Category Archives: Desert Rat Scrapbook

Randsburg’s Dancin’ Skeletons

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

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

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

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

White House Saloon - Randsburg ghost town

White House Saloon

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

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


Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook

Desert Rat 10 Commendents [sic]

BY THE EDITOR (from Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook)


Thou shalt love the DESERT, but not lose patience with those who say it’s bleak and ornery (even when the wind is blowing).

Coyote Lake wind storm

Even when the wind is blowing ..


Thou shalt speak of the DESERT with great reverence, and lie about it with great showmanship, adding zest to Tall Tales and Legends.

Bath tub in desert.

Adding zest …


Thou shalt not admit other DESERTS have more color than the one on which you have staked your claim.

Amboy Crater


Thou shalt on the Sabbath look to the Mountain Peaks so’s to know better your whereabouts, so’s you can help others to know the DESERT, dotting on the map the places where you have camped.

Summit Valley, Hesperia

… on the Sabbath look to the Mountain Peaks …


Honor the Pioneers, Explorers and the Desert Rats who found and marked the water holes . . . they tell you about the next water hole and try to help you.


Thou shalt not shoot the Antelope-Chipmunk, Kangaroo Rat or other harmless Desert friends. (Keep your shot for a snake.)

white-tailed antelope squirrel

Don’t shoot these.


Thou shalt not adulterate the water holes nor leave the campsite messed up. Be sure to take 10 gallons of water with you. Don’t have to ask the other fellow on the road for a quart, but be able to help the tenderfoot by giving him some water.

10 gallons of water ought to do it.


Thou shalt not steal (from the prospector’s shack), nor forget to fill the wood box and water pail.

Burro Schmidt Cabin, El Paso Mountains

Don’t be an asshole and mess up or steal stuff from some guy’s cabin.


Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor; you know the mining laws; you know the whereabouts of his monuments.

no tresspassing sign

Sign of the times.


Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s sleeping bag, his gun, nor the contents of his canteen.

Shoshone Cemetery


~ The End ~



No Burro — No Gold

Feral ass

Sandy Walker, Desert Rat, says that in the desert a Ford lives 3 years – a dog 3 times the age of the Ford – 9, a horse 3 times the age of a dog – 27, and a man 3 times the age of the horse – 81, and some say a burro 3 times the age of a man – 243, at least this is 4/5ths true.

Sandy Walker says you can’t find gold with Fords – have to have burros. Says he’s been out here in the desert 26 years, 6 years hunting gold and 20 years hunting burros. He didn’t find his mine while hunting gold. He found it while hunting his dadburned runaway burros.

Many prospectors will tell you that no one has ever seen a dead burro.

—Printed first in “The Gold Miner,” 1930.

Wild Burro

Uncommon to locally common in deserts of California. Range extends into eastern Lassen Co., and from extreme southern Mono Co. south to the Mexican border. Most are found in Inyo Co., northeastern San Bernardino Co., and in the vicinity of the Colorado River.

Mojave or Mohave?


Much confusion and arguement have arisen from the two spellings of the word “Mojave.” A ruling of the Geographical Board in Washington, D.C. however a few years ago simplified the problem someshat. If you are in California, the name of the river, the city and the desert should be spelled with a “j”: Mojave. If, on the other hand, you happen to be in Arizona, then you must spell the name of the county and the Indian tribe with an “h”: Mohave. Dr. A.L. Kroeber of the University of California, noted anthropologist, claims that only the “h” spelling should exist, since the word is an Indian one, not Spanish, and was only transliterated by the early Spanish, who gave all “h” sounds a spelling of “j”. The very same problem arose with the greatest Indian tribe of Northern Arizona: should it be Navaho or Navajo?

The word Mojave (or Mohave) itself is of Indian origin and is that tribe’s name for “three mountains,” referring to three distinctive landmarks near the present city of Needles, whose name also refers to this geological oddity.

Desert Rat Scrapbook
Published by Harry Oliver

Fort Commander, Publisher, Distributor, Lamp Lighter, Editor, Artist, Gardener, Janitor, Owner
A paper that grows on you as you as you turn each page . . . excepting page 5

Pictures are by the author, many of them are woodcuts.

“I Did All but the Spelling.”

A Story that could have been Funnier

Shorty Harris

Single Blanket Jackass Prospector Shorty Harris’ burial beside Jim Dayton in lower Death Valley was quite an occasion. Four hundred CCC boys, an army chaplain and a goodly gathering of desert rats and interested visitors gathered at the site near Eagle Borax and awaited arrival of the hearse from Bishop, as the sun dropped to the crest of Telescope Peak.
Shorty Harris' grave in Death ValleyAll day two old miner friends had been digging the grave aided and abetted by a jug of firewater hidden behind a clump of greasewood.

When the casket arrived and was measured the grave was too short as the diggers had figured on the length of the “Short Man” and not the coffin.

As the sun dropped behind the Panamints and the chaplain and mourners fidgeted uneasily, a voice came from the grave.

“Bend the so and so in the middle and let’s plant him. He won’t give a damn.”

However it wasn’t feasible to bend a coffin but it was lowered on an angle and Shorty was buried with his head up.

—Told by T.R. Goodwin, Superintendent Death Valley National Monument
Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook

Man Catches Fish in Dry Lake

BOULDER CITY, July 2, 1946

— Most people like to do things the easy way, but not Johnny Westen. Recently he attempted the impossible and went fishing on Dry Lake which did have a bare covering of water due to southern Nevada’s unusual weather of the past week.

His first day’s catch was nothing. Undismayed, Johnny fished another day, and another, and on the fourth day, he had the last laugh, for he returned with a gallon jar of lung fish.

Pictures were taken of the fish and a couple were preserved as samples. How they live in the mud of the lake was told; the way the mud forms a protective coat, but melts off when the rains come, and then forms up again as teh [sic] lake dries up. The fish, a type of lung fish, have both eyes on top of their heads and a half shell effect. What Johnny intends to do with the rest of his catch isn’t known for the average size of the lunk [sic] fish is between three quarters and one and a half inches.

Thanks to S.G. Buck, Indio
Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook

Being a Desert Rat

How to be a Desert Rat and like it

There are as many deserts as there are people in them, just as there are as many worlds. Being a “Desert Rat” is like being a lover, for the desert is like a woman with a million faces.the desert in bloom like a Paris postcard.

Her flowery make-up in the spring is like a your chorus girl. There’s real beauty there if you can get past the sand verbenas and cloying perfume. Most visitors see only the surface charm. She’s in a flirting mood then is anybody’s girl. If you want to be a “stage door Johnny,” you can pay a high price for a cheap thrill and feel a bit silly afterward, carrying home a mass-produced flashy painting of the desert in bloom like a Paris postcard.

The desert possesses a rich dowry and some woo her for that alone, but the money leaves a bitter taste with a secret hatred for its source. For business reasons or to cover up their frustration, such persons may try to act and talk like real desert rats, but it won’t work! Even if they ride silver-saddled Palominos, wear embroidered shirts, teach their butler a western drawl and serve champagne in tincups.

Anyone can be a desert rat who can see and love the beauty of the desert in all her moods. There’s beauty and wild music in a desert sandstorm. The lightning and thunder of a summer cloudburst are the flashing eyes — the emoting and tears of a high-spirited, beautiful actress “putting on a scene.” They are soon over. There’s beauty in crisp cool winter mornings and hot sultry summer afternoons, but most of all there’s the intimate beauty of being alone with her on long walks on lying on her warm breast on balmy summer nights counting the stars in her hair — listening in the silence to your own heartbeat as it matches hers.

Being a desert rat and liking it is like being in love — you just can’t help it.

First published in Desert Rat Scrapbook, Winter 1946-47