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, August 06, 2006

Sackett's Lost Wells

Historian Horace Parker penned a short article about a lost or forgotten stage station and well that has not seen human use in almost 150 years. The article was titled, "An Historian's Search for Sacketts Lost Wells" and appeared in Westerners Brand Book No. 8, 1964. As he points out, the exact location is unknown, but his research had revealed the general location as, "2 1/2 miles northwest of Plaster City in Coyote Wash".

This places the site on the West Mesa in Imperial County, California on a section of the old wagon road that served as the main route between Yuma, Arizona and Los Angeles. It is likely, that sometime in the 1870s a more direct road was established between the two, and that this segment of the old road up Coyote Wash was abandoned.

Those traveling across the desert by foot, horse, or wagon knew that water could be obtained here as early as the 1850s. Parker cites a number of luminaries who camped at the wells during this ten year period. The list includes: John Russell Bartlett of the 1852 International Boundary Commission; Colonel James H. Carleton, heading the California Volunteers on their march to Arizona Territory in 1862, mentions the well by name; the famous railroad survey party on their search for a southern transcontinental railroad route; and in 1856, government surveyor R.C. Mathewson noted in his official survey log, "the celebrated Sackett's Wells".

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company established a station here in 1858 consisting of an adobe building with a corral attached. The company ran a scheduled stagecoach service from St. Louis to San Francisco as well as providing transcontinental mail delivery. The service was discontinued during the Civil War.
The well or wells described by early visitors were located in an arroyo (wash) at the edge of a six foot bank, water available at a depth of four to six feet flowing from a layer of sand resting on shale bedrock. According to one account, the site lacked any sign of vegetation.
During World War II, the area was placed "off-limits" to the public and used for military training. It was opened to the public some time in the 1950s. Parker, equipped with maps and the information that he had gathered over the years, began a systematic search up Coyote Wash. He made a number of trips during the early '60s but was unable to locate the site. He mentions, at the end of his article, that Dan Jennings, a surveyor, had "pinpointed the original location of Sackett's Wells... The site is located at latitude 47* 21, 40" north, and longitude 115* 51, 10" west and is further described as bearing east 3,200 feet from an iron pipe and brass cap which was set by Wilkes in 1913 to mark the west 1/4 Section 32, T 15S, R 11E, S.B.M."

I spent an afternoon in the Spring of 1974 looking for the site and following Jennings' directions without success, but, of course, I didn't have a GPS to guide me at that time. I plan to go back someday with my Garmin 12. If Jennings' coordinates are correct, I should be able to drive right up to the site.

And by the way, if you happen to be down that way with a GPS and USGS 7.5 Plaster City map, take a side trip up Coyote Wash and try your luck. And if you find it, or any evidence of it, please send old Dusty a photograph.



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