Hard Rock Shorty of Death Valley
“This place must be a great deal like the Sahara desert,” remarked one of the tourists who had stopped at the Inferno store to ask about the location of Death Valley Scotty’s mine.
“Do you ever see any ostriches or camels wandering around over these barren sand dunes?”
“Not any more,” said Hard Rock Shorty. “Usta be some ostriches here, but Ol’ Pisgah Bill got rid of ’em. They wuz too dumb to do any work, an’ they kept eatin’ up his grub. He finally gave ’em all to the zoo down in Los Angeles.
“Bill had a good idea—only it didn’t work. It was back in the old days when the wimen wuz all wearin’ ostrich plumes on their hats. Ostrich farms wuz springin’ up everywhere. Bill read in the papers about a big ostrich ranch down in Phoenix which sold $60,000 worth of feathers in one year.
“So Bill sent to the gov’ment printin’ office an’ got all the information he could about ostriches. The more he read the more certain he was that them big birds ‘d thrive in Death Valley. ‘They eat anything,’ he explained, ‘an’ they don’t drink much water. Death Valley’s just the place fer ostriches.’
“The next winter Bill hit a purty good pocket in that gold mine o’ his over in the Panamints, an’ as soon as he got his returns from the mill he sent down to Phoenix to buy a couple o’ them ostriches.
“Bill’s idea wuz to make ’em work fer a livin’. He’d train ’em to pack out ore like a burro, an’ when pluckin’ time came he’d gather a few feathers—and that would be an extra bit o’ profit.
“Trouble wuz, them ostriches did jes what all the books said they’d do—they ate everything. Second morning after Bill got ’em into camp up in Eight Ball crick one o’ them big birds stuck his head in the window o’ Bill’s little shack an’ swallered Bill’s can o’ coffee. The other bird saw what wuz goin’ on and it reached in an’ took the coffee pot in one gulp. Bill had to keep the house locked, the windows closed, and all his tools out o’ sight, cause them birds jest gobbled up everything layin’ around.
“An’ to make it worse, the only way Pisgah could get ’em to pack rock wuz to walk ahead of them carryin’ something to eat. They wuz too dumb to learn, an’ the burros didn’t like ’em either.
“The final showdown came one mornin’ when one of them ostriches walked into the mine tunnel and swallered three sticks o’ dynamite. As it came out it passed close to one of the burros, and the animal hauled off an’ gave it a kick. The explosion killed the burro, blew down the shack, an’ the bird was sick fer a week. That wuz the last straw. Bill gave the ostriches to the zoo.”
~ from Desert Magazine – June 1958