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.

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.

Friday, March 01, 2013


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


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.