June 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts





Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.





The birth of a new year is also the death of California campfire permits issued in 2004. Visit your local land management agency (BLM, NPS, USFS or State Parks) to renew your campfire permit for the 2005 calendar year.




Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.




Don't have a 4X and want to visit historic sites in Eastern California?

Capture the spirit of the past as it comes alive with true tales of pioneer families, prospectors, muleskinners, hero's and gunslingers. Listen to legends of lost gold, found wealth and superstitions. Journey back in time with Terri Geissinger - Historian, Interpreter and Guide

Click on Terri's yellow van for Terri's Ghost Town Tours or contact Terri by clicking here:






The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo to request  subscription information.

Buffalo Gnats Plague The Mining Camp Trails

by Cecile Page Vargo

             It all began on a spring day in 1875, as Victor Beaudry, rode his horse along the familiar route from Cerro Gordo to Darwin, now better known as California State Highway 190. Perhaps it was a day much like the one experienced most recently by our group of Los Angeles Pierce College photojournalism students, with temperatures finally warming to the very dry 80's after a long wet winter. Owens lake would not have been bled dry by thirsty neighbors to the south, and strong air currents would have created gentle waves in the great inland sea instead of hazardous dust. The nearby mountains, clearly towering amongst the bright blue sky, may have also reflected in that great inland sea. The silver bullion king may also have been 

Free from the threat of outlaw buffalo gnats, Pierce College photojournalism student Maria Zajacz photographs present day Cerro Gordo. 

enjoying the prolific wildflowers before he was surprised by a group of Mexicans who demanded, "Dismount, and write an order. Beaudry orders good as currency," after he had tried to persuade them that he actually had very little money on his person. Seeing no reason to argue with them, he wrote the orders as they requested, an amount he considered reasonable all and in all considering,  and then was sent on his way. The Mexican bandits disappeared into the nearby hills. A stagecoach heading to Panamint City from Indian Wells, noted a few days later that a group of Mexicans passed them by.

Reign of Terror Begins

          The weather may or may not have been as glorious as described in the previous paragraph,  but the days that followed were reportedly heavy with rains, and flooding. Trade along the Owens Valley slowed, and the stagecoaches had a tough time going along the muddy routes. Between Independence and Lone Pine one particularly large mud hole nearly swallowed up several teams that attempted to pass through. By late March, however, the bandit Cleovaro Chavez was raiding the station at Little Lake. He and his band of man tied up the station proprietor and three others, then took off with four stage-line horses, supplies, and valuables. Not long after this, the Boron Lake station keeper was kidnapped and eleven stage horses were stolen. This station keeper was found hours after the event, tied up and abandoned. He told stories of Chavez practicing his gun skills by shooting off the neck of a bottle. At still another station it was said that Chavez stole more food and supplies. Once again he showed off his shooting skills, by aiming at and shooting the head of an unsuspecting chicken from 300 yards away. The reign of terror by Chavez and others like him had begun. The bandits were dubbed "Buffalo Gnats" by the boys in blue down in Independence who tried to capture them, as they were as elusive and pesky as the black fly that went by the same name. 

The buffalo gnat (family Simuliidae), sometimes referred to as the black fly, has historically been a serious pest, causing much economic and physical damage.

          One Indian War veteran was captured by two bandits, he described as an old man and a young one, both Mexicans, who asked him if he would forget the whole thing if they were to release him. Barton McGee honestly replied that he would kill them at the first chance. Fortunately, for McGee, his captors were afraid to execute him. In the dark of night he was able to loosen his ties and proceeded to follow through on his threat to kill them, but was caught in the act, and tied up once again. McGee was held captive for a total of 28 hours, then thrown barefoot and hatless on a bare, bridles mule. As he was turned loose, McGee slapped the mule with his hands and headed for the mining camp of Coso. In Coso he obtained proper supplies and headed back to the scene of the crime. The next time he was seen he was on his own horse, which had been stolen by the bandits, replying, "Well, I got my horse." Later at a inquest for one dead and one runaway bandit, the Coroner's jury reported that the dead man had been "buried according to Hoyle."

Read More 


Meet Bwana Dusty Darwin

by Cecile Page Vargo

          The day after our latest visit to Cerro Gordo we were given a six week old short white haired, blue eyed, Bwana Dusty weather forecasting device. Hes a bit young to detect outdoor weather, but hes doing a good job of detecting the weather indoors. My little three pound Bwana Dusty Darwin F. Cat, is sleeping on a comforter on the rocker in my office. From the way he is laying on his back, I can tell he's detecting the weather to be rather warm. Since I haven't been in here much today, and it has actually been cooler outside (in the 80's as opposed to the 90's of the past few days) I don't have the air on and Bwana Dusty Darwin, who is learning to answer to the name "Darwin", is correctly detecting that it is hot. The thermometer on the wall above my computer is saying 85 degrees.

Our little Bwana Dusty Darwin F. Cat contemplates a forecast.

          Downloaded from the original unofficial Darwin website, thanks to Dezdan, is the manual to the Bwana DustyTM Weather Forecasting Device. It remains to be seen if my Bwana Dusty Darwin F. Cat will live up to his name. We should know in about a year when he reaches 10 pounds.    

from Irv's unofficial Darwin webite


Bwana Dusty as weather-forecasting device

If the phone lines are down (which happens every second thunderstorm or so), you can't glean local weather conditions from the Internet. (No, cell phones don't work in Darwin; stop trying to second guess me.)  A satellite dish might be able to pick up some semblance of local weather, but we don't have one, so we can't. You can't receive local radio stations out of Bishop or Lone Pine unless you drive to the top of a hill, five or so miles away. You can get a five-word weather report every hour or so on Thunder Country FM out of Ridgecrest, but it's generic and useless. So, in a pinch we've devised a way to use Bwana Dusty as a weather-forecasting aid. If you don't have Bwana Dusty around (which chances are, you won't--because she's our cat), you can use a small pet of your choice.

The emphasis here is on small. Anything too big, say German Shepard size, would interfere with forecast accuracy. Anything too small--say, gerbil size--would have an opposite deleterious affect. If you don't have a suitably sized animal, we have provided a likeness of Bwana to the left. Simply download the image, cut it out, and using heavy-duty glue of some sort, paste the image artistically onto a smoothish rock weighing about seven to 10 pounds. Next attach a six-inch piece of yarn or string to the rock with duct tape. Now you have a Bwana Dusty Weather RockTM.


Desert humor is often an exaggeration. Never subject your living "Bwana Dusty" to dangerous situations. Instead, use either the Bwana Dusty Weather RockTM  or Mojave Desert wind sock described above. 

Read More


2005 Tour Information

We're still in the process of finalizing details for our tour insurance. We hope to be back on the trail for our Fall, 2005 tours.

Please contact us at info@explorehistoricalif.com for tentative dates or to be put on our interest list.

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 our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty

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