March 2013 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook



Cerro Gordo officially


as of July 25, 2012

Please phone Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Cerro Gordo (760-876-5030) for additional information.

Caretakers are still on site to prevent vandalism.


Contact us through email at:


Now Available

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!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

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.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

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.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site,, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

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.



J. Ross Browne

Adventurer, Author, Government Servant

By Cecile Page Vargo

Opening sketch of Browne's "A Trip to Bodie Bluff" appearing in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, August, 1865.

In the early 1860’s, author J. (John) Ross Browne, magically transported the Victorian reader to the booming mining towns of Bodie and Aurora, and a trip to the salty Mono Lake in the shadow of the Bodie Hills. His writings, reminiscent of another noted traveling writer of the day, Mark Twain, served to educate a nation thirsty for adventure and full of curiosity of the workings and mineralogy of the famous California and Nevada mines.

J. Ross Browne

Not unlike Mark Twain, Browne was noted as a satirical anecdotist, downplaying people and places. To the modern 21st century reader, Twain and Browne, are often touted as racist. However, it was a time when people of all races were arriving in the mining camps in search of work, and it was a time of racism in general. Both authors recorded what they heard and saw in its raw colorful form, and to their credit, gave their own Caucasian race equal hard time in it’s peculiarities as well.  

Most of us are familiar with Mark Twain, his works, and his background.  J. Ross Browne is lesser known unless you have wandered upon a copy of his minute 72 page book “A Trip to Bodie Bluff and the Dead Sea of the West (Mono Lake) in 1863” in the Bodie museum book store, or are otherwise familiar with his works for in antiquated  editions of  the periodical Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Lest you think from the previous paragraphs that Browne patterned himself after Twain, it is here we point out that the reverse is actually true. Twain’s book Roughing It was originally published in 1872, consisting of similar adventures, writing style, and artwork. Twain was working at the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise when he ran across Browne’s popular Harper’s New Monthly Magazine sketches and articles on California, Nevada and Arizona. By 1866 the two were friends, and Twain was a guest in Browne’s Oakland home.

Before we embark upon the details of J. Ross Browne and who he was and what he did, it is interesting to note that Mark Twain is not the only author Brown is associated with.  In the early days of his writing career, he received notice from Edgar Allen Poe, who published articles in his publication Graham’s Lady’s and Gentlemen’s Magazine. It is also said that Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick after reading J. Ross Browne’s book on his experiences working on a whaling ship.

It was on February 11, 1821, in Dublin, Ireland when John Ross Browne came into the world as the third child of  Elizabeth Buck Browne and Thomas Egerton Browne. Writing and politics must have been etched in the young John Ross Browne’s genes, as his father was a noted Irish journalist who edited three newspapers and wrote editorials that eventually landed him in jail. After three months, the older Browne’s sentence of one hundred pounds and one year in jail was lifted upon condition that he leave the country. The family chose to sail from Ireland to America.

By 1833, the Browne family found themselves in Louisville, Kentucky. Thomas Browne pursued a career as a school teacher and went on to continue his journalism career as owner and editor of the Louisville Daily Reporter.  J. Ross Browne was 11 years old. As he matured, he decided to sow his oats working on the Ohio river flatboats, and Atlantic whalers, eventually working as a newspaper reporter, efficient in shorthand reporting. For a time he used the shorthand skills as a reporter for the United States Senate. The experiences he gained became subjects of his writings and books.

Browne married the daughter of a Washington, D.C. physician, Lucy Anna Mitchell, in 1844. During this time he began a career in government, as private secretary to the Secretary of the Treasury. A minor revenue service assignment sent him to California in 1849 where it was his job to find a way to keep sailors from ditching ship in the port of San Francisco for the gold fields. At this time, he also surveyed the postal routes from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo and helped to establish post offices. When the (California) Constitutional Convention of Monterey was held, he was asked to record the minutes. Afterwards, he went back east to visit his family and to publish the minutes. The minutes proved a popular read, earning him $10,000.

Throughout his life, Browne traveled extensively in the western United States, as well as Europe and the Holy Land.  These travels served as inspiration for his witty and colorful books and articles for Harpers New Monthly Magazine, as well as other popular journals of the day. When he wasn’t traveling and writing he would continue his dedication to government service, working as a special agent to the Treasury Department, investigating fraud and corruption in federal agencies.  One assignment took him to San Francisco in 1854, prompting him to bring the family to Oakland and call it their permanent home.

Browne's view of Virginia City, Nevada from Harper's, January 1861.

The Nevada Comstock and Virginia City, called to Browne in 1860 resulting in a rather unflattering story A Peep at Washoe followed two years later by Washoe Revisited in which

Browne's "A Peep at Washoe" appeared in Harper's December, 1860 issue.

he observed a more maturing development in the same area.  From Virginia City, he found his way to Aurora, Nevada, which became the opening lines of  A Trip to Bodie Bluff:

“I had enjoyed to my heart’s content the amenities of social life in Aurora; had a Sunday procession to the badger fight of Mr. T. Jefferson Phelan, a high toned European; had barely missed seeing a man shot dead in front of the Sazerac Saloon for throwing brickbats at another man’s house…”

A borrowed horse and buggy, driven by the lender, took J. Ross Browne through the mine and mill, and cattle and hay ranch valleys and canyons along the toll road from Aurora to Bodie where he introduced his reader to the “primitive habitations” of the lonely miner, and three days of adventures:

“….it is a little remarkable that I am now alive to tell the story of my adventures. I penetrated more shafts in the earth, was dragged through more dangerous pits and holes in wooden buckets, was forced to creep over more slippery ledges, rich I mineral deposits, and to climb up a great number of rickety ladders than I would like to undertake again…”

The written excursion showed up in Harper’s in 1865, spurring the National Bureau of Mining to appoint Browne as one of two commissioners. Although he had no specific background in mining or geology, he declared:

“Although I do not claim to possess a scientific knowledge of mining operations, or of the geological peculiarities of these mineral districts, I have had so much practical experience in the examination of mines that I do not fell altogether incompetent to form a correct judgment on the subject."

The reports that resulted from this appointment educated the general public about the western mining frontier.  By January 29, 1867 four slightly different editions of The Mineral Resources (or Statistics) West of the Rocky Mountain series had  been printed. One thousand copies were ordered, soon to be increased to 31,000 copies by February 25 of the same year. The sales nearly matched those of Mark Twains Roughing It.  By 1875, 100,000 copies had been marketed and sold.

Throughout his life of government service, J. Ross Browne was noted as a man of integrity, loyalty, honesty and efficiency. Following his appointment as commissioner of mines, he served as United States Minister to China for a year from 1868 to 1870. During this time he unearthed practices he considered questionable from the previous minister and was recalled from his position to return to the United States unemployed.

In 1870, settled in Oakland with his family, Browne, began construction of a home which he dubbed Pagoda Hill. The architecture was a mixture of Moorish, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Russian with Gothic construction. His family was clustered around him in houses of their own. Here he would devote the rest of his life to literature, yet found time for real estate and mining ventures.

J. Ross Browne boarded a ferry boat to return home to Oakland from San Francisco on December 9, 1875. Appendicitis struck, and he was put up in a house with a friend on the Oakland estuary. Browne died in the night at age 54. 

J. Ross Browne self portrait.



The concert concluded with another rendition of "New Mexico Song".
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