September 2015 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts









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Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456


Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

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Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

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Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

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Credo Quia Absurdum




Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



Tales of Desert Ships and the Men Who Saw Them

by Cecile Page Vargo

Father John Crowley, also known as Inyokel (for his writings of the Owens Valley and Inyo County) was fond of tall

 tales. In April of 1935, his friend, Mrs. Eva Lee Gunn, gave him the story of the “Ship of the Desert” which he copied from the faded original that was written in 1875 on blue-ruled paper in flowing handwriting. It was written in town of Olancha and showed up on display in a curio shop sixty years later. The adventures of Mrs. Gunn’s late husband Jack, and his cohorts Ely and Reuben Spear, W.T. Grant, and Pap Walker also appeared on the Death Valley Days radio program on August 5, 1938 as "The Ghost Ship". 




The Ship of the Desert

By W.T. Grant and Pap Walker.  

In the Inyo Mountains, where grows the stately pine Where the rocks are torn asunder,
And bear marks of untold time.
Where restless deer and panther stalk abroad not fearing men,
Where the grizzly and the cougar have their dark and lonesome den;
Where the lovely Paiute maidens wander forth with guileless mien
To gather pine nuts for the winter for their camp down in Saline,-
There amid the lonely canyons come a torrent rushing down,
Tumbling over rocks and boulders, with a strange unearthly sound;
There upon a naked bedrock, jutting far out o'er the stream,
Sat a band of old prospectors, like the spirits of the scene.
They had heard that Spanish legend-how in old,
A hunter on the mountain had found a ledge of gold;
How he went down to the valley and started with a train,
But was lost out on the desert and was never seen again.

...Old Uncle Dave was talking and he told a wondrous tale-
Of a ship that had been drifting at the mercy of a gale,
How she sailed up in the desert after cruising 'round a while,
At last had come to anchor lose by a big sand pile.
Then they lowered all the small boats and struck out for the land
But were overtaken by a mighty storm of sand.
And of all that noble ship's crew not a soul was seen again,
Except sometimes an anchor or perhaps an anchor chain.

How his pardner once while hunting for the long-lost Gunsight lead
Saw that ship a-sailing round the desert at full speed-
As she came towards him and went sailing quickly by
The lookout in the foreto sung out "Al-ker-li!"
How the taller 'gin to melt in his pardner as he lay
All night beside his burro waiting for the day.
And when the sun had risen and the daylight came around
His burro lay beside him dead as blazes on the ground.
Then he rolled his blankets and struck back for the mine
And for seven solid days he never looked behind,-
He never had a drink of water or ate a blessed thing
Until he struck a mining camp, - they call it Resting Springs.
There the miners gather'round him and as he told a fearful tale
Of his wanderings on the desert,-it made their cheeks grow pale.
They filled him up with whisky - but Bill was too far gone,
They showed him every kindness, but his spirit passed beyond.

Old Uncle Dave ceased talking and a silence on them fell
Until McPhail laid down his pipe, then spoke and broke the spell.
"If that is what you call it,-that very thing I've seen,"
And he pointed with his finger to the valley of Saline.
"It was one summer evening outside my cabin door-
I was sitting on an oil-can pounding up some ore,
When I thought I heard the echo of a digger's dying wail
As it floated up the valley, borne, on the evening gale.

I began to feel uneasy, I shut my cabin door
And I walked out on the hillside to look the valley o'er,
There below me on the desert I saw such a fearful sight,
I could not move a muscle, I was paralyzed with fright,-
It was that ship of Davy's with a ghostly crew all manned
And like the very devil she was tearing through the sand.
At last she came so near me I could hear the captain bawl,
As he passed order, "Forward man! the flying jib down haul!"
Then my legs got started and away they packed McPhail;
Like a double-barrelled shotgun I went up the Lone Pine trail;
When I reach the summit I turned and said "Goodbye,"
But the lookout in the foretop only answered, "Al-ker-li!"

Jack Ely had been sitting with his chin between his hands,
His upper lip was shaking as his story he began:
"I once had a pardner a wild son-of-a-gun,
He came down here from Bodie, a land above the sun;
It was the vigilantes that made him leave the camp;
The chances are you knew him - his name was Billy Grant.
How I talked and toiled and labored to lead this wayward youth
From the trail of the unrighteous and lead him to the truth.
In vain were all my teachings, he would pass them heedless by,
And smile a gentle, sad, sweet smile and murmur, 'Jak,yer-li."

"We were out upon the desert-I forget the day and year,
Hunting the Breyfogle, along with Reuben Spear;
For weeks we traveled, nothing had we struck-
I trusted Him who made the mines, and William cussed the luck.
You talk about your weather-we had it there you bet;
The days and nights were all the same, I think I feel them yet;
It melted both our urros, their bones lie side by side,
And the yaller-bellied lizards just turned on their backs and died..

"We were loafing in our camp, near the sink of Furnace Krick;
Our grub had all but peered and we had lost our nip;
Five hundred miles from anywhere-things looke mighty bad,
To hoof it into Darwin was the only show we had.
The sun had done its setting, themoon just come in sight,
When out upon the desert we saw a moving light;
First a red ight, then a white light, then it shone a bluis grey,
You bet your life it scared me when Reub began to pray.

"It kept moving nearer, until there came in view,
The largest ship I ever saw, in fact as big as two;
Not a rustle broke the silence, everything was still,
And down my back there wandered a cold an icy chill.
She was passing on to leave us when my pardener-foolish boy,
Stepped out into the darkness and yelled out 'Ship ahoy!"
I hard the creaking of her rigging as they braced around her spars,
The light from off her catheads shone like two burning stars;
My blood ran cold within me, my brain began to reel,
I saw Pap Walker on the deck, the devil at the wheel.

"My pardner then sprang forward to where a rope was lowered,
He took a turn around his neck, they hoisted him on board;
I saw him climb the rigging and I heard his farewell cry,
As he sung out from the foretop, "So long, old man. Goodbye!'
She went sailing up the valley, in silence as she came,
My pardner he went with her-him I never saw again;
A faintish spell was on me, a kind of sickly dread,
I turned to look for Reuben, but Reuben he had fled.

"Next day I left the desert, a lonely broken man;
When I arrived at Darwin I could scarcely stand;
Jack Gunn's Woodland Daisy soon braced me up all right,
But if I live a thousand years I'll not forget that night."
David looked at Dan, and Daniel looked at Dave,
Then both with admiratioin at Jack Ely they did gaze.
Mcphail took up his pipe, old Davy heaved a sigh,
And muttered something like, "Blow me bloody eye!
Jack, when I tell a story I sometimes prevaricate,
But I think of all the liars you're the damndest in the

The name Reuben Spear stuck out like a ship's anchor stuck in the dry desert lake bed, so I did little further research after I got through walking through the sage and tumbleweed of Death Valley and came up with this:


Reuben Cook Spear

One can assume that the Reuben Spear, in the afore mentioned poem, was one Reuben Cook Spear. At the time his friends stirred up the dry seas of the Inyo deserts with their tall tales of sailing sand ships, Rueben would have been 23 years old. Born in England, to a Free Methodist Minister, he arrived in Lone Pine in 1874. He was said to have been of average size, weighing in at 170 pounds, with dark hair, traditional long mustache of the day, and bright friendly gray eyes. Although his friends may have made up lies about desert sea voyages, Rueben was known for his word and bond, with remarkable strength and endurance, and came from a home peaceful, and free from tobacco and liquor. His righteous ambition drove him to work incessantly.

Although Reub had a good job as partner of A.C. (Curt) Harvey, who owned the blacksmith and wagon shop located in the vicinity of the Joseph Bi-rite Market, in Lone Pine, he longed to be in the mines. His mining interests were in Nevada, as well as Panamint Valley, Darwin, and Cerro Gordo. At the North extension of Cerro Gordo, he owned the Black Diamond. His brother-in-law, W. L. Hunter, and he, worked in the Belmont silver mine in east Cerro Gordo, and also worked on silver claims in Swansea at the bottom of the mountain.

A New Yorker agreed to finance Spear on the long John Mine which is located eight miles east of Lone Pine along the old Hunter trail. Reub did the majority of the early work on the Long John. The Long John, was worked through at least 1917, then sold for the sum of $3,000.00. He also owned gold claims on the southern slope of New York Butte, which became known as Camp Burgess. Reub called these claims The x-Ray Group, and a woman known as Kate. T. Wells, who owned the same claims at a later time, called them Old Ironsides.

Copper claims in the Ubehebe district were also worked by Reuben Spears, thanks to his friend W. L. Hunter. When Hunter died in 1902, the Ulida Mine became Spears. Reub was behind the Utah company take over of the Ulida, which soon discovered that the outcropping soft copper didn' t have roots, and left the district. But Reub and his son found promising outcroppings a few miles above the tunnel of the Ulida around 1912. Mules packed one ton of ore from the surface a day over 9 miles, then it was hauled on wagon for 45 miles over a rough pioneer road to Keeler. At Keeler the copper was then transported by rail to the smelter. The copper content was about 28-30% with traces of gold and silver.

Reuben Spear also owned the Mt. Whitney gold mine three miles north of Lone Pine in the Alabama Hills, with his younger brother Frederick, and he and his brother-in-law  worked a gold mine in a place tucked away in the Inyos called Beveridge.



Desert Padre: The Life and Writings of Father John J. Crowley 1891-1940

By Joan Brooks. Mesquite Press 1997


Saga Of  Inyo County

By Chapter 183 Southern Inyo American Association of Retired Persons, 1977 Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by