June 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








Land of Volcanoes tour, June 19-21, 2004 (motel or camp). Click on image for details.

Click here for information on all our 2004 tours.


Mojave Expedition and Day of Desert Exploration trips.

Moose Anderson Days Cleanup.

Click HERE or on the photos.

Tall Tales Along The Kernville Trails

by Cecile Page Vargo

       This month we take a break from our Western Mojave adventures and head for the Piute Mountains high in the Sequoia National Forest.  Join  us as we sit around the campfire sharing the stories of the liars of Old Kernville.  


Lying George Pettingill

The Genius Who Couldn’t Spell His Own Name

           Somewhere above the town of Wofford Heights, and before the summit of Greenhorn Mountain, a dirt road leads to what was the home of the greatest liar of the Kern River Diggins. In a flat area beside Tilly Creek, George Pettingill ran the tollhouse for the old McFarland Toll Road. In addition to collecting tolls from weary travelers, he often entertained them with his tales, tall and true.

          George Pettingill spent his younger years sailing, fighting Indians, and soldiering.  He had no particular skills in reading and writing but he “wuz hell for single-handed talkin’.” His outlandish stories have been passed on from generation to generation. Although people laughed at his yarns in the old days, and still do today, Pettingill was not out for only a laugh. As the boys sat around the old tobacco stained stove, Pettingill would come up with spur of the moment stories to ease the boredom of another’s careless truths. George Pettingill couldn’t stand half-baked liars, but was “mighty hard hit by it himself.”

 The Chemist of La Mismo Gulch

           While working his La Mismo Gulch claim, George Pettingill became familiar with the neighboring claim owner. This fellow spent Sundays, and rainy days as an amateur chemist. He had a bench in a blacksmith shop where he did his chemical experiments. He rushed out of that shop one day with his eyes “shinin’ kinda queer-like” and told Pettingill about the most “explosive” explosive he was working on. He not only told George Pettingill, but he told all the scientists he knew, as well, and invited them into his blacksmith shop for a demonstration. When the day came and the scientists were gathered around the amateur chemist's bench, he took a pin and touched it’s point to the contents of a whiskey glass. The whiskey glass held the new-fangled explosive. The glass was then handed to a Mexican boy that was waiting on his mule. The boy was told to “ride hell fer leather” four miles up the river and hide in an old tunnel so he would be safe from the impending explosion. The chemist touched an anvil with the explosive coated pinpoint and grabbed a single jack, tapping the anvil in the same place. The explosion happened so suddenly the poor man didn’t have time to let go of the handle of the hammer and was thrown right in to the roof of the blacksmith shop. George Pettingill said that the hole in the roof was so small, the chemists boots were jerked off.

 Hard Rock Miner & Jerk Line Skinner

           George Pettingill was a man who held many jobs over the years. At one time he worked as a mucker in the Mother Lode mines. He claimed to have lost that job because they couldn’t break enough rock to keep him busy. All day the miners would drill the face of the tunnel. The drill steel was eventually dull from all of the drilling. A double shift was worked so they could sharpen the steel. When the next shift went back into the tunnel, Pettingill said the drill-holes stuck out three and a half inches from the rock. 

          At a time when the roads were “considerably rougher and much more crooked”, George Pettingill hauled timber from My Harmon’s old mill on Greenhorn Mountain to the famous  Big Blue mine in Whiskey Flat. When he returned, of course, he would haul supplies back up to the mill. On one of the return trips, Pettingill allowed his black and white coachman pup to follow behind the wagon. At the top of the summit, he stopped his eight-horse team to pitch camp. He looked around and realized his dog was missing. George Pettingill re-traced the crooked road for three and a half miles by foot, then suddenly came to his dog cramped on a turn.

 “Feenominal” Growth

           When George Pettingill wasn’t talking about his mining and prospecting days, he enjoyed talking about the “feenominal” growth in the area. He loved to tell about the “punkin” seeds that were spread on the ridge above J. W. Sumner’s Ranch. Sumner’s cow grazed in the area where the seeds were spread. One day she wandered into a pumpkin blossom and “got caught up in the growin’ process.” George said that cow disappeared until fall when the “punkins” had grown to enormous proportions. One was so huge that it’s sheer weight pulled it from the vine. That big old “punkin” rolled down the ridge and fell against a big boulder.  When it busted, Sumner’s cow walked out from where it had been grazing that spring. That cow had gotten caught up in the “punkin” blossom and wound up spending it’s summer growing as it grazed inside the pumpkin.

          George Pettingill also enjoyed telling stories about the gooseberry vine that he passed by every morning and evening when he was “going and coming” to work on his La Mismo Gulch placer claim. The bush always attracted his attention because it had just one blossom that grew right out of its top. The berry grew up on one side and down on the other side from the stem, taking on an amazing size. One evening Pettingill realized that the under side had grown down until it “almost teched the ground.” The next morning, much to his surprise, Pettingill found the berry and the vine had rolled off down the slope to the bottom of La Mismo Gulch. “That darn gooseberry had kept right on growin’ till it pulled the vine right up by its roots!”

 Hunting Stories

           Hunting, of course, was another activity that George Pettingill enjoyed. One time he was up at Bar Trap Flat and ran into a big old grizzly bear. Pettingill shot at him with his old muzzle-loader, and the “bar” made for him before he could reload. He headed for the nearest tree, dropping his gun as he jumped up and reached for a low limb.  As he grabbed for  “greater heights”, the “bar” swiped at him and raked his left boot off. He hurried on up to safety higher in the tree, then finally looked down to see that “bar” pointing his rifle at him. The grizzly snapped the trigger and motioned to Pettingill to throw down some ammunition. After awhile, Pettingill said the “bar” grabbed the boot he had slapped off of him, and slipped it on his left rear leg. Many hunters claimed to have seen the grizzly bear track, but would not follow it because it appeared he was being tracked down by a one legged hunter.  Word has it that the “ ‘bar wore George Pettingill’s boot ‘till the heel turned and the sole wuz gone.  Pettingill could tell by the fringe left around the foot imprint, that the “bar wore that boot like a spat.”

          Pettingill also talked of hunting for buck along the foot of Sawtooth Mountain. Near the bluff at the mountain top, he saw a big buck. It was a long shot, and way up the hill, but Pettingill aimed high and pulled extra hard on the trigger. As he stepped aside to see around the powder smoke the buck staggered and fell. He scrambled up the slope to find the carcass “laying there “festerin’.” “It was bad enough fer that venison to spile before I could reach it; but wuz an extra heavy blow fer me to reelize later that I strained my gun in makin’ that long uphill shot. The gun would never carry up worth a damn after that.”

          Out at Greaser Gulch, George Pettingill ran across another big buck. He aimed and fired and the buck dropped in his tracks. Pettingill traveled across the canyon where the animal was. He leaned his empty gun against a boulder while he stood and admired his game. As he whipped his knife out in his right hand to cut the deer throat and bleed it, the buck jumped up and started down the draw. Pettingill didn’t have time to re-load his gun but lunged and grabbed for the deer tail with his free hand, as it startled. George Pettingill said it was a lucky lunge, as he managed to insert his middle finger up the buck’s ass half way to the first joint. “I chased that buck seven and a half miles up hill and down before I could gain enough to crook my finger.”

 The Genius Who Couldn’t Spell His Own Name

           An old timer said that George Pettingill was “a genius who never took the trouble to put anything down fer keeps.” Folks said that the storyteller from the Kern River Diggins couldn’t even spell his own name. In fact, the only place his name was ever seen spelled out completely was on his tombstone, which is decorated with a flag by Whiskey Flat Veterans every Decoration Day because Pettingill had always said he had “done some soldierin’.” George Pettingill will always be remembered for his yarns “that’ll be floatin’ around from mouth to mouth long after his headstone has crumpled like an old dump on Cula Vaca Mountain.”

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Maggie Joins Friends of Jawbone Canyon

You Can, Too

Maggie joined Friends of Jawbone Canyon. The friends of Jawbone provides a forum for users of public lands in and around Jawbone Canyon to promote the preservation, multiple use, and restoration of all public lands, local, state, and federal. The Friends of Jawbone assist the BLM in operation of the Jawbone Station visitor center and bookstore,  present Moose Anderson Days each April, and offer outreach and educational programs.


Click on Maggie's certificate below for membership information or visit www.jawbone.org.



UPDATE: State Budget Crisis Threatens Bodie  

by Jill Lachman

           Since the passage of the California Desert Protection Act (1984) an effort was made to create a coalition of agencies that would pool their financial resources with the intent to purchase the property which Galactic Resources, Ltd. had claim to (Bodie Bluff and surrounding areas).

          In the meantime, the California Department of Parks and Recreation began an extensive, ongoing stabilization project in Bodie. Prior to the start of each season the state architect, district departmental supervisors and Bodie personnel (rangers and maintenance) made an inspection of the structures in Bodie prioritizing the stabilization effort according to the severity of the structures integrity.

          The goal was to bring the buildings in Bodie back to their appearance at the time of the original purchase of the townsite. Guided by photographs of the town made in the early 1960’s, each season from May to September workers came to Bodie to begin and hopefully complete several “restorations”.


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Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

We're climbing into 2004!

Please check here  for our 2004 tour schedule.

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 15 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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