This is the history of Death Valley, where that bitter stream the Amargosa dies. It embraces the whole basin of the Amargosa from the Panamints to the Spring Mountains, from the Palmettos to the Avawatz. And it spans a century from the earliest recollections and the oldest records to that day in 1933 when much of the valley was finally set aside as a National Monument.
This is the story of an illusory land, of the people it attracted and of the dreams and delusions they pursued-the story of the metals in its mountains and the salts in its sinks, of its desiccating heat and its revitalizing springs, and of all the riches of its scenery and lore- the story of Indians and horse thieves, lost argonauts and lost mine hunters, prospectors and promoters, miners and millionaires, stockholders and stock sharps, homesteaders and hermits, writers and tourists. But mostly this is the story of the illusions-the illusions of a shortcut to the gold diggings that lured the forty-niners, of inescapable deadliness that hung in the name they left behind, of lost bonanzas that grew out of the few nuggets they found, of immeasurable riches spread by hopeful prospectors and calculating con men, and of impenetrable mysteries concocted by the likes of Scotty. These and many lesser illusions are the heart of its history.
“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
Earp, California is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County in the Sonoran/Mojave Desert transition next to the Colorado River at the California/Arizona state line in Parker Valley.
In 1910 the little town was named Drennan. In 1929 Drennan was renamed Earp in 1929 in honor of the nefarious Old West lawman and entrepreneur Wyatt Earp. Wyatt and Josephine Sarah Marcus, his common-law wife, lived in the area seasonally from about 1906 staking more than 100 claims near the base of the Whipple Mountains.
They bought a small cottage in nearby Vidal and lived there during the fall, winter and spring months of 1925 – 1928, while he worked his “Happy Days” mines in the Whipple Mountains a few miles north. It was the only place they owned the entire time they were married. They spent the winters of his last years working the claims but lived in Los Angeles during the summers, where Wyatt died on January 13, 1929.
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 …
Don Pablo further stated that he knew Cristobal Slover very well; was a neighbor of his where they lived with the New Mexican colonists just south of Slover Mountain in Agua Mansa; this mountain took its name from him; he was buried at its southern base, but no mark is there to show his grave. He killed the bear and the bear killed him was the brief summary of the last bear hunt this Rocky Mountain hunter and trapper was in; he wounded the grizzly, then followed him into a dense brush thicket where the bear got him.
Cristobal Slover (Isaac Slover), the noted hunter and trapper of the Rocky Mountains, settled with his wife Dona Barbarita, at the south end of what is now known as Slover Mountain, near Colton, San Bernardino County, about the year 1842. He belonged to that class of adventurous pioneers who piloted the way blazing the trails, meeting the Indian, the grizzly, the swollen rivers, the vast deserts, and precipitous mountains, all kinds of trials, privations, and dangers in opening the way for others to follow and establish on these Western shores a civilization the nation can be proud of.
In the book entitled “Medium of the Rockies,” written by his old Rocky Mountain companion, John Brown, Sr., may be found a brief and interesting historical reference to Mr. Slover in the simple and exact words of the author which are here given: “A party of fur trappers, of whom I was one, erected a fort on the Arkansas River in Colorado, for protection, and as headquarters during the winter season. We called it ‘Pueblo.’ The City of Pueblo now stands upon that ground. Into this fort, Cristobal Slover came one day with two mules loaded with beaver skins. He was engaged to help me supply the camp with game, and during the winter we hunted together, killing buffalo, elk, antelope, and deer, and found him a reliable and experienced hunter. He was a quiet, peaceable man, very reserved. He would heed no warning and accept no advice as to his methods of hunting. His great ambition was to kill grizzlies—he called them ‘Cabibs.’ He would leave our camp and be gone for weeks at a time without anyone knowing his whereabouts, and at last he did not return at all, and I lost sight of him for several years.
“When I came to San Bernardino in 1852 I heard of a man named Slover about six miles southwest from San Bernardino, at the south base of the mountain that now bears his name, so I went down to satisfy my mind who this Slover was and to my great surprise here I again met my old Rocky Mountain hunter, Cristobal Slover, and his faithful wife. Dona Barbarita. We visited one another often and talked about our experiences at Fort Pueblo and of our other companions there James W. Waters, V. J. Herring, Alex Godey, Kit Carson. Bill Williams, Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Bill Bent, the Sublette and others, and where they had gone, and what had become of them.
“Mr. Slover’s head was now white, but his heart was full of affection. He took my family to his home and made us all welcome to what he had. His wife and mine became as intimate as two sisters, and frequently came to visit us.
“He never forgot his chief enjoyment in pursuing the grizzly; when no one else would go hunting with him he would go alone into the mountains, although his friends warned him of the danger.
“One day he went with his companion. Bill McMines, up the left fork of the Cajon Pass almost to the summit where he came across a large grizzly and Slover fired at close range. The bear fell but soon rose and crawled away and laid down in some oak brush. Slover after re-loading his rifle began approaching the monster in spite of the objection of McMines. As the experienced bear hunter reached the brush the bear gave a sudden spring and fell on Mr. Slover, tearing him almost to pieces. That ended his bear hunting. Frequently the most expert hunters take too many chances, as was the case this time. McMines came down the mountain and told the tale, and a party went back and cautiously approached the spot; found the bear dead, but Slover still breathing but insensible. He was brought down to Sycamore Grove on a rude litter and there died. The scalp was torn from his head, his legs and one arm broken, the whole body bruised and torn. He was taken to his home and buried between his adobe house and the mountain the spot was not marked, or if so has rotted away so that I have been unable to locate the grave after searching for it, so to place a stone to mark the resting place of my old Rocky Mountain associate, Cristobal Slover, as I have brought from Cajon Pass a granite rock and placed it at the grave of my other companion, V. J. Herring, more familiarly known as “Uncle Rube.” My other Rocky Mountain companion, James W. Waters, more familiarly known as “Uncle Jim,” has also passed on ahead of me and has a fine monument to mark his resting place adjoining my family lot, where I hope to be placed near him when I am called from earth, both of us near our kindred for whom we labored many years on earth.”
Brown, John Jr., and James Boyd. History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois: 1922.
Bill Keys was the one who found Johnny Lang dead, wrapped in a tarp at the top of Lost Horse Valley in what is now known as Joshua Tree National Park. Johnny spent his last night, probably hungry and cold, on his way to get supplies to take back to the run down shack he lived in further up the canyon toward the Lost Horse Mine that he once owned. Despite the rumors of a secret cache of gold Johnny had hi-graded from the mine, he had nothing more than a piece of bacon in his pocket to chew on during his journey to the store.
Bill Keys, noted area rancher, had found the body, reported it and was instructed to bury the undernourished old man. He would be paid by the coroner for such service. Keys, dug a deep enough hole, laid Johnny’s corpse in it, set a grave marker and threw dirt over the affair.
As Johnny’s legend regarding possibly hidden gold grew, someone foolishly went out and dug up the grave to see if his gold had been buried with him. It had not and Bill went out and finished the burial, again.
Years later Johnny’s body was again dug up–with a backhoe. This time, however, his skull was stolen. Johnny was reburied. This time the grave marker was placed away from the grave to hide the exact location, and that seems to have taken care of the problem. … This time.
In the early seventies, while the Southern Pacific Railway was building from San Francisco to San José, some twelve or fifteen bandits, carousing at a country dance in the Mexican settlement, Panamá (about six miles south of Bakersfield) planned to cross the mountains and hold up the pay-car. They were unsuccessful; whereupon, they turned their attention to the village of Tres Pinos, robbed several store-keepers and killed three or four men. They were next heard of at little Kingston, in Tulare County, where they plundered practically the whole town. Then they once more disappeared.
Presently various clues pointed to the identity of the chief bandido as one Tibúrcio Vasquez, born in Monterey in the thirties, who had taken to the life of an outlaw because, as he fantastically said, some Gringos had insolently danced off with the prettiest girls at fandangos, among them being his sweetheart whom an American had wronged. With the exception of his Lieutenant, Chavez, he trusted no one, and when he moved from place to place, Chavez alone accompanied him. In each new field he recruited a new gang, and he never slept in camp with his followers.
Although trailed by several sheriffs, Vasquez escaped to Southern California leading off the wife of one of his associates—a bit of gallantry that contributed to his undoing, as the irate husband at once gave the officers much information concerning Vasquez’s life and methods. One day in the spring of 1874, Vasquez and three of his companions appeared at the ranch of Alessandro Repetto, nine miles from town, disguised as sheep-shearers. The following morning, while the inmates of the ranch-house were at breakfast, the highwaymen entered the room and held up the defenseless household. Vasquez informed Repetto that he was organizing a revolution in Lower California and merely desired to borrow the trifling sum of eight hundred dollars. Repetto replied that he had no money in the house; but Vasquez compelled the old man to sign a check for the sum demanded, and immediately dispatched to town a boy working for Repetto, with the strict injunction that if he did not return with the money alone, and soon, his master would be shot.
When the check was presented at the Temple & Workman Bank, Temple, who happened to be there, became suspicious but could elicit from the messenger no satisfactory response to his questions. The bank was but a block from the Courthouse; and when Sheriff Rowland hurriedly came, in answer to a summons, he was inclined to detain the lad. The boy, however, pleaded so hard for Repetto’s life that the Sheriff agreed to the messenger’s returning alone with the money. Soon after, Rowland and several deputies started out along the same trail; but a lookout sighted the approaching horsemen and gave the alarm. Vasquez and his associates took to flight and were pursued as far as Tejunga Pass; but as the cut-throats were mounted on fresh horses, they escaped. Even while being pursued, Vasquez had the audacity to fleece a party of men in the employ of the Los Angeles Water Company who were doing some work near the Alhambra Tract. The well known Angeleño and engineer in charge, Charles E. Miles, was relieved of an expensive gold watch.
In April, 1874, Sheriff Rowland heard that Vasquez had visited the home of “Greek George”—the Smyrniot camel-driver to whom I have referred—and who was living about ten miles from Los Angeles, near the present location of Hollywood. Rowland took into his confidence D. K. Smith and persuaded him to stroll that way, ostensibly as a farmer’s hand seeking employment; and within two weeks Smith reported to Rowland that the information as to Vasquez’s whereabouts was correct. Rowland then concluded to make up a posse, but inasmuch as a certain clement kept Vasquez posted regarding the Sheriff’s movements, Rowland had to use great precaution. Anticipating this emergency, City Detective Emil Harris-four years later Chief of Police-had been quietly transferred to the Sheriff’s office; in addition to whom, Rowland selected Albert Johnson, Under Sheriff; B. F. Hartley, a local policeman; J. S. Bryant, City Constable; Major Henry M. Mitchell, an attorney; D. K. Smith; Walter Rodgers, proprietor of the Palace Saloon; and G. A. Beers, a correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. All these were ordered to report, one by one with their horses, shortly after midnight, at Jones’s Corral on Spring Street near Seventh. Arms and ammunition, carefully packed, were likewise smuggled in. Whether true or not that Vasquez would speedily be informed of the Sheriff’s whereabouts, it is certain that, in resolving not to leave his office, Rowland sacrificed, for the public weal, such natural ambition that he cannot be too much applauded; not even the later reward of eight thousand dollars really compensating him for his disappointment.
By half-past one o’clock in the morning, the eight members of the posse were all in the saddle and silently following a circuitous route. At about daybreak, in dense fog, they camped at the mouth of Nichols’s Canyon-two miles away from the house of Greek George-where Charles Knowles, an American, was living. When the fog lifted, Johnston, Mitchell, Smith and Bryant worked their way to a point whence they could observe Greek George’s farm; and Bryant, returning to camp, reported that a couple of gray horses had been seen tied near the ranch-house. Shortly thereafter, a four horse empty wagon, driven by two Mexicans, went by the cañon and was immediately stopped and brought in. The Mexicans were put in charge of an officer, and about the same time Johnston came tearing down the ravine with the startling statement that Vasquez was undoubtedly at Greek George’s!
A quick consultation ensued and it was decided by the posse to approach their goal in the captured vehicle, leaving their own horses in charge of Knowles; and having warned the Mexicans that they would be shot if they proved treacherous, the deputies climbed into the wagon and lay down out of sight. When a hundred yards from the house, the officers stealthily scattered in various directions. Harris, Rodgers and Johnston ran to the north side, and Hartley and Beers to the west. Through an open door, Vasquez was seen at the breakfast table, and Harris, followed by the others, made a quick dash for the house. A woman waiting on Vasquez attempted to shut the officers out; but Harris injected his rifle through the half-open door and prevented her. During the excitement, Vasquez climbed through a little window, and Harris, yelling, “There he goes!” raised his Henry rifle and shot at him. By the time Harris had reached the other side of the house, Vasquez was a hundred feet away and running like a deer toward his horse. In the meantime, first Hartley and then the other officers used their shotguns and slightly wounded him again. Vasquez then threw up his hands, saying: “Boys, you’ve done well! but I’ve been a damned fool, and it’s my own fault!” The identity of the bandit thus far had not been established; and when Harris asked his name, he answered, “Alessandro Martinez.”* In the meantime, captors and prisoner entered the house; and Vasquez, who was weakened from his wounds, sat down, while the young woman implored the officers not to kill him. At closer range, a good view was obtained of the man who had so long terrorized the State. He was about five feet six or seven inches in height, sparely built, with small feet and hands-in that respect by no means suggesting the desperado-with a low forehead, black, coarse hair and mustache, and furtive, cunning eyes.
By this time, the entire posse, excepting Mitchell and Smith (who had followed a man seen to leave Greek George’s), proceeded to search the house. The first door opened revealed a young fellow holding a baby in his arms. He, the most youthful member of the organization, had been placed on guard. There were no other men in the house, although four rifles and six pistols, all loaded and ready for use, were found. Fearing no such raid, the other outlaws were afield in the neighborhood; and being warned by the firing, they escaped. One of Vasquez’s guns, by the way, has been long preserved by the family of Francisco Ybarra and now rests secure in the County Museum.
Underneath one of the beds was found Vasquez’s vest containing Charley Miles’s gold watch, which Harris at once recognized. The prisoner was asked whether he was seriously hurt and he said that he expected to die, at the same time admitting that he was Vasquez and asking Harris to write down some of his bequests. He said that he was a single man, although he had two children living at Elizabeth Lake; and he exhibited portraits of them. He protested that he had never killed a human being, and said that the murders at Tres Pinos were due to Chavez’s disobedience of orders.
The officers borrowed a wagon from Judge Thompson—who lived in the neighborhood—into which they loaded Vasquez, the boy and the weapons, and so proceeded on their way. When they arrived near town, Smith and Mitchell caught up with them. Mitchell was then sent to give advance notice of Vasquez’s capture and to have medical help on hand; and by the time the party arrived, the excitement was intense. The City Fathers, then in session, rushed out pellmell and crowds surrounded the Jail. Dr. K. D. Wise, Health Officer, and Dr. J. P. Widney, County Physician,administered treatment to the captive. Vasquez, in irons, pleaded that he was dying; but Dr. Widney, as soon as he had examined the captive, warned the Sheriff that the prisoner, if he escaped, would still be game for a 458 long day’s ride. Everybody who could, visited him and I was no exception. I was disgusted, however, when I found Vasquez’s cell filled with flowers, sent by some white women of Los Angeles who had been carried away by the picturesque career of the bandido; but Sheriff Rowland soon stopped all such foolish exuberance.
Vasquez admitted that he had frequently visited Mexicans in Los Angeles, doing this against the advice of his lieutenant, Chavez, who had warned him that Sheriff Rowland also had good friends among the Mexicans.
Among those said to have been in confidential touch with Vasquez was Mariano G. Santa Cruz, a prominent figure, in his way, in Sonora Town. He kept a grocery about three hundred feet from the old Plaza Church, on the east side of Upper Main Street, and had a curiously-assorted household. There on many occasions, it is declared, Vasquez found a safe refuge.
Five days after the capture, Signor Repetto called upon the prisoner, who was in chains, and remarked: “I have come to say that, so far as I am concerned, you can settle that little account with God Almighty!” Vasquez, with characteristic flourishes, thanked the Italian and began to speak of repayment, when Repetto replied: “I do not expect that. But I beg of you, if ever you resume operations, never to visit me again.” Whereupon Vasquez, placing his hand dramatically upon his breast, exclaimed: “Ah, Señor, I am a cavalier, with a cavalier’s heart!”—¡Señor Repetto, yo soy un caballero, con el corazón de un caballero!
As soon as Vasquez’s wounds were healed, he was taken by Sheriff Rowland to Tres Pinos and there indicted for murder. Miller & Lux, the great cattle owners, furnished the money, it was understood, for his defense—supposedly as a matter of policy. His attorneys asked for, and obtained, a change of venue, and Vasquez was removed to San José. There he was promptly tried, found guilty and, in March, 1875, hanged.
Many good anecdotes were long told of Vasquez; one of which was that he could size up a man quickly, as to whether he was a native son or not, by the direction in which he would roll a cigarette—toward or away from himself! As soon as the long-feared bandit was in captivity, local wits began to joke at his expense. A burlesque on Vasquez was staged late in May at the Merced Theater; and the day the outlaw was captured, a merchant began his advertisement: VASQUEZ says that MENDEL MEYER has the Finest and Most Complete Stock of Dry Goods and Clothing, etc.”
from : Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark. Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark
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.”
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.
“One of Victor’s (Jacob Nash Victor) greatest contributions was supervision of a number of bridges constructed in San Bernardino County. The first and longest of these was the railroad crossing of the Mojave River in the lower narrows. It is not known just how directly involved he or Perris (Fred T. Perris) were with this project, since their correspondence includes a letter regarding recommendation from New England of another engineer-bridge builder anxious for employment just then. Whoever was directly responsible, huge granite blocks were shaped to fit snugly into cemented buttresses, which have not cracked or moved in over 100 years of continuous use and several devastating floods. The iron bridge, described as one of the finest structures of its kind on this coast, was brought in sections by railroad to Barstow and freighted from there to the site. This bridge was replaced early in the 20th century, including a second set of tracks, but the subsequent structures have all continued to utilize the same basic foundation buttresses. This would be the oldest structure in the region (the buttresses were built in 1885).”
~ History of the Victor Valley – Lyman
Published by Mohahve Historical Society
Transportation to and from Goldfield improved greatly with the arrival of the railroad. On September 12, 1905, at 12:30 p.m. the first passenger train arrived in Goldfield, greeted by 300 people. It was operated by the Goldfield Railroad Company. The arrival of the Railroad kicked off three days of celebrations, but mourning for some stage lines. In all there would be four railroads serving Goldfield, and one local line operated by the Goldfield Consolidated Milling & Transportation Company.
The Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad built railroad shops and a terminal near Aluminum and Fourth Streets, in May of 1910. The T & G operated until October of 1947, and had a life span of 44 years.The Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad was built in 1906 & 1907, from Las Vegas to Tonopah, and had stops in Beatty, Bullfrog, Rhyolite, and Goldfield. The LV & T ran for 14 years, until October 31. 1918, when the Nevada Department of Highways purchased the railroad right-of-way for Highway 95.
The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was built starting in November 1905, and completed October 30. 1907. It ran from Ludlow, California northward via Death Valley Junction to Gold Center, just two miles south of Beatty, and then northward on the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad. The T & T Railroad ran until June 14, 1940, a span of 33 years.
The Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad was constructed starting in May 1906, probably starting at Milltown in the Goldfield Mining District, at the terminal of the T & G tracks, and was completed southward to Beatty by April, 1907. The Bullfrog Goldfield freight depot and maintenance building was situated at Fifth Avenue and Pearl Street across from the Santa Fe Saloon and is under reconstruction today. The Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad operated until January, 1928. During various stages of its existence, the BGRR leased its tracks to either the T&T or LV&T. Management changed hands five times during its 21 year life span.
Railroad Day September 12, 1905. The arrival of the Railroad marked the end of the stage coach to and from Goldfield and Tonopah.
from: Goldfield Historic Walking Tour Booklet The Goldfield Historical Society
In 1930, Lucerne Valley boasted having this post office building on the Box “S” Ranch in this widely homesteaded area. Famed for its pure Mojave dry air, World War I veterans who suffer being gassed in France found breathing here are easy. One section of the valley is called “Little Inglewood.” This stems from many homesteaders, originally from Inglewood, California, moving there in the 1920s and 1930s.
from – Images of America – Mojave Desert by John Swisher
The most desperate prison break in the history of the West occurred at the Nevada penitentiary at Carson on the evening of Sunday, September 17, 1871. Twenty-nine convicts, murderers, train robbers, horse thieves and others of like ilk, gained temporary liberty after killing one man and wounding half a dozen more. The bravery of the handful of prison guards, the action of a life prisoner in opposing the escape and fighting the convicts, and other details make an interesting story, but one outside the field of this history. Inyo’s interest in the affair became direct when one of the gangs of desperadoes started with intent to recuperate in Owens and Fish Lake valleys, as a preliminary to raiding a store at Silver Peak and escaping with their loot to seek refuge among the renegades, Indians and whites, who had established themselves in the far deserts.
Billy Poor, a mail rider, was met by the convicts, who murdered him in cold blood, took his horse and clothing and dressed the corpse in discarded prison garb. When news of the occurrence reached Aurora, the boy’s home, a posse set out ill pursuit of the escapees. The trail was found at Adobe Meadows, in southern Mono, and word was sent to Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, at Benton. Hightower and ten others from Benton trailed the fugitives into Long Valley. Robert Morrison, who came to Owensville in 1863 and was at this time a Benton merchant, first sighted the men, in the evening of Friday, the 23d. The pursuers went to the McGee place, in southern Long Valley, and spent the night, and the following morning went up the stream then known as Monte Diablo Creek, but now called Convict.
As the posse neared the narrow at the eastern end of the deep cup in which Convict Lake is situated, a man was seen running down a hill a hundred yards ahead. The pursuers spurred up their horses and soon found themselves within forty feet of the convicts’ camp. Three convicts took shelter behind a large pine tree on the south side of the stream, and began firing. Two of the horses of the posse were killed and two others wounded, and one of the posse was shot through the hand. Morrison dismounted, began crawling down the hillside to get nearer, and was shot in the side. The rest of the posse fled. Black, convict, went after Morrison, passing him until Morrison snapped his gun without its being discharged; Black then shot him through the head.
The convicts went up the canyon to where an Indian known as Mono Jim was keeping some of the citizens’ horses. Thinking that the approaching men belonged to the posse, Jim announced that he had seen three men down the canyon. As he saw his mistake Black shot him. Jim returned the fire, wounding two of the horses the convicts had, and was then killed. Morrison’s body remained where it fell until Alney McGee went from the house in the valley that evening and recovered it. The convicts had left. Morrison’s body was taken to Benton and buried by the Masonic fraternity.
“Convict” was thenceforward adopted as the name of the beautiful lake and stream near the scene. A mighty peak that towers over the lake bears the name of Mount Morrison.
Word had been sent from Benton to Bishop, and a posse headed by John Crough and John Clarke left the latter place, after some delay due to failure of the messenger to deliver his letter.
The trail was picked up in Round Valley, which the convicts had crossed. The latter had made their way into Pine Creek Canyon, and were so hard pressed that they abandoned one of their horses and lost another over a precipice. News that the men w^ere located, and the fact that they were armed with Henry rifles, superior to the weapons of the citizens, was taken to Independence by I. P. Yaney. The military post was at that time commanded by Major Harry C. Egbert, who afterward became General Egbert and lost his life as a brave soldier in the Philippines. Major Egbert selected five men to accompany him in the hunt, and also provided a supply of arms for any citizens who might wish to use them for the main purpose. They made the trip to Bishop in seven hours, which was rapid traveling in those days.
Convicts Morton and Black were captured in the sand hills five miles southeast of Round Valley, on Wednesday night, ten days after their escape. They were taken by J. L. C. Sherwin, Hubbard, Armstead, McLeod and two Indians. A few shots were exchanged before the fugitives threw up their hands in token of surrender. An Indian mistook the motion and fired, the shot striking Black in the temple and passing through his head, but strangely not killing him. The two were taken to Birchim’s place in Round Valley. Black was able to talk, and laid the killing of Morrison on Roberts, a nineteen-year old boy. After hearing his story a posse resumed the hunt for Roberts in Pine Creek Canyon.
This posse was eating lunch in the canyon on Friday when they observed a movement in a clump of willows within twenty yards of them. The place was surrounded and Roberts was ordered to come out and surrender. He did so, saying that if they intended to kill him he was ready if he could have a cup of coffee. He had been five and one-half days without food. When he confronted Black at Birchim’s, the conduct of the older villain satisfied all that he and not Roberts had slain Morrison.
The three prisoners were placed in a spring wagon Sunday evening, October 1st, and with a guard of horsemen started from Round Valley for Carson. Near Pinchower’s store, where the northern road through West Bishop intersected the main drive of that vicinity, the escort and wagon were surrounded by a large body of armed citizens. ”Who is the captain of this guard?” was asked. “I am; turn to the left and go on.” But the mob did not turn to the left nor was there any resistance. Morton, who sat with the driver, said: “Give me the reins and I’ll drive after them ; I’m a pretty good driver myself.” Roberts, who had been shot in the shoulder and in the foot in the encounter in Long Valley, was lying in the bottom of the wagon. He offered objections to going with the citizens, but without effect, and with Black driving to his own hanging, the wagon and its escort moved across the unfenced meadow to a vacant cabin about a mile northeasterly. On arrival there. Black and Roberts were carried into the house, both being wounded. Morton got down from the wagon with little assistance and went in with them.
Lights were procured, and all present except the guards over the prisoners formed a jury. The convicts were questioned for two hours before votes were taken, separately on each prisoner. It was decreed that Black and Morton should be hanged at once. The vote on Roberts was equally divided for and against execution, and his life was saved by that fact.
A scaffold was hastily set up at the end of the house, one end of its beam resting on the top of its low chimney, the other supported by a tripod of timbers. Morton hoard the preparations going on, and asked: “Black, are you ready to die?” “No, this is not the crowd that will hang us,” replied Black. “Yes, it is,” said Morton; don’t you hear them building the scaffold”?” Morton was asked if he wished to stand nearer the fire which had been made to modify the chill of- the late autumn night. “No, it isn’t worth while warming now,” he answered; and turning to Roberts he said: “We are to swing, and I mean to have you swing with us if we can ; we want company. ” Black was carried out and lifted into a wagon which had been driven under the scaffold; after being raised to his feet he stood unsupported. Morton walked out and looked over the arrangements calmly, climbed into the wagon, and placed the noose over his own head. He asked that his hands be made fast so that he could not jump up and catch the rope. Black asked for water ; Morton asked him what he wanted with water then. When asked if they had anything to say, Black said no. Morton said that it wasn’t well for a man to be taken off without some religious ceremony, and if there was a minister present he would like to have a prayer. Whether it seems strange or otherwise, there was a minister present by request. He spoke a few words, after which Morton said: “I am prepared to meet my God—but I don’t know that there is any God.” He shook hands with the men on the wagon, and then the minister prayed. Only his voice and a sigh from Black broke the stillness. As “Amen” was pronounced the wagon moved away. Black was a large and heavy man and died without a struggle. Morton, a very small man, sprang into the air as the wagon started, and did not move a muscle after his weight rested on the rope.
Young Roberts was taken to the county jail at Independence, and after partial recovery from his wounds was returned to the Carson prison. Others among the escapes were believed to have come this way, and hard search was made for them through the mountains. That one named Charley Jones had come to Bishop Creek and had probably received some assistance was a general belief, but what became of him was never known unless to a select circle. Four of the escapes were captured on Walker River while they were feasting on baked coyote. Eighteen of the twentynine were captured or killed within two months of the prison break.
During the great silver boom in the Calicos, a small community grew up around the Bismarck mine in the next canyon east of Calico camp. Together with the miners of the Garfield, Odessa, Occidental and other mines, there were perhaps 40 persons in the area, which was known as East Calico.
While Calico was less than a mile away, by airline, the direct trail was steep and rugged and the road roundabout. The government did not consider the population sufficient for a post office, and the miners didn’t care to hike into Calico for their mail. So they contributed to a fund to pay a boy named Dave Nichols to bring the mail over, by burro, from the mother camp. But Dave found a better job and no one else wanted to be mail man.
About that time a man named Stacy, brother of the Stacy who was postmaster at Calico (their first names have variously been given as James, William, Everett and Alwin) opened a store at Bismark. The Stacys had a dog named Dorsey, a big Scotch collie who had come to them for shelter one stormy night. The Bismarck Stacy took the collie’ with him to East Calico.
But Dorsey’s affections were divided, and after a few days at Bismarck, he ran away back to Calico. Postmaster Stacy attached a note to his neck, switched him and sent him back to Bismarck. After a few such runaways, Postmaster Stacy conceived the notion of tying a sack with newspapers in it on Dorsey’s back when he sent him home. Dorsey delivered them successfully, and soon little saddlepacks labeled “U. S. Mail” were made and attached to the dog’s back and a regular mail service set up between the two camps on a thrice-weekly schedule.
Dorsey soon became one of Calico’s most famous characters, but success did not go to his head.
Though he was not a civil service employee and his mail route entirely unofficial, he was faithful in the completion of his appointed rounds. Though the miners enjoyed attempting to lead him astray or tamper with the mail, he managed to elude them, then resume his course.
There is only one instance of possible misuse of his office on record. One Christmas Herman Mellen was living in a cave near Bismarck and his mother sent him a box of candy and sweets. Stacy had tied this box under Dorsey’s neck, and when he arrived at Bismarck the bottom was out and the contents missing. Whether temptation had proven too strong, the goodies had been hijacked or whether the package had broken open, allowing the contents to spill out was never determined.
The famous dog mail carrier continued his route for two years, until a dip in the boom caused the mines of East Calico to close and mail service became unnecessary. When the Stacys left Calico, they gave Dorsey to John S. Doe, wealthy San Francisco man interested in Calico mines, and Dorsey spent the rest of his life in comfort and ease in the Bay City.
Fortifications along the western extension of the Santa Fe trail, route of the Whipple survey, were built initially because of Indian attacks on covered wagon trains of settlers. The Mojave War followed the massacre of one train by Indians at the Colorado River crossing a few miles above the present Needles.
The Army was not slow in punishing the Mojave tribes, and entire regiment being collected at Fort Yuma and going upstream. This was in the winter of 1858-59. The initial fort, Ft. Mojave, was established at the time. Supplying of this river outpost was both expensive and difficult.
The road over the desert San Bernardino had been given a bad name by Lt. Col. William Hoffman would take in the company of mounted infantry in a small dragoon escort from the Cajon Pass to the river. Hoffman’s command had been attacked by Indians in route. The Col. was under orders to find a site for a desert fort. He saw nothing between Summit Valley in the river he considered a likely site. In fact, Hoffman condemned the entire route as unsuited for travel.
It is probable the Hoffman report influenced the Army in initially supplying Fort Mojave by steamer from Yuma. When the river was slow and supplies could not be taken at far upstream the fort garrison was desperate. At this juncture In Winfred Scott Hancock, the same officer who appeared in a recent issue of the series, called on the Banning stage and freight lines to take supplies through. Banning’s experience Teamsters had no trouble They drove again heavy freight wagons, each drawn by eight mule teams to the river in 16 days. The Fort Mojave garrison again had both food and ammunition.
Cady Old Site
Hancock at the time an assistant quartermaster, prove that not only the Mojave Valley road was practical. He also reduce the Army’s transport expense to Fort Mojave by two thirds. The hall from drum barracks at Wilmington to the Colorado River via Cajon Pass cost only a third as much per pound as the long water haul around Baja California and transfer shipment to river steamer.
The site of Camp Cady was used as an Indian “fort” even before California became a part of the United States. Indians engaged in stealing horses from the Mexican ranchos built a crude sort of stronghold on the rocky hillsides of the Mojave River near that spot. It was a few miles East of the old Spanish Trail and also guarded the entrance to narrow Afton Canyon which could serve as an escape route if pursuit became too hot.
There is documentary evidence of the Indian use of their crude stronghold in 1845 point Benjamin Wilson, the Don Benito of Mexican rule, meeting Indians there in battle in 1845 a few days after the historic discovery of Bear Valley.
Wilson’s account of the pursuit of the horse thieves attributed depredations to renegade Indians from Mission San Gabriel but it is probable Sun desert tribes had Braves in the raiding parties. Wilson was alcalde at Jurupa and was called upon by Gov. Pico to punish the Indians. The acalde gathered a large posse including 22 young Californians mounted on fleet horses. The larger party in fact train went up Cajon Pass. Wilson in the young ranchers took the route up to Santa Ana Canyon, enjoyed hunting bear in what Wilson named Bear Valley, and joined the pack train somewhere near Rancho Verde in the present Apple Valley.
Wilson, wounded by a poisoned arrow, had his life saved by Lorenzo Trujillo. Trujillo, a New Mexican, was leader in the little colony of Agua Mansa and its twin town, Trujillo. In the Apple Valley fight the Indians were defeated in three of them killed. Wilson shot the notorious Joaquin, the ex-mission Indian, who was a ringleader among the horse thieves.
Several of Wilson’s Horseman pursued the remnant of the Indians down the Mojave though the wounded Wilson was forced to turn back. Nothing Indians halted in their crude fort near the site of Camp Cady. There, though the entrenched behind rocks, they were again defeated and dispersed.
In addition to the soldiers at the Mojave Desert forts there were a few civilians quartered at some of the posts. For instance, the returns of Camp Cady for December 1866 indicate an assistant wagon master was stationed there. He was paid $75 a month. Teamsters, their number not specified, received hundred and $75 a month, and herders $35 a month. Other notations would indicate the herders, at least some of them, were Indians. The Teamsters, whose work was the most skilled, where the aristocrats of the road whether they drove Concord stages and six horses or whipped along multiple freight teams. The Army officers themselves received far less pay.
There were also, at least at Cady and Mojave, sutler stores. The Army had no canteen or post exchange in that. And contractors, called settlers, were granted the privilege of establishing stores on military reservations and also, for that matter, with armies in the field. Suites that supplemented the monotonous menu, tobacco and whiskey as well as such notions as red, writing paper and ink were for sale at the sutler stores.
Soldiers receiving $7.50 a month did not have much money to spend but there was no place to go and as a result the software store almost invariably raked in the Army man’s wages. Passing travelers also helps well the sutler income.
The system was a poor one, and the cause of continuous complaint. The soldier, at times was victimized both by high prices in shoddy material. At one juncture soldier resentment in Camp Cady passed the usual grumbling stage and the garrison simply looted the store.
Looting did not satisfy the enraged soldiery. They set fire to the store and literally drove the hated sutler from the camp. The sutler came to San Bernardino and swore out complaints. That was in August 1867 after Camp Cady was manned by regulars.
First Lieut. Manual Eyre Jr. in command at Cady, reported the affair to first Lieut. C. H. Shepherd, assistant adjutant general at Fort Mojave. He said:
“Yesterday the sheriff was here and took with him five of my men for preliminary examination under charges of arson and robbery. The case is stated in my letter addressed to a AAAG at your headquarters, dated August 8, 1867. I should, I think, be in San Bernardino during the trial of these men, if they are held for trial. I also desire to present before the grand jury’s citizens who have harbored deserters.
“The posted by you till will be established under superintendence of an officer from Mojave. Could not an officer be spared temporarily to relieved Lieut. Drum and allow him to relieve me for 10 days or two weeks? If the Rock Springs garrison is withdrawn, I can leave Lieut. Drum here in command until my return?
“The intention of this man Dead (the sutler) is evident to me. He will try to obtain money from these men to let them off. If so, I would like to be present to prosecute him for attempting to compound a felony. I am of the opinion that, as much as I dislike it, I should be in San Bernardino as soon as possible, even if the men are released after preliminary examination when, of course they would be turned loose 100 miles from camp to find their way as they see fit.”
Until recent years Fort Mojave was maintained as an Indian school. When it ceased to be an army post, however, it is records were moved. Some were taken to Whipple barracks in Prescott, others to the Presidio at San Francisco. For Mojave, however had a wealth of old records that escaped attention of the detail entrusted to their moving. Within the past few years the grounds of the old fort were converted to agricultural use. The remains of an old adobe building were bulldozed flat. In the process the bulldozer broke through an old wooden floor long covered with several inches of earth. The accident disclosed a long forgotten cellar. In it were scores of packing boxes containing more records. These were assembled and shipped to Washington. Stacked in a line these rediscovered records stretch 29 feet.
As yet this latest ” mine” of Pioneer Army records has not been made available to historical researchers. Presumably in a few years, however, they will have been cleaned, indexed and deposited in the national archives and will furnish a far more detailed commentary on conditions in the Southwest during the pre-railroad decades,, and on Army activities at a dozen or more all but forgotten published such as Las Vegas, Resting Springs, El Dorado Canyon, and numerous early Arizona camps. Frequent transfers of headquarters seem to have made Fort Mojave a convenient depository for numerous papers no one wanted to which, under regulations, could not be destroyed. Paperwork in the military was almost as involved in the mid-19th century as it is today. Doubtless the company clerk of the Battalion Sgt. major of 1867 rebelled inwardly at the detail required of his job and doubtless to adjutants were hard put to find storage space for the growing mountains of paper but to their credit it must be noted they observed the rules and did not indulge in the periodic bonfires that mark some of the other branches of the federal service. For instance, research on Colorado River steamers is difficult because the customs offices of registry made it a practice to destroy old records.
The Walters family is an important part of Hesperia history. Starting with George Francis Walters, who moved his family from Illinois to California because his wife, Harriet C Finigan Walters had asthma.
The family first settled in the Riverside area where he went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad. According to Bolton Minister, son of George O Walters Minister, George was offered a transfer to Hesperia to manage the Hesperia Hotel.
The Walters family consisted of George and his wife Harriet, and their children, in birth order, Georgia Henry had to Walters Minister-Henry, Verial W. Walters Ormond and Roy Edward Walters.
According to Mr. Minister, both the daughters went to work in the hotel. They were later joined by Laura McClanahan who in 1921 transferred from the Goodsprings Hotel, in Goodsprings, Nevada.
Verial was postmistress, until she moved away when she got married, and then her position was given to her brother Roy.
Roy ended up marrying Laura McClanahan and having a daughter, Geraldine Henrietta Walters. Geraldine married first, Yeager and second Schwartz.
According to Mr. Minister, George Francis Walters built the Walters house in the Walters general store according to Geraldine, her grandmother Harriet was the midwife in the delivery of 32 Hesperia babies.
When George passed away the store was handled over to Roy, who operated it for many years.
I do not know where George and area Walters or Barry. However, I do know that Roy and Laura are buried at the cemetery in Victorville.
With the passing of time, their store had deteriorated and will eventually disappear from Hesperia. As eventually, the Walters name will.
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.
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
I went alone into the desert with only a fox terrier and a buckskin pony, for company. There was no one on the edge who knew about the interior and those that talked as though they knew did not care to go with me. I was promised plenty of trouble. Predecessors had been “caught up with” again and again. Their bodies, dried like Egyptian mummies, had been found in the sands long after by Indians. The heat and the drought were unbearable, there were sand storms, sulphurcous whirlwinds, poisonous springs, white gypsum wastes, bewildering mirages, desert wolves, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, hydrophobia skunks. I would never come out alive. But I went in, tempted Providence, off and on, for two and a half years, and still live to tell the tale. After all, the dangers were not great. I had had, as a boy, considerable experience in Indian life and was not afraid of the open. And I had no fear of being alone or getting lost. My sense of direction was as keen as that of a homing pigeon, and when I was equipped with food and had located a water hole it really made no difference to me whether I was lost or found. I always knew my general direction, and with the ever-constant sun and stars I could not lose the points of the compass There are two ways of outfitting for a trip into the unknown. The one usually followed is to pack every article of plunder that might be thought desirable. ‘chat generally results in wearing out the most enduring pack train. I preferred the other way, the Indian way, of carrying very little, going light-shod, and retaining ease of movement. So, for myself, I wore nothing but a cotton shirt and trousers, a flat straw hat, and, on my feet, moccasins. I made my own moccasins, Sioux style, with a pointed toe, of strong mule-deer hide. A pair of blankets, a small hatchet, a short-handled shovel, some rawhide picket ropes, several tin cups, a small frying pan, a rifle for large game, and a .22-caliber single-barrel pistol for birds—
“Las Vegas is a symbol, above all else, of the impermanence of man in the desert, and not least because one is never not aware of the desert’s all pervading presence; wherever man has not built nor paved over, the desert grimly endures – even on some of the pedestrian islands down the center of the Strip! The presence of such an enclave of graceless pleasures in such an environment is so improbable that only science fiction can manage it; the place is like the compound of an alien race, or a human base camp on a hostile planet. To catch this image you need to see Las Vegas from the air by night, or better still, late in the afternoon, as I first saw it, when there is just purple sunset light enough in the bottom of the basin to pick out the crests of the surrounding mountains, but dark enough for every little lamp to register. Then – and only then – the vision is not tawdry, but is of a magic garden of blossoming lights, welling up at its center into fantastic fountains of everchanging color. And you turned to the captain of your spaceship and said, ‘Look Sir, there must be intelligent life down there,’ because it was marvelous beyond words. And doomed – it is already beginning to fade, as energy becomes more expensive and the architecture less inventive. It won’t blow away in the night, but you begin to wish it might, because it will never make noble ruins . . . .”
Peter Reyner Banham. 1982. Scenes in America Deserta. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith. Pages 42-43.
The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.
California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal. The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.
Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.
In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.
He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock and in debt.
Miguel sold his property, however, Miguel had misread the grant, letting the rancho go for much less than it was worth. The land described on the grant was roughly 5 times larger than Miguel thought. Blanco brought a suit but lost.
As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback. With California becoming a state frontiersmen such as Beckwourth and Peg Leg Smith would not steal from fellow Americans. Horse-thieving under U.S. law had become a crime where before it was just stealing horses from Mexicans. That was only serious if caught in the act. Americans would never extradite them. For the most part, that was the end of the horse stealing raids.
Fr. Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, (April 12, 1738 – July 18, 1781) was a Spanish priest who crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776. This map shows his route across the Victor Valley. Following the Mojave River after crossing at Oro Grande he walked through what is now downtown Victorville bypassing the rocky narrows and connecting back with the river near today’s Mojave Narrows Regional Park. Following the river to where the West fork and Deep Creek join to form the Mojave. He visited with the Indians then made his way up Sawpit Canyon and over the mountain ridge descending into the verdant sycamore grove that is known today as Glen Helen.
50 years after Fr. Garcés made his way across the Mojave from the Colorado River, in 1826, Jedediah Smith retraced the trail of Garcés along the river then up and over the mountains. In 1827, one year after his first crossing, Smith had lost most of his men in a massacre at the Colorado River. Desperate for the safety of civilization, Smith, after crossing the Mojave River in Oro Grande, made his way directly to the Cajon Pass bypassing the San Bernardino Mountains.
State Highway Commissioner Darlington has under advisement the matter of which route to choose for the 15-mile state highway to be built from Summit to Victorville at a cost of $150,000. A delegation headed by Louis Evans of Hesperia asked Darlington to choose the route that would include Hesperia on the highway.
Riverside Cement in Oro Grande, CA started in 1907 as the Golden State Cement Plant. It was shut down during the depression and restarted as Riverside Cement in 1942. The plant was enlarged and completely rebuilt in the late 40s. In late 1997, TXI purchased Riverside Cement.
Book Review: 101 moments in Eastern Sierra History
by Dave Babb
“In the 1890s, Mr. W.K. Miller established a six horse stage line between Keeler, on the northeast shore of Owens Lake, and Mojave.
The stage left Keeler and Mojave every other day at noon. In those days the trip took nearly 24 hours of continuous dusty travel through cactus and sand, and around hummocks.
The coach was that typical Concorde carriage of the day, square and rather high. It had a door on each side, and multiple layers of leather straps served as springs.
Inside, two seats face each other and eight people could be seated. A ninth could ride on top with the driver and kids could sit on their parents laps. The fare was $10 per person.
The first leg of the trap, from Keeler to Olancha, was the roughest part of all — taking up to six hours. After a change of horses, which took about five minutes, Haiwee could be reached in another three hours.
They changed horses eight times during the trip, and had to average about 5 mph to make a few Mojave by noon. Some 60 horses were kept in reserve to keep the stage rolling in on time.
Passengers carried their own food and water, and comfort stops were made upon request — behind the nearest bush at the back of the stage.”
Dave Babb first came to the eastern Sierra in 1952, at the age of 13 for a two-week camping and hiking trip along the John Muir Trail. after completing his education receiving BS and MS degrees in wildlife biology he returned to Bishop with his wife and their three children.
He has authored or co-authored nearly two dozen publications on the history and natural resources of the Inyo-Mono region and written more than 170 articles on Eastern Sierra wildlife.
This is a great little book to own, entertaining and informative.
You may be able to find it here.
101 moments in Eastern Sierra History
by Dave Babb
Published by Community Printing
ISBN 10: 0912494395 ISBN 13: 9780912494395
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 …
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
Hesperia, was initially purchased in anticipation of the railroad coming through. Investors stood to make a nice profit from not only the railroad, but in the real estate near by as communities grew.
But the railroad was built to Mojave, where trains could easily be routed southward toward Los Angeles, or over the Tehachapis, then north to San Francisco. The Hesperia investment languished and then was passed on to others. The railroad came through much later, but it was not so much of a big deal then.