DESERT EXPLORER

California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west

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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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

GOLDFIELD

Long ago, Nevada’s Columbia Mountains hosted a stream of gold infested super-heated mineral that arrived from far below the ancient volcanic rock that gave form to the range.  A few prospectors who arrived soon after the discovery became very wealthy. They named it Goldfield.

Crude buildings appeared along bladed streets that defined the town, while mounds of gold bearing ore peaked at mine entrances awaiting mule-drawn wagons to haul it to mills in Tonopah.   

Unfortunately, some dwellings were built on existing placer claims that made it difficult for owners to prove what they owned and made it possible for those, so disposed, to camp on the property claiming squatter-rights.  The end of a gun barrel often settled such disputes.  

Tex Richards, a man of good business sense, opened one of the largest saloons in town investing money that he had made in the Alaskan Gold Rush.  The sixty foot bar required twelve bartenders who served six barrels of whiskey a day.  It was named The Northern featuring faro, blackjack, poker and roulette in what some considered “pretentious” surroundings. 

Billy Murray worked the racetracks before setting out for Goldfield.  Tex hired him to handle the cashier’s wicket at the Northern.  The wicket manager was responsible for holding and dispensing money for the dealers -- keeping their money in a safe behind the cage. 

Billy kept track of the money by writing the name of the dealer and the amount deposited in a notebook.  When the dealer needed cash Billy would simply subtract that amount from the amount deposited

 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.  




The financial panic of 1907 paralyzed the country causing banks to fail as depositors lined up to withdraw their savings. Those who knew Billy brought their retrieved savings to the wicket for safe keeping.

 In fact, there was so much customer money stacked around behind the cashier’s cage that one of the dealers agreed to haul it down the alley late at night and deposit it in the John J Cook Bank.   Billy claimed that these night deposits made that bank solvent so that the doors could open for business the next day.  The run on the John J Cook Bank soon ended thanks to Billy.  Old timers claimed that some of that money made at least three trips down that alley.

Goldfield eventually became the richest and longest producing mining town in the state of Nevada.   And, the Goldfield Consolidate Mining Company became the most successful operator.  By 1910, the population of Goldfield had reach 20,000 making it the largest city in Nevada at that time.  





Those who worked below ground could walk out of the mine with their pockets and jacket linings filled with high-grade ore that found its way to certain back-street assayer’s.   The mine owners looked the other way as long as profits were high.  That changed however; when the mines went deeper and the cost of recovery went higher. 

Confrontation broke out between owners and miners when dressing rooms were introduced near the mine entrance and miners were required to change their clothes before their tour under ground.  No more easy money. Wages at that time ranged around four dollars a day.   
The confrontation brought union organizers who had succeeded in organizing miners at Cripple Creek and other camps in Colorado.   The American Labor Union had made some inroads organizing miners in Goldfield.  But the real threat to management came from the communist-inspired International Workers of the World who used strong-arm tactics to enforce their will.



After some back and forth negotiations between labor and management, a strike took effect and the mines went idle.  The economic conditions were such that the mine owners could afford the time to renegotiated wages to their benefit.  But, the threat that strikers might resort to the destruction of property led to a call by the governor for United States Army troops stationed at the federal garrison at San Francisco.

Soon after the troops arrived, the strike ended.  The miners went back to work and the soldiers went back to San Francisco. 

Nevada was one of the few states that allowed professional prizefights.   The most famous fight occurred in 1897 -- a fourteen-round fest between James Corbett and Jim Fitzsimons for the World’s heavyweight title. That fight took place in Reno.

The sports pages of eastern newspapers clamored for a showdown between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson for the world’s lightweight title.  Tex Richards kept his eyes open for ways to make money without digging holes in the ground.   “Why don’t we host the fight here in Goldfield?” he asked a few of his associates. “Let’s get some of the leading citizens together to sponsor the fight.”

The Goldfield Athletic Club resulted from Richards’ effort.   The club made the necessary contact with eastern fight promoters, raised the guaranteed prize money for the fighters and built a ring with bleachers to accommodate the anticipated large number of fight fans that would attend.

The two fighters arrived in town in the latest automobiles giving rise to celebrations along Main Street.  Trains from all directions brought fight fans including celebrities and wealthy industrialist, some arriving in their private Pullman cars hungry to be seen and reported.

As a result of all the hoopla, Goldfield received front page coverage in most newspapers throughout the country.  As Tex Richards predicted, Goldfield had made the big time. [2]

With the temperature nearing one-hundred degrees, the longest fight in the history of boxing took place on Labor Day 1906.  The two fighters traded blows for 43 rounds with Gans receiving the lightweight title from the referee after Nelson delivered a low punch.

A movie camera followed the fight round-by-round until the cameraman ran out of film.  The production was shown in theaters around the world and can now be seen on YouTube. 

Tex Richards went on to promote a number of famous heavyweight fights during the 1920s and 30s.  He, along with John Ringling, founded Madison Square Garden in New York City dedicated to showcasing prizefights and other sporting events.

Goldfield proved more stubborn than most towns that depended on digging for gold.  After 1910, interest in new discoveries began to draw prospectors and others to nearby camps such as Gold Reed, Silver Arrow, Blake’s Camp and Bonnie Clark.   Profits decreased as the quality of gold baring ore declined. The major companies, however, continued operations until the end of World War I.



In 1913 a major flood swept away large section of the town. Ten years later fire destroyed Main Street and the adjacent twenty-five block business district.  It was believed that the fire got started by a whisky still that exploded in a garage located on Main Street.

A few significant buildings managed to survive flood, fire and the passage of time.

We visited the town a few years ago and took photographs of some of the buildings.  For those interested, Goldfield is an easy drive from Las Vegas up Highway 95.
         


 

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.

The well known Montgomery Brothers opened two mines at a nearby camp called Johnnie. They left the mines unattended while they went in search of needed capital for their development. Unfortunately, the required assessment work on the mines had not been completed. This allowed their claims on the properties to laps.

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 decided that rather than fight the brothers in court he would take possession of the mine by force. He got four men to join his cause for a piece of the mine -- Paul Foot, Billy Moyer, George Morris and Jack Longstreet -- men reported as “desperate professional fighters”.

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.

Finally, the county prosecutor charged Longstreet, Morris and Moyer with the ridiculous charge of drawing and exhibiting deadly weapons. In those days that could hardly be considered a crime. The three were found guilty, given a hefty fine and released after posting bail. Jack swore that he would never again use a local attorney to plead his defense.

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

A chance meeting between two mining barons took place at the Pacific Union Club in San Francisco on April 10, 1905. Relaxed in high-backed leather chairs and smoking expensive hand-wrapped cigars, they casually discussed the business of building railroads.

Francis Marion Smith had made his fortune mining borax in such isolated places as Teel’s Marsh, Fish Lake Valley in Nevada and Death Valley also Calico in the Mojave Desert. He was planning to build a railroad to bring borax from his Lila C Mine, located on the east side of Death Valley, to his refinery in Los Angeles.

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.
On the basis of the handshake, Borax Smith (as he was known) organized his crew and ordered his field manager John Ryan to start grading a roadbed from Corn Creek back toward the Las Vegas Valley and the Salt Lake line.

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 initial headquarters and rail yards were located at Ludlow. A few building remains can be seen along Main Street.

The raised railroad berm can be seen at a number of places along Highway 127 between Baker and Death Valley Junction.

The Silver Lake Station was located at the edge of Silver Lake eight miles north of Baker. It became a commercial center for the surrounding desert mining camps. Nothing remains there now except a well and a few foundations.

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.

Nearby China Ranch and the Amargosa Canyon are worth a visit especially for hikers.

Death Valley Junction became the company headquarters after the Ludlow sector was abandoned. The remaining buildings include the famous opera house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From Death Valley Junction, the T&T line continued to Gold Center, a small settlement south of Beatty, Nevada. At Gold Center it joined the Goldfield & Bullfrog Railroad and provided train service to Rhyolite and Goldfield. Gold Center is locate south of Beatty near Airport Road (Google Earth 36, 52.415; 116, 45.952)















Thursday, November 08, 2012

SECRET AIRFIELD AT HARPER LAKE

Stories about a secret airfield and underground factory still circulate among folks living in our Barstow outpost. It had to do with Harper Lake and the elusive Howard Hughes during World War II. The men who worked at the factory, it is told, were sworn to not divulge anything about what was going on there. A secret that some took to their grave.

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.

The D-2, with its twin engines and duel tail assembly resembled the Lockheed P-38, a fighter reconnaissance aircraft. The major components of the D-2 took form at the Hughes plant located in Culver City.

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.

Harper, a remote lakebed located 85 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, was selected for final assembly and flight testing. The airfield featured two runways: one, a 45% bladed surface running to the northeast linked to a second runway strip running due north from the southwest corner of the field. The hanger, a completely enclosed building with state-of-the-art air conditioning, probably occupied a site near the junction of the two runways.

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.

The Air Force had received proposals from a number of aircraft factories in California for a reconnaissance plane to replace the P-38. Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, the son the President, Franklin Roosevelt, headed a group of Air Force officers given the task of evaluating the proposals. (ROOSEVELT)

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.

The group of officers spent a day at the Culver City plant, before being flown by Hughes to the secret airfield for inspection of his D-2 prototype. The team, of course, visited other aircraft companies as part of the selection process before returning east.

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.

The question remains: did an underground factory exist here as the Barstow folks claim? Maybe! It’s possible that underground rooms were extended beneath the hanger for some reason. The problem is we don’t know where the hanger was located since all of the evidence was removed. Perhaps archaeologists will uncover the answer at some time in the future.
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.

The initial flight test of the FX-11 prototype (with Hughes at the controls) crashed into a residential neighborhood. The press played it up when it was learned that Hughes had failed to follow proper test procedures.

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.

In July, 1944, the Harper Lake Airfield took on another secret mission as test-grounds for America’s first successful flight of a rocket propelled aircraft. On that date, the Northrop M 324, tethered to a P-38, lifted from the lakebed and soared over the desert. ROCKET

When it reached an altitude of 8,000 feet, test pilot Harry Crosby released the towline and triggered the ignition that fired the rocket motor. The craft stayed in flight for four minutes then successfully descended by parachute and landed back on Harper Lake. CROSBY

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.















Monday, June 25, 2012

Cerro Gordo

Any citizen of the United States can take title to public domain (federal) land in the form of a mining claim for gold, silver, copper or lead by following a few simple steps: 1) set posts at the boundary corners of the claim; 2) place a copy of the claim notice on the site; and 3) record the claim notice form with the county and with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The claimant can then proceed to drill, dig, blast, and hoist material from shafts, tunnels, drifts and winzes within the confines of the claim. And when such ore is on the surface, the claimant can transport, pulverize, screen, sort, shake, smelt, wash and separate out valuable minerals for sale on the open market.

This is the way it has been in California since the 1870s. For decades, gold and silver discoveries sprouted in desert mountain ranges all across the southern region. Prospectors arrived at new camps unbent in their belief that here at last they will find the next big strike. Within a very short time, every acre in every direction will be staked and the aspect of a settlement will emerge. Such an event occurred in the 1870s on Cerro Gordo Peak located in the Inyo Mountains.

Sometimes the local courts were called upon to settle boundary disputes not only on the surface of the claim but also on the claim’s reach underground. Silver and gold ledges and veins dip and spread in all directions crossing in such manner that only an experienced mining engineer could give credible testimony as to who owned what.

Mortimer Belshaw proved to be a capable silver miner who had learned his trade in Sinaloa, Mexico. By the time he arrived at the mining camp of Cerro Gordo, silver production was showing great promise. Belshaw could see opportunities and became excited about the prospect of building a state-of-the-art blast furnace perched on Buena Vista Peak over looking the growing settlement.

Belshaw’s partner Victor Beaudry, a local merchant, had been acquiring valuable mining properties over a number of years. He did so by simply giving credit to local mine operators for their purchases. These men were often unable to pay their bills and would settle their account by giving shares of stock in their mine to Beaudry. His bits of mining stock added up to sizable interests in a number of good silver producers including the Union Mine.

The Belshaw-Beaudry partnership prospered as the two acquired more mining properties and their furnaces hissed and belched forth silver ingots in such quantity that the steep and narrow road to the valley became over crowed with silver loaded wagons leaving and other wagons arriving laden with fuel for the lusty furnaces.

Their competition came from owners of the adjacent San Felipe mine, the ore from which was processed at the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Company at Swansea located at the edge of Owens Lake. This proximity of the two claims gave rise to disagreement over extent of the underlying ore bodies. Belshaw complained that access to the San Felipe ore cut through his claim.

When owners of the San Felipe defaulted on their mortgage, the sheriff took possession of the mine and placed the property up for auction. To no ones surprise, the Belshaw-Beaudry partnership was the only bidder with ready cash to cover the loan. By law, the owners would have six months from the date of the sale to pay off the debt and redeem their property.

From this point, the story plays like a bad western. Just days before the end of the six month redemption period, the owners were able to raise over four thousand dollars in gold coin from investors in San Francisco. A man named M.A. Wheeler left San Francisco in a frantic dash by train and stage to arrive at the sheriff’s office in Independence within hours of the deadline. The sheriff was conveniently out of town on that day and his deputy refused to accept the money. He was told by a local attorney that he could not sign for the gold.

Wheeler stood in the doorway of the sheriff’s office watching the deputy ride out of town leaving the pile of gold coins sitting on the sheriff’s desk. A passing citizen, puzzled by the deputy’s abrupt departure, agreed to sign a paper on which he verified that the gold had been delivered to the Sheriff’s Office before the deadline.

G. M. Fisher, part owner and manager of Owens Lake Silver-Lead Company, checked with the county and found that the recording date for the San Felipe claim predated the Union claim by a few months. He was sure that at trial the original owners would regain title to not only the San Felipe but the Union mine as well. Based on these findings, Fisher bought a controlling interest from the original owners of the San Felipe mine and filed suit in the Inyo County court.

The law suit to determine ownership of the richest silver mines in California convened during the month of January 1873, and lasted for nine days. The plaintive, G.M. Fisher, sought return of the San Felipe property and surrender of the Union mine plus damages. The defendants, sought retention of both properties.

The judge ruled that the redemption money (gold) had reached the Sheriff Office before the deadline and ownership of the San Felipe claims thereby reverted to the original owners.

After days of testimony by mining experts on both sides and arguments by both attorneys, the jury was left to decide whether or not the underlying ore bodies were connected. If the ore bodies were connected then the San Felipe, because of a prior claim date, would take position of both the Union and San Felipe properties.

Finally, the judge decided that the only sure way to find out would be to remove rock and gravel along the common claim line down to the ore body and see if they were indeed connected. This led to a confrontation instigated by Belshaw between the miners from the Union and men sent by the judge to do the digging. The matter was settled when Belshaw was found in contempt of the judge’s order and fined.

The men sent by the judge’s order to do the digging, reported back to the court that, after removing rock and gravel along the common claim line down to the two ore bodies they did find that indeed the two were connected. The jury took less than three hours to find for the plaintive. Fisher and the other remaining owners of the San Felipe had won the case and one million dollar in damages. The losers, Belshaw and Beaudry, immediately demanded a retrial.

A “stay of execution” was issued by the court pending outcome of an appeal to the State Supreme Court for a new trial. This allowed the Union to continue processing ore for the next three years while the case inched its way through the halls of Sacramento.

During that period, Belshaw expanded his operations doubling the labor force and enlarging capacity of his furnaces to such a degree that by the time the Supreme Court remanded a retrial, most of the silver deposits throughout the range had been exhausted.

In 1876, the bitter struggle between the two mining camps came to a close when G.M. Fisher joined with Belshaw and Beaudry to consolidate their holdings and form a new company. There would now be no cause for a retrial.

A year later a fire at the Union Mine signaled the beginning of the end for Cerro Gordo. Belshaw had moved to San Francisco and miners and town folk began migrating to new discoveries leaving behind boarded up stores and vacant buildings.

The Owens Lake Company closed operations after a flood that same year buried the mill and furnaces in rubble that had poured down from the adjacent canyon.

The town had had its share of fights and gun play. On November 6, 1873, the local newspaper, The Independent, reported that, “two men fell dead at Maggie Moore’s house having been shot”. The editor went on to suggest that, “perhaps a little judicious hanging and a strong jail might be needed in Cerro Gordo to restrain its inhabitants from reaching too quickly for the weapon at their side”.

Over a nine year period, mule-drawn wagons creaked and rumbled along a two-hundred mile road that extended from Cerro Gordo to the main streets of Los Angeles. This unbelievable parade of silver arriving and merchandise returning to the mines and camps brought unexpected prosperity to the sleepy pueblo. Belshaw’s decision to ship by way of Los Angeles rather than from a rival connection offered by Bakersfield was indeed fortunate.

The old road up to the town from Owens Lake is maintained but steep and quite narrow in places. The town has a resident care take and some of the buildings have been or are in the process of restoration.

This ghost town is well worth a visit. The road connects with Hwy 136 near Keeler Check Google Earth for the location of Cerro Gordo at (36 32.267; 117 45.720).

































Monday, March 05, 2012

Incindent at Minter's Ranch - November 29, 1861

 There are no Civil War battlefields in California. In fact, no evidence of even a minor skirmish between Union and Confederate forces can be found here. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, many of those with southern leanings formed small groups: some with the intent of causing local trouble and some with the intent of joining Confederate forces in Texas. The incident at Minter’s Ranch had to do with the latter group and traced back to a vote taken by the California State Assembly on a resolution in support of Abraham Lincoln and the Union.

On that day, members of the California Assembly shouted out their vote either in favor or against the resolution. Those against the resolution were mostly southern sympathizers. Some members were allowed to give a reason for their vote. Dan Showalter, however, was denied his request to give his reason. When he loudly insisted that he be allowed to give his reason – Assemblyman Charles Piercy stood and strongly voiced his objection. Showalter then took the floor and denounced Piercy and stated, [that he had] “nothing but contempt for the gentleman from San Bernardino”.

Piercy immediately demanded a retraction. Showalter refused to give a retraction not once but twice. That night, at home, seething from the insult on his person, Piercy penned a letter challenging Showalter to a duel. Upon receipt of the letter, as expected, Showalter wrote his acceptance with “rifles at 40 paces”.

Piercy had been the sheriff of San Bernardino County for a short time before running for an open seat on the assembly. Showalter represented Mariposa County and had been a miner and strong supporter of southern causes.

The manly art of dueling had been around for a long time as a way for a gentleman to restore his honor assuming his willingness to accept the possible outcome. Dueling had been outlawed in California so the two men agreed on a location that would not attract the law.

Things didn’t go according to plan on the morning of May 25, 1861. The Marin County Sheriff arrived at the site selected for the duel and when Showalter showed up he was arrested and taken to the county jail. A few hours later the local judge dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence that a duel was about to occur. The Fairfax Estate, in Marine County, had been chosen as an alternate site for the contest, and upon release from the Marin County Jail, Showalter hurried to the gathering in time for lunch.

After a meal, hosted by Charles Fairfax, the two men took their assigned places on the field of honor measured and marked at 40 paces. It was reported that both men stood tall and wore long dark coats and wide brimmed hats that shaded their eyes. They loaded and checked their rifles and stood facing each other ready for the signal to fire. After the word “fire” was given they had until the count of three to pull the trigger. Showalter fired first and missed. Then on the count of two, Piercy fired and he also missed.

The men reloaded their rifles and again prepared for the signal. This time both men fired on the count of one. Piercy dropped to the ground with a head wound and died within minutes. His shot had gone wide. After giving a short eulogy over his fallen opponent, Showalter, along with his seconds and friends, left the estate having participated in the last duel fought in the state of California.

Men bound for Texas began their migration from California before war was declared. Well-mounted and armed, they moved in small organized groups of less than 30. Their routes varied. A few went by way of the Mojave Road crossing the Colorado River near Fort Mojave. Some went by way of the Bradshaw Trail that crossed the Colorado near Blythe. However, most of them went the southern route along the Butterfield Stage Road crossing into Mexico and bypassing U.S. troops garrisoned at Fort Yuma.

The Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, comprised of 60 men, a sizeable herd of horse and mules, and a few small wagons, left Los Angeles on the 16th of June, 1861. The group included General Albert Sidney Johnston and Major Louis A. Armistead. These two officers had resigned their Union commissions and would face charges of treason if captured. The leaders chose the southern Butterfield route along which local worthies, sympathetic to the southern cause, gave cover and warning about the location of Union troops.

General George Wright, commander of the Union Army’s Pacific Department, sat in shocked amazement when word reached him that a group of such number had crossed such distance without detection. . Troops were immediately assigned to checkpoints along the road with orders to thwart further passage along what the General termed, “the rebel’s underground railroad”.

Camp Wright, located on the trail in eastern San Diego County, was soon garrisoned by elements of the 2nd infantry. Major Edwin Rigg was given command and had barely set his tent posts when word arrived that 16 to 20 men were on the way led by Dan Showalter.

A letter giving the number and location of the group had fallen into the hands of soldiers who stopped and searched a rider who was on his way to San Diego.

After the duel, Showalter became a fugitive and headed for Los Angeles - a town teaming with rebels ready for action. Eventually, he joined a group of like-minded men willing to leave for Texas. They took the southern route from Los Angeles to Rancho del Chino then on to Temecula where they rested a day and prepare for the desert crossing.

Rigg sent a detachment to search and find these men. When the troops reached Temecula, they found that the group had left that area the day before and were headed east on the “Trail of the Padres”.

From Pala Mission the rebels followed along the San Luis Rey River avoiding the wagon road and military checkpoints finally reaching Minter’s Ranch where they camped for the night.

Late that evening the army located the rebels and prepared to attack at first light.

Without a shot being fired, Lt. Wellman and 24 troopers rode into the midst of the 18 men still in their bedrolls. When questioned, they claimed to be miners on their way to mines in Mexico. Wellman told them that if they would sign an oath of loyalty to the Union, they could be on their way. Showalter and some of the others resisted, but somehow the lieutenant got the men to stack their weapons and accompany him to Camp Wright.

After lengthy questioning, Major Rigg determined that these men were indeed bound for Texas to join southern forces. Under heavy armed guards, they were “forthwith” taken to the Territorial Prison at Fort Yuma. To the disgust of Showalter, the incident at Minter’s Ranch had ended without a whimper.

After serving five months in prison and signing a loyalty oath, the men were give a mount, a rifle and released from prison with the understanding that they would return to their homes in California. As one would expect, most of the men rode on to Texas to join the Confederacy.

Lt. Col. Daniel Showalter, 4th Arizona Cavalry, led his regiment in actions to drive Union troops out of Southern Texas. He had a drinking problem and was finally relieved of duty for being unable to command his men in the fighting around Palmetto Hill. After the Civil War, he moved to Mexico and managed a hotel in Mazatlan. He died in 1866 of injuries resulting from a bar fight.

The two officers who had ridden with the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles became outstanding leaders of southern troops and widely celebrated in the annals of the Civil War. General Albert Sidney Johnston commanded all Confederate forces from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and was killed at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. General Lewis A. Armistead died leading his brigade at Pickett’s assault, Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

One other member of “Showalter’s Rebels” deserves special mention. After release from the Yuma prison, William (Frog) Edwards decided to fight Union forces nearer at hand rather than head for Texas. A small detachment of soldiers from Fort Yuma had gathered near a store in the mining settlement of La Paz, (Arizona) located on the Colorado River. Edwards had watched the men leave a boat and walk toward the store allowing him time to set up an ambush.

Some writers claim that three soldiers were killed. Others claim that more soldiers were killed or wounded including a civilian bystander. The army searched up and down the river and out onto the desert but Williams was never captured.

Minter’s Ranch was located on Mesa Grande - a wooded plateau 20 miles N/E of Escondido in San Diego County.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AIRWAY BEACONS ACROSS THE DESERT

Rex Hicks got in his 32 Ford Utility Truck to start his rounds inspecting airway beacons and intermediate landing fields located across the desert. It was his job to make sure lamps on the towers worked and that generators that provided power had plenty of gasoline. Pilots depended on these flashing lights to guide their flight across the county at night.

At the end of World War I, the U. S. Postal Service took interest in providing airmail service between major urban centers and conducted a test flight from New York to Washington D.C. The test proved a success even though the pilot got lost and landed in Baltimore before finding his way on to Washington.

The men who flew airmail during the early years (1920s) earned a well deserved reputation as reckless, adventurous individuals held fast by the thrill of this dangerous enterprise. War surplus single engine biplanes with fabric covered wooden frames were converted to make room for fire proof mailbags. All that a pilot had in front of him was a compass, a turn and bank indicator, and an altimeter.

The government started issuing contracts for mail delivery between major cities in 1925. Henry Ford was awarded one for service between Detroit and Cleveland and another for service between Detroit and Chicago. Ford got into the air business and produced the tri-motor aircraft with an engine on each wing and one in the nose. It was the first plane made of metal and the first to fly passengers.

Anyone with a stable of fabric covered planes and a few experienced pilots could compete for a contract. Fire proof mail sacks weighing up to 500 pounds were slung into the narrow space behind the pilot. Charles Lindberg flew mail during this time.

The first test flight from New York to San Francisco succeeded in cutting two days off delivery by train. In order to beat the rails however, mail had to be continuously on the move. This called for well defined routes or “airways” connecting major cities and light beacons to guide pilots at night.

After the successful test flight, airway maps became available showing railroads and other ground features to guide pilots during the day. The placement of light beacons with lamps similar to those in coastal lighthouses began to appear along the New York to San Francisco route spaced up to 20 miles apart. Intermediate and emergency airfields were graded, marked and improved with landing lights and service facilities in addition to a beacon. They were placed at 50 mile intervals. Rex Hicks and other Airway Inspectors played an important part in the system.

Beacons were located to maximize visibility. The lantern, mounted on a steel tower, rotated with a flashing beam clear on one side and either green or red on the other. Green indicated landing field with service available. Red indicated no service available.

The steel 50 foot towers were attached to a cement base and flanked by a metal shed which housed the gasoline generator. The roof of the shed had a number painted on it that could be seen by pilots in day flight. The 1,000-watt incandescent lamp projected a clear beam of over one and a half million candlepower.

Intermediate airfields featured two runways in various configurations with a circle, 50 feet in diameter, near the center of the field. Boundary lights directed night flights to the runways.

Weather information and other flight conditions depended on airfield staff. Most fields had shortwave radios and an operator who could gather information from weather stations and pass it along to arriving pilots.

Radio beacons began to appear along airways in the early 30s providing direct ground to air communication with pilots.

Ground to air and air to air communication continued to improve and by 1940 air traffic movement and control had reached beyond the need for light beacons. By mid 1970s all of the towers and utility sheds had been removed. Today only access roads and concrete foundations remain.

The transcontinental airway system initially connected the east coast with San Francisco following generally the Union Pacific Railroad. Airmail to Los Angeles was forwarded to Los Angeles on the San Francisco to Los Angeles Airway. Routes were later added connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas and directly to the main transcontinental route via Salt Lake City. By the mid-1930s additional routes were added including Los Angeles to Phoenix and Amarillo, Los Angeles to Tucson and San Diego to Tucson. All of these routes were equipped to move airmail both day and night and ensure deliveries on schedule.

The California Desert had its share of beacons and airfields linking Los Angeles and southern California to the above destinations. The first sack of airmail arrived in Los Angeles from Salt Lake City in 1934.

Beacons and airfields are listed by airway with general location and longitude and latitude given in degrees, minutes and seconds provided by the National Geodesic Survey

The Los Angeles To Las Vegas and Salt Lake Airway crossed the Antelope Valley then generally followed along Interstate 15 to Las Vegas. From west to east tower locations are as follows:

Antelope Valley (34 46 32.67661; 118 20 36.49202) located on Highway 138 northwest of Lancaster on flat agricultural land

Lovejoy buttes (34 35 46.14720; 117 51 36.16555) located one mile west of Lake Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley

Shadow Mountain (34 41 01.14463; 117 31 49.17210) locatedat the northeast corner of El Mirage Dry Lake

Helendale (34 44 07.96921; 117 18 37.81866) located on the ridgeline east of Helendale

Barstow (34 49 26.52733; 117 00 59.63567) located south of Barstow on east side of Highway 247

Afton #1 (35 04 39.19664; 116 23 30.73359) Afton #2 (35 04 24.76575 116 23 20.81474) both located on ridge line east of Afton Canyon Road and south of Interstate Highway 15

Baker (35 16 18.52115; 116 03 55.79516) Located one mile north of Baker… Later moved to Silver Lake… The airfield provided complete air service including landing lights and beacon

Soloman’s Knob (35 23 58.7; 115 49 52) located north of Interstate Highway 15 near Halloran Summit

Kelly Field (33 34 43.5; 115 42 55.1) Established in the 30s provided some airfield services, located on Excelsior Mine Road about six miles north of Interstate Highway 15

Miscal (35 29 02.38936; 115 33 11.92998) located on Clark Mountain just north of Interstate Highway 15 at Mountain Pass

The Los Angeles to Amarillo airway followed the same route as above to Barstow where it branched to the east and followed generally along the Interstate Highway 40 to Needles Airport. From Barstow west to east

Lavic Lake (34 44 11.35344; 116 18 12.48005) located beneath the freeway near Lavic an AT&SF railroad siding

Ludlow (34 41 00.50560; 116 09 04.95262)located 2.75 miles south of Ludlow less than a mile east of Ludlow-Ragtown Road on a low hill at an elevation of 2500 feet

Bagdad Emergency Airfield (34 34 52.22383; 115 52 44.87981) Located at the Bagdad Station on south side of Old Highway 66… No service was available.

Cadiz Summit (34 44 13.53865; 114 48 28.87752) Located on the hill at the summit north side of Old Highway 66 The cement base can be found a short walk from the highway.

Goffs Intermediated Landing Field (34 56; 115 02) one and a half miles NE of Goffs Station. Complete service available.

Old Woman Mt (34 37 03.07; 115 11 10.95) Located at north end of the Old Woman Mountain Range 13 miles due south of Fenner (This beacon may have been replaced by the Goffs landing field.)

Step Ladder (34 44.407; 114 48.806) Located at north end of Step Ladder Range 10 mile west of Needles

Los Angeles to Phoenix Airway generally tracks Interstate Highway10. Towers listed from west to east from San Gorgonio Pass to Blythe

Desert Hot Springs (33 55 16.20701; 116 37 14.69114) Located east of White Water in the San Gorgonio Pass area

Mecca Hills (33 39 30.3; 115 59 10.3) Located south of Interstate Highway 10 in the Mecca Hills

Hayfield (33 39 52.8; 115 43 18.5) Located at Chiriaco Summit

Ford Dry Lake (33 39 23.63743; 115 03 51.72527) Located at the northwest edge of Ford Dry Lake on the north side of Interstate Highway 10

The Desert Center airport many have served as an intermediate airfield in the late 1930s. It has the only remaining beacon tower in the California Desert. (See photograph above).