Monthly Archives: May 2015

Trapper Andrew Sublette and Salt Springs History

Gold was discovered on December 1, 1849, by Mormons who were led by Jefferson Hunt to take gold seekers and others to southern California over the Old Spanish Trail. Most wagons left Hunt in southern Utah for a short cut to the gold country—ironically, short-cut survivors took up to two months longer to reach Los Angeles. It wasn’t much of a short cut. Those seven wagons that stayed with Hunt camped on the Old Spanish Trail at Salt Creek, near the present Hwy. 127 and Salt Creek Mountains. Some men rode up the Amargosa Spring wash and found gold. The Los Angeles Star dated May 7, 1851, reported the story.

When Hunt’s group arrived in Rancho Chino, owner Col. Isaac Williams sent out his right hand man Davis to examine the gold site. Ben Wilson, later mayor of Los Angeles and ancestor of General George Patton, fitted out another expedition to check on the Salt Springs site. Both expeditions brought back rich specimens and reported a “whole mountain” of gold bearing ore.

But as was the case of desert mining for years to come, there were obstacles to making desert mines pay off: transportation, distance, food and water, machinery to process the gold so that it would be practical to bring the ore to a smelter. Realistically, in the 1850s, miners still thought that in the Sierra Nevada gold country, gold could still be just picked up.

Old Spanish Trail/Salt Lake Road east of Tecopa, CA.

Old Spanish Trail/Salt Lake Road east of Tecopa, CA.

One explorer went to San Francisco and shared his enthusiasm for the Salt Springs gold. Investors in June, 1850, sponsored another party to investigate. When they came back in July, they formed the Los Angeles Mining Company and made plans to take possession and work the area.

Salt Springs

Salt Springs

Another of the Los Angeles initial prospectors. Mr. Davis, went to the Sierras to find a supposed Gold Lake. When he returned to Grass Valley, he told Col. Lamb about his trip to “Gold Mountain,” i.e., Salt Springs. Lamb fitted out another exploratory trip, this time led by Davis. Col. Lamb’s group evidently arrived before the Los Angeles company and claimed what he thought were good areas, and sold three-fourth of his interest under the name Desert Mining Company in January 1851. By that spring the two mining companies had three Mexican arrastres (animal powered rock gold crushers) in operation, two for Desert Mining Company and one for Los Angeles Company. The latter company also bought, according to the Star, “a fine engine and machinery on the Amohave (Mojave) River, a little over half way out” —where it became stuck and was temporarily left in the sands of the Mojave River. The assay samples brought into Los Angeles were too few to be conclusive, but varied from 10 cents to many dollars per pound of rock. One of the companies had dug a mine 30’ deep.

Mojave River

Mojave River

Andrew Sublette, famed trapper and mountain man family of brothers, was encouraged to invest in the Desert Mining Company, his great hope to become wealthy. He had became ill gold mining in the Sierras and went to San Jose to recuperate. In a letter to his brother Solomon, March 20, 1851, from Los Angeles, we see his dreams:

“I am concerned with a Company in a gold mine. It is in the rock and very rich. I have been there for six months and will Start out to that place tomorrow [to] take charge and Start some machinery to grind the rock… I have invested all my means (which was but little) in that mine but hope to get it out with interest.”

He was so poor that he borrowed money at 5% to invest and took the job as “chief field man,” (Superintendent). The company did not have enough resources, and President James F. Hibberd tried to obtain additional operating money with more investors and by attaching assessments for the stock owners to pay, or they would forfeit their stocks. For example, on May 7, [1851 ?] the company set an assessment on $2.00 per share.  On June 10 it assessed another $1.00 per share. In August, 1851, the Desert Mining Company failed! Sublette declared insolvency. The partnership of B. D. Wilson and A. Packard dissolved.

Amargosa Mine ruins at Salt Springs

Ruins: Amargosa Mine at Salt Springs

A new mining company Salt Springs Mining Company, was formed. The new President was Benjamin D. Wilson, Albert Packard was Secretary-Treasurer, also partners in a transportation company. Since Andrew Sublette had no money to invest, he continued as chief field man. The company was running again in November 1851.

Always positive it seems, Sublette praised the mine to the Star, and said that Indians had been troublesome, had stolen tools and ruined machinery, but “The workmen were taking out remarkably rich specimens of quartz: on the whole the news is encouraging.”  Sublette sold his holding in St. Louis for $6,000 to pay off bills and invest again in Salt Springs Mining. He wrote to his brother again in March 1852 that he had started mining again with new partners and that prospects were good. He hoped to go back to Missouri and visit again soon. His health has been the best it has been for the last two or three years.

Things were really going well.

Ravine in Cajon Pass

Ravine in Cajon Pass

But that’s not usual for mining in the Mojave Desert. In the next couple months things were typical for desert mining: Two of his men killed in the Cajon Pass, more Indian difficulties, the 220-mile supply line to Los Angeles, the dwindling supply of money, the calling for  stock assessments–all led the Salt Springs Mining Company to try to sell to foreign investors—and that failed, and so did the mining at Salt Springs—for awhile at least.

Sublette, now broke again, went back to his mountain man roots: bear hunting to make some money. He provided some meat for the Los Angeles markets. He was badly wounded, but recovered.

Barracks, Ft. Tejon

Barracks, Ft. Tejon

Because of his freight experience and his friendship with Wilson, Sublette received a contract to provide supplies to the new Indian reservation at Ft. Tejon. He went into partnership with James Thompson. They prospered and even leased the La Brea Ranch. According to his biographer, Doyce Blackman Nunis, Jr., Andrew Sublette had quite a resume of occupations: trapper, trader, guide, soldiers, hunter, peace officer, miner—and sometimes with ill-health—he found success as a California Indian Department contractor. Yet, within a few months he was dead at age 40.

Andrew Whitley Sublette’s funeral was in the parlor of the El Dorado Saloon in Los Angeles, and as Major Horace Bell said, “…every gringo in town turned out for the funeral.”

Sublette and his partner, James Thompson, hunted for grizzlies in Malibu Canyon. The two became separated, and when Thompson heard a shot he ran toward it, and found “Sublette locked in hand to hand struggle with the ferocious animal. To one side, partly covered by a cloud of dust stirred up from the contest between man and beast, lay the huddled corpse of the attacker’s mate. Apparently Sublette had slain one of the bears with his rifle, and then before he could reload his weapon, was set upon by another. With knife flashing, his hunting dog, Old Buck, adding his bite to the fray, Andrew finally dispatched his assailant with a mortal thrust. Falling near the crumpled carcass Andrew lay bleeding and dying.”

Thompson got help and took him to the Padilla Building where Dr. Thomas Foster frantically tried to stop the bleeding. The next day Sublette’s trapping, hunting and mining days were over. He was buried at Foothill Cemetery, a dramatic end to a short but glorious life of one of America’s great trappers, Andrew Sublette. Despite his illness, he struggled to the end to make a good living in difficult occupations. His last years added interesting facets to the history of the Mojave Desert.

Salt Springs had another 158 years of history. It continued its up’s and down’s in mining, with scandals where “miners mined the investors,” with a great glory hole, and now this important water hole on the Old Spanish Trail is marked by the BLM with a picnic area, restroom, signs and trails. It is just a hundred yards off Hwy. 127.

Thanks to Emmet for most of this information. I also sourced Andrew Sublette: Rocky Mountain Prince 1813 – 1853, by Doyce Blackman Nunis, Jr, at the Huntington Library.

by Cliff Walker – Mojave River Valley Museum

A Tale from the Trail

pioneer wagon wheel

“Bro. Aldrich —Sir:

I left Fulton city on the first Monday in May, for Bashan, the land of peace, with my family, nine in number. About 30 miles from there, my little boy, about 3 1/2 years old, fell out of the wagon, and the wheel ran over his neck. I took him up and saw that he was about to depart this life. But not feeling willing to part with him, I administered to the child according to the law and order of the gospel, and the Lord blessed him, and he soon recovered, and is now hearty and well.”

~ Royce Oatman – 1850.

Serrano Woman of Tejon

Serrano Indain woman, Edward S. Curtis

Serrano (Kitanemuk) woman

“The Serranos (Spanish, “mountaineers”), a Shoshonean branch comprising numerous local groups, occupied San Bernardino valley, San Bernardino mountains north of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, a portion of Mojave desert north of that range and east of Mojave river, and Tehachapi mountains. This last group, who lived principally on El Paso and Tejon creeks, were the Kitanemuk. In 1853 most of the resident Indians, including not only various Shoshoneans but many Yokuts, were taken to Tule river reservation. Tejon rancheria remains, however, a settlement of various Shoshoneans, but predominantly Kitanemuk

~ Edward S. Curtis


A Visit With “Death Valley Scotty”

By Ivan Summers, from the SANTA MONICA EVENING OUTLOOK, Automotive Section, Thursday, January 29, 1925.

“Oh My Gawd”! The explosion of words roused my dog snoozing nearby. What else would you say when, while pawing through an old box of family junk, an eighty eight year old newspaper smacks your eyeballs? Especially if you’ve had a lifelong addiction to desert minutiae. The absorbing yarn of about 2000 words (with no byline) entails a journey by two Franklin automobiles into and out of Death Valley including a successful meeting with the legendary Death Valley Scotty. The (crumbling) newspaper itself is an historic gem laced with ads touting “Balloon Tires,” the new Maxwell Coupe, the Rio Roadster, the Hudson super six–all iconic in U. S. car history. As well, splashed front page, are several pics of the famous air cooled Franklins in the valley and a photo of that career rascal himself–Scotty!

According to the writer (unnamed) there had been an attempt the previous summer to negotiate Franklin cars from Furnace Creek Ranch to Scotty’s digs. But 126 temp and road (or no road) conditions turned them back for another try in January of 1925.

Good stuff here. They breakfast in Mojave, proceed to Randsberg, Leach Springs and Owl Springs. You can’t do that today as Leach Springs is on sacred military ground. That trip assuredly went
over what still is the Steamwell road out of Johannesberg, through Granite Wells connecting with Owl Springs and on to the Harry Wade road. Then east on Bradburg Wash to Shoshone. Tough going today if
you could even find it.

These guys eventually got to Scotty but with an interesting little aside in Rhyolite. The mining camp had only been “partly disassembled.” A moving picture company was filming something to be entitled “The Air Mail.” (Film archives)??

Scotty, apparently a genial host, saw that the travelers were housed and fed. The writer goes on to inform that Scotty’s house was furnished with elaborate stuff from China with maybe a $6,000 import fee plus other niceties that exceeded $150,000. The story implied that these were Scotty’s digs done with Scotty’s money There was mention by Scott of his ‘partner.’ Albert Johnson, who Scotty mentioned was going to build a million dollar house near his.

photo of the con man, Death Valley ScottyApparently what the Santa Monica writer didn’t know in 1925 was that Scotty was one of the magnificent cons of the early 20th century. He’d been exposed in 1906 and again in 1912 as a fraud and hoaxer. He relieved numerous gullible investors, including Johnson, of many thousands–invested in nonexistent gold mines. He even did some jail time in 1912. Despite this egregious behavior he remained in Johnson’s affection until Johnson passed in 1948.

The Franklin car party’s announced intention was to negotiate the length of the valley, in this instance from North to South. From Scotty’s out of the south end. The article states “this had never been done before.”

Well, uh, not exactly the case. This writer’s father, Herbert S. Summers, made a journey in 1923 in a Model T Ford from south to north at least as far as Furnace Creek Ranch. His route was from Barstow north east past Bicycle Lake, Garlic Springs, Cave Springs and directly up the  valley to Furnace Creek Ranch.

Summers wrote a delightful little tale of their adventure describing the perils of mid-summer travel and took numerous photos–still in the family archives.

On exiting Scotty’s, the Franklin party passed by something referred as the “lost wagon” and another site called “Surveyors Well,” neither of which appear on today’s maps. They evidently turned west to take the Wingate Wash (Pass) road paralleling the Epsom Salt Mono Rail and eventually found Mojave, unaware that it was possible to complete the North-South transit through Cave Springs and to Barstow. It in fact (in reverse) had been done.

Death Valley survived Scotty–and is a better place for it

A Desert Painting

Pastels & gold.

Dulled colors of a hazy sunset.
Brown cloak of dry brush.
A nakedness of patches of earth.

Gasping wind gleaning miniscule, dried, brown flowers from indistinct and unkempt bushes.

Alone by being alone.
The sun no longer paints our backs,
The whole black of a moonless night rushes into the vacuum.

~ w.feller

Back in the Old 1900s

In The Year 1910:
Only 14 percent of the homes in America had bathtubs.
A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.
There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S. and only 144 miles of paved roads.
The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
Two out of every 10 U.S. adults couldn’t read or write.


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:


“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