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


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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


As the Pacific Plate moved to the northwest, it slowly unhinged the mountain chain that separated the coastal plain of Southern California from the Mojave Desert. As it happened, it created Cajon Pass, a gap between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges.  Little was known about this unusual event until the 1920s when a young geologist took an interest in the San Andreas Fault -- a rift that extends almost the length of California.

Levi Noble carried credentials of a qualified geologist with PhD and extensive field experience with the U.S. Geological Survey.  His study of rock formations in Cajon Pass led him to conclude that a “disconnect” existed across the fault zone. Terrain features and rock composition on the south side of the fault differed significantly from terrain features and rock composition on north side as if there had been lateral movement between the two sides.

In a landmark article published in 1927, Noble stated, “Scarcely anywhere in the fault zone are the rocks on the opposite sides of the master fault similar”.  He goes on, “The distribution of certain Tertiary rock masses along the master fault affords a suggestion that a horizontal shift of many miles has taken place along the rift”   

Anticipating strong disagreement from the establishment, he closed the article with, “The evidence just cited, however, is not convincing, and is certainly not definite enough to amount to proof”.

Noble makes reference to two examples of the horizontal shift in Cajon Pass:

Blue Cut -- An exposed slab of  Pelona Schist (a greenish blue crumbly mineral), located on one side of the rift faces a  very different tan colored sandstone on the other or opposite side of  the San Andreas Fault which runs through the canyon in a northwesterly direction..  (See Google Earth at: 34, 16.078; 117, 27.257.  In the 1920s, a café, gas station and campground existed at Blue Cut.  It was called Camp Cajon.)   

Hidden Lake – The second example, lies within the main strand of the fault a short distance from Blue Cut.  The shore on one side of the elongated lake is paved with pebbly Pelona Schist and the shore on the other side of the lake is a brownish, eroded sandstone. (See Google Earth at: (34, 16.399; 117, 27.952)

Dr. Robert Wallace Professor of Geology at U.C. Berkeley led a chorus denouncing Noble’s suggestion calling it “poppycock”.  The time-honored and sanctioned view held that earthquakes along fault lines cause the earth’s crust to move vertically creating mountains and valleys.  He further stressed that until science finds a physical mechanism to support sideway movement this view will stand.


Discovery of that mechanism arrived almost 40 years after the publication of Levi Noble’s landmark article.

James T. Wilson, a Canadian geologist, came up with the strange notion that continents and sea floors are not permanently fixed in place but move about the planet laterally spreading apart and bumping and scraping into one another possibly creating fault-lines where they meet. This hard-to-imagine phenomenon Wilson called “plate tectonics”.   According to this belief, the San Andreas Fault formed when a sliver of the Pacific plate began moving against the North American plate starting about four million years ago.

Plate tectonics, once accepted by those who decide such matters, opened new opportunities for PhD candidates majoring in geology and related fields. Some began analyzing organic material embedded in the fault zone; looking for evidence of past seismic events and the amount of lateral movement caused by each.

One study centered in Cajon Pass in a swampy area located at the southeast end of Lost Lake and appropriately called Lost Swamp.   A trench across the fault-trace exposed a tapestry of embedded mud, peat, pink colored sand and bits of plant and animal forms caught in crevices created by past earthquakes. 

The exposed wall of the trench is layered -- each layer representing a period of the past. Bits of charcoal and peat within or at the edge of a layer can be carbon-dated giving an approximate age which can be translated into an estimate of the event-year.

Before an earthquake or seismic event occurs, the surface of the fault-trace or zone is sandy or pebbly and relatively smooth.  During a seismic event cracks appear on this smooth surface.  In time, the cracks fill with mud and debris fed by intersecting streams and storm runoff.  Organics that can be carbon-dated also flow into the cracks and become embedded.   Size and extent of these incisions (cracks) indicate severity of the seismic event.

So what can be learned from this excavation?  The last major seismic event within the Cajon segment of the fault occurred around 1805, two-hundred and ten years ago. Prior major events occurred in 1290, 1450 AD; 5900 and 6350 BC. The earliest deposit in Cajon Pass was found in river gravel at the junction of Cleghorn Canyon and Cajon Creek dated at 23,000 BC.

The San Francisco earthquake (1906) was the last major event along the San Andreas Fault.  Estimated at between 9 and 10 on the Richter Scale, it centered on the northern segment of the fault and cause no significant seismic effect on the southern Cajon Pass sector.

Levi Noble came from a wealthy eastern family. That fact allowed him to work for the U.S. Geological Survey without compensation.  It also permitted him to pick and choose which projects he wanted to pursue.  Noble’s major contributions included the mapping and interpretation of geology in the Grand Canyon and parts of Death Valley in addition to the southern sector of the San Andreas Fault.    

The Noble’s lived on a fruit orchard near the edge of the San Andreas Fault in the San Gabriel Mountains. Levi wanted to experience an earthquake first hand.  But that never happened.  The Great Fault remained fiendishly quiet during all of the years that they lived there.

After retirement he and his wife moved back to his family’s estate in Auburn, New York.  Levi Noble died in 1965.  Hopefully, Levi became aware of Wilson’s discovery that supported his own 1927 conclusions about seismic movement along the San Andreas Fault.   

POST SCRIPT    I checked Google Earth for the location of the Pink River that flowed into Lost Lake eons ago and noted that the stream currently shows an offset of 222.09 meters (lateral movement caused by earthquakes).  According to information from the Lost Swamp excavation, the initial disconnect occurred about 9,000 years ago.  That gives an average slip rate of about 2.4 centimeters per year.

 Now, the evidence just cited, however, is not convincing, and is certainly not definite enough to amount to proof.  It may well be poppycock. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Ambush At Wingate Pass

Ambush at Wingate Pass became headline news throughout the southland in 1906.   From the top of the Wingate Pass, two men huddled behind a pile of rocks prepared to fire on a caravan that slowly made it way up an old road.    A road that extended from the Harmony Mine in Death Valley to a railroad station located in the town of Mojave.  Twenty mule-team wagons, pictured on cans of borax soap, moved through this pass during the 1880s

Walter Scott, popularly known as “Death Valley Scotty”, his brother Warner Scott, A.Y. Pearl, Daniel Owens, Albert Johnson and a number of lesser beings were on their way to inspect Scotty’s storied gold mine in Death Valley -- a mine that many believed did not exist.

Mining engineer Daniel Owens made it clear to Walter Scott that the mine needed to be inspected before he could approve a sizable investment in its development.  Wealthy Eastern investors had hired Owens to make that determination. 

Suddenly, gun shots erupted as the party approach the canyon wash. At almost the same instant, Scotty started yelling and waving his hat, “stop the shooting, stop the shooting, Warner’s been hit”  When the dust settled, Warner Scott was found laying on the ground with a bullet in his thigh -- a condition that called for serious medical attention.  To save Warner, the party prepared to leave at first light for the two day ride back to the railroad station at Daggett.  From the station, Warner was transported to a hospital in Los Angeles where he made a successful recovery.

Bill Keys, one of the men perched behind the rocks, had shot his rifle in the air as his part in the staged ambush intended to scare Owens into retreating from his mission.  Jack Brody, the other man behind the rock pile, was believed to be the one who shot Warner.  Keys said that Jack had been drinking at the time of the shooting.  Both men would be charged with “assault with a deadly weapon”.

The early years of the 20th Century found Bill Keys working at a number of mines as a laborer and at a number of cattle ranches as a cowboy.  He served a year as a deputy sheriff in Kingman, Arizona before moving on to Nevada and California to begin his career as a prospector.

 Keys prospected around the mining camps of Goldfield and Rhyolite where he met Walter Scott.   Both men moved on to Death Valley where Keys located a number of prospects in the Virgin Springs area located above the famous Ashford Mill.   He gained a sizable interest in the well-known Desert Hound Mine and served as its manager until 1910.  It was here that Scotty talked him into taking part in his Wingate escapade. 

After the ambush, Keys returned to his mine and prepared to go into hiding.  

Sheriff Ralphs, a few deputies and a newspaper reporter headed north on a two week trip with a warrant for the arrest of Keys and Brody.  The posse camped near Wingate Pass before moving on to the canyon where Keys maintained his belongings.  Men working there claimed that the two fugitives  had left the canyon on foot and headed west.  Before returning to San Bernardino, Sheriff Ralphs deputized Jack Hartigan to continue the hunt. 

Following Bill Keys distinctive boot tracks, Hartigan travelled across Death Valley, through Warm Springs Canyon, around Butte Valley, up and over Mengel Pass and down Goler Wash to the old Panamint City wagon road.

The pursuit ended at a table in Chris Wicht’s saloon in Ballarat; a small mining community located near the center of the Panamint Valley.  Hartigan arrested Keys and arranged for his passage by stage to San Bernardino.  Brody was never found.

Meanwhile, Death Valley Scotty, a man also being sought by the sheriff, had other plans and took flight to Portland, Oregon where he played the lead role in a production titled, ”Scott  King of the Desert Mine”-- a role in which he played himself.

The legal entanglement that followed the incident at Wingate Pass made more headlines and added to the fame of Death Valley Scotty.  As the wheels of justice slowly turned, Bill Keys would remain in the San Bernardino County Jail with plenty of time to considering his future.

At the preliminary hearing before Judge Benjamin Bledsoe, Scotty played his ace informing the court that the shooting had taken place in Inyo County and, therefore, outside of the jurisdiction of the San Bernardino courts.  On that note, the judge ordered that a survey be conducted to determine the county boundary-line with respect to Wingate Pass.  (Old timers claimed that Scotty had one of his men move boundary corner markers one mile to the south.)

 Shelton Stoddard (of Stoddard Wells fame) performed the survey and found that indeed the county line fell one mile south of the Pass.  All charges against Scotty and Keys were dropped and Inyo County, having no interest in the affair, decided not to pursue the matter. 

The second half of Bill Keys eventful life took place on a 160 acre homestead located near a mine that he acquired for unpaid back-taxes.  The ranch would eventually be surrounded by Joshua Tree National Monument much to Keys’ displeasure.  As the years passed, the Desert Queen Ranch would support a wife and five children.  

The neighboring Barker & Shay ranch ran a sizable herd of cattle over the open range and had maintained a cow camp on what later became Keys’ property.  Problems arose between the two outfits after Keys put in a fence that closed out the neighbor’s cows

Homer Urton, an uneducated, holstered-up young man, worked for the Barker & Shay.  He hoped to advance his reputation as a gunfighter by baiting Keys into a fight by driving a herd of cattle across the Keys’ ranch near the cabin.

Fortunately for Keys, the incident that followed was witnessed by a man who would testify that the shooting was self-defense. The fight went down quickly. After choice words were exchanged, Urton started to draw his gun.  It hadn’t cleared the holster when he realized that Keys had shot him in the arm.  Keys, never one to hesitate in a gunfight, claimed that he could have killed the man but decided not to.  Wow.

Bill was arrested, tried by a jury, and found “not guilty” based on the witness’ statement.   Shay’s brother was the Sheriff of San Bernardino County, a fact that would complicate things for Keys the next time that he was forced to draw his gun.

Worth Bagley had retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office because of a mental problem for which he had received treatment.  Some speculate that the county sheriff and others encouraged Bagley to take up residence near the Keys’ ranch.  Bagley tested expert with both pistol and rifle -- the stage was set for trouble.

The day started out like most days on a desert ranch with Bill Keys driving his 1925 Victory Dodge truck on the road that crossed Bagley’s property.  Keys had it on good authority that the road was open to public travel by usage.  In other words the road had been in use for a long time. Bagley didn’t see it that way and warned Keys not to use it.

When Bill arrived at the well he found that the pump engine needed a replacement part which meant a return to the ranch. On his way back he stopped to read a sign that had popped up in the road.  The sign red, “Keys This is My Last Warning Stay Off My Property”.  Bagley had written it out on a piece of cardboard and placed it in the road while Keys was at the pump.  Keys decided to see what was ahead and stepped out of his truck.

Keys walked up a short rise. As he reached the top of the rise he spotted Bagley with pistol in hand crouched behind a dead Yucca.  Bagley turned, saw Keys and started after him.

Keys ran back to his truck and grabbed his repeater rifle.  Bagley took a shot that came within inches of Key’s head and grazed the door of the truck.   Keys wasted no time opening fire.  The first shot caught Bagley in the arm as he ran down towards the truck in a zigzag pattern holding his pistol out in front.  Keys next shot spun Bagley as it entered his chest.  Bagley went down.   Keys got back in his truck and headed on to the ranch.  

Keys viewed this incident as simply a gun fight between two men..  He didn’t need to go over and view the body because he new Bagley was dead.  And besides, he needed to get the pump fixed so that the cattle would have water.  He would turn himself in to the local constable later.

The investigation revealed that Bagley’s body ironically had fallen just across the San Bernardino –Riverside county-line.  The Riverside County District Attorney would prosecute the case.  Bill’s attorney would claim self-defense.  After all, Bagley shot first and came down off of the rise with intent to kill

The District Attorney charged that Keys had shot Bagley in the back as he, Bagley,  retreated from Keys.  The County Medical Examiner testified that the location of the wounds and other matters gave evidence that Bagley was shot in the back. 

On July 23, 1943, the jury found Bill Keys guilty of manslaughter based on the Medical Examiner’s testimony.  He was given a sentence one to ten years to be served at San Quentin State Penitentiary.  The jury ignored the fact that footprints showed that Bagley was moving forward not retreating. 

Earl Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason mysteries and founder of  “The Court of Last Resort”, an organization dedicated to solving case involving wrongful convictions, agreed to review the evidence in the Bagley shooting case.

Through analysis of crime scene photographs by a distinguished forensic pathologist, Gardner was able to convince the California Adult Authority that Bagley was shot in the chest that the bullet had entered his left side consist with the defenses argument  that Bagley was facing Keys.  Bill Keys was given parole followed by a full pardon issued by Governor Goodwin J. Knight.

Back on the ranch Bill kept busy rebuilding his irrigation system, visiting with friends and looking to the future.  His relationship with Park employees had improved as he took pleasure talking with park visitors that dropped by.

Bill Keys died on June 28, 1969, and is buried next to his wife at the family cemetery located on the ranch..

Postscript   I met Bill Keys in the spring of 1958.  I was with my boss Garnet Jones, who had known the Keys for many years.  On our way home from the ranch, Jones filled me in on some of Bill’s adventures including the legend of the Ambush at Wingate Pass.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Gold Bar Incident at Rhyolite

In the summer of ’04, Shorty Harris’ discovery gave rise to a true gold stampede.    He named it Bullfrog because the hunk of ore that he held in his hand was dark green in color and he thought it looked a little bit like a bullfrog.

  Gold strikes soon took place to the east of Bullfrog which caused the center of commercial activity to shift in that direction to a new camp known as Rhyolite. Over the next year mining claims sold and resold as was usually the case with new discoveries.

The gold fever frenzy doubled and then increased some more as the Rhyolite Herald reported, Men on foot, burros, mule teams, freighters, light rigs, saddle outfits, automobiles, houses on wheels – all coming down the line from Tonopah and Goldfield raising a srting of dust a hundred miles long.

Locals believed that a great future lay ahead for the district as stone and brick buildings quickly replaced tent houses and wooden stores.  Prices for building lots and mining claims soared even before extent of the ore bodies had been determined by government geologists.

By 1906, Rhyolite had become a modern western city with new construction moving  in all directions.  Survey stakes marked the rights-of-way for two railroads that would connect the town with Las Vegas to the south and Tonapah to the north.  

J.P. Loftus, a graduate of Amherst, arrived in Rhyolite  to do some investing for a friend who wanted to own a gold mine.  His astounding over-night success as a mine speculator and stock manipulator might have raised a few eye brows if it hadn’t been that everyone else enjoyed the same success.

A gold mine a few miles north of Rhyolite showed good test results and became the Bullfrog Gold Bar Mining Company owned by Loftus and his new partner James R. Davis.  The enterprise received wide acclaim causing share prices in the company to climb.

Equipment soon arrived at the site and within a few months ore was being lifted out of three shafts.   A few pockets within the mineral belt produced ore as high as $1,500 to the ton, but the average ran below one-hundred dollars. In order to be profitable, a mill had to be constructed on site.

Orders were placed for ten milling stamps and the necessary attachments for collecting gold.  By early months of 1908, the mill was up but only marginally operational.  The partners gave the press glowing reports and share prices in the company hit new highs.  Loftus stated that there was enough ore blocked-out below ground to keep the mill running full time for years.   

The industrialist Charles M. Schwab took an option to acquire the property for a reported one million dollars. Schwab extended the option a number of time before deciding to drop the deal. He claimed that the San Francisco earthquake put a damper on his enthusiasm.

Less than six months from the beginning of operations the mine and mill were sitting idle awaiting construction of a new pipeline.  At the same time, a local newspaper reported that 200,000 shares of the companies stock had been sold by a bank in the mid-west.  The dumping of that many shares caused share-price to sharply decline. 

Undisturbed by unfolding events, the two partners left the district for a two month tour of Europe.    Loftus stated that they would look into matters when they returned. A current of suspicion ran through the camp that the shares dumped on the market belonged to Loftus and Davis.   

While the partners toured Europe, their attorney representing, the Nevada Exploration Company, placed the Bullfrog Gold Bar Mining Company into bankruptcy proceedings over a loan that was made to help finance the mill.  Interestingly, the sole owners of  Nevada Exploration Co were non-other than Loftus and Davis.  In effect the partners brought suit against themselves which under Nevada law was perfectly legal.

 “Fraud of the Worst Kind”, cried the   Rhyolite Herald as the bankruptcy court passed ownership of the Gold Bar Mine to Loftus and Davis.  The court awarded nothing to those still holding shares in the Bullfrog Gold Bar Mining Company.

The partners returned from their European trip sole owners of the mine and the mill.   
As full owners, a new company was formed that offered stock at a discount to those who had lost their money in the Bullfrog Gold Bar Mining Company.  

The full story unspooled in local newspapers giving details that were uncovered from company records and findings in court documents. Threatening Letters soon appeared in the papers from the dispossessed a few recommended a hanging. 

Facing public outrage, the partners quietly discontinued attempts to sell stock in the new company and each took early retirement.  Loftus, in later years, from his home in Santa Barbara, claimed that it was the responsibility of those who invest in mining stock to look to their own interest. He had no regrets.

In 1907, the federal government issued its report on mines within the Bullfrog district.  In summery, the report stated:   “It is evident that the prosperity of the camp must depend on the successful working of ore much inferior in grade [to that found in Goldfield]”.  Wow.

The report supported what many mine owners already knew.  Decline in production and the high cost of recovery spelled the end.

 By 1910 the population of the Bullfrog District had dropped from a high of 10,000 to less than 500. 


The ghost town of Rhyolite has received preservation support from BLM, Friends of Rhyolite,  Beatty Historical Society, Nye County and others.  The effort of government agencies and private organizations has made it possible for the public to enjoy visiting the site     

The scenic ghost town of Rhyolite is locate about 4 miles west of Beatty, Nevada on Highway 374.  Well worth a visit.

Friday, June 20, 2014


 The Esmeralda Mining District attracted prospectors, shopkeepers and tradesmen, many of whom arrived with great optimism.  Tents and makeshift buildings scattered between Last Chance Hill and Esmeralda Gulch became the town of Aurora.

Sam Clemens headed west to avoid the Civil War and to try his luck in the mining camps of the Nevada Territory.  He arrived at the Esmeralda mines in 1862 and began searching for silver along a ledge that showed promise.  Clemens and a partner eventually discovered an outcrop that assayed a high percentage silver.  They marked their claim but for some reason failed to register it with the mining district secretary within the ten days required. 

During that period, the partners left their prospect to explore Mono Lake located 15 miles to the southwest.  When they returned to Aurora they found that others had legally taken possession of their claim.  In his book about his travels in the west, Clemens states that, “a great fortune was lost by this misdeed”.   Years later, fame and fortune caught up with Clemens with publication of Huckleberry Flynn.

 Aurora also attracted the unsavory.  One-hundred miles and at least two mountain ranges separated the town from any recognizable center having a civilized population -- well beyond the reach of justice.  

 The Daly Gang, a loose collection of characters, rode into Aurora and found employment with the Pond Mining Company.  They were to use what ever means necessary to intimidate those who might testify against the Pond in court.   

The Pond became locked in a legal battle with the Del Monte mines over the extent of  their respective claims.   The two represented the largest and best financed mining companies in the district: both willing to spend great sums to win their case. 

John Daly cemented his place in Western Lore by killing ten men before his 25th birthday.  Other members of the gang included Three-Fingers Mc Dowell, Mike Fagen, John Gillman, Wash Parker, Irish Tom Carberry, William Buckley, Pliney Gardiner and a few others whose names have slipped from history. 

When H.T. Parlin, a witness for Del Monte, got word that he was to be executed by a gang member, he quickly sold his mining interests and left by early stage for the east coast.  Both the president and counsel of the Del Monte Company became targets.  Rather than leave town they hired armed bodyguards and avoided standing near windows or in doorways.  

At Daly’s urging, one of the gang members entered the race for city marshal in the 1863 city election.  He won on a split vote among a number of candidates.  Daly became Assistant Marshal and the rest of the gang became city policemen.  Shakedowns of prostitutes, gamblers and other less prominent citizens provided gang members with extra gambling money.  Crime went up.  Punishment went down.

On a cool October evening, activity at the P.J. McMahan’s Del Monte Exchange Saloon was interrupted when John Daly confronted George Lloyd at the bar.  They had had a longstanding argument about something that wasn’t going to be settled without a call to the local coroner.  Customers quickly sized the seriousness of this encounter taking their leave in true western style by tripping over broken chairs and overturned tables as they headed for the door.

The two men drew their guns at the same time.  Standing perhaps only six feet apart, both fired.   Lloyd went to the floor with wounds serious enough that he would soon die.  For those keeping score, this would be Daly’s eleventh killing.

After two hung juries, the Pond and Del Monte companies settled their differences out of court.  The Daly Gang no longer on the payroll received a second jolt when the city elected a new marshal and all members of the gang were replaced on the police force.    

William Johnson, a potato farmer and proprietor of a way station located south of Aurora, rode into town to do some drinking and gambling. When Daly found out that Johnson was in town, he declared that he could now take revenge. He believed that Johnson was responsible for the death of his friend James Sears. 

Johnson partied away the evening: drinking, playing billiards and doing some gambling.  Two gang members stayed close to him and brought him drinks while   Daly, Three-Fingered Jack, William Buckley and James Masterson waited crouched behind a woodpile across from the saloon.

When the bar closed at four in the morning, Johnson staggered up the street.  As he approached the woodpile, Daly stepped out and shot him pointblank in the head.  Buckley then slashed Johnson’s throat with a bowie knife.  

That morning citizens of Aurora learned that Johnson had been murdered.  Cold blooded killing of a respected member of the community by this gang of miscreants would not be tolerated.  Because the capital of the territory was two days ride from the district, it was agreed that the locals should take the law into their own hand.

At noon, the coroner, JT Moore, convened an inquest over the body of Johnson.  SB Vance was about to be sworn in as a witness when an angry miner pulled a gun and shot Vince in the groin.  The inquest ended when Daly arrived, gun in hand, demanding to know who shot his friend Vance.

The next day 400 citizens met to form a Citizens’ Safety Committee. Some were issued rifles from the Aurora City Guard armory.  A few of the members had taken part in a vigilante uprising in the Mother Lode and gave guidance to the proceedings. 

A few witnesses agreed to testify against the gang when the coroner reopened the inquest.  Following the hearing Daly, Buckley, McDowell and Masterson were charged with the murder of William Johnson and held for trial by the Citizens Safety Committee. 

Moving rapidly -- vigilantes blocked all roads leading into town, placed the City Marshal under house arrest and took possession of the prisoners.   

A jury selected by the Committee was convened a few days later.  Based on findings by the coroner, the four men were sentenced to death by hanging.  In anticipation of the outcome, workmen with hammer and saw began raising a wooden gallows large enough to accommodate four men

At noon on February 9, 1864, the condemned men were brought to the gallows and directed to take their final steps up a ladder to a platform ten feet above the ground. 

They were then allowed to step forward on the platform and address the enthusiastic
crowd, numbering, by some estimates, close to 5,000.

Daly stated that, “I killed Johnson, do you understand that, Johnson was a damn Mormon thief…”  He then pointed his finger and spoke to a man brandishing a gun, “If I had a revolver I’d make you get”, he said.  

Buckley stated: “I deserve to be punished and I die a brave man … All of you boys must come up to my wake in John Daly’s cabin to night.  Be sure of this.”

McDowell declared “Gentlemen, I am as innocent as the man in the moon…  I don’t want my body to be buried with the balance of them.”

Masterson simply declared, “Gentlemen, I am innocent.”

After a local preacher led the spectators in prayer, the order was given to begin the execution.  With their hands tied, a blindfold over their eyes and a noose placed around their necks, the four men then took their place over a trap door. 

The firing of a cannon located next to the gallows signaled a dramatic end to the spectacle as the four men dropped below the platform then abruptly reached the end of their rope.         

When Governor Nye and US Marshal Wasson arrived in Aurora things had quieted down.  A meeting with the Safety Committee convinced the governor that the men had been given a fair trial.  The Governor warned that any more vigilante activity will bring martial law to the camp.

The remaining gang members took leave of Aurora soon after the hanging.  Irish Tom Carberry went on to gain more fame as a gunfighter in the town of Austin where he eliminated two lesser known trouble makers S.B.Vince and Charles Ridgely.   

Prospectors and town folk began leaving Aurora when it became clear that paying ore did not run deep in the district and new opportunities awaited them a few miles to the south in Bodie.

The two mines continued production off and on well into the Twentieth Century.  During the 1960s most of the buildings which were constructed of red brick were destroyed by scavengers who sold the bricks to home developers in Southern California.  Nothing now exists except foundations. 

The town site can be reached from Highway 395.  Aurora is located at: 38 16.450; 118 54.083 on Google Earth.

Monday, February 17, 2014


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.