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.
“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:
“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