These Canyons Are Full of Ghosts: The Last of the Death Valley Prospectors Emmett C. Harder
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Nowadays tourists from all over the world travel to Death Valley but most all of them never see the romantic and mysterious badlands, the south end of the valley. This area is off the beaten path, remote and dangerous! This book is about the gold hunters that loved to search the southern wastelands, the high hills and deep canyons, come hell or high water. It is about their last days, an era lost forever. The whole valley is off limits now for prospecting. No longer can you hear the distant sound of dynamite nor will you see men or women in tattered denim clothes, with pick and shovel, working their mining claims. However in these pages you can step back to when they were there, and share their excitement and share their dreams–and you will be sure to strike it rich!
Perhaps nowhere else on earth is geology better observed and studied than in Death Valley. The Valley may seem like a place where time has stood still for hundreds of millions of years, but the geologic story here is complex and reveals a land torn by great physical changes.
An introduction to the Geology of Death Valley by Michael Collier captures the drama of the processes that are constantly changing Death Valley’s landscape. He creatively weaves an account of Death Valley’s one-hundred-and-forty-year mining history into the one-and-a-half-billion-year geologic history of the Valley. Through these stories and his perceptive observations of a slowly evolving landscape, there emerges a fresh perspective on Death Valley.
Michael Collier describes flash floods which create broad, fan-shaped deposits of sand, gravel, and boulders; volcanoes blasting forth great volumes of ash that once blanketed the surrounding mountains and valleys; warm, shallow seas that extended over thousands of square miles. He describes a region rent by great earthquakes that pushed up mountain ranges and sand valleys; where thick sheets of solid rock have been pushed sideways for miles or gently slid down sloping mountain fronts; where the earth’s forces have folded, crushed, or moved great masses of rock. As he so well puts it, “The soil of Death Valley – tough scorched, and salt-ridden – has been very fertile for geologic thought.”
Commissioned by the Death Valley Natural History Association, Collier accomplished the goal of taking a complex, and sometimes controversial, geology and transforming it into a story, the essence of solid natural history writing.
The Death Valley Automobile Trip photograph album containing 76 prints appears to be the record of a sightseeing trip made from Los Angeles to Death Valley in 1926. Neither the diarist nor the photographer is identified. The album displays no one emphasis: it consists of a broad range of photographs, from automobiles and sightseers to the landscape, abandoned mines, schoolhouses, hotels, and homesteads of Death Valley. . .
“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
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 …
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.
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
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 atKeane 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 afterward 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, 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 by 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 tin cups, 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 me 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 quickly. The stock exchange was doing a big business, and I remember that the price of Montgomery-Shoshone got up to ten dollars a share.
Businessmen 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 the water and struck a sulfite ore which is refractory 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 really hard rock miners and not the kind that does 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
Editor; Dan De Quille – Virginia City Territorial Enterprise – 1874
A gentleman who has just arrived from the borax fields of the desert regions surrounding the town of Columbus, in the eastern part of the state, gives us the following account of the sad fate of Mr. Jonathan Newhouse, a man of considerable inventive genius. Mr. Newhouse had constructed what he called a “solar armor,” and apparatus intended to protect the wearer from the fierce heat of the sun in crossing deserts and burning alkali plains. The armor consisted of a long, close-fitting material; both jacket no good being about an inch in thickness. Before starting across a desert this armor was to be saturated with water. Under the right arm was suspended in India rubber sack filled with water and having a small gutta percha tube leading to the top of the hood. In order to keep the armor moist, all that was necessary to be done by the traveler, as he progressed over the burning sands, was to press the sack occasionally, when a small quantity of water would be forced up and thoroughly saturate the hood and the jacket below it. Thus, by the evaporation of the moisture in the armor, it was calculated might be produced almost any degree of cold. Mr. Newhouse went down to Death Valley, determined to try the experiment of crossing that terrible place in this armor. He started out into the valley one morning from the camp nearest its borders, telling the man at the camp, as he laced his armor on his back, that he would return in two days. The next day in Indian who could speak but a few words of English came up to the camp in a great state of excitement. He made the men understand that he wanted them to follow him. At the distance of about 20 miles out into the desert the Indian pointed to a human figure seated against a rock. Approaching they found it to be Newhouse still in his armor. He was dead and frozen stiff. His beard was covered with frost and– though the noon day sun poured down its fiercest rays– and icicle over a foot in length home from his nose. There he had perished miserably, because his armor had worked but too well, and because it was laced up behind where he could not reach the fastenings.”
Devil’s Golf Course
This was Death Valley’s most widely publicized death. It was one that was reported almost halfway around the world, and this terrible death, well, it never happened–it was simply a yarn as used as filler on a dull day in that summer of 1874.
TODAY’S TRAVELER to Panamint sees a crazy quilt of bare foundations and ramshackle walls. He marvels, too, at the old brick mill which for almost 100 years has challenged decay and oblivion. But it is not what he sees that affects the traveler; it’s what he feels. As he stands on the road looking up Surprise Canyon which nestles unpretentiously on the Western slope of the Panamint Range, about 10 miles south of Telescope Peak, the years roll back. Breezes echo gruff, untutored voices, and there is a raucous clang as the 20-stamp mill’s witchery produces precious silver ingots for shipment to “Frisco,” fabled financial capitol of the 70s. The lizard on the big granite boulder is unimpressed that a bearded miner’s pick lay on this same rock many years ago. And now, one looks vainly on the old dirt road for tracks of heavily-loaded desert burros. They’re gone just like the silver city herself.
The story of Panamint probably began in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock lode. On this date a silver fever began which swept the United States and was especially “fatal” in the Western frontier where curiously every man was a modern day Jason tirelessly searching for his kind of fleece. But after 1859 many frontier men thought of just one thing—to trek the unknown for silver.
William T. Henderson was such a man. Spurred on by the silver news emanating daily from the Comstock, and from legends of the enormously rich lost Gunsight mine, the bearded prospector coaxed his burro across colorful Death Valley. With him were S. P. George and Indian George. S. P. George was weaned on the old gunsight lore. Indian George had long since discarded the ways of the red man and made the hopes of the white man his own.
These three dreamers in I860 skirted the flaming cliffs on the west side of Panamint Mountain. While Henderson found nothing to satisfy his thirst for silver, there was something about the ancient granite and metamorphic rocks of Panamint escarpment that promised wealth untold. So, he returned. This time with a legendary adventurer named William Alvord, a sourdough named Jackson, and the ever faithful Indian George. Again Henderson’s dreams of wealth were stymied. He left Panamint never to return. Alvord, his partner, was more unfortunate still. In the upper reaches of Surprise Canyon he was bushwacked by Jackson and left for vultures. All these anxious probings for silver into the desolate sunscorched Panamints were futile. Silver wasn’t discovered until late in 1872 when two of the most colorful champions of the silver west, R. E. Jacobs and Bob Stewart, wandered up Surprise Canyon and found a huge fragment of rich silver ore.
The great migration to the silver diggings began. Crude buildings sprang up like mushrooms after a spring rain. The most useful Panamint edifice was, of course, the Surprise Valley Mining and Water Company’s 20-stamp mill. It was finished in a matter of weeks while miners with huge stacks of ore chaffed at the bit. Good mechanics, carpenters, and millwrights got top wages of $6 per day. Most popular, of course, were the saloons and Panamint in those days had some fine ones. Like San Francisco, Panamint had its own Palace Hotel. Its barroom was built by skilled Panamint craftsmen and had a beautiful black walnut top. On the side walls were handsome pictures of voluptuous females in varying states of dishabille. But Dave Neagle, the owner of this splendid saloon, was especially proud of his magnificent mirror. It was 8 x 6 feet with double lamps on each side.
Fred Yager early determined that his “Dexter” saloon was going to surpass Neagle’s. Fred especially wanted the finest mirror in town. So, he sent to San Diego for a beauty. The mirror installed was to be a 7 x 12 foot sparkler. Tragedy struck, however, when an inebriated miner fell on the shimmering reflector just as it was being positioned against the wall. Sheltered in the confines of his Palace, Dave must have smiled at his rival’s sore plight—perhaps murmuring encouragingly that breaking a mirror leads to seven years bad luck.
There were two outstanding architectural omissions in Panamint. There was no jail—criminals had to be taken to Independence for incarceration. Further, though it was sorely needed, Panamint never had a hospital. On several occasions Panamint News editors Carr and later Harris cried out in their columns for a community hospital. Interestingly enough, the two crusading editors were mute concerning the lack of a jail.
Although it was not bruited about as such, the building owned and tastefully decorated by Martha Camp, played a significant role in the development of the new town. In Martha’s care was a bevy of attractive, if overly painted, young ladies whose lives were dedicated to two things: to make money and keep miners content.
It cannot be doubted, however, that Panamint prosperity was due to its mines. The two richest were suitably entitled Jacobs Wonder and Stewarts Wonder. Assays of these two mines showed ore values ranging from $100 to $4,000 per ton, the average being about $400. Stewart, a well known Nevada senator, later joined with another Nevada senator, J. P. Jones, to form Surprise Valley’s biggest mining combine, The Surprise Valley Company. Stewart and Jones had other local interests. They owned the Surprise Valley Water Company and a toll road procured from grizzly Sam Tait which trailed up Surprise Canyon. Charges for ascending this road were quite nominal: $2.00 for a wagon, 4 bits for a horseman, and 2 bits for a miner and burro.
The two editors of the Panamint News, at first Carr and later Harris, were rhapsodic in their faith in Panamint’s ultimate prosperity. Late in 1874 the front page of the news throbbed with excitement. “There is reason to believe, the News stated, that a busy population of from three to four thousand souls will be in Panamint in less than a year,” and later, “When we begin to send out our bullion it will be in such abundance as will cause the outside world to wonder if our mountains are not made of silver.” Harris’ beginning enthusiasm must have haunted him later, for his paper of March 2, 1875 modestly informs us that “there were only 600 people at Panamint.”
Despite the fact that the Havilah Miner proclaimed that Panamint City’s silver yield would one day eclipse the Comstock, capital funneled slowly and sporadically into the silver city. Private persons mostly subsidized Panamints mining activities. Senator Jones’ faith in Panamint was shown by hard cash accumulations of partially developed mines. The Senator’s brother caught the silver virus and plunked down $113,000 for a number of claims in the Panamint district. Stock sales never boomed. One wonders if the wildly energetic silver sun of the Comstock lode were not out to eclipse a potential rival. After all, shares in the Con Virginia were flirting a’la Croesus with the San Francisco stock exchange at the $700 mark. More dramatic was E. P. Raine’s method of seeking money for Panamint. He carted 300 lbs. of rich ore across the Mojave to Los Angeles. He staggered into the Clarendon Hotel and dumped the ore on a billiard table. Unfortunately, hotel patrons were more interested in the fact that Raine bought drinks for all than they were in the welfare of Panamint.
Probably the most popular method of getting freight to Panamint was sending goods via Remi Nadeau’s Cerro Gordo Freighting Company. Remi’s swaggering mule teams made daily trips from San Fernando to the Panamint mines. Remi was ever the epitome of optimism. Although untouched by such 20th Century transportation behemoths as the cross country truck and the jet cargo plane, Remi’s corporate slogan was “all goods marked C. G. F. C. will be forwarded with dispatch.”
But most characteristic of Panamint transportation in the early days was the solitary miner who arrived on foot followed by a heavily-laden burro. Within his hair-matted bosom slumbered the lion’s share of the vigor and courage of frontier America. Courage, however, wasn’t always the answer on the torrid road to Panamint. Bleached bones of unlucky prospectors sparkled all too frequently in the Mojave sun. When Panamint hearts were at their lightest and silver ore seemed to stretch like a ribbon of wealth to the center of the earth, the people of Panamint, spear headed by their grey-haired champion, Senator Jones, attempted to build a railroad from Shoo Fly (Santa Monica) to Independence. This railroad was to make Panamint the silver empire of the world. Already England was being heralded as an inexhaustible market for Panamint silver. Unfortunately, however, the railroad was to remain a dream railroad. The project clashed with the wishes of the great Southern Pacific quadrumvirate of Stanford, Crocker, Hopkins, and Huntington. The proposed Shoo Fly to Independence railroad won some initial battles—Senator Jones’ Chinese laborers soundly trounced a corps of General Huntington’s forces in the Cajon Pass, but the good Senator lost the decisive battle for his beloved railroad in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Southern Pacific, sans Winchester, had a clear blueprint for winning the West.
Recreation for Panamint’s thrifty merchants and boisterous sourdoughs centered, of course, in the city’s saloons. Whiskey was excellent and surly Jim Bruce dealt in a neat hand of faro. Whether tired miners came into Dave Neagle’s to ogle at pictures of nude ladies, to have a few drinks, or to chat with lovely, but garishly painted young ladies, all present usually had a good time. Rarely was there serious gun play. Once a Chinese window washer served as target for the six gun of a frolicsome and intoxicated miner, but usually life in a Panamint bar did little to disturb the city’s reputation as an “orderly community.” In their more gentle moments, some men attended the Panamint Masonic Lodge.
For the respectable female, recreational possibilities were severely limited. Legendary is the dance that Miss Delia Donoghue, proprietress of the Wyoming Restaurant, threw in honor of George Washington, the father of her country. To a four piece combo led by learned Professor Martin and paced by the twangs of a soused harpist, doughty men danced with 16 lovely ladies, almost the entire female population of the city.
Panamint certainly wasn’t as wicked as Tombstone, but it had its share of crime. Crime in this petulant silver metropolis ranged from writing threatening letters and petty thievery to infamous murder. The anonymous letters were sent to editor Harris. They criticized his reporting of the murder of Ed Barstow, night watchman for the Panamint News building, by gun fighter and chief undertaker Jim Bruce. This murder took place in Martha Camp’s pleasure house on Maiden Lane. Ed learned that his pal Jim was making time with Sophie Glennon who, demimonde damsel or not, was his girl. He burst into the bedroom firing his six gun blindly. Jim, drawing from his wide experience in such emergencies, sighted his target carefully and pumped two bullets into his erstwhile friend. A sentimental wrapping was given the whole affair when on his death bed Barstow confessed that he was drunk at the time and that his friend was guiltless. More sentiment was piled on when editor Harris used the crime as an excuse for moralizing on the dangers of drink.
A woman figured in one Panamint murder. Sleek Ramon Montenegro resented the words Philip de Rouche used to his comely escort. Montenegro, as lithe as a rattlesnake and with all its speed, knocked down the offender. For revenge, de Rouche later used the butt of his gun to play tattoo on Montenegro’s face. However, the handsome Latin won out in the end. Panamint sreets were a sea of flame for one moment as Montenegro’s gun flashed and killed the Frenchman. Taken to Independence for trial by Deputy Sheriff Ball, Montenegro was tried by a Grand Jury and, although pleading guilty, was acquitted.
Panamint’s most celebrated crime would probably never have been committed if Panamint were a stable community and due process of law an accepted way of righting wrongs in the silver city. A. Ashim was a respected member of the Panamint community. He belonged to the local Masonic Lodge and ran the town’s largest general merchandising business. But like most town males, Ashim had a six gun and had experience using it. So, when Nick Perasich ran off to Darwin leaving behind an unpaid bill of $47.50 at his store, Ashim walked into a Darwin restaurant. There Ashim shot Perasich three times, killing him instantly. The vendetta which resulted was not inferior to Mafia revenge killings of our day. Perasich’s brothers, led by the volatile Elias, pressed to kill Ashim. They almost succeeded. Hiding behind cornstalks along the roadside, they intercepted the stage and fired into it. Ashim escaped, but his mother received a powder burn on her nose.
But it was those wily ex-New Yorkers, Small and McDonald, who turned Panamint criminology into something resembling a comic opera. From their infamous castle nestled in Wild Rose Canyon, these disheveled silver “knights” rode their sleek chargers into clandestine rendezvous with those jolting fortresses of the West, Wells-Fargo stagecoaches. Once, the wily knaves hunted for a silver mine—and found one. They had no intention of working it. As soon as they could, they unloaded the mine on Senator Stewart. Money received from the sale of the mine could not have come at a more fortuitous moment for the unholy pair. They had been apprehended by Jim Hume, Wells-Fargo investigator, for robbing the Eureka and Palisades stage. Wells-Fargo forgot to press charges when Small and McDonald turned over to them the money received from the Senator for the sale of the mine.
After their close brush with Wells-Fargo, a legend started by twinkle-eyed Senator Stewart says that the desperados kept their eye on Senator Stewart’s progress with his new mine. Alarmed by the undue concern of the bandits with his property, Stewart devised a clever ruse to foil the waiting thieves. He melted ore from the mine into five silver balls weighing over 400 pounds each. When the bandits thought the time was ripe, they opened their saddle bags and pounced on the mine. Imagine their amazement at the sight of the five huge balls of silver. Legend adds that Stewart was horribly vilified by the disappointed pair for his unsportsmanlike conduct. In this case, however, legend is not correct. Remi Nadeau tells us in his book on California ghost towns that Stewart’s mill fashioned five massive ingots as a precaution against theft.
The criminal activities of Small and McDonald were destined to end soon after the robbery on Harris and Rhine’s store in the spring of 1876. Briefly, the brigands made nuisances of themselves around Bodie. A dispute over spoils, however, led to a heated dispute which led to gun play. John Small was not quite as fast on the draw as his partner.
Why did Panamint die? People nowadays think that the silver veins were surface-bound and did not extend to any great depth. This reasoning appears quite cogent; after all, the silver city’s star did rise and set in four short years. A contrary viewpoint, however, was expressed by Professor O. Loew who, late in 1875, was quoted as saying: “Never have I seen a country where there was a greater probability of true fissure veins than that of Panamint. In the Wyoming and Hemlock mines large bodies of ore will be encountered.” But even as Loew spoke, decay burdened the wind. Editor Harris left Panamint for Darwin in 1875; Doc Bicknell followed soon after. Before Harris packed his wagon for Darwin he advanced his notion why Panamint died—the lack of road and rail transportation. Harris genuinely felt that a railroad could have saved the city.
There was another reason why Panamint became an untimely ghost town. Two hard-bitten prospectors, Baldwin and Wilson, discovered two rich mines in the nearby Coso mountains. The two miners told the people of Panamint that they had the two richest mines in the world. Panamint accepted their words and their enthusiasm as gospel. Immediately a great exodus of wagons trailed down Surprise Canyon headed for the promising capital of the Cosos, Darwin. Unquestionably the discovery of these silver mines in the Cosos provided the coup de grace for the already stricken city as Coso mines were “argentiferous” and did not require milling.
The deluge that swept down Surprise Canyon in 1876 was perhaps the final curtain in this historic drama of the old West. Its rushing waters played around empty shacks and deposited layers of heavy silt on little more than dreams. But there was one person enslaved by the charm of the silver city, Jim Bruce. Long after the mines were closed this formidable faro dealer and gunfighter lived a tranquil if uncertain existence in the city he loved.
Panamint flexed feeble muscles of silver again in 1947. On this date Nathan Elliott, movie press agent, established the American Silver Corporation in a last ditch attempt to wrest silver from long dormant Panamint mines. Elliott spun a sumptuous verbal web that entrapped many of the film Capitol’s finest. Aided by Vice President and Comedian Ben Blue, the silver-tongued promoter succeeded in raising $1,000,000. With this money Panamint mines were deepened. But Elliott’s hopes for a bonanza never materialized. To the wonder and rage of the movie world, the great developer vanished into protective oblivion.
Today Panamint is deserted except for the Thompson sisters who live up Surprise Canyon a few miles north of the old mill. They are old-time residents of the area and their residence, Thompson camp, is a soothing backdrop of green poised against bitter desolation. The Thompson home is encircled by tall trees; a fenced yard secures a well-watered lawn which always has the appearance of being freshly mowed.’ This is due to the wonderful “automatic mower” owned by these ladies, a dusky well-fed burro.
These soft-spoken daughters of the Mojave own a number of mining claims in the area. From time to time they hire miners to sample ores from neighboring hills or to repair rickety scaffolding. Although, the Thompson sisters run a relaxed operation now, their mining activities would be greatly accelerated by an increase in the price of silver. You can be assured of this not only from what they say, but also from the silvery sparkle that sometimes dances in their eyes.
from: Tempest in Silver by Stanley Demes – Desert Magazine – February 1967
by Betty J. Tucker – Desert Magazine April, 1971
(photos – Walter Feller)
The road and scenery through Titus Canyon in Death Valley produces all the ups and downs of a young love, then steadies out into the young matronly area. Further on, it matures and gains
the stature of sedate old age.
Titus Canyon Road
That’s a pretty good life span for a mere 25 miles. The only problem is that occasionally heavy rains rip out the road, so be sure and check with the rangers. Trailers cannot be taken on this road and I wouldn’t recommend trucks and campers, although we saw one go through. At times the high center of the road forces you into some creative driving.We did it in a dune buggy.
The road into Titus Canyon leaves the Beatty Road and crosses the desert between the Bullfrog Hills and the Grapevine Mountains. Then it begins to climb. This road is one way and it is easy to see why. The steep uphill grades and sharp hairpin curves are not conducive to meeting oncoming traffic. There was that thrill of a first young love—the frightening steepness and sheer drop-offs, but still so breathtakingly beautiful that I wasn’t even afraid. The dune buggy has such a short wheelbase it takes the sharpest corners with ease.
After cresting at Red Pass, elevation 5,250, we dropped down into a beautiful green valley. Here, nestled comfortably in the yellow flowered brittle bush was the ruins of Leadfield.
He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them …
This child was the brainchild of C. C. Julian who would’ve sold ice to an Eskimo. He wandered into Titus Canyon with money in mind. He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them with lead ore he had brought from Tonopah. Then he sat down and drew up some enticing maps of the area. He moved to usually dry and never deep Amargosa River miles from its normal bed.
Leadfield ghost town
He drew pictures of ships steaming up the river hauling out the bountiful ore from his mines. Then he distributed handbills and lowered Eastern promoters into investing money. Miners flocked in at the scent of a big strike and dug their hopeful holes. They built a few shacks. Julian was such a promoter he even conned the US government into building a post office here.
Leadfield post office
So for six months, August, 1926 to February, 1927, over 300 people lived here and tried to strike it rich. They dug and lost.
What remains of this fiasco is rather amazing to behold. It most certainly looks like the ghost of a prosperous mine. The false front, cream-colored, corrugated tin post office is still in good shape. There is a built-in wooden desk in some small shelves on the walls. Of the narrow trail there are two more lime green corrugated tin buildings.
Blacksmith’s shop – the wooden block for his anvil and coke bin
Near it is the blacksmith’s building. The wooden block that held his anvil is there as is the bin full of coke. Both of these buildings are lined with asbestos. There are several small holes where the miners tried to find the promised ore, plus a couple of rather large shafts.
2 1/2 miles below Leadfield is Klare Spring, the major water supply for the town. Miners stood there in frequent baths here and hold water back to camp. Beside this spring you will find Indian petroglyphs.
We sat on a couple of sun warmed rocks and had a snack. The water trickled by any couple of ravens performed a spectacular air ballet for us. It was an easy to remember that Titus Canyon got its name through a tragedy.
Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water.
In 1907, Morris Titus, a young mining engineer, and two of his friends, Mullan and Weller, left Rhyolite intending to cross Death Valley and do some prospecting in the Panamints. They found the waterhole dry that they had hoped to use. They had only 20 gallons of water for themselves, 19 burros and two horses. Eventually they found a hole where they could get a cup bowl every four hours. While Mullan and Weller waited, Titus took half of the stock and went to look for more water. He never came back. Next day Weller took the remaining stock and set out to look for Titus. He, too, disappeared. Mullan was found a month later and taken to Rhyolite, more dead than alive. As Titus was known to carry large quantities of gold with him, his family instigated an extensive search. No sign was ever found of him. Some thought he might have broken through a salt crust and gone into the mire below. Whatever happened, he has a most beautiful monument in having this particular canyon named after him.
Once I asked Shorty Harris how he obtained his grubstakes. “Grubstakes,” he answered, “like gold, are where you find them. Once I was broke in Pioche, Nev., and couldn’t find a grubstake anywhere. Somebody told me that a woman on a ranch a few miles out wanted a man for a few days’ work. I hoofed it out under a broiling sun, but when I got there, the lady said she had no job. I reckon she saw my disappointment and when her cat came up and began to mew, she told me the cat had an even dozen kittens and she would give me a dollar if I would take ’em down the road and kill ’em.
“‘It’s a deal,’ I said. She got ’em in a sack and I started back to town. I intended to lug ’em a few miles away and turn ’em loose because I haven’t got the heart to kill anything.
“A dozen kittens makes quite a load and I had to sit down pretty often to rest. A fellow in a two-horse wagon came along and offered me a ride. I picked up the sack and climbed in.
“‘Cats, eh?’ the fellow said. ‘They ought to bring a good price. I was in Colorado once. Rats and mice were taking the town. I had a cat. She would have a litter every three months. I had no trouble selling them cats for ten dollars apiece. Beat a gold mine.’
“There were plenty rats in Pioche and that sack of kittens went like hotcakes. One fellow didn’t have any money and offered me a goat. I knew a fellow who wanted a goat. He lived on the same lot as I did. His name was Pete Swain.
“Pete was all lit up when I offered him the goat for fifty dollars. He peeled the money off his roll and took the goat into his shack. A few days later Pete came to his door and called me over and shoved a fifty-dollar note into my hands. ‘I just wanted you to see what that goat’s doing,’ he said.
“I looked inside. The goat was pulling the cork out of a bottle of liquor with his teeth.
“‘That goat’s drunk as a boiled owl,’ Pete said. ‘If I ever needed any proof that there’s something in this idea of the transmigration of souls, that goat gives it. He’s Jimmy, my old sidekick, who, I figgered was dead and buried.’
“‘Now listen,’ I said. ‘Do you mean to tell me you actually believe that goat is your old pal, whom you drank with and played with and saw buried with your own eyes, right up there on the hill?’
“‘Exactly,’ Pete shouted, and he peeled off another fifty and gave it to me. So, you see, a grubstake, like gold, is where you find it.”
from: Loafing Along Death Valley Trails A Personal Narrative of People and Places Author: William Caruthers
The most famous lost mine in the Death Valley area is the Lost Breyfogle. There are many versions of the legend, but all agree that somewhere in the bowels of those rugged mountains is a colossal mass of gold, which Jacob Breyfogle found and lost.
Jacob Breyfogle was a prospector who roamed the country around Pioche and Austin, Nevada, with infrequent excursions into theDeath Valleyarea. He traveled alone.
Indian George, Hungry Bill, and Panamint Tom saw Breyfogle several times in the country around Stovepipe Wells, but they could never trace him to his claim. When followed, George said, Breyfogle would step off the trail and completely disappear. Once George told me about trailing him into the Funeral Range. He pointed to the bare mountain. “Him there, me see. Pretty quick—” He paused, puckered his lips. “Whoop—no see.”
Breyfogle left a crude map of his course. All lost mines must have a map. Conspicuous on this map are the Death Valley Buttes which are landmarks. Because he was seen so much here, it was assumed that his operations were in the low foothills. I have seen a rough copy of this map made from the original in possession of “Wildrose” Frank Kennedy’s squaw, Lizzie.
Breyfogle presumably coming from his mine, was accosted near Stovepipe Wells by Panamint Tom, Hungry Bill, and a young buck related to them, known as Johnny. Hungry Bill, from habit, begged for food. Breyfogle refused, explaining that he had but a morsel and several hard days’ journey before him. On his burro he had a small sack of ore. When Breyfogle left, Hungry Bill said, “Him no good.”
Incited by Hungry Bill and possible loot, the Indians followed Breyfogle for three or four days across the range. Hungry Bill stopped en route, sent the younger Indians ahead. At Stump Springs east ofShoshone, Breyfogle was eating his dinner when the Indians sneaked out of the brush and scalped him, took what they wished of his possessions and left him for dead.
Ash Meadows Charlie, a chief of the Indians in that area confided to Herman Jones that he had witnessed this assault. This happened on the Yundt Ranch, or as it is better known, the Manse Ranch. Yundt and Aaron Winters accidentally came upon Breyfogle unconscious on the ground. The scalp wound was fly-blown. They had a mule team and light wagon and hurried to San Bernardinowith the wounded man. The ore, a chocolate quartz, was thrown into the wagon.
Breyfogle recovered, but thereafter was regarded as slightly “off.” He returned to Austin, Nevada, and the story followed.
Wildrose (Frank) Kennedy, an experienced mining man obtained a copy of Breyfogle’s map and combed the country around the buttes in an effort to locate the mine. Kennedy had the aid of the Indians and was able to obtain, through his squaw Lizzie, such information as Indians had about the going and coming of the elusive Breyfogle.
“Some believe the ore came from around Daylight Springs,” Shorty said, “but old Lizzie’s map had no mark to indicate Daylight Springs. But it does show the buttes and the only buttes in Death Valley are those above Stovepipe Wells.
“Kennedy interested Henry E. Findley, an old time Colorado sheriff and Clarence Nyman, for years a prospector for Coleman andSmith(thePacific Borax Company). They induced Mat Cullen, a rich Salt Lake mining man, to leave his business and come out. They made three trips into the valley, looking for that gold. It’s there somewhere.”
At Austin, Breyfogle was outfitted several times to relocate the property, but when he reached the lower elevation of the valley, he seemed to suffer some aberration which would end the trip. His last grubstaker was not so considerate. He told Breyfogle that if he didn’t find the mine promptly he’d make a sieve of him and was about to do it when a companion named Atchison intervened and saved his life. Shortly afterward, Breyfogle died from the old wound.
Indian George, repeating a story told him by Panamint Tom, once told me that Tom had traced Breyfogle to the mine and after Breyfogle’s death went back and secured some of the ore. Tom guarded his secret. He covered the opening with stone and leaving, walked backwards, obliterating his tracks with a greasewood brush. Later when Tom returned prepared to get the gold he found that a cloudburst had filled the canyon with boulders, gravel and silt, removing every landmark and Breyfogle’s mine was lost again.
“Some day maybe,” George said, “big rain come and wash um out.”
Among the freighters of the early days was John Delameter who believed the Breyfogle was in the lower Panamint. Delameter operated a 20 mule team freighting service between Daggett and points in both Death Valley and Panamint Valley. He told me that he found Breyfogle down in the road about twenty-eight miles south of Ballarat with a wound in his leg. Breyfogle had come into the Panamint from Pioche, Nevada, and said he had been attacked by Indians, his horses stolen, while working on his claim which he located merely with a gesture toward the mountains.
Subsequently Delameter made several vain efforts to locate the property, but like most lost mines it continues to be lost. But for years it was good bait for a grubstake and served both the convincing liar and the honest prospector.
Nearly all old timers had a version of the Lost Breyfogle differing in details but all agreeing on the chocolate quartz and its richness.
That Breyfogle really lost a valuable mine there can be little doubt, but since he is authentically traced from the northern end of Death Valley to the southern, and since the chocolate quartz is found in many places of that area, one who cares to look for it must cover a large territory.
From: Chapter XXII Lost Mines. The Breyfogle and Others Loafing Along Death Valley Trails by William Caruthers
They belong to the occupants while they live there, and the first man to move-in is the next owner. It is not a written law, but is a habit and custom of the country and is respected by rich and poor alike.
It started with Dobe Charley when he needed a home. A tent was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. he pondered the problem through one cold windy winter and one hot desert summer.
When “camping out” became too unbearable he took refuge in an old deserted mine tunnel a few miles from Shoshone, and was comfortable. He was protected from all weather hazards, but it was too isolated to suit his tastes.
” Why not make a tunnel in a hill closer to town?” the idea grew, and he looked all over the hills close around. Finally he picked out what he considered an ideal place.
It was a cliff of hard adobe mud, within easy walking distance of the general store and post office. Not that he intended to walk, that is, that while his motorcycle would run.
He dug out a whole as big as a medium sized room and put a door on it. When it was finished to his satisfaction, he moved in and became the envy of all the loafers in the little desert oasis on the fringe of Death Valley.
Joe Volmer, a retiring, middle-aged man, got himself a dwelling nearby. His consisted of several rooms connected by tunnels. To enter one of the rooms one must pull aside a cupboard and go a short distance down a ladder through a narrow passageway.
The Ashford brothers, Harold and Rudy, decided to follow suit. They were dapper little fellows, very English and very neat and clean. Their cliff dwelling reflected them, neat and across the gulch from the others. like its occupants, it stood a little apart from its companions.
Bill, big and lazy, liked Doublin Gulch, but hadn’t the ambition to dig a dwelling. He built his one-room shack on a level place against the cliff.
Crowly, aggressive and authoritative, look it over and chose the point of the hill, a position dominating all the other cliff houses. An imposing location, but like its builder, it was untidy.
Crowly appointed himself a sort of Mayor of Doublin Gulch. If the others resented it they gave no indications. Mostly they did not mind as long as no one interfered with their way of life.
Cool in the summer–and a great view!
Other men settled along the cliff. Thrown together by circumstances, these men were a variable lot. For the most part their past was a closed book. Some, no doubt, came to escape this or that, but on the whole they lived as they pleased, working at the nearby mines until they had saved a stake, returning to their cliff dwelling to live the leisurely until it was gone.
When one has finished with this life and needs his home no longer, another drifter, perhaps fleeing from his past or maybe just tired of the sorrows and troubles of the outside world and finding solace in the desert, moves in.
Thus these cliff dwellings of Doublin Gulch have passed from one occupant to another.
Who can tell what secrets they have hidden or what sorrows have been soothed by the quiet and solitude of these rugged refuges thrusting their doors from the face of the cliff like turtle’s heads from under their shells.
Ghost Town News Knott’s Berry Place Buena Park, Calif. December 1944
Skidoo came to life because of 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 severance 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 given 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 …
Friends who met him as he finished said he appeared in good physical condition, except for swollen, blistered feet and a mighty thirst.
The 28th-year-old former paratrooper began his walk last Wednesday, announcing he still wanted “to show there is still adventure in the States.”
But he lost his cool during a week of air temperatures that shimmered between 115 and 135° and ground temperatures as high as 190–so hot his shoes burned off.
Uncounted dozens of men have died in the long, salt-bottomed Valley — the lowest, hottest, driest spot in the U.S. – since white men first found it in 1849.
Marquant carried an umbrella and wore a 10 gallon hat. He also wore three T-shirts and three pairs of socks to preserve body moisture as much as possible, and kept his mouth filled with damp gauze to prevent it from becoming parched.
His hiking ensemble also included blue-tinted glasses, gloves, short pants and tennis shoes, which were burned to shreds by the searing sand and rocks. He was forced to protect his feet with socks and gauze.
Marquant was met daily by a support truck that furnished him with water, watermelon, soft drinks and clothing.