Author Archives: Walter Feller

Death Valley Scotty Special

Death Valley Scotty Special

In 1905, in an attempt to break the speed record from Los Angeles to Chicago, Walter “Death Valley Scotty” Scott paid the Santa Fe Railroad a purported $5500 to rent a three car train pulled by 19 different steam locomotives. The trip began in Los Angeles on 9 July and arrived in Chicago 44 hours 54 minutes later, a record that stood until 1936  when it was broken by the Super Chief.  The  Barstow to Needles segment of the run took just three hours and 15 minutes. Also known as the Coyote Special.

Mojave Desert Dictionary – Patricia A. Schoffstall
Mojave River Valley Museum
 Barstow, California

The Origin of People

One day, Coyote went out to hunt rabbits. While he was hunting, he saw a large naked woman in the distance. This excited him. He said to himself, “Whew, I have never seen a woman like that. I will follow her.” He followed her for a long time, but could not quite overtake her. He followed her over many mountains. When he came to White Mountain [Fish Lake Valley], he was very thirsty. He saw that the woman was carrying a tiny basketry water jug, and he asked her for a drink. She gave him the little jug, and he drank and drank, but still there was water left in it. Then she walked on, and he followed her.

photo of coyote
Finally, they came to a large lake of water. The woman said, “My home is over there.” She crossed the lake on top of the water. Coyote said, “I cannot do that. I will walk around.” The woman turned and gave Coyote the legs of a water bug [skate?] that runs on the top of the water. Coyote followed her over to her house.

The woman lived in a house with her mother, who was called tsutsipü, “ocean,” maa’puts, “old woman.” She was like Eva, the first Woman. Eva had never seen a man before. In the morning, Eva got up very early and began to weave a fine, big water jug. Coyote stayed with the women for several days.

One day Coyote went hunting for deer. He wondered what was the matter [with the women] . . . He asked his stomach, his ears, his nose, and his foot what was the matter. None of them could tell him. Then a white hair on the end of his tail said, “You are just like a little boy. Take a neck bone . . . and use that.”

Coyote did this . . .

Coyote went out to hunt. The old woman had nearly finished her big water jug. The two women told each other that they were pregnant. When the jug was finished, they gave birth to many tiny babies, all like little dolls, and put them in the jug.

When Coyote returned, they said to him, “Maybe your brother, Wolf, is lonesome for you. We want you to go back home.” Coyote said, “All right, I will go.” Eva then said to the children, “You have no home here. You must go with Coyote.” She put the basket of children on Coyote’s back, and told him to carry it with him. It was very heavy, but Coyote said that he had carried deer down from the mountains on his back, so that he was strong and did not object.

The women instructed Coyote about the jug. They said, “When you come to Saline Valley, open the stopper just a little way, then replace it quickly. When you come to Death Valley, open it a little more. At Tin Mountain (Charleston Peak) open it half way. When you are in Moapa, take the stopper out all the way.” Coyote said he would do this.

Coyote carried the jug along, but soon became very tired and could scarcely hold it. When he arrived in Saline Valley, he opened the stopper a little way. Tall, dark, handsome men and girls jumped out and ran away. These were the best looking people in the jug. This frightened Coyote, but he put the stopper back, and picked up the jug. In Death Valley, he opened it again. Here, more handsome people jumped out and ran away. The girls all had long, beautiful hair. When he came to Ash Meadows, he opened it. The Paiute and Shoshoni came out. These people were fine looking, too. At Tin Mountain, Coyote let some fairly good people out of the jug. When he opened it in Moapa, very poor, short, ugly people came out. The girls here had short hair with lice in it. All the people had sore eyes. That is the way they are now.

This is the way Eva had her first children. Coyote was the father.

Western Shoshoni Myths
By Julian H. Steward

Ghost Train: Tall Tale

Bill Sanger was known to have ridden the rods all over the map. In his time he had seen all there was to see. One day he was talking with Jim Craig about  mirages. Mirages are common sites. You see a lot of them, millions of them, in the dry lake bed out there at Amboy.

Bristol Lake - Amboy, CA.

Bristol Lake – Amboy, CA.

“Bill,”  said Jim, “did you ever see the city that  gleams out there on  the lake in hot weather?”
“Yeah,”  Bill replied.
“What you make of it?”  said Jim.
Nothing,”  Bill answered.  “I do not hold with those dude scientists, that try to explain goes by saying the light rays pick up the picture hundreds of miles away and then bend it back and drop that same picture out there on the lake.  It do not make sense. They’re ghosts, that is what they are. Just plain ghosts.
“One time,” Bill went on, “I nearly killed myself trying to hop a ghost train pulling out across Bristol Lake. I was walking out toward the salt works when  along came a freight, not going very fast. I forgot where I was, and made a run for it.  it started to pick up speed, so I gave a leap and grabbed on– nothing!
“I sprawled out flat on that dry lake bed. I looked up and saw the ghost train running in long as nice as you please– 42 cars and one caboose I counted.  they road right smack over me and never even must my shirt. They are ghosts I tell you. Ghosts!”
from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

A Running Battle: Death at Soda Lake Station

Death and disaster  stalked  the trade routes to the Mojave Desert during the 1860s. Roving bands of plunder-bent Indians lay in wait among rocky canyon walls and in undergrowth near waterholes, eager to kill, rob or drive away any who dared to invade the desert home of the red man.

During this turbulent period, The United States Army afforded the sole means of protection to the lives and property of early settlers. That this protection was far from adequate is apparent from the following account.

Sam button, driver from the Cluggage Line, drove the stage coach along the old road between Caves Canyon and Soda Lake. The Army escort, one man on a mule, wrote alongside the leisurely traveling stage.  Dr. M. E. Shaw, Army post surgeon, stuck his head out the coach window and carried on an idle conversation with the escort.

Hancock’s Redoubt – Soda Lake

This peaceful scene was disturbed without warning when the brush at the side of the road parted in a dozen spots and screaming, brandishing Pah-Utes  burst forth. Shots crashed out. The Army escorts mule quivered with the Bali and dropped to the sand, dead. Lead splattered against the walls of the stage as the Army man jumped inside.

Sam Button  poured shots into the savages as fast as he could reload his weapon. The horses, maddened by the excitement, broke into a run, Dr. Shaw and the soldier, guns leveled through this stage window, picked off as many Indians as the lurching vehicle would permit.

In full pursuit, the Indians, about 15 in number, concentrated on shooting the huddled driver out of his box. They aim high, anxious to spare the horses if possible. Dr. Shaw lifted his face from the hot barrel of his gun and a half-turned to his army companion.

“We are in luck, those Indians are damned poor shots,”  he said, and slumped forward, a bullet through his chest.

Bighorn sheep at Soda Lake in Mojave Preserve

Bighorn sheep at Soda Lake in Mojave Preserve

“Dr. Shaw’s been hit!”  The soldier shouted at Button.
“No, but he needs attention in a hurry.”

The frightened horses began to tire. The Indians maintained their hot pursuit. Button leaned back across the baggage that shielded him from the Pah-Utes fire.   With one quick stroke of his knife, he cut free the luggage that burdened the stage. For an hour the running battle continued before the stage outran the Indians.

Dr. Shaw died at Soda Lake Station.

from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

$150,000 Summit Road Route Being Considered

Summit Valley Road

Summit Valley Road

State Highway Commissioner Darlington has under advisement the matter of which route to choose for the 15-mile state highway to be built from Summit to Victorville at a cost of $150,000.  A delegation headed by Louis Evans of Hesperia asked Darlington to choose the route that would include Hesperia on the highway.

Los Angeles Herald, Number 58, 8 January 1919

Mining Partners in a Deadly Quarrel

William Farley Kills Matt Price on the Desert Near Dale City, San Bernardino.

San Francisco Call - February 24, 1898

San Francisco Call – February 24, 1898

SANTA FE DEPOT, San Bernardino, Feb. 23. — The second murder on the desert within two weeks was committed yesterday morning about ten miles north of Dale City, this county, by William Farley. His victim was Matt Price, who is said to have been a partner of Farley in some mining property.

Only meager reports have been received and as the scene of the murder is in such a remote and almost inaccessible spot, being seventy miles from the railroad, it will be some time before the full particulars of the affair will be known. Parties who knew the men are inclined to believe that the murder was the result of a quarrel over a mining claim.

Farley has been placed under arrest and Coroner Keating, Deputy Sheriff McElvan. Assistant District Attorney Rolfe and I Benjamin, a stenographer, left for Dale City tin’s morning to hold an inquest. A. E. Reitz, who came in from Dale City yesterday, leaving there early in the morning, says that when he left the camp all was peaceable and that the principals in the affair seemed to be on good terms.


A Petticoat Mining Camp

Joe Joiner, the Calico dude, paid with his whiskers for the name he fastened on the town.

In 1881, when the miners of Calico petitioned Uncle Sam to establish a post office, a local committee was appointed to decide upon the name for the bustling camp. Joyner, the dude, wrangled an appointment and became a member of the christening committee. Attired in a swallowtail coat, he paraded at the meetings  and preened his knee length whiskers. On windy days he wore the whiskers in braids.

“Take a look at them hills,”  Joiner shouted to the committee. The hills surrounding the mining camp were streaked with many -hued  clays and iron oxides, tinged with green and old rose, yellow and turquoise. “They look like a calico quilt,”  Joiner exclaimed. ” Why not call the camp ‘Calico’?”

Calico ghost town

Calico – Desert Magazine photo

” Sounds like a woman’s petticoat,”  the miners muttered.

Joiner  succeeded in shouting down the opposing factions, and the name of Calico prevailed. The committee disbanded, mumbling threats of reprisal.


Calico ghost town post office

Calico post office

Later, in the glow of success  and liquor, Joiner fell fast asleep on the main street of Calico.  And while he slept the disgruntled  Silver Gulch and Buena Vista schools of miners huddled about him with a pair of shears.  When Joiner  awoke he was no longer the dude of Calico. The miners  had snipped off one tale of his coat– and all his whiskers.

from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

Mohahve Historical Society: History of the Society

On January 30, 1963, the Victor Valley Union High School and Victor Valley College Districts jointly sent out invitational letters to the areas early-day  residents offering a college level course entitled, “Local Historical Research,”  which was to begin February 7, 1863.

Under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Davenport, sanctioned by Victor Valley College president Fred Berger, the class had one purpose: compile a history of the Victor Valley and the surrounding mountain and desert communities.

An “old-timers meeting” was held on Valentine’s Day, 1963, in the Del Rey school auditorium in Victorville. Longtime residents from Adelanto, Apple Valley, Barstow, Daggett, Helendale, Hesperia, Lucerne Valley, Oro Grande, Phelan, San Bernardino, and Victorville attended, bringing with them their old family pictures and other documentation to substantiate events and stories of the early days.

The class, totaling some 35 students, went to work sorting the material, copying pictures, and interviewing pioneer residents of the area. They traveled to some of the historical sites to gain their own personal impressions.

The results was Mohahve I,  a 200 page book published in June, 1963. With an initial run of 500 copies, it became an immediate “sellout” at $10 per copy.

Regretfully, the college drop the class from its fall schedule. About a dozen students, however, decided to form their own organization  and carry on the research to publish more historical works.

Thus, the Mohahve Association was formed in October, 1963, with Carl Cambridge serving as first president. The name was changed to its current Mohahve Historical Society the following year with Ellsworth Silvester serving as vice president.

A sequel to Mohahve I, Mohahve II was published in 1965 with the second printing in early 1966, Mohahve III followed later that year.

The Mohahve Historical Society was one of the first $1000 contributors to the newly formed Victor Valley Museum. They also donated artifacts that had been collected for a local museum. Many Society members are also active with the museum as well.

Mohahve IV – Scrapbooks of History (c)1984
Mohahve Historical Society


Murder is Suicide

Amargosa Valley - Amargosa Desert

Amargosa Valley

Ted Hosung  was leaning against the counter of the Van Bresson Hotel in Daggett, one night, talking to the clerk, when Jack Duane, team superintendent of the borax company walked over to him.

” What you doing these days, Ted?”  he asked.
” Nothing,”  replied Hosung. ” Quit my job yesterday.”
” Looking for work?”
” Sure, what you got?”
” A 12 mule team starts for the Amargosa Valley in the morning, and I want a driver,”  Duane told him. ” Seventy a month and grub. Board and room in town.”
” Took!”  Ted put out his hand and  shook. ” but I haven’t got a swamper.”
” I’ll take care of that.  See you over at the corrals at five in the morning, ready to go.”

20 mule team

A 20 mule team — Much like a 12 mule team but with more mules.

Next morning a wagon and trailer, pulled by 12 mules, set out for the Amargosa Valley to get a load of borax.  Ted Hosung  was holding the lines  and his  swamper,  and old fellow named Bill, was sitting alongside him, rolling a cigarette. How they ever got into an argument, nobody knows, but when they got back to Daggett, they were not even on speaking terms. The hall was a hot pole and hard on the best man’s nerves, so it is not hard to understand how a pair could fall out with each other on the trip.  But these two must of had more than a friendly argument, because they quit their jobs, glaring at each other all the time.

Ted Hosung  went to the Van Bresson Hotel,  got himself a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to get roaring drunk. The guests listen to his shouting and cussing patiently; he would have done the same for any of them. Towards morning, Ted quieted down, and folks went to bed.

Stone Hotel – Daggett, CA.

Next day, about noon, old man Van Bresson went up to Ted’s room to take him an eye-opener. He found a gory mass that had once been a mule driver. Ted’s head had been bashed in with an iron wagon hub and his body beaten to a pulp by the heavy iron implement. Van Bresson would not have known him except for his clothes. Talk traveled fast in Daggett those days. By nightfall, swamper Bill was dangling at the end of a rope from a telegraph  cross arm.

A stranger writing into town stopped at the site of the hanged swamper,  and his eyes bulged out like door knobs.

” What did he do?”  he wanted to know.
”  Murder is suicide in this man’s town,”  he was told.

from :
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940

The Snake and the Frog

It was a dry year, and nothing was growing around Jim Craig’s diggings. Nor was there anything to eat anywhere in sight. Jim struck out for the Colorado River to get a mess of fish.

Sunrise Colorado River

Sunrise at Jim’s favorite fishing spot on the Colorado River

He got there and started digging for bait, but he could not find any worms. First thing he saw was snake with a frog in its mouth. Jim grabbed a forked stick and pried the frog away before the snake swallowed it. He was going to kill the snake, right then and there, but he changed his mind. He gave the snake a drink of whiskey and let it go.

Jim stuck the frog on his hook, made a cast, and yanked a big catfish from the river.  Then, just as he began to look around for more bait, the same old snake came along with another frog. Right behind him, wriggling and twitching, were nine more snakes. And they all carried frogs. They dropped the products at Jim’s feet and then they held up their heads with their mouths wide open.

from Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
 WPA Writers’ Program –  1940