Henry R. Mockle (1905-1981),
Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora
Rather than documenting the structure of each plant species in scientific detail, Henry Mockle intended his illustrations to capture “the pleasurable feeling at coming up on one of these little creations”.
As did naturalist Edmund Jaeger, Mockle took pride in all his studies of desert plants being taken directly from life. This work often involves lying on the ground for hours, in conditions ranging from hot to cold, windy to wet. As some annual plants – like the Phacelia – per growing up and through the protective spread of woody shrubs. Mockle found he had to lay beneath creosote bushes and other scrub vegetation to depict these wildflowers in full.
Skidoo came to life because of a fog. When Harry Ramsey and a man called One-eye Thompson lost their way on a road leading to the new boom camp of Harrisburg, they stopped to rest near a log lying against an outcropping of rock. When the fog lifted, the rock turned out to be gold. This was back in 1905. In deciding upon a name for the town that sprung up, a numerologist associated a popular expression of the day, 23-Skidoo, with the fact that a Rhyolite man named Bob Montgomery had successfully piped water from Telescope Peak 23 miles away and suggested the name Skidoo. So it became.
Old timers say the camp produced over a million dollars worth of gold ore between its discovery and its demise some 20 years later. Skidoo’s chief claim to fame, however, was not its riches. Rather, it was an infamous lynching of a scoundrel named Joe Simpson in 1908.
On a tour to the ghost town of Skidoo in 1962, we were privileged to be accompanied by an 87-year-old gentleman named George Cook. The interesting thing about Mr. Cook was that it was he who pulled on the rope at the lynching. His participation had only recently been divulged to a few intimate friends—after all others involved had passed on to their rewards, or whatever.
“Joe Simpson,” Mr. Cook told us, ‘was a would-be villain who had killed a man at Keeler after shooting-up Jack Gun’s Saloon in Independence the preceding year. He’d somehow gotten off and drifted to Skidoo where he became a partner with Fred Oakes in the Gold Seal Saloon. Across the street was Jim Arnold’s Skidoo Trading Company.
“Arnold was a friendly, well-liked man and had always been on good terms with Simpson, but Simpson became drunk and abusive one April morning and decided to hold up a bank situated in part of Arnold’s Skidoo Trading Company. Apprehended, his gun was taken away and hidden by the deputy sheriff, but a little later Simpson found his weapon and returned to the store to shoot Jim Arnold. He then turned on two other men who had come to the rescue, but his aim was poor and both escaped. Eventually Simpson was overpowered and placed under guard in the deputy sheriff’s cabin. Unfortunately,” Mr. Cook lamented, “the popular Jim Arnold died that night.”
Skidoo went wild with indignation. After Arnold’s funeral, which the entire camp attended, a group went to the improvised jail, led the prisoner out at the end of a rope and hanged him to the nearest telephone pole. When Sheriff Nailor from Independence arrived, after a hazardous trip over rough roads via Tonopah and Rhyolite, he made the now famous statement, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to Inyo County; it saved us $25,000!”
But this wasn’t the end. Several spectators had forgotten their cameras and wanted pictures of the hanging. So, Joe Simpson’s body was obligingly strung up again, this time from the ridgepole of the tent where he was “laid out.” News of this gruesome encore spread and the lynching won everlasting fame. In his private narrative of the event, George Cook added a factor never before related: “Joe was dead before we got the rope around his neck; he died of a heart attack (from fright) and was already gone when dragged to the telephone pole scaffold.”
It was also he, George Cook confessed, who assisted Dr. MacDonald in removing the head from Simpson’s corpse. The doctor, it seems, had once performed an operation on Simpson s nose and wanted to make a further medical study of the case. Going at night, they performed the severence at the lonely prospect hole where Simpson’s body had been tossed. (No one in Skidoo would give him a decent burial, so great was the indignation at his senseless crime). The skull was exhibited for a period in a showcase at Wildrose, but later disappeared.
The remainder of the skeleton resisted oblivion, however. Years later when George Cook returned to Skidoo to work in the mill, an agitated prospector appeared one day to report a headless skeleton of a man who’d evidently been murdered. Because Cook was the only old timer around at the time, he was consulted. Indeed a crime had been committed sometime, he agreed, but of the details he had conveniently forgotten.
Last year George Cook passed away. Small in stature, religious, mild-tempered and giving to writing sentimental verse, he was the antithesis of our Western idea of a vigilante. The role forced upon him by his acute anger over the murder of a friend bothered this good man to the end of his days. His belief that Simpson did not expire at his hand appeared to be a real comfort. And, perhaps he was right. We cannot disagree, for George Cook was there.
Much interesting history is connected with the now defunct Skidoo. Following its early boom, the town was deserted for a period, then, under new management, the mine and mill reopened during the 1930s and a period of production occurred. The old wild days never returned, however, and its fame as a mining camp still rests upon the lynching incident —to which we add, “Joe Simpson did not die because of a rope and a telephone pole. He died of a heart attack!”
by Myrtle Nyles – November 1964 – Desert Magazine
Editor’s Note: This is but one version of this story, and it is worth saying that it has generated many other versions and stories through its telling.
In January 1906 two wandering prospectors, John Ramsey and John (One-Eye) Thompson were headed towards the new gold strike at Harrisburg. Along the way a blinding fog came in and the two camped near Emigrant Spring for fear of getting lost. …More …
In August of 1907 a brakeman at Cajon Summit station failed to secure a train while unhitching helper engines and over fifty cars began rolling out of control down the grade into the Victor Valley. After seven miles of plummeting down the tracks thirteen cars derailed. A few miles further thirty more cars failed to make the curve before passing through the Upper Narrows. One after another they hurtled into the river bursting into flames. There were cattle on the train too. Many survived the initial accident, but died soon afterward. The last nine cars, with a frightened local rancher on the lead caboose, rolled to a stop in Oro Grande.
In the ashes of one car that burned for over a week, there were four hats found. The brakeman, it was discovered, had been selling rides to hobos for $1. Those at the scene agreed that there were at least that many that died.Photos – courtesy B.F. Minister
“The point of view is born of the desert herself. When you are there, face to face with the earth and the stars and time day after day, you cannot help feeling that your role, however gallant and precious, is a very small one. This conviction, instead of driving you to despair as it usually does when you have it inside the walls of houses, releases you very unexpectedly from all manner of anxieties. You are frightfully glad to have a role at all in so vast and splendid a drama and want to defend it as well as you can, but you do not trouble much over the outcome because the desert mixes up your ideas about what you call living and dying. You see the dreadful, dead country living in beauty, and feel that the silence pressing around it is alive.”
Jack and Margaret Nelson, were a very nice couple, who lived on the corner of Olive and E Street. They had three dogs, two were copper-colored police dogs, named Penny and Copper, and one chow dog, named sugar. My parents became very good friends with them. They had a cow, and we soon started buying our milk from them, until they moved away.
After the Nelsons left the area we started purchasing our melt from the Snell Dairy and Creamery Company that was located in Apple Valley. Dick and Winnie Weening took over the milk routes, serving all the high desert, as far as State Line in 1942. In 1943, the Weening family purchased the dairy and the name of Snell Dairy. The milk was delivered in glass bottles and the empty bottles were picked up with the next delivery. The milkman would even put the full milk bottles in the refrigerator. There will never be service like that again.
This photo was taken in 1945 or 1946, and was provided by Barbara Weening Davisson, daughter of Dick and Winnie Weening. She notes, that the picture is of the Johnny Weening, driver and Iva Weening Carpenter, with son Jerry (standing), Phil McGurn, being held.
We did what shopping money would allow, at Roy Walters’ general store. We purchased some beans, flour and canned food items, (canned tuna for my mother and me and canned sardines were for my daddy) gas for the vehicle, and I remember ice for the icebox and we also picked up our mail. The post office was located inside of the store, in our mailing address was PO Box 166, Hesperia, CA. There were no ZIP Codes back in those days.
The store was indeed a general store. They carried just about everything a person would need. There was a glass enclosed section that had any candy, which always drew my attention. There was a very large glass jar that sat on the counter that held dill pickles. I remembered these, because I liked both. There were shelves with items all the way from food, medicine, cosmetics two blankets. I remember a large cabinet that had a lot of small drawers, with labels on them. But I do not remember what was in the drawers. I think there were a couple wood barrels sitting on the floor and many items hanging on the walls. If I remember right, I think the butcher shop was located in the back of the store with a cold storage box to keep the meat from spoiling.. I do not remember if the bread was sliced. But I do remember that oleomargarine, (butter substitute) was non-colored and you had to mix a yellow powder packet into it, to make it yellow.
There was a wooden barn that sat next to the store, where the hay and grain was stored. The gas pump was located in front of the store. I only remember one, but there must’ve been to. I am not sure what brand gas they sold. I do remember that you could buy oil for your vehicle or what equipment you might have at home. I do not remember, but going by the fact that the Walters store carry just about everything, I would guess they also sold batteries for your vehicle and equipment, else well as for your radio and flashlight.
For the longest time, they had the only telephone in this area. And going by history, the railroad station had a telegraph office. The Hesperia depot set almost across the street from the store.
Roy and Laura were both extremely friendly and up on the latest gossip. Roy loved to talk, and so did my daddy, so they would talk for what seemed like hours.
Hesperia, CA. pre-1950 – Then and Now ~ Mary Ann Creason Dolan-Rohde
Our nearest neighbor, was a Dr. Nelson, who lived in the large rock house further up Highway 173 on the next bend in the road. He was a Seventh-day Adventist who spent weekends there and would manage to come to our house at dinner time. Daddy would always ask him if he would like to stay for dinner, and he would always say yes, and eat meat. Our neighbor on the other side, which would have been on Lake Arrowhead Road, was an old man my daddy called ‘Billy Goat’ Thompson. My guess is, that his real name was Russell Wilson Thompson, but because he raised goats, people had given him the name of ‘Billy Goat’ Thompson. He was a rather dirty man, with a tattered clothing and a beard. I remember that he lived in a cave and had a number of working herd dogs, that I enjoyed watching. I remember that he had a very gentle voice and that he loved his animals.
Hesperia, CA. pre-1950 – Then and Now
~ Mary Ann Creason Dolan-Rohde
One day a man passed by a ranch and saw a beautiful horse. Hoping to buy the animal, he said to the rancher: “I think your horse looks pretty good, so I’ll give you $500 for him.”
“He doesn’t look so good, and he’s not for sale,” the rancher said.
The man insisted, “I think he looks just fine and I’ll up the price to $1,000.”
“He doesn’t look so good,” the rancher said, “but if you want him that much, he’s yours.”
The next day the man came back raging mad. He went up to the rancher and screamed, “You sold me a blind horse. You cheated me!”
The rancher calmly replied, “I told you he didn’t look so good, didn’t I?”
This is a crummy picture of ‘Betty.’ She is about 3 inches tall and rides on the dashboard of my truck tucked up against the windshield. She keeps me company. She reminds me of Betty in the old Archie comic books. She was the sweet one as opposed to her shallow-minded ‘frenemy,’ Veronica. I had a Veronica too. One day, as I was driving down Main St. here in town, Veronica starts up with her spoiled whining and demands. I really didn’t want to hear it. So I grabbed her by her skinny little ankle and tossed her out the window.
Single Blanket Jackass Prospector Shorty Harris’ burial beside Jim Dayton in lower Death Valley was quite an occasion. Four hundred CCC boys, an army chaplain and a goodly gathering of desert rats and interested visitors gathered at the site near Eagle Borax and awaited arrival of the hearse from Bishop, as the sun dropped to the crest of Telescope Peak. All day two old miner friends had been digging the grave aided and abetted by a jug of firewater hidden behind a clump of greasewood.
When the casket arrived and was measured the grave was too short as the diggers had figured on the length of the “Short Man” and not the coffin.
As the sun dropped behind the Panamints and the chaplain and mourners fidgeted uneasily, a voice came from the grave.
“Bend the so and so in the middle and let’s plant him. He won’t give a damn.”
However it wasn’t feasible to bend a coffin but it was lowered on an angle and Shorty was buried with his head up.
—Told by T.R. Goodwin, Superintendent Death Valley National Monument
Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook
— Most people like to do things the easy way, but not Johnny Westen. Recently he attempted the impossible and went fishing on Dry Lake which did have a bare covering of water due to southern Nevada’s unusual weather of the past week.
His first day’s catch was nothing. Undismayed, Johnny fished another day, and another, and on the fourth day, he had the last laugh, for he returned with a gallon jar of lung fish.
Pictures were taken of the fish and a couple were preserved as samples. How they live in the mud of the lake was told; the way the mud forms a protective coat, but melts off when the rains come, and then forms up again as teh [sic] lake dries up. The fish, a type of lung fish, have both eyes on top of their heads and a half shell effect. What Johnny intends to do with the rest of his catch isn’t known for the average size of the lunk [sic] fish is between three quarters and one and a half inches.
Thanks to S.G. Buck, Indio
Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook
There are as many deserts as there are people in them, just as there are as many worlds. Being a “Desert Rat” is like being a lover, for the desert is like a woman with a million faces.
Her flowery make-up in the spring is like a your chorus girl. There’s real beauty there if you can get past the sand verbenas and cloying perfume. Most visitors see only the surface charm. She’s in a flirting mood then is anybody’s girl. If you want to be a “stage door Johnny,” you can pay a high price for a cheap thrill and feel a bit silly afterward, carrying home a mass-produced flashy painting of the desert in bloom like a Paris postcard.
The desert possesses a rich dowry and some woo her for that alone, but the money leaves a bitter taste with a secret hatred for its source. For business reasons or to cover up their frustration, such persons may try to act and talk like real desert rats, but it won’t work! Even if they ride silver-saddled Palominos, wear embroidered shirts, teach their butler a western drawl and serve champagne in tincups.
Anyone can be a desert rat who can see and love the beauty of the desert in all her moods. There’s beauty and wild music in a desert sandstorm. The lightning and thunder of a summer cloudburst are the flashing eyes — the emoting and tears of a high-spirited, beautiful actress “putting on a scene.” They are soon over. There’s beauty in crisp cool winter mornings and hot sultry summer afternoons, but most of all there’s the intimate beauty of being alone with her on long walks on lying on her warm breast on balmy summer nights counting the stars in her hair — listening in the silence to your own heartbeat as it matches hers.
Being a desert rat and liking it is like being in love — you just can’t help it.
First published in Desert Rat Scrapbook, Winter 1946-47
Back before Route 66 made crossing the desert easy, three friends wanted to cross the Mojave. Of the three buddies there was a “smart dude,” a “not so smart dude,” and a “not smart at all dude.” Before they left the “smart dude” says, “We’ll meet here in an hour. Bring something useful to cross the desert with.”
An hour passes. All three friends return.
The “smart dude” says, “I brought some ice packs to keep our heads cool.”
The “not so smart dude” says, “I brought a pail of water to keep us properly hydrated.”
The “not smart at all dude” smiles real broad and says, “I brought a car door so I can roll down the window when it gets hot.”
Way in back of a mining claim in a crack near a knob on a knoll up near Rattlesnake Flats there is some thick brush grown around a wobbly old picnic table.
My friend tells me that this table once belonged to TV legend, Roy Rogers. I believe this to be true. I am told that, well, look at it; it is a much longer table than normal. My friend has lived down the street and around the corner from the Rogers for years before Roy and Dale passed away. My friend is quite credible.
I sat at the table for a moment. I hardly had to close my eyes to see cowboy cuffed shirts, checkered table cloths, barbecued ribs, potato salad and hear some old time country western pop. The table spoke to me — it said, “Yep — they sat here.”
Gritts, the grocer, poses a pretty straight and put on his No. 1 smile As the lady with the I’m-placing-a-thumping-order air entered the shop. She wanted some cheese.
“Yes, madame.” smirked Gritts. “I have some delightful Derbies, madam, a quantity of choice cheddars, and a parcel of prime Parmeasans.”
Madam would certainly like to taste some if she could. Certainly, Madam could, if she would. Gritts flourished his gauge over this cheese and that. Madam nibbled at 11 different samples. No; none of them was quite “it.”
“Of course, Madam,” said Gritts at length, “if you require Stilton–” and he handed her a generous taster.
“Ah,” nodded the lady, as she smacked her lips, “that will do nicely! now, if you’ll give me a matchbox all be getting home. I only want to bait a mouse trap!”