The area, up to the mid-19th century, was inhabited by the Cahuilla people, though the region around Banning was originally Maringayam (Serrano), and the Cahuilla expanded into the pass only in historic times. In 1824 it became part of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, and then the Rancho San Gorgonio. The first Anglo to settle in the area was Dr. Isaac Smith in 1853. In 1863 a smallpox epidemic further diminished the Cahuilla. The government created Indian reservations for the Cahuilla in 1877.
The settlement that was to become Banning developed in coincidence with the start of the Colorado River Gold Rush. The Bradshaw Trail, which passed through the area in 1862, was a wagon road to the gold boomtowns of Arizona Territory. Gilman’s Ranch north of downtown served as a station for the stagecoach lines on this road. The railroad followed, passing through the town in 1876. The Southern Pacific (later purchased by Union Pacific) railroad, was a major contributor to the area’s growth. U.S. Route 99 was built in 1923, followed by U.S. Route 60/70 in 1936, and subsequently Interstate 10.
Banning borders the Morongo Indian Reservation, home to the Morongo Band of Cahuilla (Mission) Indians. Relations with reservation residents have been stressed by such actions as disputes over water rights. See Dorothy Ramon’s book (published 2000) “Always Believe” for a Maringayam’s views on Banning and reservation life.
Prior to the name Banning, the settlement was called Moore City. Ransom B. Moore operated a large cattle ranch and was later a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, settling in the area and nearby San Gorgonio mountains in the early 1860s. Moore sold his holdings and relocated to central Arizona in 1883, establishing a large cattle ranch on the site of the former Camp Reno army outpost and later served in the Arizona Territorial Legislature.
The town of Banning was incorporated on February 6, 1913. Between the years 1880 and 1980, it was the largest city in year-round population between Redlands and the Colorado River.
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