March 2007 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts







Join us for a Mojave Expedition Saturday, April 7, 2007


 A Day of Desert Exploration, Sunday April 8, 2007.

Please click on the photo for more tour details

Please contact us at for additional information or reservations.











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 contact us at:

     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

An Abstract Look at the

Women of Cerro Gordo

 By Cecile Page Vargo

          The population of the little silver mining camp of Cerro Gordo, in the Inyo Mountains towering above Owens Lake was predominately men in the early days as these places were prone to be. But there were needs to be met, and women the likes of Lola Travis, and Maggie Moore, soon traversed up the steep and winding dirt road to set up shop and sell their wares. Lola’s Palace of Pleasure and Madame Maggie’s Waterfall helped to quench the thirst of the lonely miners in more ways than one. Mud Hen, Horned Toad, Featherlegs, and the Fenian were just a few of the girls that worked at these places where fun, frolic, and fights helped earn the Fat Hill it’s place in Inyo County headlines as a “man for breakfast” kind of town.

Keeping House In Cerro Gordo

          A few of the men brought the women in their lives to camp with them. By 1870 the Inyo County Federal Census for Cerro Gordo Township No. 5 shows that out of 471 recorded residents, the total female population was 58, ranging  in age from two to 56 years. Out of thirty six women age 18 and over, twenty two were Mexican,  twelve were white. Fifteen females of Hispanic/Indian descent were under the age of 17, and of white descent there were nine. All women age 18 and over listed their occupation as “keeping house”, the politically correct term of the day for a domestic engineer, or housewife.

          Five households on the census were obviously run by females with no adult males of the same last name listed near theirs. Of those households where adult males were obviously present, be they father, grandfather, uncle, brother, or son, 19 of the males listed their occupation as miners. There were two households listed with males working as farmers, one as farming agent, one mining superintendent, one mining agent, one furnace manager, one assayer, two teamsters, two mule packers, one hotel keeper and one butcher.

         One lone female, Anna Payson, age 11, recorded her occupation as “keeping house” just as the women nearly twice her age and more. Next to her name on the list, 48 year old Lewis Payson, more than likely her father or grandfather, recorded his name, listing his occupation as a teamster.

Transient Populations

          Both male and female populations in mining camps and towns were traditionally transient, moving from one place to another depending on how much ore was being pulled out and how much money was to be made from it. A look at the census in neighboring Owens Valley communities shows that some of the familiar names from Cerro Gordo had listed their residency there instead of on the mountain.

          For modern travelers complaining about the difficulty to get to the ghost of this silver camp in their cushy sports utility vehicles, this may be hard to imagine.  However it was quite common for even the teenagers of the day to hop on a freight or brewery wagon and head into Lone Pine for a celebration, as is evident from stories told by Mrs. J. S. Gorman, in her tales recorded in previous editions of our online magazine.

          While it’s doubtful mining mogul Mortimer Belshaw commuted on a day to day basis from his recorded residence in the 1870 census of Bishop Creek Township No. 4, it certainly is conceivable that he would spend a few days here and there depending on where his business took him. As a side note, it’s interesting that Mr. Belshaw’s wife and children are not listed on the census with him. However, on the mountain, a relative, John Belshaw and his wife, Lizzie, retained residence. John’s occupation is listed as mining superintendent, and Lizzie of course, as “keeping house”, like the rest of the female population of Cerro Gordo.

Emma Louise Duval Spear

          Though her family name was transcribed wrong in the census, it’s obvious that three year old Emma “Duvel”, is Emma Louise Duval Spear. Her father, Charles, moved his family to a high point projected into an Inyo canyon known as Duval Springs northwest of Cerro Gordo when the great Lone Pine earthquake of 1872 hit.  They stayed there for several days while the tremors continued on.

Emma Duval

(Photo courtesy Saga of

Inyo County)

        Emma and her siblings would put their ears to the ground and listen to a grumbling Mother Nature. On the solid rock mountain they, and the communities that made up Cerro Gordo, were spared the devastation of sandy soiled Owens Valley. Short biographies of Emma Duval, report that her father Charles was responsible for  bringing water into the thirsty mining camp that was now boasting a population of over 3,800.  The Duval’s retained a home in Lone Pine, apparently, but spent a great deal of time at the springs, as well, so it was natural that they would head up there for safety after the worst of the earthquake was over.

          Little Emma grew up to be a fine Christian woman, so active within the church down in Lone Pine, she was known as a home missionary. Two years after the earthquake, still a young child, she met Reuben Cook Spear. By 1888 she was his wife. “Reub”, was noted for his mine dealings between Owens Valley and Bullfrog, Nevada. He and his brothers also had interests in  the nearly fading camp of Cerro Gordo, as it rose again during the Louis D. Gordon Zinc era.

The Silver Queen of Cerro Gordo

          The woman known as Simons was also called the Silver Queen of Cerro Gordo. She traveled through barren Death Valley with her two sons and daughter inside the empty water barrels of the freight wagon that she drove herself.  She was on her way to meet her first husband, Mr. Ryan, a miner who had set out ahead of her with a train of burros on the way to Cerro Gordo. In her later years, Father John Crowley met up with her at the Estelle mine, where she lived with her daughter Marie and a man named Henry in an isolated cabin at 8,000 feet near Cerro Gordo. The padre of the desert described her as a woman who had proved her ability to shoot straight and her willingness to sit up all night with a rifle across her knees to defend the water springs and mines that she owned.

          Fortunately for Cerro Gordo’s zinc magnate, Louis D. Gordon, Simons only resorted to sending him a court order that read simply:

You sir, turn over 50 gallons of water per day to this poor woman and make it snappy.”

           In response, Mr. Gordon sent a telegram to his superintendent, J. C. Climo, that read:

March 9, 1907 - Restraining order is as Marby states. Furnish specified amount of water tomorrow and Sunday and wire me fully exact condition Saturday night and injury done to us by furnishing specified amount of water. Use Bedford McNeil Code.

                                                        L. D. Gordon

        Mr. Climo was a man with a temper and not one to be pushed around.  Gordon reminded him with a brief note “I know how you feel but furnish water in accordance with court order or we will be in contempt of court. I am getting very busy and luck will change soon.” Climo retained possession of the springs, but resigned himself to turning over the 50 gallons of water each day.  Over time order was cut to thirty gallons of water, and eventually Louis d. Gordon got full control of the springs, but for now, The Silver Queen of Cerro Gordo had her fair share of sparkling H20.

Three Lone Women On The Mountaintop

          It was the fourth year of their marriage, and Walter and Mary Scheld were living in Bishop, California, wondering where their next pay check would be coming from. The newspaper arrived with an ad for blacksmiths up at the Cerro Gordo Mines. It was pretty isolated on the Cerro Gordo mountaintop, and Walter, better known as Bud, probably hesitated at first. Mary looked at him and encouraged, “It’ll only cost you two cents to find out about the job - two cents postage.” This was January of 1926.

          The job was easy for Bud. All he had to do was sharpen the drills that the miners were using to break through the hard rock. He’d sharpen those drills until there were no more to sharpen that day, then he’d find some place to take a nap. Meantime, his wife, Mary, did the best she could living in a three room house on the mountain with her husband.

          The mountain was long past the heydays of men like Mortimer Belshaw & Victor Beaudry. Even the Gordon zinc era was playing out. Approximately 20 miners remained trying to pull out what they could and make it worth their while. In addition to the miners there were only two women besides Mary. The superintendent’s wife ran the kitchen in the old American Hotel, which struggled to survive. To help pass time and make a little pocket money at the same time, Mary helped her in the kitchen and in the dining room. A third woman, whom Mary would recall sixty years later as Mrs. Wheatley, “didn’t do anything but have a baby.”

          The population wasn’t roaring in Cerro Gordo, but modern convenience had arrived. Coal was used to heat and cook. Electricity provided lights and radio. Everyone hung on edge as they listened to the Dempsey-Tunney fight and placed bets on it. Wasn’t much else to do in those days--the dance halls of Lola Travis and Maggie Moore were long gone. Even the big pool hall in front of the tiny Scheld residence was pretty much left to the ghosts, with the tables standing minus their felt tops.

          Water was always a luxury in the high desert climate of Cerro Gordo.even during more modern times. During  the  Scheld’s 19 month stay, they were fortunate to get water piped from the spring around the hill in town, then brought indoors by bucket. Indoor plumbing was nonexistent of course. Women were known for using too much water, so Mary, and the other two women probably felt lucky, yet guilty to be allowed on the mountain.

          Food and other supplies came from the hamlet of Keeler on the shores of Owens Lake far below town. When Mary needed something, she would just write her shopping list on a piece of paper and put it on one of the ore tram buckets. The next day everything that she needed would arrive on the mountain the way the note had gone down.

          During the summer, Mary’s sister would come up and stay with her. When they got bored, they would head into Lone Pine to watch a movie. After one movie day, a storm hit and it was raining so hard they couldn’t get back up the dirt road to the mines.

          In August of 1927 the owners of the banks in the Owens Valley, The Watterson brothers, were put in jail when their books were examined and came up short. The banks and the Cerro Gordo Mines were closed down. Bud, out of a job once again, headed back to Bishop with his wife, Mary. They moved to Merced within a month.

          Sixty years later, the Inyo Register interviewed Mary Scheld and her sister Freda Tockey. Mary was 83 years old and happy to reminisce about her time as one of the three women on the mountaintop. “At one time there were thousands of people living there,” Mary replied. “ I wasn’t very history minded when I was there. I was trying to get ahead.”

          “There was no place to spend the money you made,” Freda Tockey told her sister, “except for Lone Pine.”

          Mary and Freda are just of the few of the women of Cerro Gordo who left their mark on the town.

Beyond The Zinc Era

          In 1948 a woman named Barbara got in her brand new Chevrolet still heated from a fight with her assistant director husband. Barbara was a script girl for RKO movie studios, but had roots in the Owens Valley. She found herself headed up to Lee Flat, just over the saddle from the faded ghost of the Cerro Gordo Mines, on the Death Valley side of the Inyos. It was very dark and very remote, and she wasn’t sure where she was. She waited until morning and found a ramshackle cow camp. Rough and tumble Wally Willson opened the door when she knocked, and they fell in love immediately. Barbara divorced her Hollywood husband and moved into the cow camp with Wally.

           In 1949, he was approached by the last corporate owners of the Cerro Gordo mines. Wally and Barbara found themselves caretakers, and eventually owners, when mine owner W. C. Riggs had to declare bankruptcy. Wally eventually died and Barbara married Fred Coman. When he died eight years later, she married Jack Smith.

          Keeping up an abandoned mining camp is difficult financially at best. By 1973 Barbara and Jack were in need of money. Jack remembered his niece Jody who was doing a little work in Hollywood on some projects like the old Password game show. Jody drove up the steep and winding Yellow Grade road to Cerro Gordo. She was in her fancy sports car, wearing high heels and fancy clothes. Uncle Jack gave her a tour, and she soon found herself saying that she would be glad to become a part owner of Cerro Gordo.

          By 1984, Barbara Smith had been off of the mountain for about four years. The ghost town of Cerro Gordo was in a terrible state of disrepair. Jody remembered her roots in the Inyo County, and going to school in Big Pine High School. She realized that this little mining town was her opportunity to give back to the county that had given her a good start on life. Jody Stewart moved on the mountain. Together with Mike Patterson, whom she later married, they restored what buildings they could and opened the town up for visitors day and overnight.

Jody talks to Cerro Gordo visitors.

          Jody died in December 2001, leaving Mike Patterson alone on the mountain. Jody’s spirit, and  that of  all the other women of Cerro Gordo continues on in the life of the many  modern women who volunteer their blood, sweat, and tears, and the stories of  the pioneers that came before  them so their daughters, and their sons can glimpse into a time nearly forgotten.    


The Death Valley Red Light Chronicles--The Life And Times of Cerro Gordo’s Lola Travis, Noted Conductress of a Bawdy Dance House

by Robin Flinchum


Desert Padre: The Life and Writings of Father John J. Crowley 1891-1940

by Joan Brooks

Mesquite Press


From This Mountain--Cerro Gordo

by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day

Chalfant Press


The Saga of Inyo County

by Southern Inyo American Associations of Retired Persons

Taylor Publishing Company, Covina, California

(Out of Print)


The Silver Seekers

by Remi Nadeau

Crest Publishers


1870 Census of Inyo County, California

as transcribed


Cerro Gordo women and American Hotel drawings

from original artwork by Robert C. Likes


Newpaper Articles


Cerro Gordo Bugle of Freedom

Volume 1 Issue 1 December 1994

Jody Stewart (Owner of Cerro Gordo)

Courtesy Mike Patterson


Return To Cerro Gordo, 60 Years Later

Inyo Register

Courtesy Laws Railroad Museum


Inyo Living

Woman Tackles Project to Restore Cerro Gordo Town

by Jody Stewart

Courtesy Laws Railroad Museum




Countless conversations with Mike Patterson, Robin Flinchum, Robert C. Likes and the friends of Cerro Gordo


More EHC stories of the women of Cerro Gordo:


Lulu Waplehorst: The First White Bride Of Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo


Cerro Gordo And It’s Ladies

by Maggie Moore Ho Dog


Growing Up On The Old Fat Hill

by Cecile Page Vargo Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by