Twentynine Palms Historical Society
29 Palms, California

The Oasis of Mara

Oasis of Mara - April 2009
The Oasis of Mara - April 2009

The oasis was first settled by the Serrano who called it Mara, meaning "the place of little springs and much grass." Legend holds they came to the oasis because a medicine man told them it was a good place to live and that they would have many boy babies. The medicine man instructed them to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm trees at the oasis. The palms also provided the Serrano with food, clothing, cooking implements, and housing. In addition, the palms are habitat for a wide variety of desert creatures from colorful orioles to the palm-boring beetle.

When Colonel Washington's survey party arrived at the Oasis of Mara in the 1850s, they found the area under cultivation by the Serrano. Corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash were all grown with the life-giving waters that rise at the oasis along the Pinto Mountain Fault. The Chemehuevi settled at the Oasis around 1867 and intermingled peacefully with the Serrano. The Chemehuevis had lived at the oasis of Twentynine Palms many times before the 1860s, as had other Indian groups.

By 1870, prospectors attracted to California by the discoveries at Sutter's Mill had drifted into the desert looking for gold. The Anaconda Mine began operation south of the Oasis in 1874. The Lost Horse, the Desert Queen, and other claims soon followed. Trees began to be cut at the Oasis, and water siphoned away to support the growing mining operations.

On the heels of the miners, cattlemen moved to the area in the 1880s to take advantage of the high desert grasslands of the Pinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains. The McHaney brothers ran an active cattle trade that was alleged to include stolen cattle they pastured in isolated rocky coves near Hidden Valley.

Bill McHaney became the first non-Indian to live at the Oasis in 1879. Later, Jack Rankin and Billy Neaves built an adobe house at the east end of the Oasis. That house came to be known as the "Old Adobe." It stood for over 40 years and served as a residence, a stage line stop, and a meeting place. The Barker and Shay Cattle Company dug a 600-gallon well around 1900 for use by the growing population. A 1902 census found 37 Serrano and Chemehuevi living at the Oasis. As more non-Indians arrived, the Indian families began to drift away, and by 1913, the Serrano and Chemehuevi were all gone.

Following World War I, the Twentynine Palms area saw an influx of veterans suffering from the effects of gas inhalation, drawn to the area by its warm, arid climate.

The Oasis is over one-half mile long and runs in a generally east-west orientation. The eastern end is just behind the Joshua Tree National Park visitor center and the western end is on the grounds of the Twentynine Palms Inn.

Oasis of Mara - 1889
The Oasis of Mara - 1889
Text in top left of photo reads: "29 Palms on the Colorado Desert 1889: Between top of Morongo Pass: and Virginia Dale Mine" text belw that is "Spring of sweet water and very cold" with arrow pointing down to a cluster of vegetation. There is an arrow marked "Dad" low and near the left to right center that points to the man standing to the right of the left most tent.

Oasis of Mara - 1938
The Oasis of Mara - 1938

The Old Adobe at the Oasis of Mara 29 Palms c. 1940
The Old Adobe at the Oasis of Mara 29 Palms c. 1940
Photo by Harlow W. Jones


Distant view of the Oasis of Mara
The Oasis of Mara
Photo by Harlow W. Jones


Snow at Oasis of Mara
Heavy snow fell in 29 Palms in January 1949.
This scene is at the Oasis of Mara.

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