California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west
- Name: Dusty Road
The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog 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.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Thursday, November 06, 2014
Gold Bar Incident at Rhyolite
Friday, June 20, 2014
Monday, February 17, 2014
Customers eventually got in the habit of leaving some of their money at the wicket for safe keeping All Billy needed was their name and the amount.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Jack Longstreet -- Reluctant Gunfighter
Andrew Jackson Longstreet, miner, rancher and reluctant gunfighter entered life some time in the 1830s possibly in Louisiana. He claimed to be a distant relative of Confederate General James Longstreet but there’s no evidence to support that claim. Some writers claim that Jack Longstreet fought in the Civil War – again there is no evidence of his having served on either side.
He tells that early in his career a posse of ranchers caught a gang of cattle rustlers with whom he was riding. Longstreet was spared the fate of his partners because of his tender age of fourteen. However, as punishment, they cut off one of his ears.
His well-established reputation with a .44 preceded his arrival in southern Nevada in 1882. According to some who knew him, Jack was tall with wide shoulders -- a man who kept to himself like a few others that arrived a few steps ahead of the law.
Jack came from the South and worked on the Colorado River while trying his hand at prospecting in the Arizona Territory. From there he migrated to Muddy Valley - - an area settled by Mormons a few years earlier.
A newspaper reported that a man named Longstreet opened a saloon and drug store in the town of St. Tomas. That’s interesting. In those days he would have sold patent medicines such as Caffy’s Elixir or Vapor-Oil Treatment No. 6 both containing alcohol and opium sufficient to render his customers easy prey at the poker table.
His next enterprise took shape on a 160 acre ranch near the Moapa Indian Reservation where he raised horses and a few cattle that came with questionable title. Here he befriended the local tribes, learned their language and strongly supported their grievance against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for all manner of mismanagement by the superintendant.
Jack had some education as shown by letters that he wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington listing specific charges against the superintendant -- letters that led to the superintendant’s dismissal.
The local ranchers held weekly horse races where sizable bets were made. Jack had a pony that won more races than it lost. His neighbor Alexander Dry sported a pony that on one occasion won a good sum of money from Jack. That loss along with a number of other issues led to a state of hostility between the two.
By spring, the two men seemed on better terms and were seen riding out of town together one afternoon. That evening Longstreet returned alone and turned himself in to the deputy sheriff claiming that he had shot Dry in self-defense. He stated that Dry had drawn on him and he was forced to kill him.
Dry had done some killing on his own the year before so his death drew no sympathy from the locals. The justice-of-the-peace accepted Longstreet’s account and being that there had been no witnesses to the shooting ruled self-defense.
A restless nature along with unpaid back taxes served as good reason to move on to new adventures.
The Oasis Valley, located 90 miles northwest of the Moapa Reservation, had a good stream with grassland on both sides -- ideal for raising horses. Records show that Longstreet filed a homestead on 160 acres at the north end of the valley. His intension was to do some prospecting in the surrounding country while leaving his ranch in the care of a neighbor.
The Sylvania Mining Camp got started on its second tent revival when Jack arrived to open a saloon. Jack displayed his unusual nature by shooting holes in the top of the saloon tent as a warning to his patrons that gun play was not allowed.
In the early 1890s, unrest among the southern Indian tribes became apparent as large groups engaged in strange ghost dances portending the arrival of a messiah bringing fire and deadly snow storms. White settlers became alarmed fearing a native uprising.
One evening, a group of natives led by Longstreet surrounded the home of the superintendent of the Sylvania Mine. After being rousted from his bed, the man took flight around his yard while the natives swatted his naked backside with sticks.
The beating was not without merit. The Indians who worked at the mine were owed a sizable sum in back wages. The incident caused the superintendent more embarrassment than pain and led to the workers receiving their due.
The superintendent filed a complaint against Longstreet along with a number of the Indians involved. This led to a warrant for their arrest issued by the sheriff of Inyo County. The sheriff stated that because of Longstreet’s unpredictable and dangerous nature he would be unable to raise a posse willing to go after him.
One of the deputies sent word to Jack that he should leave the area until things blow over. He took the deputy’s advice and headed for the Mexican Border remaining there for the next four years.
Ash Meadows, a boggy screed of desert located near Death Valley, attracted a number of early settlers looking for a place to raise cattle. The water ran on or near the surface creating small pools and some stands of grass. On his return to Nevada, Longstreet acquired an existing ranch and built a cabin near one of the pools. Now in his 50s, still carrying himself like a much younger man, he remained without question the best shooter south of Salt Lake City.
Angus McArthur a nearby rancher found out about the lapsed assessments and filed a claim on one of the mines named the Chispa. The Montgomery brothers eventually found financial backing and returned to start operation at the Chispa totally ignoring McArthur’s legal claim.
McArthur’s men captured the Chispa Mine without firing a shot. They brought in provisions and prepared for a battle that surely would come.
According to newspaper accounts, the Montgomery backers raised an army determined to retake the mine. Some claimed that at least 20 armed men had set up their camp below the mine entrance.
The action started early one morning, when a shot rang out toppling Paul Foot as he sat eating his breakfast. It soon became apparent that the Montgomery brothers had overwhelming numbers and surrender was the best way out.
Longstreet signaled the end of the standoff when he came out of the mine waving his wife’s white petticoat. Montgomery agreed to let them ride out and get help for Paul Foot who died later that day of his wound. The shooter was never identified but was believed to be Harry Ramsey a miner and gunfighter who reportedly had seven notches carved on the handle of his gun.
The Belmont newspapers reported that two men had been shot and that Longstreet had been killed at the Montgomery District. The story was corrected a few days later when Jack Longstreet rode into town. The county had difficulty deciding whom to prosecute. McArthur was not charged for taking the mine by force because that would open questions about his legal claim to the mine which Montgomery didn’t want brought up.
Jack needed to find a secluded place were he would be left alone. The Kawich Mountains located southeast of Tonopah drew his attention and the Red Rock Ranch nestled in a protected canyon would meet his need.
The Edward Clifford family ranched at a place in Stone Canyon. For some reason they had it in for Longstreet almost as soon as he arrived and accused him of butchering one of their cattle.
An argument between Jack and one of Clifford’s sons broke out in an office in Tonopah. When Longstreet pulled his gun a witness hit his arm and the shot went wide. A rancher friend of Longstreet had been murdered and the Clifford family had been suspected of some involvement in the crime. Jack believed that Clifford wanted to silence him from publicly accusing them of foul play.
The next encounter is best described by the court record of the trial charging Longstreet with assault with intent to kill: According to Clifford and his witnesses: “He accompanied by his son-in-law J.B. Nay were riding toward their home at Stone Cabin when at a point near Low Pass they met Longstreet and Jim Smith. They were dismounted within about 150 yards and Longstreet was carrying a gun. They at once dismounted and almost immediately two shots came from Longstreet one taking effect in Nay’s left leg”.
Jack testified that: “The Clifford family wanted to silence him because he kept talking about the murder of his friend. That he was out gathering cattle near the Red Rock Ranch when the Clifford party suddenly appeared over the little rise about 300 yards away galloping rapidly toward him. At a distance they dismounted and shot twice at him, one bullet tearing up the dirt at his feet. He fired back at the only man of the party who had not taken cover”.
Longstreet’s attorney Key Pittman’s brilliant cross-examination demolished the Clifford witnesses one by one. The Jury took only two hours to render their verdict: not guilty.
A place called Windy Canyon became Longstreet’s next asylum. Now in his 60s, with some wealth accumulated from the sale of his ranches and mining interests, he would spend his remaining years doing some mining at a place called Longstreet.
He would add one more notch to his Colt long barrel .44 by putting three holes in his brother-in-law Bob Black. A man wanted by the authorities for a number of murders committed upon his tribesmen at Ash Meadows.
After the Bob Black incident, Longstreet seemed to stay out of trouble. No more shootings or other actions that might have captured the attention of those who closely followed his career. He survived into his 90s still active, still winning horse races. The end came as a result of a self-inflicted gun shot wound to his upper arm and shoulder that led to complications. He died in 1928 and is buried at the Belmont Cemetery.
Friday, March 01, 2013
RACE FOR THE GOLD
Senator William Clark had made his millions in the Montana copper mines and had recently completed construction of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (SPLA&SL) that generally followed the old wagon road connecting Salt Lake City to Southern California -- a line that would later become part of the Union Pacific network.
Clark suggested that Smith would be better advised to build a short-line from his Salt Lake railhead at Las Vegas to the Lila C Mine a mere 50 miles rather than build a new line 130 miles from the Santa Fe Railroad at Ludlow. It sounded like a good idea to Smith provided he would get preferred shipping rates. They shook hands and Clark agreed to prepare a contract for the deal that they had discussed.
The crew graded eleven miles and started constructing a connection with the Salt Lake railhead when an attorney representing Senator Clark appeared and handed Ryan a trespass notice stating that there was no agreement to allow connection to the Salt Lake line.
Smith was furious when he found out about the double-crossing Senator’s trespass notice and made his feeling widely known.
John Ryan, a tough, take-no-prisoners Irishman, was sent to New York to confront the Senator on his return from a trip to Europe. Clark barely got his feet on the dock when Ryan shoved the trespass notice under his nose and demanded an explanation. After gathering his composure, Clark admitted that he had decided to build his own rails to the Tonopah mines and that he figured Smith would be forced to ship Borax on his railroad. He also pointed out to Ryan that there was no written agreement which, unfortunately, was true.
Smith had guessed that things weren’t quite right before he ever got the notice and had started negotiations with Santa Fe for a connection at Ludlow. He lost no time in having his crew rerouted to begin building his railroad north from that point to the Lila C borax mine
Clark might have had a twinge of conscience about what he had pulled and sent a check to reimburse the Borax Company for the right-of-way that had been graded and the rails that had been delivered. Smith never acknowledged the gesture. He would get even with the Senator in the years to come.
The string of silver and gold discoveries that stretched from Tonopah south to Gold Center had acquired worldwide attention. Prospectors, merchants, gamblers and sporting women arrived from as far north as Nome, Alaska and included such notables as Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil.
Jim Butler tells how while prospecting he awoke one morning to find that his burro had disappeared. After searching for half a day, he found the critter standing near a rock- strewn outcrop. When he got near the pile he picked up one of the rocks intending to throw it at the beast. Somehow, that rock weighed too much for its size and later proved to be laden with silver. (This is one of many stories that Butler told about his discovery.) Soon the area around Butler’s claims became infested with prospect corner posts and marked-off, city lots. They named it Tonopah.
Two years later Tom Fisher, a Shoshone Indian, came into to town with a hunk of gold that he found south of Tonopah in the Columbia Mountains. The area had been prospected a few years earlier but nothing had come of it. The district was named Grandpa at that time.
Fisher’s discovery suggested that the area deserved another look. And it didn’t take long before ore rich in gold poured out of incline shafts or tunnels to be stacked and waiting for wagons to begin the journey to mills in distance places. Renamed Goldfield it would become the richest and longest lasting gold district in the state of Nevada.
The final link in the chain of discoveries took place in 1904 by two burro-chasing prospectors at a place they named Bullfrog. Shorty Harris had been in on at least five previous camps and would go on to a start-up called Harrisburg located in the Panamint Mountains.
Shorty’s partner Ed Cross found evidence of high grade gold and they staked their claim. Shorty’s problem was that he couldn’t keep a secret. As soon as he let the word out, prospectors piled in from surrounding mining camps and located the richest claims. Another settlement located nearby, named Rhyolite, became the center of activity for the entire basin.
The race for the gold was on. Clark’s Las Vegas & Tonopah (LV&T) railroad had a head start thanks to the right-of-way that Smith’s crew had surveyed and graded. The LV&T reached Indian Springs over 43 miles before a blade got dropped to start grading the Borax road. Clark doubled his crews and a few months later the first locomotive pulled into Gold Center one-hundred and sixteen miles from Las Vegas.
Borax Smith figured that his railroad being closer to the Los Angeles market would give travelers better access to the Nevada mines and to Death Valley. He named it the Tonopah & Tidewater (T&T), a line that never reach either destination. Clark would depend on freighting ore from the gold camps while Smith would compete for that business but hauling borax would remain the primary purpose of his line
Senator Clark won the race to Goldfield and celebrated the event by pounding the final rail spike at the LV&T Goldfield Station on October 28, 1907. The LV&T now provided rail service to the major gold producing districts in Southern Nevada and was the first to give access to Rhyolite and the Bullfrog District.
Goldfield would soon be served by three railroads; two from the south and one from the north. The line from the north was composed of three separate companies extending from Tonopah to Gold Center.
The Tonopah & Tidewater finally reach Gold Center and started service on October 30, 1907. The trains would have access to Goldfield by use of the Goldfield & Bullfrog short-line from Gold Center.
The LV&T made money when competition proved in Clark’s favor. But the bank panic of 1907 caused a decline in shipping so all of the railroads lost money. Many of the mines went idle while most of the local banks were forced to close.
The LV&T continued to operate, either losing money or barely breaking even until 1918 when, for many reasons, Senator Clark’s gold seeking railroad finally had reached the end of the line. Clark would have been better served if he had honored the handshake with Smith and agreed to haul borax for him. Over the years (1907 to 1929), during which the borax mines were active, he could have made a tidy profit without investing a dime.
The demand for borax continued to make money for Smith while the little T&T with its mixed trains kept his refinery furnaces busy making soap. The Death Valley mines had a good run but production began to decline during the 20s and all of the mines became inactive in 1929.
The T&T, continued rail-service for the benefit of other southern Nevada mines, hauling freight and running a few scheduled passenger cars. The company wanted to discontinue service but the government’s railroad regulating agencies wouldn’t give their approval because of outstanding bond indebtedness. However, agreement between the company and the government was reached after the 1938 flood waters swept away large sections of the line.
All service on the Tonopah and Tidewater ended on December 31, 1939. Removal of the rails was completed by the end of 1942.
Abandoned railroads have their followers. Folks who enjoy hiking or driving next to an old railroad bed can locate old railroad crossings and stations. There are plenty of opportunities along the Tonopah and Tidewater line.
The raised railroad berm can be seen at a number of places along Highway 127 between Baker and Death Valley Junction.
In 1916, flood waters filled the Silver Lake basin forcing the company to move the tracks from the lakebed to the east side of Highway 127. The berm of the original right-of-way can still be clearly seen running along the center of the lakebed.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
SECRET AIRFIELD AT HARPER LAKE
I heard the story a number of years ago and decided to look into it. Howard Hughes had become an aviation pioneer back in the 30s when a few of his employees began making airplanes as part of the Hughes Tool Company, a firm started by his father. In 1935, he designed and built a twin engine plane in which he set a new landplane airspeed record of 352 miles an hour.
In 1939, the Hughes Aircraft Company undertook the production of a pursuit bomber that was designated the D-2. Hughes hoped to sell it to the government who had started awarding contracts for military aircraft.
During the years immediately preceding the war, competition among airframe manufacturers for government contracts became intense. Hughes was among the most competitive and also the most secretive about his want. For that reason, the D-2 would be assembled and tested at a secluded location in the Mojave Desert.
The disassembled parts of the D-2 arrived by truck at night and were quickly stored in the hanger. Most of the workers, sworn to secrecy, lived in housing nearby. Work stations required no outside servicing and vehicle access to the facility remained a simple cattle trail.
When the officers arrived at the Los Angeles Airport to start inspecting the factories, they were taken by limousine to Warner Bros. film studio where Elliot was introduced to the actress Fey Emerson. The group spent the next three days being wined and dined at parties and nightclubs all courtesy of Howard Hughes.
The D-2 had been turned down by the Air Force a number of months earlier because it lacked adequate airspeed and fell short of other military requirements.
Test flights of the D-2, took place during the month of May 1943, revealing a number of un-resolvable stability problems. When it became clear that the problems could not be solved, Hughes abruptly abandoned the project. A fire then, under mysterious circumstances, destroyed the hanger along with the plane. The official report stated that lightening was the probable cause of the fire.
Hughes made sure that all evidence of the project disappeared from the site including ashes, charred pieces of wood and metal, foundations, utility lines and other structures – all hauled to a secret burial site somewhere out on the desert.
When Elliot returned to the East Coast, Fey Emerson was there to greet him and continued the party in Manhattan nightclubs again, courtesy of Howard Hughes.
Roosevelt’s positive report to higher authorities cleared all channels and gave Hughes a contract for the development of a reconnaissance plain designated FX-11. It resembled the D-2 with changes that met specific government requirements.
Flight test of the second XF-11 was a success. But, the surrender of Japan had by then brought an end to the Second World War and the cancelation of all government contracts for new aircraft.
In 1947, both Hughes and Roosevelt were brought before a Senate Subcommittee hearing to account for financial irregularities regarding the XF-11 and to answer embarrassing questions about Hollywood parties, girls in hotels, nightclub bills, and race track betting. Roosevelt testified that he had never heard of the XF-11 and that the parties appeared to have happened on days when he was out of the country on active duty.
The press gave them a good roasting which promoted some public outcry but nothing came of it. Roosevelt went on to other things, divorced his third wife and married Fey Emerson.
A trace of the two runways can still be seen on Google Earth at 35 2.373; 117 20.412 From federal land records, it appears that the airfield is on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and not closed to public access.
Harper Lake is located about 20 miles northwest of Barstow near the town of Hinkley. The landing field is located at the northeast corner of the Abengoa Mojave Solar Plant. To get there, take Harper Lake Road to where it ends at a fence line, turn to the left and go around the plant on desert roads shown on Google Earth to the north end of the field.