The Gaskill Brothers' Stone Store is a unit of the San Diego County Park system. It is located in the mountain-desert back country about 50 miles east of San Diego in Campo, California, at the junction of Forrest Gate Road and Highway 94. It was a central hub of commerce, travel and ranching from the 1860's through the 1920's. The venerable stone building was built in 1885 and currently houses a museum operated by the non-profit Mountain Empire Historical Society. But it was not always so . . .
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Texans, displaced from their former ranch lands, were attracted to the mountain valleys of the California border country by the lush grass and available water. They began filtering into the Milquatay Valley to put down new roots during the mid-1860's. In the Spring of 1868, two brothers, Silas and Lumen Gaskill, arrived in the 2600-foot-elevation mountain valley from northern California and established a village with a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a small hotel and a store. The village is located about two miles north of the Mexican border. Their enterprises began to prosper with the international border traffic and the influx of former Texans. They acquired land holdings of about 1000 acres and hundreds of cattle by various means. By 1869 there were 400 residents in the area and it had earned the sobriquet of "Little Texas."
The Gaskill brothers originally hailed from Steuben County, Indiana. They were hard workers and opened a mill and other businesses to serve the needs of the new and growing population. The community established first school to be built beyond the costal settlements. A U.S. Army telegraph station was located in the store to handle Cavalry and other official communications between San Diego, Fort Yuma and the U. S. Army fighting the Apaches in Arizona.
On Dec. 4, 1875 at about 10 a.m. an incident occurred that would go down in history as the second bloodiest civilian gun battle in the history of the American West (second to that little matter at the OK Corral in Arizona). It culminated three days later with the removal of two captured border bandits from the sheriff's jail on a Saturday night and their bodies were later found hanging from opposite ends of a single rope stretched over the limb of a nearby oak tree. Details of the incident may be explored at the Museum.
The Stone Store
A period of border alert and unease was brought to an end with the arrival of a relief defense force from San Diego on December 17, 1875 consisting of troops of the U.S. Cavalry. The Cavalry troops did not stay long in Campo and relations with Mexico were tense for several years. The Gaskill Brothers' decided to build a much more secure and defensible structure to use as a store. They started construction of the Stone Store in 1885 and it took about two years to complete. This was a massive undertaking and required a huge amount of manual labor and materials. When visiting the Museum, look for the hand drill marks on many of the stones that make up the four foot thick walls of the massive structure.