Category Archives: True Facts, Legends & Lies

Goodies that may or may not be true facts, somewhat exaggerated, or even wild-eyed stories. You be the judge.

Sad Fate of an Inventor

Editor; Dan De Quille –  Virginia City Territorial Enterprise –  1874

 A gentleman who has just arrived from the borax fields of the desert regions surrounding the town of Columbus, in the eastern part of the state,  gives us the following account of the sad fate of Mr. Jonathan Newhouse, a man of considerable inventive genius. Mr. Newhouse had constructed what he called a “solar armor,”   and apparatus intended to protect the wearer from the fierce heat of the sun in crossing deserts and burning alkali plains. The armor consisted of a long, close-fitting material;  both jacket no good being about an inch in thickness. Before starting across a desert this armor was to be saturated with water. Under the right arm was suspended in India rubber sack  filled with water and having a small gutta percha  tube leading to the top of the hood. In order to keep the armor moist, all that was necessary to be done by the traveler, as he progressed over the burning sands, was to press the sack occasionally, when a small quantity of water would be forced up and thoroughly saturate the hood and the jacket below it. Thus, by the evaporation of the moisture in the armor, it was calculated might be produced almost any degree of cold. Mr. Newhouse went down to Death Valley, determined to try the experiment of crossing that terrible place in this armor.  He started out into the valley one morning from the camp nearest its borders, telling the man at the camp, as he laced his armor on his back, that he would return in two days. The next day in Indian who could speak but a few words of English came up to the camp in a great state of excitement. He made the men understand that he wanted them to follow him. At the distance of about 20 miles out into the desert the Indian pointed to a human figure seated against a rock. Approaching they found it to be Newhouse still in his armor. He was dead and frozen stiff. His beard was covered with frost and– though the noon day sun poured down its fiercest rays– and icicle over a foot in length home from his nose. There he had perished miserably, because his armor had worked but too well, and because it was laced up behind where he could not reach the fastenings.”

Devil's golf course, Death Valley

Devil’s Golf Course

 This was Death Valley’s most widely publicized death. It was one that was reported almost halfway around the world, and this terrible death, well, it never happened–it was simply a yarn as used as  filler on a dull day in that summer of 1874.

Pioneer Days in Kern County

THE Boundaries of the Mojave Desert are difficult to define. In Kern County it commences at the easterly base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From there on it is a continuation of desert as far east as Utah and also covers most of Nevada and Arizona and the southeasterly portion of California. So far as I know, however, only those portions of the desert in the easterly part of Kern County and the northerly part of San Bernardino County are designated on the map as the Mojave Desert.

Mt Whitney – Eastern Sierra Nevada

In my youth the Mojave Desert was regarded by the traveler and prospector as a place to be dreaded and of genuine danger for travel, both in the winter and the summer seasons. In those days there were no mapped roads and in fact very little in the way of roads, usually just two ribbons through the sand where the teaming was being done.

While the springs and watering holes on the desert were reasonably well known, yet they were uncharted and distances were unmarked. There were, therefore, many tragedies recounted of prospectors and travelers dying of thirst in the summertime and of exposure in the winter season, and frequently bodies were not found until they were skeletons.

Mojave Desert

My Dad often made excursions to the Mojave Desert for prospecting purposes. He firmly believed until the last remaining years of his life that he was some day to find a fabulously rich
mine, so every now and then he would take a team and wagon, with his bed and cooking outfit and a barrel to haul water for himself and his team and make a prospecting trip to the desert.

Ordinarily he was not gone over a month or two, but the last time he was on the desert for two years.

He, of course, became thoroughly acquainted with all the roads, trails, and springs and was well able to lookout for himself and yet, he tells of one instance where he and his two companions almost lost their lives because of having gotten off the road which they should have taken and not discovering it until it was too late to turn back.

It was in the summertime and they left early in the morning, as most of the traveling was done at that time on the desert so that they might avoid the heat and also be sure of arriving at their water hole in ample time.

When they became aware of the fact that they had taken the wrong road they found themselves in a country with which they were totally unacquainted and had no knowledge where the next water was to be found.

As they were following something of a road and as it headed into some mountains in the distance, they felt sure they would find water when they got to these mountains so kept pushing on. The water they had with them gave out shortly after midday and from that time on both the horses and the three men suffered terribly from thirst. This, of course, slowed the pace of the horses. The tongues of all three men swelled badly.

Finally Dad’s two companions became delirious. Dad always said he saved himself by placing a $5 gold piece underneath his tongue. This caused an additional flow of saliva. I have also read in desert lore that if you will cut a small piece of live greasewood and then peel it and place it
on either side and underneath the tongue, it will materially aid the flow of saliva and delay the swelling of the tongue. As your thirst increases one undergoes great torture and finally the tongue swells so badly you are totally unable to talk and in time you become delirious.

The men finally arrived at a canyon in which they could hear the drip of water. It  was quite  some distance from where the road crossed the canyon. Dad unhitched the team and took them, together with the burro and also all the canteens which they had along and started
up the canyon toward the drip of the water. He finally found a small spring dripping into
a barrel. He realized the danger of over-drinking to both the animals and himself. Therefore,
he securely tied the animals before going to the water and then watered them by a bucket he
had along and allowed them to drink only a bucketful at a time. He was also very cautious of the amount he himself drank. He then filled his canteens and retraced his steps to where his two companions were. He laid them both on the ground, covered their faces with a woolen blanket and poured the water onto the blanket, so that the only moisture they could get was what they could suck from the blanket. This was necessary to avoid over-drinking. He kept this up all
night long. By morning they had sufficiently recovered to be able to speak and to take a little nourishment. It required all the next day, however, before the two of them recovered fully.

They then found themselves in a bad dilemma as they did not know where they were, or
whether to attempt to follow the old wagon trail further, or turn around and go back. They finally decided upon the latter, but retraced their steps mostly during the night and early morning hours.

It was certainly a very narrow escape. Dad always had many stories to tell of the other instances which he knew had happened, of tragedies and near tragedies which had occurred on the desert.

I also had a chat at one time with a Mr. Fairbanks, who for many years ran a small hotel at Shoshone in Inyo County.

He had participated in many rescues on the desert and also in the finding of many who had not been rescued, all of which rather closely resembled the tales which Dad used to relate.

I also knew of an instance of two miners who had spent years mining on the Mojave Desert and were acquainted with all roads and trails and watering places. The had gone to town for  supplies, traveling by night. The next night they attempted to return and took what they thought was a short cut. They got mixed up in some unexpected washes and erosions and did not reach camp until three o’clock the following afternoon. Their tongues were swollen so
they were unable to speak, but did reach camp before they be came delirious. They saved their lives by sucking cold coffee through a woolen blanket.

Badwater Basin & Telescope Peak, Death Valley

One time I spent thirty days in Death Valley. It was in April and the weather was quite pleasant, but I was genuinely tortured by thirst. While I had plenty of good water, it would not quench
my thirst. Every swallow was delicious, but each swallow called for another one and no matter how much I drank the thirst continued.

Each day I went to the spring and got into a barrel full of water and stayed in an hour or more,  with the hope this would help to relieve the inordinate demand for moisture. It did help, but very little. I finally took refuge in an old mining tunnel and for four days ate and drank nothing except cold tomatoes. This eventually alleviated the intense desire for moisture.

We never left camp that we did not take with us three or four canteens of water. We had a little Ford pickup that we used in traveling around the territory. This was before the days of good roads.

At that time the roads were nothing much more than wagon wheel tracks through the sand  and, of course, there were no maps. It was fortunate I was with one who thoroughly knew Death Valley and where every wagon track led to. However, we never left the pickup, even to be gone only an hour, that we did not take a canteen of water with us and usually the water was all
gone by the time we got back to the car. The real cause of the inordinate thirst was the excessive dryness of the atmosphere.

Today there are, of course, excellent roads properly marked and excellent accommodations in Death Valley. It is a genuinely pleasant place to which one can make a trip in the winter and  early spring, and also a place to avoid in the summertime.

Senna

To me the desert has always been a place of great charm. There are beauties to be seen  everywhere and the desert flowers are unsurpassed in beauty.

The many carvings from erosion are often as magnificent and as lacy as the carvings on the cathedrals of Europe and the formations caused by these erosions are of many colorings, making a genuinely inspiring sight to view.

In addition to all of the above is the ever-present haze on the desert. All is inspiring to one who loves the great outdoors. The greatest inspiration, however, is to spend a night on the desert, out underneath the stars. To me there is nothing more moving. You have heard of the beauty which filters down through tinted windowpanes. That is nothing compared to the inspiration  which comes to one when spending a night on the desert, out underneath the great dome of Heaven. It certainly makes one feel that there is a great God over all.

from;
Chap 39 – Mojave Desert
Pioneer Days in Kern County
by Arthur S. Crites
Los Angeles
The Ward Ritchie Press – 1951

Tempest in Silver

TODAY’S TRAVELER to Panamint sees a crazy quilt of bare foundations and ramshackle walls. He marvels, too, at the old brick mill which for almost 100 years has challenged decay and oblivion. But it is not what he sees that affects the traveler; it’s what he feels. As he stands on the road looking up Surprise Canyon which nestles unpretentiously on the Western slope of the Panamint Range, about 10 miles south of Telescope Peak, the years roll back. Breezes echo gruff, untutored voices, and there is a raucous clang as the 20-stamp mill’s witchery produces precious silver ingots for shipment to “Frisco,” fabled financial capitol of the 70s. The lizard on the big granite boulder is unimpressed that a bearded miner’s pick lay on this same rock many years ago. And now, one looks vainly on the old dirt road for tracks of heavily-loaded desert burros. They’re gone just like the silver city herself.

The story of Panamint probably began in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock lode. On this’ date a silver fever began which swept the United States and was especially “fatal” in the Western frontier where curiously every man was a modern day Jason tirelessly searching for his kind of fleece. But after 1859 many frontier men thought of just one thing—to trek the unknown for silver.

Indian George

Indian George

William T. Henderson was such a man. Spurred on by the silver news emanating daily from the Comstock, and from legends of the enormously rich lost Gunsight mine, the bearded prospector coaxed his burro across colorful Death Valley. With him were S. P. George and Indian George. S. P. George was weaned on the old gunsight lore. Indian George had long since discarded the ways of the red man and made the hopes of the white man his own.

These three dreamers in I860 skirted the flaming cliffs on the west side of Panamint Mountain. While Henderson found nothing to satisfy his thirst for silver, there was something about the ancient granite and metamorphic rocks of Panamint escarpment that promised wealth untold. So, he returned. This time with a legendary adventurer named William Alvord, a sourdough named Jackson, and the ever faithful Indian George. Again Henderson’s dreams of wealth were stymied. He left Panamint never to return. Alvord, his partner, was more unfortunate still. In the upper reaches of Surprise Canyon he was bushwacked by Jackson and left for vultures. All these anxious probings for silver into the desolate sunscorched Panamints were futile. Silver wasn’t discovered until late in 1872 when two of the most colorful champions of the silver west, R. E. Jacobs and Bob Stewart, wandered up Surprise Canyon and found a huge fragment of rich silver ore.

The great migration to the silver diggings began. Crude buildings sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain. The most useful Panamint edifice was, of course, the Surprise Valley Mining and Water Company’s 20-stamp mill. It was finished in a matter of weeks while miners with huge stacks of ore chaffed at the bit. Good mechanics, carpenters, and millwrights got top wages of $6 per day. Most popular, of course, were the saloons and Panamint in those days had some fine ones. Like San Francisco, Panamint had its own Palace Hotel. Its barroom was built by skilled Panamint craftsmen and had a beautiful black walnut top. On the side walls were handsome pictures of voluptuous females in varying states of dishabille. But Dave Neagle, the owner of this splendid saloon, was especially proud of his magnificent mirror. It was 8 x 6 feet with double lamps on each side.

Fred Yager early determined that his “Dexter” saloon was going to surpass Neagle’s. Fred especially wanted the finest mirror in town. So, he sent to San Diego for a beauty. The mirror installed was to be a 7 x 12 foot sparkler. Tragedy struck, however, when an inebriated miner fell on the shimmering reflector just as it was being positioned against the wall. Sheltered in the confines of his Palace, Dave must have smiled at his rival’s sore plight—perhaps murmuring encouragingly that breaking a mirror leads to seven years bad luck.

There were two outstanding architectural omissions in Panamint. There was no jail—criminals had to be taken to Independence for incarceration. Further, though it was sorely needed, Panamint never had a hospital. On several occasions Panamint News editors Carr and later Harris cried out in their columns for a community hospital. Interestingly enough, the two crusading editors were mute concerning the lack of a jail.

Although it was not bruited about as such, the building owned and tastefully decorated by Martha Camp, played a significant role in the development of the new town. In Martha’s care was a bevy of attractive, if overly painted, young ladies whose lives were dedicated to two things: to make money and keep miners content.

It cannot be doubted, however, that Panamint prosperity was due to its mines. The two richest were suitably entitled Jacobs Wonder and Stewarts Wonder. Assays of these two mines showed ore values ranging from $100 to $4,000 per ton, the average being about $400. Stewart, a well known Nevada senator, later joined with another Nevada senator, J. P. Jones, to form Surprise Valley’s biggest mining combine, The Surprise Valley Company. Stewart and Jones had other
local interests. They owned the Surprise Valley Water Company and a toll road procured from grizzly Sam Tait which trailed up Surprise Canyon. Charges for ascending this road were quite nominal: $2.00 for a wagon, 4 bits for a horseman, and 2 bits for a miner and burro.

The two editors of the Panamint News, at first Carr and later Harris, were rhapsodic in their faith in Panamint’s ultimate prosperity. Late in 1874 the front page of the news throbbed with excitement. “There is reason to believe, the News stated, that a busy population of from three to four thousand souls will be in Panamint in less than a year,” and later, “When we begin to send out our bullion it will be in such abundance as will cause the outside world to wonder if our mountains are not made of silver.” Harris’ beginning enthusiasm must have haunted him later, for his paper of March 2, 1875 modestly informs us that “there were only 600 people at Panamint.”

Despite the fact that the Havilah Miner proclaimed that Panamint City’s silver yield would one day eclipse the Comstock, capital funneled slowly and sporadically into the silver city. Private persons mostly subsidized Panamints mining activities. Senator Jones’ faith in Panamint was shown by hard cash accumulations of partially developed mines. The Senator’s brother caught the silver virus and plunked down $113,000 for a number of claims in the Panamint district. Stock sales never boomed. One wonders if the wildly energetic silver sun of the Comstock lode were not out to eclipse a potential rival. After all, shares in the Con Virginia were flirting a’la Croesus with the San Francisco stock exchange at the $700 mark. More dramatic was E. P. Raine’s method of seeking money for Panamint. He carted 300 lbs. of rich ore across the Mojave to Los Angeles. He staggered into the Clarendon Hotel and dumped the ore on a billiard table. Unfortunately, hotel patrons were more interested in the fact that Raine bought drinks for all than they were in the welfare of Panamint.

Remi Nadeau

Probably the most popular method of getting freight to Panamint was sending goods via Remi Nadeau’s Cerro Gordo Freighting Company. Remi’s swaggering mule teams made daily trips from San Fernando to the Panamint mines. Remi was ever the epitome of optimism. Although untouched by such 20th Century transportation behemoths as the cross country truck and the jet cargo plane, Remi’s corporate slogan was “all goods marked C. G. F. C. will be forwarded with dispatch.”

But most characteristic of Panamint transportation in the early days was the solitary miner who arrived on foot followed by a heavily-laden burro. Within his hair-matted bosom slumbered the lion’s share of the vigor and courage of frontier America. Courage, however, wasn’t always the answer on the torrid road to  Panamint. Bleached bones of unlucky prospectors sparkled all too frequently in the Mojave sun. When Panamint hearts were at their lightest and silver ore seemed to stretch like a ribbon of wealth to the center of the earth, the people of Panamint, spear headed by their grey-haired champion, Senator Jones, attempted to build a railroad from Shoo Fly (Santa Monica) to Independence. This railroad was to make Panamint the silver empire of the world. Already England was being heralded as an inexhaustible market for Panamint silver. Unfortunately, however, the railroad was to remain a dream railroad. The project clashed with the wishes of the great Southern Pacific quadrumvirate of Stanford, Crocker, Hopkins, and Huntington. The proposed Shoo Fly to Independence railroad won some initial battles—Senator Jones’ Chinese laborers soundly trounced a corps of General Huntington’s forces in the Cajon Pass, but the good Senator lost the decisive battle for his beloved railroad in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Southern Pacific, sans Winchester, had a clear blueprint for winning the West.

Panamint City,1875

Recreation for Panamint’s thrifty merchants and boisterous sourdoughs centered, of course, in the city’s saloons. Whiskey was excellent and surly Jim Bruce dealt in a neat hand of faro. Whether tired miners came into Dave Neagle’s to ogle at pictures of nude ladies, to have a few drinks, or to chat with lovely, but garishly painted young ladies, all present usually had a good
time. Rarely was there serious gun play. Once a Chinese window washer served as target for the six gun of a frolicsome and intoxicated miner, but usually life in a Panamint bar did little to disturb the city’s reputation as an “orderly community.” In their more gentle moments, some men attended the Panamint Masonic Lodge.

For the respectable female, recreational possibilities were severely limited. Legendary is the dance that Miss Delia Donoghue, proprietress of the Wyoming Restaurant, threw in honor of George Washington, the father of her country. To a four piece combo led by learned Professor
Martin and paced by the twangs of a soused harpist, doughty men danced with 16 lovely ladies, almost the entire female population of the city.

Panamint certainly wasn’t as wicked as Tombstone, but it had its share of crime. Crime in this petulant silver metropolis ranged from writing threatening letters and petty thievery to infamous murder. The anonymous letters were sent to editor Harris. They criticized his reporting of the murder of Ed Barstow, night watchman for the Panamint News building, by gun fighter and chief undertaker Jim Bruce. This murder took place in Martha Camp’s pleasure house on Maiden Lane. Ed learned that his pal Jim was making time with Sophie Glennon who, demimonde damsel or not, was his girl. He burst into the bedroom firing his six gun blindly. Jim, drawing from his wide experience in such emergencies, sighted his target carefully and pumped two bullets into his erstwhile friend. A sentimental wrapping was given the whole affair when on his death bed Barstow confessed that he was drunk at the time and that his friend was guiltless. More sentiment was piled on when editor Harris used the crime as an excuse for moralizing on the dangers of drink.

A woman figured in one Panamint murder. Sleek Ramon Montenegro resented the words Philip de Rouche used to his comely escort. Montenegro, as lithe as a rattlesnake and with all its speed, knocked down the offender. For revenge, de Rouche later used the butt of his gun to play tattoo on Montenegro’s face. However, the handsome Latin won out in the end. Panamint sreets were a sea of flame for one moment as Montenegro’s gun flashed and killed the Frenchman. Taken to Independence for trial by Deputy Sheriff Ball, Montenegro was tried by a
Grand Jury and, although pleading guilty, was acquitted.

Panamint’s most celebrated crime would probably never have been committed if Panamint were a stable community and due process of law an accepted way of righting wrongs in the silver city. A. Ashim was a respected member of the Panamint community. He belonged to the
local Masonic Lodge and ran the town’s largest general merchandising business. But like most town males, Ashim had a six gun and had experience using it. So, when Nick Perasich ran off to Darwin leaving behind an unpaid bill of $47.50 at his store, Ashim walked into a Darwin restaurant. There Ashim shot Perasich three times, killing him instantly. The vendetta which resulted was not inferior to Mafia revenge killings of our day. Perasich’s brothers, led by the volatile Elias, pressed to kill Ashim. They almost succeeded. Hiding behind cornstalks along the roadside, they intercepted the stage and fired into it. Ashim escaped, but his mother received a powder burn on her nose.

Panamint stage coach

But it was those wily ex-New Yorkers, Small and McDonald, who turned Panamint criminology into something resembling a comic opera. From their infamous castle nestled in Wild Rose Canyon, these disheveled silver “knights” rode their sleek chargers into clandestine rendezvous
with those jolting fortresses of the West, Wells-Fargo stage coaches. Once, the wily knaves hunted for a silver mine—and found one. They had no intention of working it. As soon as they could, they unloaded the mine on Senator Stewart. Money received from the sale of the mine
could not have come at a more fortuitous moment for the unholy pair. They had been apprehended by Jim Hume, Wells-Fargo investigator, for robbing the Eureka and Palisades stage. Wells-Fargo forgot to press charges when Small and McDonald turned over to them the money received from the Senator for the sale of the mine.

After their close brush with Wells-Fargo, a legend started by twinkle-eyed Senator Stewart says that the desperados kept their eye on Senator Stewart’s progress with his new mine. Alarmed by the undue concern of the bandits with his property, Stewart devised a clever ruse to
foil the waiting thieves. He melted ore from the mine into five silver balls weighing over 400 pounds each. When the bandits thought the time was ripe, they opened their saddle bags and
pounced on the mine. Imagine their amazement at the sight of the five huge balls of silver. Legend adds that Stewart was horribly vilified by the disappointed pair for his unsportsmanlike conduct. In this case, however, legend is not correct. Remi Nadeau tells us in his book on California ghost towns that Stewart’s mill fashioned five massive ingots as a precaution against theft.

The criminal activities of Small and McDonald were destined to end soon after the robbery on Harris and Rhine’s store in the spring of 1876. Briefly, the brigands made nuisances of themselves around Bodie. A dispute over spoils, however, led to a heated dispute which led to
gun play. John Small was not quite as fast on the draw as his partner.

Why did Panamint die? People nowadays think that the silver veins were surface-bound and did not extend to any great depth. This reasoning appears quite cogent; after all, the silver city’s star did rise and set in four short years. A contrary viewpoint, however, was expressed by
Professor O. Loew who, late in 1875, was quoted as saying: “Never have I seen a country where there was a greater probability of true fissure veins than that of Panamint. In the Wyoming and Hemlock mines large bodies of ore will be encountered.” But even as Loew spoke, decay burdened the wind. Editor Harris left Panamint for Darwin in 1875; Doc Bicknell followed soon after. Before Harris packed his wagon for Darwin he advanced his notion why Panamint died—
the lack of road and rail transportation. Harris genuinely felt that a railroad could have saved the city.

Darwin, Ca.

There was another reason why Panamint became an untimely ghost town. Two hard-bitten prospectors, Baldwin and Wilson, discovered two rich mines in the nearby Coso mountains. The two miners told the people of Panamint that they had the two richest mines in the world. Panamint accepted their words and their enthusiasm as gospel. Immediately a great exodus of wagons trailed down Surprise Canyon headed for the promising capital of the Cosos, Darwin. Unquestionably the discovery of these silver mines in the Cosos provided the coup de grace for the already stricken city as Coso mines were “argentiferous” and did not require milling.

The deluge that swept down Surprise Canyon in 1876 was perhaps the final curtain in this historic drama of the old West. Its rushing waters played around empty shacks and deposited layers of heavy silt on little more than dreams. But there was one person enslaved by the charm of the silver city, Jim Bruce. Long after the mines were closed this formidable faro dealer and gunfighter lived a tranquil if uncertain existence in the city he loved.

Panamint flexed feeble muscles of silver again in 1947. On this date Nathan Elliott, movie press agent, established the American Silver Corporation in a last ditch attempt to wrest silver from long dormant Panamint mines. Elliott spun a sumptuous verbal web that entrapped many of the film Capitol’s finest. Aided by Vice President and Comedian Ben Blue, the silver-tongued promoter succeeded in raising $1,000,000. With this money Panamint mines were deepened.
But Elliott’s hopes for a bonanza never materialized. To the wonder and rage of the movie world, the great developer vanished into protective oblivion.

Today Panamint is deserted except for the Thompson sisters who live up Surprise Canyon a few miles north of the old mill. They are old-time residents of the area and their residence, Thompson camp, is a soothing backdrop of green poised against bitter desolation. The Thompson home is encircled by tall trees; a fenced yard secures a well-watered lawn which
always has the appearance of being freshly mowed.’ This is due to the wonderful “automatic mower” owned by these ladies, a dusky well-fed burro.

These soft-spoken daughters of the Mojave own a number of mining claims in the area. From time to time they hire miners to sample ores from neighboring hills or to repair rickety scaffolding. Although, the Thompson sisters run a relaxed operation now, their mining activities
would be greatly accelerated by an increase in the price of silver. You can be assured of this not only from what they say, but also from the silvery sparkle that sometimes dances in their eyes.

from:
Tempest in Silver by Stanley Demes – Desert Magazine – February 1967

The Headless Horseman

The famed “Headless Horseman,” found in the desert in 1965 will finally return home Saturday, May 6, 1972. He will go on display for the first time at the Mojave River Valley Museum during the museum’s annual barbecue at Dana Park. Proceeds from the event will be used to continue research to identify the mysterious horseman who met such a sudden and violent death in the sand dunes of what is now the J.D. Mitchell ranch east of Yermo.

The mystery surrounding the Headless Horseman symbolizes the history of the Mojave Desert and particularly the Mojave River Trail. Bones of the man and his horse were found on October 29, 1965, at a dune area that was being leveled by Don Hughes, the picturesque gray-bearded man who was popularly known as Calico’s “uncle Don.”

Hughes was clearing the land when he spotted a highly mineralized axe head. Retracing his bulldozer cut he found a piece of jawbone and skull, then saw bones protruding from the ground thirty feet away. With the help of Mrs. J.D Mitchell he carefully uncovered the find and discovered human bones astride horse bones.

Lt. James K. Harvey and Deputy E.L. Robinson of the Sheriff’s Substation were notified and conducted an investigation along with Deputy County Coroner Walt Terry. Museum director Dr. Gerald Smith and amateur archaeologist Charles Williams excavated and charted the bones, which have been in the custody of the San Bernardino County Museum at Bloomington ever since.

Soon after the find, a drive was started to collect a building fund for a small museum to house the Headless Horseman at Dana Park. With assistance from Barstow service clubs in supporting the museum’s annual barbecues and from sororities, youth clubs and hundreds of individuals, construction began in 1968. Now the unidentified young horseman is returning home to the desert.

An interpretive study of the Headless Horseman does reveal some facts. He was a male, about 21-23, and he was small, probably 5’1″ or 5’2″. His teeth were slightly ground down, indicating some subsistence on stone-ground food containing stone particles. Assumptions could therefore be made that he might have been part Indian and part Mexican or an Indian who worked on a mission or rancho, and he was probably from New Mexico or Southern California.

Another speculation is that he may be a Ute Indian who joined American trappers in raiding California ranches and missions for horses and mules.

It was first thought the young man had been burned because of a black-greenish material found between him and the horse. Closer examination indicated this was homespun cloth discolored by sand, mold and age. The cloth was of two types, one fine-woven and one a burlap like the New Mexican wool blankets, similar to the one in the museum’s Mexican period display.

Three butcher-type knives were found in the upper torso. Since 1826, Jedediah Smith and other trappers had been trading butcher knives with the Ute Indians. Among other items found with the bones were rounded pieces of wood, possibly the remains of a lance; a small metal box containing lumps of yellow vermilion dye which was used by Indians and used to trade with them; a package of percussion caps used in pistols and rifles even after the Civil War; buttons which have not yet been analyzed or classified and various types of cloth. Microscopic study is needed to compare the items with material found in missions and with museum material in New Mexico, Utah and Los Angeles.

Much has also been learned by approaching the mystery from the historic point of view. The discovery area near Minneola Rd. had permanent pools of water until as recently as 30 years ago and was a natural camping spot for the Paiute or Vanyume Indians. The area still shows signs of Indian occupation, chipped chalcedony flakes, broken pottery and fire-broken camp rocks.

When Antonio Armijo opened the New Mexican caravan route to Los Angeles in 1830-31, this became a stopping place before the long stretches between the water holes of Bitter Spring, Salt Springs, the Amargosa River, to Las Vegas and then New Mexico. In every New Mexican expedition there were Indian vaqueros and servants. Frequently the Paiute or Chemehuevi villages were ruthlessly raided for women and children to be sold as slaves to California or New Mexico ranchers.

There were many legitimate traders bringing blankets, serapes and religious items to trade for horses and mules, but they were outnumbered by illegal traders. Choice mules could be purchased for $10 in California and sold for $50 in New Mexico; yet some New Mexicans stole the mules and tame mares or enticed the California Indians to steal them. The inland valley became a grazing area for stolen animals awaiting the yearly traders from New Mexico. The Mojave River Trail was the entry and escape route from 1833 to 1846.

The camping spot on the “Old Spanish Trail,” which was neither old nor Spanish, east of Yermo became known as “Punta de Agua,” or point of water. When the United States took over and opened the military road to Fort Mohave near Needles, the location became known as Forks in the Road. This historic spot (later John Daggett’s Mill and Hawley’s Station) was as important to travelers then as Barstow is today.

Although we know the Mojave River Trail was the key route for legitimate travelers as well as nefarious adventurers, we do not know all the meetings, plans, camping and rendezvous spots the Mojave Desert held before and after the thrusts into the California rancho lands.

Runaway mission Indians, bitter with hatred toward the Mexicans; desert Indians seeking revenge for the annual two-way slave trade of the New Mexicans; the Mohave Indians with a history of disputes with the Spanish, then with the Mexicans; American trappers seeking profits in a world of declining beaver and falling beaver prices; the New Mexicans plotting, who would check in legally to Los Angeles with passports from New Mexico and who would scout the interior valley to trade for stolen mares and mules; Ute Indians under the famed Walkara (Wakara) making his raiding trips, sometimes 1500 miles round-trip. All were a part of the Mojave River scene during the 18th century.

The camping site of Punta de Agua could tell enough stories to fill 1000 novels. One of these could be the unrecorded ambush of a traveler or wrangler bringing in tired horses or an internal dispute between thieves.

The identity of the Headless Horseman may be forever hidden in the mystery of time, space and secrecy.

~ Cliff Walker

(Wm. Mutschler collection)

 

Daggett Jail

A hacksaw doesn’t do much good in a jail without bars to saw through.  Dagget jail was a 10 x 15′ unventilated, suffocating, box made of railroad ties. There was absolutely no insulation meaning it was oven-hot in the summer, and icy, frozen-cold in the winter. Of course, this was the charm and ambiance of the jail which was meant to be reformatory rather than rehabilitative. It was punishment, and being cooped up with four or five other men; thieves, miscreants, dubious characters, cheats and/or drunks–making the place unbearable, and whether you remained in town or left, a man just didn’t want to go back.

Daggett Jail - Myra McGinnis-Swisher

Daggett Jail – Myra McGinnis-Swisher collection

Daggett, California

The Story of Convict Lake

from The Story of Inyo – W.A. Chalfant -1922

The most desperate prison break in the history of the West occurred at the Nevada penitentiary at Carson on the evening of Sunday, September 17, 1871. Twenty-nine convicts, murderers, train robbers, horse thieves and others of like ilk, gained temporary liberty after killing one man and wounding half a dozen more. The bravery of the handful of prison guards, the action of a life prisoner in opposing the escape and fighting the convicts, and other details make an interesting story, but one outside the field of this history. Inyo’s interest in the affair became direct when one of the gangs of desperadoes started with intent to recuperate in Owens and Fish Lake valleys, as a preliminary to raiding a store at Silver Peak and escaping with their loot to seek refuge among the renegades, Indians and whites, who had established themselves in the far deserts.

Convict Lake

Billy Poor, a mail rider, was met by the convicts, who murdered him in cold blood, took his horse and clothing and dressed the corpse in discarded prison garb. When news of the occurrence reached Aurora, the boy’s home, a posse set out ill pursuit of the escapees. The trail was found at Adobe Meadows, in southern Mono, and word was sent to Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, at Benton. Hightower and ten others from Benton trailed the fugitives into Long Valley. Robert Morrison, who came to Owensville in 1863 and was at this time a Benton merchant, first sighted the men, in the evening of Friday, the 23d. The pursuers went to the McGee place, in southern Long Valley, and spent the night, and the following morning went up the stream then known as Monte Diablo Creek, but now called Convict.

As the posse neared the narrow at the eastern end of the deep cup in which Convict Lake is situated, a man was seen running down a hill a hundred yards ahead. The pursuers spurred up
their horses and soon found themselves within forty feet of the convicts’ camp. Three convicts
took shelter behind a large pine tree on the south side of the stream, and began firing. Two of
the horses of the posse were killed and two others wounded, and one of the posse was shot through the hand. Morrison dismounted, began crawling down the hillside to get nearer, and was shot in the side. The rest of the posse fled. Black, convict, went after Morrison, passing him until Morrison snapped his gun without its being discharged; Black then shot him through the head.

Mt. Morrison

The convicts went up the canyon to where an Indian known as Mono Jim was keeping some of
the citizens’ horses. Thinking that the approaching men belonged to the posse, Jim announced that he had seen three men down the canyon. As he saw his mistake Black shot him. Jim returned the fire, wounding two of the horses the convicts had, and was then killed. Morrison’s body remained where it fell until Alney McGee went from the house in the valley that evening and recovered it. The convicts had left. Morrison’s body was taken to Benton and buried by the Masonic fraternity.

“Convict” was thenceforward adopted as the name of the beautiful lake and stream near the
scene. A mighty peak that towers over the lake bears the name of Mount Morrison.

Word had been sent from Benton to Bishop, and a posse headed by John Crough and John
Clarke left the latter place, after some delay due to failure of the messenger to deliver his letter.
The trail was picked up in Round Valley, which the convicts had crossed. The latter had made
their way into Pine Creek Canyon, and were so hard pressed that they abandoned one of their
horses and lost another over a precipice. News that the men w^ere located, and the fact that they were armed with Henry rifles, superior to the weapons of the citizens, was taken to Independence by I. P. Yaney. The military post was at that time commanded by Major Harry C. Egbert, who afterward became General Egbert and lost his life as a brave soldier in the Philippines. Major Egbert selected five men to accompany him in the hunt, and also provided a supply of arms for any citizens who might wish to use them for the main purpose. They made the trip to Bishop in seven hours, which was rapid traveling in those days.

Convicts Morton and Black were captured in the sand hills five miles southeast of Round Valley, on Wednesday night, ten days after their escape. They were taken by J. L. C. Sherwin, Hubbard, Armstead, McLeod and two Indians. A few shots were exchanged before the fugitives threw up their hands in token of surrender. An Indian mistook the motion and fired, the shot striking Black in the temple and passing through his head, but strangely not killing him. The two were taken to Birchim’s place in Round Valley. Black was able to talk, and laid the killing of Morrison on Roberts, a nineteen-year old boy. After hearing his story a posse resumed the hunt for Roberts in Pine Creek Canyon.

This posse was eating lunch in the canyon on Friday when they observed a movement in a  clump of willows within twenty yards of them. The place was surrounded and Roberts was ordered to come out and surrender. He did so, saying that if they intended to kill him he was ready if he could have a cup of coffee. He had been five and one-half days without food. When he confronted Black at Birchim’s, the conduct of the older villain satisfied all that he and not Roberts had slain Morrison.

The three prisoners were placed in a spring wagon Sunday evening, October 1st, and with
a guard of horsemen started from Round Valley for Carson. Near Pinchower’s store, where the
northern road through West Bishop intersected the main drive of that vicinity, the escort and
wagon were surrounded by a large body of armed citizens. ”Who is the captain of this guard?”
was asked. “I am; turn to the left and go on.” But the mob did not turn to the left nor was there any resistance. Morton, who sat with the driver, said: “Give me the reins and I’ll drive after
them ; I’m a pretty good driver myself.” Roberts, who had been shot in the shoulder and in the foot in the encounter in Long Valley, was lying in the bottom of the wagon. He offered objections to going with the citizens, but without effect, and with Black driving to his own hanging, the wagon and its escort moved across the unfenced meadow to a vacant cabin about a mile northeasterly. On arrival there. Black and Roberts were carried into the house, both being wounded. Morton got down from the wagon with little assistance and went in with them.

Bishop Creek Sierra Nevada

Bishop Creek

Lights were procured, and all present except the guards over the prisoners formed a jury. The
convicts were questioned for two hours before votes were taken, separately on each prisoner. It
was decreed that Black and Morton should be hanged at once. The vote on Roberts was equally
divided for and against execution, and his life was saved by that fact.

A scaffold was hastily set up at the end of the house, one end of its beam resting on the top of
its low chimney, the other supported by a tripod of timbers. Morton hoard the preparations going on, and asked: “Black, are you ready to die?” “No, this is not the crowd that will hang us,” replied Black. “Yes, it is,” said Morton; don’t you hear them building the scaffold”?” Morton was
asked if he wished to stand nearer the fire which had been made to modify the chill of- the late
autumn night. “No, it isn’t worth while warming now,” he answered; and turning to Roberts
he said: “We are to swing, and I mean to have you swing with us if we can ; we want company. ” Black was carried out and lifted into a wagon which had been driven under the scaffold; after
being raised to his feet he stood unsupported. Morton walked out and looked over the  arrangements calmly, climbed into the wagon, and placed the noose over his own head. He asked that his hands be made fast so that he could not jump up and catch the rope. Black asked for water ; Morton asked him what he wanted with water then. When asked if they had anything to say, Black said no. Morton said that it wasn’t well for a man to be taken off without some religious ceremony, and if there was a minister present he would like to have a prayer. Whether it seems strange or otherwise, there was a minister present by request. He spoke a few words, after which Morton said: “I am prepared to meet my God—but I don’t know that there is any God.” He shook hands with the men on the wagon, and then the minister prayed. Only his voice and a sigh from Black broke the stillness. As “Amen” was pronounced the wagon moved away. Black was a large and heavy man and died without a struggle. Morton, a very small man, sprang into the air as the wagon started, and did not move a muscle after his weight rested on the rope.

Young Roberts was taken to the county jail at Independence, and after partial recovery from his wounds was returned to the Carson prison. Others among the escapes were believed to have
come this way, and hard search was made for them through the mountains. That one named
Charley Jones had come to Bishop Creek and had probably received some assistance was a general belief, but what became of him was never known unless to a select circle. Four of the escapes were captured on Walker River while they were feasting on baked coyote. Eighteen of the twentynine were captured or killed within two months of the prison break.

— end —

Also see:

Convict Lake

Convict Lake (elevation 7,850 feet (2,393 m)), is a lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada. It is known for…

 

But Where Was God?

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

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

Jim Dayton's grave, Death Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayton/Harris Gravesite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest was up to God.

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

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

20 Mule Team

20 Mule Team

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

May God have mercy on his soul.

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

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

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

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith

Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

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

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

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

~ the end ~

Mono Lake

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

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

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

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

Mono Lake canoe

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

also see;

Mono Lake

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

How Joshua Trees Were Named

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua trees - yucca brevifolia

Joshua trees

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

Mormon wagon road

Trail below Cajon Summit

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

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

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

Trail to the hogback - 1851 alternative to Cajon trail.

Trail to the hogback – 1851 alternative to Cajon trail.

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

Mormon Hogback developed as an alternative to Crowder Canyon

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

Sycamore Grove (Glen Helen)

Sycamore Grove (Glen Helen)

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

-end-

We Got Fish : Hard Rock Shorty of Death Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Desert Magazine – December 1951