Hole-in-the-Wall

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Hole-in-the-Wall – Mojave National Preserve

About 18.5 million years ago one day everything was blah, blah, blah and then all of a sudden . . . POOOM!

Hot, suffocating ash buried every living thing in the path of the blast. An area of over 600 km2 was covered with ash and rock fragments so hot that they welded together after they reached the ground. The toasted and fossilized remains of birds, mammals, and plants lie entombed beneath the volcanic tuff that forms the colorful cliffs of Hole-in-the-Wall.

https://digital-desert.com/a/hole-in-the-wall/

Michael White (Miguel Blanco) & Rancho Muscupiabe

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.

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon in the Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino
Hundreds and sometime even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

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.

Crowder Canyon, Cajon Pass, toll road, wagon road
Narrows, Crowder Cyn., Cajon Pass

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.

The rich ranchos of southern California.

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.

Devore, ca.
From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for the horse thieves entering the Cajon.

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.

The Old Spanish Trail went down this slope to behind Miguel Blanco’s rough-hewn homestead. Indians would watch from this forest for Miguel to leave and they would slip down and steal everything that could be stolen.

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.

Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco
Muscupiabe Rancho

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.

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Bath by Installments

On the Mojave Desert where water, like gold, in considered a precious element, a bath is often possible only through divine intervention plus human ingenuity. When Bob Alexander, dusty and dirty from a month-long prospecting trip through the Mojave Desert Mountains, awoke one morning in 1867 to an overcast sky and smelled moisture-laden dust in the atmosphere, he grinned from ear to ear.

“Rain, by jeepers!” he prognosticated. “And here’s where Bob takes a bath!”
He hurried through breakfast, and just as he’d finished scraping the last spoonful of chuck from his plate, the rain began to fall. He stripped his clothes off, stepped out of his tent, and stood for a long time under the ample shower. Wet from head to foot, he ducked back into the tent for soap and worked up a generous lather all over his body. He chuckled with glee.

“Better than going to church,” he told himself. “After four weeks of dry camping, cleanliness is sure on a par with godliness, as the feller says.”

With eyes closed to keep out the soap, Bob left the tent. “Hell’s Bells!” he exploded. Typically, the desert shower had ceased as abruptly as it had begun. He squinted at the clouds from under a carefully raised eyelid. They were rising. The sun was breaking through.

Ugly words like blue flames flicked from his angry lips. He groped his way back into the tent, took the first rag he could lay hands on and wiped the soap from his eyes. The sun blazed forth, and the clouds disappeared over a distant mountain rim. Bob watched their departure with baleful eyes.

Providence Mountains, Mojave National Preserve
Providence Mountains

“Dry gulched by a rain storm!” he thundered bitterly, “without enough water to wash a horned toad!” The soap was beginning to dry and draw on Bob’s skin. A quick rub-down served only to increase the irritation. There was nothing to do but to hike to Fort Rock Springs, five miles distant in the Providence Mountains. Here he could find water and relief. Donning his dirty clothes, Bob struck out across the country.

When he reached the Fort entrance, his feet, tough though they were, smarted like blazes and his skin, drawn and puckered under his clothes, itched unmercifully. He stopped in agonized surprise when the sentry order:

“Halt!”

“What the hell!” Bob remonstrated.

“You can’t go in there. The Fort is quarantined. Measles.”

“I’ve got to go in there. I’m all lathered up with soap!”

“Drunk or just crazy?” interrogated the sentry.

“Neither,” Bob returned, exasperated. His voice took on a pathetic tone as he stripped off his shirt to illustrate his story. The sentry listened and looked, his face changing from astonishment to amusement and sympathy.

“Mister,” said the sentry, “orders from Lieutenant Drumm, Commander of this here fort, are that only officers of the Fort, people with passes, and details, are permitted to pass through here.”

Bob was desperate. He retired abjectly. But not for long. In a few minutes, he marched up towards the sentry again, this time, simulating, awkwardly enough, the gait of a soldier on parade. The sentry smiled.

“Halt! Who comes there!” he sputtered, fighting back laughter.

“Detail of one, bound for the Fort,” returned Bob, grimly.

“Pass, detail!” shouted the sentry.

Bob passed, on a dead run, headed for a tub and water.

Taken from The Old West, Pioneer Tales of San Bernardino County