Tag Archives: Mojave Desert

The American Desert

BY JOHN C. VAN DYKE

John C. Van Dyke

I went alone into the desert with only a fox terrier and a buckskin pony, for company. There was no one on the edge who knew about the interior and those that talked as though they knew did not care to go with me. I was promised plenty of trouble. Predecessors had been “caught up with” again and again. Their bodies, dried like Egyptian mummies, had been found in the sands long after by Indians. The heat and the drought were unbearable, there were sand storms, sulphurcous whirlwinds, poisonous springs, white gypsum wastes, bewildering mirages, desert wolves, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, hydrophobia skunks. I would never come out alive. But I went in, tempted Providence, off and on, for two and a half years, and still live to tell the tale. After all, the dangers were not great. I had had, as a boy, considerable experience in Indian life and was not afraid of the open. And I had no fear of being alone or getting lost. My sense of direction was as keen as that of a homing pigeon, and when I was equipped with food and had located a water hole it really made no difference to me whether I was lost or found. I always knew my general direction, and with the ever-constant sun and stars I could not lose the points of the compass There are two ways of outfitting for a trip into the unknown. The one usually followed is to pack every article of plunder that might be thought desirable. ‘chat generally results in wearing out the most enduring pack train. I preferred the other way, the Indian way, of carrying very little, going light-shod, and retaining ease of movement. So, for myself, I wore nothing but a cotton shirt and trousers, a flat straw hat, and, on my feet, moccasins. I made my own moccasins, Sioux style, with a pointed toe, of strong mule-deer hide. A pair of blankets, a small hatchet, a short-handled shovel, some rawhide picket ropes, several tin cups, a small frying pan, a rifle for large game, and a .22-caliber single-barrel pistol for birds—
The MENTOR Vol. 12 No. 6 Serial #257 JULY, 1924

The High Desert Illusion

Does this …
… Blow your mind?

profile of elevations in the cajon pass - chard walker
— Cajon Junction (el. 2950′) at I-15 and Hwy. 138 is actually at about a 300′ higher elevation than Victorville (el. 2650′). The slope from the summit to Victorville is gradual, not as noticeable, and provides us with the illusion that we are further up than we actually are.

 

Michael White (Miguel Blanco) & Rancho Muscupiabe

The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.

Map of some of the land grants and ranchos in southern California

The rich ranchos of southern California.

California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal.  The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the  Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.

Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.

Devore, ca. at mouth of Cajon Pass

From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for horse thieves entering the Cajon.

 

In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.

Map of Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco

Muscupiabe Rancho

 

 

 

Crowder Canyon/Coyote Canyon along Old Spanish Trail/John Brown Toll Road

Hundreds and sometime even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock, in debt and bitter.

Crowder Canyon map in Cajon Pass

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon – Initially named ‘Coyote’ canyon for Chief Coyote, a horse thief who was killed by Miguel Blanco within the narrow canyon walls.

As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback.

Victor Valley Crossings

Fr. Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, (April 12, 1738 – July 18, 1781) was a Spanish priest who crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776. This map shows his route across the Victor Valley. Following the Mojave River after crossing at Oro Grande he walked through what is now downtown Victorville bypassing the rocky narrows and connecting back with the river near today’s Mojave Narrows Regional Park. Following the river to where the West fork and Deep Creek join to form the Mojave. He visited with the Indians then made his way up Sawpit Canyon and over the mountain ridge descending into the verdant sycamore grove that is known today as Glen Helen.

This map shows the route of Fr. Garces in 1776 during his crossing west. His diary it describes him being taken to an Indian village in the mountains.

50 years after Fr. Garcés made his way across the Mojave from the Colorado River, in 1826, Jedediah Smith retraced the trail of Garcés along the river then up and over the mountains. In 1827, one year after his first crossing, Smith had lost most of his men in a massacre at the Colorado River. Desperate for the safety of civilization, Smith, after crossing the Mojave River in Oro Grande, made his way directly to the Cajon Pass bypassing the San Bernardino Mountains.

The direct route over the summit and down the pass eliminates the steep climb and descent over the San Bernardino Mountains.

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

Coyote Holes

Note on: Freeman Stage Station (Coyote Holes).

Robber's Roost near Freeman Junction

Robber’s Roost near Freeman Station

Freeman Station was established by the ex-stage driver Freeman S. Raymond in 1872. On the last day of February, 1874, the Station was attacked by Tiburcio Vasquez. Although the station occupants had surrendered, “Old Tex” (who was sleeping in the barn) awoke and fired at Vasquez, wounding him in the leg.

Tiburcio Vasquez

Tiburcio Vasquez the ‘Gentleman’ bandito.

Vasquez returned fire and delivered a leg wound to Tex (Pracchia, 1994). In 1894, Freeman’s parcel became the first homestead in Indian Wells Valley.
~ R. Reynolds

 

 

Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Henry R. Mockle (1905-1981),
Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Rather than documenting the structure of each plant species in scientific detail, Henry Mockle intended his illustrations to capture “the pleasurable feeling at coming up on one of these little creations”.

Henry Mockle painting of desert Indian paintbrush

Paintbrush

As did naturalist Edmund Jaeger, Mockle took pride in all his studies of desert plants being taken directly from life. This work often involves lying on the ground for hours, in conditions ranging from hot to cold, windy to wet. As some annual plants – like the Phacelia – per growing up and through the protective spread of woody shrubs. Mockle found he had to lay beneath creosote bushes and other scrub vegetation to depict these wildflowers in full.

Henry Mockle painting of coyote melon

Coyote melon

 

Painting of desert mallow

Desert Mallow

 

Source: Riverside Metropolitan Museum

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

An Orchestral Landscape

desert landscape

An Orchestral Landscape


“The point of view is born of the desert herself. When you are there, face to face with the earth and the stars and time day after day, you cannot help feeling that your role, however gallant and precious, is a very small one. This conviction, instead of driving you to despair as it usually does when you have it inside the walls of houses, releases you very unexpectedly from all manner of anxieties. You are frightfully glad to have a role at all in so vast and splendid a drama and want to defend it as well as you can, but you do not trouble much over the outcome because the desert mixes up your ideas about what you call living and dying. You see the dreadful, dead country living in beauty, and feel that the silence pressing around it is alive.”

~ E. Bush-Perkins – The White Heart of Mojave
http://mojavedesert.net/white-heart/c07.html