The City of Banning is located in the San Gorgonio Pass, between Mt. San Gorgonio on the north and Mt. San Jacinto to the south in Riverside County, California. Various tribes of Indians, notably the Serano and Cahuilla, were well established in the region when Mexican and Spanish expedition reached the area around 1774. It is believed that a pre-historic lake existed here since a bone fossil of a Mastodon of the Pliocene Age was discovered in 1965 (Banning Daily Record, May 19, 1965). By 1824, the San Gabriel Mission Fathers established a branch of the Mission at the highest point in the Pass, along the foothills northwest of Banning, where they raised cattle, sheep and pursued land cultivation. By that time, the area was known as Rancho San Gorgonio, so named by the padres after St. Gorgonio, A Latin martyr.
Banning has a rich and colorful history. The first white man to reach the area was Dr. Isaac Smith in 1853 who, according to recorded land documents, purchased from Paulino Weaver an undivided one-third interest from the Mexican Governor, Pio Pico. Dr. Smith brought his wife and seven children to the rancho to live and built a house known as Smith's Station, which later became Highland Home and subsequently called Highland Springs.
The following year, Banning's first permanent landmark, Gilman Ranch adobe, was built. It was ultimately used as a stage stop by the Colorado Stage & Express Line founded by Alexander & Co. of Los Angeles on its route to the Colorado River in 1862,where gold had been discovered. The route ran through the foothills a half-mile north of downtown Banning, then north of Cabazon and Whitewater, which was the last stop before reaching Palm Springs (Dos Palmas). The railroad replaced the stagecoach in 1876, but Banning is still known as "STAGECOACH TOWN, U.S.A." and is famous for its annual Stagecoach Days Celebration featuring a parade, carnival and rodeo.
The City is named in honor of General Phineas T. Banning, who freighted over the Mormon trail from Salt Lake to San Bernardino and Los Angeles. General Banning also figures prominently in the history of the town of Wilmington, California. He developed a shipping company there between San Pedro and Los Angeles, as well as operating the stage line from Wilmington to Yuma, Arizona through the Banning Pass.