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Bakersfield, California: its name and town history

The City of Bakersfield, California was actually named for a field which belonged to Colonel Thomas Baker. The colonel owned a home and field where travelers stopped over. It became known as “Baker’s field.” Colonel Baker officially established the city in 1869. According to the Wikipedia article about him, he came to California because of the gold rush. However, there is more to the story than just the gold rush. A field owned by Colonel Thomas Baker was reclaimed swampland a fork of the Kern River. It was on the Los Angeles to Stockton, road and ‘…its close proximity to mountain passes to the west, south, and east…” was the base for a later transportation hub, according to Wikipedia. Prior to becoming Bakersfield the town had been known as Kern Island, Baker’s field and Alkali City.

Bakersfield is now known as a major city near the southern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, California, according to Wikipedia. About halfway between Fresno and Los Angeles its population is 347, 483, as reported in the 2010 census. According to Wikipedia this makes it the 9th largest inland city in California and the 51st largest city in the country. It is the county seat of Kerns County.

Native Americans

Thousands of years ago the Yokut Indians lived in lodges and hunted a variety of game and fish around the branches of the Kern River delta. The first European to explore the area was father Francisco Garces, who was a Spanish missionary, in 1776. It wasn’t until 1820s that Mexican settlers migrated to the area and came in contact with the Yokuts.

· In 1848 gold was found in California and the San Joaquin Valley was flooded with settlers.

· In 1851 gold was found along the Kern River in Southern Sierra Nevada.

· In 1865 oil was discovered in the valley

· 1860 the area of Bakersfield was Tule-reed-covered marshland and known as Kern Island to log cabin dwelling pioneers. The Kern River would flood what is now the downtown area and there were malaria outbreaks.

Colonel Thomas Baker

It was largely the efforts of Colonel Baker that that the area got an early start in its development. He was born in 1810 in Zanesville, Ohio which at that time was a part of Virginia. One of his ancestors was Colonel Thomas Baker who was an officer in the Revolutionary War and on the staff of General George Washington... He also had ancestors who were among the nobility of England.

The Thomas Baker who founded the City of Bakersfield was raised and educated in Ohio, Illinois and Iowa. He also read law and was admitted to the Ohio bar. In that state he served in the militia and earned the title of Colonel. As a law student he specialized in land law and became regarded as an authority. In addition he learned surveying and worked at that for many years.

He became an early settler in eastern Iowa but was eventually driven out by the Indians and his cabin burned down. However, he had won some confidence of the Indians and some of them warned him of the up and coming Blackhawk massacre and he was able to escape. He settled near Washington, Iowa and became the first United States district attorney of the Iowa territory. When Iowa became a state he was elected to the first state legislature, became president of the senate and became the ex-officio first lieutenant governor, according to the article about him History rootsweb in

Baker had an outstanding knowledge of the law and was a student of Sir William Blackstone’s commentaries of English common law. Some work he did on these commentaries is being used by Berkley students even now, according to rootsweb.

Along with thousands of others, he was drawn to California in the days of 1849 and first settled in Benicia. He went on to Stockton and in 1852 to Tulare county and helped found Visalia which is the county seat and he served as senator from Fresno and Tulare counties.


Not long after these events he partnered with Harvey Brown and bought a big swamp land franchise owned by the Montgomery brothers. This included the lands along the Kern River north to Fresno. He went to Kern Island in September of 1863 to start the rather daunting task of reclaiming the swampland. Included in this swampland is what would be the city of Bakersfield, California.

Baker died November 24, 1872 at the age of 63.

Present day Bakersfield

Bakersfield has a varied economy including oil production, the fourth most productive agricultural county in the United States by value, according to Wikipedia. It also has natural gas and other energy. Additionally there is aerospace, mining, petroleum refining, manufacturing, distribution; food processing. In 1990 the city was awarded an all American city award from the National Civic League in 1990.

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Wikipedia articles the website for the City of Bakersfield

Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund



Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on March 26, 2018:

Judy Liggett--Thank you for your comment and my apologies for being so late with a response. I have been away from hubpages for awhile.

Judy Liggett on August 12, 2017:

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up in Bakersfield, attending BHS. Currently I live in Portland, Oregon. I have always wondered how Bakersfield got its name. There MUST be a man named Baker who owned a field. And here on the internet through this article, this life-long query has finally been answered by Don Hoglund. Thank you! Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined Bakersfield originally to have been a swampland, nor that its name originally was Kern Island. (Where did the name Kern come from?) I wouldn't have imagined that the "Baker" of Bakersfield would be such an illustrious and knowledgeable gentleman. Alkali City--that must be another story!

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on December 12, 2015:

aesta, I tend to think there are stories in the founding of all towns if we can find them. Enjoy your trip.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 11, 2015:

History of small towns often interest me especially the roles they played at certain times of history. We are driving to California in February and would be interested to check this one out.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on August 28, 2015:

Your welcome. Glad it helped you.

simran on August 27, 2015:

thanks so much help a lot for my school

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 13, 2012:

Thanks Peggy. I suspect there were many people in the history of this country who were like Baker. they are the ones that built the country. Not all were that energetic though. Thanks for the votes and share.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 12, 2012:

Hi Don,

It was interesting reading your article about how the city of Bakersfield, California got its name. Colonel Thomas Baker certainly lead an interesting life! Up votes and sharing.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 11, 2012:

alancaster, I'm not familiar with the song you describe. I'll have to look it up. However, I think the general principal remains. A catchy song about a town and a person associates the song with the town.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 11, 2012:

I was drawn to it as well, on the grounds it clicked. Listen to the Stones' album 'Some Girls', and 'Faraway Eyes' in particularly: 'I was drivin' through Bakersfield one morning, listenin' to the Gospel Radio Station...'

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 10, 2012:

drbj, I agree that town names are interesting. Some of the first hubs I wrote were on that subject. I've said that every town has a story behind it in its founding. Thanks fo commenting.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 10, 2012:

alancaster,Thank you for reading the hub and leaving your comments. To be truthful, I was attracted to this town by the song, which I find catchy. I don't know, but I suspect that more than one person hass written about George Washington on hubpages.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 09, 2012:

It's always interesting, Don, to learn how towns and cities were named and this was no exception. Bakersfield was actually a field named for the owner, Colonel Baker. Who knew? Thanks for enlarging my knowledge considerably.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 09, 2012:

It seems to me there are a number of towns in the US called Bakersfield, and probably for different reasons.

Riveting Hub and 'thumbs up'. For that reason I think it's interesting, if only for the short family history. English nobility eh? Like Georgie Washington. Anybody volunteer to do a biography of him on the Hub?

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 09, 2012:

Lipnancy, thanks for commenting. I found the history of the town interesting and hope others do to.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on November 09, 2012:

Thanks for the education on Bakersfield. I had no idea this was such a cool industrious place.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 08, 2012:

Highland Terrier. I know what you mean. Thanks for commenting.

Highland Terrier from Dublin, Ireland on November 08, 2012:

It is amazing how much some people can fit into their lives. Just thinking about the energy this man must have had is tiring.

Thank you for this hub, a very interesting read.

It is a little bit of history I would never have known.

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