Historical Society program offers new info on Searles

A program featuring new information about John Searles — the pioneer and namesake of our neighboring valley to the east — will be presented by local chemical engineer-author James L. Fairchild on Tuesday, April 16, at 7 p.m. at the Historic USO Building.

Fairchild’s fascination with Searles began about 12 years ago, when Fairchild began work on a docudrama of portions of Searles’ life.

Now Fairchild has collaborated with David Robinson — the great-great-grandnephew of Searles — to write the first complete Searles biography, “John W. Searles, California Mining Pioneer.” Fairchild’s research and writing of the book was greatly aided by Robinson’s avid interest in genealogy and his possession of many original Searles family documents and photographs dating prior to 1852 when Searles still lived in New York.

This book differs from earlier writings about Searles, in that the authors searched through hundreds of early records, such as mining claims, land deeds, early maps, contemporary newspaper articles and private collections of photographs and documents to provide accurate documentation. The research included three trips to the Trinity River area to study the activities of Searles and his brother Dennis during the first six years upon their 1852 arrival in California. Additional travels by the authors included a visit to the California Historical Society in San Francisco and a trip to San Diego to interview Clifford Burton, the 93-year-old nephew of John Searles’ wife.

“This exhausting research makes this latest book a unique and thorough report of most of the major events in John Searles’ life,” said Andrew Sound, HSUMD’s program manager. The book’s 15 chapters include information about the Searles brothers’ adventures mining gold and silver in the Slate Range, their borax mining and the sad story of John Searles’ marriage and the tragedy that engulfed much of his wife’s family. “And of course there is his famous combat with a California grizzly bear!”

Fairchild and his wife, Bonnie, live in Trona in the house they purchased in 1971. His 56 years of work as a chemist and chemical engineer at Searles Valley Minerals, Inc., makes him the company’s longest tenured employee. He serves on the board of the Searles Valley Historical Society and is the author of the SVHS book, “Early Mining at Searles Lake, 1873-1929.” He is also a coauthor of the Images of America book, “Around Trona and Searles Valley.”

Additionally, he is the publicist for the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society and has been a major contributor to the mineral collecting field trips at its annual Trona Gem-O-Rama, the largest field trips of its kind in the United States.

Story First Published: 2019-04-12