“Bill Knick” (excepted from Southern California Miscellany by Elizabeth Cox)
Unlike Paul Bunyan, Bill Knick never owned an ox. Instead, he owned several axes, all of which he kept sharp enough to split a hair on a moment’s notice.
Knick’s birth name was William Edwin Knickerbocker, a name far too fussy for his liking, so he called himself Bill Knick. Knick was born in Pennsylvania in 1869 to a Seneca mother and a Dutch father. And while it might stretch the truth to claim he was born with an axe handle in his hand, this would be a minor exaggeration. In truth, Bill Knick was as much of a natural at chopping down trees as trees are to growing in a forest. He spent his childhood gathering fallen timber from Pennsylvania’s forests. And by age twelve he was strong enough to handle an axe and began felling trees on his own. A woodsman from the get-go he grew up with splinters in his hands and sawdust in his blood.
As a young man he traveled to California, arriving in the San Bernardino region about 1901. Inclined to forest living, it was natural for Knick to gravitate to the rugged, tree-rich mountain forests of Big Bear Valley where he found a land worthy of calling his home.
Exercising an optimistic approach toward the gold-rich wealth of Holcomb Valley, Knick staked two mining claims. He supported his mining ventures by doing what he did best, working the timber industry felling trees and hauling logs by horse-drawn wagon down the mountain to Banning. In 1904, at age thirty-five, love struck an arrow into Knick and he fell fast and hard into the loving arms of Rose Pollard. The sweethearts married and settled into a cabin in the nearby town of Doble. Within ten years they had a family of four children and Knick was busy as ever working his mines, cutting timber and fulfilling duties as Big Bear Lake’s dam keeper. It was during this time that far-fetched tales about Knick’s strength, stamina and skill originated. However, mountain old-timers remember one particular story they swear is true.
It seems that for the sole purpose of developing an appetite, Knick would hike four miles to a ranch store. Once there, he’d catch up on local news before buying a quarter side of beef weighing over a hundred pounds. With a goodbye wave, he hoisted the beef onto his back and carried it home, not stopping once on the trek and never becoming winded from the load. Now, while this story may leave a smile on the teller’s face, the house that Knick built is no doubt a testimony to his remarkable skill.
Built in 1920, on Knickerbocker Road, a stone’s throw from Big Bear Village, Knick’s historic log mansion stands proudly today as a reminder of the amazing William Edwin Knickerbocker: Big Bear’s own Paul Bunyan.
Since the early 1920’s, the Knickerbocker Mansion has stood watch over Big Bear Valley from its perch on a hillside just south of the village of Big Bear Lake, California. Bill Knickerbocker was a huge and hearty man. He worked his way Westward from Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s. Reaching California, he settled in a place called Pine Knot, now known as Big Bear Lake, and became the first damkeeper for the recently completed dam. Knickerbocker searched and finally found a beautiful piece of high ground, where he could overlook the town he loved. There, along with his wife and five children, he built a magnificent log mansion. An expert axman, Bill Knickerbocker felled the trees for this historic home himself.
The outside of the Mansion is constructed from halved logs that were installed vertically for the siding. The house is built of all natural materials with extensive pine and cedar paneling throughout and is home to two huge native-stone fireplaces. A bullet graze inside the kitchen door frame (one of a series of bullets fired during a boisterous card game) gives evidence to some of the colorful history of the Knickerbocker Mansion. This three story log mansion sits majestically on two and a half acres of land above Big Bear Lake and backs up to the San Bernardino National Forest.