The largest gold nugget ever found weighed 630 pounds.
A cubic foot of gold weighs more than half a ton — 1203 pounds.
There are many kinds of cactus that will not grow in the desert.
A lightning flash lasts approximately one-millionth part of a second.
Horsehair rope as a barrier to stop rattlesnakes has been proved a myth.
One pound of honey represents the lifetime work of more than 1,000 bees.
A mule knows three times as much as a horse, and a burro is smarter than a mule.
The Indian population in the desert is steadily growing — from 8,000 to 45,000 in 60 years.
Needles of the prickly pear cactus are cut to size, shaped, polished, and sold as phonograph needles.
Each rattlesnake helps man by killing off between 100 and 150 rats, mice, gophers, and ground squirrels every year.
The dried stalks of the desert yucca are gathered and sent to a factory in Brooklyn, New York, for the manufacturing of artificial limbs.
Horned Toads sometimes lay eggs and other times will give forth living young. It seems that the mother can’t quite make up her mind.
Over 3,000 different herbs and plants for therapeutic use were grown in Montezuma’s Mexican botanical gardens years before the discovery of America.
It is estimated that half a million snakes and twice that number of lizards were killed for their skins and turned into shoes and purses last year for milady’s fancy.
The department of education in Mexico wants the children in that country to look to the old Aztec god, Quelzaoatl, for their presents each Christmas, rather than Santa Claus.
Many old prospectors have been saved from thirst by the water contained in the famous barrel cactus. Today this barrel cactus furnishes the base for some of the noted cactus candies.
Wrinkled inhabitants of the desert shake their heads and whisper startling exaggerations when you ask about the Jumping Cactus (Cholla); nevertheless, it does jump, but only when stirred by the swish of your pant leg or coat sleeve.
INDIAN NAMES. In the matter of geographical names, the contribution of the Indian is conspicuous. At least twenty of the states comprised in the United States bear Indian names, while for rivers, lakes, and towns, the list of Indian names is in almost equal proportion.
Adapted from Watch Dogs of the San Bernardino Valley San Bernardino County Museum Association– Winter 1970
Foremost among the unsung heroes of San Bernardino County during its formative years is Chief Juan Antonio of the Cahuilla tribe. Records speak of this “Watch dog of the Valley” as early as 1844. As an enforcer of the laws and protector of the Valley, he had no peer, and to him, more than anyone else, the towns of San Bernardino and Redlands owe their survival in those early years.
Juan’s birthplace is recorded as having been in San Timoteo in 1873 as closely as we can tell. Undoubtedly, Juan had been raised with a knowledge about the white man and his ways, for long before 1835 the Cahuillas and Serranos of this region had been partially Christianized, hence Juan had been subjected to the thinking and actions of the Spanish before we hear of him in the historical records.
Christian teaching seem to have had little effect in Juan’s personal life, or the lives of the Cahuillas as a tribe, for early records time and time again refer to their returning to untamed savages. As a group the Cahuillas were fierce and loved the sting of battle, as their name brings out. (Cahuilla, Master, or The Great Nation.) The Cahuillas were short of stature and almost black in complexion.
Being from such an aggressive tribe and realizing what was expected from the chiefs of other tribes at that time, one can only assume that Juan Antonio was not an exception to the rule and that he no doubt also won recognition and respect the hard way.
The first time the records speak of Juan Antonio in San Bernardino history came at a time of crisis for the Lugo family. Neophyte Indians of the Valley had joined in with their savage brothers from the desert and were raiding the ranchos of the region. Protection and aid during those years was hard to come by.
The Lugos had previously made an agreement with the Trujillo family whereby they turned over the Politana area for aid in stopping such raids.
Juan Bandini, who was also looking for the same kind of protection, offered the Truillos a better deal in the “Bandini Donation,” hence the Trujillos pulled up stakes and moved to their new home.
Just how the Lugos and Antonio met and agreed on a working agreement is not stated however.
“After the departure of the settlers from Politana, the Lugos placed Juan Antonio, the Cahuilla chieftain, on the vacated tract, and he and his warriors rendered faithful service in protecting the lugo stock. In a letter Antonio Maria wrote to a friend in Los Angeles in February, 1844, he said that very day Cahuillas were fighting near San Bernardino with savage Indians whom he was expecting to attack the rancho at any moment, presumably to run off his livestock. This encounter may have marked the coming into the Valley of Juan Antonio and his followers, and their behavior then may have suggested the idea of enlisting their aid in combating Paiute and Mohave intruders regularly.
“Juan Antonio did not occupy the adobes on the bluff, but located his rancheria on the ridge near the headquarters of Vincente Lugo, and near the settlement and near the settlement of unconverted Indians to whom Antonio Maria had referred to in his petition of four years before. The abandoned cabins became mere landmarks. In 1851, when the Los Angeles County Court of Sessions defined the public road from San Gabriel to San Bernardino, it described it as running “by the old pueblo of the New Mexicans, known as Apolitan.” The settlement seems even then to have been so nearly forgotten that the name Apolitan was being applied to Vicente Lugos rodeo grounds and to the rancheria on the ridge.”
Thus began a long and close friendship that was to last until the end of the Mexican period in the Valley. Right up until the end, Juan Antonio’s loyalty to his employer never wavered. It was during the Mexican War that Antonio showed his faith in the Lugos. While other Indian groups were quick to desert their sponsors and join with what looked like the sure winners, Antonio held fast to his bargain.
“Helen Hunt Jackson says that he received the title of ‘General’ from General Kearney during the Mexican War and never appeared among the whites without some signs of a military costume about him.”
The Luiseno Indians of the Pauma Valley, seeing the Mexican troops defeated by the Americans, sensed an opportunity to impress the new rulers by joining with them. Eleven Mexican troopers were massacred by the Luiseno tribe in the most horrible way. Vengeance, however, has a way of striking back.
“General Flores was heading the revolting Californians in Los Angeles at this time, and when the news of the killing of Pico’s troopers reached him, he delegated Jose del Carmen Lugo to go in pursuit of the assassins. Lugo left Los Angeles with fifteen men, and recruited along the way until he had twenty-one, five from San Bernardino. Juan Antonio went with fifty of his fighting men. By a ruse, Lugo succeeded in catching the Luisenos in an ambush, killed many of them and captured others. The captives were placed in the charge of Juan Antonio, who promptly put them to death. When reproached by Lugo for his needles cruelty, he remarked coolly that if they had caught him they would have roasted him alive. He added that Lugo was captain of white men, while he was captain of Indians, and there was a difference. This wreaking vengeance on the Luisenos by Lugo’s party was regarded as a noteworthy exploit.
The signing of the articles of capitulation at Cahuenga brought very little change in the established pattern of life in the area. Cattle, horses, and sheep were the economic basis of the ranchos, hence records continue to record raids into the Valley and the use of Chief Antonio’s Cahuillas in meeting such forays with force.
“San Bernardino, February 3, 1848. … I write to inform you of what occurred today. We set out for the mountains of the Agua Caliente in pursuit of the Indians who stole the horses, and Juan Antonio and his people fought with them and killed six Indians, two of them captains.”
The Americans proved to be more aggressive than had the Spanish authorities and in most areas the Indians were quickly brought into line by a strong show of power. San Bernardino, however, was still somewhat of a frontier area and the Indian problem persisted for some time.
“During the winter of 1850-51, Wak’s (Walkara) Utah Indians had been particularly active, harrying the ranchos in the San Bernardino Valley as far west as the present towns of Pomona, Claremont and Azusa. So great was the annoyance they caused that a large party of Californians and Americans, supplied with firearms from the United States military post at Chino, went in pursuit of them. General J. H. Bean, commander of the militia in Southern California, finally recommended that a company of fifty volunteer rangers be authorized by General McDougal as a protection for these frontier regions. The company was organized and stationed in Cajon Pass. Later, because of persistent bad weather at that point, General Bean moved it near Apolitan on Lugo’s ranch, and established Camp Dolores, not far from the present San Bernardino Valley Junior College grounds.
“Before the rangers had gone to the Cajon, the Utahs had driven off a large band of gentle horses belonging to Jose Maria Lugo, of Jumba, and he and his neighbors, accompanied by Juan Antonio, and his warriors, pursed the robbers into the desert. On the Mojave River they received a volley of rifle balls from an ambuscade, and one of the white men of the party was killed.”
On their way back from the ambush that had taken place during the pursuit of Walkara, two of Jose Maria Lugo’s sons, accompanied by two others of the original group, ran into a couple of men encamped in the Cajon. After ascertaining their presence in the valley the young men returned home. A few days later, another party going through the pass found the wagon and the bodies of the two white men who had been encamped in the Cajon. The two young Lugo boys were blamed for their murders. The case was transferred to Los Angeles. Here, an American soldier, John Irving, accompanied by a number of Sidney Ducks and other ex-soldiers, offered to tear down the jail and free the two Lugo boys for $5000. The grand old man refused, preferring to depend on his lawyer and justice. This infuriated Irving and he threatened to kill both the Lugo boys if they were set free. To make a long story short, the Lugo boys were set free. Irving, in the meantime, swore revenge on the Lugo family and headed with his men to San Bernardino. He got mixed up on his way, however, and stayed at the Rubidoux Rancho. In the meanwhile, the Lugos had been warned. The “Watch Dog” was waiting and a running battle took place across the Redlands plains to the Sepulveda home in Yucaipa. From here Irving and his men made it to San Timeteo Canyon only to be bottled up by Juan Antonio and his braves. In the ensuing fight, eleven of the twelve man army, including Irving, were killed.
The water of Little Salt Lake is as briny, we were told, like that of Great Salt Lake, and we noticed that its shores were covered with saline incrustations for a mile or more from the water’s edge; but the Mormons stated that the salt was of little value, being impregnated with saleratus and other alkaline matter, which rendered it unfit for use. They obtain their supplies of this article from mines of rock salt in the mountains. The excitement occasioned by the threats of Walkah, the Utah chief, continued to increase during the day we spent at Parowan. Families flocked in from Paragoona, and other small settlements and farms, bringing with them their movables, and their flocks and herds. Parties of mounted men, well-armed, patrolled the country; expresses came in from different quarters, bringing accounts of attacks by the Indians, on small parties and unprotected farms and houses. During our stay, Walkah sent in a polite message to Colonel G. A. Smith, who had military command of the district, and governed it by martial law, telling him that, “The Mormons were d—d fools for abandoning their houses and towns, for he did not intend to molest them there, as it was his intention to confine his depredations to their cattle, and that he advised them to return and mind their crops, for, if they neglected them, they would starve, and be obliged to leave the country, which was not what he desired, for then there would be no cattle for him to take.” He ended by declaring war for four years. This message did not tend to allay the fears of the Mormons, who, in this district, were mostly foreigners, and stood in great awe of Indians.
The Utah chieftain who occasioned all this panic and excitement is a man of great subtlety and indomitable energy. He is not a Utah by birth but has acquired such an extraordinary ascendency over that tribe by his daring exploits, that all the restless spirits and ambitious young warriors in it have joined his standard. Having an unlimited supply of fine horses, and being inured to every fatigue and privation, he keeps the territories of New Mexico and Utah, the provinces of Chihuahua and Sonora, and the southern portion of California in constant alarm. His movements are so rapid, and his plans so skillfully and so secretly laid, that he has never once failed in any enterprise and has scarcely disappeared from one district before he is heard of in another. He frequently divides his men into two or more bands, which making their appearance at different points at the same time, each headed, it is given out, by the dreaded Walkah in person, has given him, with the ignorant Mexicans, the attribute of ubiquity. The principal object of his forays is to drive off horses and cattle, but more particularly the first, and among the Utahs we noticed horses with brands familiar to us in New Mexico and California.
This chief had a brother as valiant and crafty as himself to whom he was greatly attached. Both speaking Spanish and broken English they were enabled to maintain intercourse with the whites without the aid of an interpreter. This brother the Mormons thought they had killed, for, having repelled a night attack on a mill, which was led by him, on the next morning they found a rifle and a hatchet which they recognized as his, and also traces of blood and tracks of men apparently carrying a heavy body. Although rejoicing at the death of one of their most implacable enemies, the Mormons dreaded the wrath of the great chieftain, which they felt would not be appeased until he had avenged his brother’s blood in their own. The Mormons were surprised at our having passed in safety through Walkah’s territory, and they did not know to what they were to attribute their escape from destruction. They told us that the cattle tracks which we had seen a few days previously were those of a portion of a large drove lifted by Walkah, and that the mounted men we had noticed in the mountains in the evening of August 1st were scouts sent out by him to watch our movements. They endeavored to dissuade us from prosecuting our journey, for they stated that it was unsafe to travel even between their towns without an escort of from twenty-five to thirty men.
He has adopted the name of Walker (corrupted to Walkah) on account of the close intimacy and friendship which in former days united him to Joe Walker, an old mountaineer, and the same who discovered Walker’s Pass in the Sierra Nevada.
The Mormons had published a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for Walkah’s head, but it was a serious question among them who should “bell the cat.”
After a down pouring rain water had collected in a small natural basin the sticks and stems and twigs and dried up flowers had fermented into an intoxicating brew that the local desert fauna seemed to enjoy drinking. There was what turned into a drunken festival in which the hare, sloppily and completely boozed up challenged a tee-totaling tortoise to a race. The tortoise, who was not too bright, accepted the contest mainly because the rabbit was staggering about insulting the clutch of eggs the sober tortoise hatched from and complaining that the whole tortoise famn-damily was slow and stupid.
Bobcats and rats and mice and snakes and lizards and coyotes put aside their differences to watch the tiny marathon and gathered together at the starting line. The judge, a badger, got a gun from somewhere and wildly fired it toward the sky and a batch of drunken Canada geese that happened to be flying by, winging one but not quite killing it, only making it wish it were dead from the pain. And that was the start of the race.
The hare bolted and leaped sideways rather uncontrollably
as if one hind leg were much shorter than the other–he rocketed into a
patch of California Buckwheat (eriogonum fasciculatum) and fell over.
The tortoise, who calculated the rabbit was too stoned to follow the
course, felt that if he were slow and steady and persistent, that he
could beat the rabbit.
A bit later, the rabbit passed the
tortoise faster than the tortoise had ever seen a rabbit move. However,
the tortoise continued to believe that if he were slow and steady and
persistent, that he could beat the rabbit and sure enough, the tortoise
plugged along and quietly passed the rabbit taking a nap under a desert
willow (chilopsis linearis). The tortoise smugly snickered as he passed
the hungover hare.
The tortoise kept its pace and crossed the finish line proudly proclaiming that he had won the race. Judge Badger, with his gun in claw, fired it into the air hitting another flying goose then walked right up to the tortoise and said, “didn’t you see the rabbit? He went back to tell you you lost.” The embarrassed tortoise crawled back to his burrow, entered and slept the rest of the summer and everything else in the animal world went back to normal including the two coyotes that tracked the course back to the still passed out rabbit and ate him.
The recent death of Wyatt Earp ( January 13, 1929) recalls to mind the part he played in the claim jumping expedition to Searles Lake in October 1910. At the time I was Acting Receiver for the California Trona Company and was in charge of a group of placer mining claims covering some 40,000 acres. The party had been organized at Los Angeles by Henry E. Lee, an Oakland attorney and probably was the best equipped gang of claim jumpers ever assembled in the west. It consisted of three complete crews of surveyors, the necessary helpers and laborers and about 20 armed guards or gunmen under the command of Wyatt Berry Stapp.
The party of 44 in number, arrived at Searles Lake in seven touring cars and established a camp at the abandoned town of “Slate Range City” about eight miles southeast of the company’s headquarters. On the morning following their arrival we saw some of the surveyors across the lake and our foreman road over and ordered them off the property but they paid no attention to his protest an proceeded to do a very thorough job or surveying and staking.
As I considered it necessary to make
some show of force in protecting our claims, I visited the enemy’s camp
at sunrise the next day with our whole force of five men who were armed
with all the weapons they could collect. It was a very critical moment
when we jumped from our wagon and walked up in front of the mess house
where the raiders were assembled for breakfast. I stood in the center
with my boys on either side of me. There was a shout and men came
running from all directions and fearing there might be trouble.
I started right off to explain to the surveyors present that I had
only come over to give notice that I was officially and legally in
possession of the claims and that they were trespassers.
Before I got very far a tall man with iron grey hair and a mustache pushed his way to the front and in a loud voice demanded why I had come into their camp with armed men. At the same time he grabbed hold of my shotgun held by the boy on my left and attempted to take it away from him. At this attack upon us I drew an automatic and ordered him to let go. He did so and then ran to a building nearby saying “I’ll fix you.” Before he could secure a rifle, however, the cooler headed members of the party surrounded him and calmed him down. Also, you may be sure every effort was made to prevent a fight, as, in spite of our bold being, we were pretty badly scared.
Just as things seemed to have quieted down, one of the excited jumpers accidentally discharged a gun. No one was hurt but, it was a very tense moment for all of us. Having failed to dislodge the enemy the following day I called for a US Marshall and when he arrive the claim jumpers were all arrested and sent home including “Wyatt Berry Stapp”, none other than the famous Marshall Wyatt Stapp Earp.
May 1941 The bonanza days in the Death Valley region have long since passed, but grizzled prospectors are still picking away in the hills, confident that rich ledges of gold and silver are yet to be uncovered.
By LeROY and MARGARET BALES Desert Magazine – May 1941
The bonanza days in the Death Valley region have long since passed, but grizzled prospectors are still picking away in the hills, confident that rich ledges of gold and silver are yet to be uncovered. Ballarat was one of the boom towns in that area in the late ‘nineties. Only crumbling walls and a few weathered shacks remain on the treeless landscape to mark the site of the town today but some of the veteran mining men still spend their winters there—and Ballarat will never die while these old-timers remain to recall tales of the past and keep their faith in the new strikes yet to be made.
A ghost town with living inhabitants–that’s Ballarat. Standing on a treeless desert horizon at the foot of California’s Panamint mountains, its roofs are mostly gone, its walls are crumbling away—but in a few of the ancient shacks still dwell men “who knew the town when.”
They are a restless lot, these surviving desert rats of the old days—here today, tomorrow somewhere in the mountains 20 miles away. They come and go like the ghosts of the gala, golden era in which the town sprung into being.
Panamint Tom, the killer Indian; Shorty Harris, the most successful—and the most unlucky—prospector who ever packed a burro; French Pete, and a hundred others—famous and infamous—had a part in the boom day era. And one other, whose name on the desert is synonymous with Ballarat—Chris Wicht—-0l’ Chris, who ran the saloon, kept it open in fact long after the town itself had died.
For four years after the boom’s collapse Chris “fed and drank” the stranded prospectors “because I couldn’t help but feel I owed them something. They always left their dollars with me when they had ’em.”
“I “Kept figuring the town would come back,” he explains, “but when I’d gone broke too and no rich strikes made I knew I’d finally have to fold up.”
He doesn’t think he was generous. “I had it. They needed it. They paid me when they could,” is the way he puts it. Maybe that’s why, whenever you mentionBallaratin a desert mining town, someone remembers Ol’ Chris.
We were 200 miles away, having coffee at Big Rock springs on the edge of the Mojave, when we first heard about him. It was in October, 1940. We were on a hunt for ghost towns in the desert.
Mrs. Howard Bland, an attractive woman and an old-timer in the Mojave, told us about Ballarat and Chris as she served us coffee in the combination grocery store and lunch counter. There were interruptions while she waited on other customers, but we were in no hurry, and as time permitted she came and sat at the table with us and related her experiences in the old mining camp,
“I’ll never forget Ballarat,” she said, “any more than I will forget Chris Wicht and a certain postal inspector who paid the camp an official visit long after its gold had been worked out.”
Ballarat’s heyday was between 1895 to 1907. Then it was a bustling supply center forPanamint valleyprospectors—a link between the borax mines in Death Valley and the outside world. It was 15 years later that Mrs. Bland first saw the old camp. Then it was just a cluster of buildings in a beautiful barren setting. There was a hotel that nobody used, a closed store, a post office where mail never came or went. Ol’ Chris and his saloon were all that was left.
The government had found out that it had a post office that wasn’t being used and a postal inspection must be made. The postmaster who had also been the grocer, had just drifted off after the others. The postal department sent an elderly dignified Bostonian, whose habits of living had made him hopelessly useless according to desert dwellers’ way of thinking. The train dropped him at Randsburg, and since the bus driver was away, Mrs. Bland, whose husband was then the Randsburg grocer, was elected to take him to Ballarat in her Model T Ford.
“It was a cold, threatening day,” she related. “The road over Slate range was just two deep ruts with a high ridge between. There were hairpin turns around cliffs that dropped 600 feet. Buzzards circling overhead.
“The postal inspector was nervous. All he could see were mountains of rock, a few buzzards in the sky, and way below a wide barren flat. You could almost hear him shudder. I pointed out Ballarat – just a speck at the foot of the range on the other side of the valley. He didn’t see how people and animals could live there. What, for instance, could those big birds find to eat?
“I tried to wither him with a look. ‘Any old carcass is a feast to a buzzard,’ I said, and that stopped all small talk till we got to Ballarat.
“It was late afternoon, but the sky was already dark because of the storm clouds. Chris Wicht came out and met us. I liked him right away. He helped us open the old store, and the inspector got out the combination to the safe and started to work. He was pretty sure of himself at first, but after about 10 tries he became a little upset. So was I. I didn’t like the looks of that storm coming on.
‘Why don’t you give it a good cussing?’ Ol’ Chris suggested. ‘That’s the way the grocer used to make it work.’ The inspector wouldn’t even look at him. But he got up and handed me the figures. He said he guessed he didn’t have the right touch.
“Well, I tried it six or seven times I guess—until I was ready to try a charge of dynamite if nothing else would work. Chris was still standing there with that funny little smile of his, so I said, ‘How about you, Chris? Can you remember the words the grocer used?’
“Chris had never herded a burro, but he did all right. But even that didn’t work this time.
“I was ready to start for home. But not the inspector. He took back his figures and started in all over again. Chris watched him awhile and shook his head. ‘I think he needs a drink,’ he said.
“I sat down and chewed my fingernails. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I asked him to look outside and see the storm coming up. And I told him about the water spout that hit Surprise canyon a couple of years before and cut a 20-foot gully where there used to be a road. I tried to make him understand that it doesn’t just rain in this country—it pours. And that even a Model T didn’t have a chance, and the road across the dry lake would be just as slippery as a gravy dish and we had 65 miles of rough desert road before we got back to Randsburg. I must have made an impression finally because he said he guessed we might as well go.
“I helped him into the Ford and we jogged out of town over the long washboard of road that crossed the valley. I couldn’t tell whether the inspector’s teeth or the Ford chattered loudest. I was holding the throttle open as far as was safe. But I needn’t have bothered. The car stopped just before we got to the foot of the range. Ballarat was at least 10 miles behind us.
“I checked the gas, the plugs, even used my nail file on the points. It wasn’t any use.
“The inspector seemed to have lost his voice, but he managed to whisper shakily, ‘You don’t suppose we’ll be stranded here?’
” ‘Unless you know more about the insides of this thing than I do, one of us will,’ I assured him.
“He slipped down in the seat. ‘I never drove a car in my life,’ he said.
“I asked him how he was at walking. He just looked out into the darkness and shook his head. I wondered what the post office department was thinking of—sending a city man to Ballarat.
“There were two chocolate bars in the car pocket. I gave him both of them and warned him to stay put because of the jackals in the hills. When I left him he was shaking all over and all he could say was, ‘Jackals!’
“Well, it was a rough hike, but Ol’ Chris welcomed me at the end of it with a warm fire and a cozy chair. I suspect he enjoyed the inspector’s predicament. He said he’d get a burro out to him. He sent an old prospector and two burros. They returned hours later with a storm-washed inspector whose pince-nez dangled sadly on its chain.
“The next day a man from the Tanks on the other side of the range came over and fixed the Ford. The road had jolted loose all the ignition screws. I took the inspector back to Randsburg, and that was the last I ever saw of him. I don’t believe he ever visited our desert again. Ol’ Chris? They tell me he’s still somewhere around Ballarat. Back up in the hills with his own claim. Look him up. He’s one in a million.”
After hearing her story we wouldn’t have missed seeing Ballarat. Going over the Slate range we knew that except for grading, the road couldn’t have been changed much. There were the same sheer cliffs, the same hairpin turns, even a buzzard circling overhead, with Ballarat a little group of patched up buildings at the end of a ribbon of road across an alkaline flat.
Half a dozen men, a woman and her son, made their homes in the old structures and managed to find a living in the jagged forbidding range of the Panamints. Even the old double-boarded jail had become somebody’s home. It didn’t look as though it had ever been very strong.
“Didn’t have to be,” said Billy Heider, one of the old-timers. “Nobody ever in it but drunks. Didn’t even bother to lock the door on them. What was the use? Why should Ballarat feed ’em when all they needed was to sober up so’s they could go back out and spend their own money again?”
“But weren’t there bandits and outlaws in the early days? Wasn’t it true thatPanamint Cityhad been founded by a couple of stage coach robbers who accidentally discovered the rich veins of silver there way back in ’73—that one of them lived to a ripe old age in Ballarat?”
“Maybe so,” he agreed. “You hear a lot of things. But we don’t ask too many questions about a man out here—just so long as he’s straight with us. Sure, we had our share of outlaws—every mining town does. Had our share of shootings too. But nobody ever got hurt. Generally just playing around, happy and blowing off steam.”
Most of Ballarat’s prospectors pull out when summer comes. The men all have cars of one sort or another, and the High Sierra isn’t too far away. Some of them go up there and fish the summer away. Others have destinations unknown and never mentioned. Like Slim Ferge—Seldom Seen Slim. If the winter was lucky, he just disappears. When he’s broke he comes back—goes into the Panamints a few ore samples—sets up beside the highway in the Mojave, sells the samples to tourists for a new stake and starts all over again.
Most of the prospectors are hunting for gold. The Panamints have low-grade silver, but mining it is not profitable according to Chris Wicht, who has a whole canyon of it and ought to know. Some of the newcomers have found scheelite, which is composed of calcium and tungsten oxides. Tungsten is an important factor in the manufacture of armaments, and with an eye to the future and war industries booming, they know the supply can never equal the demand. The essential part of their equipment” is a violet ray lamp with batteries strapped to their chests. The light picks out the ore in little glowing patches.
But even the scheelite prospectors do not stay in Ballarat during the summer. The only one who is sure to be around is Ol’ Chris Wicht. They told us where to find him—a group of cottonwoods halfway up Surprise canyon where he has a silver claim and a bunch of cabins—”runs a sort of resort.”
That was news! A resort in Surprise canyon.
“How are the roads?” we asked.
“Oh, fine,” Slim assured us. “No bad roads around here. Don’t find bad roads till you get down around Granite wells.”
We didn’t go down around Granite wells, but we decided, bumping along the road up Surprise canyon, that Seldom Seen Slim had a real sense of humor. We even wondered if it wouldn’t be a nice idea to write Henry Ford a letter, providing there was anything left of our car to write about. But, at that, it might not have been so bad if we could have forgotten that the deep ravine beside the narrow ledge of road was where another road used to be and a waterspout took it out. Chris’s place is a little paradise in the Panamints after you get to it.
He has a group of neat furnished cabins and running water the year round. He’s even built a swimming pool where customers can “dehydrate” when the weather gets really hot and, for ultra modern convenience, he’s put in his own electric light plant. Crude, maybe, but it works. He had to use what he could find—a water wheel from an old mine and an old Dodge generator.
Chris thinks there isn’t any place like the Panamints. He doesn’t work his claim much. “If it was gold,” he says, “it would be all right. But by the time I’ve loaded silver onto the trucks, hauled it in and had it smelted, there isn’t anything left.” He still has faith in Ballarat. “There’s plenty of gold left yet in the Panamints.
It runs in ledges in the mountains to the south, lots of good pockets if you can find them. Trouble is, you have to be like a mountain goat to get around. And these automobiles don’t help any. In the old days, with a burro, a prospector could go almost anyplace. Now he either has to hunt around the edges, or leave the car behind and walk. Besides, who ever got any satisfaction out of trying new words on automobiles?”
“Sure,” he said, ” I still think Ballarat will come back some day.” He swept his arm broadly. “The reason may lay two hundred feet deep — but it’s there, hid someplace in the Panamints.”
If you drove north on Central Avenue in Apple Valley, about 3 miles from Highway 18,
a strange sight might give you a moment surprise: a group of dinosaurs
would appear on the horizon. This meant figures represent the work of
Lonnie Coffman, a soft-spoken, wiry, energetic man, who, in the 1960s,
began the building of his childhood fantasy a dinosaur park.
With his Midwestern family to board to provide recreational trips and
entertainment, Coffman spent much of his childhood in the public
library reading about prehistoric animals and dreaming of the park he
would someday build for other children to enjoy. According to a former
neighbor, Rose McHenry, he worked from dawn until dark every day on his
hobby. He never charged the busloads of schoolchildren that visited the
park, climbing over this meant replicas, and listening to the man,
usually of few words, expound on the life of the dinosaur.
He had written to Washington to get the exact measurements of Noah’s
Ark to add to his collection, when, after 12 years of personal funding,
his savings ran out. Coffman appealed to the county for help to continue
building his 17 1/2 acre park, but was turned down. He had no other
recourse but to give up his dream. According to Mrs. McHenry, Lonnie
Coffman left the area about 1982 a heartbroken man, leaving his concrete
dinosaurs to the winds and sands of the desert.
Adapted from Mojave V – Mohahve Historical Society
Not so well known is that both men, when they left the mission at San Gabriel made their way north to the San Joaquin Valley and the shore of Tulare Lake. In tracking the paths of both men in relation to our modern geography it is soon discovered that this lake does not seem to exist.
What happened to Tulare Lake?
The answer to this mystery of a disappearing lake is simple, yet inelegant and predictable:
At the onset of American settlement in the area in the late 1840s, the lake was the largest body of fresh water west of the Great Lakes. Its destruction by the late 1800s because of diking and water diversion for irrigation was one of the most dramatic signs of a major theme in the state’s history: the rapid transformation of the wild California landscape into one dominated almost completely by human action.
From Report of the Board of Commissioners on the Irrigation of the San Joaquin, Tulare, and Sacramento Valleys of the State of California.
“These Indians are Pa utch but not as wild as those above the Mt. their women and children did not run off. I saw at their Lodges a large cake of rock salt weighting 12 or 15 lbs and on enquiry found that they procured it a cave not far distant.”
Journal of Jedediah Smith – 1826
“I turned off to the right across a level piece of ground about 1/2 mile to the foot of a hill which appears to be two or three mile long and 100 or 150 feet high its course being about parallel with the River which is here running S E or E S E.”
“One of my men found a singular substance Some hard and transparent pieces of stone about twice as large as a large pea were firmly fixed in the side of a flat stone. Appearance of an abundance of Iron ore are seen here. and most certainly if a country produces minerals in proportion to its barrenness this must be rich in mineral productions.”
“The River entering a low but rugged mountain below I found it would be necessary to turn off from it to the left and as my guides informed me that it was more than a days travel to the next accessible point on the river between which place and this no water could be found”
In 1839, Cucamonga Rancho was granted by Gov. Juan B. Alvarado to Tiburcio Tapia, a prominent businessman in Los Angeles, serving just then as alcalde there. like old Don Antonio Maria Lugo, Tapia was a native born Californian and had been a corporal in the Presidio in Santa Barbara. During the Indian revolt in 1824 he was head of the guard at Mission La Purisima, and conducted himself with credit there. He had held various public offices afterward. He was prefect in 1840 during the great Chaguanoso raid on Southern California stock, and directed the pursuit of the robbers.
California archives abound in references to this outlaw raid of 1840, the greatest robbery of California stock that has occurred in the history of the state. It furnished all Southern California with thrills for weeks. On May 14, Juan Perez administrator of Mission San Gabriel, electrified the dozing occupants of the office of the alcalde at Los Angeles with the announcement that Chaguanosos had just robbed the mission of three bands of mares. Reports of similar losses at other points followed. Shortly, and great excitement developed. Three armed parties when pursuit of the ladrones; the first party, under Ygnacio Palomares, setting out the very next day. Palomares was from Rancho San Jose adjoining the Cucamonga Rancho.
Two days later Felipe Lugo, one of the two Los Angeles justices of the peace, sent a formal notice to every outlying judicial officer and every rancho mayordomo that horses add stolen from San Gabriel to San Bernardino, and that men were needed to reinforce the party that had gone out with Palomares. With these notices went a list of men delegated to this task, and a warning that anyone failing to respond would be fined 20 pesos. Men were drafted from every rancho. Apparently some of the calls came after the quotas had been furnished; for an unsigned letter from San Gabriel to Justice Lugo states that the mayordomo, four vaqueros, and seven men armed with bows and arrows had already started and the Mission could send no more. The party to reinforce Palomares left under command of Juan Leandry, the second Los Angeles justice.
Four days after receiving the news of the robbery, Prefect Tapia notified Justice Lugo that inasmuch as it was imperative that more men be sent to the two expeditions in the field, and since a third-party was proving hard to raise, he was ordering that prisoners in the jail be set free under the bond of the commander. Next day the names of three prisoners released on parole were made public.
Ill fortune followed Palomares’ party from the start. On the fourth day after his departure, Leandry, presumably on his way to join him, received word that Palomares had encountered the bandits and had been worsted by them. On the next day, five days after the raid, the third party set out, under José Antonio Carillo.
Palomares’ party evidently scattered after its defeat, four, on the same day that the third-party left Los Angeles, Ygnacio Alvarado, of the San Jose Rancho, sent word that two of Palomares’ men had arrived there. Their encounter with the robbers had been on the other side of the “Monument,” a great natural landmark about 12 miles northeast of Rabbit Springs on the Mojave Desert. The outlaws were evidently heading for the caravan trail at what was later called Fork of the Roads. They must’ve crossed the Mojave River east of the present village of Daggett, near Newberry.
The Spanish custom of making wordy reports of all official doings shows throughout this affair.in fact one is tempted to believe that report making was an important part of the entire pursuit. Palomares reported on May 19, after his defeat, that he had arrived at (Old) San Bernardino with eight of the 23 man that had gone out with him; that in the attack on the Chaguanosos one white man and one Indians had been killed and one other man wounded; and that their mounts had been either killed or taken from them when they were retreating from the Rancho de las Animas, a cienaga south of what is now Victorville. Evidently the robbers had ceased for a time to be fugitives and had turned pursuers, and Palomares’ retreat from then on had been on foot.
Leandry reported on the 20th that he had joined Palomares at San Bernardino and midnight the night before with 18 men; that their combined forces numbered 26, all supplied with firearms and cartridges; and that they had proceeded to Cajon Pass where they were then awaiting further orders. He stated that until the day before a detachment of the enemy, numbering as high as a hundred, had occupied the camp where he then was.
On May 22, Carrillo reported from a place he called “Campo de la Puente”– that a reconnoitering party of 10 had left him at 8 o’clock in the morning of the day before to spy upon the enemy. While the party was then about 10 leagues from where he was writing, while awaiting the arrival of ammunition and arms from Los Angeles preparatory to continuing the pursuit. He reported that he had 225 horses, 75 good men, 49 guns, nine braces of pistols, 19 spears, 22 swords and sabers, and 445 cartridges, all in good condition.
From now on he seems to have been in command of the entire pursuing party which, according to him, consisted of “80 citizens.” In his report of June 1, made after the grand chase was ended and he had returned to Los Angeles, we find his account of the campaign. Justice Leandry had been with him and had also sent reports regularly. What became of Palomares does not appear. The ammunition Carrillo had been awaiting evidently reached him, and he had joined the reconnoitering party.
From the tracks of the robbers’ party he decided that they were driving about 3000 stolen animals and were traveling directly north. At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 24th, he had reached a place he called “Ojo de Agua de la Mesa,” where the tracks were very fresh. This was probably what is now called Bitter Springs.
The party left their baggage and their extra horses here, and on writing about six leagues farther, cited an enemy outlook. They chased him to the mountain, but he escaped from them. At four in the afternoon they noted a cloud of dust in the distance, and saw that the horses were being driven in separate bands. A little before sunset of the 25th, the rearguard of the robbers was surprised at a place called “Agua de Ramon,” a point reported by Leandry as about 100 leagues from Los Angeles. It was probably either Resting Springs or some spring in that vicinity.
Carrillo reported that this rearguard consisted of 20 riflemen; and according to Leandry, who claimed to have found a list of their names in an abandoned coat, they were citizens of the United States. Carrillo wrote that, I’m being warned of the approach of the pursuing party, the bandits fled precipitately, leaving saddles, clothing, and cooking utensils, while along the road lay about 1500 of the horses that had perished from thirst and hunger. Leandry wrote that in their flight the outlaws abandoned even their hobbled horses. Carrillo explained that his party had not pursued the robbers farther because of the exhausted condition of their own mounts and the lack of food. Leandry reported their return to Los Angeles on May 28, and ended with the comment that the robbers gained very little from the raid, since in the marches, made a full speed without water, they had lost more than half the horses. The pursuing party gained even less. Thus ended the affair that through all Southern California into a fever.
There is nothing in the archives to indicate who the Americans in this raid were. Bill Williams and Peg leg Smith have been mentioned as possible leaders, and there are reasons for believing that one or both of them were at least connected with it.
from; Heritage of the Valley San Bernardino’s first century George W. Beatie & Helen Pruitt Beattie – 1939
“I was down in San Berdo the other day, and a man got me into one of them women’s afternoon fandangos; you know, one of them afternoon affairs where they all talk and don’t say nothing. And a “fly-up-the-creek” woman came up, all “a side-winding,” and said: ‘Now Mr. Scott, I’m sure in your desert travels you must have lots of opportunities to do kind deeds. What you tell the ladies the kindest deeds you ever did?”
“Well, lady,” I says, ” let me think a minute. One time several years ago I been traveling all day on a horse, and I came in on a dry camp way up in one of the canyons. There was an old road leading up to it; hadn’t been used for years; but I noticed fresh tracks on it. When I got to the camp, there sat an old man and an old woman. They must have been 70 years old apiece. When they saw me they both began to cry, and I said: ‘ my goodness, how in the hell did you two ever get up here?’ Well, they said, they were driving through the valley, and it was so hot they thought they were going to die, and they come up to this road and they thought it led to a higher place where it would be so hot, so they took it and got up there, and it was night, so they camped there all night in the morning they found their horse had wandered off. They had looked for him but he was gone, and they’d been there most a week and had no food. Well, I open my packet built a fire and made them a cup of coffee and fried some bacon and stirred up some saddle blankets (hot cakes) for them, and say, you ought to see them two old folks eat! It cheered them up considerable.
We sat around the fire all the evening and powwowed, and they was a nice old couple. We all slept that night on the ground. They was pretty cold, so I gave them a blanket I had. The next morning I made them some more coffee and gave them some breakfast. I had to be going, so I packed up and got astride my horse. I sort of hated to leave the old couple; they seemed kind enough sort of people; but there was nothing else to do; so I said goodbye, and they both was crying; said they’d sure die; no way for them to get out. They couldn’t walk. It was 100 miles from help, and there was no automobiles in those days. But I got on my horse and started off, and then I looked around and saw them two old people a-standing there crying, and, you know, I just couldn’t stand it to leave them old people there alone to die, so I’d just took out my rifle and shot them both. Lady, that was the kindest deed I ever did.”
“Oh, Scotty,” I said, “Why did you tell those women such a tale as that?”
“Well, you know all them bandits you meet when you go out; you got to tell them something, ain’t you?”
“I suppose so, but it seems to me you might think up something better than that to tell at a ladies club meeting.”
“Well, that’s what I told that bunch, anyway. You’ve got to send up some kind of a howl if you’re going to be heard. There are so many free schools and so much ignorance.”
And Scotty lighted another fifteen cent cigar (he always smoked the best), …
from Death Valley Scotty by Mabel – Bessie M. Johnson – Death Valley Natural History Association
— Wyatt had bought a brand new auto and was taking Josie out to visit a friend in Arizona. Somewhere south of Needles, a large bull leapt out from behind a creosote bush. The bull huffed and puffed and stomped and scrapped his hooves, lowered his head and charged the brand-new shiny-clean car. The bull came at the door on Josie’s side. She screamed. She was afraid the bull would kill her. However, she had no reason to fear death as Wyatt, drew his gun and put 3 shots into his thick skull right between its wide-set eyes. This killed the bull instantly. The bull had messed up the door pretty bad. Then all of a sudden some guy jumped out of the creosote yelling and screaming about the “prize bull” Wyatt just killed. An argument ensued. It seemed that Wyatt knew this guy’s boss and was the friend he was taking Josie to visit. It was pretty funny. Sort of. I don’t know who, if anyone, paid to get Wyatt’s door fixed. I imagine they ate the bull.
I have heard that the Paiute Indians have a legend–a story they would tell about a giant who crossed the desert with an olla full of water in each arm. With each step he would leave his footprint in the ground, and water would spill from the olla into the hole as he walked on. The giant was so large that these waterholes were one day’s walk between each for a normal-sized man. The Indian learned this and used these waterholes to travel great distances and trade with other Peoples beyond the desert. As time went on and things went the way things do, one such trail became the Mojave Road. — Editor
At any rate, it was not people who went into the desert merely to write it up who invented the fabled Hassayampa, of whose waters, if any drink, they can no more see fact as naked fact, but all radiant with the color of romance. I, who must have drunk of it in my twice seven years’ wanderings, am assured that it is worth while.
~ Land of Little Rain – Mary Austin
Country of Lost Borders
The Hassayampa Legend -Andrew Downing
There’s a legend centuries old
By the early Spaniards told
Of a sparkling stream that “lies”
Under the Arizona skies
Hassayampa is its name
And the title of its fame
Is a wondrous quality
Known today from sea to sea
Those who drink it’s waters bright
Red man, white man, boor or Knight
Girls, or women, boys or men
Never tell the truth again!
Earp, California is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County in the Sonoran/Mojave Desert transition next to the Colorado River at the California/Arizona state line in Parker Valley.
In 1910 the little town was named Drennan. In 1929 Drennan was renamed Earp in 1929 in honor of the nefarious Old West lawman and entrepreneur Wyatt Earp. Wyatt and Josephine Sarah Marcus, his common-law wife, lived in the area seasonally from about 1906 staking more than 100 claims near the base of the Whipple Mountains.
They bought a small cottage in nearby Vidal and lived there during the fall, winter and spring months of 1925 – 1928, while he worked his “Happy Days” mines in the Whipple Mountains a few miles north. It was the only place they owned the entire time they were married. They spent the winters of his last years working the claims but lived in Los Angeles during the summers, where Wyatt died on January 13, 1929.
Now, there is no question that Bessie catered to some wild goings on at the Sage Brush Inn, but the thing that seems to titillate people is the rather persistent rumor that she was a madam and operated a brothel. This rumor is wide spread and taken as a given by many, maybe most, and it is certainly strengthened when Bill Bender is one of those who states it to be a fact.
Bill lived right across the street from Bessie, was well acquainted with her, and was in a position to be in the know. He put it this way:
During World War II that [living] room did overtime as a ‘junior brothel’ for any lonesome airman stationed at George. Annie could always get in touch with a shady lady or two when the demand was there. It never really became a steady part of her business, but she was for anything that turned a profit.
There are also wild stories about how youngsters were not allowed in the place, not even during the day, and about thatched cribs, little shed-like structures, that dotted the back yard. However, in the early days as a service station this would seem most unlikely. Nor does it seem reasonable to suppose that Sagebrush Annie’s roadhouse would have brazenly had cribs on the premises with her family and friends in close proximity. Of course, in later years, with her relatives and friends gone, the situation would have been different.
Mataviam described travel in general to Kelly (1933: 23:7) in the following way:
Travelers packed everything on their backs, and wore any kind of foot gear. Children always wore shoes; if the children were too small to walk, their parents took turns carrying them. They also took turns packing the water jar, which was carried in a burden basket (ais) or a net. Blankets, etc., were taken. Women took cooking utensils, including manos, but not metates. Men took weapons and walked ahead. Dogs accompanied the party. Children were given something to carry; perhaps a small skin sack, but not a burden basket or net. Travel along certain routes had to be timed so that people could be sure that there would be water available in drier sections. Timing was particularly important if some of these sources were tanks and sandstone potholes.
from: Southern Paiute – Chemehuevi Trails Across the Mojave Desert: Isabel Kelly=s Data, 1932-33 (Darling/Sneed Symposium, AAA 2004) Catherine S. Fowler University of Nevada, Reno
Shorty Harris and his companion eating next to an automobile somewhere in Death Valley during the 1920s. Rhyolite, Nevada was founded in 1904 after Shorty Harris and Ed Cross discovered Rhyolite Quartz at the Bullfrog mine. By 1906 the town had two railroad lines and a population of 10,000. The mines, however, did not produce as expected and by the early 1910s Rhyolite was abandoned. Aurora, Nevada was a silver mining boomtown founded in 1860. The heyday of Aurora ran throughout the 1860s (Mark Twain briefly lived there), but it slowly declined after 1870. It went through a rebirth in 1912 when a new stamp mill and cyanide plant were built at the mines. In 1917, however, the mill closed down and by the early 1920s Aurora was abandoned. Calico, California was initially founded as a silver mining town in 1882 but by 1890 the cost of recovering the silver became prohibitive. The town, however, continued to exist until 1907 due to the production of Borax.
At Furnace Creek ranch, Mr. Harris learned of the finding of three partially decomposed bodies between Lee’s camp in Echo canon and the Lida C. [sic] borax mine, at the foot of a low hill on the north side of the Funeral range. The presence of the bodies was first reported at Ash Meadows by an Indian, who was attracted to the spot by a band of coyotes and a …
The prospector is one of the unique, one of the most exceptional and most worthy of all those remarkable characters who have exploited and led the way for the development of the west. The west owes him a debt of gratitude which the west can never pay. Always poor, often homeless, self-reliant, hopeful, generous and brave, he has been the solitary explorer of desert and mountain vastness. He is the one who unlocked from its imprisoned silence the countless millions of what is now the world’s wealth. He penetrates the most remote and inaccessible regions, defies hunger and storms alike, sleeps upon the mountain side or in improvised cabins, restlessly wanders and searches through weeks and months and years for nature’s hidden and hoarded treasures. Often-times his search ends in poverty and distress and failure, sometimes in success. Without the prospector – this poor isolated wanderer – the great mining centers of the west would not exist. Without his uneasy, never-tiring efforts, millions of dollars now on their way to minister to the happiness and comfort of the country would never have been poured into the channels of business and commerce.
(Excerpt taken from “100 Years of Real Living” by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, 1961)
When from the lips of Truth one mighty breath Shall, like a whirlwind, scatter in its breeze The whole dark pile of human miseries, Then shall the reign of mind commence on earth And, starting forth as from a second birth, Man, in the sunrise of the world’s new spring, Shall walk transparent like some holy thing.
“When I recovered my thoughts I could hardly realize where I was, though I remembered to have considered myself as having also been struck to the earth, and thought I was probably dying. I knew that all, or nearly all of the family had been murdered; thus bewildered, confused, half conscious and half insensible, I remained a short time, I know not how long, when suddenly I seemed awakened to the dreadful realities around me. My little sister was standing by my side, sobbing and crying, saying : ‘Mother, O mother ! Olive, mother and father are killed, with all our poor brothers and sisters.’ I could no longer look upon the scene. Occasionally a low, piteous moan would come from some one of the family as in a dying state. I distinguished the groans of my poor mother, and sprang wildly toward her, but was held back by the merciless savage holding me in his cruel grasp, and lifting a club over my head, threatening me in the most taunting, barbarous manner. I longed to have him put an end to my life. ‘0h!, thought I, ‘must I know that my poor parents have been killed by these savages and I remain alive !’ I asked them to kill me, pleaded with them to take my life, but all my pleas and prayers only excited to laughter and taunts the two wretches to whose charge we had been committed.
” After these cruel brutes had consummated their work of slaughter, which they did in a few moments, they then commenced to plunder our wagon, and the persons of the family whom they had killed. …
Lorenzo Oatman – RE: The Oatman Family Massacre, 1851
Fifty years ago, about the time the Salt Lake railroad was being built from Salt Lake City to
San Pedro, California, many small mining camps were springing up all along the line and the hills were full of prospectors. An old man with long white whiskers, mounted on a burro and driving four others ahead of him, showed up at the little mining camp of Crescent, Nevada. After watering his burros at the water trough near the windmill he pulled off to one side and made camp. By the time his burros were unpacked and hobbled and the campfire going, Winfield Sherman, Ike Reynolds, Bert Cavanaugh, Jim Wilson and the writer had gathered around to pass the time of day with the newcomer.
During the conversation, which was carried on mostly by Winfield Sherman, a typical long-haired, bewhiskered desert rat, the old prospector volunteered the information that his name was Riley Hatfield, that he hailed from Raleigh, North Carolina, and that he had come out west on the advice of the family doctor. He said he was headed for Searchlight, Nevada, to purchase provisions and to see a doctor about a heart ailment that had been troubling him.
The old man was very polite, had a good outfit and looked prosperous. However, he did not seem to be much interested in the Crescent camp despite the buildup we old-timers had given it while sitting around the campfire.
The old man broke camp shortly after breakfast the next morning and by sunup was headed out over the trail in the direction of Searchlight. Two days later the writer happened to be in Searchlight to pick up mail and provisions and met the prospector at Jack Wheatley’s boarding
After dinner I joined the old man on the front porch for a smoke and a little chat. During the conversation he told me he had some placer gold for sale and asked me if I knew anyone who would buy it. I referred him to the assay office at either the Duplex or Quartette mine. Later that afternoon he told me he had sold the gold at the Duplex assay office. He reached into his pocket and pulled out five or six of the most beautiful gold nuggets I had ever seen. He said he was sending them to a friend.
I saw the prospector several times the following day and late that afternoon he told me he had purchased his supplies and had seen a doctor and would be ready to pull out early the next day. He asked me to accompany him as far as Crescent where I had my own camp.
After breakfast the next morning we headed our two pack outfits in the direction of Crescent Peak 14 miles west.
About noon we stopped for lunch and to give the burros a chance to browse. While the bacon was sizzling and the coffee pot was sputtering the old man told me he had discovered four pounds of gold nuggets in a black sand deposit near the Clark Mountains northeast of
Nippeno (now called Nipton.) He invited me to go with him as he did not like to be out in the desert alone.
He said that one day while camped just below Clark Peak, he climbed a short way up the mountainside and saw off to the east a dry lake bed that suddenly filled with water. It looked so real he could see trees along the shore and their reflection in the water.
The route he was following to Crescent and Searchlight was in that general direction so he decided to investigate the lake or whatever it was. As he approached the lake later it had entirely disappeared, and he then realized that it was only a beautiful mirage. Fortunately he had brought a good supply of water along. About noon while skirting the western edge of the dry lake bed he saw what seemed to be the entrance to a cave on the east side of a small limestone hill about 50 feet above the level of the dry lake bed.
There is something interesting about a cave. It may contain anything—an iron-bound chest full of gold and silver and precious gems, bandit loot, old guns, saddles, artifacts, bones of man or long extinct animals. I sometimes think this love of the cave has been handed down to us by ancient ancestors who lived in caves. When one of those old-timers headed for his cave two jumps ahead of a three-toed whang-doodle the cave looked good to him.
Likewise this cave looked good to the old prospector and he decided to make camp and explore it. At least it offered shelter from desert sand storms.
The entrance was a long tunnel. He had not gone far inside when he heard the sound of running water. Returning to the mouth of the cave for a lantern, he made his way back along the narrow entrance and soon came to a great dome-shaped chamber resembling an amphitheatre full of churning water. As he stood there a small whirlpool appeared in the center and suddenly the water rushed out with a roar like thunder. The bottom seemed to have dropped out of the cave. The floor was shaped like a large basin with bench-like terraces or
steps that led down to the dark center. The terraces were piled high with black sand that trickled down with the receding water.
Hanging from the ceiling were thousands of beautiful stalactites while other thousands of stalagmites stood up from the floor of the cave. In places they formed massive columns. Around the interior of the cavern were many grottos sparkling with crystals. The walls were
plastered with lime carbonate like tapestries studded with diamonds. Never in his life had he seen anything like it. Above the top terrace was a human skeleton and in a nearby grotto were the bones of some extinct animal, probably a ground sloth.
The center of the basin-shaped bottom of the cave was now filled with black sand that had slid down from the surrounding terraces. On the way out he gathered a few handfuls of the sand
which later was found to be sprinkled with yellow nuggets that gleamed in the desert sunlight. That night the old prospector sat by his campfire smoking and reveling in the dreams of a Monte Cristo. Was he not rich?
According to his story the water in the cavern rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the tides in the Pacific and is active twice every 24 hours. First a rumbling sound like a subterranean cannonading is heard coming from the dark interior and then suddenly the pile of black sand that chokes the tube-like chimney, is seen to rise up, and a dark column of water 18 feet in diameter bulges up from the center and reaches a height of 45 or 50 feet. This dome of
water and sand spreads out into waves and breaks into white spray as it dashes against the terraces. The play or intense agitation keeps up for several hours and then the pool settles down and is quiet as a millpond.
If the old man told the truth about the sand in the lake bed and in the cavern, it would be difficult to compute the value of the gold that could be taken from this cave. Then, too, every time the tide comes it brings up more gold. How far the black stream reaches down the underground stream, I am unable to say.
Our dinner was over by the time the old man had finished his story, and we began to break camp.
He invited me to go along with him to his cave and work with him. This I readily agreed to do as soon as I could sell my mining claims in the Crescent camp. The old man promised to be back in about three weeks with more gold at which time I hoped to be ready to accompany him.
I sold my claim to an old French Canadian named Joe Semenec, who was prospecting for a Dr. John Horsky, of Helena, Montana.
The old prospector never returned and to this date no word has ever come out of the desert as to his fate. I have since learned that an old man with long white whiskers was found dead on the dry lake bed near Ivanpah. He and his burros were shot to death. I do not know if this was the same man or not.
The old man had told me that there was from three to six feet of this heavy black sand on the dry lake bed, which is now covered by a shroud of snow white sand.
Naturally I do not know the exact location of this million dollar cave. If I did I would locate it myself instead of writing this story which will, no doubt, stir interest in that part of the desert. This cave should not be confused with one that recently was discovered out on Highway 91 east of San Bernardino, California, which is said to extend for a distance of eight miles and to contain a fortune in gold.
Some old prospector or desert rat with a magic lamp to transport him to this hole in the ground, could live like a king, if he had enough money to buy a small electric light plant, some rails and an ore car. He could live in a fairy palace with nothing to do but wait for the tide to come in with more gold.
In December of 1849 anxious gold seekers and their wagons broke away from the Mojave San Joaquin Company (Mojave Sand-walking Company) to take a shortcut to the goldfields of California. Their map was incomplete and vague not informing these wayward pioneers of the numerous ranges of mountains between them and their destination. As a result they lost their way in the rocky canyons and sandy washes leading down into what we now know as Death Valley.
It was obvious to the travelers that Indians lived in the area, but they all had fled from the wanderers with one exception. Both Julia Brier and William Manly, members of this band of Lost 49ers recorded the first known encounter with this remaining Timbisha Shoshone Indian.
The next morning the company moved on over the sand to — nobody knew where. One of the men ahead called out suddenly, “Wolf! Wolf!” and raised his rifle to shoot.
“My God, it’s a man!” his companion cried. As the company came up we found the thing to be an aged Indian lying on his back and buried in the sand — save his head. He was blind, shriveled and bald and looked like a mummy.
He must have been one hundred and fifty years old. The men dug him out and gave him water and food. The poor fellow kept saying, “God bless pickaninnies!” Wherever he had learned that. His tribe must have fled ahead of us and as he couldn’t travel he was left to die.
Excerpt from the December 25, 1898 edition of The San Francisco Call
Our Christmas Amid the Terrors of Death Valley – Julia Brier
Next morning I shouldered my gun and followed down the cañon keeping the wagon road, and when half a mile down, at the sink of the sickly stream, I killed a wild goose. This had undoubtedly been attracted here the night before by the light of our camp fire. When I got near the lower end of the cañon, there was a cliff on the north or right hand side which was perpendicular or perhaps a little overhanging, and at the base a cave which had the appearance of being continuously occupied by Indians. As I went on down I saw a very strange looking track upon the ground. There were hand and foot prints as if a human being had crawled upon all fours. As this track reached the valley where the sand had been clean swept by the wind, the tracks became more plain, and the sand had been blown into small hills not over three or four feet high. I followed the track till it led to the top of one of these small hills where a small well-like hole had been dug and in this excavation was a kind of Indian mummy curled up like a dog. He was not dead for I could see him move as he breathed, but his skin looked very much like the surface of a well dried venison ham. I should think by his looks he must be 200 or 300 years old, indeed he might be Adam’s brother and not look any older than he did. He was evidently crippled. A climate which would preserve for many days or weeks the carcass of an ox so that an eatable round stake could be cut from it, might perhaps preserve a live man for a longer period than would be believed.
I suppose the cool thing about this flake is that it was found in a little spot in a large meadow at the bottom of a valley in a local mountain range hundreds of miles from the closest source of obsidian. This may mean it was part of a trade or series of trades between Indian groups maybe even thousands of years ago. With each trade, with each mile from the source the rock that this flake was part of became more and more valuable. With each trade the material became more precious and smaller flakes like this, which may have been discarded as debitage closer to the source, but used for smaller items and valued the further the distance away.
This flake was found in what could have been an ancient campfire, or fire pit as there was countless bit of charcoal the same color as the little rock. The difference in texture made the piece standout from the charcoal. The gentleman that found this noticed this difference from his experience, developing an eye for these types of relics while I stood there spacing out at the beautiful scenery. He held it up to the light so I could snap a picture showing its translucence. Amazing to me. He flipped it up into the air like a coin–it landed back on the midden. Then we went somewhere else.
The best strike I ever made was in 1904 when I discovered the Rhyolite and Bullfrog district. I went into Boundary Canyon with five burros and plenty of grub, figuring to look over the country northeast from there. When I stopped at Keane Wonder Mine, Ed Cross was there waiting for his partner, Frank Howard, to bring some supplies from the inside. For some reason Howard had been delayed, and Cross was low on grub.
“Shorty,” he said, “I’m up against it, and the Lord knows when Howard will come back. How are the chances of going with you?”
“Sure, come right along,” I told him, “I’ve got enough to keep us eating for a couple of months.”
So we left the Keane Wonder, went through Boundary Canyon, and made camp at Buck Springs, five miles from a ranch on the Amargosa where a squaw man by the name of Monte Beatty lived. The next morning while Ed was cooking, I went after the burros. They were feeding on the side of a mountain near our camp, and about half a mile from the spring. I carried my pick, as all prospectors do, even when they are looking for their jacks—a man never knows just when he is going to locate pay-ore. When I reached the burros, they were right on the spot where the Bullfrog mine was afterwards located. Two hundred feet away was a ledge of rock with some copper stains on it. I walked over and broke off a piece with my pick—and gosh, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. The chunks of gold were so big that I could see them at arm’s length—regular jewelry stone! In fact, a lot of that ore was sent to jewelers in this country and England, and they set it in rings, it was that pretty! Right then, it seemed to me that the whole mountain was gold.
I let out a yell, and Ed knew something had happened; so he came running up as fast as he could. When he got close enough to hear, I yelled again: “Ed we’ve got the world by the tail, or else we’re coppered!”
We broke off several more pieces, and they were like the first—just lousy with gold. The rock was green, almost like turquoise, spotted with big chunks of yellow metal, and looked a lot like the back of a frog. This gave us an idea for naming our claim, so we called it the Bullfrog. The formation had a good dip, too. It looked like a real fissure vein; the kind that goes deep and has lots of real stuff in it. We hunted over the mountain for more outcroppings, but there were no other like that one the burros led me to. We had tumbled into the cream pitcher on the first one—so why waste time looking for skimmed milk?
That night we built a hot fire with greasewood, and melted the gold out of the specimens. We wanted to see how much was copper, and how much was the real stuff. And when the pan got red hot, and the gold ran out and formed a button, we knew that our strike was a big one, and that we were rich.
“How many claims do you figure on staking out?” Ed asked me.
“One ought to be plenty,” I told him. “If there ain’t enough in one claim, there ain’t enough in the whole country. If other fellows put extensions on that claim of ours, and find good stuff, it will help us sell out for big money.”
Ed saw that that was a good argument, so he agreed with me.
After the monuments were placed, we got some more rich samples, and went to the county seat to record our claim. Then we marched into Goldfield, and went to an eating-house. Ed finished his meal before I did, and went out into the street where he met Bob Montgomery, a miner that both of us knew. Ed showed him a sample of our ore, and Bob couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Where did you get that?” he asked.
“Shorty and I found a ledge of it southwest of Bill Beatty’s ranch,” Ed told him.
Bob thought he was having some fun with him and said so.
“Oh, that’s just a piece of float that you picked up somewhere. It’s damn seldom ledges like that are found!”
Just then I came walking up, and Ed said, “Ask Shorty if I ain’t telling you the truth.”
“Bob,” I said, “that’s the biggest strike made since Goldfield was found. If you’ve got any sense at all, you’ll go down there as fast as you can, and get in on the ground floor!”
That seemed to be proof enough for him, and he went away in a hurry to get his outfit together—one horse and a cart to haul his tools and grub. He had an Indian with him by the name of Shoshone Johnny, who was a good prospector. Later on, it was this Indian who set the monuments on the claim that was to become the famous Montgomery-Shoshone Mine.
It’s a might strange thing how fast the news of a strike travels. You can go into a town after you’ve made one, meet a friend on the street, and take him into your hotel room and lock the door. Then, after he has taken a nip from your bottle, you can whisper the news very softly in his ear. Before you can get out on the street, you’ll see men running around like excited ants that have had a handful of sugar poured on their nest. Ed and I didn’t try to keep our strike a secret, but we were surprised how the news of it spread. Men swarmed around us and asked to see our specimens. They took one look at them, and then started off on the run to get their outfits together.
I’ve seen some gold rushes in my time that were hummers, but nothing like that stampede. Men were leaving town in a steady stream with buckboards, buggies, wagons and burros. It looked like the whole population of Goldfield was trying to move at once. Miners who were working for the big companies dropped their tools and got ready to leave town in a hurry. Timekeepers and clerks, waiters and cooks—they all got he fever and milled around, wild-eyed, trying to find a way to get out to the new “strike.” In a little while there wasn’t a horse or wagon in town, outside of a few owned by the big companies, and the price of burros took a big jump. I saw one man who was about ready to cry because he couldn’t buy a jackass for $500.
A lot of fellows loaded their stuff on two-wheeled carts—grub, tools, and cooking utensils, and away they went across the desert, two or three pulling a cart and the pots and pans rattling. When all the carts were gone, men who didn’t have anything else started out on that seventy-five mile hike with wheelbarrows; and a lot of ’em made it alright—but they had a hell of a time!
When Ed and I got back to our claim a week later, more than a thousand men were camped around it, and they were coming in every day. A few had tents, but most of ‘em were in open camps. One man had brought a wagon load of whiskey, pitched a tent, and made a bar by laying a plank across two barrels. He was serving the liquor in tincups, and doing a fine business.
That was the start of Rhyolite, and from then on things moved so fast that it made even us old timers dizzy. Men were swarming all over the mountains like ants, staking out claims, digging and blasting, and hurrying back to the county seat to record their holdings. There were extensions on all sides of our claim, and other claims covering the country in all directions.
In a few days, wagon loads of lumber began to arrive, and the first buildings were put up. These were called rag-houses because they were half boards and half canvas. But this building material was so expensive that lots of men made dugouts, which didn’t cost much more than plenty of sweat and blisters.
When the engineers and promoters began to come out, Ed and I got offers every day for our claim. But we just sat tight and watched the camp grow. We knew the price would go up after some of the others started to ship bullion. And as time went on, we saw that we were right. Frame shacks went up in the place of rag-houses and stores, saloons, and dance halls were being opened every day.
Bids for our property got better and better. The man who wanted to buy would treat with plenty of liquor before he talked business, and in that way, I got all I wanted to drink without spending a bean. Ed was wiser, though, and let the stuff alone—and it paid him to do it too, for when he did sell, he got much more for his half than I got for mine.
One night, when I was pretty well lit up, a man by the name of Bryan took me to his room and put me to bed. The next morning, when I woke up, I had a bad headache and wanted more liquor. Bryan had left several bottles of whiskey on a chair beside the bed, and locked the door. I helped myself, and went back to sleep. That was the start of the longest jag I ever went on; it lasted six days. When I came to, Bryan showed me a bill of sale for the Bullfrog, and the price was only $25,000. I got plenty sore, but it didn’t do any good. There was my signature on the paper and beside it, the signatures of seven witnesses and the notary’s seal. And I felt a lot worse when I found out that Ed had been paid a hundred and twenty five thousand for his half, and had lit right out for Lone Pine, where he got married. Today he’s living in San Diego County, has a fine ranch, and is very well fixed.
As soon as I got the money, I went out for a good time. All the girls ate regularly while old Shorty had the dough. As long as my stake lasted I could move and keep the band playing. And friends—I never knew I had so many! They’d jam a saloon to the doors, and every round of drinks cost me thirty or forty dollars. I’d have gone clean through the pay in a few weeks if Dave Driscol hadn’t given me hell. Dave and I had been partners in Colorado and Utah, and I thought a great deal of him. Today he’s living over in Wildrose Canyon, and going blind. Well, I had seven or eight thousand left when Dave talked to me.
“Shorty,” he said “If you don’t cut this out you’ll be broke in a damn short time and won’t have the price of a meal ticket!”
I saw that he was right, and jumped on the water wagon then and there—and I haven’t fallen off since.
Rhyolite grew like a mushroom. Gold Center was started four miles away, and Beatty’s ranch became a town within a few months. There were 12,000 people in the three places, and two railroads were built out to Rhyolite. Shipments of gold were made every day, and some of the ore was so rich that it was sent by express with armed guards. And then a lot of cash came into Rhyolite—more than went out from the mines. It was this sucker money that put the town on the map quick. The stock exchange was doing a big business, and I remember that the price of Montgomery-Shoshone got up to ten dollars a share.
Business men of Rhyolite were live ones, alright. They decided to make the town the finest in Nevada—and they came mighty near doing it. Overbury built a three-story office building out of cut stone—it must have cost him fifty thousand. The bank building had three stories too, and the bank was finished with marble and bronze. There were plenty of other fine business houses, and a railroad station that would look mighty good in any city.
Money was easy to get and easy to spend in those days. The miners and muckers threw it right and left when they had it. Many a time I’ve seen ‘em eating bacon and beans, and drinking champagne. Wages were just a sideline with them—most of their money was made in mining stock.
Rhyolite was a great town, and no mistake—as live as the Colorado camps were thirty years before, but not so bad. We had a few gunfights, and several tough characters got their light shot out, which didn’t make the rest of us sore. We were glad enough to spare ‘em. I saw some of those fights myself, but I never took any part in the fireworks. “Shorty, the foot racer” was what they called me because I always ducked around the corner when the bullets began to fly. I knew they were not meant for me; but I wasn’t taking any chances.
There was plenty of gold in those mountains when I discovered the original Bullfrog, and there’s plenty there yet. A lot of it was taken out while Rhyolite was going strong—$6,000,000 or $7,000,000—but they quit before they got the best of it. Stock speculation—that’s what killed Rhyolite! The promoters got impatient. They figured that money could be made faster by getting gold from the pockets of suckers than by digging it out of the hills. And so, when the operators of the Montgomery-Shoshone had a little trouble; when they ran into water and struck a sulphite ore which is refactory, and has to be cut and roasted to be turned into money—the bottom dropped out of the stock market and the town busted wide open, She died quick, too. Most of the tin horns lit out for other parts, and that’s a sure sign a mining camp is going on the rocks.
If the right people ever got hold of Rhyolite they’ll make a killing; but they’ll have to be real hard rock miners, and not the kind that do their work only on paper. Rhyolite is dead now—dead as she was before I made the big strike. Those fine buildings are standing out there on the desert, with the coyotes and jackrabbits playing hide and seek around them.
from: Half a Century Chasing Rainbows By Frank “Shorty” Harris as told to Phillip Johnston Touring Topics: Magazine of the American Automobile Association of Southern California October 1930