March 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook



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


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:

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

Visit Michael Piatt's site,, 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

Part II

By Cecile Page Vargo

Part I of this story ran in our February, 2014 edition. You can read it here.

Max, the second child, of Joseph and Marguerite Skinner was 13 years old when the family of seven arrived in Lone Pine in 1882 in transit to Bridgeport via Walker Pass due to snows. “This is where we are going to stay,” announced Marguerite, and the McCall Ranch became their home. Joseph relied on his skills as freighter and Max helped by taking the reins of the ten to sixteen horse teams they used to deliver charcoal to furnaces of Darwin and Modoc and various other mining camps.

The trails were rugged and isolated in harsh desert conditions, but Max would declare in his senior years that the adventures he and his father met were “all in a day’s work” and soon forgotten. There was the August when Max ran out of water while hauling pipe from Panamint up Sheppard Canyon into Darwin for a nine mile pipe line. He was due in Darwin in the late afternoon, but didn’t show up until the next morning, presumably delayed because of the lack of water. Then there was the winter when deep snows nearly forced his team off the grade. Icy roads proved to be a problem another trip, as the wagons were forced crossways of the canyons twice. Yet another trip out of Keeler, a wall of water nearly  washed Max and Sidewinder “Sidey” McClean” and their horses away before  they could narrowly escape to the side of the hill.  

It was a colorful time for the mining camps, with Beveridge and Cerro Gordo going strong.  Beveridge stood east of Lone Pine three miles down the west slope of the White Mountains, Max remembered seeing as many as 100 mills loaded on pack mules along the streets of Lone Pine on their way to the rich mines. Remi Nadeau’s teams could be also be seen coming out of Cerro Gordo, the richest lead-silver mine in the world, according to Max, hauling the 200 plus miles to Wilmington to be loaded on the steamships to the mint in San Francisco.

In 1892, Max drove twenty mule team Borax freight wagons for John Searles from the site of  Searles (Station) to Mojave. The trip took eight days, but was the easiest job he ever had. Unlike Nadeau’s teams, there were no changes of drivers, wagons or mules. A swamper did travel ahead of the wagon on horseback on his way to unmanned stations where he would prepare stables and have supper waiting for Max’s arrival. The Summit Garden station did have a keeper and was always a welcome site with its orchard and garden. Searles himself was considered one of the most interesting people Max had ever met, self educated, and able to talk intelligently. Max would relay stories of Searles adventures as a bear hunter, and the time he was mauled, forcing Searles to wear a plate in his jaw because of injuries.

John Shober was among the pioneers that Max Skinner made acquaintance with.  Shober came to Owens Valley across the mountains on foot, a whipsaw on his back. It was said that he made five dollars per board as soon as the board hit the ground, and was an expert in his field.  Shober also helped the Skinners freight charcoal.  Joseph Skinner and John Shober would collect wood in the nearby hills and burn it into charcoal then haul to the mines for the furnaces.

Horace Bellas, a resident of Haiwee, was remembered by Max for killing Indians in revenge for Indians killing his brother. Horace was also said to have pointed his gun with his finger on the trigger then suddenly realized it was one of his best friends, Allie McGee.  When he saw who it was he exclaimed, “My God, Allie, I pert near got yuh.”  This incident changed Bellas ways, and the next time he saw a stranger about ready to kill a man for stealing his burros, Bellas replied, “Brother, them days have passed. We can’t do it that way any more.”

Max could spin yarns by the hour. Crime and justice was often the subject. Let a man in need ask for help and he was given it immediately, but let him steal and he often paid with his life.  Crowen and Randall stole horses and were later captured and returned to town strapped on the horses, the men who found them announcing simply, “We found the horses and two dead outlaws.”  Max also remembered the infamous hanging in Skidoo. Word was sent to the Sheriff, but as he could not get there immediately, the hanged man was cut down. As word finally came that the sheriff was on his way and would arrive shortly, the hanged man was strung up again. This was the way of frontier justice.

Story from the San Francisco Call newspaper, April 24, 1908 describing the lynching in Skidoo, Calif. Read the complete story here.

Library of Congress, Historic American Newspapers collection

A man named Spanish Joe told Max about going to Death Valley. When he got to the ranch an old woman was sitting in a rocking chair. Joe noticed no movement for a length of time, and he couldn’t stop looking at her. “You needn’t be afraid of her. She’s dead,” someone told him. The poor woman had been lost on the salt marsh, died, and become mummified. Joe didn’t mention how long the woman was kept in the rocker on display.

Father John Crowley, the Desert Padre, knew Max Skinner, and one day in the 1930’s  the two began reminiscing about the old days. Randsburg was a favorite subject, in the days when it was a booming tent city. Max was given the contract for a row of wooden buildings. After the buildings were constructed, the paint job was given to a man named Buster. Another man named Irons was in competition for the contract and was so angry that he didn’t get it, he waited for Buster to erect a scaffold. While Buster was perched on it, Irons kicked out the scaffold supports. Buster, paints and all fell in the process. As he hit the ground fighting, the skirmish between the two began and the law was called in.  Randsburg only had a one cell jail. The decision was made that Buster and Irons would explain to the judge that it was all a joke, and the possibility of the two men being locked up in one cell and creating a first class murder was avoided.

Father Crowley and Max also speculated on the safest place to be during gun play in Randsburg. Max remembered telling a partner of his that the least exposed position was to be stretched out on the ground. Max and partner decided to act on the theory, both laying down side by side in an unfinished Randsburg store.  Meantime, a quarrelsome gentleman began dissecting another in a nearby saloon. The bartender reached under the bar and pulled out a rifle, aimed it at the man, and wound up killing a slumbering miner across the street as he lay in his blankets on the floor. The intended victim hid in a piano box, which the riflemen proceeded to pepper with bullets, causing no damage except the removal of the occupant's ear.

Father Crowley, in return, relayed the story of Mrs. Jud Collins of Bishop, whose mother, Mrs. Woods, lived at Lida during the boom days of Goldfield. The town was full or prospectors. Mrs. Woods enlisted a group of the men to move a large stove that was outside her kitchen. In the process of moving, the door fell open, and a man was revealed crouched inside. The oven was his chosen hiding spot to avoid being shot by someone whom he had offended. Another man in the same town was said to have leaped into a well as he was being pursued, a low bullet clipping off the heel of his boot. The results of Father Crowley's and Max Skinner’s speculations on safe hiding places during gun play remained unsettled between the two.  

These are but a few of the adventures of Max Skinner and the rough and tumble times of the old mining camps. Members of the Skinner family live on to tell these tales and more. Our sources of Max’s tales come from the following publications:   


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


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

by Joan Brooks

Mesquite Press 1997


Saga of Inyo County

Chapter 83 Southern Inyo AARP, 1977

Max Skinner: As Told to Clarice Uhlmyer, by Max, in 1940

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