Tag Archives: Pioneer Tales

Lost Mines. The Breyfogle and Others

The most famous lost mine in the Death Valley area is the Lost Breyfogle. There are many versions of the legend, but all agree that somewhere in the bowels of those rugged mountains is a colossal mass of gold, which Jacob Breyfogle found and lost.

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes - Death Valley

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes – Death Valley

Jacob Breyfogle was a prospector who roamed the country around Pioche and Austin, Nevada, with infrequent excursions into the Death Valley area. He traveled alone.

Indian George, Hungry Bill, and Panamint Tom saw Breyfogle several times in the country around Stovepipe Wells, but they could never trace him to his claim. When followed, George said, Breyfogle would step off the trail and completely disappear. Once George told me about trailing him into the Funeral Range. He pointed to the bare mountain. “Him there, me see. Pretty quick—” He paused, puckered his lips. “Whoop—no see.”

Breyfogle left a crude map of his course. All lost mines must have a map. Conspicuous on this map are the Death Valley Buttes which are landmarks. Because he was seen so much here, it was assumed that his operations were in the low foothills. I have seen a rough copy of this map made from the original in possession of “Wildrose” Frank Kennedy’s squaw, Lizzie.

Breyfogle presumably coming from his mine, was accosted near Stovepipe Wells by Panamint Tom, Hungry Bill, and a young buck related to them, known as Johnny. Hungry Bill, from habit, begged for food. Breyfogle refused, explaining that he had but a morsel and several hard days’ journey before him. On his burro he had a small sack of ore. When Breyfogle left, Hungry Bill said, “Him no good.”

Incited by Hungry Bill and possible loot, the Indians followed Breyfogle for three or four days across the range. Hungry Bill stopped en route, sent the younger Indians ahead. At Stump Springs east of Shoshone, Breyfogle was eating his dinner when the Indians sneaked out of the brush and scalped him, took what they wished of his possessions and left him for dead.

Ash Meadows Charlie, a chief of the Indians in that area confided to Herman Jones that he had witnessed this assault. This happened on the Yundt Ranch, or as it is better known, the Manse Ranch. Yundt and Aaron Winters accidentally came upon Breyfogle unconscious on the ground. The scalp wound was fly-blown. They had a mule team and light wagon and hurried to San Bernardino with the wounded man. The ore, a chocolate quartz, was thrown into the wagon.

Resting Springs Ranch - Old Spanish Trail, Mormon Road

Resting Springs

“I saw some of it at Phi Lee’s home, the Resting Spring Ranch,” Shorty Harris said. “It was the richest ore I ever saw. Fifty pounds yielded nearly $6000.”

Breyfogle recovered, but thereafter was regarded as slightly “off.” He returned to Austin, Nevada, and the story followed.

Wildrose (Frank) Kennedy, an experienced mining man obtained a copy of Breyfogle’s map and combed the country around the buttes in an effort to locate the mine. Kennedy had the aid of the Indians and was able to obtain, through his squaw Lizzie, such information as Indians had about the going and coming of the elusive Breyfogle.

“Some believe the ore came from around Daylight Springs,” Shorty said, “but old Lizzie’s map had no mark to indicate Daylight Springs. But it does show the buttes and the only buttes in Death Valley are those above Stovepipe Wells.

“Kennedy interested Henry E. Findley, an old time Colorado sheriff and Clarence Nyman, for years a prospector for Coleman and Smith (the Pacific Borax Company). They induced Mat Cullen, a rich Salt Lake mining man, to leave his business and come out. They made three trips into the valley, looking for that gold. It’s there somewhere.”

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith

Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

At Austin, Breyfogle was outfitted several times to relocate the property, but when he reached the lower elevation of the valley, he seemed to suffer some aberration which would end the trip. His last grubstaker was not so considerate. He told Breyfogle that if he didn’t find the mine promptly he’d make a sieve of him and was about to do it when a companion named Atchison intervened and saved his life. Shortly afterward, Breyfogle died from the old wound.

Indian George, repeating a story told him by Panamint Tom, once told me that Tom had traced Breyfogle to the mine and after Breyfogle’s death went back and secured some of the ore. Tom guarded his secret. He covered the opening with stone and leaving, walked backwards, obliterating his tracks with a greasewood brush. Later when Tom returned prepared to get the gold he found that a cloudburst had filled the canyon with boulders, gravel and silt, removing every landmark and Breyfogle’s mine was lost again.

“Some day maybe,” George said, “big rain come and wash um out.”

Among the freighters of the early days was John Delameter who believed the Breyfogle was in the lower Panamint. Delameter operated a 20 mule team freighting service between Daggett and points in both Death Valley and Panamint Valley. He told me that he found Breyfogle down in the road about twenty-eight miles south of Ballarat with a wound in his leg. Breyfogle had come into the Panamint from Pioche, Nevada, and said he had been attacked by Indians, his horses stolen, while working on his claim which he located merely with a gesture toward the mountains.

Subsequently Delameter made several vain efforts to locate the property, but like most lost mines it continues to be lost. But for years it was good bait for a grubstake and served both the convincing liar and the honest prospector.

Nearly all old timers had a version of the Lost Breyfogle differing in details but all agreeing on the chocolate quartz and its richness.

That Breyfogle really lost a valuable mine there can be little doubt, but since he is authentically traced from the northern end of Death Valley to the southern, and since the chocolate quartz is found in many places of that area, one who cares to look for it must cover a large territory.

From: Chapter XXII
Lost Mines. The Breyfogle and Others
Loafing Along Death Valley Trails by William Caruthers

 

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

The Story of this Picnic Table

Rattlesnake Flats

Way in back of a mining claim in a crack near a knob on a knoll up near Rattlesnake Flats there is some thick brush grown around a wobbly old picnic table.

Roy Rogers

My friend tells me that this table once belonged to TV legend, Roy Rogers.  I believe this to be true.  I am told that, well, look at it; it is a much longer table than normal. My friend has lived down the street and around the corner from the Rogers for years before Roy and Dale passed away.  My friend is quite credible.

Roy Rogers' old picnic table

Roy Rogers’ old picnic table

I sat at the table for a moment.  I hardly had to close my eyes to see cowboy cuffed shirts, checkered table cloths, barbecued ribs, potato salad and hear some old time country western pop.  The table spoke to me — it said, “Yep — they sat here.”

That is the story of this picnic table.

The end.

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