Category Archives: Ghost Towns & Gold Mines

The Last Days of Al Williams

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.

Charles Vincent Dougherty

– 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.”

Restored cabin

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.

Original cabin – 1999

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.

Bighorn Mine

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.”

Socialist colony ruins, Llano, Ca.

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.

Mt. Baden-Powell

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
-.-

Massacres at the Amargosa Mine

As the first group of Mormon pioneers made their way across the Mojave in 1849, two of them looking for a water source for their livestock explored a canyon and found streaks of gold in the rock. They moved on to Southern California, purchased supplies and equipment, and immediately returned to develop the prospect.

Amargosa house at Salt Creek

Amargosa House

In 1852 the house was first built to provide a permanent shelter and protection for the operation. The ruins of the 3-room house on the hill aren’t much to look at, but the building more than served its purpose over the 100 years it was in use.

In late October of 1864 three miners named Cook, Plate and Gordon were working the mine and living in the house. A band of Paiute attacked the camp and killed Cook then burned the mill in the canyon below. Plate and Gordon survived the attack and high-tailed it off into the desert. Without water their deaths would be slow and painful. About 20 miles away the two men decided to avoid the agony and killed themselves.

Amargosa mine

View of mine from Amargosa House

December of 1864 (or possibly 1866) another company took over the claims. It wasn’t long until there was another Indian raid in which the mine was attacked. There was the advantage that the Indians had been spotted camped out at a nearby spring, so one of the miners made his way to Marl Springs 45 miles away to ask the military for help. The seven miners remaining had not realized the escape was successfully made and help was on its way. The next morning before dawn they attempted to make a run for it and all were killed.

~ Source – BLM

Mining Partners in a Deadly Quarrel

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

San Francisco Call - February 24, 1898

San Francisco Call – February 24, 1898

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

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

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

 

Ice–Five Cents a Rub

Calico,  like most of the Mojave Desert, is hot summer.  An incident  of the summer in the 1880s, while Calico was booming, indicates it was hot enough to send the devil scampering home to cool off.

Calico ghost town

Calico ghost town

The driver of the daily ice wagon was doing a grand business unloading his wares at three dollars a block, and no hagglers.  That is, not until a newcomer, a man who had that day come to work in the mines, rushed out of the boarding house and gasped: “Give me a nickel’s worth of ice.”

The Iceman extended his hand, took the nickel, then stepped back to wait.

” Well?”  the hot, tired, dust covered tenderfoot asked.
” Well?”  the Iceman answered.

The new miner made no move. He stood there and looked blankly from the load of ice to its owner and back again. the Iceman opened his mouth once or twice as if to speak, then snapped his lips together.

” Well?”  the newcomer repeated.
” Well yourself,”  was  the reply.  “Maybe you don’t know it but ice is five cents a rub.   If you don’t hurry, your rub is goin’ to be melted away!”

The tenderfoot hastily took his rub.

 from: Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County — WPA Writers Program

Charles Brown at Greenwater

From “Loafing Along Death Valley Trails” by William Carruthers

Charles Brown General Store - Shoshone, Ca.

Charles Brown General Store – Shoshone, Ca.

The story of Charles Brown and the Shoshone store begins in Greenwater. In the transient hordes of people that poured into that town, there was one who had not come for quick, easy money. On his own since he was 11 when he had gone to work in  a Georgia mine, he only wanted a job. And he got it. In the excited, loose-talking mob, he was conspicuous because he was silent, calm, and unhurried.

There were no law enforcement officers in Greenwater.  The jail was 150 miles away. Every day was a field day for the toughs in the town. Better citizens decided to do something about it. They petitioned George Naylor, Inyo County Sheriff at Independence to appoint or send a deputy to keep some semblance of order.

Naylor sent over a badge and a note that said, “Pin it on some husky youngster, who is unmarried and unafraid and tell him to shoot first.”

The Citizens’ Committee met. ” I know a fellow who answers that description,”  one of them said. ” Steady sort. Built like a panther. Comes from Georgia. Kind slow motion in till he is ready to spring. Name is Brown.”

The badge was pinned on Charles Brown.

Charles & Stella Brown

Greenwater was a port of call for Death Valley Slim, a character of the Western deserts, who normally was a happy-go-lucky likable fellow. Periodically Slim would fill himself with desert “likker”,  his belt with six guns and terrorized the town.

Shortly after Brown assumed the duties of his office, Slim sent word to the deputy that he was on his way to that place for a little frolic. ” Tell him, ”  he coached the messenger, “Sheriffs rile me and he better take a vacation.”

After notifying the merchants and residents who promptly barricaded themselves indoors, the officer found shelter for himself  in Beatty, Nevada.

So Slim only seen empty streets and barge shutters upon arrival.  Since there was nothing to shoot at, he  headed through Dead Mead Canyon for Greenwater.  their he found the main street crowded to his liking and the saloons jammed. He made for the nearest, ordered a drink and, whipping out his gun, began to pop the bottles on the shelves. At first blast, patrons made a break for the exits. At the second, the doors and windows were smashed and when Slim holstered his gun, the place was a wreck.

Messengers were sent for Brown, who was at his cabin a mile away. Brown’s stuck a pistol in his pocket and went down. He found Slim in Waddell’s saloon, the town’s smartest.  their Slim had refused to let the patrons leave with the bartenders cowed, the patrons cornered, Slim was amusing himself by shooting alternately at chandeliers, the feet of customers, and the plump breasts of the nude lady featured in the painting behind the bar.  following Brown at a safe distance, was half of the population, keyed for the massacre.

Brown walked in and said “Hello Slim”. ” Fellows tell me you  are hogging all the fun. Better let me have that  gun, hadn’t you?” “Like hell,” Slim sneered, ” I’ll let you have it right through the guts.”

As he raised his gun for the kill, the panther sprung  and the battle was on.  they fought one over the bar room –  standing up, laying down, rolling over –  first one, then the other on top. Tables toppled, chairs crashed. For half an hour they battled savagely, finally rolling against the bar –  both  mauled and bloody. There, with his strong vice-like  legs  wrapped around Slim’s  and in arm of steel gripping net and shoulder, Brown slipped irons over the bad man’s wrist. ” Get up,”  Brown ordered as he stood aside, breathing hard.

Greenwater, Ca. ghost town site, Death Valley National Park

Slim rose, leaned against the bar. There was fight still in him and seeing a bottle in front of him, he had seized it with manacled hands, started to lift it.

” Slim,”  Brown said calmly , ” if you lift that bottle, you’ll never lift another.”

The bad boy instinctively knew the look that foretells death and Slim’s fingers fell from the  bottle.

Greenwater had no jail. Brown took him to his own cabin. Leaving the manacles on the prisoner, he took off his shoes and locked  him in a closet.  no man, drunk or sober, he reflected, would tackle barefoot the gravel street littered with thousands of broken liquor bottles.  He went to bed.

Waking later, he discovered that Slim had vanished and with him, Brown’s size 12 shoes.  Brown tried Slim’s shoes but couldn’t get his feet into them. There was nothing to do but follow barefoot.

He left a bloodstained trail, but at 2 AM he found Slim in a blacksmith shop, having the handcuffs removed. Brown retrieved his shoes and on the return trip, Slim went barefoot. After hog tying the prisoner, Brown chained  him to the bed and went to sleep.

Thereafter, the bad boys scratched Greenwater off their calling list.

Slim attained fame with  Pancho Villa down in Mexico,  became a good citizen and later went east.

courtesy – Mohahve Historical Society archives

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley gold mine

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley, north of Big Bear Lake, was the scene in the biggest gold rush in Southern California history. Actually there were at least three different boom periods in the valley-the early 1860s, the mid-1870s and the 1890s. There has also been considerable mining activity here in the 20th century–including a large mine still operating.

Although the area is named for the leading publicist, William F Holcomb, who found a gold vein in 1861, Mormon miners from San Bernardino worked claims in the area at least six years before that. Their activities were well reported in the Los Angeles Star of the 1850s. They did not want a large rush of people to the area, and they got their way,  until Holcomb’s loud announcements of his discovery.

The main route to the valley was by way of Cajon Pass and across future Victor Valley on what was known as the Van Dusen Road. Thus there was a close tie of the mining area to the Mojave River community. Several early Victor area settlers, including Samuel Rogers and John J Atkinson, were deeply involved in Holcomb Valley before and during their time in the high desert.

Another tie of the Victor Valley to the Holcomb Valley is that the Hitchcock range summer range was at an extensive mountain meadow ranch in Holcomb Valley and the winter range, in Apple Valley. The mountain ranch is still intact in the Boy Scout camp-reservation. They would be open to historical Society assistance preserving the facility. Holcomb Valley is one of the best artifacts in place of the regions mining history. Those who visit the area never forget it

~ Leo Lyman
The Mohahve Muse – Volume 3, Issue 7 – September 2000
Mohahve Historical Society

Cushenbury Canyon

Mining History of Cushenbury Canyon
& its Impact on the Victor Valley

Kaiser Cement, Lucerne Valley, CA.

Mitsubishi Cement Corp.

The gold discovery in Holcomb Valley in 1860 brought a rush of fortune seekers to the Victor Valley including some foreign interests.  The English  family of Del Mar’s had a significant impact on Cushenbury Canyon. Holcomb Valley miners affected California history by participating in their own Civil War actions and may have left treasure in their wake.

World War II ended the golden era and Cushenbury Canyon but initiated another mineral rush. The postwar California population boom brought about the industrial minerals revolution fueled by the construction industry.

Kaiser Cement built a cement plant and Cushenbury Canyon as an indirect result of the decision by an American General during World War II. The facility was modernized in 1982 and Mitsubishi Cement Corp. purchased the plant 1988. Today Mitsubishi Cement Corporation Cushenbury Plant is one of the leading industries in the Victor Valley.

The industrial minerals boom has a direct impact on everyone’s lives here in the US. The industrial minerals mined in the Victor Valley fuel the economy in California. San Bernardino County provides largest source mineral commodities in the US. ” If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined!”  the mining industry provides the “stuff”  to make the “things” we need to continue our lifestyle.

The Mohahve Muse – Volume 4, Issue 3 – March 2001 – Mohahve Historical Society
Leo Lyman – President

Panamint Fever

by Cliff Walker

Panamint City

Panamint City

Blond-haired, whiskered veteran prospector Richard C. Jacobs and partner Bob Stewart were grubstaked by W. L. Kennedy, a Kernville merchant. Most grubstakes failed, but these two men wandered over to Panamint Valley, then up the steep 6,000-foot climb of Surprise Canyon and found several types of silver ore exposed by erosion. They made four claims, formed Panamint Mining District, and elected Bob Stewart as recorder. Samples shown to Kennedy assayed from $125 to $3,000 per ton. By April 1873, there were 80 to 90 claims. The Panamint mining started fairly normally until the search for investors brought in wealthy and influential men: two Nevada U. S. Senators, John P. Jones and William M. Stewart, and ex-49er Trenor W. Park, a New York Wall Street investor, formerly a San Francisco lawyer and current director of Pacific Mail Steamship Company and president of the Panama Railroad that linked the two oceans. Experienced in mining and investing, these successful men encouraged others to rush for quick potential riches.

Panamint Fever had started.

Miners from 29 Palms, Ivanpah, Arizona, Nevada, and  northern California came to Panamint Valley and made the horrid trip up Surprise Canyon to the Panamint Mountains on a road that is still more of a dry waterfall than a road. Miners found a small booming city with sounds of hammering, dragging, and building all over, and sounds on higher hills of dynamite exploding. Anybody who wanted to work had a job at $4 per day, board $7 per week—not bad wages for those days. In March 1874 there were over 700 men who already staked about 150 claims and were still prospecting to find that great silver lode like at Virginia City. Men rented a room or a space on the ground at “Hotel de Bum,” a huge tent. Most slept outside in blankets looking at the stars.

Wagons unloaded supplies at the bottom of Surprise Canyon and pack mules made it up the waterfall road, unloading their gear to tent stores, potential wooden and rock buildings,  or to mines further up the hill. Jacobs hired Chinese laborers to cut down the steep grade over the Slate Range so his 10-stamp mill could be brought easily to Surprise Canyon. Owens Valley businessman Bart McGee sculptured a road up Surprise Canyon, thereby enabling wagons to use the waterfall road (where the grade was 500 feet to the mile). Seven stages a week arrived at the new city by the end of 1874.

Panamint City developed almost a mile of businesses for city amenities. According to mining historian Remi Nadeau, the city had a dozen saloons, a water company, six general stores, three bakeries and restaurants, a livery stable, boot shop, meat market, three barbershops, a newspaper called Panamint News, the Bank of Panamint, and another important town amenity: a log cabin brewery. When Martha Camp, a buxom lady from Nevada, brought her ladies to town, the night life in Panamint became livelier—it became a real city!

As usual, gamblers, criminals, gun fighters, and assuredly con-artists, climbed the hill to Panamint. The town soon needed a jail. As a result of a gambling dispute, a shootout in a saloon in which Kirby, a man from Pioche, shot Bill Norton in the leg and ran away when Norton fired back. The only official in town was town recorder W. C. Smith  who discovered Kirby planned to waylay Norton. Smith got the drop on Kirby and suggested he leave town right away. The town later elected Smith Justice of the Peace. Jim Bruce and Edward Barstow, a night watchman of the town, had an argument in Camp’s house. Barstow, drinking too much, left the business but returned later after he sobered a bit and found Bruce in Martha’s bed and shot it out with Bruce. Barstow died. The town needed a cemetery.

A few years later the boom and fever ended. But the effects on the Mojave Desert was great. San Bernardino County appointed Oro Grande’s Aaron Lane as Superintendent of desert roads, namely the Road to Panamint from the Mojave River to the Inyo County line. Desert “Stations”—ranches like gas stations and motels today—were built and profited, especially with freight from San Bernardino over the Cajon Pass. For example, lumber mills in the San Bernardino Mountains supplied much of Panamint’s lumber. Berdoo merchants out- hustled L.A. businessmen. Despite Panamint’s decline in the late ’70s, mining increased in the Mojave Desert, especially with Barstow’s Waterman Mine and the wonderful Calico Hills discoveries. The Mojave Desert became settled by the end of the 1880s.

Mojave River Valley Museum Newsletter –  October 2012