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California Desert trips, interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west
Dusty Road The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.
TABLE OF CONTENTS General Patton and the King’s Throne………………………………………………. 2 Fig Tree John …………………………………………………………………………………….. 4 Wyatt Earp’s Happy Days…………………………………………………………………… 7 The Greenwater Heist ……………………………………………………………………….. 9 Initial Point San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian………………………….13 Death Valley Mines, The Story of Warm Springs………………………………16 Saline Valley Salt Tramway……………………………………………………………….20 The Mc haney Gang……………………………………………………………………………24 The Ghost of Llano Del Rio………………………………………………………………..28 Robber’s Roost…………………………………………………………………………………..32 Tom Schofield’s Lost mine………………………………………………………………..34 Lake Mojave’s Hidden Channel………………………………………………………….38 Pegleg Smith’s Lost Gold…………………………………………………………………..40
General Patton and the Kings Throne
A while back I was surfing Google Earth and happened to remember something about a spot in the desert that was called “The Kings Throne”. It was related somehow to General Patton’s desert training camp during World War II. I checked my copy of the official history of The Desert Training Center and found this reference: “His hill called by some of his men ‘The Kings Throne’, deserves mention. It was a lone elevation between the Orocopia and the Chuckwalla Mountains and separated from both. The General [Patton] used to sit or stand up there, scrutinizing critically the line of march of tanks and motorized units below him. He would watch tanks line up in the manner of two football teams, with their support slightly different on either side, behind them like backfields, charge together while the backfield of one swerved and made an end-run. Detecting a mistake or a way to improve, he would shout instructions into his radio.” So, with this bit of information, I moved the cursor down an enlarged section of Google Earth between the Orocopia and Chuckwalla mountain ranges mentioned in the report. As I did this, I noted a number of small isolated rock pediments rising above their surroundings. About ten miles south of Interstate 10, I spotted one that had a road circling from top to bottom. I also noted the faint suggestion of a road leading directly to it from the north. I figured this had to be the Kings Throne. A few weeks later a friend and I drove to the base of the hill and walked to the top 2
along a narrow road. It was plain to us that from this point, Patton and those commanders who followed him were able to observe the action of tanks and other armored vehicles across the wide desert plain below. For those interested in visiting the Throne, the following short history might prove helpful. At the start of World War II, The War Department decided that a large open area with varied terrain would be needed, “for the purpose of training mechanized units to live and fight in the desert, to test and develop suitable equipment, and to develop tactical doctrines, and training methods.” Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. was given the job of finding an area that would meet the army’s training needs. After extensive study and personal inspection of large open areas throughout the country, he recommended an area that included a large portion of both the Mohave and Colorado deserts of California with extensions into Arizona and the Las Vegas Valley. His recommendation was approved and in April, 1942, he was given full command of the Desert Training Center. His headquarters (Camp Young) was located at Chiriaco Summit, on the north side of Interstate Highway 10 where the Patton Museum now stands. Patton’s 1st Armored Corps conducted exercises south of the highway generally in the area between the two mountain ranges mentioned above. His stay was shortlived. By the fall of ‘42 he and his unit were on their way to North Africa to take part in operation code named “Torch”. In the four months from April to the first part of August, General Patton spotted significant problems facing desert warfare and issued directives for improving tactical deployment of armored divisions emphasizing rapid advancement against an enemy across desert terrain. Operations at the Center lasted from April,’42 to April, ’44. During that two year period, tens of thousands of officers and enlisted men passed through on their way to action in both Europe and the Pacific. They lived in camps spread across 3
the desert with names like Ibis, Iron Mountain, Granite and Hyder. There were eleven isolated camps in all. The troops rotated in and out along with the Commanders and all but one advanced to command troops in the European Theater.
he Kings Throne is located on private land in Section 23, T. 7S, R. 14E, SBBM The hill rises 40 feet above its base and provides 360 degree view of the surrounding plain. To get there, take Interstate 10 to Red Cloud Mine Road then south on Gas Line Road about 6.5 miles(See AAA map). At that point look to your right and you will see it – pretty hard to miss. You can drive along a wash to the base and walk up the little road that spirals to the top. At the top, you’ll find a wooden pole. We assumed that the pole held a radio antenna for communicating with field units. Good place to have lunch.
Now I’m not one to put much stock in stories about lost mines or buried treasure, but I figure any tale about Fig Tree John whether true or not is worth telling. The story that I am about to give you is not well known and except for a few early articles in Desert Magazine has not, to my knowledge, been published. JuanitoRazon (Little John) was a member of the Cahuilla group of Indians that, in early times, lived throughout the Coachella Valley of Riverside County. As the “whites” began to settle in the area, the natives were encouraged to move to reservations established by the government. When the shuffle came, Little John decided that he was not going to move and so remained on his plot of land located at the edge of the Salton Sea. He held strong views regarding protection of ones private property. Those who happened onto his land, for what ever reason, without permission could be faced by an angry Indian threateningly waving an ancient unloaded Winchester rifle. They say his disposition was generally friendly but unpredictable and a lot depended on how he viewed his situation at a given time. If you needed help or wanted to do a little horse trading he could be
outgoing and friendly. He was always willing to give a helping hand to folks in trouble especially if they needed to have their vehicle towed out of the desert. In these cases, for a small fee, he’d hitch the vehicle to his mules and pull it into the town of Mecca where repair services were available. There is some dispute about his age. Most agree that he lived to be over 100 years of age. He died in 1927 so that would place his birth date at around the1820s or 30s. He must have witnessed a lot of changes in the settlement of the West including Spanish, Mexican and early American periods of occupation. He may have been the native whom Lieutenant Parke encountered in 1853 on his expedition across the South West to determine the best route for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Early maps including AAA (Riverside County 1922) and Blackburn (Imperial County 1950) show a small dot on the old highway and note it -- “Fig Tree John’s” His name came from a fig orchard that he cultivated on his property near a spring: the only figs grown in the valley at that time. Over the years, this isolated dot became a well known watering hole for those traveling by automobile and needing to fill their radiator before heading south to the Imperial Valley. The spring was located on the east side of highway 86, one mile north of the Riverside/Imperial county line at: lat 33.436 north; Lon 116.043 east. On special occasions and when greeting visitors at his home, he would dress up by putting on a US Army coat with large brass buttons and a black silk stovepipe hat. It was rumored that the coat was a gift from an army officer whom he befriended. For a pesso he would pose for a picture and sometime he would allow his wife and children to be included. They say the size and shape of his feet suggested that he had never worn shoes. He was quite a sight, a real character and you can believe he knew it. In 1905, the Colorado River broke through the gates that controlled the flow of water that irrigated croplands in the Imperial Valley. As a result, the Salton Sea began to fill and eventually the water reached Little John’s orchard and home forcing him to move his
family to a site three miles to the northwest at a place called Agua Dulce. He planted a new orchard and remained at Agua Dulce for the rest of his life but he never gave up his claim to the original Fig Tree Spring. There were some who believed that Fig Tree John had a secret source of gold. Gene Hill, owner of a general store in Mecca, said that Fig Tree John sometimes paid for his purchases with raw gold. A local prospector stated that some of the elders among the Cahuillas that he had talked to believed it. As you might expect, after John’s death the story took on mythic proportions similar to many other lost gold cashes of the “Old West.” Fig Tree John’s son, Johnny Mac, when asked about his father’s gold mine was reported to have said, “maybe yes maybe no.” And that’s the way it stands –some believed the story but most didn’t. In 1903, H.E.W. Wilson prospected in the Santa Rosa Mountains and camped at a spring called “Palm Oases” by the natives. He was searching for Pegleg Smith’s mythical stash of black gold. Some believed that there was connection between the two lost treasures and that these characters were actually partners. In the 1930s, the famous desert artist and writer John Hilton ventured into the Santa Rosa Mountains in search of Fig Tree John’s lost mine. He was accompanied by Ben Toro a Cahuilla Indian who’d grown up hunting bighorn sheep by following ancient Indian trails throughout these mountains. According to Ben’s grandfather, Fig Tree John got water for his mine from a palm spring called “Palm Oases” located in a canyon. I believe the trail took Hilton and Toro up Barton Canyon located south of Rabbit Peak. According to his story, as they round a bend in the canyon they abruptly arrived at the palm oasis mentioned by Ben’s grandfather. After some searching for evidence of a mine, Hilton’s attention turned to other interesting minerals that he found along the walls of the canyon and surrounding area including garnets, graphite in limestone, and wollastonite. A friend of Hilton’s told him about two prospectors that worked a claim near the spring.
The two had constructed a crude smelter near their camp. They kept to themselves and didn’t divulge where their claim was located. On a later trip, Hilton returned with this friend but they couldn’t find any evidence of the camp which they figured had been washed away. Well that’s the story of Fig Tree John’s lost gold mine as best I can tell it. I’m thinking of taking a hike up Barton Canyon -- maybe next winter. John Hilton mentioned some other surprises that might still be found around the Oases or farther up the canyon. You just never know what a good flash flood down that canyon might uncover.
Wyatt Earp's Happy Days
It’s widely believed, and interesting to note, that if it hadn’t been for a woman reporter who happened to be in Tombstone at the time, the shootout would have passed with little notice. Yet, before the dust settled in the OK Corral, newspapers across the country carried her byline and the story quickly cast Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers as true seekers of western justice. They became national heroes endlessly written about in books and magazines, and portrayed as the “good guys” in 29 movies and 11 TV series. The town of Tombstone had the right name for the famed gunfight, and Wyatt Earp was the perfect man to represent frontier law in action being over six feet tall, steady and handy with a revolver. Following the shootout, arrest warrants for murder were issued for the brothers and Holliday. The OK Corral incident was seen by some locals as an unfair fight between gunfighters and cowboys. The case against the boys was weak, but never the less, they decided it best to leave the Arizona Territory and avoid standing trial. .
The record on Wyatt’s adventures and whereabouts after Tombstone is not clear. We know that he spent some time in Texas and Colorado checking out mining prospects. He and his brother ran “the largest and finest saloon’’ in Coeur d’Alene. He arrived in San Diego in the mid 80s and invested in real estate. In San Francisco, he refereed the championship heavy-weight fight between Tom Sharkey and Bob Fitzsimmons. In 1897 or 98, he joined the gold rush to Alaska, did some prospecting and opened a saloon in Nome. After Alaska he and his wife, Josie, moved back to the states and tried their luck in the new gold camp of Tonopah were he financed a saloon and dealt faro. Josie, in her autobiography, claimed that she found a piece of high grade float on the road south of Tonopah but failed to find its source. The area that they searched was in the Grandpa Mining District. In 1903, two prospectors from Tonopah ventured south and located a number of rich gold mines in the Grandpa District. Soon the word was out and prospectors, miners, investors and promoters from all over the country flooded into the renamed camp of Goldfield; a bonanza that lasted and prospered for over ten years. The Earps missed their chance, no question and Wyatt never stopped talking about it. Wyatt told a local newspaper that he would never shoot another man again unless he shoots at me first. This statement was made shortly before he decided to do some prospecting in the Copper Basin / Whipple Mountain area, located west of the Colorado River in San Bernardino County. Happy Days! For the next 20 years, between 1905 and the 1920s, the Earps spent winters and the cool months at Vidal near their mines and the hot months in Los Angeles mingling with the Hollywood crowd. The county records show that over the years, Wyatt filed almost 100 mining claims in an area south of the Whipple Mountains. The first two lode claims were named “Happy Times and Happy Days”. Mines in this mineral belt primarily produced copper and gold. However, none of his mines proved to be of much value which leads one to wonder why he spent so much time staking and recording
mining claims in this area, He and Josie, for part of the time, camped near the mines. Later, they built a small home in the railroad settlement of Vidal. The house, designated an historic site by the state, is fenced and maintained as shown in my recent photograph. Happy Days and the other mines are generally located in Section 6; Township 1N; Range 25E. (Google Earth 24, 12.249; 114, 25.449) A trail from Highway 62 leads to the mines. Shortly after Wyatt’s death in 1929, the Santa Fe Railroad company and the U.S. Post Office Department changed the name of the railroad siding and nearby post office from Drenan to Wyatt Earp. The post office is located on the south side of Highway 62 just west of the bridge to Parker, Arizona. The post office sign above the entrance is faded as my recent photograph shows. A landmark sign that simply said “EARP” located on the road near the post office has been removed, destroyed or stolen since my last visit back in the 80s. However, the Automobile Club of Southern California continues to place this famous name on the San Bernardino County road map.
The Greenwater Heist
After graduating from the New York State Reformatory and changing his name, George Graham Rice was ready to take on his life’s work; race track handicapper, newspaper editor, author, promoter of fraudulent mining and oil stocks, and other matters that over the years put him before the courts in New York, Nevada and the state of Washington. In 1913, he wrote a book titled, “My Adventures with Your Money”. In it he said, “Greenwater, a rich man’s camp, in which the public sank thirty million dollars during three months, is another case in point where a confiding investing public followed a deceiving light and was led to ruthless 9
slaughter.” Well, he had a hand in promoting the Greenwater camp that “led to ruthless slaughter”. Even the name Greenwater was deceiving -- an isolated slice of mountainous desert lacking both vegetation and water -- water that had to be hauled in by the barrel and sold by the gallon. The Greenwater mining district was located along the eastern slope of the Black Mountains about nine miles south-east of Furnace Creek Ranch. Furnace Creek Road provided access to the camps and extended south to Shoshone. There were three settlements: Furnace, near the mouth of Copper Canyon; Kunze, in the canyon roughly two miles east of Furnace; and Greenwater, the center of commerce, located farther to the south-east out on the flat. The district is now within Death Valley National Park. Credit for the start of Greenwater depends on which story you want to believe. The one I favor tells that, on an uncertain date in 1904, two prospectors, Phil Creasor and Fred Birney, were camping at Ash Meadows. There they met an Indian who told them about a mountain range to the west that had yet to be looked at by white men. The next day, with as much water as they could carry, they made their way to the eastern edge of the Black Mountains and found, according to Birney, “little pieces of copper stained ore.” Birney followed the traces of the copper ore up a canyon wash about six miles. He continued over a hogback and down a draw, and soon came upon a large bolder rich in copper and a ledge, “standing out like a wall”. His narrative continues, “We then walked across Death Valley, Lost Valley and the desert 180 miles to Keeler where we recorded our claims. We went back a few days later and staked out sixteen more claims”. Patrick (Patsy) Clark, a well respected investor in copper mines, found out about the Greenwater discovery and made a visit to the area. He was impressed with 10
what he found and purchased the claims held by the two prospectors and filed on others in Copper Canyon. Clark believed that high grade copper could be found at some depth below the surface and organized the Furnace Creek Copper Company. Equipment was ordered, delivered by wagon and soon a pile of dirt tailings could be seen near his initial mine shaft. His workers located their tents at Furnace. The surface material showed copper all along the range and it wasn’t long before every square foot for twenty miles was covered with mining claims. A total of 73 mining companies took form and their stock sold primarily to investors in San Francisco and New York. George Graham Rice and other promoters wired articles to newspapers around the country hailing Greenwater as the chance of a life time -- the greatest copper discovery since Butte, Montana. Rice was paid by local mining companies to write glowing accounts of copper ore being shipped, but as you might suspect, most of these companies had yet to move a shovel of dirt. His fertile imagination was boundless particularly in promoting the companies in which he held an interest. Patsy Clark was one of the few making a serious effort to find the mother lode. A few pockets of good quality ore were found and a number of drifts were dug off of the main shaft. The copper content was good enough to encourage further digging. By May of ‘07, the shaft had reached the 500 foot level and the first and only shipment of copper made. The ore was hauled by wagon 50 miles to the nearest railroad and from there sent on to a smelter. Arthur Kunze claimed that he was the first to find copper in the area. He filed claims, formed the Greenwater Copper Company and surveyed the townsite that bore his name. By the middle of ’06, world renowned financier Charles Schwab had also become interested in the Greenwater mines at the urging of Kunze. With other investors, he cobbled together numerous holdings and formed the Greenwater Death Valley Copper Mining and Smelting Company. 11
At that time, most would have agreed that Schwab was the one most responsible for igniting the speculative frenzy that followed. His presence caused mining stocks to reach incredible heights, and miners, prospectors and investors to pour into the camps from all corners. Schwab also acquired the water rights to Ash Meadows and advertised plans to build a smelter and power plant there that would be connected to his mines by a railroad that he would also build. In a short time, his holdings grew to become the largest in the Death Valley region. He employed over 50 men and operated five shafts which plumbed 100 feet or more in depth. As with almost all mining camps, the end came swiftly. It was rumored, that the Guggenheims sent a mining engineer to investigate the mines and that his negative report, along with the Bank Panic of ’07, caused mining shares to plummet and the Greenwater district to collapse. To my knowledge, except for the two shipments made from the Furnace mines no copper ore was ever recovered from Greenwater. In the months that followed, activity at the major mines quietly closed down and miners and shop keepers quietly slipped away. Most of the tents and wood plank buildings were dismantled and hauled off to new camps. Some of the commercial buildings found their way to Shoshone. Greenwater may have reached a population of 500 at its peak. It boasted two thriving newspapers and a collection of mining camp enterprises including: hotel, hospital, bank, a restaurant or two, assay office, a number of saloons and an active red light district. Typical wood-framed tent covered houses were scattered from the mines down to Main Street. Both telegraph and telephone services were available. Except for a few early automobiles, travelers made their way by buckboard, carriage or wagon. A post office served the area from October 5, 1906 to May 31, 1908.
The camp was said to be lively without being particularly rowdy. There were a couple of shootings -- one accidental and the other questionable. Charley Brown was appointed deputy sheriff and presided over some interesting happenings that he tells about in his book. With no jail and 150 miles to the nearest county facility, those found guilty of a crime were given some grub, taken to the edge of town and told not to return. Years later Charley Brown became a state senator representing the eastern end of Inyo County. The editor of the chuckwalla tells in great detail about the funeral of Billy Robinson, a saloon regular and sometimes gambler who died in his tent at the edge of town. Everyone pitched in to make certain that Billy had a proper sendoff. Tiger Lily, famous through out many camps in the west, insisted that Billy be properly posed in his “scraped together” coffin. She put one arm across his chest and a five card poker hand under his fingers, stood back and said, “Billy sure does look natural now”. It was later revealed that Billy’s hand held five aces. George Graham Rice had some final words on Greenwater; “Not even a lone watchman remains to point out to the desert wayfarer the spot on which was raised the monumental mining stock swindle of the century”. Furnace Creek Wash Road (unpaved) is presently open to vehicles and can be accessed from Highway 190 via Dante’s View Road. I understand that it is open all the way to Shoshone but is rough in spots and may be closed due to snow during the winter months.
Initial Point - San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian
After California became a state in 1850, a board of land commissioners was appointed by congress to segregate private lands granted by Mexico from the
public domain. At that time, most lands in the California desert became public and subject to federal regulations with regard to future disposition. It was the intent of Congress to sell, grant or homestead land to citizens of the United States in order to encourage growth and settlement in this part of the country. The commission appointed individuals, some competent some incompetent, to survey and mark the land in accordance with a rectangular coordinate system. The north to south coordinate termed the ”meridian-line” and the east to west coordinate termed the “base-line” intersect at a point termed the “initial point”. From the initial point “township” corners are measured-off and marked by surveyors. During the month of November, 1852, Henry Washington, Deputy U.S. Surveyor, climbed to the top of Mt. San Bernardino and constructed a monument representing the initial point later referred to as “San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian”. It would serve as the starting point for the subdivision of public domain land in the five southern counties of California. Meridian and base lines divide the region in quarters -- NE, NW, SE, and SW. From these two basic coordinates, townships six miles on a side totaling 36 square miles in area were marked-off starting at the initial point The standard township was further divided into 36 one mile square “sections” and numbered 1 through 36 starting with section 1 in the north east corner, and continues across to the west then down and across, back to the east and so forth winding up with section 36 in the southeast corner You will see these line and section numbers in red on your USGS 7.5 or 15 minute quad sheets. According to Washington’s notes, “The monument formed of two pieces of timber spliced and braced by three iron bands, 25 ft. 9 in. long extending from the surface of the earth, 23 ft. 9 in.” (a pole with two crossbars). Reflective pieces of metal were nailed to the arms to catch sun light and be visible for a distance of at least ten to fifteen miles. The base of the structure, four feet in height, was formed of boulders and filled with dirt. Because of the rough terrain finding positions along the base and meridian lines depended on being able to sight the 14
reflectors on the monument post. For example, Henry Washington, after constructing the monument, scrambled down the mountain and proceeded to locate the westerly baseline by sighting his instruments on the post 13 miles due west of the initial point.. Washington was among the best of that group of surveyors appointed by the commission. In 1855, he extended the north meridian line and placed township corner markers up through Death Valley, a distance of over 160 miles. He noted how the corners were marked, “Set a post of chard wood and raised a mound with a trench and pit as per instructions”. Over the years, those initial corners that could be found were replaced with metal pipe and cap. The location of townships 1 and 2 north were completed in 1894 by John C. Rice who established a second initial point over 800 feet east of Washington’s point. Later still, George W. Pearson, coming up the south meridian found a third initial point between the two. Recently, it was agreed that, historically, there can only be one “initial point” - the one that Henry Washington set in 1852. The location by GPS is at latitude 34º07’12.9” north; longitude 116°55’38.4” west. The meridian line to the north of the initial point can be traced up Meridian Road from Highway 247 in the community of Lucerne Valley. A few miles to the north of Highway 247 you may find survey markers at intersections of townships and sections. You can also follow the meridian south of 247 for four miles to a “triangulation” marker with metal pipe and bronze cap denoting section corner 1/6/31/36 located on the meridian between ranges 3 and 4 north. I’ve not visit the initial point monuments on the mountain top -- eight miles up and eight miles down is not to my liking. However, you can find your way to Angelus Oaks on Highway 38, obtain a hiking or wilderness permit from the ranger station located there and head for the top. Washington’s instructions included a sketch of how the monument should be 15
constructed. He probably decide that better visibility would be gained by placing the reflectors on two substantial cross-arms attached to the pole rather than dangling metal reflectors from a short cross-piece as shown.
Death Valley Mines
A famous writer once remarked that, “spirit of the old west” continues through the exploits of the dogged desert prospector who survives his lonely enterprise with unfurrowed optimism and the ability to manage great disappointment at times. He got his schooling from field-worn veterans, assorted miners, claim jumpers, promoters and others malcontents found in and around mining camps and saloons The next big find could be just around the corner or over the next ridge. A prospector’s diary might read, “Found some color in a wash this morning. Panned it out and followed it up to a promising outcrop. Noticed a narrow ledge up on the side that shows some rust, could be something there. No signs of any digging yet. I’ll go tomorrow and look around.” I interviewed a woman who had lived in Death Valley for a good part of her adult life. She had been the camp cook at the Grantham Talc Mine located at Warm Springs in the southwest corner of the park. She inherited quite a sum from the estate of one of the partners of the mine and was living in Laguna Beach at the time of the interview. Ernie Huhn was the name of that partner whom some called Siberian Red. He’d prospected in Siberia and Alaska before arriving in the lower forty-eight in 1905. He exemplified the well rounded gambler, prospector, geologist, and miner of his time.
The story of Siberian Red’s lost ledge began at Summit Diggings east of Ransburg in 1925. A man named Asa Russell approach Ernie Huhn with a proposition. He would grubstake a trip to the Panamint Mountains if Ernie would take him along and show him how to find gold. Ernie agreed and with supplies to last a month they headed into Death Valley, up through Anvil Canyon and across Butte Valley to the base of Panamint Mountains where they set up camp. For the next month, they prospected along upper ledges of the range taking rock samples as they went and hauling them back to camp then spending evenings testing each one by crushing and panning it down hoping to see signs of gold, silver or copper. This went on for weeks without finding anything worth further testing. Finally, on one fateful afternoon they returned tired and with mounting disappointment. They placed their samples on a shelf in the tent without running the usual tests. The next day they headed for Shoshone the nearest settlement to have some fun and buy provisions. Weeks passed before the two returned with a renewed desire to keep on prospecting. It was mid afternoon when they arrived back at camp. Ernie began testing the samples from the last outing. One clump was gray in color and heavy for its size. When crushed and washed, flakes of gold covered the bottom of the pan. Ernie tweezed the flakes out of the pan, placed them on his miner’s scale and calculated the value per ton of the find. He couldn’t believe what the numbers told him -- $15,000 per ton at the going price of gold -- beyond all belief! As you can imagine, the two passed a sleepless night talking about the riches that soon would be theirs. By daybreak the next day, Ernie took to his well worn trail and headed up to the exposed ledges and outcrops that he and Asa had worked for weeks. It was Ernie’s sample that had shown the riches and so he led the way. After a few hours, it became apparent that Ernie was having trouble relocating the exposed rock that had provided his sample. 17
Asa had been sent to buy some burros and when he returned to camp a dejected Ernie told him that he had been unable to relocate the site. Asa asked him if he had marked the site with strips of cloth as he had been instructed to do. No, Ernie responded, only a tenderfoot needed to do that. And so, Ernie continued his search for months. As the years went by, the two would meet in Shoshone and relived their story. Asa agree not to divulge the story to anyone. He held to his promise until after Ernie’s death. His article appeared in Desert Magazine. Louise Grantham and Dot Ketchin arrived in Death Valley in 1926. They came west to find the prospector that Louise’s father had grubstaked and who had not written to him for a time. They found that the prospector had purchased mining equipment but had abandoned the claim and moved on. Two young college educated women who’d traveled 2,000 miles in a 1920s vintage motorcar found themselves facing an uncertain future in the lonely depths of Death Valley. Dot told me that the miners that they met, though rough around edges, were complete gentlemen to them and very helpful. The one that most impressed her was Ernie Hahn who convinced them to stay and help him work some of his gold claims which they agreed to do. They eventually constructed a gold reduction mill at Warm Springs, one of the few flowing waters at the south end of the valley. This became their main camp and base of operation. Over the years a partnership was formed with Louse handling the business end and Ernie handling production of the gold mines. To secure rights to the spring, they filed papers for a mill-site with the county. The filing was contested by a Shoshone Indian who claimed that his family had established historic rights to the spring. The Park Service joined with the Indian in a law suit that followed. After a costly battle in the federal courts, the partners prevailed in securing rights to the spring.
Louise Grantham gave no quarter to federal authorities or anyone else questioning rights to her mining claims established under the 1872 Mining Act. She carried a pistol and wasn’t afraid to use it. According to one story, she caught a miner who owned a nearby claim stealing equipment. According to Ernie, “she stuck her 45 in the miner’s belly with the safety off” – shades of the Old West. The partners held a number of talc deposit claims located along the walls of Warm Springs Canyon. As the country entered World War II, the price of talc soared. Its use in the manufacture of special paint for war ships and other war products brought the mines to full production. The white powder was trucked to the Union Pacific siding at Dunn located ten miles east of Yermo. Louise and Ernie became very rich. The Grantham Mines were sold to Johns-Manville in 1973. The new owner continued to mine talc for a few years until falling prices and declining quality of the talc eventually brought an end to all operations. The National Park Service now has title to the properties which are open to the public. After the mining properties were sold, Ernie, until his death in 1952, lived in a house that he built in Shoshone. After leaving the Warm Springs Mine, Dot Ketchin opened a boutique shop in Ontario, California and later moved to Laguna Beach where she died in 1984. What about Siberian Red’s lost ledge? Well the story never caught much attention or caused any excitement among treasure hounds. Like most lost treasure this one follows standard form: We found it, we didn’t get back to it for a while, when we did we couldn’t find it. For that reason I haven’t put much stock in this yarn -but then, with the price of gold today, maybe Asa’s article is worth a closer look. The Gold Hill Mill, constructed in 1933, brought together a number of interesting devices for the reduction of ore. Here is my understanding of how they worked. The ore was hauled from the mines to the mill by truck and dumped into the ore 19
bin atop two machines that pulverized the ore. The reduced material then entered the “classifier” that screened and separated the heaver gravels from the lighter sands. The gravel material circled back to the crushers for further size reduction while the sand material flowed onto and down a series of “shaker tables” where a back and forth shaking motion combined with gravity caused the heaver gold to be captured between wooden slates as the lighter sand particles sifted off of the tables as waste. In later years, an arrastra was constructed on the east side of the mill. Some believe that it was used to extract gold from the waste pile through amalgamation with mercury. Headquarters of the Grantham Mine, nestled among the trees and shrubs near the spring, include a bunkhouse for the miners, a house and dining area, and an office. All of the buildings are present and in good condition considering their age. Talc mines can be seen on both sides of the canyon as you approach the Warm Springs. The dirt road into the canyon is maintained (bladed) and passable all the way to the springs. There is a sign “Warm Springs Butte Valley” at the entrance from West Side Road. This drive has become popular especially by desert four-wheel clubs.
Saline Valley Salt Tramway
The longest and possibly most extreme high-wire act of the last century was designed and built to transport buckets of table salt cross a ten-thousand foot mountain range from a dry lake bed in Death Valley to a railroad located in the
Owens Valley of California. Those fortunate enough to see it in operation called it an engineering marvel and wonder. Most tramways were built to haul gold and silver ore down the side of a mountain to a mill-site. So why all the expense and effort to mine common table salt most of which had historically been gathered from tidelands near the coast? Apparently, it was done just to prove that it could be done. Saline Valley, at 1,000 feet above sea level, is located on the western edge of Death Valley National Park. The salt deposit was extensive and covered 16 square miles to a depth of 30 feet. The quality, at 98% pure sodium chloride, first attracted attention around 1904. But this valley, surrounded by terrain that made the bedding of rails impossible and the grading of a road for wagon long and difficult, was simply not accessible. However, these conditions, isolation and extreme topography, posed the kind of challenge that construction engineers found most engaging. And, they, in turn, ably translated their excitement into plans for a cable system design that both dazzled and convinced investors that such an enterprise could bring this product profitably to market. A tramway is defined as, “an overhead cable system for transporting ore and mine freight”. The type of vehicle used depended on the type of ore being hauled. The Saline Valley Salt Company Arial Tramway’s cables were designed to carry 280 buckets from the loading dock in Saline Valley, through two control stations on the east side of Inyo Mountain and through a control station at the summit. On the west side, buckets continue downward through a control station at about the 6,000 foot elevation then on to the terminal in Owens Valley. The system was capable of transporting over 20 tons of salt per hour. In addition to the motorized control stations, the cables passed through or over 13 rail supports on the way up and 15 on the way down. Each of these outposts was constructed of heavy timbers, metal rails and hardware which had to be transported to each site using reverse cables, horse drawn wagons and strange wheeled contraptions designed specifically for the project. One was called the “go devil” which frankly defies description. It took seventeen men to operate the system; two at the loading dock, 21
two at the terminal and two at each station plus four line-riders and a foreman. The salt was gathered from the lake bed by Mexican laborers. Line-riders -- I imagine riding an empty bucket down from the Inyo Mountain summit at 8,500 feet to the floor of the Saline Valley would compare favorably with Magic Mountain’s Riddler’s Revenge -- a difference of 7,500 feet or 1.4 miles of vertical distance. The terms, “up” and “down”, as used here need serious clarification. The journey began at the loading station in Saline Valley elevation 1,000 feet above sea level. From the loading platform, the buckets rose by double cables to the 8,500 foot gap near the summit of the Inyo Mountains. From the summit, the buckets began their descent by gravity to an off-loading dock in the Owens Valley at an elevation of 3,500 feet.-- total horizontal distance a little over 13 miles. Construction started on September 1, 1911. And the first bucket arrived at the discharge terminal on July 2, 1913, a few months over schedule due to problems with determining where the off-loading station would be located. The Saline Valley Salt Company Arial Tramway was up and doing what it was designed to do -- haul buckets of salt from a desolate valley floor to a rail siding from where it would travel to many markets. The salt harvest, simple and direct, started with the creation of a brine solution in areas of the lake bed sectioned off and flooded with water piped from nearby springs. Evaporation during summers when temperatures ranged near 120 degrees caused salt crystals to form in the brine. Gathered in piles two feet high in rows eight feet apart, the salt was allowed drain before being transported to the loading dock. A special wagon with wide wheel rims capable of hauling 500 pounds of salt was tethered to a gasoline engine by cable. The wagon was thus towed to the loading platform and the salt dumped into a waiting tramway bucket. The bucket, grabbed by the guide cable, then began its journey over the mountain and down to the Owens Valley terminal. 22
All of the material to build the control stations and rail supports had to be transported up the mountain by a wagon carrying up to 5,000 pounds pulled by an eight-horse hitch. From the railroad in Owens Valley it was a tough steep ten mile climb to the summit. Starting a few miles north of the railroad terminal at Keeler, a narrow but passable road was carved along the western flank of the mountain. A camp site graded a few miles north of the gap provided space for offloading and storing materials. It took a loaded wagon one day to make a round trip to the camp and back. The teamster would leave the loaded wagon and take an empty back down to the station. The loaded wagons were teamed over to the construction site and unloaded. In addition to timbers, machinery and cables, the wagons hauled grain, hay and water for the stock kept at the mountain camp. A trail was built on the east flank for use by construction crews. Too narrow and steep for wagons, construction materials had to be cabled down from the gap at the top of the mountain across the canyons and somehow brought to rest at the various construction sites. For the really heavy stuff like the motor and transformer for the loading station, a 55 mile wagon road was built to the north around the mountain from Big Pine, California. From Big Pine, the road extended east through Marble Canyon, very narrow in places, then south by Waucoba Springs and on to Saline Valley. The mine operated from 1915 to 1920 attempting to make some profit for investors. Competition from salt companies in the Bay Area and falling prices after WWI, resulted in losses and caused operations to be discontinued. In 1929, repaired and readied for a new start, as luck would have it, the re-organized company ran headlong into the teeth of The Great Depression ending the final chapter of this unusual story. As some, at the time, said, “It cost a hell of a lot to build and operate and didn’t make much money but what a ride while it lasted!” I haven’t visited Saline Valley since the 70s and failed, at that time, to appreciate the uniqueness of this remarkable mining adventure. As a result, I took few 23
photographs none of which, in any way, give scope to what had happened here some 50 years back. I suggest that if you are interested in both current and historic photos you click on: http://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/saline_tramway1/page50a.html. There are a lot of other websites that include photos of the tram. Keep in mind that the story given here is much superior to others that you may find on your search through the internet. You see, I got mine from the engineer who built it.
The Mc Haney Gang
The “Old West”, as we think of it, lasted a relatively short time from the 1860s to early years of the Twentieth Century. Writers of books, periodicals and movie scripts have perpetuated and glamorized myths about this period; none more so than those who have written of the trials and tribulations of the “outlaw gang”. Stories, told many times, have come to sanctify the gun-slinging-cowboy genre that we all grew up with. Here’s a few that you may not have heard about: Bert Alvord Gang, 1890s, train robbers, Arizona Territory -- John Daly Gang, 1860s, hanged for murder, Nevada Territory -- Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, 1860s-1910, Wyoming Territory, included Butch Cassidy -- Bill Dolen Gang, 1894, Oklahoma Territory -- Rufus Buck Gang, 1890s, Arkansas. California had its share of gangs but I could find only one worth telling -- the McHaney Gang whose members resided in San Bernardino County and whose exploits combine both fact and fiction. Their story begins with the arrival some time in the 1880s of two cowboys from Davis County Missouri -- James and William McHaney. The boys, known as Jim
and Will, took up ranching and initially set up headquarters and summer range in the San Bernardino Mountains wintering cattle down on the warmer desert country to the east. In the spring and summer, they trailed their stock back to the main ranch which they later moved to the upper reaches of the Santa Ana Canyon. Other members of the gang entered the picture at various times -- the Button brothers who discovered Hidden Valley located in Joshua Tree National Park -- Charlie Martin, the son of a family of early settlers in the area -- George Meyers, a desert rancher and Ike Chestnut of which little is known. It was suspected that these boys were stealing beeves from the surrounding ranches but it was never proven. Most of what is known of their activity comes from interview with old timers of the area. One, Hardy Lord claims that as a boy he was hired by Charlie Martin to change the brand markings on cattle using a straight iron. Claims he got pretty good at it. The gang eventually moved operations out of the mountains and on to the desert. One reason given for the move holds that a posse of irate ranchers formed-up and proceeded to the ranch where a pitched battle ensued. In another more likely version, the McHaneys moved to avoid legal problems over water rights in the canyon. They had a habit of damming and diverting water out of the canyon streams to water their cattle while legal water claims were held by the City of Redlands. In 1879, Will McHaney, considered the more personable of the brothers, built a place east of the Morongo Valley and became the first white settler at the Twentynine Palms Oases. Though still involved with the gang, he spent most of his time prospecting and ranging cattle near the Oases. His brand was a five pointed star which he registered with the county. Without mountain pasture for hot weather months it’s not clear how James McHaney and the other members operated. It is believed by some that they kept their stock in Hidden Valley; a small well protected area surrounded by rocky mountainous terrain discovered by the Button brothers. And that they added 25
horse trading to the business. We do know that George Meyers ranged cattle on the desert and registered his brand and may have eventually bought-out the McHaney desert cattle operation. All public lands were open to cattle during this period. It was called “the open range”. Natural water sources and availability of forage not property boundaries or fences determined the extent of livestock activity. The once-a-year-roundup served to separate each rancher’s cattle and brand the calves before trailing to summer pastures in the higher country. If you were out there to steal another ranchers stock you best grab a few and ship them to market as quick as possible and not allow your re-branded stock to mingle on the open range. The writer Louis Lamour mentions Hidden Valley in his novel “Mojave Crossing”. The hero, Tell Sackett, was forced to cross the desert on foot after losing his horse. Tired and thirsty, he stumbled into the gang’s Hidden Valley hideout and was confronted by Charlie Button who after deciding he was “no lawman” invited him to spend the night. I don’t know where Lamour got the story but…? Later, around 1888, Jim McHaney decides to try his hand at mining gold. Some accounts say that he and Charlie Martin forced, at gun-point, a fellow by the name of Frank L James to sign over his claim to the Desert Queen Mine, and that after he signed Martin shot and killed him. Later Martin, with Jim McHaney as his witness, pleaded self-defense and was found not guilty. I checked the San Bernardino County Court records and couldn’t find any support for the story. The only case that I could find against Charlie Martin as a defendant in San Bernardino County was for riding his horse over a squaw. In that case, the judge fined Charlie a few dollars and commented that the squaw should have got out of his way. An article in the Redlands Citrograph (May 11, 1895) states that, “It has now been definitely settled that the rich mines recently located by the McHaneys and others are in San Bernardino County”. Then in August another article, “James 26
McHaney, one of the owners of the now famous Desert Queen Mine was in San Bernardino on Monday, bringing in another sack of gold – the product of four and one-half days’ clean-up worth $8,000.” It’s clear from the articles that Jim McHaney became a successful miner and owner, or at least part owner, of a well documented high producing gold mine. How he came by it will probably remain a mystery The stories about Charlie Martin are fairly well documented. We know that he got in a lot of trouble with the law in his youth and in 1877 was found guilty of robbing a drunk and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. After he got out he and Willie Button homesteaded two quarter sections of land * near Angelus Oaks on Highway 38 and commenced raising cattle. If Martin and Button were involved in stealing and re-branding livestock with their neighbor Jim McHaney it would have been during the period from 1882 to 1888. Some suspect, however, that Martin was more a moonshine bootlegger than rancher. However, the ranch proved profitable and expanded to become known by the Heart Bar brand. Martin sold his interest to the ranch in 1914. Charlie Martin was full of surprises in 1917 he was appointed Chief of Police for the city of San Bernardino. He lasted only a few months on the job and then retired to his homestead. The Heart Bar Ranch headquarters located at the head of Santa Ana Canyon is now a Forest Service campground. James McHaney was arrested on March 10, 1900, for passing counterfeiting gold coins, in the city of San Bernardino. McHaney claimed he got them in Redlands when he cashed a $75.00 check. “I came by them honestly and did nothing wrong”, he said. A few days later Will McHaney, was arrested at the Gang’s hideout in the Whitewater area near San Gorgonio Pass. The camp was discovered by a Forest Ranger on patrol who related the information to city authorities. U.S. Marshals investigated and arrested Will McHaney and another gang member. The Marshals believed that the actual stamping and gold plating was done in one of the canyons near the hide-out. Will had ordered chemicals for electro plating 27
which was used as evidence. James McHaney was found guilty and sentenced to 17 year in prison. I don’t know what happened to Will. He may have pleaded-out his brother and saved himself from prison time. Or he may have served a shorter sentence and then, as some say, retired to his Twenty-nine Palms Oases and lived an honest life thereafter. *Section 29, T1N, R1W, SBM homesteaded in 1898 called Martin Glen.
The Ghost of Llano del Rio
Early in the morning hours of October 1, 1910, a bomb exploded under the Los Angeles Times building unhinging the south wall and causing the second story to collapse. Twenty one employees were killed and another one hundred were seriously injured. The long bitter fight between organized labor and Otis Chandler, owner and publisher of the Times, placed suspicion for the crime on union malcontents. Chandler hired a detective to find out who was responsible for the bombing. The detective found evidence that fingered two union members referred to in the press as the “McNamara Brothers”. They were apprehended and charged with the crime. Both pleaded not guilty. The American Federation of Labor hired Clarence Darrow to assist a local attorney in defending the accused; however, when the two pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, the union leaders knew that further effort on their part to unionize local workers would be futile. Otis Chandler had won the battle and
continued to challenge unions and other organizations that had far left and socialist leanings. The local attorney hired by the Federation was Job Harriman, a member of a number of socialist organizations, who had aspirations in local politics. Some voiced the opinion that Harriman was run out of town by Chandler along with Harriman’s union buddies and others associated with defending the accused bombers. Harriman was a man of means and the strength of will to try something new, something to challenge his intellect – like starting a socialist utopia in the desert. He discussed his plan with a number of likeminded friends, also of means, who warmed to his ideas and were willing to lend their support and some capital to the venture. In the 1890s, a number of colonies dotted the north sloping terrain that extends out from the base of the Angeles National Forest to the Mojave Desert. One, named Rio del Llano (river of the plain), brought water from Little Rock Creek to crop land which the company marketed to eastern farm families. A number of families bought into the colony and planted fruit trees and field corps. Unfortunately, successive and exceptionally dry years in the late 1890s put an end to the development forcing the company to declare bankruptcy and the farm families to move. Harriman and his associates acquired the irrigation bonds for the defunct colony which included 9,000 acres. They incorporated a new company in 1913 and began selling stock. Soon, promotions for the new colony appeared in socialist publications throughout the country. Members started arriving in the spring of 1914 and within six months membership reached 150. Harriman believed that social justice would prevail if those who have would willingly share with those who have not. The colony would 29
operate on the principle of social democracy – members would have voice in all matters. Vineyards and fruit trees were again planted along with field crops and fresh produce for local consumption. The name of the colony was changed to Llano del Rio of California. New members were required to buy 2,000 shares of stock at one dollar per share. Each settler received four dollars a day in credit toward the purchase of food, clothing and other needs within the colony. Ownership of assets including land, structures, livestock and crops were held in common. Members were allowed title to their personal belongings including a motorcar. Members brought a range of skills to the colony. Family values were important and education for children received priority. Some were devout socialists. Others joined for less lofty reasons. Those with religious leanings were tolerated and all ethnic groups were welcome, however, I noted that only white faces appear in resident group photographs. The baseball team won most of its games and the players looked sharp in bright red uniforms. The brass band, judged to be the best band in the desert, played at parades, other special events and wherever else invited. By 1917, two-thousand acres of the desert had been scraped aside and some 400 acres turned to fruit trees and alfalfa. The crops were served by miles of ditches fanning out from the main irrigation cannel and tunnel that intercepted and delivered water from Big Rock Creek. Major livestock buildings included: a large dairy barn and silo located one-half mile south of the main settlement; a world class rabbitry providing the colonists with their main source of meat; and a large stable complex, located north of the settlement, that could house up to 100 horses. The resident population topped 1,000 by early 1917. A visitor would notice that adobe and rock-faced houses had replaced the scatter of tents that he had seen 30
here two years before. He would be impressed with the variety of industries that had been established in such a short time -- two machine shops, a cannery, a planning mill, a paint shop, a brickyard, a flour mill and a fish hatchery, two newspapers and a print shop. Up the road, in addition to the dairy, he would find a saw mill and at the foot of the mountains two lime kilns for making cement. He would also take note of the variety of personal services one would expect to find in a community of comparable size. Not all was bright and friendly. Complaints filled the agenda of weekly assembly meetings. Laggards - those who refused to do their share of the hard work ranked high on the list of complaints. The food shelves at the commissary lacked variety and the ever present, colony- grown carrot became its symbol. In lean times, cooked carrots could be expected at all three meals. And to many, those responsible for overseeing the completion of community project represented the hated bosses of their past. Of course, without someone in charge nothing would get done. Most meetings lasted for hours with resolutions discussed, passed and soon forgotten. Those for whom the “socialist calling” no longer held sway were encouraged to leave to be replaced by the new arrivals. Nationally recognized socialist writers and thinkers complained that Llano was too “middle class” and wedded to the way of capitalism. Harriman answered their cries stating that ventures such as Llano del Rio were the first step toward a peaceful demise of capitalism. Things were soon to change dramatically. The colony planners had not realized that Big Rock Creek had a serious leak. In good years it didn’t matter. But in dry years much of the limited runoff was fiendishly seeping into the deep gravel bed created by the San Andres rift that crosses the creek. They had planned to build a dam on the up side and form a basin for storing water but later found that construction costs would be prohibitive. The problem was kept from members while Harriman searched for a new location for his colony.
Moving day was celebrated in October 1917, and publicized as a “new adventure”. Virtues of the Louisiana site were extolled - sounding much like the virtues voiced for Llano of California in the early days. The faithful packed their belongings and drove or took the train to the new destination—an abandoned lumber town near Leesville, Louisiana. It was estimated that less than half of membership made the trip. A few stayed to tend the orchards, gardens and the saw mill which continued to cut and ship lumber to Louisiana. Due to poor health and mounting financial problems, Job Harriman left the new colony and later commented that most of the members had been selfish, arrogant, egotistical and lazy, and more so among the poor than among the rich. Job Harriman died in California in 1925. With a much smaller membership base, New Llano Louisiana struggled to survive into the 1930s. The Llano del Rio ruins are located on the north side of Highway 138 about 4.5 miles east of Pearblossom. A number of foundations can still be found and the pillars and fire places of the hotel and assembly hall are still standing and visible from the highway.
Driving north on Highway 14, you may have noticed two large granite blobs stuck on the east facing slope of Scodie Mountain located a mile or so south of Highway 178 (Walker Pass Road). They are named “Robber’s Roost” on official maps and
are associated with the most famous bandit in the history of California, Tiburcio Vasquez. It is believed that he and his men camped behind these outcrops in order to spot approaching stagecoaches on the road between Los Angeles and Owens Valley, The only references to these “rocks” are found in Bandits, Borax and Bears A Trip To Searles Lake In 1874. The author, Edmond Leuba, and M.deB his companion traveling the old wagon road by buckboard, are on their way to Searles Lake to inspect the new borax discoveries. When: “About noon we were in front of the two rocks a mile from Coyote Hole. In these two pyramids of granite we perceived some hollows resembling caves. ‘See there the retreats which have served Tiburico Vasquez,’ said M. de B, to me.” Upon arrival at Coyote Hole Station, Leuba found to his amazement that, on the previous day, Vasquez and his associates had visited the station and relieved those unfortunate enough to be there at that time of their valuables. One man was shot in the leg and survived. According to Freeman Raymond, proprietor of the station, those on the scheduled stagecoach that arrived three hours later also fell victim. . Leuba asked Raymond, ‘‘Where do you supposed he [Vasquez] kept himself with his band?” Raymond replied, “…he surely spent several days in the rocks near which you just passed, because I went there this morning and found a quantity of empty sardine cans, crackers and about a quarter of a sack of flour.” This is the evidence we have that these famous banditos were holed up among these crags the night before they raided the station. Vasquez, with a sizable price on his head, was being pursued by sheriff’s posses throughout the state. His men were constantly on the lookout; aided by some native Californians who felt deprived of their land by the gringos . It stands to reason that, on this one occasion, they took advantage of the excellent view of the 33
road provided from these rocks to spot lawmen coming north from Los Angeles. Vasquez was captured on May 13, 1874, at the La Brea Rancho and initially jailed in Los Angeles. He was tried in San Jose and found guilty of committing two murders and sentenced to be hanged. The sentence was carried out at noon on March 18, 1875, to a lively crowd that gathered to place bets and see if he would “die game.”, which he did!. Robber’s Roost is located on BLM land at GPS 35* 34.540’ north latitude; 117* 56.910’ west longitude. This is a nesting place for birds of prey and closed to motorized vehicles from February 1 through July 1. A nice place to have your lunch and look around.
TOM SCHOFIELD'S LOST MINE
Tales of lost gold told by early prospectors and adventure seekers have found a large audience here in Southern California. Some of the stories have been past down, mapped, been retold and then kept alive by the likes of now defunct Desert Magazine. During the 60s and 70s articles of lost treasure appeared in almost every monthly issue of the magazine. These gems of desert lore invariably brought letters to the editor questioning, confirming or adding to the stories. Heck, it was all in fun, and I for one wish that the likes of then editor Jack Pepper and his publications were still around to keep us pumped with revelations about the California desert. 34
My interest in all of this actually has to do with the story teller, the miner or prospector who spun the yarn. Tom Schofield was, by all accounts, a prospector, a finder of desert watering places and a sometimes miner. He was the type who would gladly recount to anyone his many desert exploits including how he had discovered a very rich gold mine some where in the Clippers Mountains. His story, in my words, went something like this:
While working at a spring in the Clipper Mountains, he noted a faint trace of a path leading off to the side of the mountain and so he decided to follow and see were it would lead. After hiking some distance, he came upon a recently abandoned camp site that had all the trappings of a miner’s camp. Continuing up a steep bank and scaling across the edge of a narrow shale wall he arrived at a mine shaft of some depth with sides well boarded up by old railroad ties. His prospector instincts told him that the ore, on the tailing pile next to the shaft, looked exceedingly rich. However, it was getting on in the afternoon and so he decided to stay the night at the small miner’s camp below. In the morning, he happened to kick the lid off of an old Dutch oven located near the fire pit and from that old pot gold ore “rich-to-the-eye” spilt out onto the ground. Well, as would happen, he found that he was out of water and must therefore leave immediately. So, filling his pockets with as many pieces of ore as his pockets would hold he headed down the mountain.
Tom wasted no time and soon had his ore samples taken to Los Angeles and tested. The assay showed that the ore, found in the old Dutch oven, had very high gold content. Indeed, Tom Schofield was about to become a very rich man; but, first he must hurry back to the Clipper Mountains and mark his claim to the mine.
He search throughout the high canyons of the Clipper Mountains for many months but was unable to relocate the camp or the mine. Years passed and the story, retold and written about many times, became known as the “Lost Dutch Oven Mine” and is often confused with the Lost Dutchman Mine of the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. In the early 1890s, young Tom Schofield was hired by the Santa Fe Railroad to locate water sources along the right-of-way running west from Needles. In those 35
days, locomotives ran on steam power and the boilers had to be refilled with water at stations located along the rails. The spring, mentioned in his lost mine story, is located in the Clipper Mountains at a place now named Bonanza Spring. Water from the spring was claimed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1893. The company connected the spring to the water tanks at the Danby Station with a four inch pipe running from a 350 foot tunnel blasted directly into the side of the mountain above. This spring provided water to the railroad for almost 40 years before being replaced in the 1930s by a well located near the Station. After his hitch with the railroad, Tom Schofield spent most of his time prospecting for gold in the Old Woman and Turtle Mountains, for salt in Danby Dry Lake, for iron ore in the Marble Mountains and probably at may other locations between Essex and Amboy. At one time, he held an interest in the Iron Hat Mine located about twelve miles east of Amboy in the Marble Mountains. The mine became active sometime after World War I and lasted only a few years. There were two tunnels with cross-cuts that yielded over 2,000 tons of ore during operations. Tom was reported to be living near Amboy at the time. He didn’t leave a diary so most of what we know about him comes from public records and accounts given by folks who knew him. He was well liked and generous to a fault. He drank whiskey and frequented local saloons as most miners did when not working their claims. He regularly registered to vote from 1900 to 1936.and was living in Chambless in 1940. Some say he lived to be over 100. In his later years, when asked about his lost mine he would pass it off and simply say, “there’s plenty of minerals out there for everyone”. Incidentally, Bonanza Spring is a great place to visit if you have a high centered vehicle. The water pipe was scrapped for military use during WWII. And after the war, a few squatter’s built shanties along the stream. One fellow brought in some earth moving equipment and scraped out a pool of some length and allowed the locals to drive up and take a swim. Living was good and rent was free -- there was only one problem, the land belongs to the U.S. Government and these desert 36
dwellers were eventually judged to be in trespass. The land is managed by the BLM and it took some time for the agency to evict these folks, clear the area of old car bodies, piles of junk and demolished shelters. BLM recently graded a parking area and built some picnic tables. The spring is an outstanding example of a “desert watering hole” and is a good place to start a hike into the Clipper Mountain Wilderness Area. The road up to the site is a little rough and access from the highway is not marked. Best to check Google Earth at 34 41.196 115 24.318 ahead of time. When you are out traveling old Highway 66, you might want to visit the Iron Hat Mine. The road is rough and narrow in places but worth the effort. The canyon is spectacular. See Google Earth at 34 35.748 115 31.788 The Danby Station is located about 1.6 miles southeast of Highway 66 on Danby Road. A post office was established here in 1893 and served as the mail drop for mines in the Old Woman Mountains until it was closed in 1913. It would take some archeology to figure out what all was here during that period. The mill located to your right as you cross the tracks was active some time around or during the 1960s. Prior to completion of Interstate Highway 40, a few service stations and an eating place opened near the intersection of Danby Road and Highway 66. And what about the Lost Dutch Oven Mine? It’s my guess that Tom Schofield never intended for his tale to be bought by so many weekend treasure hunters. But on the other hand, it brought a lot of visitors to his door and I am sure that this made his retirement years interesting.
Lake Mojave's Hidden Channel
There was a time when water flowed from the Mojave River all the way to Death Valley, the lowest point in North America. The evidence can be found in a narrow channel located at the north end of Silver Lake nine miles north of Baker, California, Between nine and twenty-two thousand years ago Mojave Lake, a large body of fresh water, stretched north to south from Silver Lake to the Kelso Dunes and from the mouth of the Mojave River east to the Cow Hole hills and covered some 90,000 acres of desert. This region was much cooler during that period. Melted snow from the San Bernardino Mountains flowed continuously down the Mojave River and local rainfall fed in from the surrounding mountain ranges. The inflow to Lake Mojave substantially exceeded evaporation expanding the basin until the excess water spilt through the lowest point and flowed due north merging with the Armagosa River that emptied into Death Valley. At its peek, the surface of the lake topped 40 feet above the current desert floor at the north end and was five to ten feet higher at the south end of Soda Lake. If the lake were there today the small town of Baker, would be under 20 feet of water. The surface of the lake passed through a number of phases first rising as sediments filled-in and later subsiding as the out-flowing water chiseled away at the narrow channel to the north. Artifacts have been found at camp sites along some of the elevated beaches indicating human occupation in the region around 8,000 years ago According to the experts, the region became warmer and dryer causing the lake to slowly disappear leaving behind Silver and Soda lake beds that are dry except in
years of exceptionally heavy rainfall and snow in the San Bernardino Mountains. Over time, as the outbound water flowed through the narrow channel, the top layer of soft conglomerate material eroded or washed away increasing the outflow and lowering the level of the lake a few feet. Evidence of this can be seen at the narrows or gap where layers of the soft conglomerate material are exposed above a granite base rock. The elevation of these layers is consistent with corresponding beach lines at the edge of Silver Lake. In 1916, flood waters engulfed the small community of Silver Lake that lies two miles south of the channel at the edge of the lake. The flood waters also covered the rails and berm of the Tonapah and Tidewater (T&T) Railroad that ran up the center of the playa. Buildings were raised and moved across to a location on the east side of Highway 129. The rails were also moved to the east. Railroad crews cut a trench from the lake to the channel gap in an attempt to pump the water through the gap and into the old channel. The attempt failed. The trench is still visible in places. Silver Lake was the most active settlement in this part of the desert from 1906 to 1916. The construction of Highway 91 (now I-15) caused businesses to move to Baker and signaled the end. The Silver Lake Station on the T&T line remained active until sometime in the 30s and the rails were removed during WWII. A friend and I visited Silver Lake a few months ago. To get there: Drive north on Highway 129 to the power line road that crosses the highway about nine miles north of Baker. Drive west ¼ of a mile on the power line road and park. Walk due north 1/3 of a mile to the gap. The channel is not visible from the road and it’s pretty easy to miss, however, if you find and follow the trench that was dug by the railroad crew you’ll be headed in the right way.
PEGLEG SMITH'S LOST GOLD
Over the years, many treasure seekers, folks armed with the latest metal detector and back issues of Desert Magazine, have ventured into the lower deserts of California searching for the lost gold mine of Thomas L. (Pegleg) Smith. His tale of riches, repeated numerous times over the years, goes something like this: While on a beaver trapping expedition in Arizona, Smith and a companion reached the Colorado River near what is now Yuma Arizona and from there proceeded across California’s desolate and uninhabited southern desert. They traveled on horse back with bales of hides packed on mules that trailed behind. They hoped to find a market for beaver pelts in Los Angeles. On the way, they encountered a severe sandstorm and soon became lost. When the wind subsided, Smith climbed one of three small hills to determine which direction they should head. He picked up some small black stones which he thought contained copper. Years later he became aware that the items in his pocket were nuggets of pure gold encrusted with some dark mineral. This is the essence of what has, for over 170 years, been told and retold. Details vary, but it’s generally believed by most that the mine, if it exists, will be found either on the east side of the Imperial Valley near the Chocolate Mountains or on the west side in the Borrego foothills somewhere near the monument dedicated to Smith’s memory.
After plowing through 15 articles and untold letters to the editor of Desert Magazine, I decided, against my better judgment, to try and find the truth about Smith and his many adventures. As those of you among my limited readership know, I’ve avoided stories about lost gold mines and buried treasure. But Pegleg Smith has become so much a part of desert lore that I decided to give it a shot. Thomas L Smith was born in Kentucky in 1801 and died in San Francisco in 1866. That’s a fact, take my word for it. In 1824, he joined a wagon caravan heading for Santa Fe, New Mexico which, at that time, was part of Mexico. He left the caravan at Taos and with three other trappers headed for the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. At the end of that season he returned to Taos with stories of his travel through central Utah’s Sevier Valley up to where the Green joins the Colorado River. [Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine, July 1860] During the 1826-27 season, Smith joined an expedition into Arizona led by the famous “mountain man” and trapper Ewing Young. Their course wandered through tributaries of the Salt River and down the Gila to its junction with the Colorado River near the present town of Yuma. The homeward leg took them up the Colorado River and on into Utah. Smith is specifically named as being a member of this expedition. [“The sketch of the Life of George C Yount”] As far as I can tell, this was the only time that he was in the Yuma area and there’s no mention of his leaving the group with a companion for a desert trip to Los Angeles. Smith’s account of this expedition [San Francisco daily Evening Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1866] is fairly close to that of George Yount. At the close of this season, Smith returned to St. Louis where he remained only a short time. All 1827-28 expeditions by Americans were forced by the authorities to confine their trapping to areas outside of what was then Mexico. During this season, Smith partnered with a group trapping the area north of the Platte River in Colorado. It was on this trip that Smith lost his foot and the lower part of his leg. 41
As he tells it, “I was ambushed by an Indian and shot in the leg”. After the leg was successfully amputated, the party waited around and when Smith refused to die, they slung him between two horses and continued on to the north. Bad weather forced them to take winter quarters near the Colorado-Wyoming border. Smith emerged in the spring with a wooden stump that he had whittled out of an oak sapling and a new name. Smith tells a reporter that during the 1829 season he and his partners trapped the Santa Clara and Rio Virgin rivers in Utah. “As the season was not half over, it was decided that two of the party should take the spoils to Los Angeles and dispose of them. Smith was one of those commissioned to perform the duty as it was considered to be extra hazardous. He was successful and was so pleased with the country that he determined to make it his future home”. [San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, October 26, 1866]. If true, the two trappers probably followed the Spanish Trail across the Mojave and through Cajon Pass and not, as some believe crossed the southern route through Imperial Valley. No mention of finding black gold on this trip. By 1840, the fur trade had reached an end forcing the “mountain men” to find other ways to survive in order to remain in the West. A few, including Pegleg Smith, began stealing horses from ranches in the southern and central parts of California. Spanish records suggest that Smith was feared by the authorities who referred to him as El Cojo, the lame one. The raids continued until the end of the war with Mexico and accession of California to the United States. [Pieced together by David Lavender, “Bent’s Fort”. 1954] He tried his luck in the Sierra gold fields and in 1850 decided to go south find some partners, get outfitted and start to look for his lost hills of gold. “He penetrated as far as Warner’s Ranch, where a band of Indians swooped down on his train and stole everything that they did not kill, leaving only Pegleg and his mule to survive the expedition”. [The Examiner, San Francisco, Feb. 21, 1892]
Smith spent his final years in San Francisco wandering along Montgomery Street spinning yarns and, for the price of a shot of whisky, entertaining his listeners with an Indian war-whoop. [San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1866] What about Black gold? “As far as I know there is no black gold. The nature of gold is that it does not discolor, tarnish, oxidize, decompose, corrode or otherwise mix with hardly any other substance…” so says an interpreter speaking for the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.” There is a lot we don’t know about the man. But from what I’ve uncovered so far I doubt that there ever was a lost black gold stash. I kind of hope I’m wrong, you know, those of us who write about the West don’t want to spoil a perfectly good yarn especially one as old as this.
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