December 2015 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts









Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on




 * Please contact owner Sean Patterson for information about visiting Cerro Gordo *


Contact us through email at:

Shop Amazon Smile


Support FOCG!

It's the same Amazon!

About Product Availability, Pricing and Services:

AmazonSmile has the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as, including Amazon Prime member benefits.

Purchases Eligible for Donations:

Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. You will see eligible products marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages.

Click the FOCG/Amazon Smile logo above or visit:


Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

Click on the FOCG logo (above) for additional information and to join or make a donation.

Membership is only $10.

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.



Frontier Christmas Chronicles

Compiled by Cecile Page Vargo

This season we are sharing the words of travelers to California in the 1840's.



Christmas on the Frontier

As the emigrants crossed the great continent to the western frontier, if they were lucky their reports were similar to those of Catherine Haun (below), and went on to celebrate more traditional holidays in the years to come in their new homeland.  A stand of evergreen trees was nearby for some, and the family would choose one, chop it down, carry it home and decorate it with cranberry and popcorn strands, colored ribbons, paper cutouts, and candy apples. Tin candle holders would have been cut out and fastened to the branches complete with homemade dripped candles to be carefully lit for brief minutes as the celebrations began.  Wood carved and hand painted animals and figurines, as well as drums and boxes often adorned the tree as well.  Where evergreen forests were missing, a stick of cottonwood or a sagebrush often served as a Christmas tree. Scraps of gathered wood were often fastened together in the shape of a tree when there was no other option.

The night before Christmas was a time of preparation, with long red stockings hung by the fireplace or pot bellied stove waiting to be stuffed with hand pulled Christmas taffy, home baked gingersnaps apples, and oranges and nuts, if available. The house was filled with the smells of cakes, cookies, and candies being prepared on a wooden cook stove and oven.  A holiday dinner was served for friends and neighbors, complete with Christmas poems, prayers, traditional carols, and children’s games, with celebrations continuing through Christmas day itself. 

Early frontier gifts would have been homemade for the most part, in the form of knitted clothing, rag or carved wood dolls, baked goods, blocks, toy animals, dollhouses, wagons and train sets. Children in poor families felt lucky to receive a doll fashioned from a twig, a corn husk or a potato. The wealthy could order catalog gifts or purchase at a nearby general store as towns grew around meager pioneer settlements. The practice of gift wrapping was not common until the 1880’s.

Those lucky enough to buy Christmas gifts chose from the practical items – pencils handkerchiefs, aprons, and underwear. Books were a treasured gift for those in the wilderness, and often passed from home to home for entertainment during the long winters. Knives, sewing kits, slippers scarves, cologne, cigars, silver or gold pens, pencils, boots, hats, teapots and jewelry were among the popular store bought items for adults. The fortunate child received bought china dolls, doll furniture, toy trains, miniature tea sets, toy animals, small drums, music boxes, storybooks, playing cards, dominoes, candy and money. Fruits were a rarity in winter, with oranges being a popular gift for all ages.

As families and friends gathered for celebrations, stories of the first Christmas, tales of Saint Nick, and remembrances of holidays past were shared. For many a frontier settler, the memories were not often so cherished, and may have been kept hushed, but many were recorded in diaries, journals, ship logs, newspaper stories, and history books.


Catherine Haun 1849

...We reached Sacramento on November 4, 1849, just six months and ten days after leaving Clinton, Iowa, we were all in pretty good condition…

Although very tired of tent life many of us spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in our canvas houses. I do not remember ever having had happier holiday times. For Christmas dinner we had a grizzly bear steak for which we paid $2.50, one cabbage for $1.00 and – oh horrors – more dried apples! And for a Christmas present the Sacramento river rose very high and flooded the whole town! ... It was past the middle of January before we reached Marysville – there were only a half dozen houses; all occupied at exorbitant prices. Someone was calling for the services of a lawyer to draw up a will and my husband offered to do it for which he charged $150.00.

This seemed a happy omen for success and he hung out his shingle, abandoning all thought of going to the mines. As we had lived in a tent and had been on the move for nine months, traveling 2400 miles we were glad to settle down and go housekeeping in a shed that was built in a day of lumber purchased with the first fee…


Diary from the Oregon Trail:

We (arrived) December 17, 1846, and father did not get there until Christmas Day. After a week or so we moved into a cabin, there was no floor in the cabin, just earth. There was but one room (and) a big chest and Mother filled this full of clothing and Betty (a sister) and I slept in that. We lived on boiled peas and boiled wheat that winter.


The Donner Party 1846

Diary of Patrick Breen

Thursday 24th (December 1846)...poor prospect for any kind of comfort spiritual or temporal. may God help us to spend the Christmass (sic) as ought considering our circumstances. Friday 25th…offered. Our prayers to God this Christmass morning with the prospect is apallng but hope in God Amen.

 Patty Reed’s Letter To Historian C.F. McGlashan

Christmas Eve came, no stockings to hang, no Santa Claus to come down our chimney in that cold yes starving camp. No Papa to come home to his little ones and bring all he could get to please his wife and children. Christmas morning came, you could not hear that happy sound “Merry Christmas” ring through the hall. Our breakfast was ready, a pot of glue. It was stewed ox hide, but we were pleased to have even that to eat. But as soon as we had gone through this…our poor Mother’s face began to brighten up and she would get a bucket of snow, melt it and heat it, carry it out of the cabin door and pour it on the snow at the corner of the cabin..until she had melted away the snow, away from the hidden treasure.

 Virginia Reed continues the story, describing the hidden treasure:

My mother had determined weeks before that her children should have a treat on this one day. She had laid away a few dried apples, some beans, a bit of tripe and a small piece of bacon. When this hoarded store was brought out the delight of the little ones new no bounds. The cooking was watched carefully and when we sat down to our Christmas dinner, mother said, “Children, eat slowly, for this one day you can have all you wish.” So bitter was the misery relieved , that I have never since sat down to a Christmas dinner without my thoughts going back to Donner Lake.

 Mary Murphy (also of the Donner Party)

Christmas we had a meal of boiled bones and oxtail soup. After supper Mother was barely able to put the babies to bed, and later on that evening with brother William reading her favorite psalm from the Good Book, she became bedridden and seriously ill.


Journal of J. Goldsborough Bruff, Captain of Lassen Trail emigrant party, December 24, 1849

Well, here’s a Christmas for us, under werry peculiar circumstances..In the afternoon we cleaned off the snow and got the hind quarter (of an ox carcass)..Roasted a piece and dined heartily, and with more satisfaction tha many in better circumstances. After dinner we smoked our pipes..I spoke of merriment, mince-pies, egg-nog turkey, etc. and he, of roast sirloin, plum pudding, punch, ale.etc….We cut up some running geer of a wagon and had a lively fire. “Well” says friend Poyle, “Cap, we are both philosophers and may we not have some sort of a Christmas here?” “Yes”, I replied, “But how-Why?” Rejoined he “we can each sing a song, and tell a story: then take a pot of coffee, and all it ale, egg-nogg, or what you please.” “Nough said.” And at it we went; - each sang 2 or 3 songs, and related several anecdotes then smoked our pipes again, and thus enjoyed ourselves.


Death Valley 49’ers Diaries at Travertine Springs

William Lewis Manly

December 24, 1849 - As I recollect this was Christmas day and about dusk I came upon the camp of one man with his wife and family, the Rev. J. W. Brier, Mrs. Brier and sons..When I arrived at his camp I found the revered gentleman very cooley delivering a solemn discourse on the benefits of early education when, it seemed to me, starvation was staring us all in the face, and the barren desolation all around gave promise of the need of any education higher than the natural impulses of nature. None of us knew exactly where we were, nor when the journey would be ended, nor when substantial relief would come.

 Juliet Brier

 About midnight we came around a big rock and there was my husband at a small fire. “Is this the camp?” I asked. “No, its six miles farther, “ I was ready to drop and Kirke was almost unconscious, moaning for a drink. Mr. Brier took him on is back and hastened to camp to save his little life. It was three o’clock Christmas morning when we reached the springs..We found hot and cold springs there and scrubbed and rested. That was a Christmas none would ever forget.

My little ones had no thoughts of Santa Claus that year. The men killed an oxen for our Christmas, but the flesh was more like poisonous slime than meat. There was not a particle of fat on the bones, but we boiled the hide and hoofs for what nutriment they might contain. We also cooked ate the little blood there was in the carcass. I had one small biscuit, but we had plenty of coffee and I think it was that which kept us alive.

Music and singing My, No! We were too far gone for that. Nobody spoke very much, but I knew we were all thinking of home back east and of the cheer and good things there.


Diary of Sally Hester, age 14, Fremont California

December 24, 1849

Still raining. It has been a sad Christmas for mother. She is homesick, longs for her old home and friends. It’s hard for old folks to give up old ties and go so far away to live in a strange land among strange people. Young people can easily form new ties and make new friends and soon conform to circumstances, but it’s hard for the old ones to forget. Was invited to a candy pull and had a nice time. Rather a number of young folks camped here. This is a funny looking town anyway. Most of the houses are built of brush. Now that the rains have set in. people are beginning to think of something more substantial. Some have log cabins.


Ships Logs

 Trip Around The Horn to San Francisco 1849

Tues. 25th Christmas today and celebrated in different ways. The mate began in his way, by striking the cook under the eye and making it black and blue. Had 2 pigs for dinner & apple duff. 2 thirds of the passengers drunk besides Capt & mate & 1 or 2 hands. The mate pulled Choate from Portlane of the forecastle and struck him several blows on the head, when some of the passengers cried out “throw him overboard.” As soon as he heard this he left for his cabin. Some sympathy for the cook and the sailor.

 Myer Newmark, 14 years old December 1852 at sea somewhere between New York and San Francisco with his mother on the way to join his father

Tues. 25th Christmas Day. It is a beautiful day...The sea and the sky are a most beautiful blue, and everything looks happy, merry and cheerful. We all did justice in the dainty dinner set before us, which consisted of roast & Boiled fowl, vegetables, plum pudding and applesauce fruits and cider.


Happy Holidays and a Joyous 2016

from Explore Historic California Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by