served as a bunkhouse on the ranch, and other antiques and photos.

Later on Saturday, Fred spoke to more than 100 people at the Oak Tree Country Club in BVS who had gathered to hear some of his recollections of life during the cattle ranching days in Bear Valley.

With historic ranch photos appearing on a screen behind him, Fred shared what it was like when there was a single ranch with a couple of dwellings and outbuildings in the entire valley.

"We dryland-farmed about 1,000 acres of barley on the more level parts of the valley floor," he recalled. "In the evenings, you could count as many as 180 deer feeding in those hay fields."

Fred also remembered long days on horseback, rounding up cattle from the high country on Bear Mountain and the deep canyons that lead to the San Joaquin Valley. The Fickert Ranch ran about 600 head of cows and their calves, which they raised up to market size in about three years. During brandings and other big operations, the Fickerts and their usual hired help would be assisted by other ranchers and cowboys in the area.

Fred is one of three children born to Marshall and Ethel Fickert. He has a twin sister named Kathy and a younger sister named Marsha who recently passed away in a bicycling accident. While Fred and his sisters were raised primarily in Sausalito in the Bay Area, the family spent summers in Bear Valley helping with the ranch. Fred's father, Marshall, primarily ran the operation to assist his two elderly aunts, Nellie and Louise, who spent their entire lives on the ranch in Bear Valley.

Fred and Ann Fickert now live in Lockeford, Calif., and have two children, Nathan and Elizabeth. Their visit to Tehachapi was timed to coincide with the unveiling of a plaque at the historic Fickert Ranch Cemetery. This old cemetery in Bear Valley holds the remains of 17 people — 13 Fickert family members and an additional four people believed to be ranch hands or local Native Americans.

The plaque, designed by Kerri Esten, was a joint project of the Tehachapi Heritage League and the Bear Valley Community Services District.

"Jane Baron and the CSD were very accommodating and helpful with all the logistics," noted Janice Armstrong, who lives right next to the historic cemetery. "The Tehachapi Heritage League, led by president Charles White and museum director Judy Reynolds, have also been very supportive. This was a team effort to commemorate the cemetery and acknowledge Fickert family history here."

Janice herself leads a small but active cemetery committee that is part of the local American Association of University Women chapter. The cemetery working group has identified several largely forgotten or overlooked pioneer cemeteries in Kern County.

Fred Fickert's return to Bear Valley was a welcome and special occasion. He has powerful and permanent memories of his boyhood spent there: the sound of meadowlarks singing from atop oak fence posts as he rode by; the smell of forging coal from the ranch blacksmith shop; the difficulty of unsaddling a horse with hands made cold and numb from a winter snowstorm; the camaraderie of gathering together for big meals after a roundup or branding. . .

So much has changed, yet the Tehachapi Mountains remain a unique and unforgettable place.

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to tehachapimtnlover@gmail.com.