The Yokuts Indians were the first people to settle in the San Joaquin Valley, roughly 8,000 years ago. In 1776, the Spanish missionary Father Francisco Garcés became the first European to explore the area. In 1851, gold was discovered in the Kern River in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, and in 1865, oil was discovered in the valley. The Bakersfield area, a tule- reed-infested malarial swamp, was first known as Kern Island to the handful of pioneers who built log cabins there in 1860. The area was subject to flooding from the Kern River delta, which occupied what is now the downtown area.
In 1863, former Iowa militia member and former California state senator Colonel Thomas Baker moved into the Kern Island area to champion the cause of land reclamation. He settled into a tule-reed thatched log cabin near present-day Truxtun Avenue and R Street. Baker, who had experience as a surveyor and was reputed to be one of the few government officials not corrupted by big business, was recommended to survey and lay out the town of Visalia in the late 1850s.
Baker grew a field of alfalfa, near the modern Amtrak station, for travelers to feed their horses. Newspapers as far away as San Francisco advised travelers to visit Baker's field and use his field of alfalfa to feed their stock.
As more families moved to the area, Baker subsidized development out of his own pocket. He constructed public sawmills, helped other pioneers drain their land, and surveyed the land. Baker was asked to plot out a new town after a flood of the Kern River rerouted the river channel to the north. At the founding ceremony in 1869, residents surprised Baker by naming the town Bakersfield, in his honor.
 Population growthBakersfield's old Santa Fe Railroad depot
The town continued to grow and reached a population of about 801 by 1880, and 2,626 by 1890. In 1900, its population was approximately 4,836. The town continued to grow despite major floods in 1867 and 1893, and fires in 1889 and 1919.
In 1874, the Southern Pacific Railroad established itself in the area. On May 27, 1898, the San Joaquin and San Francisco Railroad (locally known as "The People's Railroad"), later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and now a part of the BNSF the new name for the for the merged Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, arrived in Bakersfield, greatly boosting the population.
In the 1930s, the Great Plains drought and dust storms (commonly called the Dust Bowl) precipitated a large influx of refugees from Arkansas and Oklahoma, who mostly found work in the agriculture and oil industries. The overwhelming number of refugees caused considerable social strife. After World War II, the city's population grew slowly and steadily over time.
Migration from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Southern California brought new residents, who were mostly employed by the oil industry. By 1980, Bakersfield's population was about 105,000. During the next 20 years, Bakersfield's population exploded and surpassed 250,000 by 2000.
 1952 earthquake
On July 21, 1952 an earthquake struck at 4:52 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. The earthquake, which was felt from San Francisco to the Mexican border, destroyed the nearby communities of Tehachapi and Arvin. The earthquake's destructive force also bent cotton fields into U shapes, slid a shoulder of the Tehachapi Mountains across all four lanes of the Ridge Route, collapsed a water tower creating a flash flood, and destroyed the railroad tunnels in the mountain chain. Bakersfield was spared, experiencing minor architectural damage without loss of life. The earthquake measured 7.3 on the Richter Scale.
The first aftershock came on July 29, and did minor architectural damage, but raised fears that the flow of the Friant-Kern Canal could be dangerously altered, potentially flooding the city and surrounding areas.
Aftershocks, for the next month, had become normal to Bakersfield residents, until at 3:42 p.m August 22 a 6.5 earthquake struck directly under the town's epicenter in the most densely populated area of the Southern San Joaquin Valley. The town did have some good fortune, however, as the quake struck late on a Friday afternoon when businesses were already closed down or beginning to close down. Four people died in the aftershock, and many of the town's historic structures were permanently lost.
 Geography and climate