WILD MEN OF DEATH VALLEY
the guys who made a difference
by The Old Trailmaster
Death Valley and the surrounding regions are as remote and wild as most people could ever imagine. The collective thought regards Death Valley as an inhospitable badland, a countryside where only deluded characters of questionable reputation would choose to venture. These beliefs took hold in the mid to late nineteenth century, and as the twentieth century progressed, they began to ever so slowly soften.
Soften, yes. Disappear altogether, no.
Regardless of personal interpretation of how lethal this secluded territory was or is, there is little doubt that it took, and still takes, a special breed of man to do anything more than travel through Death Valley in an air-conditioned automobile. It is, and always will remain, wild country of the first order. It requires a man of wild spirit and dedicated commitment to come here, and then attempt to mold his dreams into reality.
The demands of Death Valley are extreme, just like the land itself.
Untold thousands of men have journeyed into this cavernous earthen valley for the past ten-thousand years, and every day brings yet more. They come here for many diverse reasons to achieve a multitude of objectives, from living simply on the land to creating the beginnings of their financial fortunes. Most are honest as the day is long, yet some have left permanent scars upon the region’s history. Even the most fraudulent of the lot have been instrumental in marking Death Valley as a true land of legend and illusion. Some, like Death Valley Scotty, have been transformed through history into beloved icons.
What follows is a very brief history of just a few of these wild-spirited men of Death Valley, why they came here, what they did, and who they affected. You may even find a few men listed here who were fabricated in the minds of others, but have come to life due to the legends that surround them. These guys will be discussed here in an order no more significant than the alphabet, for ease of locating perhaps your favorite. Some you will be familiar with, and others may invoke the query: “Who in the world is that guy?” Oh, in case you may be wondering where all the wild women are, they have a separate tab on this website.
Thus, from A to Z, here are a handful of the rugged male adventurers who have left their marks, for one reason or another:
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AGUEREBERRY, JEAN PIERRE: Popularly known simply as Pete, this man was a dedicated soul who never stopped trying to get rich from the minerals of the Earth in the Death Valley territory. While chumming around with Frank “Shorty” Harris in 1905, who kindly took Pete under his wing, Jean found some ore east of what is today Aguereberry Point. He and Shorty staked multiple claims, but little did Pete know then that his “partner” loved the liquor bottle and loved to spread the word about his gold finds. So Pete found himself but one of hundreds of hopefuls searching the ground to get rich. Likely due to the difficult spelling of his last name, Pete was not ultimately honored in the town’s name, and it came to be known merely as Harrisburg. Remaining true to his convictions, Pete kept working his Eureka mine at Harrisburg for forty years, but he never got rich at it, nor did he even keep his head above water with the income from his intense efforts. Grubstakes and jobs from others kept him going primarily, and he eventually died in 1945. His Eureka mining operation at Harrisburg is still easily accessible today, on the dirt Aguereberry Point road, which is a relatively easy drive for most folks in nearly any vehicles. All visitors should do their part to keep what remains of the artifacts intact, for there have been many vandalistic acts performed here unfortunately over the years.
ALBRIGHT, HORACE MARDEN: For enthusiasts of Death Valley National Park, this man is to be thanked for his farsighted vision of conservation. One of the reasons for his love of this area may be because he was born close by, in Bishop, California in 1890. Horace attended the University of California, Berkeley and Georgetown University, earning a law degree in the process. After getting a job with the United States Department of the Interior, he became an assistant to Stephen Mather, who was then in charge of the national parks. Horace’s duties included stints as Superintendent of both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, and he ultimately became the second Director of the National Park Service in 1929. It was through Horace’s sincere efforts that President Herbert Hoover signed into law a proclamation that created Death Valley National Monument on the eleventh day of February 1933. He resigned from the National Park Service shortly after the Monument was created, and then worked for both the U.S. Potash Corporation and the U.S. Borax and Chemical Corporation. He passed away in Van Nuys, California in 1987. His foundational efforts with Death Valley led to the territory becoming a national park in 1994. One of his more memorable quotations was spoken by him in 1933: “Keep large sections of primitive country free from the influence of destructive civilization. Keep these bits of primitive America for those who seek peace and rest in the silent places.” This is the essence of Death Valley National Park.
ALIGHIERI, DANTE: This man never even knew about Death Valley, but there is a reason for his inclusion on this page. He was a famous Italian poet from Florence, Italy, who lived from 1265 to 1321. One of his works is commonly known as Dante’s Inferno, and it was inspired by his treatment at the hands of political enemies that had him exiled from his home town. Fast forward to Death Valley: In 1926, Sheriff Charlie Brown, of the Greenwater copper area in present day Greenwater Valley, revealed the current locale of Dante’s View to administrators of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, who in turn developed it into a tourist attraction to keep earning money since the borax trade of the region was on its way out. These gents were about to adopt Chloride Cliff as their viewpoint, but liked Dante’s View better since it was directly above the salt flat, whereas Chloride Cliff is more to the north. To them, it must have looked like a view into the jaws of hell itself, a sure tourist draw, and consequently, money in the bank. Back to poor Dante Alighieri in medieval Italy, after whom this viewpoint is named: He died at age 56, having spent much of his life in exile as a punishment for his political activism. Think of Dante when standing atop his viewpoint in DVNP. Speaking of the entrance to hell, Dante once wrote: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” The images conjured by Dante’s writing may have been on the minds of many folks over the years who stood atop the viewpoint in the Black Mountains overlooking Death Valley.
ALKALI BILL: William Brong, popularly known as Alkali Bill, was quite the entrepreneurial success story of the early 1900s mining boom of the Death Valley territory – but his accomplishments did not result from any efforts on his part to mine gold, as others around him were doing. Crafty Willie Brong was an early day cabbie! He set a record transporting passengers from the western Nevada town of Goldfield to the mining boom town of Rhyolite (near Beatty) in 1905. It was big business to offer taxi service between these towns, as also between Las Vegas and Rhyolite. Alkali Bill, in his automobile, took passengers on the 60 mile trip from Goldfield in a record time of 3 hours and 40 minutes, and was said to have driven over 20,000 miles during his tenure as an entrepreneurial people-ferry. Folks could take a stagecoach for $18 and a two day trip, or pay $25 and take the trip in a luxurious car – remember that in those days, the seven dollar difference was substantial. From a 1907 advertisement in the Death Valley Chuck-Walla newspaper that originated in Greenwater, we find the text: “Go Automobiling In Death Valley With Alkali Bill … The Death Valley Chug Line … Alkali Bill himself meets every train and whizzes you over the desert 45 miles by way of Death Valley and the famous Amargosa Canyon, to Greenwater in less than three hours. Better write ahead or wire your reservations if you have time.” From the earliest days of folks seeking wealth in Death Valley, creativity has always played a major role, along with a successful marketing campaign. For once the public’s interest was captured, the dollars were sure to follow. This region and time was wide open for development of all kinds, and these very locales can still be experienced today to feel the rich history that played on this grand stage of yesteryear.
ALVORD, CHARLES: In the early 1860s, this man apparently found enough gold in the Death Valley territory to spark the imaginations of many, and to keep himself coming back to find it, as his ability to recall its exact location was insufficient to bring him the wealth he sought. Charles was a highly educated, sixty year old gentleman from New York, with an interest in geology. He accompanied Asabel Bennett’s group while searching for Jim Martin’s Lost Gunsight Lode of silver. The party apparently found silver near Anvil Spring in Butte Valley. During this trip, Charles went exploring solo and located an area in the vicinity of present-day Goler Canyon that was rich with gold. On a return trip, after having the rocks assayed to assure their worth, Charles, Bennett, and others searched the area to no avail. After several weeks of looking for the exact golden spot, the men of the group left, angry for having believed in Charles. Word has it that the group threw their anvil in the spring here on their way out, thus leading to the naming of Anvil Spring some years later when it was found by Lieutenant Charles Bendire. Charles Alvord later teamed up with William Manly for further exploration in a continued attempt to find the gold, but they never were successful. In 1861, Charles apparently met an untimely end, at the hand of a man angry that Charles would not lead him to the gold. Of course, Charles himself could not even find it. The legends of prospectors are viewed today as part of a romantic era full of charm, yet it was a calling of personal danger, not only from the elements of nature, but from the greed in the minds of gold-hungry men who would stop at nothing to find it.
ANDRZEJEWSKI, STANLEY: What does Little Orphan Annie have to do with Death Valley? Of course, this question assumes one is old enough to recall who Little Orphan Annie was. Stanley Andrzejewski, born in Chicago in 1891, was an actor who supplied the voice of a character named Daddy Warbucks on the Little Orphan Annie radio broadcasts back in the good old days predating television, from 1931 to 1936. He later played a character on television named The Old Ranger. The Old Ranger was the warm and friendly fellow who greeted us each week when we tuned into Death Valley Days, a program that migrated from radio to television as part of a promotional campaign by the Pacific Coast Borax Company to market borax products. We know Stanley best by his Americanized last name of Andrews. Stanley played The Old Ranger from 1952 to 1965, and then was replaced by a chap named Ronald Reagan (later to become Governor of California and President of the United States). With each visit into our homes, The Old Ranger began his welcoming chat from his wooden-walled office, seated behind a modest desk, with a photograph of the twenty mule team on the wall behind him. As the dapper gray haired gent arose from his seat, he would say: “Howdy, I’m The Old Ranger, and Death Valley’s my stampin’ ground. Many is the tale of adventure I’m going to tell you about the Death Valley country … true stories mind you – I can vouch for that.” The affable Andrews passed away at age 77 in Los Angeles, 1969.
ARCAN, JOHN BAPTISTE: This Frenchman is well remembered due to his involvement with the ill-fated Bennett-Arcan party of stranded gold seekers. John was born in Versailles, France in 1814. He and his wife Abigail, along with Charles, their tiny baby child, were fortunate to make it out of Death Valley with their lives, as they remained hopelessly immobilized at Bennett’s Well on the floor of the salt flat for nearly a month during the winter of 1849-50. Happily for them, it was not summer. By 1853, the Arcans were living in Santa Cruz, California, a far cry from Death Valley’s inhospitable terrain and climate. Perhaps living at the cool Pacific Ocean near the beach was just compensation for what they encountered. He owned the Carmelita Cottages there, and for a while, the street was named Arcan Street. While in Santa Cruz, John found himself the civil court victor over gold prospector and sea captain Timothy Dame, in a local litigation during 1863.
ARNOLD, AL: In this man is perhaps the epitome of what would be considered an iron will. Al was the first human to run from scorching Badwater (-282 feet) in Death Valley to the high altitudes of Mount Whitney (+14,494 feet), 145 miles distant. Part of his training involved setting up an exercise bike in a 200 degree sauna and riding it for 45 minute sessions to acclimatize himself. By 1977, Al was running up to 50 miles a day, five days each week … he was also 50 years old. Using a three mile per hour pace, this iron man finally attained his long-realized goal of making the distance, leaving prior to dawn on August 3, 1977. The air temperature already exceeded 100 at 5 AM on this dramatic day, and would reach levels in the high 130s later. During the course of his epic 84 hour trek, Al drank about 30 gallons of liquids, and endured endless mind games in order to finally meet with success in the cool air of the mighty Sierra Nevada Range. Al is a senior member of the Badwater Hall of Fame. Learn much more about this amazing feat online at: badwater.com/stories/1977/arnoldreprint.pdf
BEERY, WALLACE FITZGERALD: Born in Kansas City, Missouri on April Fools Day 1885, Wallace was an actor in motion pictures, starring in more than 200 cinematic films during his famous 36 year career. Wallace was a fellow who certainly helped popularize Death Valley with one of his great movies, 20 Mule Team, a now rare 84 minute movie created by MGM studios in 1940. A few choice quotations found online (likely studio sources for movie promotion) go like this: “Beery … a whip-totin’ … gun-blazin’ son of a coyote … from the orneriest end of the desert!” and “Roaring! Out Of Death Valley – the hell-hole of creation comes Beery’s greatest hit!” The movie centers around a place called Furnace Flat, involves double crosses and romance, and tells a tall tale near the end of the borax era. For classic movie worshippers, acquire this one for a chilly winter’s viewing.
BELLERIN TECK: Was this a real person? Or just a fictionalized portrayal of the original white homesteader of Death Valley? The lines between fact and fiction remain blurred, as the original accounting of Bellerin Teck from John Randolph Spears’ 1892 book Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley and Other Borax Deserts of the Pacific Coast did not offer any detail of sufficient quality for later verification. From John’s book comes this quotation: “Then Death Valley had another rest from the rush of prospectors, though one ‘Cub’ Lee, a white Arab with a Paiute wife, and his brother Philander, ‘held a bunch of cattle about Furnace Creek for a year,’ or more while ‘Bellerin’ Teck took a ditch full of water out of Furnace Creek and made a small ranch on which ‘he raised alfalfa, barley, and quails.’ ‘Bellerin’ Teck got a reputation for being a bad man. He traded a part of his ranch to a Mormon named Jackson, for a yoke of an oxen, and then within a week ran the saint out of the valley with a shotgun. Then ‘Bellerin’ moved out himself and, sad to say, faded out of Death Valley history. A man who rejoiced in such a name, who was handy with a shotgun, and who withal was the first citizen of Death Valley, must have had an interesting biography.” Interestingly, a real person named Andrew Laswell is credited with being the first homesteader of this region during this same time frame, and his legacy strangely paralleled that of Bellerin.
BENNETT, ASABEL: In 1840, only nine years prior to his infamous Death Valley trek, Asabel married Sarah Dilley in Wisconsin. Three children were born to them in the next few years, and in 1849, Asabel packed up the kids (ages 7, 4, and 1) and his wife for a long and arduous trip to the California gold fields. Sarah’s father, Derial, also joined them. For the trip across the plains, they joined a group referred to as the Badger Company, departing from Kanesville, Iowa. After leaving Salt Lake City on their journey, the decision was made that forever went into the history books – to take a shortcut across an unknown territory only sketchily mapped by explorer John Fremont the year before. Once lost and stranded in the sink of Death Valley, the group remained at what is now known as Bennett’s Well, near the West Side Road. After making it out of the valley safely, Asabel moved to El Dorado County, California, where he continued to search for his future in the gold mines. Two more children were born to Asabel and Sarah, but Sarah soon died after the last child. Two of Asabel’s boys struck out on their own to find gold, and spent time in Nevada and Death Valley.
BIRMINGHAM, JAY: In 1981, the book entitled The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney was eagerly read by extreme running enthusiasts. It was written by Jay Birmingham, a 36 year old high school biology teacher from Jacksonville, Florida, who had been an ultramarathon runner since 1958. He was the second human to ever run this 145 mile distance on foot, after Al Arnold had proven it possible in 1977. Jay bested Al’s time, making the heroic death-defying run in just over 75 hours. Years later, on July 13, 2004, this incredible athlete ran in the now organized race, with at time of slightly more than 50 hours to the Whitney Portal, a shorter distance of a mere 135 miles. Starting in 2005, Jay began service on the application review committee for the Badwater Ultramarathon, which is an invitation only event for qualified humans. Jay has also run solo across the United States in just under 73 days, on a course of 2,964 miles. Learn much more about Jay online by visiting: badwater.com/stories/1981/index.html
BOSSEMEYER, GEORGE: Legend and lore oozed from the declarations of this man, a chemistry professor who staked huge claims at a hot spring area in Grapevine Canyon, hoping to capitalize on the alleged ability of minerals to maintain and restore health to folks who partook of the benefits. He called it medicinal mud, touting the results by sharing a story he said Panamint Tom had told him of the therapeutic powers to be found here. His assertions bordered on (or surpassed) the absurd, and there are those who would label him a snake oil salesman, but he persisted nonetheless, stating that the mud would heal just about any affliction known to the human race. George used Panamint Tom as his example, saying that the man was 107 years old because of the health benefits to be found here. Come here, according to Mr. Bossemeyer, have health reinstated, and continue on to a ripe and productive old age. George, however misguided, worked hard at marketing his “find” but it seems the public of 1907 was wiser than he had hoped, as people simply did not turn out in droves to purchase his concoctions. What this story lacked in reality, it made up for in lore, becoming yet another legend for us to explore.
BRIER, REVEREND JAMES WELSH: He was born near Dayton, Ohio in the fall of 1814, yet found a home much farther west. The first Methodist sermon in Los Angeles, California was preached by Reverend James Brier in 1850. His congregation consisted of his family and the Mayor. James is best known though for his travels that brought him to the west in the first place. The Brier Party was one of the original group of argonauts we now call the 49ers, who found themselves trapped in Death Valley during the winter of 1849-50 while taking a supposed shortcut to the California gold fields. He and his wife Juliette would keep spirits high with their faith, but when it came to killing oxen for food, doubt of everyone’s personal safety only strengthened. Juliette reportedly used coffee to disguise the bitter taste of water that was found. Reverend Brier eventually had to employ the use of walking sticks as he grew weaker, but with the indomitable spirit so typical of the resilient pioneers, James and his family made it out alive. The Brier family, along with the Jayhawkers, unknowingly would become a potent portion of Death Valley history. In 1873, James led a ragtag group of wealth-seekers back into the region that nearly led to his demise, hoping to find a lode of silver, commonly referred to as the Gunsight Lode. As Lady Luck would have it however, they came away with little to show for their efforts. Reverend Brier passed away in 1898 at Lodi, California, followed by his wife fifteen years later.
BROWN, CHARLES: Now here was a man who characterized the true meaning of wild west rugged. Charlie Brown was a peace officer for several old west copper boom camps in the Greenwater Valley, providing a sense of security to Furnace, Kunze, Greenwater, and Gold Valley during the early 1900s. His grand daughter, Susan Sorrells, tells of the time that Charlie arrested a local mischief maker called Death Valley Slim, who shot up a local bar. With jail facilities located a few hundred miles west in Independence, soft spoken Charlie just locked Slim in a room of a local house and took away his shoes, figuring that the criminal could not escape barefoot through the broken glass shards from whiskey bottles and the millions of small desert rocks. The crafty con squeaked out of his quarters late at night after Sheriff Charlie was asleep, took Charlie’s shoes, and made his getaway. Upon discovering the escape, Charles tried on the bad guy’s shoes, but they did not fit, so he carefully walked barefoot in the night until he once again caught the lawbreaker nearby. Now, that is dedication to duty! Later, in 1910, Charlie married Stella Fairbanks, daughter of prospector and entrepreneur Ralph Fairbanks who founded the little town of Shoshone, east of Death Valley. During the winter of 1925, Ralph and Charlie cashed in on the tourism rush, building the Old Timer’s Inn, a four room hotel in Shoshone. When the hotel filled up, they simply put the overflow tourists in the old miner’s cabins around the area. Of course, for city folks wanting an old west vacation, this was precisely the solution. In 1926, Charlie made history when he was asked by the borax magnates of Furnace Creek if he knew of a good spot where they could build a road for tourists to see all of Death Valley. He took them up to what is now called Dante’s View, and the rest is history. Had not Charlie guided the businessmen up to the precipice, Chloride Cliff would have been the choice for the viewpoint. Charles Brown was indeed a driven man, and in the late 1930s, he became a California State Senator.
BUSCH, PETER: Death Valley is an exceptionally hot place in the summer, and on a few occasions it gets even hotter. This happened on July 10, 1913, when a rare super heat wave rolled through the area, fueled even more by a powerful wind that brought in hot air from Nevada. Poor Peter was one of the few who happened to be in the neighborhood that fateful day, and although he was very familiar and highly experienced with the desert in these parts, having been greatly involved in the Rhyolite gold boom, his actions led to his demise in the oppressive temperatures. According to accounts in the local news of the time, Pete and his driver headed across Death Valley that day in their automobile, which became stuck in sand (remember, all these easy paved roads that we use today were yet to come). Crossing the notorious Death Valley in a vehicle was a dicey affair, even on a cool day. The two men decided to walk to safety, having been unsuccessful at extracting their auto. The driver made it, but alas, Peter did not, and thus made his way into our history books as the unfortunate victim of Death Valley’s ultimate wrath.
COLEMAN, WILLIAM TELL: Kentucky born in 1824, William moved out west to San Francisco, where he became heavily involved in political matters. He was seen as a presidential hopeful in 1877, but that never came to pass. William was the head honcho for a wholesale business that operated out of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, but is best known in these parts for his borax business. William started the Harmony Borax Mining Company in 1884, north of Furnace Creek. He set up the Greenland Ranch, with alfalfa fields and other crops to house and feed his employees, a crew of around forty men, most of whom were Chinese. His twenty mule teams ran south through Death Valley, southwest through Wingate Wash, south to Granite Wells, and then southwest to Mojave, 165 miles from the Harmony Borax Works. Raisins were William’s demise, as he attempted to corner the raisin market, and then when prices dropped, the result was that Francis Smith bought out his Harmony business. Smith became the true borax king, while William faded from history, paid his debts after many years, and then died in 1893. To learn more about William Coleman, please refer to the Twenty Mule Team tab.
CROWLEY, JOHN: Named after Father John Crowley, a Padre of the desert who ministered these parts in the 1930s, the stone “Father Crowley Point” monument can be found at a pullout of Highway 190, a welcomed excuse for many drivers who may have jittery nerves from driving this perilous and narrow paved portion of the road. From this spectacular viewpoint, we can see panoramic vistas of the northern Panamint Valley, Telescope Peak, and overlook Rainbow Canyon below. It is all quite impressive for those who enjoy heights. This viewpoint is near the western boundary of DVNP, just a few miles west of Panamint Springs Resort, and not far north of the old town of Darwin. Padre Crowley, for whom this place is named, was quite a colorful character, and his writings were many in the little publication that he produced from 1934 through 1940, called the Sage and Tumbleweed. He went by the pen name Inyokel, and lived for a portion of his life in Lone Pine, California, in the Owens Valley. He came to know a few movie stars during that time, as the Owens Valley was a popular location to film westerns.
CULVERWELL, RICHARD: The general public tends to believe that scores of people died in Death Valley trying to cross it on their way to the California gold fields during the mid nineteenth century. Such talk certainly gained the region an infamous reputation in the late 1800s, and led to a thriving tourist trade in the 1920s and beyond, however, such beliefs are not accurate. As one may suspect by the name on this entry, an unfortunate fellow actually did succumb to the tribulations of his valley crossing. Poor Richard was an associated member of the stranded Bennett-Arcan party in 1849, and died during the ordeal, a couple of days before the group’s rescue. Mr. Culverwell was buried in the area. Richard had been a governmental clerk prior to his decision to head west for wealth. When trouble was encountered in the sink of Death Valley, Richard wanted to head south, following Harry Wade’s route, but was too ill and weak to do so, and returned to be with the Bennett-Arcan party as they awaited rescue. He was 48 years old, and met his demise in one of the most bizarre landscapes on Earth, far from his home back east.
CYTY, JOHNNY: This man was of dubious reputation, and as inferred by his nickname (Johnny Behind the Gun), liked to use his sixgun in ways not generally seen as productive by the average person. At one time, he was in on the Ballarat boom, and like most of these tough guys out here, drifted from one mining camp to the next, seeking wealth. Johnny finally made a significant gold strike near Chloride Cliff in 1904, and started a mine known as the Big Bell. Like many of this time, Johnny put the venture up for sale to cash in, and received a sizeable cash advance for an option to buy. But once the Bullfrog excitement in nearby Nevada pulled everyone away from Chloride Cliff to even bigger money, and Johnny’s buyer fell short of cash, the deal fell through. Eventually though, he sold the Big Bell for some decent profit, putting the money into a dance hall in Rhyolite. Hard luck guy that he was, after he refused to hire union dance girls, a boycott decimated his establishment. He attempted to win back some money gambling, but only succeeded in losing the rest. In 1908, things really went downhill for poor Johnny when he tried to work another claim near his old Big Bell, but got in an ownership dispute with another strong willed chap named Smith. Push came to shove, and the two shot it out, both being hit. Smith’s injuries were fatal, and Johnny spent some serious time in jail. Once he got out, he did successfully mine some ore in the claim, but by 1911, it played out and Johnny was out of luck again. Later, he reportedly shot a Beatty barkeeper in the leg and went to jail again, got out, and worked for a time as a watchman at the Keane Wonder Mine. Eventually, Mr. Cyty went to work for Bob Eichbaum as a guide at Stovepipe Wells, leading pack trips around the valley – an unceremonious servitude of employment that was not what he had originally envisioned for his life.
DAUNET, ISADORE: This hard working Frenchman exhibited high potential for wealth building, yet his story has a sad ending. Rather than the more alluring shiny minerals that most prospectors sought, Isadore started a mining operation on the lowly salt pan of Death Valley, with a white gold as his focus. Borax was to be his calling card, and Isadore, with minimal support and funds, began the Eagle Borax Works two miles south of Hanaupah Canyon on what is now known as the West Side Road. On his 320 acre claim, he beat entrepreneurial giant William Tell Coleman to the punch in earning money from borax! Born in the Pyrenees Mountains that separate France from Spain in 1850, Isadore came to San Francisco with family when only ten years old. Dad died, so he left and sought his fortune in the exciting mining business. After spending many years experiencing one western locale after another, he finally settled in Death Valley in 1880, through a series of unintended and unfortunate events. Isadore had heard of Aaron Winter’s borax story and sale of borax acreage to William Coleman, and realizing that he had also found this mineral, that is how he came to engage in the borax business. He built the Eagle Borax Works in 1882, and contracted with mule freighter James McLaughlin to haul the borax by wagon to Daggett, 100 miles south. By June 1883, Isadore was ecstatic with his newfound success, married a beautiful French-Canadian lady, and became President of the Eagle Borax Mining Company. His celebratory spirits were premature however, as he soon learned that borax could not be refined on the floor of Death Valley during the deadly hot summer months. Below sea level, with heat enough to kill, borax would not crystallize as necessary in the refining process. William Coleman also learned this, but moved his operation to the Amargosa Borax Works, property that he also had claimed, and which was just high enough in elevation to allow a continued flow of production. Isadore did not have this option, and soon saw his world caving in around him. He started up operation again in the fall when the weather had cooled, but by then Coleman’s Harmony Borax Works were in full swing, and Isadore’s chances of success became minimal at best. His wife, seeing the inevitable lack of money, divorced him, which sent the man into extreme despair, culminating in a mental meltdown and suicide.
DIGONNET, MICHEL: A researcher and instructor at Stanford University, California, Dr. Digonnet is the author of the popular hiking book Hiking Death Valley. Born and raised in Paris, France, he studied physics, chemistry, and mathematics in his late teens and traveled extensively throughout Europe and Africa. In his early twenties, while pursuing his engineering degree in physics in Paris, he spent three summers traveling around North America, where he fell in love with both the desert and the American culture. He moved to California in 1978 as a graduate student at Stanford University, where he pursued his doctorate degree in the then nascent field of fiber optics. Since that time, he has spent most of his professional career at Stanford University’s Department of Applied Physics supervising the research activity of Ph.D. students and carrying out his own research in photonics—the science of light. His interests have ranged from fiber sensors to high-power fiber lasers, optical switches, nonlinear optics, and more recently some of the intriguing aspects of slow and fast light. He teaches graduate-level courses on lasers and fiber sensors, and has edited several specialized scientific books. Michel has made several key contributions to the field of photonics, including the invention of the fiber optic amplifier, a component that amplifies light inside a fiber and enabled the telecommunication revolution of the mid-1990s, in particular the high-speed Internet. He has also worked extensively on various aspects of the fiber optic gyroscope, a sensor that utilizes a few hundred meters of coiled fiber to measure extremely small rotation rates. This device is now commonly used on-board commercial airplanes to navigate them safely to their destinations. Michel devotes as much of his spare time as he can to nature. Most weekends he takes long hikes in the protected redwood forests, rolling meadows, and oak woodlands that surround his adopted San Francisco Bay Area. For thirty years he has spent almost every long weekend and many holidays exploring the desert, especially Death Valley and the red rock country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. His book Hiking Death Valley, originally published in 1997 and regularly updated since then, emerged from his years of exploring on foot in this stunning and wild region. He enjoys writing, and has just finished a new book on the Saline, Panamint, and Eureka valleys area entitled Hiking Western Death Valley National Park. He is also working on another book about the Mojave National Preserve. He loves to travel overseas, mostly on nature-oriented trips to uncrowded places like Pacific islands or Baja California, but also to his native France to visit his family and to east Africa on wildlife safaris. He lives in Palo Alto with his wife Susan.
EICHBAUM, HERMAN WILLIAM: For anyone who enjoys vacationing at Stovepipe Wells Village while visiting DVNP, give a big thanks to pioneer developer Bob (the name he is best known by). Bob took the lead in 1925 to open this foreboding region to tourists in a big way. He saw the writing on the wall: rich ores were not leading to any permanent riches for himself or others, the wild lore of the area was fodder for the civilized masses in the big cities, and now was the time to capitalize on the obvious result (in other words, tourism). An electrical engineer, he came to the mining boom town of Rhyolite in 1907 to help build a power plant. Bob built a toll road to what is now Stovepipe Wells, over Towne Pass … some called it a road to nowhere. Originally, he dreamed of building a grand hotel at Hell’s Gate, on the eastern side of northern Death Valley, but after road building expenses emptied his pockets faster than he had anticipated, he could only afford a bungalow cluster, which was Death Valley’s first dedicated tourist destination. This bold move by Bob spurred competition down valley, and Francis Smith opened the Furnace Creek Inn three months later. Smith built a road to Dante’s View for his tourists. Eichbaum answered back with a road to Aguereberry Point. Stiff competition for the tourist dollar swiftly led to an eager tourism trade. Prior to investing heavily in his Death Valley dreams, Bob had successfully created a highly profitable sightseeing venture on Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean, off the southern California coast. When he committed to the Death Valley tourist dollar, Bob sold his Catalina business to William Wrigley, the chap whose name is behind all that chewing gum everyone likes. Bob’s wife Helene was a recognized part of operating the thriving Stovepipe Wells business. Mr. Eichbaum passed away in 1932 of meningitis, at the young age of forty-nine. For a time, Mrs. Eichbaum continued to operate the business venture and toll road.
FREMONT, JOHN CHARLES: Born in 1813, John Fremont was known for several positions held during his life, including: military officer, explorer, Military Governor of California, U.S. Senator from California, and the Territorial Governor of Arizona. He began learning about the Death Valley territory while guided through the region by Kit Carson, and spent a little time with Carson in pursuit of Los Chaguanosos, thieves who raided ranches of the southern California area and absconded with horses. During his exploratory travels to experience the region, Fremont gathered information for maps that might someday assist other pioneering spirits new to the area. He produced a map revealing an east-west mountain range that inferred a shortcut through Death Valley, a route some gold seeking forty-niners sought to exploit in their hurry to find their share of the California gold. On the 1848 map next to this mountain range, are the words: “These mountains are not explored, only being seen from elevated points on the northern exploring line –.” He called it a “dividing range”, and it appeared to make passage west a possibility without too much trouble, for along its base would likely be streams flowing from the mountaintops. These mountains supposedly began in Utah and headed west into California. Even though he cautioned that the mountains had not been explored, and his map clearly lacked enough detail to make it a safe bet, a few were eager to attempt following the range westward because it appeared, on paper at least, that one could find relatively easy passage into the Owens Valley region, and cut off about 500 miles of tedious travel on the Old Spanish Trail to the south. If John Fremont’s route proved valid, the forty-niners could then find Walker Pass in the southern Sierra Nevada Range to access the San Joaquin Valley for travel northward to the gold fields. The mountain range tentatively mapped in by Mr. Fremont did not exist in reality on the ground, and that provided some of the necessary ingredients for the nasty tales that forever have tainted what the gold seekers called Death Valley. John may not have expected wagon trains to rely on his imprecise map to this degree, but when wealth is at stake, some adventurous people will go to great lengths to get it.
FRENCH, DR. E. DARWIN: Born in 1822, Darwin was a military physician who came to California in 1846, during the Mexican American war. He settled into cattle ranching at Tejon, California after leaving the army in a manner not in accordance with military regulations. Darwin played an important role in providing supplies to Manly and Rogers who were instrumental in saving the Bennett-Arcan party of gold seekers stranded in Death Valley. From them, he learned of the Lost Gunsight silver lode that was supposed to exist somewhere in the vicinity of what is now called Tucki Mountain. Dr. French made his way into these parts in 1850 (and again in 1860), leading an expedition to find the lost lode. After setting a base camp in the area now known as Darwin, he led them through Jayhawker Canyon, north of Pinto Peak, where it was thought that one of the Jayhawker members may have originally found the nearly pure silver ore. Darwin French is perhaps best known today because of the idyllic waterfalls named in his honor, Darwin Falls, and the nearby town of Darwin. The falls are inside DVNP, but the town, which still exists today as a functional hub of a small group of enduring souls, lies outside the park. The town of Darwin was established in 1875 in response to silver being found around nearby Ophir Mountain. Dr. French led a second expedition in 1860 in another attempt to locate the silver. He was not a man to give up easily, risking life and limb at a valiant attempt to secure more wealth, and was accompanied by eager prospectors from Sacramento and Oroville. Forging a route across Death Valley, he happened upon the now-famous burned wagons of the Jayhawker’s party of 1849, and then made his way to a canyon he named Furnace Creek. He reportedly also named the Panamint Range and Towne Pass. While experiencing some silver mining successes, the good doctor never did find the Lost Gunsight lode. He passed away in 1902, at the age of eighty. Apparently, the army never caught up with him.
GREY, ZANE: Famous American novelist Zane Grey even had a hand in promoting the legendary myths of the Death Valley territory. Born on January 31, 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio, around the time that the fabled silver mining town of Panamint City was just beginning to stir the minds of would-be millionaires, Zane’s writings of the region fueled the beliefs of the curious and cultured city folk that Death Valley was an alarming desert of fearful proportions to be avoided. Of Death Valley, Zane expressed in his fictional novels that it would “never be popular with men” and left the distinct impression that it may be “fatal to women.” Not much of an advertisement for tourists – of course, that was shortly before the tourism trade began. He wrote many novels of the wild west, around 90 in all, one of which provided the background information for a 1924 cinematic film called Wanderer Of The Wasteland that further painted an uninviting picture in the collective minds of movie goers. Zane was also a contributing writer for Outdoor Life magazine from 1918 to 1932. He studied dentistry in college and played in the minor leagues of baseball, but it was writing that really called to him, and led him into a world of fame and fortune. After honeymooning in the west, he was hooked by the wild nature of it all, and the foundation for his novels was thus cast in stone. Zane passed away on October 23, 1939 in Altadena, California. Regarding the dreadful and frightening viewpoints that Zane Grey so successfully offered for American consumption about the Death Valley region, historian and author Richard E. Lingenfelter writes: “Tourism brought an end to the macho image of the valley that Zane Grey and others had tried to promote, for all of the Death Valley Hotel Company’s operations were managed by women.” Oh well, so much for legends!
HANKS, HENRY: The State of California made valiant attempts at recognizing the mineral worth of its land in the 1800s, beginning about four years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, when it organized a geological survey of the state. This first geological survey focused primarily on locating gold in the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Ranges. Later, in 1861, a second geological survey was organized, and headed by Professor J. D. Whitney (they named a very tall mountain, visible from DVNP, after this fellow). In 1874, money ran out (as it still does today), and further organized and funded study came to a halt. That is, until 1880, when California’s legislature organized the State Mining Bureau, created the office of State Mineralogist, and appointed Henry G. Hanks as its leader. Henry held this office from 1880 to 1886, and was instrumental in providing an unbelievable amount of information regarding mineralogy about California. This entry appears here because of his noteworthy report entitled, Death Valley and its Borax, contained within the Third Annual Report of the State Mineralogist of California in 1883. Henry’s thoughtful and carefully researched account contained the first fairly accurate telling of Death Valley’s history and mining efforts to that date. Many later authors of books and documents have referred to Henry’s descriptions for valuable information – it is a unique reference that is absorbing reading even today. Included within the technical aspects of the testimony, are these captivating, albeit less scientific, observations: “The atmosphere presents many peculiar features, among others, causing a feeling of lassitude and weariness and an intense thirst upon very slight exertion. Many of those who have been for a month or more residents of the valley complain of an affection of the eyes, which become sore and weak. A very short walk will cause great thirst, and at times even the raising of the canteen to the mouth seems an exertion. Mr. Hawkins who furnishes this information, says: ‘It has been stated that birds, attempting to fly across the valley, drop dead.’” Statements like that most certainly will get a traveler’s attention.
HARDER, EMMETT: Any aficionado of old Death Valley prospectors and ghost towns is sure to enjoy the true tales told by Emmett C. Harder, one of the last of a true grit breed of Death Valley prospector. Emmett wrote a book called “These Canyons are Full of Ghosts, the Last of the Death Valley Prospectors. He brings to life the wild rugged characters of the region who chose a life of solitude and hard work in the hinterlands, tough fellows who followed their instincts and understanding of the earthen world on which they walked, and dug into the ground with picks and shovels, having the undying hopes of making the next big gold or silver strike. Reputable word has it that Emmett loves to guide others on backcountry outings to remote mining sites, show where and how prospectors lived, and then tell fascinating tales of these miners around the evening campfire, bringing to life the ghosts of romantic times past. Emmett has reportedly also been involved with recent efforts to locate potential murder victims of the 1960s Manson Family, guiding law enforcement personnel into the remote Sourdough Spring area in the southern Panamints. Apparently, while spending many years in this region prospecting, he had an occasional meal with Charles Manson and the clan, so authorities hope his knowledge may assist the cause. Authorities have also consulted Emmett regarding the four missing Germans from the summer of 1996. This man’s knowledge of the territory and people who have passed through it during his lifetime is extraordinary. He tells it like it is!
HARD ROCK SHORTY OF DEATH VALLEY: Locating information on this old chap is a tad difficult today, but he used to write a monthly column for Desert Magazine during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The name of his monthly column was “Hard Rock Shorty of Death Valley.” At the top of each column, was a pencil drawing of the man, with a mustache, corncob pipe, rumpled old hat, and an amiable smile. Unable to learn the person’s actual identity or any other information, shared here are simply a few of his words from the November 1955 issue: “The temperature had gone up to 110 degrees and out across the salt-crusted floor of Death Valley the dust devils were playing hide-and-seek among the salt bushes. A dozen spirals of sand could be seen against the dark slopes of the Panamint Mountains.” Hard Rock Shorty quotes one fellow in this article, saying: “Member one summer when a bunch o’ dudes was tourin’ the Valley. Down Badwater way they all got outta the bus to look at all them salt crystals which grows around the pools there. Jest then one o’ them twisters came along, and ‘fore them fellers could grab their hats they wuz all sailin’ off in a cloud o’ dust.” Shorty goes on to relate how a couple of Death Valley old timers had milked their cow, and then a dust devil sucked the milk out of the bucket: “Bill was plumb disgusted. No fresh milk fer supper that night. But it came back. After churnin’ that milk around in the air all night that twister came back up the canyon next mornin’ and dropped a nice hunk o’ butter on Bill’s breakfast flapjacks.” Needless to say, Hard Rock Shorty’s column was quite a popular mainstay of the magazine. Everyone seemed to love his stories.
HARRIS, FRANK “SHORTY”: Now, here was a larger-than-life “single blanket jackass prospector” who really knew his way when it came to finding gold … but his problem was hanging onto it long enough to get rich. Known affectionately as Shorty (5’4”), this man was the foundation of the Bullfrog District and Rhyolite boom in 1904, but due to his love of the alcoholic brews and obsessive need to tell everyone about his finds, lost his claim while inebriated in an ill fated deal. Bob Montgomery went on to intelligently work the land and make the money that Shorty lost. At least he had the fame of his discovery, the knowledge of finding gold ore, and the drive to keep trying. So, he went forth to locate other lodes, including flash-in-the-pan Harrisburg, the remains of which we can see today if we drive the Aguereberry Point road. Actually, Pete Aguereberry, the fellow with whom Shorty was exploring for a short time, found the gold, but history kind of snuffed old Pete out of the picture. Shorty was born in Rhode Island in 1857, and headed west in the late 1870s to get rich quick. He also was briefly involved in the Greenwater copper frenzy, which turned out to be nothing, and a gold find near today’s Goldbelt Spring, northeast of Hunter Mountain. Shorty’s penchant for booze and gab stirred enough excitement that the Goldbelt Mining District got started, but then soon died once it was found to be just another unprofitable dream. This colorful character of Death Valley lore, who once also called Ballarat home, died in 1934 at Big Pine, California, and was buried in Death Valley next to his buddy Jim Dayton. We can visit this gravesite today on the West Side Road – it is well marked by the National Park Service. Frank’s photo appears on the spine of this book, alongside his burro loaded with his mining supplies, as they stand in the heart of Death Valley. Like many prospectors of the time, Shorty Harris always eagerly sought what was over that next distant hill, or as he once put it so well: “The country that is far away always looks best to the prospector.”
HARVEY, FREDERICK HENRY: This man came to America in 1850 at age 15, and was a dishwasher long before he established the first chain of hotels in the United States. Today, we will recognize the name if we visit the gift shop at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, where we will see words here and there to the effect of Fred Harvey Trading Company. Fred began providing hospitality services and products to visitors throughout the southwest, and his spirit lives on in many of America’s historic parks and resorts. Fred initially provided nice meals in comfortable dining quarters for railroad travelers heading west from Chicago, with his first restaurant opening in Topeka, Kansas in 1876. His company legacy remains alive and well in the lowest national park of the nation. Here are some summary words from the organization itself: “Perhaps more than any single organization, the Fred Harvey system introduced the New America to Americans. The History Lives On…”
HEARST, GEORGE: Father of well known newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, George had quite a different life than his famous son, part of which played into the colorful mining history of the Death Valley territory. When visiting the Charcoal Kilns in Wildrose Canyon, we are seeing the efforts of George Hearst, where he had wood turned into charcoal in 1877 to fuel his smelting operations in the Argus Range for the Modock Consolidated Mining Company. He was born in September 1820, graduated from the Franklin County Mining School in 1838, and began his mining career in earnest in 1850 during the time of the famous California gold rush. Word has it that George enjoyed tobacco, poker, and bourbon, and was nearly illiterate, but none of that stopped his rise to success or fame. He did well in the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nevada, where he owned and operated the Ophir mine, making him one of the area’s top Comstock kings by the early 1860s. Soon, he became known as the most qualified prospector in the western region. He was a member of the California State Assembly in 1865 and 1866, and even ran for governor of the state in 1882, but was unsuccessful. Later in life, George purchased the San Francisco Daily Examiner newspaper, which started his son off with the newspaper publishing business. One of his more famous purchases was the Piedras Blancas Ranch at San Simeon, California, the 48,000 acre property where the legendary Hearst Castle now sits (we can visit if we wish to see the ultimate in extravagance). George was a senator until his death at age 70 in 1891. Quite a few influential folks had a hand in the vibrant history of this national park!
HERZIG, JACOB SIMON: Not too many folks will recognize this name, yet if we realize that the man later changed his name to George Graham Rice, a few eyes may be opened. Jacob (or George) was a publicist, promoter, and seeker of fame and fortune – of course the bad part of this was his unscrupulous manner in attaining these personal dreams. Jacob’s father made his living in New York in the fur business, but Jacob got hooked early betting on horse races and stealing. He spent time in a reformatory, to no avail, only delving deeper into methods to separate other people from their money in order to acquire his own fortunes. It was after his release later from a federal prison that Jacob shifted his name to George so that he might continue on with a new identity. At this point, he took to exaggerated writing to deceive others, and ultimately found himself in the Death Valley territory promoting such mining ventures as those found at Bullfrog, Rhyolite, Goldfield, and Greenwater. George wrote his memoirs in 1913, just before heading off to prison once again, titled My Adventures with Your Money. In the book, George seemed proud to reveal his exceptional talents at bilking anyone he could. Mr. Herzig was but one of many people to come to the Death Valley territory during its mining heydays, and seize upon the golden opportunities that allowed gullible fortune seekers to become easy prey to versatile conmen (others including the likes of Walter Scott and Charles Julian). One of George’s greatest publicity stunts was staging a car race across Death Valley in 1906.
HOOVER, HERBERT: This man was the thirty-first President of the United States, and also the fellow who signed into existence Death Valley National Monument in 1933, only a couple of weeks prior to his vacating the office. National Park Service Director Horace Albright was instrumental in leading President Hoover to the signing of this proclamation. Herbert only lasted one term as our Chief Executive, likely due to his failure to end the Great Depression, and perhaps less so because of his beliefs on alcoholic prohibition. Franklin Roosevelt took over where Herbert Hoover left off, and created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the program largely responsible for preparing Hoover’s newly created Death Valley National Monument for public visitors during its first years of operation.
HOWSER, HUELL: This congenial fellow certainly has done his share of popularizing Death Valley National Park, particularly the Badwater Basin area. Huell is the host and motivating force behind public television’s show, California Gold, in which thousands of aspects of the state have been brought to the public’s awareness. One of his noteworthy episodes occurred a few years back when weather events led to a magnificent wildflower display in the valley. He also showed footage of kayaking at Badwater Basin. These shows were tremendously popular. Huell Howser Productions can be visited online at calgold.com, and we also see the positive environmental aspect of his presence on television. That show is called California’s Green.
JACOBS, RICHARD: With a keen eye for spotting the right places to dig for valuable ore, Richard was taken into the confidence of two men by the names of Bill Kennedy and Bob Stewart, both seeking to fill their pockets with silver or gold in the 1860s and 70s. Bob and Bill eagerly followed Rich up a tight canyon in the Panamint Range, that they later named Surprise. When the canyon widened into a peaceful and hidden valley, the men found what they were seeking … silver! It took a little longer for them to stake their claims than they had anticipated, as a small band of bandits remained on their heels to steal what they might find. As the tale tells, Rich ultimately convinced the wayward gang that there was enough for everyone, so all got to work. Richard became superintendent of the Wonder of the World after he sold shares to other investors, who initiated the Panamint Mining Company in 1873. The next couple of years proved a wild ride for everyone who came to get their share of the wealth. What once was a feral canyon valley was forever changed by Richard Jacobs, and even today hundreds of determined explorers hike up Surprise Canyon to glimpse where history was so briefly punctuated with such magnificent vision of instant prosperity.
JENIFER, FRANK: This fellow, who was the manager of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, along with his other borax business entrepreneurs, was instrumental in creating the luxurious Furnace Creek Inn in 1927, during a time of transition from the mining of minerals to the mining of people (also known as tourism). Francis Smith, the borax king, had talked of opening a tourist destination years earlier, and Frank bantered the idea around on occasion, but it was Bob Eichbaum’s action with the new idea of Bungalette City (Stovepipe Wells) that finally spurred the development of Furnace Creek. Frank Jenifer became the new president of the Death Valley Hotel Company, the framework around the farsighted development, after having worked tirelessly to create bus and railroad tours into the region. The imaginative development that Frank and the others opened up here was added catalyst for the momentum necessary to send the Death Valley territory into National Monument status in 1933. These men were masters of adaptability, completely changing their business paradigms to not only continue their financial acquisitions, but to greatly increase profitability through new methods that would provide a never-ending income stream.
JEWKS, COLONEL JOHN: Before reading further in this entry, do not forget that this is a Land of Legend, some of which is factual, and some of which is … well, perhaps only imagined in our desires to keep a few things in life a tad more exciting than reality sometimes allows. With that preface, let us proceed to a brief accounting of Colonel John Jewks. Brave Colonel Jewks was the one man who single-handedly made the ghastly Death Valley safe for all time. It was quite an achievement really, and also quite unbelievable! Since Death Valley was filled with deadly gases in 1890, the Colonel decided to investigate (he was obviously an extraordinary adventurer). He walked into the valley of death on stilts so as not to inhale the heavier-than-air fumes that would lead to his demise – his head just above the noxious poison. John had a special meter that took measurements, and he successfully tallied the incredible volume of the gas across the breadth and width of America’s low spot. During his walk, he even was able to successfully locate all the lost wagons and argonauts from the 1849 crossings. Guess what the Colonel found scattered on the ground near the deceased gold seekers. That is right … vast treasures of gold and silver! Now the challenge presented itself to John: how to gather up all those riches for himself … after all, there it was at the bottom of his stilts, but if he jumped down to get it, he too would succumb to the poisonous sea of gas and perish, along side of the multitudes of unfortunate folks who had come here before him. Being the brilliant and brave soul that he was, a plan came forth. Colonel Jewks climbed high up into the Panamint Mountains, started a colossal bonfire, gave it a heave down into Death Valley, and watched in amazement as the deadly gases ignited in a ball of flame over a mile high! His hair turned white, being in such close proximity to the blast, but all the birds flying overhead were promptly barbequed. John scrambled down into the lowlands to collect his riches, but alas, due to the intense heat of his inferno, all the silver and gold had vaporized into nonexistence. Still, he was successful in making Death Valley safe for modern day explorers and adventure seekers! This truly amazing, and quite implausible story, comes to us courtesy of the Los Angeles Times of January 1890. This is but one example of why the Death Valley territory has grown into a legend that is bigger than life. To read the entire article and see the illustrations, please refer to the “Poison Gas” tab on this website. It is one for the record books!
JOHNSON, ALBERT MUSSEY: Many folks believe that Scotty’s Castle was actually Scotty’s brainchild and creation. However, Walter Scott was a slick conman who simply told people the story to improve his image. This imposing castle-like structure was built by Chicago multi-millionaire Albert Johnson, and was more correctly known as Death Valley Ranch. Albert was born in 1872 in Oberlin, Ohio, into a family of incredible wealth and social status. Apparently, he had a strong religious background, and neither smoked nor consumed liquor. Albert married a gal named Bessie, invested in a profitable mine venture in Missouri, and then headed out west with his dad to consider further mining enterprises in which he might invest. During the trip, a train accident claimed his father’s life, and left Albert with a broken back, which doctors claimed would take his life or leave him paralyzed. Neither happened. Albert recovered (albeit with a limp and excretory issues), and later fronted grubstake money to a man named Walter Scott so that he could develop his goldmine. Walter promised Albert a share of the find. Even though Albert later realized that Walter was a fraud, using his scheme so that he could live well from other people’s money, Albert continued to remain a friend to Walter. By 1915, Albert began visiting Death Valley more regularly, having purchased a ranch in Grapevine Canyon. When his wife wanted a more luxurious setting so that she could also visit, Albert began construction on the Death Valley Ranch. Go visit Scotty’s Castle and take the entertaining tour for the grand scale of things!
JOHNSON, STEPHEN: With a deep love of the wild Death Valley territory, Stephen offers in-the-field photographic excursions and workshops here, where the participants learn how to photograph the region. He has been an avid photographer since 1977, and has worked with the Adobe company on their Photoshop software. From his website comes this statement: “Since 1979 I have led winter photography workshops to Death Valley. I keep returning to this desert because there is a magic here, a quiet and vast expanse of sensual and strange earthworks, remarkable in color, resting under the soft winter light of January.” About his workshops, Stephen adds: “We’ll spend four activity packed days in the valley, sometimes rising before dawn and lingering for the last moment of twilight. Vistas encompassing hundreds of square miles of desert and mountains, marble-lined canyons, multi-colored hills of yellow, purple and turquoise, and a curved expanse of sand-swept dunes, make the trip very worthwhile for photography. The trip is designed to be a complete immersion in landscape photography and its digital evolution. We will discuss technical and aesthetic issues, tapping into your emotional response to this landscape, working toward images that are uniquely your own.” Visit online at: sjphoto.com for complete information.
JONES, DOCTOR BEN: Ben Jones is quite an interesting fellow, and while he is a modern day character on the stage of Death Valley’s history, Ben nonetheless provides a fascinating addition to the play. Known among many of the fold as the Badwater Mayor, Ben and his wife Denise (amusingly called the First Lady) are ultra long distance pedestrians and runners. Ben is a medical doctor who believes that his healthy ways of living lead to a long and happy life. According to his website, badwaterbenjones.com, he has “birthed more than 1,000 babies, performed 2,000 autopsies, and run 133 marathons in his 73 years, including three finishes of the Badwater Ultramarathon. He’s learned some lessons about living the best life along the journey.” Ben wanted to be a frontier doctor like his father, and found the potential for this achievement by living along the slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in Lone Pine, California, where he could also hike Mount Whitney and Death Valley. Parts of his medical career have seen Ben making house calls in a Model A Ford, as well as his airplane to see patients in Death Valley. If pondering what it is like to run the Badwater Ultramarathon’s 135 miles during the heat of Death Valley’s summer, one will certainly enjoy “Uncle Ben’s” complete website, which is packed full of photos, blogs, and information about every little aspect of this amazing race. From his website, here is one tip to tide us over until we have a chance to visit: “People overmedicate when they get sick. They rely too much on the over-the-counter stuff. You don’t need it. Just go out and breathe some fresh air. Be active. Take vitamins. Go to bed early. Drink fluids.” Thanks Doctor Jones for that sage advice! Considering where and when you run, it must be working!
JONES, SENATOR JOHN: Along with senator William Stewart, John caused quite a stir around the 1870s Panamint silver boom. These two nineteenth century politicians have a common thread and are usually spoken of these days together. Their Death Valley regional association came in the form of a quiet little mining venture that blew way out of control, and came to be known as the “toughest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town.” This was Panamint, a silver mining establishment in the eastern slope canyon of the Panamint Range known as Surprise. Nevada Senators William M. Stewart and John P. Jones skillfully fashioned the original big mining sensation of the Death Valley territory, a bubble that eventually burst after five years of wild speculation and incredible action. The popular name of this ghost town is Panamint City, and the legends it generated are among the most colorful of any mining camp ever known. News of the initial ore finds and potential for investment and wealth spread slowly at first – then in the summer of 1873, having heard of the quiet potential for quick riches, Stewart and Jones purchased the Panamint mines for more than a quarter of a million dollars (very big money in those days)! These two clever politicians touched off the biggest mining boom rush that would be seen in Death Valley’s nineteenth century history. Heavy set John Jones, with his chest-length goatee, had been a mining superintendent in Virginia City, Nevada’s Comstock Lode, made the transition to millionaire status as a result in 1871, and had by now become an excessive spender of his wealth. Lighter in weight but still stout William Stewart, with his chest-length beard, was a lawyer involved in Comstock litigations, made good money, and invested more modestly in overseas mining ventures. John talked William into a partnership, formed a trio of investors with Stewart’s associate named Trenor Park, and together these three intrepid gents got to work earning another fortune in the most remote reaches of the Panamint Mountains. Since they had paid such high prices for all these mines, making a profit for themselves would seem daunting, but after dubbing the upper reaches of Surprise Canyon as an area rich as Virginia City’s Comstock Lode, the Senators had the world believing. They had much of the ore processed in England, which really spread the word world wide. Stewart and Jones had been so successful in their promotional savvy that Panamint grew to over two thousand residents (rowdy as they were). Interestingly, it was William Stewart who concocted the idea of molding the silver ingots into heavy cubes of about 400 pounds so that thieves could not steal them during their shipment down Surprise Canyon … one of this territory’s most talked about legends!
JULIAN, CHARLES COURTNEY: Known as C.C. Julian in many circles, here’s a fellow who was the master of trickery, scam, and charisma. He hoodwinked more folks with his claims of mining riches than probably anyone else out in this territory. Likely his biggest fraud, and one that we can personally visit today, was the town of Leadfield in Titus Canyon. In 1926, Charles shouted to the world through newspaper ads that this was the lead find of all time. He had built a road into his legendary lead mines, and brought hundreds of eager investors out to see his mines. He set it up to look like the area was being actively mined, fed and entertained the prospective clients, and then sat back to watch the investment money come pouring in. He was born in Manitoba, Canada in 1885, and after many years of odd jobs up north, eventually came on down south to California. Initially, he made some good investments with oil, and began to develop a following, but that finally failed, so he came to the Death Valley territory. His ways were eventually found out, but even though he was exposed as a conman, many of his investors believed his excuses that the government was out to get him. After taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the duped investors, he eventually moved to Oklahoma and oil. With authorities always hot on his trail, he fled to Shanghai and attempted to work his magic there. He failed, and quietly took his own life in 1934. Crime does not pay.
KEANE, JACK: This fellow was apparently no gentleman by many historical accounts. Hailing from Ireland, this man of swift irritability hung out at Ballarat in the Panamint Valley for a while, seeing if he could make that magic strike and live well. Out of money, he hooked up with a friend to journey across Death Valley to Chloride Cliff. His friend found some gold below the cliff, and thus began the frenzy. However, the Bullfrog District soon overshadowed Jack’s find, which made it difficult for him to attain venture capital. Jack’s problem was his temper, especially when he was sufficiently inebriated. He was violent, ended up in prison, and generally made a mess of his life that could have turned out well with the fortunes he found. His mine, the Keane Wonder, produced up through 1916, but unfortunately, he was not there to profit from it. Located 20 miles north of Furnace Creek, the 1904 gold discovery was responsible for this profitable operation of about 13 years. Jack Keane was originally looking for silver, but found gold instead (we should all be so lucky). John Campbell formed the Keane Wonder Mining Company in 1906, naming Jack as president. After killing a couple of people, Jack was whisked away to a 17 year prison sentence, but the mining operation continued with only his name as a reminder of his involvement. During its life, the mine turned out nearly a million dollars, but most of that money went into paying off its debts, and, like most mines, production expenses eventually exceeded profits, so it too was shut down.
KOSTMAN, CHRIS: Founder and president of AdventureCORPS, ultra extreme athlete Chris Kostman knows few boundaries. He set world bicycling records in the mid 1980s in high school, and successfully finished the 11 day, 3,127 mile Race Across America bicycle event at age 20 in 1987. His company now promotes multiple extreme endurance events in the world renown Death Valley territory for runners and bicyclists, and assists charitable events to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Events include the Badwater Ultramarathon, Furnace Creek 508, and the Death Valley Century. He is also educated as an archeologist, continuing to do work in this field in the Middle East and South Asia. From his AdventureCORPS website comes this description of philosophy: “AdventureCORPS events happen not in a man-made stadium, but in the real world ‘out there.’ We care deeply about the natural world for we are intrinsically linked with it and because we want to enjoy these events in their awesome natural settings for a long, long time. As such, we joined One Percent For The Planet on July 1, 2008, a growing global movement of 899 companies (and counting) that donate 1% of their sales to a network of 1,582 environmental organizations (and counting) worldwide. Therefore we are now donating at least 1% of total revenues (in other words, ‘off the top,’ not just 1% of profit, which would be next to nothing!) to environmental causes. This is in addition to all the work we do on behalf of, and donations we make to, our two Official Charities, Challenged Athletes Foundation and Major Taylor Association, as outlined above.”
LASWELL, ANDREW: Together with Cal Mowrey, Andrew settled for a time in Death Valley. The two industrious gents sought water with which to grow alfalfa and other crops so that they could supply food to the hungry miners in the Panamint Mountains. The time was 1874, when dreams of silver wealth flourished in the nearby high altitudes, and men made money however the were able. Andrew and Cal entered into an operation supplying hay to Surprise Valley. They started an agricultural ranch of sorts at Bennett’s Well, and are credited with utilizing the innovative idea of irrigation ditches at Furnace Creek. History reveals that Andrew and Cal became significantly challenged in their business, to the point that their partnership suffered. It was not the growing of the crops however, that was the root of their problems, but rather that they were at odds on how to manage the finances. This led to a shooting of Cal by Andrew, and while not fatal to Cal’s body, it was to the joint business venture. By 1875, when the Panamint City silver boom was quickly fading, Andrew moved on to other pursuits, taking his hot temper with him, and apparently becoming involved yet again in another shooting. It is believed that Andrew Laswell is the man behind the Bellerin Teck legend, due to the striking similarities. Bellerin Teck was written about by John Randolph Spears in his 1892 book, Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley. Andrew is thought to be the first white homesteader in the Death Valley territory.
LEMOIGNE, JEAN: All accounts seem to give the impression that Jean was a very mellow and affable gentleman, well educated, articulate, and ready with a smile. He was a lone prospector, apparently not adverse to living in the middle of nowhere with companionship only of his burros. Every chronicle of Jean has variances of his life, so depending on where we read, we may discover different renditions of it. Here are a few likely thoughts to stir our imaginations. He was born in France in 1857 as Jean Francois de Lamoignon, quite a mouthful, which may have been a reason for a shortening to Jean LeMoigne. Most accounts have Jean coming to this country to work with fellow Frenchman Isadore Daunet, who started up the Eagle Borax Works on the main Death Valley floor, and by the time Jean arrived, Isadore had committed suicide, leaving Jean no immediate place to earn a buck. However, resourceful Jean was not to be stymied, having been well educated as a mining engineer, he was capable of locating his own mineral wealth pockets somewhere in this region. The next few years found him locating mining claims and earning enough to keep afloat. Then, sometime in the 1880s, he found a silver and lead ore deposit in a canyon that now bears his name, southwest of present day Stovepipe Wells Village, on the grade to Towne Pass. He made enough money to maintain his chosen lifestyle of solitude in the wilds, and his friendly demeanor guaranteed happy interactions with all he met. Jean was known to others affectionately as both Old John and Cap. His LeMoigne Canyon claim was for sale, but no one ever paid his asking price of a quarter million dollars (far more money in those days), so he remained content keeping up the business of working his mine for 40 years. Legend has it that he had also finally located the great Lost Gunsight Lode, but most did not believe it – some did think that his silver mine (the Gunsight) was just north of Skidoo, on the eastern side of the Towne Pass route from LeMoigne Canyon. At his lead mine in the canyon named for him later, he had built some wooden structures that made for a comfortable place all his own, where happy days alone would prevail until his death at age 71 in 1919. We can still hike in and see the remains of his modest camp and mine today.
LINGENFELTER, RICHARD EMERY: Born in 1934 in humble Farmington, New Mexico, and a man of what we may consider more contemporary times compared to the distant Death Valley past, Richard deserves a place here because of his monumental contribution towards the understanding of this wild territory. He is the much celebrated author of the book, Death Valley & the Amargosa, A Land of Illusion, and to truly understand the in-depth history of this region requires reading of his 664 page epic. Fortunately, this is easier done than considered, as his writing style is quite enjoyable, fast moving, and decidedly engaging. Once started, his book is nearly impossible to put down, and subsequent readings are just as enjoyable as the first, if not more so because of the gleaning of even more detail missed the first time through. Richard was a professor of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1969 to 1979, a research Astrophysicist, and the author of several books on western American history. He is a member of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). His areas of research include cosmic gamma-rays, gamma-ray bursts and supernovas, solar flare gamma ray and neutron studies, and gamma-rays from astrophysical sources. He has been a consultant for NASA as well as for the National Science Foundation, the California Space Institute and the Lunar and Planetary Institute. On a more terrestrial note, other historical western America writings include: The hardrock miners: a history of the mining labor movement in the American West, 1863-1893, The newspapers of Nevada, 1858-1958: a history and bibliography, The Nonpareil press of T.S. Harris, Steamboats on the Colorado River, 1852-1916, and Songs of the American West. Do not be deterred from reading his book based on his scholarly credentials and experience, for he knows how to write well for the rest of us. His other book, Death Valley Lore, Classic Tales of Fantasy, Adventure, and Mystery is a great choice for those who cannot get enough of the wild side of this territory.
MACDONALD, DOCTOR REGINALD: As the company doctor for the gold mining town of Skidoo, Reginald found himself involved in a strange set of circumstances during a rough time in 1908. The financial panic of San Francisco was still taking a toll on businesses across the country, causing tensions to run higher than normal. A Skidoo citizen named Joseph Simpson was feeling the financial pinch in the saloon he owned, and was about to cross paths with Reginald in a very odd sort of way. Hootch shot a store owner one day while drunk, Reginald was not able to save the man’s life, and angry citizens of Skidoo lynched Hootch. Enter Reginald’s next level of involvement. The good doctor wanted to examine Joseph’s brain to determine whatever he could about what he wondered might be a diseased organ. He surgically removed the head from the corpse, studied it, and then set it on an ant hill so that all the soft tissue portions would be cleaned away by the insects. After all this, Reginald retained the skull in his office as a souvenir. After the doc left Skidoo eventually for other pursuits, he apparently left the skull behind. This is one of the more gloomy stories to emerge from Death Valley history, but folks still seem to love being entertained by it.
MANLY, WILLIAM LEWIS: A Vermont birth in 1820 started out this life that eventually played a popular role in the Death Valley territory. William worked at a number of ventures, including fur trapping in Wisconsin, farming in California, and later in life, authorship of his memoirs. He passed away near Lodi, California in 1903 at age 83. He is best known for his crossing of Death Valley in 1849, and his saving of the group of gold seekers with whom he was traveling. He journeyed with the Bennett-Arcan party, which had unwisely cut off from the Old Spanish Trail to find a shortcut to the California gold fields. Instead, they became trapped in December 1849, in what is now called Death Valley. Together with John Rogers, the two set out on foot towards the San Fernando Valley to get supplies for the stranded party, which waited on the Valley’s floor for several weeks. One member of the group commented that if the two young men did come back with rescue supplies, they would be crazy to return and jeopardize their own safety in the process. The two men did return and saved the party. While visiting here, drive the West Side Road, which is generally a class-1 affair, about 15 miles from where it leaves Highway 178 near Artist’s Palette. Here we will find a memorial to this ordeal, and see for ourselves where it all took place. According to William’s memoirs, it was one of his group who uttered the words, “goodbye death valley” as they exited the valley to the west (accounts differ as to the precise route they traveled to escape, whether it was through Wingate Wash or over Rogers Pass, or elsewhere). A few entries from his book, Death Valley in ‘49, also appear on this website.
MANSON, CHARLES MILLES: On November 12, 1934, a baby came into this world who would ultimately destroy many people’s lives. His mother was sixteen year old Kathleen Maddox. He did not know his real father, spent several years living with mom in dilapidated hotels, and was ultimately rejected by her. His childhood was punctuated with numerous burglaries and other crimes, and time spent in custody (including a couple of escapes). Into adulthood, his crimes escalated, as did his arrests, seeming to feed upon one another and getting worse as the years rolled by. In the nineteen-sixties, he was living with a large group of women in the San Francisco area, and became their hippie cult-type leader. They turned an old bus into a traveling home, and spent time in several states on the road. Charles met and befriended 1960’s Beach Boy celebrity Dennis Wilson. In late 1968, Charles Manson began setting up his “family’s” residence a few miles up Goler Canyon, on the western slope of the Panamint Range, east of Panamint Valley and west of Death Valley. He had a vision of racial chaos between blacks and whites, with the Caucasian race ultimately being annihilated, and the remaining African Americans being ruled by the Manson Family. While all this killing was taking place, he and his followers would wait in a “secret city beneath Death Valley.” August of 1969 would be the month when Manson and his followers would commit many atrocious and gruesome murders in their attempt to start the racial wars he called Helter Skelter. This dangerous group of people retreated to Barker Ranch after the crimes to hide. It was not long until NPS Rangers, the California Highway Patrol, Inyo County Sheriff’s Officers, and other law enforcement professionals raided this remote outpost and captured Manson with members of his cult. He was convicted and sentenced to death for his horrific crimes, but the sentence was changed to life imprisonment when California abolished the death penalty. Manson has been denied parole eleven times to date, with the next hearing due in 2012 (he will be 78 years old). He is currently housed in Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California. Investigations still proceed around Barker Ranch on occasion, using dogs to locate potential buried victims. Had this dangerous and unpredictable man not decided to hide in the Panamint Range between Panamint and Death Valleys, the Barker Ranch would yet remain unknown to but a few dedicated backroad explorers. As it turned out Sourdough Spring and environs became known worldwide. Now, perhaps it is easier to understand why the wooden sign for this canyon has been repeatedly stolen.
MARTIN, JIM: This man co-led a group of argonauts through a supposed shortcut to the gold fields of California in 1849. His group was called the Bugsmashers, and consisted of about a dozen men from Georgia and Mississippi. Like the Bennett-Arcan, Jayhawker, and Harry Wade groups, Jim’s assemblage got into trouble in Death Valley, and temporarily became trapped. The group spent Christmas here that year, in a not too merry spirit, as their thoughts primarily centered around surviving long enough to get out alive. At Tucki Mountain, Jim found an area that had some very high grade silver, and realized that it was a fortune for the taking. Of course, since his situation was rather desperate, and no one really knew where they were, they had neither the resources to collect the ore, nor the knowledge of how to return to it, so they left, hoping that memory would direct a future success story. Upon reaching civilization, Jim had his silver made into a gunsight, and this simple act was the foundation for the legend of the Lost Gunsight Lode, which others sought for many long and unsuccessful years. Apparently, Jim never did return to find the silver.
MATHER, STEPHEN TYNG: Born on July 4, 1867, Stephen Mather was the first Director of the National Park Service, a division of the United States Department of the Interior. Stephen was highly influential in the establishment of the National Park Service, feeling that a national agency was essential for the best management and protection of this country’s most beautiful and pristine lands. Stephen held the post of NPS Director from May 16, 1917 until January 08, 1929. Prior to his governmental work, he owned and presided over the Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company, a venture that earned him a fair degree of monetary wealth. Additionally, Stephen advocated the building and use of railroads to make it easier for park visitors to access these new national treasures. Horace Albright replaced Stephen Mather, to become the second Director of the National Park Service. Stephen passed away on January 22, 1930.
MENGEL, CARL: At an elevation of 4,326 feet, Mengel Pass was named after Carl Mengel, a prospector who lived on the eastern side of the divide at Greater View Spring, south of Anvil Spring. Nice views are had from up here. Carl’s ashes are reportedly contained in the rock monument that exists at the top of the pass honoring him. Mengel Pass is accessed from Goler Canyon to the west, or Butte Valley to the east. Carl owned the Oro Fino mine in Goler Canyon, which had a small amount of high-grade ore, but he died poor of tuberculosis in 1944. He was a friend of Shorty Harris and Jean “Pete” Aguereberry. We get here only in a high clearance 4wd vehicle on class 3-5 roads that can change from year to year. Driving up from the Death Valley side is longer, but usually easier than driving up from the Panamint Valley side (shorter, but can be dangerous, and often requires much driving expertise). The ridge upon which the stone edifice sits is somewhat barren, and can be windswept at times.
MITCHELL, ROGER: This man has carefully documented many of the old wagon and automobile trails out here. He has driven many a mile in the Death Valley territory, taken meticulous notes, and written it all in a book for us. Roger knows this territory very well, and can be trusted for accuracy. explorer Roger Mitchell’s informative 314 page guidebook, Death Valley SUV Trails, a Guide to 46 Interesting Four-Wheeling Excursions in the Death Valley Country. Roger has grouped the roads according to region, and provides complete descriptions of mileage, difficulty, geology encountered, and regional history for each trip. His book may be acquired at the Death Valley bookstores or at his business website. Please refer to the “Roger’s Twelve Excursions” tab on this website for further information.
MONTGOMERY, EARNEST ALEXANDER: Known simply as Bob, this man earned immense amounts mineral wealth from gold and silver in the Death Valley territory. With his brother George, Bob caused the world to take notice, and the adventurous out for a quick fortune to stampede into the region. For twenty years these fellows knew how to get the gold from the ground and into their pockets. An early big break came in the form of the World Beater gold mine up Pleasant Canyon in the western Panamint Range, which led to the birth of Ballarat, a mining town in the Panamint Valley below. Next was the Oh Be Joyful gold mine in Tuber Canyon to the north. Then came the Bullfrog District and Rhyolite, Nevada in 1904! By this time, Bob had married. A Shoshone man named Hungry Johnny led Bob to his gold riches here. By 1906, after making a fortune in the Bullfrog rush, Bob moved on to an area south of Tucki Mountain, also in the Panamint Range of California where his earlier strikes of Pleasant Canyon were made. He bought twenty-three claims here, so his wife labeled it “23 skidoo”, which caught on, and Bob built the company town of Skidoo. A 21 mile water pipeline was laid in from Telescope Peak to bring water for the running of the mills. We can still drive to these old gold mine towns today, and see buildings, mines, and equipment that yet remain under the territorial sun!
NADEAU, REMI: This man was a long haul specialist, who made good money hauling freight for a number mining ventures in the region in the late 1800s. For example, his company, the Remi Nadeau Cerro Gordo Freighting Company, hauled charcoal from the Panamint Range charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon, across the Panamint Valley, and up to Lookout Mountain. George Hearst, a wealthy investor, owned the Modock Consolidated Mining Company on Lookout, and his smelting furnaces needed 3,000 bushels of charcoal a day to refine the silver from his mines. Remi made sure that the charcoal made it to George’s operation on schedule. Remi Nadeau was a French Canadian who migrated to southern California in 1861, took out a loan, and started a freighting business using wagons and mules to haul supplies for businesses eager to engage his services. He was quite industrious, and expanded his venture in several locations of the American west. By the late 1860s, Remi was hauling silver and lead ore for the Cerro Gordo mining operations in the Inyo Mountains. It was a 230 mile route, and on the freighter’s return trip from Los Angeles, they would ship up the food supplies necessary to run the camp. Remi was considered the primary freighter for the eastern Sierra region during the late 1800s. Just as eventually happened with the famous twenty mule teams that hauled borax from the main floor of Death Valley, Remi’s business finally faded when the train transport capabilities became extensive enough that shipping by wooden wagon and mule was not as profitable for the entrepreneur. After this, he became successful in the winery business, and even tried his hand at barley. He passed away in 1887, reportedly from inflammation of the kidney.
NEWHOUSE, JONATHAN: How many people have died in the sink of Death Valley during the summer by freezing to death? This unlucky fellow was found with an icicle hanging from his nose, frozen solid. Jonathan Newhouse created a mechanism that would allow him to survive the dreadful summer heat and walk the width of Death Valley at its lowest and hottest point. He invented a suit of sponge material, consisting of a jacket and hood, about an inch thick. Under his arm was a pouch of water that could be pumped up into his hood via a tube by flexing his arm downward towards his body. Before he left on this walk, he saturated the sponge suit with water. Jonathan believed that the evaporative properties of the water would lead to levels of coolness that would make his trip bearable. Poor fellow … oh how he miscalculated! He was found the next day sitting against a rock, still in his jacket, and quite dead. But he did not die from heat, even though the sun’s rays were merciless. He was frozen solid, with a foot-long icicle hanging from his nose! The suit was too successful, and he could not remove it during his last moments of the freeze because it was laced up from behind his back. Whether true or not, this is another story that falls into the brew to keep the mystery alive in the Land of Legend. Death Valley distils the weird in everyone who visits.
NEWMAN, HALLETT: On the verge of being considered an Old Timer, Hal is one of the few remaining fellows who has actually worked mining claims in the Panamint Mountains. The Newman family owns several claims up Goler Canyon. Hal first came here in 1955, working the mines with his father after cousin Will passed away. Hallett has known a number of rugged desert dwellers here in the area, including Charles Ferge (Seldom Seen Slim, usually in need of a bath), Bill Meyers (homesteader of the Meyer’s Ranch), the Barker family (original owners of the Barker Ranch before Charles Manson’s gang took over), Dugan Hanson (one of the last Panamint Indians in the Panamint Valley), Dugan’s daughter Barbara, and the reverend Don Connelly (mayor, sheriff, and resident of Ballarat for a number of years). In Hal’s own words, he describes his feelings: “I think the biggest reason I’m drawn to the desert, and especially Goler, is my family history out here. To see the old mines and cabins and roads, and wonder how these folks did that. The engineering, the labor, and determination is remarkable. These people did all we do today with none of the tools and equipment we have today. Cousin Will used to prospect with pack burros. When he got to a spot to look around, he’d turn the burros out to forage for themselves, always putting out some rolled oats in the morning to entice them back. Some days, that burro would say, ‘I don’t want your oats and your pack’, and not come back. Cousin Will would spend a day, two days, or maybe even three days chasing that burro down to bring him back. The history is rich out here too. The mines, the miners, and prospectors are people you read about today. It’s a pleasure to read about them and see where they were and what they did. My first trip to the desert, at about 5 years old, was actually to the Ruth Mine in Homewood Canyon. That’s where Cousin Will lived at the time. He later lived in Ballarat and Goler Canyon. I still remember that first trip. If someone strikes a kitchen match and I smell the fumes from it, I still see Cousin Will lighting his pipe or his Coleman Lantern. I still to this day consider my times in Goler Canyon as some of the best days of my life.”
OLIVER, HARRY: Born in 1888, this man was the sole driving force behind the incredibly fascinating and hilariously humorous quarterly publication called Desert Rat Scrap Book, a rogue volume that often featured little-known aspects of the wild Death Valley territory. It was published from 1945 through 1967. In addition to this rare and collectable book series, Harry recorded some of his stories vocally, which are available on compact disc. One listen to Harry’s dramatic rendition of Death Valley Scotty will hook any regional enthusiast. Harry was a unique man, born in 1888, and in the front of each Desert Rat Scrap Book, he wrote: “ON THE NEWS STANDS 10¢ A COPY, But sometimes they don’t have them. ONE YEAR BY MAIL – 4 COPIES 50¢, Darned if I am going to the trouble of mailing it for nothing. 10 Years – $5.00, 100 Years – $50.00. This offer expires when I do.” He touted the scrapbook as: “The only 5-page newspaper in America, and the only one you can open in the wind.” On the front cover was a woodcut drawing or cartoon by folks such as Walt Disney and Hank Ketcham. This wild publication, printed as regularly as Harry could afford it, contained all manner of area legend and lore. Over the years, considerable copy was dedicated to the Death Valley region, with articles about Death Valley Scotty, George Pipkin, Shorty Harris, the burro flapjack race, the Coyote Special, Panamint Pete, ghost towns, folklore, wild women, and buried treasures. Harry says of Walter Scott: “To me, Scotty was a P.T. Barnum, Don Quixote, and Rip Van Winkle all in one.” He wrote stories called: How to be a Desert Rat and Like It, Death Valley: Tales From Old Ballarat, Death Valley and Peg Leg Too, and Shorty Harris and the Primadonna. The list of engaging topics is exhaustive, and will absolutely delight any devotee of Death Valley. To provide an idea of what Harry was like, he proclaimed himself “Fort Commander, Publisher, Distributor, Lamp Lighter, Editor, Artist, Gardener, Janitor, Owner” all rolled into one. In the 1920s and 30s, Mr. Oliver lived near Borrego Springs, California, before moving to Thousand Palms. His primary occupations were art director, designer, and newspaper columnist. Apparently, Harry’s health concerns led to the book’s ultimate demise, and this comically cantankerous gentleman is reported to have passed away in 1973. Old copies of this extraordinary book may be viewed online at: klaxo.net/hofc/drsb/drsb.htm. The Desert Rat Scrap Book is clearly guaranteed to become decidedly addictive for any Death Valley desert rat who chooses to learn more!
OSBORNE, JONAS: Resting Spring, southeast of the Amargosa and Greenwater Ranges, is the locale where Jonas played out a good deal of his life. He was a mining superintendent from Eureka, Nevada, who happened upon the silver ventures just getting started near Resting Spring in the winter of 1875. The ore was rich enough that Jonas built a smelter to begin refining it, but he had to include a couple of Los Angeles investors to make the work pay, and they formed the Los Angeles Mining and Smelting Company in 1877. He sold town lots for as much as $75, and named the area Tecopa. After a few hundred people were involved and things were really looking up, San Bernardino and Inyo Counties scrambled to get their share of taxes, but a survey showed all the action to be slightly within the Inyo County boundary, so San Bernardino County was left out in the cold (money-wise that is, because it is certainly warm enough in this desert). Jonas and his cohorts experienced quite a few problems in this venture, including overheated machinery and dwindling ore values, which, of course, took its toll as the number of interested miners and investors dwindled over time. By 1881, it was apparent to most concerned that the inefficiency of the operation, combined with the problems encountered along the way, were resulting in operational costs that could not be sufficiently recovered through what should have been profits. This led to the demise of the Los Angeles Mining and Smelting Company, but later in 1883, Jonas, not being one to give up on what he believed were immense riches, purchased all the land from the company and worked it for twenty more years. Still, he could find no profitable manner to get refined ore south to Daggett for shipment. Poor Jonas eventually sold his operations in 1906, when the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad built a route to within a few miles. He got his money finally, to the tune of around $175,000, but even that was a small amount compared to what the new owners eventually extracted from the properties.
PANAMINT CHARLIE: Now here’s a backcountry rogue if there ever was one! For those who enjoy reading, learning about, and exploring the Panamint Mountains, and especially Panamint City in Surprise Canyon, getting acquainted with an “old” desert rat by the name of Panamint Charlie may be interesting! He is the consummate Panamint adventurer, and will guide us into the Panamints and the surrounding countryside. His website, panamintcharlie.com, is loaded with useful information, along with a few video presentations. He also runs an internet forum where we can interact with hundreds of other folks who love Death Valley and the Panamints. We can access the forum from either of his two websites, the newest of which is panamintvalley.com.
PANAMINT TOM: This interesting man was a Pakwinavi (the big talking Chief) of the Panamint Shoshone tribe. During about four years, from 1863 through 1867, some members of local tribes rose up to resist the intrusions of the new people beginning to appear in great numbers chasing dreams of mineral wealth from gold and silver. There were raids on both sides, resulting in a few deaths, including the death of a Chief the whites called Thieving Charley. Panamint Tom apparently looked at things a bit differently than some, and sought peace, while getting what he could out of the deal. Tom and his brother, Hungry Bill, did however make periodic raids farther south of Death Valley to steal horses from ranches, as the meat was considered a delicacy. If we were ranchers in the 1870s near the San Bernardino mountain passes, we would have lived in the target area for these two bold Shoshone chiefs. Legend has it that Panamint Tom was responsible for the disappearance of anyone in the Death Valley territory that went missing, and many thought Tom murdered them, although he actually was one who went out of his way to rescue lost prospectors. Panamint Tom had an orchard of his own, until it was destroyed by a flash flood, and then he moved back to the area worked by his brother Bill. We can hike to this very ranch today, were Hungry Bill and Panamint Tom actually lived for a portion of their lives, cultivating fruit trees and nuts – it is up past the end of the road in Johnson Canyon, on the eastern slope of the Panamint Range, and is accessible off the West Side Road in Death Valley.
PATRICK, C.W. : Legends and lore are born from the kind of stories that Mr. Patrick put out for others to hear. He enthusiastically claimed he had found a mineral near the ill-fated copper mining town of Greenwater in 1907 that was nothing short of a miracle. It was a mineral that produced water just by chewing on it or heating it. Patrick spoke of an entire ledge of the dry white substance in the Greenwater Valley region, and had discovered it when he found his burro chomping on such a rock. He further asserted that enough of this mineral existed to irrigate Death Valley! Judging by how things played out around here, it now appears that Mr. C.W. Patrick came up short on producing the actual rock that could have made him a multi-millionaire. He may have come up short in that department, but he is yet another colorful character who helped to paint a memorable picture of local lore, providing yet one more excuse for contemporary explorers to get out here to see where all this wild legend was born.
POLK, JAMES KNOX: This man was the eleventh president of the United States, serving from 1845 to 1849. He was committed to the ideology of Manifest Destiny, or the acquisition of land by the United States as an inherent right, even though many opposed such a philosophy. In keeping with this vision, on December 5, 1848, President Polk announced to Congress that gold had been discovered in California, which had an immediate and powerful effect on the westward expansion movement. The ensuing rush to riches not only helped to populate the newly forming western states, but it also helped create the basis for our colorful Death Valley past, because the wagon train parties that found themselves trapped here during the fateful winter of 1849-50 were originally motivated by these tales of gold for the taking. Life is a series of cause and effect events, and this president unwittingly played an important part of Death Valley’s enduring history. The ironic thing is that James never even knew of this, as he died at age 53, only 103 days after his term expired, on June 15, 1849 – this was prior to the infamous hardships of the pioneers who became trapped in Death Valley later that same year. James is another unique aspect of this Land of Legend. The Manifest Destiny ideology also led to a loss of lands for the first people of this countryside, who were not considered as an integral part of the plan.
REAGAN, RONALD WILSON: Entering this world on February 06, 1911, Ronald Reagan was Governor #33 of California, holding the office from 1967 to 1975. Of course, he topped that from 1981 through 1989 by becoming President #40 of the United States, with one of those George Bush fellows as his Vice. Accomplishments such as those are worthy feathers in anyone’s cap, according to the traditional American status quo. But, as any serious scholar of the Death Valley territory will quickly and happily tell us, these are clearly not the markers by which we solitary desert rats will fondly remember old Ronald – no, he held a much more important and meaningful post long before his urbanized political choices. Few trust politicians, but Death Valley aficionados trust anyone who hosted the mid-twentieth century television show, Death Valley Days, as young actor Ronald Reagan did in 1964-65. His hosting of our favorite TV show was to be his final year of acting, as he turned his sights on politics. He started each show with these memorable words: “Hello, I’m Ronald Reagan, your host on Death Valley Days, where western history comes alive!” Thanks Ronald, for being a meaningful part of so many young Death Valley enthusiasts’ lives.
REYNOLDS, JAMES THOMAS: As this book goes to press, James (JT) has just retired as the Superintendent of Death Valley National Park. He was born in Galveston, Texas in 1946, developed a love for the natural world as a young boy, and often watched the surf in the Gulf of Mexico, especially during storms. On vacation, the family visited their first national park, Hot Springs in Arkansas, en route to Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. JT’s father was an avid baseball fan, at a time when Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers. They also visited the museums of Washington, D.C., the Statue of Liberty, and Coney Island. JT’s major at Texas A&M University was Recreation and Parks Management, and during the summers, he worked in the College Station and Houston Parks and Recreation Department’s Planning Divisions, designing parks and developing maintenance guides for swimming pools. His third summer was spent at Everglades National Park as a seasonal park ranger performing “anti-alligator” poaching patrols. He landed his first permanent National Park Service job at the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo, Mississippi after graduation. Upon leaving the military in 1972, JT returned to the NPS in Washington, D.C. as an Environmental Education Specialist, working with middle school teachers and taking inner city youth to local and regional NPS areas to camp and experience nature. After completing Park Ranger School at Albright Training Center, Grand Canyon, in 1973, JT was hired as the supervisory park ranger of the Yosemite Valley Mall Patrol. While stationed at Yosemite, he learned to rock climb, coordinate search and rescue missions, serve as a wild land firefighter crew boss, perform structural firefighting, SCUBA dive, and perform law enforcement duties. He served as the Assistant Back Country Supervisor and as the Assistant Wawona District Ranger. In 1978, JT transferred to Everglades NP as the Flamingo District Ranger. He has worked at several NPS units: 1) Gates of the Arctic and Wrangles St. Elias National Parks, 2) Albright Training Center, 3) Petrified Forest National Park, 4) Lake Malawi National Park in Africa, 5) North Atlantic Region in Boston, 6) Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver, and 7) Associate Regional Director for Park Operations. JT stepped in as the Colorado Plateau Support Office Superintendent in 1995. He was assigned to Grand Canyon National Park as the Deputy Superintendent in 1997, and then transferred to Death Valley National Park in January 2001 during the ceremony/celebration of the passing of the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act. One of his noteworthy accomplishments while here at Death Valley has been to enhance the park’s efforts to reach out to youth, in the form of the Death Valley ROCKS program. Forty-one years of federal service have allowed this man to live and work in some very special places! In his own words: “It is my duty to protect park resources and serve visitors plus share these experiences as well as help others understand why it is imperative to save Mother Earth for future generations. My generation has an opportunity and a mandate to help future generations hold off further impacts to wild places like Death Valley. I believe the benefits are as rewarding to others as they are to those of us who have spent time in areas where the natural quiet and serenity applies its healing powers on our souls, places where the natural systems and the flora and fauna act naturally; and we learn lessons by just watching natural systems interact. The almighty spirits meant for man to be better stewards of Mother Earth, the temples for all of us to worship and honor whatever power we believe.”
RIMKUS, EGBERT: Here is a modern mystery that adds to the legend of this territory. During the fourth week of July in 1996, four German tourists set out in a minivan for an adventurous expedition into the wilds of Death Valley National Park. Thirty-three year old Egbert Rimkus, along with his girlfriend Cornelia Meyer, and his two sons, Georg and Max, drove up the Warm Spring Canyon road into Butte Valley, a road that is not suited for a standard automobile due to the rough terrain. Daytime temperatures that week were in the mid 120s. From a logbook at an old mining camp on the way up the road, was a German entry written by Egbert, stating “We are going through the pass.” –well, that pass is Mengel, with class-4 obstacles (large rocks) requiring a capable 4wd vehicle, something that a minivan is not. Egbert was known for his adventurous daring by his friends and family in Germany. The group stopped at Geologist Cabin, allegedly took unlawful possession of the American flag and other goods (found later in their abandoned vehicle), and then mysteriously turned off the Mengel Pass road and headed down Anvil Spring Canyon. Their rented minivan was found in the sandy wash, after it was reported stolen by the rental company several weeks later. Three months passed before the car was found. The four Germans have never been found! All evidence was studied, search parties thoroughly combed the region, and despite efforts of many people, only theories exist as to what happened to this family. Abundant and detailed text covering the incident can be found online, as well as many opinions by folks who claim they know what must have happened. Did they perish from dehydration? Did they go underground to start a new life in this country? Were they murdered by ruthless outlaws who happened by? Did they walk for help, get lost in a canyon, perish from the elements, and escape detection by rescue personnel? Read all about it, and then form an opinion!
ROGERS, JOHN HANEY: “There was great gladness when John Rogers and I appeared in the camp and gave the mothers full canteens of water for themselves and little ones, and there was tears of joy and thankfulness upon their cheeks as they blessed us over and over again.” Those are the words written by William Manly in 1894 about the treacherous passage of the Bennett-Arcan gold seekers across Death Valley in 1849. John Rogers was a young man in this group of argonauts, and together with William Manly, the two courageous men put aside their own personal safety to spend nearly a month walking for supplies to rescue the other stranded members of their party. He was born in Tennessee during the year 1822. After surviving the Death Valley crossing, John later moved to central California seeking gold. He became the first law enforcement officer for the city of Gilroy in 1852. For a while, John had a farm in Merced County. Sadly, later in his life, parts of his feet had to be amputated due to mercury poisoning that resulted from his days in the mining business. He passed away in Merced, California at age 84 in 1906.
SALSBERRY, JACK: This fellow promoted mining ventures in the Death Valley territory for twenty years, starting with the Greenwater copper frenzy of the Greenwater Valley in 1906, and ending with the Leadfield lead frenzy in Titus Canyon. Jack was a Tonopah lumberman and promoter who loaned money to Arthur Kunze so that copper exploration could expand in the Greenwater Valley. Through these first foundational efforts, a rush began in 1906, and within the first month, nearly one thousand men were gathered, looking for copper. Jack and partners bought into this get-rich-quick fiasco, promoting for all they were worth. His towns were growing so fast that he could not haul in lumber quickly enough to satisfy the building demand for businesses like restaurants, barber shops, general stores, assay offices, and banks. Jack, seeing what was possible with other people’s money at Greenwater primarily through promotional efforts, jumped right in to another venture called the Ubehebe Mining Company many miles away north and west, near The Racetrack dry lake. He called this new copper strike so immense that he planned to build a railroad to it, playing on the Greenwater popularity. Of course, a railroad would have to be laid over sixty miles of Death Valley to access the Las Vegas and Tonopah Line in Nevada, so unless the copper find was authentic, it surely would not be built. But Jack was skilled in generating extreme interest and high stakes. In May 1907, with Greenwater failing fast, Jack sold out and concentrated on Ubehebe (supposedly the Lost Spanish Mine of legend), which itself faded away the following year. Taking his easy earnings with him, Jack then became involved in lead near Galena Canyon, during the first world war when lead prices were skyrocketing. He built a road east from the mining activity, across the southern end of Death Valley, over what is now called Salsberry Pass, and to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad forty miles away. This venture, unlike the previous two, was legitimate, continuing through the war and Great Depression. Ultimately, Jack became involved with Charles Julian at Leadfield, which turned out to be yet another fleecing of the innocents, and when Julian attempted to also dupe Salsberry, litigation followed. It was a mess. But through it all, Jack earned himself a place in the legendary history of the Death Valley country.
SCHWAB, CHARLES MICHAEL: Born in 1862 in Pennsylvania, this was a wild man of legendary proportion, who eventually became indelibly marked upon the history of the Death Valley mining booms. He got his start to wealth in the American steel industry, rising from an ordinary worker to President of the Carnegie Steel Company by his mid thirties. When J.P. Morgan of U.S. Steel bought Andrew Carnegie’s company, Charles became the new President. Rubbing noses with Carnegie and Morgan paid off, allowing Charles to live the high life and play hard. He spent money as fast as he made it, eventually dwindling his fortune, that finally succumbed in the stock market crash of 1929. Apparently, Charles died while in significant debt, but not before he tried his luck in Echo Canyon south of Furnace Creek. Charles was an expert at mine promotion by this time however because he had already purchased Bob Montgomery’s highly profitable gold mine in the Bullfrog and Rhyolite rush. Charles was also lured into the Greenwater Valley copper rush, in another wild frenzy to make more money. But this time, unlike the Rhyolite and Inyo Mine regions, the ore was essentially non existent. He started the Greenwater and Death Valley Copper Company, and began selling shares. Of course, anyone seeing Charles Schwab selling stock would naturally tend to believe that it must be a good thing. In the past, it had been, but this time was different, and many naïve investors lost everything in the greatly over hyped Greenwater passion. Charles passed away in 1939 in England, a far cry from his Death Valley days!
SCOTT, WALTER EDWARD: A conman extraordinaire, the man known as Scotty came to love Death Valley in his own sort of way. For all his current charm, he was a impostor of gigantic proportions, leading thousands to believe that he was fabulously rich from his gold mines. He conned whomever he could out of as much money as he could, egotistically promoting his own self-interests so that he could live a life of luxury and fame. Even after he had been proven to be a cheat and thief in a court of law, he rebounded several years later, formed a lasting friendship with millionaire Albert Johnson, and lived the rest of his days at or near the Death Valley Ranch (Johnson’s vacation home). Walter was born on September 20, 1872, in Cynthia, Kentucky. By age sixteen, Walter was a stunt rider for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, and in 1905, he publicized a feat where he broke the record for making it across the country on a train. The route was from Los Angeles to Chicago, on a short train he named the Death Valley Coyote, the only passengers being himself, his wife, and media reporters. The trip lasted just under 45 hours, and catapulted Walter into the limelight of America once again. All this time, he was conning investors with his lies of gold mines, stealing ore when he could, and getting arrested for his crimes. Walter Scott lived in Twentynine Palms, California for a while. He died on January 05, 1954, not long after the mom and dad of yours truly got to meet him and be the lucky recipients of his personal tour of the little cabin he preferred over the ranch. His history is so colorful and diverse, it is worth a read, and even though he was not an honest man by any means, his charisma won over multitudes of people – perhaps it also has a curious effect on our own imaginations. Harry Oliver, famous publisher of the Desert Rat Scrap Book, once said of Walter: “To me, Scotty was a P.T. Barnum, Don Quixote, and Rip Van Winkle all in one.” After Walter’s death, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper wrote these moving words of this lovable rogue: “Some say he was a fraud; we disagree. He was a purveyor of wonderful nonsense, whose medium was not a pen or a brush, but life itself.”
SELDOM SEEN SLIM: These days, we could call him “Never Seen Slim” because he departed the world of the living back in 1968 in Trona, California in the Searles Valley. He was one of the last of the rugged prospectors who so regularly used to scour the Panamint Valley territory for riches. To visit Slim today, head out to the Panamint Valley town of Ballarat (population: more or less), and walk up to Boot Hill. His real name was Charles Ferge, and he was born in 1881 in Illinois. He was just a babe not long after the silver rush to Panamint City died out at the top of Surprise Canyon. Many referred to Charles as “Seldom Clean Slim” instead because he apparently only took a bath once a year in order to save the water. He came to Ballarat during the first world war, and was reportedly fond of proclaiming, “Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.”
SERVICE, ROBERT: Born in the wild times of 1874 in Lancashire, England, poet Robert Service was the son of lower middle class parents, and one of ten children. The family moved to Scotland when he was four. At age 22, he left for Canada to experience high adventure, getting a good taste for gold rushes and the frontier while in the Yukon. Robert was gifted when it came to writing poetry, and once said of his ability: “I just go for a walk and come back with a poem in my pocket.” He actually mentioned Death Valley in one poem in passing, a poem called The Song of the Campfire, from which this quote appears: “On the roaring Arkilinik in a leaky bark canoe; Up the cloud of Mount McKinley, where the avalanche leaps through; In the furnace of Death Valley, when the mirage glimmers blue.” Robert was an ambulance driver in the first world war, and then lived most of his life in France thereafter. He was often recognized as the most read balladeer of the twentieth century. In 1958, he died at his home in Laneieux, Brittany. Robert’s famous “Call of the Wild” poem will stir deep emotion in any serious Death Valley explorer – it is worth reading to soothe the wild spirit.
SHAW, THOMAS JEFFERSON “TOM”: In 1866, this Texan decided to give the Death Valley territory a try in his wealth seeking career. He is best known not for what he sought, but for how he went about making money from it. Thousands scrambled after gold, but usually got caught up in mining ventures that poured massive amounts of money into huge mining and milling operations, which ended up broke because it took more money to get the mineral out than it brought in from profits. Tom had another way of doing it, called pocket mining. Up north near Gold Mountain, just outside today’s northeast corner of DVNP, Tom found gold and started the State Line Mine. Instead of going bust shipping out large amounts at once, as others had who attempted to exploit this area, Tom did it a little at a time as the gold allowed, making smaller amounts of money, but keeping on the profitable side of things. His find was on a ridge on the north side of Oriental Wash (north of Scotty’s Castle on the Big Pine-Death Valley). The quartz vein was so rich in gold that he apparently built an office in it, with gold all through the walls. Tom was the first to operate a profitable gold mine in the region due to his methods of extraction. Of course, word finally spread, and then everyone and their brother poured into this bonanza near the California state line. Eventually Tom sold out, moved on to other mining ventures, and finally ended up near the Oregon line for his final hurrah. In 1884, he died of pneumonia at his camp there.
SHOSHONE JOHNNY: A Panamint Shoshone tribal member, Shoshone Johnny was the cousin of Indian George, a fellow who gained some notoriety leading Doctor Samuel George in his prospecting endeavors. Johnny ultimately gained the most fame as a Shoshone Indian however, when, in 1904, he revealed to mining entrepreneur Bob Montgomery the richest lode of gold anywhere in the Death Valley territory. Bob’s Montgomery Shoshone gold mine at Rhyolite is the substance of legend, and still here for our exploration today. After making a fortune in gold with his mine, Bob sold it for over two million dollars, but alas, Shoshone Johnny was not to share equally in the spoils, reportedly receiving little more than grubstakes and verbal remembrances. Even though short changed in the wealth department, Johnny was nevertheless well known for his knowledge of where to find gold, and he capitalized on this whenever possible. During his final years of life, Shoshone Johnny posed for tourist photographs at Furnace Creek, eventually passing away in 1953. My eighty-two year old mom recalls having her picture taken with Johnny during this time, and asserts that she asked him to remove his wristwatch to look more authentic. She still has that keepsake in one of her old black and white photograph albums – a true link to the legendary past of Death Valley!
SIMPSON, JOSEPH: This was a very bad man. Joseph L. Simpson, locally known as Hootch, was a resident of Skidoo, the 1908 gold camp of the central Panamint Mountains. He owned and operated the Gold Seal Saloon with partner Fred Oakes, drank a lot of alcohol, apparently suffered from a certain psychologically unbalanced state due to syphilis, and was not the type of fellow one would want to be around when he was inebriated. Guess that paints a rather graphic picture of this creature, and also sets the stage for what happened next: Hootch got his nickname because that is what they called alcohol back in those days, and when he was blasted off his rocker, he thought of himself as an accomplished gunslinger. In his warped mind, he was the Skidoo tough guy, and fed his twisted male ego by intimidating folks around town with his gun (is there a modern day psychological diagnosis for this?). One day another tough hombre stood up to Hootch and shot off part of his nose, leaving him disfigured even after town doctor Reginald MacDonald did his best to fix it. A financial panic in San Francisco left his booze business in a shambles, so, during a customary drunken binge one day, he was disarmed and kicked out of the bank he was trying to rob by mild mannered merchant Jim Arnold. Later that day, Simpson returned to Jim’s store and shot him, which resulted in his death. The Skidoovians, not having had a murder prior to this, and generally fond of Mr. Arnold, took justice into their own hands and strung up the thug, finally shutting down his lights for good. Citizens did not want him buried in their good town cemetery, so they tossed him down a mine shaft. Doc Macdonald however, wanted to see if the syphilis had anything to do with Hootch’s demented way, so one night he snuck out and retrieved the body, brought it back to his office, cut off the head, and did an autopsy on it. Afterwards, the doc put Hootch’s head on an ant hill to get all the flesh cleaned off, and then boiled it for good measure. He kept the skull for a souvenir until he finally moved on from Skidoo. Differing stories are out there as to the ultimate location of Hootch’s headless body and severed skull.
SMITH, FRANCIS MARION: Popularly known as Borax Smith or the Borax King, this man was born in Wisconsin in 1846, but left for the American west at age 21 to find his fortune. In 1872, he started a borax venture with his brother Julius in western Nevada, becoming highly successful, and ultimately buying out the Harmony Borax Works of William Coleman near Furnace Creek. He then formed the Pacific Coast Borax Company, and began promoting the famous twenty mule team image and products to the American public. Francis formed the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad in order to ship his borax to market. He is buried in Oakland, California, where he died at age 85 in 1931. He was a legend of the region for many years. Read more about the borax under the “Twenty Mule Team” tab on this website.
SPEARS, JOHN RANDOLPH: From a book authored in 1891 by a feature writer for the New York Sun newspaper, named John Randolph Spears, we can yet today taste much of the old west flavor of Death Valley. John was hired by borax entrepreneur Francis Marion Smith to go to Death Valley and write the book as a means of promoting his borax empire. This was after Stephen Mather, a brilliant fellow who was one day to become the founding director of the National Park Service, convinced Smith of the value of such a book. John set out on his adventure, eagerly talking to nearly everyone he could find out here at the time, and finally gathered enough material to write the most comprehensive accounting of the region at that time. The complete title is Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley and Other Borax Deserts of the Pacific Coast. In its 226 pages, we find engaging facts up through the later 1800s, yet it also contains material that does not quite meet the standard of factual reporting, further leading to the legend and lore of this territory. A couple of publishers refused to take on the title because it also contained promotional information about Francis Smith’s Pacific Coast Borax Company, but eventually it was released to the public by another publisher for 25 cents a book. A few years after John’s book had hit the stores, William Lewis Manly, well-known pioneer from the Bennett-Arcan gold seeking party of 1849-50, wrote his book called Death Valley in ‘49. One of his goals was to set the record straight about the myths, yet some figured that he must be incorrect in portions of his writing because it conflicted with the wilder accounting that had preceded it. Read both books to truly gain some profound insight about the Death Valley region from two men who were actually here in the 1800s. Please refer to the “The Story Of Death Valley” tab on this website for a few rare insights into this eye-opening book.
STAININGER, JOHN: Jacob was a farmboy from Pennsylvania, and in the 1880s, he created a ranch for himself in the Grapevine Canyon found in the northern reaches of the Amargosa Range, just inside the California border. Word has it that Jacob was not much of a socialite, which is probably why he settled this far out from other people, and later earned the name Hermit of Death Valley. Apparently, Jacob may have once killed a neighbor over a land dispute before he arrived in the Grapevine Mountains, so perhaps he was also interested in not being found. In any event, during his solitary life, he raised mustang horses and quails, while patiently (or not) waiting for a time when he could turn his ranch into a resort and really make some money. He kept an orchard going, so intoxicants were readily available to suit his state of mind at any particular time. Poor Jacob never realized all his dreams, but at least he lived in a region he enjoyed. Years after Jacob’s death, the ranch was purchased by a Chicago insurance millionaire named Albert Johnson for a place he could come to improve his ailing health. It was renamed Death Valley Ranch by Albert. While there during his vacations, his friendship with a man named Walter Scott led to a new nickname for the old Staininger Ranch, a name that we will readily recognize: Scotty’s Castle.
TITUS, EDGAR MORRIS Edgar Titus was 29 years old when he and his younger brother-in-law, Earle Weller, left mind-numbingly beautiful Telluride, Colorado in 1905 to seek their fortunes in Rhyolite, Nevada instead. Telluride was also a gold town, yet the news of Rhyolite’s riches so intrigued these men that the decision was made to head farther west, leaving the extreme high country of the Colorado Rocky Mountains with its freezing cold, deep snows, and plentiful rivers for the arid, hot, and often waterless desert of the Nevada west. This decision, it would turn out, was not in their best interests! They joined a third man, purchased numerous burros and a couple of horses, and set out for the Panamint Mountains on the western side of Death Valley in search of gold and silver. Their route took them from Rhyolite over Red Pass and into a huge deep canyon in the Grapevine Mountains of the Amargosa Range. Searching for a spring to water, all they found was a tiny trickle that was insufficient to handle three men, a bunch of burros and two horses. Edgar had Earle and the other fellow wait by this tiny water supply while he took some burros farther down the canyon seeking water – he did not return. Earle set out to find him next morning. Earle told the third man, John Mullan, to stay with the supplies at the little trickle until he returned with Edgar. Earle did not return either. As the days passed, John sat tight as instructed, but hopelessly began his slow and agonizing journey towards death in the summer heat. Two weeks later, searchers found John near death, but he recovered in Rhyolite. A note was found in the canyon that read: “Hurry on! I’m going down to investigate the spring. – Titus.” Edgar and Earle died from lack of water and the extreme heat of mid summer. Word has it they were buried, but gravesites were not found. Today, we can make the 28 mile trek from Rhyolite through this very canyon. It is one of Death Valley National Park’s most popular attractions, and it is called Titus Canyon.
TWAIN, MARK: There is a kinship connection of Mark Twain to Death Valley. Of course, it is widely known that Mark Twain was a great American writer and lecturer, born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, and author of many memorable works including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was often called the father of American literature. Mark traveled extensively, and was quite the adventurous fellow himself! When the American civil war began, he was briefly involved in a militia group, wrote about the experiences, and then joined his brother Orion on a trip out west to Nevada. Orion had been appointed as secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada, James Nye (after whom Nye County, the major county that consumes the Nevada triangle portion of DVNP and Rhyolite, was named). More about Rhyolite in a minute. Mark and Orion trekked via stagecoach across the wild western territories for a couple of weeks, with these experiences becoming the foundation for authoring a book called Roughing It. Seems like everything Mark did ended up in text for others to read. He finally ended up in Virginia City, Nevada, which was famous for the massive silver rush called the Comstock Lode. This town’s population reached the level of 30,000 residents at its peak, and here is where Mark decided to become a miner. Pulling ore out of the ground was not his cup of tea however, so he then joined the staff of the Territorial Enterprise, a Virginia City newspaper – in fact, it was here in Virginia City that Samuel Clemens first used his famous pen name of Mark Twain in a piece he wrote. This is still a ways north of the Death Valley doings, so where is the connection? Mark had a nephew named Earle R. Clemens, who, along with Guy Keene, established the Rhyolite Herald newspaper in 1905, just after a huge gold find had begun the Bullfrog and Rhyolite gold rushes the prior year. Apparently, writing somehow ran in this family. A rich ore strike at Gold Mountain in 1908 started a rush there, so Earle also capitalized on this opportunity by creating another newspaper called the Hornsilver Herald. Earle had his assistant editor work that strike, and send the stories back to Rhyolite by wire. Another interesting tidbit demonstrating the resourcefulness of the Clemens Clan is how Earle received his news for the Rhyolite Herald about what was happening in the distant Skidoo gold town south of Tucki Mountain in the Panamints: Mirrors were used to flash the story from the Panamint Mountains to the Funeral Mountains, and then down to the town of Rhyolite. So there we have a little Mark Twain connection, and now we know the rest of the story.
VILLAPANDO, JUAN JESUS: In 1833, Juan appeared in southern California with a rough assemblage of men who posed as horse traders, as the business of supplying horses to the southwestern area and back east was highly profitable. Juan Villapando was from a New Mexican family, and figured he could make good money by cashing in on this trade, only his band was not bound to follow the rules of decency and law. He was the first of outlaw raiders and horse thieves known as Los Chaguanosos, and it is said that he was responsible for the theft of more than one thousand horses. His raids moved the stolen horses over the southern portion of Death Valley, across the vast desiccated desert expanse that made summer travel impossible, but even in winter the toll was heavy, with some horses dying on the way. This was such a rough passage that the route earned the name, Jornada del Muerto, or Journey of Death. Accounts tell of horse bones and remains along the trail so often that no other directional markers were needed for travelers. Law enforcement caught on to Juan’s doings after realizing that every ranch his traders visited ended up with missing animals. He was caught, but then escaped, and even used the shortcut over Walker Pass, later to become known as Walker’s Cutoff.
WADE, HARRY: Harry was one of those first gold-seekers who tried a shortcut through Death Valley in 1849, and led his small group into life-threatening problems. But he successfully led his followers out through the southern end of Death Valley, although there still remains debate regarding the exact route. Some historians say it was in this valley through which the road now lies, while others claim it was through Wingate Wash to the northwest. A placard along Highway 127 states that Harry exited here. Inscribed on this concrete and steel placard at Highway 127 commemorating this event, are these words: “Harry Wade Exit Route – Some 100 wagons found themselves in Salt Lake City too late to cross the Sierra Nevada. They banded together under the name of Sand Walking Co. and started for the gold fields in California over the Old Spanish Trail. After being in Death Valley with the ill-fated 1849 caravan, Harry Wade found this exit route for his ox-drawn wagon, thereby saving his life and those of his wife and children. At this point the Wade party came upon the known Spanish Trail to Cajon Pass.” This is a historic landmark, numbered 622, and was provided by the descendants of Harry Wade in 1957. The new placard now in place was erected in 1999.
WALKER, JOSEPH REDDEFORD: Born during the winter of 1798 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Joseph was by choice a rugged and intrepid mountain man, and offered his skills as a scout to others with objectives commissioned by governmental agencies. United States Army officer Benjamin Bonneville, who was also an explorer and fur trapper, hired Joseph Walker in 1833 to co-lead a party of men with Garland Guthary to locate and map an overland route to California. After successfully reaching central California, Joseph returned in 1834 via a southern Sierra Nevada pass that would later be named after him by John Charles Fremont, who also used the pass during his expeditions into this wild country. Walker Pass was the intense focus of gold seekers during the 1849 rush, and a core reason that they became marooned in what is now known as Death Valley. As for Joseph Walker, his route to California via the Carson River became known as the California Trail, and was a prime pathway used by prospectors during the California gold rush. The forty-niners who got stuck in Death Valley did not use the California Trail because they started their journey from Utah too late in the season, which would have left them stranded in treacherous winter snow conditions in the Sierras – that is why they set out on the southern route across the Old Spanish Trail. Joseph passed away in 1876, at the age of seventy-eight.
WHEELER, LIEUTENANT GEORGE MONTAGUE: George’s history falls in with Death Valley due to his 1871 survey party that mapped the Death Valley territory. He was born in Gafton, Massachusetts on October 09, 1842, and ranked sixth in his class when he graduated from West Point in 1866. He then became a lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, where he grew to be adept as an explorer and cartographer (maker of maps). He went on to lead the famous Wheeler Survey, a crew of about eighty men, composed of experts necessary to find, map, and comprehend the territory in which they explored. Included in the party was also a photographer and writer, each of which would exert their skills to publicize the governmental mapping venture. Unfortunately, the party arrived in Death Valley in July, not the best time to be here. During the course of this expedition, two guides were mysteriously lost, which brought some rather negative publicity to the enterprise. What really happened to each of the two men, gone missing in separate events, remains somewhat cloudy, but a few belongings and body parts found later only served to keep the mysteries alive. Although George went on to further survey other regions of the American west, he reportedly never returned to the Death Valley territory after these unsettling experiences. His maps of Death Valley, by the way, are extremely detailed, and would be of interest to any enthusiast of the area. In 1879, Wheeler’s survey, along with Powell’s survey, became known as the United States Geological Survey. George finally retired from the army in 1888, and passed away in 1909. Wheeler Peak in Nevada is named in his honor.
WILSON, BENJAMIN: The second mayor of Los Angeles, Ben was instrumental in creating the first mining company of Death Valley at Salt Spring, near the Old Spanish Trail. Gold was found here in the extreme southern portion of Death Valley during the winter of 1849, and by the spring, of 1850, Mr. Wilson had his company working the ledge to extract the riches. Ben was born in 1811 in Tennessee, and was a trader and fur trapper before moving to southern California in 1841, where he was appointed as a justice of the peace and director of Indian affairs. By 1851, he was elected Los Angeles mayor for a one year term. Among other acreages, he owned much of what is today called Pasadena, California. In 1864, he led an expedition into the bordering San Gabriel Mountains to explore the high peaks, which eventually led to the naming of locally famous Mount Wilson. One of Ben’s children, Ruth, married George Patton Senior, and had a baby who ultimately became the famous second world war general, George Patton Junior. Ben Wilson died in 1878 at his San Gabriel ranch, and buried nearby.
WINTERS, AARON: In the fall of 1881, Aaron and his wife Rosie lived on a scanty spread near Ash Meadows in Nevada (in the area of the current Ash Meadows National Wildlife Reserve, not far northeast of Death Valley Junction). Aaron had hoped to strike it rich with gold or silver, as was the dream of most prospectors, but, like many of the others, he was not destined to do so. He and Rosie moved from the Midwest, where they had managed a hotel. So here’s how the story goes: One night, in this lonely and remote landscape that Aaron and Rosie were calling home, a knock came from the front door of their modest abode. It was Henry Spiller, who was on his way to find borax in this region. Henry was invited to spend the night, and in the late hours before bed, he showed them how to test for the presence of borax by pouring sulfuric acid and alcohol on the suspected mineral powder, lighting it with a match, and if it burned a green flame, then borax it was. After Henry had moved along on his journey, Aaron and Rosie quietly headed over to Death Valley, where they recalled seeing what they thought could be huge amounts of borax. Not far from where Furnace Creek empties into the valley, they scraped up some of the white mineral and set camp for the night. Once it was dark, Aaron performed the test that Henry had demonstrated a few days prior. Well folks, guess what! Yes, the flamed burned green by golly, and Aaron is reported to have jumped up and shouted, “She burns green Rosie! We’re rich, by God!” In his mild mannered way, Aaron sent word to William Coleman and Francis Smith, the country’s borax kingpins, who, to make a long story short, verified the deposit, staked out 4,000 acres of claims, and paid Aaron and Rosie $20,000 for the rights to it. Now, that might not seem like much by today’s overly inflated money values, but remember, this was 1881, when it was a virtual fortune! Aaron purchased a huge ranch spread near Pahrump, Nevada with the money in 1882, and began a wonderful life as a farmer. This story was on track to be a very happy one but for a sad event that befell the couple … Rosie died soon after they started the ranch life. Aaron eventually lost the ranch for taxes, and became a hermit in the hills, prospecting again to find another rich solution that would ease his life burdens.
WRIGHT, THOMAS: In 1919, Thomas Wright discovered a rich lode of magnesium sulfate, commonly known as epsom salt, in an area near Wingate Wash. This man, who operated a flower shop in Los Angeles, was a grand mid-life dreamer, and constructed a monorail to bring the salts to market. Six miles south of Trona, California, he began his rail construction in 1922. It was a 28 mile route across Searles Dry Lake, through rugged Layton Canyon in the Slate Range, into the southern portion of Panamint Valley, over Wingate Pass, and then down into the wash. This wild idea was so widely publicized that investors sank much money into it. About $200,000 plummeted into the venture over the course of a couple of years, including the creation of Crystal Camp near the mining operation. The locomotives and freight cars each ran on two wheels (think motorcycle), with outriggers on each side to stabilize them. Originally, Thomas used electric motors to power the locomotives. This worked well on the flats where tested, but failed to pull the heavy loads up and through Layton Canyon. Thomas then went through three different gasoline powered engine designs, each one heavier and more powerful than the last, until one finally pulled the load. After many mechanical breakdowns in the blistering heat, and the failure of the monorail track to hold up under all the weight, the assets of his company were ultimately exhausted. Bottom line was that despite the best efforts and years of trying to make it pay, the entire venture ultimately failed in 1927, and the monorail fell to the history books, while Wright returned to something at which he could succeed – selling flowers.
YEOMAN, ALEX: Alex Yeoman was a hold-out who continued to believe in the potential for riches even when things were on the decline in the Death Valley region. In 1910, he found a low grade manganese deposit north of Owl Hole Springs. He was responsible for creating a road in the south end of Death Valley to the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and began shipping out ore in 1915. His mine was closed in 1918 after legal trouble. When we stand at the mine and pause to consider Alex, along with the thousands of others who came here in pursuit of their future, we realize that these old mining relics represent the dreams of these folks, dreams that always soon faded. What were these people like? Where did they go after the dream died? What did their families think? Did they even have families? Were they successful in other endeavors? Today, we see rotting timbers and rusted steel. Someone put it all here, and only that elusive concept we call “time” separates us on this very spot from those who toiled so hard under this same relentless sun and on this same rugged ground.
ZABRISKIE, CHRISTIAN BREVOORT: Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is named after this man, who was the Vice President and General Manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company. He started with the company in 1885, when hired by Francis Smith (Borax Smith) to oversee Chinese laborers. Christian retired from the company in 1933, the same year that this territory became Death Valley National Monument. He was born at Fort Bridger in the Wyoming territory in 1864, and also tried other ventures including a partnership in a mortuary business.
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