Author Archives: Walter Feller

Death Valley’s Titus Canyon

by Betty J.  Tucker –  Desert Magazine April, 1971
(photos – Walter Feller)

The road and scenery through Titus Canyon in Death Valley produces all the ups and downs of a young love, then steadies out into the young matronly area. Further on, it matures and gains
the stature of sedate old age.

Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley

Titus Canyon Road

That’s a pretty good life span for a mere 25 miles. The only problem is that occasionally heavy rains rip out the road, so be sure and check with the rangers. Trailers cannot be taken on this road and I wouldn’t recommend trucks and campers, although we saw one go through.  At times the high center of the road forces you into some creative driving.We did it in a dune buggy.

The road into Titus Canyon leaves the Beatty Road and crosses the desert between the Bullfrog Hills and the Grapevine Mountains. Then it begins to climb. This road is one way and it is easy to see why. The steep uphill grades and sharp hairpin curves are not conducive to meeting oncoming traffic. There was that thrill of a first young love—the frightening steepness and sheer drop-offs, but still so breathtakingly beautiful that I wasn’t even afraid. The dune buggy has such a short wheelbase it takes the sharpest corners with  ease.

After cresting at Red Pass, elevation 5,250, we dropped down into a beautiful green valley. Here, nestled comfortably in the yellow flowered brittle bush was the ruins of Leadfield.

Leadfield tunnel

He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them …

This child was the brainchild of C. C. Julian who would’ve sold ice to an Eskimo. He wandered into Titus Canyon with money in mind. He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them with lead ore he had brought from Tonopah. Then he sat down and drew up some enticing maps of the area. He moved to usually dry and never deep Amargosa River miles from its normal bed.

Leadfield ghost town, Death Valley

Leadfield ghost town

He drew pictures of ships steaming up the river hauling out the bountiful ore from his mines. Then he distributed handbills and lowered Eastern promoters into investing money. Miners flocked in at the scent of a big strike and dug their hopeful holes.  They built a few shacks. Julian was such a promoter he even conned the US government into building a post office here.

Leadfield post office, Death Valley

Leadfield post office

So for six months, August, 1926 to February, 1927, over 300 people lived here and tried to strike it rich. They dug and lost.

What remains of this fiasco is rather amazing to behold. It most certainly looks like the ghost of a prosperous mine.  The false front, cream-colored, corrugated tin post office is still in good shape. There is a built-in wooden desk in some small shelves on the walls. Of the narrow trail there are two more lime green corrugated tin buildings.

Blacksmith's shop - the wooden block for his anvil and coke bin

Blacksmith’s shop – the wooden block for his anvil and coke bin

Near it is the blacksmith’s building. The wooden block that held his anvil is there as is the bin full of coke.  Both of these buildings are lined with asbestos. There are several small holes where the miners tried to find the promised ore, plus a couple of rather large shafts.

2 1/2 miles  below Leadfield is Klare Spring, the major water supply for the town. Miners stood there in frequent baths here and hold water back to camp. Beside this spring you will find Indian petroglyphs.

Klare Springs, Titus Canyon Road

Klare Springs

We sat on a couple of sun warmed rocks and had a snack. The water trickled by any couple of ravens performed a spectacular air ballet for us.  It was an easy to remember that Titus Canyon got its name through a tragedy.

Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water.

In 1907, Morris Titus, a young mining engineer, and two of his friends, Mullan and Weller, left Rhyolite intending to cross Death Valley and do some prospecting in the Panamints.  They found the waterhole dry that they had hoped to use. They had only 20 gallons of water for themselves, 19 burros and two horses. Eventually they found a hole where they could get a cup bowl every four hours. While Mullan and Weller waited, Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water. He never came back. Next day Weller took the remaining stock and set out to look for Titus. He, too, disappeared. Mullan  was found a month later and taken to Rhyolite, more dead than alive. As Titus was known to carry large quantities of gold with him, his family instigated an  extensive search.  No sign was ever found of him. Some thought he might have broken through a salt crust and gone into the mire below. Whatever happened, he has a most beautiful monument in having this particular canyon named after him.

~ end ~

Also see:

Leadfield Ghost Town

History of Leadfield

Stovepipe Wells Area Map

Death Valley Ghost Towns

Across the Palm Desert

from ; Thirty Years on The Frontier by ROBERT McREYNOLDS

An ancient fight as ancient as the time dividing the bird from the serpent, a fight thousands of times repeated in the lonely places of the earth each year, but which man seldom sees, was witnessed by Mark Witherspoon and myself on the borders of the Palm Desert in California, where we had come in the search for gold. It was a struggle to the finish between an eagle and a big rattlesnake. Death was the referee, as he is in all the contests waged under nature’s code of fang and claw.

There are two things men may not know, so it is said: “The way of the serpent upon the rock; the eagle soaring in the sky.” Each has a wonderful power which man does not understand does not understand any more than he does why they always fight when they meet and that they always should and will, so long as there are serpents upon the rocks and eagles soaring in the sky. If there were no eagles, the rattlesnakes would have no enemy in the sky or upon the earth, save man, to fear. The eagle likewise has no fear of anything, unless it be the glistening
yellow and brown poisonous creature of the rocks the rattler.

Thus it lives forever the death feud of the eagle of the Montezumas and the serpent father of the Moki’s the rattler.

Golden eagle

The eagle

How it began I did not see. I was standing near the top of a big stony crag that glistened in the bright light looking over the vast opens and great basins of the Palm Desert which we were to cross, when my attention was attracted by the flop of something striking the sands a hundred feet away. I could not see what it was, but a moment later I saw an eagle swoop down and rise slowly, holding within its mailed claws, a snake. The big bird soared up a hundred feet or more and shook the snake loose, which fell twisting and coiling with a distinctly audible “flop” the noise that first attracted my attention.

Again and again the bird swooped, arose with the serpent and dropped it, while Witherspoon drew closer and closer to watch.

Then the eagle a young one, as we could tell by its size and plumage struck and failed to rise. Witherspoon was now close enough to see everything that happened.

The young bird had almost exhausted itself in its struggles with the snake, and may, too, have been bitten by it. At any rate, it was upon the sands, its wings slightly spread, as if from the heat its mouth open. The snake was recovering from its jolting fall, and slowly gathering its coils.

A rattlesnake

It rested a moment in position, and then struck the eagle, the fangs entering the corner of the bird’s mouth, in the soft tissues at the base of the beak.

The eagle recovered from the shock, stood motionless a few seconds, while the rattler watched as only a rattler can, and spreading out its wings, toppled over.

Then the man man who hates serpents as the eagle does put forth his hand, using a power more wonderful than that of either. There was a puff of white smoke in the clear air and the report of a pistol rang among the glistening wind-polished rocks, and the snake was a mangled, bright, still thing that the ants began to gather about.

“It was unjust maybe,” remarked Witherspoon. “The snake had won fairly he was entitled to go his way, a terror for all the furry little bright things hereabouts. ” ” But I couldn’t help it.” “Someway that slaying by poison, even if it is done in the open, doesn’t seem fair. ” “Then, too, a man hates to see the emblem of his country’s armies and navies, the triumphant eagle of thunderbolts, lying in the sunshine dead, and that by a serpent.”

Desert rats - short story

Truer hearts I never expect to find.

We had purchased a mustang in San Luis Obispo and loaded him with our stock of flour, bacon, frying pans, blankets, etc., and was resting on the borders of the Palm Desert, which we intended to cross the next morning, to the Mexican dry diggings, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, when the battle between the eagle and rattler furnished the topic of conversation all the afternoon. From San Luis Obispo we had taken the trail that led over the mountains and through the beautiful Santa Margarita Valley. Of all the places I have ever seen, I think this valley came the nearest to being an earthly paradise. It is seven miles in length, five in breadth, and is walled on all sides, except a narrow pass, by the lofty Santa Lucia Mountains. Through the center of the valley flows the headwaters of the Salanis Eiver. Giant live oak trees studded the valley at almost regular intervals, as if they had been planted by the hand of man.

The earth was a carpet of green verdure, with splashes of the yellow wild mustard and varied hues of the many different semi-tropical flowers. Two days after passing through this Eden, we began our toilsome march across an arm of the Palm Desert. When we reached the diggings we found a group of motley Mexicans, who good naturedly swarmed about us and showed us a camping place near a spring, but its waters were so impregnated with sulphates of magnesia and sodium, that we found it impossible to use it. We moved our camp about a mile further up the canyon, near the quarters of a sheep herder, where we found good water and were free from the Mexicans. They taught us, however, the art of dry washing the gold from the loose earth of the placer claim which we had staked off. Here, for more than three months, we toiled. When our supplies run short, we sent for more by the man who came once a week to bring provisions and look after his interests on the sheep ranch. I always pitied that sheep herder. He had several hundred to care for, and their continual bleating sounded dismally in the solitude of the mountains, and when he lighted his bivouac fire at night, it always seemed like a signal of distress.

From the red earth we gathered the golden grains, and when the stars came out at night, and the mountains took on their shadowy gloom, we talked of home two thousand miles away, and often wondered at the enigma of creation. Then came a time when by exposure to the damp and dews, and living upon poor food, we both began to fall sick. Medicine was out of the question, and so with our precious packet of gold dust upon our persons, we loaded our mustang with our camp equipments and took up our march toward San Luis Obispo.

It was in the early dawn of the morning when we started across the arm of the Palm Desert. The sun rose like a ball of fire in a cloudless sky and heated the sands until they parched and blistered our faces. By noon our water supply was exhausted, and soon after I threw away the Winchester which I carried, for I could no longer bear the burden. If it has not been found by some weary pilgrim it lies there today with its barrel as bright in that rainless valley as it was when I threw it down.

We walked in silence all that torrid afternoon. The poor mustang crept along, led by Mark, while we, with bloodshot eyes and fevered brains, could but feebly keep in sight the jutting mountain spur where we would find a haven of rest.

Desert palm (Joshua trees)

Desert palm (Joshua trees)

Exhausted, I sat down in the scant shade of a desert palm. Its sparse branches rattled in the hot wind like dried sunflower stalks, and then, in my imagination, I stood a few feet away and saw myself lying dead on the sands, with face drawn and withered and dead eyes staring at the skies.

I roused myself from the horrible dream and walked on. It was long after the sun had dipped beyond the mountain crest, and the Palm Desert was shrouded in the gloom of night, that we reached a pool of clear water, fed by a generous spring. We drank of its waters and bathed our fevered brows, and lay down in the warm sands to awake ever and anon in fitful dreams. It seemed I was buried in the stone coffins of Egypt, where I lay for a thousand years in torrid heat, with unquenchable thirst. Whenever I awoke, I drew myself to the edge of the pool, drank
deeply of its refreshing waters, and fell asleep again, repeating the same thing perhaps twenty times during the night.

How soon we forget our troubles, and oh, how soon we forget that we have passed through the valley of the shadow, and that a merciful God has watched over our destinies. Within a week after this, when Mark and I came so near perishing on the Palm Desert, we had purchased new summer clothes and were sitting about the best hotel in San Luis Obispo, smoking fine cigars and playing the part of high-toned young gentlemen generally.

~|~

But Where Was God?

from: Loafing Along Death Valley Trails
A Personal Narrative of People and Places by William Caruthers

For years, on the edge of the road near Tule Hole, a rough slab marked Jim Dayton’s grave, on which were piled the bleached bones of Dayton’s horses. On the board were these words: “Jas. Dayton. Died 1898.”

Jim Dayton's grave, Death Valley

” … the date 1898, burned into the board with a redhot poker shows clearly.”

The accuracy of the date of Dayton’s death as given on the bronze plaque on the monument and on the marker which it replaced, has been challenged. The author of this book wrote the epitaph for the monument and the date on it is the date which was on the original marker—an old ironing board that had belonged to Pauline Gower. In a snapshot made by the writer, the date 1898, burned into the board with a redhot poker shows clearly.

The two men who know most about the matter, Wash Cahill and Frank Hilton, whom he sent to find Dayton or his body, both declared the date on the marker correct.

The late Ed Stiles brought Dayton into Death Valley. Stiles was working for Jim McLaughlin (Stiles called him McGlothlin), who operated a freighting service with headquarters at Bishop. McLaughlin ordered Stiles to take a 12 mule team and report to the Eagle Borax Works in Death Valley. “I can’t give you any directions. You’ll just have to find the place.” Stiles had never been in Death Valley nor could he find anyone who had. It was like telling a man to start across the ocean and find a ship named Sally.

At Bishop Creek in Owens Valley Stiles decided he needed a helper. There he found but one person willing to go—a youngster barely out of his teens—Jim Dayton.

Dayton remained in Death Valley and somewhat late in life, on one of his trips out, romance entered. After painting an intriguing picture of the lotus life a girl would find at Furnace Creek, he asked the lady to share it with him. She promptly accepted.

Dayton/Harris Gravesite

A few months later, the bride suggested that a trip out would make her love the lotus life even more and so in the summer of 1898 she tearfully departed. Soon she wrote Jim in effect that it hadn’t turned out as she had hoped. Instead, she had become reconciled to shade trees, green lawns, neighbors, and places to go and if he wanted to live with her again he would just have to abandon the Death Valley paradise.

Dayton loaded his wagon with all his possessions, called his dog and started for Daggett.

Wash Cahill, who was to become vice-president of the borax company, was then working at its Daggett office. Cahill received from Dayton a letter which he saw from the date inside and the postmark on the envelope, had been held somewhere for at least two weeks before it was mailed.

The letter contained Dayton’s resignation and explained why Dayton was leaving. He had left a reliable man in temporary charge and was bringing his household goods; also two horses which had been borrowed at Daggett.

Knowing that Dayton should have arrived in Daggett at least a week before the actual arrival of the letter, Cahill was alarmed and dispatched Frank Hilton, a teamster and handy man, and Dolph Lavares to see what had happened.

On the roadside at Tule Hole they found Dayton’s body, his dog patiently guarding it. Apparently Dayton had become ill, stopped to rest. “Maybe the sun beat him down. Maybe his ticker jammed,” said Shorty Harris, “but the horses were fouled in the harness and were standing up dead.”

There could be no flowers for Jim Dayton nor peal of organ. So they went to his wagon, loosened the shovel lashed to the coupling pole. They dug a hole beside the road, rolled Jim Dayton’s body into it.

The widow later settled in a comfortable house in town with neighbors close at hand. There she was trapped by fire. While the flames were consuming the building a man ran up. Someone said, “She’s in that upper room.” The brave and daring fellow tore his way through the crowd, leaped through the window into a room red with flames and dragged her out, her clothing still afire. He laid her down, beat out the flames, but she succumbed.

A multitude applauded the hero. A little later over in Nevada another multitude lynched him. Between heroism and depravity—what?

Although Tule Hole has long been a landmark of Death Valley, few know its story and this I believe to be its first publication.

One day while resting his team, Stiles noticed a patch of tules growing a short distance off the road and taking a shovel he walked over, started digging a hole on what he thought was a million to one chance of finding water, and thus reduce the load that had to be hauled for use between springs. “I hadn’t dug a foot,” he told me “before I struck water. I dug a ditch to let it run off and after it cleared I drank some, found it good and enlarged the hole.”

He went on to Daggett with his load. Repairs to his wagon train required a week and by the time he returned five weeks had elapsed. “I stopped the team opposite the tules, got out and started over to look at the hole I’d dug. When I got within a few yards three or four naked squaw hags scurried into the brush. I stopped and looked away toward the mountains to give ’em a chance to hide. Then I noticed two Indian bucks, each leading a riderless horse, headed for the Panamints. Then I knew what had happened.”

Ed Stiles was a desert man and knew his Indians. Somewhere up in a Panamint canyon the chief had called a powwow and when it was over the head men had gone from one wickiup to another and looked over all the toothless old crones who no longer were able to serve, yet consumed and were in the way. Then they had brought the horses and with two strong bucks to guard them, they had ridden down the canyon and out across the desert to the water hole. There the crones had slid to the ground. The bucks had dropped a sack of piñon nuts. Of course, the toothless hags could not crunch the nuts and even if they could, the nuts would not last long. Then they would have to crawl off into the scrawny brush and grabble for herbs or slap at grasshoppers, but these are quicker than palsied hands and in a little while the sun would beat them down.

The rest was up to God.

The distinction of driving the first 20 mule team has always been a matter of controversy. Over a nation-wide hook-up, the National Broadcasting Co. once presented a playlet based upon these conflicting claims. A few days afterward, at the annual Death Valley picnic held at Wilmington, John Delameter, a speaker, announced that he’d made considerable research and was prepared to name the person actually entitled to that honor. The crowd, including three claimants of the title, moved closer, their ears cupped in eager attention as Delameter began to speak. One of the claimants nudged my arm with a confident smile, whispered, “Now you’ll know….” A few feet away his rivals, their pale eyes fixed on the speaker, hunched forward to miss no word.

Mr. Delameter said: “There were several wagons of 16 mules and who drove the first of these, I do not know, but I do know who drove the first 20 mule team.”

20 Mule Team

20 Mule Team

Covertly and with gleams of triumph, the claimants eyed each other as Delameter paused to turn a page of his manuscript. Then with a loud voice he said: “I drove it myself!”

May God have mercy on his soul.

A few days later I rang the doorbell at the ranch house of Ed Stiles, almost surrounded by the city of San Bernardino. As no one answered, I walked to the rear, and across a field of green alfalfa saw a man pitching hay in a temperature of 120 degrees. It was Stiles who in 1876 was teaming in Bodie—toughest of the gold towns.

I sat down in the shade of his hay. He stood in the sun. I said, “Mr. Stiles, do you know who drove the first 20 mule team in Death Valley?”

He gave me a kind of et-tu, Brute look and smiled.

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith

Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

“In the fall of 1882 I was driving a 12 mule team from the Eagle Borax Works to Daggett. I met a man on a buckboard who asked if the team was for sale. I told him to write Mr. McLaughlin. It took 15 days to make the round trip and when I got back I met the same man. He showed me a bill of sale for the team and hired me to drive it. He had an eight mule team and a new red wagon, driven by a fellow named Webster. The man in the buckboard was Borax Smith.

“Al Maynard, foreman for Smith and Coleman, was at work grubbing out mesquite to plant alfalfa on what is now Furnace Creek Ranch. Maynard told me to take the tongue out of the new wagon and put a trailer tongue in it. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘hitch it to your wagon. Put a water wagon behind your trailer, hook up those eight mules with your team and go to Daggett.’

“That was the first time that a 20 mule team was driven out of Death Valley. Webster was supposed to swamp for me. But when he saw his new red wagon and mules hitched up with my outfit, he walked into the office and quit his job.”

~ the end ~

Mono Lake

from: Roughing It, by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea—this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth—is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice-stone and ashes, the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has seized upon and occupied.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it had been through the ablest of washerwomen’s hands. While we camped there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week’s washing astern of our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment. In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the fire.

Mono Lake canoe

The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and barked and howled as he went—and by the time he got to the shore there was no bark to him—for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and threw double somersaults, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.

also see;

Mono Lake

Mono Lake, at an elevation of 6,382 feet has held water for over 760,000 years. Of volcanic origins, Mono Lake covers an area of …

How Joshua Trees Were Named

By DENNIS H. STOVALL – Desert Magazine – September, 1938

DRAWN by gaunt-ribbed oxen, a train of cumbersome immigrant wagons creaked slowly across the upper mesas of the Mojave desert in Southern California. Bearded men goaded the shambling beasts. Others rode lean-flanked horses. Women and children, faces drawn by thirst and hunger, looked out through the tattered canvas flaps as the heavy vehicles jolted along. Leader of the caravan was Elisha Hunt. The grim-featured men and women who accompanied him were members of the Mormon colony destined to form the settlement of San Bernardino in 1851.

Like many of the westward treks of the Mormon pilgrims, this one was inspired by a vision revealed to Brigham Young in a dream. Elisha Hunt was but the faithful emissary of a greater prophet. He was leading this company of chosen people toward a gigantic arrowhead on a mountainside which Brigham Young had seen in his vision. The arrow would point to the land the colony was to occupy.

The Arrowhead measures 1375 feet long, 449 feet wide and is an area of 7.5 acres

Leaving Salt Lake early in March, the caravan traveled across Meadowlake wash and the southern Nevada desert to Dry Lake, thence through Las Vegas valley to the Mojave river, and from there toward the Cajon pass. The wagons were so large, so heavily loaded with implements and supplies, they could not follow the regular trail in many places. Long and wearisome detours were made.

By the time they reached the eastern border of the Mojave their food supply was almost gone. The wagons were brought to a stop on the upper plateau of the desert. Ahead of them on the distant horizon was a jagged range of mountains—the San Bernardinos. Beyond that range the leader believed they would find the great arrowhead pointing like the finger of God.

Nearer at hand, the things that attracted their attention just now were the queer-foliaged trees. The mesa and ravines were covered with them. To the weary eyes of the travelers it was like a fantastic Garden of Eden. To the bearded leader the strange forest in the desert was taken for a “sign.”

Joshua trees - yucca brevifolia

Joshua trees

They had turned this way, off the beaten route, because their advance riders reported the wagons were too wide to pass down the Cajon trail. Westward they had come to the edge of this forest of trees such as they had never seen before.

Mormon wagon road

Trail below Cajon Summit

“It is a good omen from the Lord Almighty!” declared the leader.

He uncovered his head and raised his face to heaven. A delicious coolness had tempered the sultry air. Clouds hid the sun.

“Look, brethren! The sky no longer is like brazen brass. God has sent the clouds. It is as if the sun stood still—as Joshua commanded. These green trees are lifting their arms to heaven in supplication. “We shall call them Joshua trees! Soon will we reach the Promised land!”

Trail to the hogback - 1851 alternative to Cajon trail.

Trail to the hogback – 1851 alternative to Cajon trail.

The caravan moved on—down the Cajon on the western side of the canyon to what later became known as Sycamore grove. It is a verdant spot 1/2 miles west of what is now Devore station on the Santa Fe railroad. A monument at this spot memorializes those sturdy immigrants who founded the colony of San Bernardino.

Mormon Hogback developed as an alternative to Crowder Canyon

It was from their camp at Sycamore grove, near the mouth of Cajon canyon that Elisha Hunt and his company beheld the vision—the gigantic arrowhead high up on the precipitous walls of the San Bernardino. They knew they were at their journey’s end.

Sycamore Grove (Glen Helen)

Sycamore Grove (Glen Helen)

Since that day, uncounted pilgrims of many faiths have found rest and peace and comfort in the shade of the Joshua trees. The desert wind whispers softly and always with a note of mystery through their ragged fronds. Seen against a background of lilac, when the sun’s heat dances in a shimmering haze at noontime, or in the quiet dusk of a desert evening when the sky changes from turquoise to gold—the Joshuas always are alluring, mysterious, beautiful.

-end-

We Got Fish : Hard Rock Shorty of Death Valley

Hanging on the wall in the general store at Inferno was a fishing rod and reel. No one around the store could recall that it had ever been used—but it was there, covered with the dust of ages.

One day a station-wagon load of dudes stopped at the store for cold drinks. One of them happened to glance up at the fishing rod.

“Funny place fer a fishin’ rod,” he remarked. “I’ll bet there isn’t a pool of water big enough for a minnow within a hundred miles of here.” Some of the others took up the subject and began to wisecrack about the dryness of Death
Valley.

Hard Rock Shorty was helping the clerk that day. He didn’t care much for dudes anyway, and when they began to make uncomplimentary remarks about Death Valley his blood pressure began to go up. He stood it as long as he could.

“Sure we got fish here,” he exclaimed. “All kinds of ’em. We’ve got fish you-all never heard tell of. We got fish that hop around like toads. We got flyin’ fish and walkin’ fish and fish that have skids on their fins an’ use their tails fer propellors.

“Yu don’t need fishin’ poles to ketch the kinda fish we got up here. We got fish that’ll come right into the kitchen an’ jump into the fryin’ pan. The hotter it is the better they like it. You bozos from the city don’t know nothing about fish.

“Why Ol’ Pisgah Bill once had a tame fish that’d foller him around wherever he went. Bill kept ‘im around the house to ketch flies and usually took him along on his prospectin’ trips. ‘Twas a bad day fer Ol’ Bill when that fish met with a accident. Bill usta put him on the dinin’ table an’ feed ‘im crumbs at mealtime. They wuz great pals, till the day Bill left a pail o’ water sittin’ by the table, and the fish slipped an fell into the bucket. An’ before Bill could git him out he wuz dead. Yes, that fish was drowned.”

— Desert Magazine – December 1951

A Massacre at Resting Springs

From: Shoshone Country; Resting Springs – Loafing Along Death Valley Trails by W. Caruthers

Fremont 1844

Early in 1843, John C. Fremont led a party of 39 men from Salt Lake City northward to Fort Vancouver and in November of that year, started on the return trip to the East. This trip was interrupted when he found his party threatened by cold and starvation and he faced about; crossed the Sierra Nevada and went to Sutter’s Fort. After resting and outfitting, he set out for the East by the southerly route over the old Spanish trail, which leads through the Shoshone region.

Old Spanish Trail - Bitter Springs, Fort Irwin

Bitter Springs

At a spring somewhere north of the Mojave River he made camp. The water nauseated some of his men and he moved to another. Identification of these springs has been a matter of dispute and though historians have honestly tried to identify them, the fact remains that none can say “I was there.”

In the vicinity were several springs any of which may have been the one referred to by Fremont in his account of the journey. Among these were two water holes indicated on early maps as Agua de Tio Mesa, and another as Agua de Tomaso.

Red Pass on the Old Spanish Trail

Red Pass on the Old Spanish Trail between Bitter Springs and Salt Spring

There are several springs of nauseating water in the area and some of the old timers academically inclined, insisted that Fremont probably camped at Saratoga Springs, which afforded a sight of Telescope Peak or at Salt Spring, nine miles east on the present Baker-Shoshone Highway at Rocky Point.

Salt Springs ACEC

Salt Spring

Kit Carson was Fremont’s guide. Fremont records that two Mexicans rode into his camp on April 27, 1844, and asked him to recover some horses which they declared had been stolen from them by Indians at the Archilette Spring, 13 miles east of Shoshone.

Christopher “Kit” Carson

One of the Mexicans was Andreas Fuentes, the other a boy of 11 years—Pablo Hernandez. While the Indians were making the raid, the boy and Fuentes had managed to get away with 30 of the horses and these they had left for safety at a water hole known to them as Agua de Tomaso. They reported that they had left Pablo’s father and mother and a man named Santiago Giacome and his wife at Archilette Spring.

With Fremont, besides Kit Carson, was another famed scout, Alexander Godey, a St. Louis Frenchman—a gay, good looking dare devil who later married Maria Antonia Coronel, daughter of a rich Spanish don and became prominent in California.

In answer to the Mexicans’ plea for help, Fremont turned to his men and asked if any of them wished to aid the victims of the Piute raid. He told them he would furnish horses for such a purpose if anyone cared to volunteer. Of the incident Kit Carson, who learned to write after he was grown, says in his dictated autobiography: “Godey and myself volunteered with the expectation that some men of our party would join us. They did not. We two and the Mexicans … commenced the pursuit.”

Fuentes’ horse gave out and he returned to Fremont’s camp that night, but Godey, Carson, and the boy went on. They had good moonlight at first but upon entering a deep and narrow canyon, utter blackness came, even shutting out starlight, and Carson says they had to “feel for the trail.”

Amargosa River, Tecopa

Amargosa River, Tecopa

One may with reason surmise that Godey and Carson proceeded through the gorge that leads to the China Ranch and now known as Rainbow Canyon. When they could go no farther they slept an hour, resumed the hunt and shortly after sunrise, saw the Indians feasting on the carcass of one of the stolen horses. They had slain five others and these were being boiled. Carson’s and Godey’s horses were too tired to go farther and were hitched out of sight among the rocks. The hunters took the trail afoot and made their way into the herd of stolen horses.

Rainbow Canyon/China Ranch

Rainbow Canyon/China Ranch

Says Carson: “A young one got frightened. That frightened the rest. The Indians noticed the commotion … sprang to their arms. We now considered it time to charge on the Indians. They were about 30 in number. We charged. I fired, killing one. Godey fired, missed but reloaded and fired, killing another. There were only three shots fired and two were killed. The remainder ran. I … ascended a hill to keep guard while Godey scalped the dead Indians. He scalped the one he shot and was proceeding toward the one I shot. He was not yet dead and was behind some rocks. As Godey approached he raised, let fly an arrow. It passed through Godey’s shirt collar. He again fell and Godey finished him.”

Tecopa

Tecopa

Subsequently it was discovered that Godey hadn’t missed, but that both men had fired at the same Indian as proven by two bullets found in one of the dead Indians. Godey called these Indians “Diggars.” The one with the two bullets was the one who sent the arrow through Godey’s collar and when Godey was scalping him, “he sprang to his feet, the blood streaming from his skinned head and uttered a hideous yowl.” Godey promptly put him out of his pain.

They returned to camp. Writes Fremont: “A war whoop was heard such as Indians make when returning from a victorious enterprise and soon Carson and Godey appeared, driving before them a band of horses recognized by Fuentes to be part of those they had lost. Two bloody scalps dangling from the end of Godey’s gun….”

John Charles Fremont

John Charles Fremont

Fremont wrote of it later: “The place, object and numbers considered, this expedition of Carson and Godey may be considered among the boldest and most disinterested which the annals of Western adventure so full of daring deeds can present.” It was indeed a gallant response to the plea of unfortunates whom they’d never seen before and would never see again.

When Fremont and his party reached the camp of the Mexicans they found the horribly butchered bodies of Hernandez, Pablo’s father, and Giacome. The naked bodies of the wives were found somewhat removed and shackled to stakes.

Fremont changed the name of the spring from Archilette to Agua de Hernandez and as such it was known for several years. He took the Mexican boy, Pablo Hernandez, with him to Missouri where he was placed with the family of Fremont’s father-in-law, U. S. Senator Thomas H. Benton. The young Mexican didn’t care for civilization and the American way of life and in the spring of 1847 begged to be returned to Mexico. Senator Benton secured transportation for him on the schooner Flirt, by order of the Navy, and he was landed at Vera Cruz—a record of which is preserved in the archives of the 30th Congress, 1848.

Three years later a rumor was circulated that the famed bandit, Joaquin Murietta was no other than Pablo Hernandez.

Lieutenant, afterwards Colonel, Brewerton was at Resting Springs in 1848 with Kit Carson who then was carrying important messages for the government to New Mexico. He found the ground white with the bleached bones of other victims of the desert Indians. Brewerton calls them Pau Eutaws.

-end-

(editor’s note: the dates do not match up placing Pablo as either Joaquin Murrieta or his nephew Propacio  so this was just a rumor,)

They Never Locked the Door of the Jail at Ballarat

By LeROY and MARGARET BALES
Desert Magazine – May 1941

The bonanza days in the Death Valley region have long since passed, but grizzled prospectors are still picking away in the hills, confident that rich ledges of gold and silver are yet to be uncovered. Ballarat was one of the boom towns in that area in the late ‘nineties. Only crumbling walls and a few weathered shacks remain on the treeless landscape to mark the site of the town today but some of the veteran mining men still spend their winters there—and Ballarat will never die while these old-timers remain to recall tales of the past and keep their faith in the new strikes yet to be made.

Ballarat jail

This is the double-boarded jail of old Ballarat, where the doors were never locked.

A ghost town with living inhabitants–that’s Ballarat. Standing on a treeless desert horizon at the foot of California’s Panamint mountains, its roofs are mostly gone, its walls are crumbling away—but in a few of the ancient shacks still dwell men “who knew the town when.”

They are a restless lot, these surviving desert rats of the old days—here today, tomorrow somewhere in the mountains 20 miles away. They come and go like the ghosts of the gala, golden era in which the town sprung into being.

Panamint Tom, the killer Indian; Shorty Harris, the most successful—and the most unlucky—prospector who ever packed a burro; French Pete, and a hundred others—famous and infamous—had a part in the boom day era. And one other, whose name on the desert is synonymous with Ballarat—Chris Wicht—-0l’ Chris, who ran the saloon, kept it open in fact long after the town itself had died.

For four years after the boom’s collapse Chris “fed and drank” the stranded prospectors “because I couldn’t help but feel I owed them something. They always left their dollars with me when they had ’em.”

Chris Wicht’s Headquarters Saloon, Ballarat.

“I “Kept figuring the town would come back,” he explains, “but when I’d gone broke too and no rich strikes made I knew I’d finally have to fold up.”

He doesn’t think he was  generous. “I had it. They needed it. They paid me when they could,” is the way he puts it. Maybe that’s why, whenever you mention Ballarat in a desert mining town, someone remembers Ol’ Chris.

We were 200 miles away, having coffee at Big Rock springs on the edge of the Mojave, when we first heard about him. It was in October, 1940. We were on a hunt for ghost towns in the desert.

Mrs. Howard Bland, an attractive woman and an old-timer in the Mojave, told us about Ballarat and Chris as she served us coffee in the combination grocery store and lunch counter. There were interruptions while she waited on other customers, but we were in no hurry, and as time permitted she came and sat at the table with us and related her experiences in the old mining camp,

“I’ll never forget Ballarat,” she said, “any more than I will forget Chris Wicht and a certain postal inspector who paid the camp an official visit long after its gold had been worked out.”

Chris Wicht

Chris Wicht went broke at Ballarat grubstaking the prospectors—and now he operates a neat little cabin resort in Surprise canyon.

Ballarat’s heyday was between 1895 to 1907. Then it was a bustling supply center for Panamint valley prospectors—a link between the borax mines in Death Valley and the outside world. It was 15 years later that Mrs. Bland first saw the old camp. Then it was just a cluster of buildings in a beautiful barren setting. There was a hotel that nobody used, a closed store, a post office where mail never came or went. Ol’ Chris and his saloon were all that was left.

The government had found out that it had a post office that wasn’t being used and a postal inspection must be made. The postmaster who had also been the grocer, had just drifted off after the others. The postal department sent an elderly dignified Bostonian, whose habits of living had made him hopelessly useless according to desert dwellers’ way of thinking. The train dropped him at Randsburg, and since the bus driver was away, Mrs. Bland, whose husband was then the Randsburg grocer, was elected to take him to Ballarat in her Model T Ford.

“It was a cold, threatening day,” she related. “The road over Slate range was just two deep ruts with a high ridge between. There were hairpin turns around cliffs that dropped 600 feet. Buzzards circling overhead.

“The postal inspector was nervous. All he could see were mountains of rock, a few buzzards in the sky, and way below a wide barren flat. You could almost hear him shudder. I pointed out Ballarat – just a speck at the foot of the range on the other side of the valley. He didn’t see how people and animals could live there. What, for instance, could those big birds find to eat?

“Any old carcass is a feast to a buzzard.”

“I tried to wither him with a look. ‘Any old carcass is a feast to a buzzard,’ I said, and that stopped all small talk till we got to Ballarat.

“It was late afternoon, but the sky was already dark because of the storm clouds. Chris Wicht came out and met us. I liked him right away. He helped us open the old store, and the inspector got out the combination to the safe and started to work. He was pretty sure of himself at first, but after about 10 tries he became a little upset. So was I. I didn’t like the looks of that storm coming on.

‘Why don’t you give it a good cussing?’ Ol’ Chris suggested. ‘That’s the way the grocer used to make it work.’ The inspector wouldn’t even look at him. But he got up and handed me the figures. He said he guessed he didn’t have the right touch.

“Well, I tried it six or seven times I guess—until I was ready to try a charge of dynamite if nothing else would work.  Chris was still standing there with that funny little smile of his, so I said, ‘How about you, Chris? Can you remember the words the grocer used?’

“Chris had never herded a burro, but he did all right. But even that didn’t work this time.

“I was ready to start for home. But not the inspector. He took back his figures and started in all over again. Chris watched him awhile and shook his head. ‘I think he needs a drink,’ he said.

“I sat down and chewed my fingernails. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I asked him to look outside and see the storm coming up. And I told him about the water spout that hit Surprise canyon a couple of years before and cut a 20-foot gully where there used to be a road. I tried to make him understand that it doesn’t just rain in this country—it pours. And that even a Model T didn’t have a chance, and the road across the dry lake would be just as slippery as a gravy dish and we had 65 miles of rough desert road before we got back to Randsburg. I must have made an impression finally because he said he guessed we might as well go.

“I helped him into the Ford and we jogged out of town over the long washboard of road that crossed the valley. I couldn’t tell whether the inspector’s teeth or the Ford chattered loudest. I was holding the throttle open as far as was safe. But I needn’t have bothered. The car stopped just before we got to the foot of the range. Ballarat was at least 10 miles behind us.

“I checked the gas, the plugs, even used my nail file on the points. It wasn’t any use.

“The inspector seemed to have lost his voice, but he managed to whisper shakily, ‘You don’t suppose we’ll be stranded here?’

” ‘Unless you know more about the insides of this thing than I do, one of us will,’ I assured him.

“He slipped down in the seat. ‘I never drove a car in my life,’ he said.

“I asked him how he was at walking. He just looked out into the darkness and shook his head. I wondered what the post office department was thinking of—sending a city man to Ballarat.

“There were two chocolate bars in the car pocket. I gave him both of them and warned him to stay put because of the jackals in the hills. When I left him he was shaking all over and all he could say was, ‘Jackals!’

“Well, it was a rough hike, but Ol’ Chris welcomed me at the end of it with a warm fire and a cozy chair. I suspect he enjoyed the inspector’s predicament. He said he’d get a burro out to him. He sent an old prospector and two burros. They returned hours later with a storm-washed inspector whose pince-nez dangled sadly on its chain.

Ballarat ghost town

“The next day a man from the Tanks on the other side of the range came over and fixed the Ford. The road had jolted loose all the ignition screws. I took the inspector back to Randsburg, and that was the last I ever saw of him. I don’t believe he ever visited our desert again. Ol’ Chris? They tell me he’s still somewhere around Ballarat. Back up in the hills with his own claim. Look him up. He’s one in a million.”

After hearing her story we wouldn’t have missed seeing Ballarat. Going over the Slate range we knew that except for grading, the road couldn’t have been changed much. There were the same sheer cliffs, the same hairpin turns, even a buzzard circling overhead, with Ballarat a little group of patched up buildings at the end of a ribbon of road across an alkaline flat.

Ballarat ghost town

Ballarat’s heyday was between 1895 and 1907—and this is about all that is left of the old mining camp today. (c. 1941)

Half a dozen men, a woman and her son, made their homes in the old structures and managed to find a living in the jagged forbidding range of the Panamints. Even the old double-boarded jail had become somebody’s home. It didn’t look as though it had ever been very strong.

“Didn’t have to be,” said Billy Heider, one of the old-timers. “Nobody ever in it but drunks. Didn’t even bother to lock the door on them. What was the use? Why should Ballarat feed ’em when all they needed was to sober up so’s they could go back out and spend their own money again?”

“But weren’t there bandits and outlaws in the early days? Wasn’t it true that Panamint City had been founded by a couple of stage coach robbers who accidentally discovered the rich veins of silver there way back in ’73—that one of them lived to a ripe old age in Ballarat?”

“Maybe so,” he agreed. “You hear a lot of things. But we don’t ask too many questions about a man out here—just so long as he’s straight with us. Sure, we had our share of outlaws—every mining town does. Had our share of shootings too. But nobody ever got hurt. Generally just playing around, happy and blowing off steam.”

Most of Ballarat’s prospectors pull out when summer comes. The men all have cars of one sort or another, and the High Sierra isn’t too far away. Some of them go up there and fish the summer away. Others have destinations unknown and never mentioned. Like Slim Ferge—Seldom Seen Slim. If the winter was lucky, he just disappears. When he’s broke he comes back—goes into the Panamints a few ore samples—sets up beside the highway in the Mojave, sells the samples to tourists for a new stake and starts all over again.

Most of the prospectors are hunting for gold. The Panamints have low-grade silver, but mining it is not profitable according to Chris Wicht, who has a whole canyon of it and ought to know. Some of the newcomers have found scheelite, which is composed of calcium and tungsten oxides. Tungsten is an important factor in the manufacture of armaments, and with an eye to the future and war industries booming, they know the supply can never equal the demand. The essential part of their equipment” is a violet ray lamp with batteries strapped to their chests. The light picks out the ore in little glowing patches.

But even the scheelite prospectors do not stay in Ballarat during the summer. The only one who is sure to be around is Ol’ Chris Wicht. They told us where to find him—a group of cottonwoods halfway up Surprise canyon where he has a silver claim and a bunch of cabins—”runs a sort of resort.”

That was news! A resort in Surprise canyon.

“How are the roads?” we asked.

“Oh, fine,” Slim assured us. “No bad roads around here. Don’t find bad roads till you get down around Granite wells.”

We didn’t go down around Granite wells, but we decided, bumping along the road up Surprise canyon, that Seldom Seen Slim had a real sense of humor. We even wondered if it wouldn’t be a nice idea to write Henry Ford a letter, providing there was anything left of our car to write about. But, at that, it might not have been so bad if we could have forgotten that the deep ravine beside the narrow ledge of road was where another road used to be and a waterspout took it out. Chris’s place is a little paradise in the Panamints after you get to it.

Map pf Panamint Mtns. & Valley area - Ballarat

Map of Panamint Mtns. & Valley area – Ballarat – 1913

He has a group of neat furnished cabins and running water the year round. He’s even built a swimming pool where customers can “dehydrate” when the weather gets really hot and, for ultra modern convenience, he’s put in his own electric light plant. Crude, maybe, but it works. He had to use what he could find—a water wheel from an old mine and an old Dodge generator.

Chris thinks there isn’t any place like the Panamints. He doesn’t work his claim much. “If it was gold,” he says, “it would be all right. But by the time I’ve loaded silver onto the trucks, hauled it in and had it smelted, there isn’t anything left.” He still has faith in Ballarat. “There’s plenty of gold left yet in the Panamints.

It runs in ledges in the mountains to the south, lots of good pockets if you can find them. Trouble is, you have to be like a mountain goat to get around. And these automobiles don’t help any. In the old days, with a burro, a prospector could go almost anyplace. Now he either has to hunt around the edges, or leave the car behind and walk. Besides, who ever got any satisfaction out of trying new words on automobiles?”

“Sure,” he said, ” I still think Ballarat will come back some day.” He swept his arm broadly. “The reason may lay two hundred feet deep — but it’s there, hid someplace in the Panamints.”

-end-

 

Indian George

He Witnessed the Death Valley Tragedy of ’49

By J.C. Boyles – Desert Magazine — Feb – 1940

When the ill-fated Jayhawker and Bennett-Manly parties trekked across Death Valley in 1849 the white gold-seekers were in mortal fear of the Indians who lurked along the trail. Today, 90 years later, Indian George Hansen, venerable patriarch of the Death Valley Shoshones who as a boy witnessed the tragedy of the Americans, discloses that the Indians also were afraid of the whites. “The hearts of our people were heavy for these strange people,” he said, “but we were afraid. They had things that made fire with a loud noise and we had never seen these before.” Indian George is nearly 100 years old today, but he has a vivid recollection of the incidents of his long life on the Death Valley desert. The accompanying interview was given to a man who has for many years been an intimate friend and advisor to the aged Indian.

Panamint Mountains, Panamint Valley - Mojave Desert

Panamint Mountains, Panamint Valley

Many wheels spin through the Panamint range these days, rolling along to Death Valley with well-dressed and well-fed sightseers bound for de luxe winter resorts which draw visitors from all over the world. The sleek automobiles and their big rubber tires attract only a casual glance now from Indian George. But he remembers when he and his people of the Shoshone tribe nearly 90 years ago saw for the first time a wheel in Death Valley. The wheels were creaking, iron-rimmed wagonwheels of the ill-fated ragged Jayhawker party on their tragic way to California. It was around Christmas time in 1849. Indian George was a small boy then. He was born at Surveyor Well in Death Valley about the year 1841. And the first white man he saw on the desert so long ago in a world he had known as inhabited exclusively by Indians terrified him. He ran from the sight and thus won his tribal name, Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee (Boy-Who-Runs-Away).

“Boy-Who-Runs-Away” is a venerable patriarch of his people now. Nearing his 100th birthday, he has the dignity of great age. His head is as white as the winter snow on Telescope peak high above his home in Panamint valley. Despite the burden of his years, he retains a delightful sense of humor that makes him chuckle at recollection of the incident that gave him his name. And his memory goes back clearly to the days before the white man invaded his world.

Indian George

Indian George

On a late October day we sat in the shade of the cottonwoods at the old Indian ranch where he has made his home for the past 70 years. There he lives with his daughter Isabel, granddaughter Molly and Old Woman, his sister-in-law. At nearby Darwin he has many great-grandchildren.

Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee’s home place is watered by a stream from the melting snows of the Panamints. The pungent smell of goats permeated the air.

Leaves of the cottonwoods had begun to turn yellow with the first cold of autumn, dust devils swirled over the mud flats, a blue haze lay over the mountains. Lean hungry mongrel dogs sniffed at my feet, Old Woman silently shelled pinon nuts, the silence broken only by the cracking of hulls.

Around us was the region called home by a small band of Shoshones for many generations before the white man’s coming. Coville called the tribe the Panamint Indians, most southerly of the Shoshonean family whose homes were on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and northward nearly to Canada. In Death Valley and along its border the desert band lived widely separated, in wickiups close to springs or water holes, utilizing in a barren, forbidding territory, every edible shrub and root, every living thing that walked and crawled.

Honey bean mesquite

Honey bean mesquite

The women gathered mesquite beans, wild grass seed and pinon nuts which were winnowed and ground into coarse flour. The men snared rabbits and quail and hunted the wily bighorn sheep in the nearby mountains.

Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee has seen here in his lifetime a development of human history equivalent to man’s progress through all that long, long stretch of time since the first wheel astonished travelers afoot. During the past 20 years I have studied the story of his life.
While Old Woman shelled the pinons,
I said:
“Grandfather, you have seen many winters and the wisdom of an old man is good. That is why I have come to you to hear of the old times.”

After a long silence, Bah-vanda-savanu-kee spoke:
“My son, you are Kwe-Yah, the Eagle.’ I have known your father for many, many years. You have been to the white man’s school and have learned his ways, many of which are good, and you
understand our people and many of our ways are good.

“I am growing old, my limbs creak, my eyes are dim with age. To you, my son, I can talk plain and you will understand without me saying foolish things like when I talk to white people.”

There was another interval of silence, and then he continued, speaking slowly and deliberately. As nearly as I can do so, I use his own words:

Timbisha Shoshone village, Furnace Creek c.1940

Timbisha Shoshone village, Furnace Creek c.1940 – Burton Frasher photo

Long ago I was born in a camp of mesquite in To-me-sha, they call that place Death Valley. It was at Surveyor Well. From the earliest time I can remember we would move away in the summer to the high cool country among the juniper and pinon trees. There we would stay until the pinon nut harvest was over, returning to the valley when the snow came.

When there was plenty of meat every one was happy, even E-shev-ipe the coyote and Wo-te-ah the fox smelled the meat cooking over the hot stones and came for their share. When every one had eaten all he could hold, there was story telling and dances. Sometimes we played the hand game and sang the gamblers song all night long. Those were happy days with our people.

Shoshone woman passes on the functional art of basketmaking

Shoshone woman passes on the functional art of basketmaking – c1934.

Cold winter evenings we sat about the camp fire, in the shelter of the mesquite, the old men told stories of days that were gone. Our women worked at basketmaking, some baskets were made for gathering seeds and pinon nuts, others were for beauty. It was a gift of our women to make good baskets.

Old Kaw “the crow” was the best story teller, he told the stories over and over,  so that the boys would know and remember, and he went away back the life time of many old men. He told of the Mojaves and how our young men drove them from the valley. They came in from the south to steal our pinon-nut caches and carry off our women. We did not like these people, we were high above them. Always after a fight they built a big fire and burned their dead ones. Long after this when I was a young man, that is, after the white man came, the Mojaves came back and killed white men and made much trouble. This time we helped the white men who were good to us.  White men gave us guns and went with us on the war path. We found the Mojaves near that place Mojave where the railroad is now and killed many and brought back the white man’s stock. After that we never saw the Mojaves again. They were not our kind of people.

My father Inyo (Place-of-the-Spirit) was head man at that time, what the white man calls a chief. When our people had trouble they came to him, and he he listened, and what he said to them was right. In my father’s time I heard of the animal the white man calls buffalo but we never saw that animal. We traded willow baskets, salt and arrow heads for the buffalo hide from other Indians who came down from the north. Our people used this hide for moccasins and made warm blankets from rabbit skins cut in strips and twisted them sewed together. This way the hair was on both sides and very warm in winter time.

chuckwalla lizard

Chuckwalla lizard

When I was a little boy I wandered over the desert far from home, always looking for something to eat. I learned how to snare rabbits and quail and hunt Cuc-wata the chuckawalla. Cuc-wata was quick, he would run and hide in the crack of big stones and blow himself full of wind, so he could not be pulled out. For this hunting I carried a sharp stick, I catch hold of his tail and punch a hole to leave out the wind, then I could easy pull him out. This meat was very good.

When I found the track of To-koo-vichite the wild cat, I would trail him to his den, and later tell my father who would smoke him out and kill. This meat was very sweet.

Sometimes when I would start out to hunt, Woo-nada-gum-bechie (Dust Devil) would cross my path, then I would always return, for that was a bad sign. The old men say that is the ghost of one who died and maybe that is so.

When Oot-sup-poot, the meadow lark, came back that was a good sign that cold wind had gone. Then I could travel far with my bow and arrow and some times bring home big birds that were going north. I was becoming a big hunter and brought much meat to my mother’s wickiup. I learned to track and use the bow and arrow when very young. My father made the arrows from a hollow reed that grows in the canyons. You can find that kind of reed over there in the canyon where this water comes from. We placed a sharp stick about as long as a hand in the end, this stick we burned in a fire and scraped with a stone to a hard sharp point. Some arrows we pointed with black stone (obsidian) that came from the Coso hills. That time there was many Wa-soo-pi (big horn sheep) on Sheep mountain and all over the Ky-eguta (Panamint range). No Indian boy today could hunt them like we did with bow and arrow. Some time I trailed Wasoo-pi for three, four days. When I see him lay down, I crawl close slow, slow, like a fox, from rock to rock, always with the wind in my fact;, when he would raise his head to smell the wind, I lay flat without a move. When I get close, I raise up slow, slow, and drive the arrow into meat.

When I was about as high as that wagon wheel, (pointing to an old wheel leaning against the corral fence) may be about ten or 12 summers, a big thing happened in my life.

Telescope Peak, Panamint Range, Death Valley

Telescope Peak

This I must remember well, and in the telling, tell it straight. Snow was on See-umba mountain (Telescope peak) when this happened.

A strange tribe of other people (the Jayhawker-Manly- Bennett Party 1849) came down Furnace Creek, some walking, slow like sick people and some in big wagons, pulled by cows. They stopped there by water and rested. When other Indians see them, they run away and tell all other Indians at other camps.

Our people were afraid of this strange people. They were not our kind and these cows my people had never seen before.

Never had they seen wagons or wheels or any of the things these people had, the cows were spotted and bigger than the biggest mountain sheep, with long tails and big horns. They moved slow and cried in a long voice like they were sick for grass and water.

Some of these people moved down the valley, some moved up, and they stopped at Salt creek crossing. Them that moved down the valley stopped where Indian Tom Wilson has ranch at Bennett’s well.

When it came night, we crawled close, slow like when trailing sheep. We saw many men around a big fire. They killed cows and burned the wagons and made a big council talk in loud voices like squaws when mad. Some fall down sick when they eat the skinny cows. By and by they went away, up that way where Stove Pipe hotel is now, they walk very slow, strung out like sheep, some men help other men that are sick. One man, he can go no more, he lay down by a big rock, that night he went to his fathers. As they go, they drop things all along the trail, maybe they are worthless things, or too heavy to carry.

After they go we went to that place at Salt creek and found many things that they left there. Because some died, we did not touch those things. When they burned the wagons some parts did not burn, that was iron, and we did not understand this.

Those people who went down the valley to Bennett’s Well stayed there a long time. They had women and children. By and by they went away, all go over Panamints and we never see them again.  The hearts of our people were heavy for these strange people, but we were afraid, they had things that made fire with a loud noise and we had never seen these before.

Aerial photo looking over Furnace creek, into southern Death Valley

Aerial photo looking over Furnace creek, into southern Death Valley – c1938

After this happened we were afraid  more of the strange ones would come. We watched Furnace creek for a long time, but no more come.

May be about three or four summers after this, I was on the trail with my father in Emigrant canyon, when we see man tracks that was not made with moccasins, my father, he say: “Look, not made by Shoshone.”

We followed these tracks and when we come around by big rock we saw a white man there, very close. When we see him we stop quick, I run. away, may be that is why they call me “Boy-Who-Runs-Away.”

This white man made peace sign to my father and give him a shirt, when I see that, I come back. That place was near Emigrant spring.

I think that white man was scared as much as we were. He talked in a strange tongue and made signs with his hands. He was not white, he was same color as a saddle and because of this color I thought he looked like a sick Indian, he had long hair on his face, not like our people.

After this meeting from time to time other white men come into our country. They were rock-breakers looking for the yellow-iron. Mostly they come in pairs without their women, this we thought was strange for it is not a custom of our people to go that way. There were strange stories coming to us of many white people, in the valley of the river (Owens valley) by the high mountains west of here that made war on our people and killed many. Hearing this we were afraid there would be trouble.

(The old man shifted his seat to throw a stick at a yelping dog)

By this time I was married and living not far from Wild Rose spring, and again a big thing happened in my life. This time many white men with Mexicans and Chinese came to the Panamints and all go up that way in what the white man calls Surprise canyon. They built many houses and they all stop there.

I did not know there were so many people and so many different kinds, they brought horses, mules, burros and cows. They called that place Panamint City.

They made roads all over the desert to that place where they all lived. You can see the road now in Surprise canyon, that was a long time ago. I think most of those people have gone to their fathers.

These white men all carried guns and some times they fight among themselves.

At the time I worked with Hungry Bill, my brother-in-law, for a Mexican packer, cutting and packing pinon timber for the mines. He had many burros, these were the first we ever saw. (The old man laughed to himself). It was not long before we had burros of our own. Hungry Bill was good at finding things that were lost and I think some of those burros were not “lost.”

Learns Mule Skinner’s Language

First I learned to speak a little Mexican, it was easier to learn, then I learned a little American, at first only the words the mule skinners called the mules when they were mad.

Later I learned to prospect and find the metal those white people wanted so badly. I did very good but never received anything but grub and promises from those people. One man he gave me a check, when I showed it to another white man he laughed. May be that was a
white man’s joke. One white man I packed for, his name was George. We prospect all over the Ky-e-gutas. When we go out I tell him, “You stay back of me, this is my country,” when we comeback to Panamint City where they all live, I tell him, “Now, you go first, this is your country.”

Lots of white men have fun, they say, “Hello George, he your son?” After that every one called me George, that’s how I got that name.

Another man who was a “government man” gave me that name “Hansen,” he said I must have a name for the books, at Washington so Uncle Sam would know me. (The old man laughed). I
don’t know this Uncle Sam, but I guess he is all right, for when my son Mike or daughter Isabel is sick he sends a medicine man from the agency.

Too Many Beans for Bill

Panamint City

Panamint City

“Hungry Bill” he got his name from the white people at Panamint City. He was always hungry like a coyote, and a pretty bad Indian. I guess the government man did not give him another name because he was not much good, may be Uncle Sam didn’t want him on the books.
One white man at Stone Corral put some medicine in beans. When Hungry Bill eat all he could hold, he got sick. After that he never liked beans any more. About that: time they made another place at Kow-wah and called that place Ballarat. When they come in from outside
they stop there on way to Panamint City. Pretty soon some horse soldiers come and stopped at that place, the chief of those soldiers had a Ka-naka (Negro) who worked for him. When I first saw that black man I thought he was a white man burned black.

Hungry Bill, he was smart Indian. One time he made camp by the road, two white men come along, they have guns, when they see Hungry Bill they shoot at ground, they say “Dance, Injun,
dance.” Hungry Bill he did that, he dance close by sage brush by his gun, when white men make a big laugh, quick, Hungry Bill he pick up his gun, point at white men, he say “Now you dance same me.” This time Hungry Bill had a big joke on white men.

Main Street - Skidoo ghost town site

Main Street – Skidoo ghost town site

After all those people go away from Panamint City they leave many things, that is where I got many things you see about this ranch. One man he brought those stage wagons and he say: “George, I leave them here with you, some day I come back and get them.” He never came back, that was a long time ago.

Long time after they all go away, more white men come, this time to Sheep mountain. They call that place Skidoo. Me and my cousin Shoshone Johnnie we packed wood and timber to that place. After they have a big fight, Joe Simpson he shoot Jim Arnold, other white men
hang Joe Simpson by his neck, after that we stayed away. One white man he give to my daughter Isabel a picture of Simpson hanging by his neck. That was not good, maybe Simpson was drunk when he shot Arnold. It’s bad way to die, man’s spirit cannot get out when he dies with rope around the neck.

In this telling I must not: forget my friend John Searles.

John Searles

John Searles

Across the mountains to the south of here there is a dry white lake, where in the old days our people went for salt. There is a town there now and a big mill. They call that place Trona. I go
there often, and have many friends at that place. When I go there for grub, every one say “Hello George, how are you?” With my father and Hungry Bill we went there for salt long ago, that is where I met this man. He had a camp and horse corral by the lake. When we saw this, we stayed away. That night Searles he came to our camp and made signs for work.

My father and I worked there a long time, we liked the Chinamen, they were little bit like our people. Some white man told to me “Chinaman and Injun all same.” May be so, but I do not believe that.

When we went away, Searles he said: “George, you are always welcome and any time you stop here, China boy will feed you, but not Hungry Bill, you tell him to stay away.”

“Take Mule Home, Eat ’em”

Then he say: “Come here,” and he showed me old mule in the corral, he said: “You taken home, make jerky, plenty good meat. You no keep him, you eat, sabe?” We did this, for in the old days any kind of mea: was good. John Searles was a good man and known to our people as “Bear Fighter.” When he was a young man he had a big fight with a bear in Tehachapi mountains, that is how he got that name:. He had big scar on neck from that fight, when he talk to me he hold his head this way (the old man bent his head slightly to the left shoulder).

Many times after that I thought of John Searles and the good meat we eat at his
camp. Some people say he killed Indians, but that is not true.

That time Hungry Bill would go away for a long time south of Mojave, when he come back, he always bring horses and mules, then all the Indians would have plenty meat. This was not good and caused lots of trouble- with the white men. I think that is why Searles told him to stay away.

The lean dogs sniffed the air and ran off barking. It was Molly, granddaughter of Bah-vanda-sava-nu-kee bringing in the goat herd to the shelter of the corral for the night.

Old Woman threw a stick on the dying fire, the flames lit up the old Indian’s face, “My son, the few thing I have told you are but the flutter of a crow’s wing in my life. Soon I will go to the land of my fathers along with all these other people I have told you about.’

-end-

Randsburg’s Dancin’ Skeletons

I called in all my Ghost-Writers here at Old Fort Oliver to help on this Ghost Town edition.

As we sat around the fireplace in my combination atom-bomb-shelter and wine cellar, the old timers told many of their Ghost stories, all have a slight flavor of the bottle. I have them scattered throughout this packet, not too close together, it was a big night, “for spirits.”

Old Jake Topper told about the noisy Ghosts he saw and heard up at Randsburg. Says he saw two skeletons dancing on the tin roof of the old Hubbard Printing Shop.

Determined to get a better look, he climbed a ladder to the roof of the White House Saloon next door, as he stepped off the ladder toward them the two skeletons stopped dancing and reached for their shrouds. Jake said it was sure eerie.

White House Saloon - Randsburg ghost town

White House Saloon

“The tall Ghost but his cold bon’y hand on my sleeve and said to me — as if he could see I was scared — don’t ever worry — look at me I would not be here if I had not worried myself to death — I thought I saw a tear in his eye-socket — but it was a moth. Yes sir said the Ghost, I was a newspaper man and I worried and worried, then I got so I worried because I could not remember what I was worried about.”

Right then and there — said Jake — I made up my mind never to worry again. So saying goodby and keeping worry out of my mind I started down off the roof, and by gosh, you know I fell down the last three steps of the ladder and broke my ankle.

—~—

Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook
GHOST-TOWNS WITH GHOSTS