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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ~
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.
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.”
“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.”
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?
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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
Once I asked Shorty Harris how he obtained his grubstakes. “Grubstakes,” he answered, “like gold, are where you find them. Once I was broke in Pioche, Nev., and couldn’t find a grubstake anywhere. Somebody told me that a woman on a ranch a few miles out wanted a man for a few days’ work. I hoofed it out under a broiling sun, but when I got there, the lady said she had no job. I reckon she saw my disappointment and when her cat came up and began to mew, she told me the cat had an even dozen kittens and she would give me a dollar if I would take ’em down the road and kill ’em.
“‘It’s a deal,’ I said. She got ’em in a sack and I started back to town. I intended to lug ’em a few miles away and turn ’em loose, because I haven’t got the heart to kill anything.
“A dozen kittens makes quite a load and I had to sit down pretty often to rest. A fellow in a two-horse wagon came along and offered me a ride. I picked up the sack and climbed in.
“‘Cats, eh?’ the fellow said. ‘They ought to bring a good price. I was in Colorado once. Rats and mice were taking the town. I had a cat. She would have a litter every three months. I had no trouble selling them cats for ten dollars apiece. Beat a gold mine.’
“There were plenty rats in Pioche and that sack of kittens went like hotcakes. One fellow didn’t have any money and offered me a goat. I knew a fellow who wanted a goat. He lived on the same lot as I did. Name was Pete Swain.
“Pete was all lit up when I offered him the goat for fifty dollars. He peeled the money off his roll and took the goat into his shack. A few days later Pete came to his door and called me over and shoved a fifty dollar note into my hands. ‘I just wanted you to see what that goat’s doing,’ he said.
“I looked inside. The goat was pulling the cork out of a bottle of liquor with his teeth.
“‘That goat’s drunk as a boiled owl,’ Pete said. ‘If I ever needed any proof that there’s something in this idea of the transmigration of souls, that goat gives it. He’s Jimmy, my old sidekick, who, I figgered was dead and buried.’
“‘Now listen,’ I said. ‘Do you mean to tell me you actually believe that goat is your old pal, whom you drank with and played with and saw buried with your own eyes, right up there on the hill?’
“‘Exactly,’ Pete shouted, and he peeled off another fifty and gave it to me. So, you see, a grubstake, like gold, is where you find it.”
Loafing Along Death Valley Trails
A Personal Narrative of People and Places
Author: William Caruthers
During the great silver boom in the Calicos, a small community grew up around the Bismarck mine in the next canyon east of Calico camp. Together with the miners of the Garfield, Odessa, Occidental and other mines, there were perhaps 40 persons in the area, which was known as East Calico.
While Calico was less than a mile away, by airline, the direct trail was steep and rugged and the road roundabout. The government did not consider the population sufficient for a post office, and the miners didn’t care to hike into Calico for their mail. So they contributed to a fund to pay a boy named Dave Nichols to bring the mail over, by burro, from the mother camp. But Dave found a better job and no one else wanted to be mail man.
About that time a man named Stacy, brother of the Stacy who was postmaster at Calico (their first names have variously been given as James, William, Everett and Alwin) opened a store at Bismark. The Stacys had a dog named Dorsey, a big Scotch collie who had come to them for shelter one stormy night. The Bismarck Stacy took the collie’ with him to East Calico.
But Dorsey’s affections were divided, and after a few days at Bismarck, he ran away back to Calico. Postmaster Stacy attached a note to his neck, switched him and sent him back to Bismarck. After a few such runaways, Postmaster Stacy conceived the notion of tying a sack with newspapers in it on Dorsey’s back when he sent him home. Dorsey delivered them successfully, and soon little saddlepacks labeled “U. S. Mail” were made and attached to the dog’s back and a regular mail service set up between the two camps on a thrice-weekly schedule.
Dorsey soon became one of Calico’s most famous characters, but success did not go to his head.
Though he was not a civil service employee and his mail route entirely unofficial, he was faithful in the completion of his appointed rounds. Though the miners enjoyed attempting to lead him astray or tamper with the mail, he managed to elude them, then resume his course.
There is only one instance of possible misuse of his office on record. One Christmas Herman Mellen was living in a cave near Bismarck and his mother sent him a box of candy and sweets. Stacy had tied this box under Dorsey’s neck, and when he arrived at Bismarck the bottom was out and the contents missing. Whether temptation had proven too strong, the goodies had been hijacked or whether the package had broken open, allowing the contents to spill out was never determined.
The famous dog mail carrier continued his route for two years, until a dip in the boom caused the mines of East Calico to close and mail service became unnecessary. When the Stacys left Calico, they gave Dorsey to John S. Doe, wealthy San Francisco man interested in Calico mines, and Dorsey spent the rest of his life in comfort and ease in the Bay City.
Calico Print- Established 1882 by Vincent & Overshiner
Published at Calico Silver Camp
San Bernardino County, California
EDITED BY HAROLD AND LUCILE WEIGHT
Copyright by THE CALICO PRESS
The most famous lost mine in the Death Valley area is the Lost Breyfogle. There are many versions of the legend, but all agree that somewhere in the bowels of those rugged mountains is a colossal mass of gold, which Jacob Breyfogle found and lost.
Jacob Breyfogle was a prospector who roamed the country around Pioche and Austin, Nevada, with infrequent excursions into the Death Valley area. He traveled alone.
Indian George, Hungry Bill, and Panamint Tom saw Breyfogle several times in the country around Stovepipe Wells, but they could never trace him to his claim. When followed, George said, Breyfogle would step off the trail and completely disappear. Once George told me about trailing him into the Funeral Range. He pointed to the bare mountain. “Him there, me see. Pretty quick—” He paused, puckered his lips. “Whoop—no see.”
Breyfogle left a crude map of his course. All lost mines must have a map. Conspicuous on this map are the Death Valley Buttes which are landmarks. Because he was seen so much here, it was assumed that his operations were in the low foothills. I have seen a rough copy of this map made from the original in possession of “Wildrose” Frank Kennedy’s squaw, Lizzie.
Breyfogle presumably coming from his mine, was accosted near Stovepipe Wells by Panamint Tom, Hungry Bill, and a young buck related to them, known as Johnny. Hungry Bill, from habit, begged for food. Breyfogle refused, explaining that he had but a morsel and several hard days’ journey before him. On his burro he had a small sack of ore. When Breyfogle left, Hungry Bill said, “Him no good.”
Incited by Hungry Bill and possible loot, the Indians followed Breyfogle for three or four days across the range. Hungry Bill stopped en route, sent the younger Indians ahead. At Stump Springs east of Shoshone, Breyfogle was eating his dinner when the Indians sneaked out of the brush and scalped him, took what they wished of his possessions and left him for dead.
Ash Meadows Charlie, a chief of the Indians in that area confided to Herman Jones that he had witnessed this assault. This happened on the Yundt Ranch, or as it is better known, the Manse Ranch. Yundt and Aaron Winters accidentally came upon Breyfogle unconscious on the ground. The scalp wound was fly-blown. They had a mule team and light wagon and hurried to San Bernardino with the wounded man. The ore, a chocolate quartz, was thrown into the wagon.
Breyfogle recovered, but thereafter was regarded as slightly “off.” He returned to Austin, Nevada, and the story followed.
Wildrose (Frank) Kennedy, an experienced mining man obtained a copy of Breyfogle’s map and combed the country around the buttes in an effort to locate the mine. Kennedy had the aid of the Indians and was able to obtain, through his squaw Lizzie, such information as Indians had about the going and coming of the elusive Breyfogle.
“Some believe the ore came from around Daylight Springs,” Shorty said, “but old Lizzie’s map had no mark to indicate Daylight Springs. But it does show the buttes and the only buttes in Death Valley are those above Stovepipe Wells.
“Kennedy interested Henry E. Findley, an old time Colorado sheriff and Clarence Nyman, for years a prospector for Coleman and Smith (the Pacific Borax Company). They induced Mat Cullen, a rich Salt Lake mining man, to leave his business and come out. They made three trips into the valley, looking for that gold. It’s there somewhere.”
At Austin, Breyfogle was outfitted several times to relocate the property, but when he reached the lower elevation of the valley, he seemed to suffer some aberration which would end the trip. His last grubstaker was not so considerate. He told Breyfogle that if he didn’t find the mine promptly he’d make a sieve of him and was about to do it when a companion named Atchison intervened and saved his life. Shortly afterward, Breyfogle died from the old wound.
Indian George, repeating a story told him by Panamint Tom, once told me that Tom had traced Breyfogle to the mine and after Breyfogle’s death went back and secured some of the ore. Tom guarded his secret. He covered the opening with stone and leaving, walked backwards, obliterating his tracks with a greasewood brush. Later when Tom returned prepared to get the gold he found that a cloudburst had filled the canyon with boulders, gravel and silt, removing every landmark and Breyfogle’s mine was lost again.
“Some day maybe,” George said, “big rain come and wash um out.”
Among the freighters of the early days was John Delameter who believed the Breyfogle was in the lower Panamint. Delameter operated a 20 mule team freighting service between Daggett and points in both Death Valley and Panamint Valley. He told me that he found Breyfogle down in the road about twenty-eight miles south of Ballarat with a wound in his leg. Breyfogle had come into the Panamint from Pioche, Nevada, and said he had been attacked by Indians, his horses stolen, while working on his claim which he located merely with a gesture toward the mountains.
Subsequently Delameter made several vain efforts to locate the property, but like most lost mines it continues to be lost. But for years it was good bait for a grubstake and served both the convincing liar and the honest prospector.
Nearly all old timers had a version of the Lost Breyfogle differing in details but all agreeing on the chocolate quartz and its richness.
That Breyfogle really lost a valuable mine there can be little doubt, but since he is authentically traced from the northern end of Death Valley to the southern, and since the chocolate quartz is found in many places of that area, one who cares to look for it must cover a large territory.
From: Chapter XXII
Lost Mines. The Breyfogle and Others
Loafing Along Death Valley Trails by William Caruthers
by Phillip I. Earl – Apple Tree correspondent
Death Valley is perhaps the West’s most aptly named topographical feature and over years it has taken the lives of countless thousands of travelers, prospectors, treasure hunters and others who ventured into its tortured arid wilderness.
The circumstances of these deaths are roughly similar: horses died, they ran out of water, got lost, became delirious with the heat etc., but at least one of the valley’s victims left behind a more accurate account of his last hours on earth.
Al Williams’ body was found the morning of August 3, 1911 at Sharpe’s Camp, a sometime [ng] a few miles southeast of Darwin, California. A Nevada prospector who had traversed Death Valley many times in the [l,] Williams apparently lost his horse then lost himself on this trip. He had set out from [o] Springs on May 18 and nothing more was heard of him until his body was found, though his friends had searched for him earlier in the summer, sick and unable to leave his camp, Williams apparently waited day by day for someone to come and rescue him. As he waited, he recorded his condition and his thoughts in the following diary which was found on his body:
Thursday, May 18
Left Coso Springs.
Wednesday, May 24
Nothing to eat since Thursday.
Friday, May 26 —
week in sick, cannot walk 50 feet. Tried to get dove; no go.
Saturday, May 27
Hungry, hungry and so weak. Headache, sick. Will probably die soon.
Sunday, May 28
Very weak today. Nearly froze last night. Very hungry.
Monday, May 29
Cold: almost froze. Am much weaker; do not think I have will last two days more. Pain in my side.
Tuesday, May 30
Colder than ever last night. Did not sleep a minute. Very weak. Hello the headache. Very dizzy.
Wednesday, May 31
Am nearly all in; can scarcely breathe. Water getting low.
Thursday, June 1
Worse today, Sick; no sleep; too cold. Water is playing out fast it will not be long til the end.
Friday, June 2
Am about the same. No sleep; cold nights. This is a living hell. Very weak.
Saturday, June 3
No sleep; cold night. Am worse than ever. will hold out as long as I can.
Sunday, June 4
Vomit yellow, bitter stuff when I drink water. Second time now. Cold; no sleep; very weak.
Monday, June 5
Vomit when I drink. Very weak; legs sore; cold all night; no sleep. Cannot last much longer.
Tuesday, June 6
Vomited again. Getting weaker.
Wednesday, June 7
Don’t see how I can live much longer. I stagger like a madman. Feel drunk and dizzy.
Thursday, June 8
Worse; am nearly blind; very sick and dizzy. No sleep; gnats are eating me up.
Friday, June 9
Don’t believe I can get another canteen of water. Sick and dizzy: cannot see much. Think it will be all off soon.
In the back of the diary under the date of June 9, 1911, Williams wrote the following: “Have stood it 23 days without anything to eat. If I can get one more canteen of water I am satisfied it will be the last one. This is surely hell on earth. And so sick and dizzy I can scarcely see this in the gnats are eating me up.” Too weak to write and almost blind for the last three days of his life, Williams merely made his cross in the diary to show that he was still alive.
The men who found the body at first considered bringing it out to a nearby ranch and notifying the Inyo County coroner, but its condition was such that they decided against such a course. A shallow grave was dug on a high bench about 50 feet from the dry spring and Williams was laid away.
One of the men wrote a short account of his death from the diary and placed it in a tobacco can which was then stuffed into a crude monument built over the grave.
Williams diary itself was brought back to Darwin and given to the editor of the Inyo County Independent who subsequently might venture out unprepared or who might go out on a rescue mission and give up too soon, thus condemning another of their fellows to the awful sacrifice which the desert seems to periodically demand.
– A.K.A. Charles Tom Vincent –
This story was derived from Chapter 5 of Pearl Comfort Fisher’s “The Mountaineers,” written by Dorothy Evans Noble and edited by George F. Tillitson
Dorothy Evans Noble, former postmistress at Valyermo and wife of geologist Dr. Lee Noble, wrote this memoir of the Serrano Old Man Vincent whose name was given to Vincent Gap and Vincent Saddle. Mrs. Noble wrote that the memory of the man might not be lost. She gave it to the United States Forestry Service (USFS) who graciously accorded Pearl Fisher to include it in her book, “The Mountaineers.”
Old Man Vincent’s daily newspaper came to our small post office at Valyermo, California, but he never did. Our nearest neighbor, Bob Pallett, who had a cattle ranch adjoining our fruit orchards took his mail to Vincent once a month when he took supplies by horseback to the cabin twelve miles up Big Rock Creek on the slope of North Baldy Mountain (now Mount Baden-Powell). It was a steep trail from our thirty seven hundred fifty foot altitude to Vincent’s sixty six hundred foot. Bob said he was a sort of hermit who hated all women and most men, chasing visitors off his land with a rifle and spending all his time mining gold and shooting game. He liked Bob and depended on him, and Bob enjoyed sessions with the old man. We heard stories about Vincent for three years before we ever saw him.
The first week of April 1914, brought such frightful news of war in Europe that ranch work seemed futile and we decided on a sudden walking trip into the mountains to think things over. A geologist, Greg, was visiting us and we three set out on foot to climb Mount Baldy. We took Vincent’s mail with us. It was a long climb up to Vincent Saddle at the head of Big Rock Creek where we followed a trail high on the slope of the mountain for a mile and looked down on a neat clearing with a small gray cabin shaded by two tremendous spruce trees. We skidded down the hill, slippery with pine needles, and zoomed right to the cabin door which opened with a bang, and Old Man Vincent faced us rifle in hand.
“Who in hell are you?” was his greeting.
He was a sight to remember, a thin old man in blue jeans and a faded blue shirt that barely covered his barrel chest, with piercing blue eyes that glared from under tufted white eyebrows and a little white beard under an aggressive chin.
Before we could explain he spotted the bundle of mail my husband held out, made a grab for them, yelling “Papers? Good.”
He dashed back into the cabin, slammed the door and slid the bolt inside. We sat down for a while on his woodpile, glad for time to take in the good lines of the cabin with its steep roof and chimney, all in the shade of its sides weathered to a soft gray that blended into the bushes and pine needles around it. There was water in a moat, a small ditch that circled the cabin, fed out of a pipe at the back where icy cold water dripped into a barrel. Two small tents nearby and a big meat safe hanging from a limb of the largest spruce aroused our hope of a friendlier reception later.
Suddenly the door burst open and Vincent charged out, waving a newspaper and screaming with excitement.
“Say, is it really true, is it war?”
And when we confirmed the awful truth he was wild with joy, not distressed at all.
“Fine, fine, I ain’t died too soon. War’s the stuff I like. Maybe we still got some real men in the world after all. Let ’em fly at it, rip things up, git a little action to stir things up. Shoot, kill, that’s the life.”
Nothing was too good for us from then on. He took us into the cabin cross-questioning us as to the number of men killed so far and insisting on our spending the night with him after we climbed the mountain. He even went with us part way.
Tired by the long climb we were delighted to find Vincent busy with a pot of savory stew made of jerky (dried venison), onions, potatoes; and one of beans. He had fixed beds of boughs in the tents for us and set places in the rickety little homemade table by the stove. He let me make the green tea and wash the dishes later while the men talked war. Vincent stretched out on the bunk, Lee and Greg perched on the other and by bedtime we were all old buddies, beginning a friendship that lasted as long as the old man lived.
A loud bellowing of song woke us the next morning.
Vincent was fixing breakfast to the tune of “If you get there before I do, Tell Old Jack I’m comin’, too,” followed by “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.” He described the battle of Gettysburg while we ate, claiming that no losses in Germany could equal those bloody days. He was wounded there and sent back to Conneut, Ohio, his birthplace. He was a member of Company F, 8th Ohio Infantry and proud of it. As we left him that day he barked at me,
“Don’t you ever come back here again.” And when I gasped, he added, laughing. “Unless you stay a week here.”
I had heard of his remark to a silly Los Angeles woman who had come to thank him for letting her use water from his ditch when she camped nearby. She had minced in and grabbed his hand, saying,
“I do hope I’ll see you in the city sometime.”
His retort was, “I hope I never see you again, Madam.”
So we realized that the ice was broken for us. From then on until his death in l926 Vincent was our close friend and real companion. We often spent a week or two with him and when we found his birthday was on Christmas Day we formed the habit of having him with us for the day. The first time he came he told us that it was the first Christmas dinner he had not eaten alone in fifty years.
The last Christmas dinner he ate with us when he was feeble, but he polished off two big slabs of his favorite dessert, mince pie liberally laced with strong, homemade applejack. Bob Pallett asked him the next day how the pie “set.” Vince’s reply was,
“Swell, you bet. Course all night I thought sixteen jack rabbits was loose in my stomach but it was worth it.”
I had pulled a boner that day by saying I wished he had brought his glasses along so he could write in our guest book. He was outraged, said he never needed glasses, that no one ever would who lived outdoors and followed deer tracks instead of ruining his sight poring over books. Vincent’s sight was really remarkable for he could spot a moving object miles away, and also read close up even in his eighties. Stretched out on his bunk of an evening he put a lighted candle on his barrel chest, between the “Los Angeles Times” and his eyes pored over every item. He kept his books under his bed, a few old favorites that he read over and over. A copy of “Life of Napoleon” and one of “Treasure Island” were read most. A bottle of whiskey flanked them but he drank from it seldom.
Vincent loved to talk and he had a gift of understatement and a pungent way of expressing himself that was masterly. He wasted no words and omitted unnecessary details. His pet subject was the Civil War, particularly the Battle of Gettysburg where he was wounded in July of l863. He and a pal named Lockwood had enlisted as lads and after the war they went home, planning to set up in business together with their families’ help. This was refused so they set off for good on horseback, heading west. They left in a fury and never communicated with their kin.
The story of that trek was fascinating. They decided to prospect for gold and in Arizona they found rich claims, filed on them, built a shack and set to work. Vincent never would explain why they moved on, just said they had trouble and shoved on for California on horseback. He told of crossing a river and stopping to swim in it, leaving their clothes on a bank. They spied an Injun sneak up and make off with their clothes. He waited for us to ask how they got them back, then just said,
“That Injun never stole nothin’ more. I took off after him. I got the clothes.”
They finally reached Los Angeles, a nice little town in l868 but too citified for Vincent. Lockwood settled there, but Vince prospected the mountains for months all over the region, even going to Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada country. Nothing suited him until he happened on Big Rock Creek on our edge of the Mojave Desert and rode up its source on the slope of North Baldy Peak, camping on what is now known as Vincent Saddle, the divide between Big Rock Creek and the beginning of the San Gabriel River. His first claim was located away from the slope beyond steep, rocky Mine Gulch, and he named it Big Horn because he killed a mountain sheep there. This claim he later sold and it was developed by a mining company into a rich, high grade mine which ultimately produced many thousands of dollars.
The location at Big Horn did not suit Vincent so he continued prospecting until he found one that did, a flat wooded place with fine big timber and a spring near enough to provide water after he had dug half a mile of ditches. He had adapted a kitten by that time, a Maltese gray, and he named the new claim he had found Blue Cat. It was near Mine Gulch, about half a mile from the flat place which meant more ditches and trails. Then he tackled building his cabin which stands intact to this day. (By the thirties it had collapsed into ruins but not until after Nancy Templeton did an oil painting of it. Maxine Taylor did an oil painting of Vincent’s Cabin in the mid l980s. Her painting is reproduced herein.)
He hand-hewed shakes (shingles) from the trees, built a stone fireplace in one end, put up the one-room, steep- roofed cabin with just one small window and a door. He made two bunks, one on each side of the fireplace, two arm chairs and a small table. He said he worked too hard to be lonely for when the cabin was finished he had the mine to timber and later made a small stamp-mill with a Pelton wheel run by water from his spring.
He had help after a few years when he sold Big Horn and that company built a good trail on the slope above the cabin so a heavy stove was moved up and cement to mix with the rocks for a cabin floor. Another prospector built a shack away from Vincent’s but “The Nigger” as Vince called him, although his name was Delancey and he wasn’t colored, and Vince fought like cat and dog. But Vincent lived on solitude by choice for forty years, working on his tunnels and ditches, hauling ore back by wheelbarrow to the stamp mill, to refine by running crushed ore over a mercury chute, then sacking the gold to take to the city once a year.
The winters must have been grim at the altitude of sixty six hundred feet, but he had a huge woodpile at hand, lots of dried venison stored up, beans and canned tomatoes, potatoes and onions laid away by late fall. Summers are lovely and cool there, and nine months of the year hunting was fine sport; deer and mountain sheep, quail, rabbits and doves all made good food and he could catch fish in Vincent Creek.
By the time we knew Vincent the cabin had every comfort heart could wish, and Bob Pallett to haul freight from Palmdale once a month he could relax and live the life of Reilly. The big screened meat safe that hung from a spruce tree, out of reach of bears, was full of venison for there was no closed season then and Vince would have disregarded if there had been. A picture of McKinley hung over the old man’s bunk and a goldpan and rifle were fastened to the chimney. Every afternoon when he came in from work he stripped to the buff and threw a potfull of hot water over his strong, rugged body, regardless of company; so we learned to vamoose. He was strong as an ox, the picture of health, thin and wiry with pink cheeks and snowy white hair. He could and did, walk for miles tracking a deer and he never fired an unnecessary shot. He loathed the city fellers that banged away regardless, when after game. Once we asked him what sort of winter’s hunting he had had, and he said,
“Only fair. I missed one shot clean. Took me six shots to get my five deer.”
When he killed he dressed the deer on the spot, packed as much on his back as he could carry home, then made trips back to get the rest. Hunting meant a food supply, not sport, to him.
He was a crank about coffee which must be strong and coal black. When I made the coffee one morning and asked him if he wanted a second cup, his answer was,
“Well, yes I do, but God it’s weak I don’t see how it gets up the spout.”
His pet comment was “Strong coffee never hurt no one, but weak coffee is pizen.”
He called Postum “Potassium” and was scornful of it, and he always pronounced boulevard “bovelard” and brooked no correction. He drank what little whiskey he imbibed straight, scorning fancy drinks. Once we took some rare old sherry up for his pleasure and sat by the fire with cups of it, expecting a nice session of talk. Vincent took one sip out of his cupful, swore, spat it angrily into the flames and threw the whole cupful into the fire.
“God, what truck,” he said. “What’s wrong with whiskey that anyone bothers with this hogwash?”
Even with the Palletts the old man was secretive, so we sensed some mystery in his past. The way he kept his cabin window boarded up unless he was inside, his fury when anyone tried to take his picture, his refusal to let anyone else go to his Los Angeles post office for his pension checks, all added up to some secret. We never dared to refer to a penciled name we once found in one of his old books, for it said “Mrs. Charles Vincent” so we supposed it concerned a wife he’d had sometime. Only once did any relative show up, a cousin from Conneaut brought to him by Lockwood, who insisted on Vincent’s attending a dinner at her home in Glendale.
Later we wormed the story out of him to our lasting amusement. He went, they had a swell meal, and then
“Durned if she didn’t get out a big book of postcards, pasted in, and she begun on ‘my trip to Europe’ page by page. I had come by trolley and I happened to see one startin’ down the street, so I said ‘Goodbye, Ma’am, here’s my car’ and I run out and hopped on it. She won’t see any more of me.”
He had great scorn for the developments in southern California. He referred to the Socialist colony (Llano) that settled on the desert below us as a “nest of vermin” and he fulminated against Pasadena and other fancy towns.
“This country’s the next to git its lickin'” he once said. “I’ll bet I live to see the Japs amarchin’ up Broadway. I sure would like to see a troop bivouacked on them Pasadena lawns.”
Vincent was hipped on cleanliness and order, kept everything in its appointed place and did his washing regularly. He told me once about some campers who had stayed nearby, and his comment on the woman who cooked was
“Say, that there woman was a caution. You could plant a potato patch on the back of her neck. I often seen dough on her elbow from last week’s bakin’. Water didn’t bother her none.”
Before he dug a moat around the cabin and ran water in it he was bothered by ants, for he bought sugar by the sack, and he told us,
“Ants got all through the sack and I couldn’t sift them out. So I jes hauled it down to the M—– family, it was all right for them, they didn’t notice.”
He stayed at the cabin winters until, when he was eighty three, he carried a quarter of deer back to the cabin from away up the slope of Mount Baldy and collapsed from the effort, so we had to take him to Los Angeles to our doctor, a heart specialist. He was taken to the hospital and kept there for several months as he had a torn ligament of one of the arteries to his heart. We feared he was done for, but he came back in good style and lived for years after that, though he could no longer spend winters at the cabin and moved into a tent house by Big Rock Creek on the Pallett Ranch.
I remember his first Christmas holiday there when he came to the post office to cross question me about a geologist who had spent the holidays working on our geology.
“Say, Noble,” said he, “What kind of a dam fool was that feller anyway? I was settin’ by my tent, watching the creek in big flood with the bridge washed out and all, and I heard a big splashin’ and seen this guy wadin’ across in water up to his waist. Up he came and durn if he didn’t tip his hat and say,
“‘Excuse me, sir, but could I trouble you for a drink of water?'”
At intervals Bob Pallett would call us up to say Vincent had collapsed and we would hurry him to the city to install him in the hospital, expecting each trip to be the last. Not so, he came to time after time, and he would chortle over his fooling the doctors.
“They hung around my bed like crows around a dead horse,” he would say, “Waiting to see me die.”
The nurses took a great shine to the game old man and he was a favorite there.
“I like that place,” he said. “Best coffee in Los Angeles there.”
Once I visited him there and he introduced me to his pet nurse. I asked him her name and he said it was “Scenery.” When I looked puzzled, he explained.
“Seems as though the head nurse complained because so many nurses came in to talk, so one day they heard her comin’ down the hall and this nurse, she got excited and run. She tripped over the rug on her way out and, say, some scenery I seen. That’s been her name ever since.”
Vincent was a baseball fan and made yearly trips to Los Angeles to see the games. He would take with him the small sack of gold he had refined from the “Blue Cat” and “Little Nell”, another mine he had developed and named for his pal Lockwood’s daughter Nell; would cash it in and put in a safe deposit box. He had a post office box in the city where his Civil War pension checks came, and he would cash them, too, and put them in the box. When Bob Pallett fell on hard times and was about to lose his ranch he was astonished to have Vincent produce five thousand dollars in cold cash and present it to him.
On September 8, l926, our doctor phoned to say that Vincent was dead and was to be buried on the thirteenth at Sawtelle, the Veterans Home. He had died in the hospital and had told the doctor his life secret in order to assure his burial in the soldiers’ graveyard. So the Palletts joined us in the drive to Sawtelle where we went to the chapel, asking for the Vincent funeral.
The Veteran’s Chapel for funerals is divided by a crosswall so that two services can be conducted at the same time, one for Catholics and one for Protestants; so we made for the Protestant part only to learn that no Vincent funeral was slated for that day but a Dougherty funeral was. We were baffled. A Catholic soldier was slated for the other side.
Then a car raced up and our doctor’s secretary rushed up to tell us that Vincent’s real name was Dougherty, so the service went through as scheduled, and we all followed the body which was placed on a double gun carriage with that of the Catholic soldier and taken to Section 9, Row G, Grave 22, in the lovely green cemetery where hundreds of veterans’ graves lie in neat rows.
Bob Pallett whispered, “You’d sure have to hold Vince down if he knew he was on that gun carriage with a Catholic!”
Then our doctor told us the amazing story Vincent had told him a few days before. He had used his real name, Charles Vincent Dougherty, until a stay in Arizona in 1866 where he and his partner had found gold and staked out prospects. they planned to stay there as the claims were rich and had built a shack and worked away happily in that wild, deserted country. One evening they found three strange men in the shack.
One said he was the sheriff and was checking up on claims. Vincent and Lockwood didn’t like the looks of these men and decided to spy on them. They left the men talking in the shack and went out pretending to work outdoors, crept up at dusk to overhear them talk. The three men were laying plans to jump the claims, do away with the partners and take over. Vincent and Lockwood beat them to it, shot all three in a surprise attack and buried them there and then.
Then they lit out as fast as they could on their horses and fled to the wilder west. They expected to be followed, not realizing that no law force existed then, so they changed their names and hid out the rest of their lives though no one came after them. Vince chose his middle name, Vincent. Of course they had to abandon their rich claims, but Vince knew he could find others as he did later. That is why he never allowed anyone to take his picture, why he barred the one window in his cabin at night, why he suspected strangers, why he had a mail box in Los Angeles to have Dougherty pension checks come to.
The doctor said he would never forget that talk, the fiery old man blurting out the old, old secret, not one bit repentant; proud of his past.
He was a fighter, from his boyhood days on through Gettysburg and his trip west, and his one desire was to be buried with other fighters as he is. He was taught to kill in the Civil War; he considered the Arizona killings a matter of self-defense; he loved to show his skill in shooting but never killed an animal except for food. His unending labor made him a veritable Robinson Crusoe on a mountainside, slaving away day after day to make a comfortable life for himself. He loved the life he led. His magnificent physique kept him from illness, he was full of high spirits and was entertaining a companion as we have ever known. Always kind and generous to the few he liked, all his friends agree Charles Vincent was a Man.
Courtesy Wrightwood Historical Society