Tag Archives: desert towns

Death Valley’s Titus Canyon

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

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

Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley

Titus Canyon Road

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

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

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

Leadfield tunnel

He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them …

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

Leadfield ghost town, Death Valley

Leadfield ghost town

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

Leadfield post office, Death Valley

Leadfield post office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klare Springs, Titus Canyon Road

Klare Springs

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

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

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

~ end ~

Also see:

Leadfield Ghost Town

History of Leadfield

Stovepipe Wells Area Map

Death Valley Ghost Towns

The Founding of Lucerne Valley

Looking southeast across Lucerne Valley

In the early days, natural springs in what is now Lucerne Valley provided good camping grounds for Indians on their way into the San Bernardino Mountains to gather piñon nuts. The Indians resented white pioneers settling in the territory and committed some violent acts against them. Instead of discouraging the settlers, it caused them to marshall forces and attack the Indians. (Piute, Chemehuevi and Serrano) In Feb.1 1867, a decisive battle at Chimney Rock caused the Indians to retreat and leave the territory to the white pioneers.

Lucerne Valley

Rabbit Lake (dry) & Chimney Rock

In July, 1873, five men, L.D.Wilson, John E.McFee, W.S.Manning, W.P.Morrison and (?)Holmes located the springs known as Rabbit Springs. They laid claim to the springs and 100 surrounding acres (20 acres each) according to a recorded document.

Rabbit Spring – The original downtown Lucerne Valley

In 1884 Peter Davidson operated a Way Station at Rabbit Springs. Travelers could get fresh water, exchange news, rest and/or sleep over. “Uncle Pete” died in 1906. His grave is at Kendall Road and Rabbit Springs Road.

Pete Davidson's grave, Lucerne Valley

Uncle Pete Davidson’s grave (under the pavement beyond the marker)

In 1886, W.W.Brown brought his family to this valley, which was without a name at the time. Brown had the water rights at the Box S. (The Box S ranch is where the drainage ditch now crosses Highway 18) The family stayed at “Uncle Pete’s” until an old abandoned house could be moved onto the Box S property.

Box S Ranch, Lucerne Valley

Box S Ranch

In 1896 Al Swarthout acquired the Box S, intending to raise cattle. There was plenty of water but not much forage. Swarthout and a friend found a place about 15 miles to the east, which had even more water and lots of forage. After one year he gave up the Box S and moved to Old Woman Springs Ranch.

Old Woman Springs Ranch

Old Woman Springs Ranch

In 1897 James Goulding came to the Box S with his wife, Anna, and two small children, Mamie and George. Three more children, Minnie, Jim, and Nellie were born in Lucerne Valley. “Dad” Goulding proved the fertility of our soil with his apple orchard, vegetable garden and alfalfa fields. He also raised cows, horses and other animals. He dug a well which proved to be artesian.

In 1905 a friend suggested to Goulding that this valley should have a name. Because of his success in growing alfalfa (also known as lucerne) he christened this place Lucerne Valley.

Alfalfa field in Lucerne Valley

Alfalfa field in Lucerne Valley

Dad Goulding is generally acknowledged as the founder of Lucerne Valley.

 

-,-

Adapted from; Mohahve V – A Quick History of Lucerne Valley by Ethel Owen
Mohahve Historical Society

Shorty’s Grubstake

Shorty Harris in Ballarat

Shorty Harris in Ballarat

Once I asked Shorty Harris how he obtained his grubstakes. “Grubstakes,” he answered, “like gold, are where you find them. Once I was broke in Pioche, Nev., and couldn’t find a grubstake anywhere. Somebody told me that a woman on a ranch a few miles out wanted a man for a few days’ work. I hoofed it out under a broiling sun, but when I got there, the lady said she had no job. I reckon she saw my disappointment and when her cat came up and began to mew, she told me the cat had an even dozen kittens and she would give me a dollar if I would take ’em down the road and kill ’em.

“‘It’s a deal,’ I said. She got ’em in a sack and I started back to town. I intended to lug ’em a few miles away and turn ’em loose, because I haven’t got the heart to kill anything.

“A dozen kittens makes quite a load and I had to sit down pretty often to rest. A fellow in a two-horse wagon came along and offered me a ride. I picked up the sack and climbed in.

“‘Cats, eh?’ the fellow said. ‘They ought to bring a good price. I was in Colorado once. Rats and mice were taking the town. I had a cat.  She would have a litter every three months. I had no trouble selling them cats for ten dollars apiece. Beat a gold mine.’

“There were plenty rats in Pioche and that sack of kittens went like hotcakes. One fellow didn’t have any money and offered me a goat. I knew a fellow who wanted a goat. He lived on the same lot as I did. Name was Pete Swain.

“Pete was all lit up when I offered him the goat for fifty dollars. He peeled the money off his roll and took the goat into his shack. A few days later Pete came to his door and called me over and shoved a fifty dollar note into my hands. ‘I just wanted you to see what that goat’s doing,’ he said.

“I looked inside. The goat was pulling the cork out of a bottle of liquor with his teeth.

“‘That goat’s drunk as a boiled owl,’ Pete said. ‘If I ever needed any proof that there’s something in this idea of the transmigration of souls, that goat gives it. He’s Jimmy, my old sidekick, who, I figgered was dead and buried.’

“‘Now listen,’ I said. ‘Do you mean to tell me you actually believe that goat is your old pal, whom you drank with and played with and saw buried with your own eyes, right up there on the hill?’

“‘Exactly,’ Pete shouted, and he peeled off another fifty and gave it to me. So, you see, a grubstake, like gold, is where you find it.”

Shorty Harris

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

The Walters Family

The Walters family is an important part of Hesperia history.  Starting with George Francis Walters, who moved his family from Illinois to California because his wife, Harriet C Finigan Walters had asthma.

Hesperia Hotel

The family first settled in the Riverside area where he went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad. According to Bolton Minister, son of George O Walters Minister, George was offered a transfer to Hesperia to manage the Hesperia Hotel.

The Walters family consisted of George and his wife Harriet, and their children, in birth order, Georgia Henry had to Walters Minister-Henry, Verial  W.  Walters Ormond and Roy Edward Walters.

According to Mr. Minister, both the daughters went to work in the hotel. They were later joined by Laura McClanahan who in 1921 transferred from the Goodsprings Hotel,   in Goodsprings,  Nevada.

Roy & Laura Walters

Verial  was postmistress, until she moved away when she got married, and then her position was given to her brother Roy.

Roy ended up marrying Laura McClanahan and having a daughter, Geraldine Henrietta Walters.  Geraldine married first, Yeager  and second Schwartz.

According to Mr. Minister,  George Francis Walters built the Walters house in the Walters general store according to Geraldine, her grandmother Harriet was the midwife in the delivery of 32 Hesperia babies.

When George passed away the store was handled over to Roy, who operated it for many years.

I do not know where George and area Walters or Barry. However, I do know that Roy and Laura are buried at the cemetery in Victorville.

With the passing of time, their store had deteriorated and will eventually disappear from Hesperia. As eventually, the Walters name will.

Hesperia California
Pre 1950

Then and Now

by Mary Ann Creason Dolan Rhode

Modern Cliff Dwellers

by Glenn Adams

A rental sign  could honestly read, “Doublin Gulch, modern cliff  dwellings for men only.”  But these living quarters, carved out of the earth, are never rented.

They belong to the occupants while they live there,  and the first man to move-in is the next owner. It is not a written law, but is a habit and custom of the country and is respected by rich and poor alike.

It started with Dobe Charley  when he needed a home. A tent was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. he pondered the problem through one  cold  windy winter and one hot desert summer.

When “camping out”  became too unbearable he took refuge in an old deserted mine tunnel a few miles from Shoshone, and was comfortable. He was protected from all weather hazards, but it was too isolated to suit his tastes.

Shoshone, Ca.

Shoshone, Ca.

” Why not make  a tunnel in a hill  closer to town?”  the idea grew, and he looked all over the hills close around. Finally he picked out what he considered an ideal place.

It was a cliff of hard adobe  mud, within easy walking distance of the general store and post office. Not that he intended to walk, that is, that while his motorcycle would run.

He dug out a whole as big as a medium sized room and put a door on it. When it was finished to his satisfaction, he moved in and became the envy of all the loafers in the little desert oasis on the fringe of Death Valley.

Joe Volmer,  a retiring, middle-aged man, got himself a dwelling nearby. His consisted of several rooms connected by tunnels. To enter one of the rooms one must pull aside a cupboard and go a short distance down a ladder through a narrow passageway.

Ashford Brothers, Shshone, Ca

Ashford Brothers

The Ashford brothers, Harold and Rudy, decided to follow suit. They were dapper little fellows, very English and very neat and clean. Their cliff dwelling reflected them, neat and across the gulch from the others. like its occupants, it stood a little apart from its companions.

Bill, big and lazy, liked Doublin Gulch, but hadn’t  the ambition to dig a dwelling. He built his one-room shack on a level place against the cliff.

Crowly,  aggressive and authoritative, look it over and chose the point of the hill,  a position dominating all the other cliff houses. An imposing location, but like its builder, it was untidy.

Crowly  appointed himself a sort of Mayor of Doublin Gulch. If the others resented it  they gave no indications. Mostly they did not mind as long as no one interfered with their way of life.

Cool in the summer–and a great view!

Other men settled along the cliff. Thrown together by circumstances, these men were a variable lot. For the most part their past was a closed book. Some, no doubt, came to escape this or that, but on the whole they lived as they pleased, working at the nearby mines until they had saved a stake, returning to their cliff dwelling to live the leisurely until it was gone.

When one has finished with this life and needs his home no longer, another  drifter,  perhaps fleeing from his past or maybe just tired of the sorrows and troubles of the outside world and finding solace in the desert, moves in.

Thus these cliff dwellings of Doublin Gulch have passed from one occupant to another.

Who can tell what secrets they have hidden or what sorrows have been  soothed  by the quiet and solitude of these rugged refuges thrusting their doors from the face of the cliff like turtle’s heads  from under their shells.

Ghost Town News
Knott’s Berry Place
Buena Park, Calif.
December 1944

Dublin Gulch Photos

Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, the caves carved into the soft material of the banks of this wash were home, at one time or another, to people …

Dublin Gulch

Dublin Gulch

Scenes in America Deserta

by Peter Reyner Banhamorld:

Las Vegas, Nv.

Las Vegas, Nv.

“Las Vegas is a symbol, above all else, of the impermanence of man in the desert, and not least because one is never not aware of the desert’s all pervading presence; wherever man has not built nor paved over, the desert grimly endures – even on some of the pedestrian islands down the center of the Strip! The presence of such an enclave of graceless pleasures in such an environment is so improbable that only science fiction can manage it; the place is like the compound of an alien race, or a human base camp on a hostile planet. To catch this image you need to see Las Vegas from the air by night, or better still, late in the afternoon, as I first saw it, when there is just purple sunset light enough in the bottom of the basin to pick out the crests of the surrounding mountains, but dark enough for every little lamp to register. Then – and only then – the vision is not tawdry, but is of a magic garden of blossoming lights, welling up at its center into fantastic fountains of everchanging color. And you turned to the captain of your spaceship and said, ‘Look Sir, there must be intelligent life down there,’ because it was marvelous beyond words. And doomed – it is already beginning to fade, as energy becomes more expensive and the architecture less inventive. It won’t blow away in the night, but you begin to wish it might, because it will never make noble ruins . . . .”

Peter Reyner Banham. 1982. Scenes in America Deserta. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith. Pages 42-43.

Farmland – Oro Grande

Farmland in Oro Grande along the Mojave River

Farmland in Oro Grande

“During his years at the upper crossing, Captain Lane, as Aaron was known throughout much of his life in California, had ample opportunity to discover where the richest farmlands lie along the Mojave River.”

Pioneer of the Mojave – Green Gold and Mint Juleps

Riverside Cement – Oro Grande

Oro Grande Riverside cement plant, Victor Valley, Mojave Desert

Riverside Cement in Oro Grande, CA started in 1907 as the Golden State Cement Plant. It was shut down during the depression and restarted as Riverside Cement in 1942. The plant was enlarged and completely rebuilt in the late 40s. In late 1997, TXI purchased Riverside Cement.

More about Oro Grande

The Man Who Was Hanged Twice

Skidoo came to life because of a fog. When Harry Ramsey and a man called One-eye Thompson lost their way on a road leading to the new boom camp of Harrisburg, they stopped to rest near a log lying against an outcropping of rock. When the fog lifted, the rock turned out to be gold. This was back in 1905. In deciding upon a name for the town that sprung up, a numerologist associated a popular expression of the day, 23-Skidoo, with the fact that a Rhyolite man named Bob Montgomery had successfully piped water from Telescope Peak 23 miles away and suggested the name Skidoo. So it became.

Downtown Skidoo. Death Valley National Park

Downtown Skidoo. Death Valley National Park

Old timers say the camp produced over a million dollars worth of gold ore between its discovery and its demise some 20 years later. Skidoo’s chief claim to fame, however, was not its riches. Rather, it was an infamous lynching of a scoundrel named Joe Simpson in 1908.

On a tour to the ghost town of Skidoo in 1962, we were privileged to be accompanied by an 87-year-old gentleman named George Cook. The interesting thing about Mr. Cook was that it was he who pulled on the rope at the lynching. His participation had only recently been divulged to a few intimate friends—after all others involved had passed on to their rewards, or whatever.

Joe "Hooch" Simpson

Joe “Hooch” Simpson

“Joe Simpson,” Mr. Cook told us, ‘was a would-be villain who had killed a man at Keeler after shooting-up Jack Gun’s Saloon in Independence the preceding year. He’d somehow gotten off and drifted to Skidoo where he became a partner with Fred Oakes in the Gold Seal Saloon. Across the street was Jim Arnold’s Skidoo Trading Company.

“Arnold was a friendly, well-liked man and had always been on good terms with Simpson, but Simpson became drunk and abusive one April morning and decided to hold up a bank situated in part of Arnold’s Skidoo Trading Company. Apprehended, his gun was taken away and hidden by the deputy sheriff, but a little later Simpson found his weapon and returned to the store to shoot Jim Arnold. He then turned on two other men who had come to the rescue, but his aim was poor and both escaped. Eventually Simpson was overpowered and placed under guard in the deputy sheriff’s cabin. Unfortunately,” Mr. Cook lamented, “the popular Jim Arnold died that night.”

Skidoo went wild with indignation. After Arnold’s funeral, which the entire camp attended, a group went to the improvised jail, led the prisoner out at the end of a rope and hanged him to the nearest telephone pole. When Sheriff Nailor from Independence arrived, after a hazardous trip over rough roads via Tonopah and Rhyolite, he made the now famous statement, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to Inyo County; it saved us $25,000!”

But this wasn’t the end. Several spectators had forgotten their cameras and wanted pictures of the hanging. So, Joe Simpson’s body was obligingly strung up again, this time from the ridgepole of the tent where he was “laid out.” News of this gruesome encore spread and the lynching won everlasting fame. In his private narrative of the event, George Cook added a factor never before related: “Joe was dead before we got the rope around his neck; he died of a heart attack (from fright) and was already gone when dragged to the telephone pole scaffold.”

It was also he, George Cook confessed, who assisted Dr. MacDonald in removing the head from Simpson’s corpse. The doctor, it seems, had once performed an operation on Simpson s nose and wanted to make a further medical study of the case. Going at night, they performed the severence at the lonely prospect hole where Simpson’s body had been tossed. (No one in Skidoo would give him a decent burial, so great was the indignation at his senseless crime). The skull was exhibited for a period in a showcase at Wildrose, but later disappeared.

The remainder of the skeleton resisted oblivion, however. Years later when George Cook returned to Skidoo to work in the mill, an agitated prospector appeared one day to report a headless skeleton of a man who’d evidently been murdered. Because Cook was the only old timer around at the time, he was consulted. Indeed a crime had been committed sometime, he agreed, but of the details he had conveniently forgotten.

Last year George Cook passed away. Small in stature, religious, mild-tempered and giving to writing sentimental verse, he was the antithesis of our Western idea of a vigilante. The role forced upon him by his acute anger over the murder of a friend bothered this good man to the end of his days. His belief that Simpson did not expire at his hand appeared to be a real comfort. And, perhaps he was right. We cannot disagree, for George Cook was there.

Much interesting history is connected with the now defunct Skidoo. Following its early boom, the town was deserted for a period, then, under new management, the mine and mill reopened during the 1930s and a period of production occurred. The old wild days never returned, however, and its fame as a mining camp still rests upon the lynching incident —to which we add, “Joe Simpson did not die because of a rope and a telephone pole. He died of a heart attack!”

by Myrtle Nyles – November 1964 – Desert Magazine

Editor’s Note: This is but one version of this story, and it is worth saying that it has generated many other versions and stories through its telling.

History of Skidoo

In January 1906 two wandering prospectors, John Ramsey and John (One-Eye) Thompson were headed towards the new gold strike at Harrisburg. Along the way a blinding fog came in and the two camped near Emigrant Spring for fear of getting lost. … More