February 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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Cerro Gordo is



 * Please phone




before your visit.


The town is open during daylight hours, road and weather conditions permitting.


Please contact owner Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Robert at Cerro Gordo for information and current road conditions:

(760) 876-5030


(909 856-4434


Contact us through email at:


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.

First year membership (though December 2014) is only $10.

Click here  or the F.O.C.G. logo above to download a membership  brochure.

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

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

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:  echco@msn.com

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

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, 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.



Tales of Joseph and Max Skinner


By Cecile Page Vargo

Most recently, I found myself in a rare winter visit to Cerro Gordo in the twenty first century. Roger and I were helping, to watch over the town for a few days. The roads were dry and in relatively good condition all the way up, except for a few icy patches in front of our little cabin up there. Temperatures dipped to between 25 and 50 degrees, depending upon the time of day and whether it was cloudy or sunshiny. 

A "warm" winter day in Cerro Gordo (Jan 24, 2014) with an outside temperature of about 35 degrees. View is looking west down Main Street. The museum is to the right and Owens Lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains are in the distance.

On one sunshiny day, my friend Jaclynn and I took advantage of the relative warmth and sat in the swing off the deck of the American Hotel with a good view of the Yellow Grade and anyone coming in to town. It had been fairly quiet so we weren’t expecting anyone in particular to come up.

Suddenly, we notice a truck driving through, and we waved at them to stop. An older man and woman were in it and the man said they just wanted to do a drive through now and see how the town was surviving, and would be back for a visit later. Our conversation, I from the porch of the hotel, and he from the main road down below, was polite and friendly, and consisted of a lot of history between the two of us. He reflected on many visits to Cerro Gordo and surrounding areas in the old days, with his father, and when I asked him his name he simply replied, "Skinner." I smiled and said, “Any relation to Max Skinner?” and he said,  "yes". A few days later when I headed back home to Los Angeles, I thought it was time to hit my books and see why the name Skinner sounded so familiar.

According to my resources, the Skinner story starts with Joseph V. Skinner, who was born in 1839, the first white child born in Fort Madison, Iowa, and the first child born to the John Skinner family, originally of Mohawk Valley, New York. In 1859, Joseph showed an interest in mining and went to Colorado. The Civil War broke out and he wound up fighting Indians with a Colorado regiment, instead. Joseph Skinner’s tales of the Battles of Sand Creek and of Apache Canyon were retold often to his children and grandchildren. A spot on his scalp, bald from a scar, was testament to the arrow that grazed his temple, ear, and scalp moments after seeing an Indian behind a log at Sand Creek.

As the Civil War ended, Joseph returned to Iowa. There he met Marguerite Jane Robinson and by 1867, Marguerite and Joseph were married. In 1876, they found themselves in Missouri buying and selling cattle. Joseph had asthma, however, and doctors ordered him to a more favorable climate. He remembered his friend, Mary Huber, the wife the Virginia City Yellow Jack Mine superintendent, and she told him there was work there if only he would come.

Joseph boarded a train to Reno, Nevada, arriving in March of 1878. He spent one winter as Virginia City's undersheriff, then hooked up with the Barnes brothers of Bridgeport who operated a way station. He moved to Big Meadows, as Bridgeport was called in its early days. In addition to homesteading a ranch, he started a freighting business hauling perishables from Carson City to Bodie for $3.50 a pound. With the profits he made from the freighting, he was able to buy bigger teams and wagons to haul heavier freight.

The following year, 1879, Joseph sent for his family to join him. Marguerite packed up their four children ages twelve to two; Jessie, Max, Fred, June and Bill. They travelled by train 1for two weeks, with sleeping bunks and a stove to cook their meals along the way. Marguerite brought large quantities of bologna, sausage and French twist bread, which they primarily ate along the way. Jessie would recall that she had so much bologna and French twist bread on that trip, she couldn’t stand the thought of eating again in her adult years.

They travelled through wild land with large herds of buffalo, antelope and deer that often delayed the train as they crossed the tracks. Nights were travelled without lights on the train, since a previous train had been attacked by Indians. When they arrived in Reno, Joseph met them and loaded them on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad for Carson City. From there they boarded a covered wagon and headed south for Bridgeport with an overnight stop at Sweetwater which was hosted at the way station run by Tom Williams and his family.

The Skinner family officially arrived in Bridgeport on March 11, 1880. Snow covered the valley and it was bitter cold. The homesteaded ranch they called their home is now known as the Hunewill Ranch. Joseph supported the family teaming from the forest saw mills to Bodie which was still in its boom cycle. The Bodie Railroad had yet to be built.

Map showing Skinner family travels from Reno, Nevada, to Lone Pine, Calif. Map base is 1912 Rand McNally New County and Road Map of California and Nevada.

(Map courtesy of David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)

The children attended schools in Bridgeport for one year. Joseph’s wife, Marguerite, was often homesick for her friends and green wooded hills. She would go out in the tall rabbit brush for a good cry to get it out of her system, then return with a smile, because she knew Joseph’s asthma required they remain in the West.

From the big meadows of Bridgeport, the Skinners decided to take their team over the Sonora Pass to Stanislaus County. Joseph teamed up with Jimmy Barnes for a successful winter plowing wheat fields. Barnes longed for Bridgeport, however, so by February, 1882, they were planning the return trip.

Winter snows required them to look for a southern passage over the Sierras. They camped at White River until Green Horn Pass opened. At Coyote Holes they noted barrels of water and grain left by other travelers for return trips.

The family arrived in Lone Pine in the Owens Valley May 10, 1882.  “This is where we are going to stay,”  Marguerite announced.  The family rented the property known as the McCall Ranch and it became their home. Another child, Lloyd, was born that same year. This was during a period of conflicts between Indians and Mexicans. Jessie and Max would pass by a dead Indian or Mexican along the way to school. The ranch remained their home until 1884, when they moved into what was known as the Castro House in Lone Pine.

Joseph relied on his freighting skills once again, hauling from Mojave to Bishop. On return trips he carried wheat and ore south from the mines. He also burned charcoal in the kilns near Cartago and hauled it to Owens Lake to be shipped to the smelter at Swansea. He also hauled equipment to Saline Valley.

Jessie Skinner, the eldest daughter, married Finley MacIver. They homesteaded a ranch east of the river near the Reward Mine. Finley MacIver became the superintendent for the Carson Company which built the East Side Canal to irrigate ranches. Dry land became lush fields of alfalfa and blooming orchards thanks to that irrigation. The company attracted a colony of Quakers that settled around Owenyo. They had no experience with irrigation or desert living.

The Quakers sold out to the City of Los Angeles in 1905, cutting water supplies for neighboring Skinner and MacIver ranches. In 1908, the Skinners sold their ranch to the City of Los Angeles, and purchased the old Lubkin place in Lone Pine. Sons, Lloyd, Bill, and Bill’s family shared a ten acre block there. Bill eventually owned the place until he also sold to the City of Los Angeles around 1932. A portion of the property was given to Max Skinner and was owned by his widow after he died. Joseph Skinner died in Lone Pine in 1922, Marguerite moved to Eugene, Oregon, with son Bill and his family, and lived there until 1933.  Both Joseph and Marguerite are buried in the Independence cemetery. 

The Skinner children all did well for themselves, but it was Max Skinner who took up freighting like his father. He hauled freight from Darwin and Owens Valley to Mojave. In Mojave he met a Harvey girl by the name of Harriet Wilbert, and married her. He owned the Skinner Store in Lone pine where La Florista is. Max had hopes of going to West Point, and passed the examination.  Unfortunately as he rode from Lone Pine to Mojave by mule infection set in his ear, which disqualified him for appointment, so he took work on the Los Angeles Aqueduct. He owned his general merchandise store for many years, then sold it to become an insurance agent and justice of peace.

So I leave our readers with these tidbits for now and the promise of more tales from Max Skinner himself,  next month. 

Thanks to Paul Skinner, for sending us on the research trail after our chance visit up at Cerro Gordo and thanks to Paul for sending us a picture of this treasure from his own family files. 

Cerro Gordo Mine Timberman's Report (early 20th Century).

(Courtesy Paul Skinner Collection)



The Album Times & Tales of Inyo-Mono, Vol. V No.4.

Chalfant Press, Inc.

October, 1992

A Skinner Family Record by Frances V. McIver  & Pat Boyer

Conversation with Paul Skinner at Cerro Gordo (January, 2014)

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (http://www.davidrumsey.com/)

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