Little Ellen Baley – Lost in the Desert Night

During this phase of the journey the wagon train was doing much of its traveling at night, owing to the great daytime heat of the desert and the long distances between water holes. At regular intervals during the night they would stop for a short rest. At one of these rest stops, eleven-year-old Ellen Baley, a daughter of Gillum and Permelia Baley, fell asleep and failed to awaken when the wagon train moved on. Somehow, she was not missed until the train traveled some distance. The poor girl awoke to find herself alone in the middle of a vast hostile desert. Filled with fright, she began running to catch up with the wagon train, but in her confusion she took off in the opposite direction. When she was discovered missing, her father and older brother, George, immediately rode back to where they had stopped. To their horror, she was not there! Captured by the Indians must have been their conclusion! Nevertheless, they continued their search by calling out the little girl’s name at the top of their voices as they rode back.Their efforts were soon rewarded when, far off in the distance, came a faint cry, “Papa, Papa.” Her father immediately answered and kept calling her name until he caught up with her.When reunited with her family and the other members of the wagon train, Ellen had a tale which would be told and retold by family members until the present day.

from –
Disaster at the Colorado
Beale’s Wagon Road and the First Emigrant Party

~ Charles W. Baley

Keeler to Mojave by Stage

Book Review: 101 moments in Eastern Sierra History
by Dave Babb

“In the 1890s, Mr. W.K. Miller established a six horse stage line between Keeler, on the northeast shore of Owens Lake, and Mojave.

The stage left Keeler and Mojave every other day at noon. In those days the trip took nearly 24 hours of continuous dusty travel through cactus and sand, and around hummocks.

The coach was that typical Concorde carriage of the day, square and rather high. It had a door on each side, and multiple layers of leather straps served as springs.

Inside,  two seats face each other and eight people could be seated. A ninth could write on top with the driver and kids could sit on their parents laps. The fare was $10 per person.

The first leg of the trap, from Keeler to Olancha, was the roughest part of all — taking up to six hours. After a change of horses, which took about five minutes,  Haiwee could be reached in another three hours.

They changed horses eight times during the trip, and had to average about 5 mph to make a few Mojave by noon.  Some 60 horses were kept in reserve to keep the stage rolling in on time.

Passengers carried their own food and water, and comfort stops were made upon request — behind the nearest bush at the back of the stage.”

Dave Babb first came to the eastern Sierra in 1952, at the age of 13 for a two-week camping and hiking trip along the John Muir Trail.   after completing his education receiving BS and MS degrees in wildlife biology he returned to Bishop with his wife and their three children.

He has authored or co-authored nearly two dozen publications on the history and natural resources of the Inyo-Mono region and written more than 170 articles on Eastern Sierra wildlife.

This is a great little book to own, entertaining and informative.
You may be able to find it here.

101 moments in Eastern Sierra History
by Dave Babb
Published by Community Printing
ISBN 10: 0912494395 ISBN 13: 9780912494395

This May Save Your Life!

Letters from the Editor:

Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

“I wanted you to know about my recent brush with death.  I am still shaking a bit but wanted to make sure I wrote down the events exactly as they happened so anyone else in the same situation will know how to save themselves.

I was in my mine. I live in there because the rent is free, I’m close to work, and the temperature is always the same no matter what the season is or what is going on up top.  Well, one day there was a cave-in that sealed off  my exit from the mine and I was stuck in the little room I use for reading. Not much in there, a lantern, a table, a chair, a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.

Certainly this was a dilemma that would take all of my resourcefulness to solve. First, I looked all around the room to see what I ‘saw.’  Then I took the ‘saw’ and cut the table in half.  Well, everyone knows that two halves make a hole so I put them together and crawled right out. Nothing to it–I live to tell the tale.

Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

He always signs like that.

A Windy City — Barstow

Letters from the Editor:

Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

“Once I was up near Barstow a bit after sunset and it was getting pretty dark so I decided I better head home. I will tell you, it was as windy as I have ever seen it–and it was so windy in fact, that when I turned on the headlights to my truck the wind just blew the light beams right back under the truck. I like to think I am smarter than that, so I turned the truck around and backed up all the way home.

Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

He always signs like that.

Up in Hi Vista

The tiny community of Hi Vista, located in the Mojave Desert northwest of El Mirage dry lake, is a shred of what it once was and that being a shred of what it could have been, I suppose.

Hi Vista Community Hall
Hi Vista Community Hall in an early phase of life.
kill bill church
Although the little hall was in a quiet and remote location, it was quite plain. A cover over the entry, a faux bell tower and a mission-style decoration were added to make it appear as a Catholic church for the movie, True Confessions (1981), with Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro.

Over twenty years later when the movie Kill Bill (2003) came along, the hall was due for and given another facelift — a wood porch and cover were built on.

kill bill church
The hall in its most pristine condition.

Note the Joshua tree on the right has appeared, at least in part, in each shot.  This is visual proof that Joshua trees grow considerably faster than once thought.

Kill Bill Church is High Vista, CA.
Church interior



Aphid Loaf

Reeds along Big Bear Lake
I have heard the Indians would go to the reeds in the riparian areas where aphids fed in large numbers, brush away the tiny bugs and scrape their shiny-sticky waste from the blades. En masse the material would be shaped into a large, heavy loaf with a hardness and sweetness similar to rock candy. In Jedediah Smith’s first expedition across the Mojave his guides recovered a cache of the sweet bread to supplement their then meatless diet.

“But men accustomed to living on meat and at the same time travelling hard will Eat a surprising quantity of corn and Beans which at this time constituted our principal subsistence.”
~ J.Smith, 1826

When the Cavalry Saves the Day

“Two men were in charge of a station at Egan Canyon in Nevada. One morning a band of Indians captured them, after a battle. The chief chose to make the prisoners feed his braves before murdering them, and compelled them to cook an immense quantity of bread.  The Indians gorged themselves during the day, while the captives toiled and sweated over their cooking, probably no more cheerfully because of a promise that they would be burned at the stake at sundown.  A wagon tongue had been driven into the ground to serve as a stake, and preparations for their roasting were in progress, when in true story-book style, a company of cavalry happened along and saved them. This was the narrative given out as absolute truth in after years given by one of the men.”

from Outposts of Civilization – W.A. Chalfant

American Avocet

A common to abundant winter visitor to salt ponds, fresh and saline emergent wetlands, and mudflat habitats throughout the Central Valley and the central and southern coastal areas. Breeds from March to mid-July, and is relatively common during this period in northeast California, the Central Valley, and coastal estuaries. Common most of the year at the Salton Sea, but only a few pairs have been known to nest.
American avocet
Forages on mudflats, salt or alkali flats, in shallow ponded areas with silt bottoms, and in salt pond. Feeds by probing in mud, sweeping bill through water or soupy mud, or by swimming and tipping-up like ducks. Preferred foods include aquatic insects, crustaceans, snails, worms, and occasionally seeds of aquatic plants
State of California

These were spotted in the Saline Valley several hundred yards away from the salt lake shoreline. They would, randomly it seemed, all take off into the air, circle around and land in the same spot they left. I imagined that was an adaptation they have made to spot predators.

A gentleman coming from the Warm Springs walked up to me and we started talking. He told me this was a “lost” flock of American avocet that drifted into the valley long ago during a storm. They found the lake hospitable enough to stay — that every time they tried to leave, they just turned back after a short distance returning to the salt sink at the bottom of the basin that was now their home.

Maybe the guy was knowledgeable and truthful, but more likely he was passing along something he heard that was passed along by someone else who heard something and so on and so forth. You never know who you are talking to.

more about the American avocet

I’ve been Working on the Railword

Train rolling through Mojave Desert
Southbound out of Barstow, Ca.

“BOOMER—Drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time on each job or each road. This term dates back to pioneer days when men followed boom camps. The opposite is home guard. Boomers should not be confused with tramps, although they occasionally became tramps. Boomers were railroad workers often in big demand because of their wide experience, sometimes blackballed because their tenure of stay was uncertain. Their common practice was to follow the “rushes”-that is, to apply for seasonal jobs when and where they were most needed, when the movement of strawberry crops, watermelons, grain, etc., was making the railroads temporarily short-handed. There are virtually no boomers in North America today. When men are needed for seasonal jobs they are called from the extra board”

~ from Railroad Avenue, by Freeman H. Hubbard – 1945