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

Coyote Holes

Note on: Freeman Stage Station (Coyote Holes).

Robber's Roost near Freeman Junction
Robber’s Roost near Freeman Station

Freeman Station was established by the ex-stage driver Freeman S. Raymond in 1872. On the last day of February, 1874, the Station was attacked by Tiburcio Vasquez. Although the station occupants had surrendered, “Old Tex” (who was sleeping in the barn) awoke and fired at Vasquez, wounding him in the leg.

Tiburcio Vasquez
Tiburcio Vasquez the ‘Gentleman’ bandito.

Vasquez returned fire and delivered a leg wound to Tex (Pracchia, 1994). In 1894, Freeman’s parcel became the first homestead in Indian Wells Valley.
~ R. Reynolds



Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Henry R. Mockle (1905-1981),
Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Rather than documenting the structure of each plant species in scientific detail, Henry Mockle intended to his illustrations would capture “the pleasurable feeling at coming up on one of these little creations”.

Henry Mockle painting of desert Indian paintbrush

As did naturalist Edmund Jaeger, Mockle took pride in all his studies of desert plants being taken directly from life. This work often involves lying on the ground for hours, in conditions ranging from hot to cold, windy to wet. As some annual plants – like the Phacelia – per growing up and through the protective spread of woody shrubs. Mockle found he had to lay beneath creosote bushes and other scrub vegetation to depict these wildflowers in full.

Henry Mockle painting of coyote melon
Coyote melon


Painting of desert mallow
Desert Mallow


Source: Riverside Metropolitan Museum