Tag Archives: Old West

Fort Piute

Piute Hill Fort Best Preserved Mojave Outpost

By L. BURR BELDEN

Fortifications along the western extension of the Santa Fe trail, route of the Whipple survey, were built initially because of Indian attacks on covered wagon trains of settlers. The Mojave War followed the massacre of one train by Indians at the Colorado River crossing a few miles above the present Needles.

Paiute Creek

Paiute Creek

The Army was not slow in punishing the Mojave tribes, and entire regiment being collected at Fort Yuma and going upstream. This was in the winter of 1858-59. The initial fort, Ft. Mojave, was established at the time. Supplying of this river outpost was both expensive and difficult.

Soldiers attacked

Lt. Col. William Hoffman

Lt. Col. William Hoffman

The road over the desert San Bernardino had been given a bad name by Lt. Col. William Hoffman would take in the company of mounted infantry in a small dragoon escort from the Cajon Pass to the river. Hoffman’s command had been attacked by Indians in route. The Col. was under orders to find a site for a desert fort. He saw nothing between Summit Valley in the river he considered a likely site. In fact, Hoffman condemned the entire route as unsuited for travel.

It is probable the Hoffman report influenced the Army in initially supplying Fort Mojave by steamer from Yuma.  When the river was slow and supplies could not be taken at far upstream the fort garrison was desperate. At this juncture In Winfred Scott Hancock, the same officer who appeared in a recent issue of the series, called on the Banning stage and freight lines to take supplies through. Banning’s experience Teamsters had no trouble They drove again heavy freight wagons, each drawn by eight mule teams to the river in 16 days. The Fort Mojave garrison again had both food and ammunition.

Cady Old Site

Hancock at the time an assistant quartermaster, prove that not only the Mojave Valley road was practical. He also reduce the Army’s transport expense to Fort Mojave by two thirds. The hall from drum barracks at Wilmington to the Colorado River via Cajon Pass cost only a third as much per pound as the long water haul around Baja California and transfer shipment to river  steamer.

Ives Expedition steamboat and crew heading up the Colorado River, 1857.

Ives Expedition steamboat and crew heading up the Colorado River, 1857.

The site of Camp Cady  was used as an Indian “fort” even before California became a part of the United States. Indians engaged in stealing horses from the Mexican ranchos built a crude sort of stronghold on the rocky hillsides of the Mojave River near that spot. It was a few miles East of the old Spanish Trail and also guarded the entrance to narrow Afton Canyon which could serve as an escape route if pursuit became too hot.

Afton Canyon

Afton Canyon

There is documentary evidence of the Indian use of their crude stronghold in 1845 point Benjamin Wilson, the Don Benito of Mexican rule, meeting Indians there in battle in 1845 a few days after the historic discovery of Bear Valley.

California Governor Pio Pico

Governor Pio Pico

Wilson’s account of the pursuit of the horse thieves attributed depredations to renegade Indians from Mission San Gabriel but it is probable Sun desert tribes had Braves in the raiding parties. Wilson was alcalde  at Jurupa  and was called upon by Gov. Pico to punish the Indians. The acalde  gathered a large posse including 22 young Californians mounted on fleet horses. The larger party in fact train went up Cajon Pass. Wilson in the young ranchers took the route up to Santa Ana Canyon, enjoyed hunting bear in what Wilson named Bear Valley, and joined the pack train somewhere near Rancho Verde  in the present Apple Valley.

Wilson, wounded by a poisoned arrow, had his life saved by Lorenzo Trujillo. Trujillo, a New Mexican, was leader in the little colony of Agua Mansa  and its twin town, Trujillo. In the Apple Valley fight the Indians were defeated in three of them killed. Wilson shot the notorious Joaquin, the ex-mission Indian, who was a ringleader among the horse thieves.

Don Benito Wilson

Don Benito Wilson

Several of Wilson’s Horseman pursued the remnant of the Indians down the Mojave  though the wounded Wilson was forced to turn back. Nothing Indians halted in their crude fort near the site of Camp Cady. There, though the entrenched behind rocks, they were again defeated and dispersed.

In addition to the soldiers at the Mojave Desert forts there were a few civilians quartered at some of the posts. For instance, the returns of Camp Cady for December 1866  indicate an assistant wagon master was stationed there. He was paid $75 a month. Teamsters, their number not specified, received hundred and $75 a month, and herders $35 a month.  Other notations would indicate the herders, at least some of them, were Indians. The Teamsters, whose work was the most skilled, where the aristocrats of the road whether they drove Concord stages and six horses or whipped along multiple freight teams. The Army officers themselves received far less pay.

There were also, at least at Cady  and Mojave, sutler stores. The Army had no canteen or post exchange in that. And contractors, called settlers,  were granted the privilege of establishing stores on military reservations and also, for that matter, with armies in the field. Suites that supplemented the monotonous menu, tobacco and whiskey as well as such notions as red, writing paper and ink were for sale at the  sutler stores.

Summit Valley

He (Hoffman) saw nothing between Summit Valley in the river he considered a likely site. In fact, Hoffman condemned the entire route as unsuited for travel.

Soldiers receiving $7.50 a month did not have much money to spend but there was no place to go and as a result the software store almost invariably raked in the Army man’s wages. Passing travelers also helps well the sutler income.

The system was a poor one, and the cause of continuous complaint. The soldier, at times was victimized both by high prices in shoddy material. At one juncture soldier resentment in Camp Cady  passed the usual grumbling stage and the garrison simply looted the store.

Looting did not satisfy the enraged soldiery. They set fire to the store and literally drove the hated  sutler from the camp. The sutler came to San Bernardino and swore out complaints.  That was in August 1867 after Camp Cady  was manned by regulars.

First Lieut. Manual Eyre Jr.  in command at Cady, reported the affair to first Lieut. C. H. Shepherd, assistant adjutant general at Fort Mojave. He said:

“Yesterday the sheriff was here and took with him five of my men for preliminary examination under charges of arson and robbery. The case is stated in my letter addressed to a AAAG  at your headquarters, dated August 8, 1867. I should, I think, be in San Bernardino during the trial of these men, if they are held for trial. I also desire to present before the grand jury’s citizens who have harbored deserters.

“The posted by you till will be established under superintendence of an officer from Mojave. Could not an officer be spared temporarily to  relieved Lieut. Drum and allow him to relieve me for 10 days or two weeks? If the Rock Springs garrison is withdrawn, I can leave Lieut. Drum here in command until my return?

“The intention of this man Dead (the sutler)  is evident to me. He will try to obtain money from these men to let them off. If so, I would like to be present to prosecute him for attempting to compound a felony. I am of the opinion that, as much as  I dislike it, I should be in San Bernardino as soon as possible, even if the men are released after preliminary examination when, of course they would be turned loose 100 miles from camp to find their way as they see fit.”

Both because it served as a headquarters post, and because it was maintained long after the little way stations along the Old Government Road were abandoned, Fort Mojave is far better known than such points as Fort Piute, Rock Springs, Marl Spring, Fort Soda, Bitter Spring, Resting Springs or even Cady.

Fort Pah-ute ruins

Fort Pah-ute ruins

Until recent years Fort Mojave was maintained as an Indian school. When it ceased to be an army post, however, it is records were moved. Some were taken to Whipple barracks in Prescott, others to the Presidio at San Francisco. For Mojave, however had a wealth of old records that escaped attention of the detail entrusted to their moving. Within the past few years the grounds of the old fort were converted to agricultural use. The remains of an old adobe building were bulldozed flat. In the process the bulldozer broke through an old wooden floor long covered with several inches of earth. The accident disclosed a long forgotten cellar. In it were scores of packing boxes containing more records. These were assembled and shipped to Washington. Stacked in a line these rediscovered records stretch 29 feet.

As yet this latest ” mine”  of Pioneer Army records has not been made available to historical researchers. Presumably in a few years, however, they will have been cleaned, indexed and deposited in the national archives and will furnish a far more detailed commentary on conditions in the Southwest during the pre-railroad decades,, and on Army activities at a dozen or more all but forgotten published such as Las Vegas, Resting Springs, El Dorado Canyon, and numerous early Arizona camps. Frequent transfers of headquarters seem to have  made Fort Mojave a convenient depository  for numerous papers no one wanted to which, under regulations, could not be destroyed. Paperwork in the military was almost as involved in the mid-19th century as it is today. Doubtless the company clerk of the Battalion Sgt. major of 1867 rebelled inwardly at the detail required of his job and doubtless to adjutants were hard put to find storage space for the growing mountains of paper but to their credit it must be noted they observed the rules and did not indulge in the periodic bonfires that mark some of the other branches of the federal service. For instance, research on Colorado River steamers is difficult because the customs offices of registry made it a practice to destroy old records.

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Special Delivery

Hesperia, CA.  pre-1950 – Then and Now

Jack and Margaret Nelson, were a very nice couple, who lived on the corner of Olive and E Street. They had three dogs, two were copper-colored police dogs, named Penny and Copper, and one chow dog, named sugar. My parents became very good friends with them. They had a cow, and we soon started buying our milk from them, until they moved away.

After the Nelsons left the area we started purchasing our melt from the Snell Dairy and Creamery Company that was located in Apple Valley. Dick and Winnie Weening took over the milk routes, serving all the high desert, as far as State Line in 1942. In 1943, the Weening family purchased the dairy and the name of Snell Dairy.  The milk was delivered in glass bottles and the empty bottles were picked up with the next delivery. The milkman would even put the full milk bottles in the refrigerator.  There will never be service like that again.
599-snell-dairy-hesperia
This photo was taken in 1945 or 1946, and was provided by Barbara Weening Davisson, daughter of Dick and Winnie Weening. She notes, that the picture is of the Johnny Weening, driver and Iva Weening Carpenter, with son Jerry (standing), Phil McGurn, being held.

~ Mary Ann Creason Dolan-Rohde

More about …
Hesperia, California

Bath by Installments

On the Mojave Desert where water, like gold, in considered a precious element, a bath is often possible only through divine intervention plus human ingenuity. When Bob Alexander, dusty and dirty from a month-long prospecting trip through the Mojave Desert Mountains, awoke one morning in 1867 to an overcast sky and smelled moisture-laden dust in the atmosphere, he grinned from ear to ear.

“Rain, by jeepers!” he prognosticated. “And here’s where Bob takes a bath!”
He hurried through breakfast, and just as he’d finished scraping the last spoonful of chuck from his plate, the rain began to fall. He stripped his clothes off, stepped out of his tent, and stood for a long time under the ample shower. Wet from head to foot, he ducked back into the tent for soap and worked up a generous lather all over his body. He chuckled with glee.

“Better than going to church,” he told himself. “After four weeks of dry camping, cleanliness is sure on a par with godliness, as the feller says.”

With eyes closed to keep out the soap, Bob left the tent. “Hell’s Bells!” he exploded. Typically, the desert shower had ceased as abruptly as it had begun. He squinted at the clouds from under a carefully raised eyelid. They were rising. The sun was breaking through.

Ugly words like blue flames flicked from his angry lips. He groped his way back into the tent, took the first rag he could lay hands on and wiped the soap from his eyes. The sun blazed forth, and the clouds disappeared over a distant mountain rim. Bob watched their departure with baleful eyes.

Providence Mountains, Mojave National Preserve

Providence Mountains

“Dry gulched by a rain storm!” he thundered bitterly, “without enough water to wash a horned toad!” The soap was beginning to dry and draw on Bob’s skin. A quick rub-down served only to increase the irritation. There was nothing to do but to hike to Fort Rock Springs, five miles distant in the Providence Mountains. Here he could find water and relief. Donning his dirty clothes, Bob struck out across the country.

When he reached the Fort entrance, his feet, tough though they were, smarted like blazes and his skin, drawn and puckered under his clothes, itched unmercifully. He stopped in agonized surprise when the sentry order:

“Halt!”

“What the hell!” Bob remonstrated.

“You can’t go in there. The Fort is quarantined. Measles.”

“I’ve got to go in there. I’m all lathered up with soap!”

“Drunk or just crazy?” interrogated the sentry.

“Neither,” Bob returned, exasperated. His voice took on a pathetic tone as he stripped off his shirt to illustrate his story. The sentry listened and looked, his face changing from astonishment to amusement and sympathy.

“Mister,” said the sentry, “orders from Lieutenant Drumm, Commander of this here fort, are that only officers of the Fort, people with passes, and details, are permitted to pass through here.”

Bob was desperate. He retired abjectly. But not for long. In a few minutes, he marched up towards the sentry again, this time, simulating, awkwardly enough, the gait of a soldier on parade. The sentry smiled.

“Halt! Who comes there!” he sputtered, fighting back laughter.

“Detail of one, bound for the Fort,” returned Bob, grimly.

“Pass, detail!” shouted the sentry.

Bob passed, on a dead run, headed for a tub and water.

Taken from The Old West, Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County