February 2009 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles




Sky high gas prices along with sluggish economic conditions have severely impacted our tour business for over a year.

We have reluctantly decided to suspend our tour operations for the remainder of 2008.

We will evaluate the prospects of resuming tours for the 2009 season.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to all who have supported us.


LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt for details!


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


Support Room 8's charitable legacy by donating to the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation or adopting one of their cats.

Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


Mules can taste the difference--so can you




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



Click on the bag to find out how.


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

Terri Geissinger is a Bodie area Historian, Guide and Chautauquan. A long time resident who lives in Bodie and Smith Valley, she is dedicated to preserving stories of the pioneer families, miners, ranchers and teamsters. Click the photo for information on her tours with the Mono Lake Committee.


Back to the past in California City--Wimpy's!

8209 California City Blvd.,
California City, 93505



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.

Ballarat – “The Mining Camp Of The Desert”

by Cecile Page Vargo

In the 1870’s as the Panamint Valley mines sprouted, a little spring a quarter mile south of Pleasant Canyon earned it’s place in history as a waterhole and communication center. It has also been recorded that the outlaws that were tucked away deep within the canyons of the Panamint Mountains took advantage of this spot as well. An agreement of sorts was made with particular drivers of the Caesar Myerstein Panamint Stage Line. The bandits would leave letters and cash in a box that was wired in the fork of a mesquite tree located at the spring. Upon the return trip, the stage driver left requested provisions, where they could be picked up without fear of ambush. By the 1890’s this spot which was called Post Office Springs because of these transactions between bandit and stage drivers, supported a tiny general store run out of a canvas tent to meet the supply needs of prospector and freighters. A blacksmith shop followed the general store. The ground surrounding the spring was deemed too green and marshy for a full blown Main Street, however, so a half a mile away in the desert flats, the town of Ballarat was plotted.

Ballarat and vicinity as shown on 1908 USGS topographic map.

Forty out of eighty acres set aside for the new town site, were laid out in lots March of 1897. These lots were grabbed quickly for prices ranging anywhere from $10 to $75. By the end of March two saloons were dispensing as much as 15 gallons of whisky a day to parched miners. A general store, and at least a dozen tents sprang up as well. Within another two months four saloons, two general stores, two restaurants, three feed yards, an assay office, and one hotel served a booming population of well over one hundred.  When the citizens met to choose a name for their town, an Australian suggested naming it after the famous gold mining town from his native country. The desert site they had proudly dubbed “The Mining Camp of the Desert” became officially known as Ballarat.

 By July 4, 1897, the population of Ballarat doubled with another one hundred miners trickling down the mountains for patriotic celebrations. The camp came to life with foot and burro races, hammer throwing, tug of war, and the obligatory informal drinking bouts. On the 21st of the same month, a post office was established with storekeeper John S. Stotler appointed post master. Two stage coaches, and two small custom mills came to Ballarat. The mills were gasoline powered with a total of eighteen stamps that ran high grade ore samples from the various mines that continued to open up throughout the western side of the wall of mountains that separated the Panamint and Death Valleys. As the year went on the Inyo County Supervisors appointed Richard Decker the Justice of the Peace.

 Nearly three hundred men worked in the mines surrounding the supply and recreation town of Ballarat as the turn of the 20th century came around. Mines known as Ratcliff, World Beater, Oh Be joyful, and Gem were pulling out a total of $500,000 in bullion. In turn Ballarat boomed with a fine two story hotel complete with shady veranda, a school of thirty-one pupils (eight of which were Indians), a red light district complete with half a dozen cribs, an impromptu “Shake-em-up Band, and a jail.  If the bullion didn’t make the men “Oh Be Joyful” enough, the girls at those half a dozen cribs surely did.

 While Ballarat had its share of drinking, carousing, and ruckus, and an official house of God never joined the ranks of adobe, wooden and canvas businesses, the citizens managed to survive relatively peacefully. During a three year period only three deaths were reported, and those were from illness, not at the hands of each other. The Fourth of July continued to be a great source of excitement, particularly the year young ladies came over from Bakersfield to compete in a burro race for a quarter interest in the Hot Cake Claim.  Then there was the unhappy customer of the Porter Brothers General Store. Angry over 700% price gouging, a stick of giant powder was placed on the store owners bedroom window in the middle of the night. Ballarat woke up to the explosion, of course, took note of the home with the blown away wall, found residents escaped completely intact, then went back to the business of sleeping until the sun rose again the next day.

 The only homicide in Ballarat can be attributed to the lawmen of the day on October 1905 when Constable Henry Pietsch gunned down Justice of the Peace Richard Decker.  Although Ballarat was never a “man for breakfast” sort of camp, John Calloway posted signs in each of the rooms at his Ballarat Hotel stating that the management was “not responsible for either their lives or their valuables,” nor would they pay for any part of funeral expenses.

 The mines surrounding Ballarat boomed and busted on and off until 1905, producing nearly a million dollars in gold, making it Death Valley’s most productive hard-rock district. “The Mining Camp of the Desert” was no longer needed as a central point for supplies and entertainment, and was all but abandoned for new prospects in Bullfrog . On September 29, 1917 the few hardy desert rats who remained in Ballarat watched as the post office closed it’s doors and moved to Trona.

 In spite of its lonely desolated location, Ballarat never went totally to the ghosts. A few colorful residents like Chris Wicht and Seldom Seen Slim stuck it out. In the 1960’s the place gained fame as the closest town to Barker Ranch where the Charles Manson clan hid out, and the modern millennium legend of the Ballarat Bandit still draws the curious. Someone is always living in the remnants of the old town, ready to talk about the old days and show you around should you wander in on your way to Death Valley. Backpackers, campers, modern miners, and desert history buffs still use the place as a jumping off spot for their desert adventures.  At least once a year, the population of Ballarat swells with anywhere from 100-200  red shirted beer drinking history loving members of E Clampus Vitus, and the drinking, carousing, and ruckus is alive once again.


Ballarat 1897-1917-Facts and Folklore

by Paul B. Hubbard, Doris Bray and George Pipkin

Published by Paul B. and Arline Hubbard, 1965


Death Valley & The Amargosa-A Land of Illusion

by Richard E. Lingenfelter

University of California Press, 1986


Post Offices and Postmasters of Inyo county, California 1866-1966

by Robert P. Palazzo

Published by Douglas McDonald, 2005


Read More about Ballarat and the Panamint Valley-Death Valley Area


These Canyons Are Full Of Ghosts

by Emmett Harder

Real Adventure Publishing, 2001


Billy Holcomb

E Clampus Vitus Chapter



Ballarat Bandit




Death Valley National Park Historic Resource Study: History of Mining Vol I & II


The Clampers Visit Ballarat

photography by Tim Gardner

Our friend, Tim Gardner visited  Ballarat  and the surrounding area with members of the Billy Holcomb Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus. This is what he saw.



explorehistoricalif.com Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by ebray.net