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Kern County is a county located in the southern Central Valleymarker of the U.S. state of Californiamarker. Established in 1866, it extends east beyond the southern slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada range into the Mojave Desert, and includes parts of the Indian Wells Valley, and the Antelope Valleymarker, and has an area nearly the size of New Jerseymarker. From the Sierras the county extends across the floor of the San Joaquin Valleymarker to the eastern edge of the Temblor Rangemarker, part of the Coastal Ranges. To the south the county extends over the ridge of the Tehachapi Mountains. According to the 2000 census, its population was 661,645, but recent California Department of Finance estimates place the county population at 779,869. The county seat is Bakersfieldmarker (since 1874) with the original county seat being the former mining town of Havilahmarker in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

The county has a large agricultural base and is a significant producer of oil, natural gas, hydro-electric power, wind-turbine power, and geothermal power. , Kern remains California's top oil-producing county, with over 85% of the state's 43,000 active oil wells. The county accounts for one-tenth of overall U.S. oil production, and three of the five largest U.S. oil fields are in Kern County. Kern is also noted for its mineral wealth, including gold, borate, and kernite. The largest open pit mine in California, which mines borax, is at Boronmarker in Kern County.

Department of Defense facilities in Kern County include Edwards Air Force Basemarker and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Stationmarker. The Mojave Spaceportmarker, operated by the county government, is also in Kern County.


The Kern County area was first claimed by the Spanish in 1769. In 1772, Commander Don Pedro Fages became the first European to enter the area. The expedition entered via the Grapevine Canyonmarker (later the site of the Ridge Route along U.S. 99 and now Interstate 5). Walker Passmarker was discovered in 1834 and is an important pass across the Sierra Nevada as it is one of the few not closed by winter snows. It is now a National Historic Landmark. In 1848, the Kern area was ceded to the United Statesmarker as part of the transfer of Californiamarker, Nevadamarker, and Utahmarker and other lands under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The Havilah Court building was restored in the 1970s and now serves as a museum.
Photo circa 2007.
County was created in 1866 with the county seat located in the now abandoned mining town of Havilahmarker. In its beginning, Kern County was dominated by mining in the mountains and desert. The area of the San Joaquin Valley was considered inhospitable and impassable at the time due to swamps, lakes, tule reeds, and diseases such as malaria. This changed when settlers started draining lands for farming and constructing canals, most dug by hand by hired Chinese laborers, to irrigate and drain these lands. Within 10 years the area of the San Joaquin Valley surpassed the mining areas as the economic influence of the county, and the county seat was moved from Havilah to Bakersfield in 1874.

Tensions between Native Americans (mostly Mohave and Paiutes) following attacks on miners and encroaching settlers in the mountains turned deadly on several occasions. Most notably the ghost town of Keyesville is the location where 5 Indians were killed in 1856, and another 35 in were killed by soldiers in the 1863 Keyesville Massacre. Relations with other tribes were more cordial. The Haidu lived on the Tejon Ranch under General Edward Beale's protection on Ranchos, and relations between Beale and the Chiefs were cordial. The Yokut Indians of the San Joaquin Valley were peaceful and friendly. Spanish explorer Father Francisco Garces befriended the Yokuts at villages at the present day Garces Circle. They lived in Hogans along the branches of the Kern River Delta and hunted antelope, tule elk, deer, grizzly bear, fish, and game birds. The Yokuts for the most part died from diseases, with a few assimilating into the white man's culture. The Haidu assimilated into the local population with most intermarrying with Spanish/Mexican Californios. Many of the Paiute still live in the mountain areas of eastern Kern County, with no reservations in Kern County as in other counties. However, the less than 100 descendants of the Haidu near Kern Citymarker attempted to reorganize as the Rio Bravo Indian Rancheria in the late 1970s.

Kern County was the site of the Battle of San Emigdio, in March 1824, between the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara Missionmarker who rebelled against the Mexican government's taking over mission property and ejecting the Indians. This battle between Mexican forces from Montereymarker under the command of Cárlos Carrillo occurred at the canyon where San Emigdio Creek flows down San Emigdio Mountainmarker and the Blue Ridge south of Bakersfield near Highway 166. It was a low-casualty encounter, with only four Indians killed, and no Mexicans; the surviving Indians were pacified and brought back to Santa Barbara in June 1824, after a pursuit and negotiation in which many were allowed to keep their arms for the return march over the mountains.

Former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Army General Edward Fitzgerald Beale established and owned the large Tejon Ranch in the mountains south of Bakersfield. It was the consolidation of four separate Mexican Ranchos he purchased in 1846 after his part in winning California independence in the Bear Flag Revolt against corrupt and inept Mexican government officials. Today, the Tejon Ranch is the largest tract of privately owned land in California. The Beale Memorial Library, Beale Avenue, General Beale Road, The Beale Memorial Clock Tower, Beale Park, and Truxtun Avenue are named after the influential Beale family, both for Edward and his wife, and their son Truxtun.

In 1854 the First Regiment, U.S. Dragoons established Fort Tejonmarker near the head of the Grapevine Canyon. The post's mission was protecting peaceful Indians living on the nearby Tejon Indian Rancherias, as well as safeguarding miners from raids by hostile Mohave and Paiute Indians. The Indians of the Tejon Ranch, most of whom were Haidu, assimilated into the local population and the Rancherias no longer exist. Located next to the Ridge Route (now Interstate 5) just north of the town of Lebec, the fort is a California State Historical Park featuring living history programs and Civil War re-enactments (although no Civil War battles were fought there).

Kern County was formed in 1866 from parts of Los Angeles and Tularemarker Counties. The county derives its name from the Kern River which was named for Edward Kern, cartographer for General John C. Fremont's 1845 expedition, which crossed Walker Pass. The Kern River was originally named Rio Bravo de San Felipe by Father Francisco Garces when he explored the area in 1776. Kern County was nearly named Buena Vista County for the large, and now drained, Buena Vista Lake between Bakersfield and Taft. The western half of Kern county being on the southern end of the Central Valley was regarded as infertile or semi-desert (chaparral) with less than 10,000 residents in the entire county, according to the 1866 population report.

Oil development began in the late 19th century, with the 1894 discovery of the enormous Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the third-largest in the United States. It was on this field, in the southwestern portion of Kern County near Maricopa, that well drillers brought about the 1910 Lakeview Gushermarker, the largest recorded oil gusher in U.S. history. The oil well spewed approximately 9 million barrels for a year and a half onto the adjacent landscape before workers finally were able to cap it. Other huge oil fields in southwestern Kern County discovered early in the 20th century include the Buena Vista Field, the South Belridge Field, and the Cymric Field, which is currently the fastest-growing field in California in terms of barrels produced per year. Other large oil fields elsewhere in Kern County include the enormous Kern River Oil Field, the fifth-largest in the U.S., the adjacent Kern Front Oil Field, the Mount Poso Oil Field in the lower foothills of the Sierra north-northeast of Bakersfield, and the Fruitvale Oil Field, which underlies much of the city of Bakersfield itself, along and north of the Kern River.

Elk Hillsmarker, another one of the large oil fields in Kern County, was involved in the Teapot Dome Scandalmarker, an infamous example of corruption of President Warren G. Harding's administration. In 1923 it was revealed that Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, transferred portions of the naval petroleum reserves into private hands without competitive bidding, and in the case of Elk Hills, in exchange for personal 'loans.' The illicit deals involved the reserves at Elk Hills and at Teapot Dome in Wyoming. The Supreme Court in 1927 returned Elk Hills to public ownership, and it became the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1; this was to remain until 1997 when the Department of the Interior sold it to Occidental Petroleum. Occidental currently leases 1.1 million acres of oil producing land, primarily in Kern County.

New finds: On July 22, 2009, Occidental announced it had discovered 150 to 250 million barrels of oil equivalent in Kern County, which the company calls the largest oil discovery in California in 35 years. The find adds about 10% to California's known reserves. Occidental Ray Irani said it is likely that more oil will be found in the areas outside the initial six wells that tapped the discovery. Occidental has not revealed the exact location of the find, two-thirds of which is natural gas. BNET, an industry web publication said the find will add to the company's 708 million barrel proven reserves in California. Occidental owns 80% of the Kern County lease where the find was made, with California based Chevron holding the remaining 20%. Industry insiders say oil discovered on the company's Kern lease cost only $10 a barrel to produce.

On July 21, 1952, an earthquake with the epicenter located about 23 miles south of Bakersfield, Kern County measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale killed 12 people. The Kern County earthquakemarker was the largest earthquake to strike Southern California since the Fort Tejon earthquakemarker of 1857 and the Lone Pine earthquakemarker of 1872, causing immense and widespread damage. In addition to 12 fatalities, it was responsible for at least 18 injuries and over $60 million in property damage. The main shock was felt over most of California as well as in Phoenix, Arizona. The earthquake was felt in Reno, Nevada and in Los Angeles power outages occurred. It was followed by several aftershocks, at least 20 of which were magnitude 5.0 or greater. The quake occurred on the White Wolf Fault and was the third strongest quake in California history, behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1872 Lone Pine quake.

As home to Edwards Air Force Basemarker the Air Force's main flight test facility, Kern County has been the site of many milestones, including the first supersonic flight and the first landing of the Space Shuttle. The base has brought prosperity to the railroad towns of Mojavemarker and Rosamondmarker. Kern County is also the home of the first inland spaceport in the United Statesmarker, the Mojave Spaceportmarker. Kern County is also home to the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Stationmarker at Ridgecrest where many naval weapons were (and continue to be) developed and tested.

Between 1983 and 1986, several ritual sex ring child abuse cases allegedly occurred in Kern County. These resulted in numerous long prison sentences, all of which were overturned, some only decades later, because the prosecutors had coerced false testimonies from the children. The Kern County cases marked the beginning of a series of similar cases all over North America and beyond.

Kern County is home to Kieffe and Sons Ford, a Ford Motor Company dealership that, in a radio advertisement in 2008, suggested Christians “just tell the other 14 percent to sit down and shut up”.A statement by the Ford Motor Company claimed that the ad was aired "in error", however a spokesman for Kieffe and Sons subsequently insisted that the dealership "stands behind" the ad, claiming that it was "the truth."

The Kern County Clerk announced in mid-June 2008 that the county would stop performing all civil marriage ceremonies. County officials cited budget and staffing constraints. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Clerk Ann Barnett made her decision after county lawyers told her she could not refuse to marry same-sex couples.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of , of which, 8,141 square miles (21,085 km²) of it is land and 20 square miles (53 km²) of it (0.25%) is water. It is the third largest county by area in the contiguous United States.

Cities and towns

Cities over 300,000 population

Cities over 50,000 population

Cities over 10,000 population

Cities under 10,000 population

Towns and CDPs

The following are towns or census-designated places within Kern County:

Towns over 10,000 population

Towns over 1,000 population

Towns Under 1,000 population

Adjacent Counties

National protected areas

Transportation Infrastructure

Major Highways

Public transportation


Flora and fauna

Chaparral comprises a considerable portion of the natural area within Kern County; however, the species diversity within these chaparral habitats is considerably less than in many other regions of California. California Whitethorn is a prominent example of chaparral species inhabiting the rocky slopes of the Sierra Nevada as well as the Inner Coastal Ranges. California Buckeye is a notable tree that is found in both chaparral and forests and whose southern range terminates in Kern County.


According to the census of 2000, there were 661,645 people, 208,652 households, and 156,489 families residing in the county. The population density was 81 people per square mile (31/km²). There were 231,564 housing units at an average density of 28 per square mile (11/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 61.60% White, 6.02% Black or African American, 3.37% Asian, 1.51% Native American, 0.15% Pacific Islander, 23.22% from other races, and 4.14% from two or more races. 38.39% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 8.4% were of German, 7.2% Americanmarker and 5.7% Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 66.8% spoke English, 29.1% Spanish and 1.0% Tagalog as their first language.

There were 208,652 households out of which 42.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 14.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.0% were non-families. 20.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.50.

In the county the population was spread out with 31.9% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 29.80% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 9.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 105.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.3 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $35,446, and the median income for a family was $39,403. Males had a median income of $38,097 versus $25,876 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,760. About 16.8% of families and 20.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.8% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.

The center of population of California is located in Kern County, in the town of Buttonwillowmarker [12245].

Racial/cultural diversity

Kern County is home to over 200,000 Mexican Americans, while the county is a major concentration of migrant laborers arrived in seasonal harvests, mostly from Mexico, Central America and the Philippinesmarker, while the Delanomarker area is home to 20,000 Filipino Americans and a sizable Indian American population is in the Arvinmarker area, mainly children and grandchildren of migrant labor families.

There are an estimated 50,000 Cherokee Indians, whose families came to the county from their historic range in Oklahomamarker and the southeastern US during the 1930s dust bowl migrations of displaced White American and African American farmers from the Great Plains, that as a result brought a uniquely Midwestern/Western country feel to a west coast county, and Bakersfield is referred to as "Nashville West" for its subvariety of Country music developed by these transplants in California since the 1940s. A large share of local residents are 2nd or 3rd generation Okies proud of their families' struggle to work hard to re-established themselves, and they typically lived in Arvin, Buttonwillow, Lamont, Lost Hills, Maricopa, Oildale, Rosedale, Shafter, Taft/Ford city, Tullahassee Wasco and Weedpatch.

Other large ethnic communities in the county are Armenians, Chinese, Germans, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Swedes, Arabs of either Lebanese or Syrian descent, Spanish includes a large Basque community and Southeast Asians (Cambodiamarker, Laosmarker and Vietnammarker) mostly arrived after the Vietnam War of the 1970s.

After being informed that gay couples could not be denied marriage licenses in light of the legalization of same-sex marriage, the county announced a halt to all wedding ceremonies, but will issue marriage licenses as required by law. Officials claimed that there would not be enough resources to accommodate ceremonies for both straight and gay couples. Clerks in other counties have called this rationale "...poorly disguised discrimination against gay and lesbian couples."


  • White Non-Hispanic (49.5%)
  • Hispanic (38.4%)
  • Other race (23.2%)
  • Black (6.0%)
  • Two or more races (4.1%)
  • American Indian (2.6%)
  • Filipino (1.6%)
  • Asian Indian (0.7%)
  • (Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics could be counted in other races)


Presidential election results
Year GOP DEM Others
2008 58.3% 111,254 39.9% 76,189 1.8% 3,402
2004 66.5% 140,417 32.5% 68,603 1.0% 2,154
2000 60.7% 110,663 36.2% 66,003 3.1% 5,642
1996 53.7% 92,151 36.6% 62,658 9.7% 16,582
1992 45.1% 80,762 33.8% 60,510 21.2% 37,991
1988 61.5% 90,550 37.4% 55,083 1.1% 1,660
1984 65.0% 94,776 34.0% 49,567 1.0% 1,401
1980 59.6% 72,842 33.7% 41,097 6.7% 8,182
1976 52.3% 58,023 45.6% 50,567 2.1% 2,371
1972 60.1% 71,686 35.2% 41,937 4.7% 5,570
1968 46.6% 53,990 42.6% 49,284 10.8% 12,558
1964 41.2% 45,014 58.7% 64,174 0.1% 120
1960 50.4% 52,800 49.1% 51,440 0.4% 465

Kern is a strongly Republican county in Presidential and congressional elections. The last Democratic candidate for President to win a majority in the county was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Kern is part of California's 20th and 22nd congressional districts, which are held by Democrat Jim Costa and Republican Kevin McCarthy, respectively. In the State Assembly, Kern is part of the 30th, 32nd, 34th and 37th districts. The 30th district is held by Democrat Nicole Parra while the 32nd, and 34th districts are held by Republicans Jean Fuller and Bill Maze respectively. In the State Senate, Kern is part of the 16th and 18th districts, which are held by Democrat Dean Florez and Republican Roy Ashburn respectively.

On Nov. 4, 2008 Kern County voted 75.5% for Proposition 8 which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

At the county level, Kern County is governed by a five-member board of supervisors. As of 2008, they are: John McQuiston representing the 1st District, Don Maben from the 2nd District, Mike Maggard from the 3rd, Ray Watson from the 4th, and Michael J. Rubio from the 5th.

According to the California Secretary of State, as of April 2008, Kern County has 283,732 registered voters. Of those, 101,580 (35.8%) are registered Democratic, 131,878 (46.5%) are registered Republican, 10,752 (3.8%) are registered with other political parties, and 39,522 (13.9%) declined to state a political party. The cities of Bakersfield, California City, Maricopa, Ridgecrest, Taft, Tehachapi, and the unincorporated areas have a plurality or majority of voters registered Republican. All of the other cities and towns have Democratic pluralities or majorities.


Kern County's geography offers a wide variety of outdoor geography. Among the outdoor recreational activities are: Horseback riding, water skiing (Lake Buena Vista, Lake Ming, and private ski ranches), offroad biking and dune buggys (Jawbone Canyon, California City, and Randsburg), auto racing (Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, Bakersfield Speedway, Famoso, & and an unnamed half-mile speedway under construction), hunting, paint ball courses, white water rafting, Olympic quality kayaking, snow skiing (Shirley Meadows), shooting ranges (5 Dogs Creek Range), hiking, biking (trails, paths, and roads), camping, fishing, and other activities.

Oil production

While the west side of the county is often associated with the oil industry today, it was an 1899 Bakersfield area discovery along the Kern River, today part of the giant Kern River Oil Field, that was the breakthrough in Kern's oil production. The county today contributes more than three-quarters of all the oil produced onshore in California. Oil was refined here even before the establishment of the county. The Buena Vista Petroleum Company was organized and incorporated in 1864. Soon thereafter a refinery was built that operated until April 1867 when work ceased because of high freight charges.

The discovery well of the Kern River Oil Field was dug by hand in 1899. Soon the towns of Oil Citymarker, Oil Center and Oildalemarker came into existence.

Some of the large oil fields in Kern County which are still active include:



  • Bakersfield Californian[12246], Bakersfield, north/west Kern
  • The Mountain Enterprise, southwest Kern mountains area
  • Mojave Desert News [12247], east Kern desert area
  • The Daily Independent [12248], Ridgecrest, China Lake, and The Indian Wells Valley
  • The Kern Valley Sun, Kern Valley area
  • The Tehachapi News, Tehachapi.

People in group quarters


(reported by the sheriff's office or county police)



External links

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