Big Bear Miss Clementine Pageant is July 13, 2017

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Big Bear resident Emily Isom is crowned Miss Clementine 2016. She is handed her trophy and flowers by Henry Moreno, Big Bear Old Miners Association first vice president.
Big Bear resident Emily Isom is crowned Miss Clementine 2016. She is handed her trophy and flowers by Henry Moreno, Big Bear Old Miners Association first vice president.

Miss Clementine title brings with it a $500 education scholarship

Big Bear Old Miners Association will name Miss Clementine during annual pageant this year to take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 13, at the Big Bear Masonic Lodge


For some seven decades the rich gold mining history of the Big Bear area has been celebrated by the Big Bear Old Miners Association. Along with a hometown parade and other events that commemorate those long ago days, the preeminent moment of the once-a-year festivity, “Old Miners Days,” is the Miss Clementine Pageant and that ultimate instant when a “Miss Clementine” is crowned.

The Association was created sometime before the year 1950 with really two goals: to commemorate the days of yore when gold fever ran rampant in the San Bernardino Mountains, and to create events that would attract visitors to the budding tourism economy of the Big Bear Valley. The result of these shared goals was the creation of the Big Bear Old Miners Association Old Miners Days.

One of the events born of the Association’s desire to highlight its mining history is a pageant that calls for participants to demonstrate the fashion styles current when Big Bear’s gold rush was in full bloom: The Miss Clementine Pageant, evoking the image of a beautiful gold miner’s daughter as the persona that is to be emulated by pageant contestants, is a real piece of heartwarming Americana and a perennial Big Bear favoriate.

The image of “Miss Clementine” immediately brings to mind the personification of women during the California Gold rush as introduced by the American Western folk ballad, “Oh, My Darling, Clementine,” a tune that is the lament of a bereaved lover bemoaning the loss of his beloved Clementine, the daughter of a California Gold Rush miner.

The title, “Miss Clementine,” is conferred to a young lady between the age of 16 and 21 years wearing what the current judges deem to be the most interesting and authentic historical costume representing the historic gold mining era of the Big Bear area. That period is widely believed to have stretched between the years of 1860 to 1910.

For the year 2017, the Miss Clementine Pageant will take place beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 13. The friendly rivalry will take place inside the Masonic Lodge at 385 Summit Boulevard, between the Sheriff’s Station and the hospital.

Besides the enjoyment of becoming a part of a beloved Big Bear Lake tradition by being named to the title, the winner of the Miss Clementine Pageant is also awarded a onetime $500 educational scholarship.

Application to be part of this piece of Big Bear folklore may be downloaded at The chairperson is John Villani, and he may be contacted at (909) 362-4246 or by emailing

A quick look at Big Bear history…

Back in 1859-60 at an area known as Starvation Flats, near what is now the intersection of Stanfield Cutoff and Big Bear Boulevard in Big Bear Lake, which by its very appellation speaks to the success then enjoyed by gold miners in the Big Bear Valley, there was living a small group of prospectors, one of whom was a guy by the name of Bill Holcomb. Bill had just arrived in Big Bear full of gold fever.

Legend has it that Bill was better at hunting than gold prospecting, and was out hoping to bag a grizzly bear to fill the camp’s cooking pots. He climbed the mountain just west of Bertha Peak in search of game.

From the top of the ridge he gazed upon a lush green valley that would eventually bear his name. That day he found such success that he soon organized another hunting trip to Holcomb Valley.

On that day, Bill shot and wounded a grizzly in the late afternoon. He tracked the wounded animal, but it got dark before he could find it. He camped to continue his quest the following day.

It was while tracking this bear that he came upon a quartz ledge that looked very promising. Upon closer examination he found gold. Excited, he returned to Bear Valley to report his find.

Many of the group said a not very fond goodbye to Starvation Flats and relocated to Holcomb Valley. They soon began pulling out gold in significant amounts.

This was the birth of the gold mining history of Big Bear. Soon thousands lived in Holcomb and Bear valleys. Towns such as Belleville, Union Town, Clapboard Town and other sprang into existence.

The population of Holcomb Valley grew so that it was reported in a newspaper on September 1, 1860 that it looked like Holcomb Valley would decide election matters in San Bernardino County that year. It was determined that the voters in Holcomb Valley outnumber the rest of San Bernardino County.

One of the “election matters” that needed to be decided was where the San Bernardino county seat should be located. Belleville residents felt strongly that the location should be right there, in Holcomb Valley.

When the ballots were rounded up after the election, legend has it that the returns from one entire Belleville precinct were missing. As it turned out, the city San Bernardino was picked as the new county seat by only two votes. If it hadn’t been for those missing Belleville votes, who knows, today Holcomb Valley would probably be covered with high rise government offices, and fast food restaurants.

Today, there is almost no evidence of the towns and dwellings of the gold rush era left standing in Holcomb Valley. The time is little more than a fond memory revived each year through the celebration of Old Miners Days in Big Bear Lake.

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