May 2015 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










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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.

Click on the FOCG logo (above) for additional information and to join or make a donation.

Membership is only $10.

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.

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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.



Shotgun Kate and the Battle for Burgess

by Cecile Page Vargo

She peered through the window of Lottie Dearborn’s Lone Pine boarding house as a group of men saddled up their horses and hollered out at the sight of a familiar face. “Beveridge Ross Spear, you’d better not be taking Warren and that gang of his to Burgess. He’s taking that paid gang of loafers up there armed with guns. Warren plans to take the mine away from me. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve got to beat them to the mine.”

Beveridge looked intently at her and simply replied, “This is my livelihood, Mrs. Wells.  I never heard such a tale. They made the arrangement and I must keep my word. I’m sorry, Mrs. Wells, I must be on time.” 

She ran out to saddle her own bald faced sorrel and took off in a gallop. The loud splash made when she reached the irrigation canal behind Mt. Whitney station (on the Carson & Colorado R.R.) startled the nine men and their horses. “Good morning, Mr. Spear,” she said politely, and continued on.

High on the southern slope of New York Butte near the Long John Mine, Kate sat astride her horse and watched as the nine men on their horses entered the canyon three miles below.  The Long John Mine was hers now, and she was determined to keep it. The Long John was a big producer with mules regularly sent down the mountain carrying three sacks of 80 pound bags of gold ore, each worth $2,800. The ore was panned without crushing and came in sizes of kernels of corn or wheat that contained nearly an ounce and a half of gold.

Portion of USGS 1913 (Ballarat) topographic map showing the area where the Battle of Burgess occurred.

Gold fever had struck everyone in the Owens Valley and surrounding hills and the Long John was a prize amongst the mines.  Kate was the lucky one who managed to obtain what some said was a fraudulent title to the claim, following her divorce from the 300 pound giant of a man known as Fat Wells.  Fat had hired Beveridge Ross Spear to lead his lawyer, Warren, up to the location, determined to get his claim back. In return for his efforts, Warren looked forward to a good share of gold for his efforts.

Kate soon spied the nine men reaching the hotel and crude boarding tents that made up the Burgess Camp. She continued to follow, keeping a hundred yards or so above them. The hotel stood near the mouth of the gulch that leads up the mountain to the Long John mine. Kate nudged her horse and took off in a run to block the way. Her husband’s attorney, Warren, dismounted his horse and moved towards her announcing, “We are here for peace.”

But his actions said otherwise as he grabbed her sorrel’s bridle and tried to turn him in the other direction back down the gulch. Kate maintained her horse and spun back around, in a struggle with Warren who insisted the horse go down to clear the way for them to continue on. Kate and horse managed to hold ground through it all. She grabbed her revolver and shoved it down at Warren.  Warren instinctively caught her wrist and pushed the gun up and away with one hand;  the other hand still forcing Kate’s horse down the gulch.

“Don’t shoot, Kate! Don’t shoot!” a third man shouted as he jumped out from behind a boulder, a rifle in his hand. This was Kate’s brother, Archie Taylor.  Archie dropped his own rifle and plunged his body into Warren.  A fourth man, Kate’s son, Virgil Robinson, jumped out from another rock leveling his rifle. Virgil didn’t shoot, but the seven men who had accompanied Warren and Beveridge up the mountain grabbed their six shooters, aimed and fired.

The group of nine horses and  twelve people had grown to include several spectators, all standing in a hundred foot circle in the bottom of the narrow gulch. Among them a miner named Charley Bago was shot in the upper right arm just as he ran towards shelter behind a tent. Albert Sianz was struck on the hobnail sole of his right shoe.  Slim Wilson fell behind a rock. Beveridge Spear charged down the gulch on his horse. Meanwhile at the Long John mine, a quarter mile up the gulch, a heavy guard and more gun play greeted the original nine horseman and sent them into retreat down the mountain to Lone Pine.

Kate eventually returned to Lone Pine with Ben Redfield acting as her body guard.  Charges were filed against Warren and his group. The following day she and Ben returned to the mine. As the two of them reached a blind spot in the narrows the voice of Kate’s ex-husband Fat could be heard shouting, “Caught yah with my wife!” and Redfield found himself at the end of a shotgun barrel.

“Don’t shoot!” yelled Kate, as she ran her horse between the two men. Redfield rolled over the side of his horse for protection. Fat Wells fired one shot, missing Kate,  but sending her horse to its death on the trail with a loud brawl. Kate mounted Redfield’s horse and scurried back to Lone Pine to file attempted murder charges against Fat.

The two week long trial, wrought with contention, bitterness and several near fights, was presided over by Justice of the Peace A.M. Bonner. Lawyer Peter Forbes got into a scuffle with a bystander not involved with the original shootings at the Long John. “I’d punch your nose if you didn’t wear glasses,” W. K. Miller Jr. announced. In return, Forbes threw his glasses from his face and on to  the floor. “They’re off!” he answered.  Forbes leaned forward to the tune of Judge Bonner’s gavel pounding for order. Miller backed off, “I wouldn’t fight an old man.”  In his Irish accent, Forbes simply replied, “Ah, young mohn…you do have a bit of sense.”

Fat Wilson’s lawyer, Warren, advised his attorneys in his attempted murder trial. Nobody was injured and Kate J. Wells maintained her title to the Long John mine. 

Kate Wells earned the nickname, Shotgun Kate, for her defiant ride to the mountain ahead of the men who were after her. Shotgun Kate was never forgotten as the woman who saved her mining claim at the Battle of Burgess. 

Shotgun Kate followed mule packers, Carmen and Henry Olivas for two years as they hauled her high grade ore down the rugged road to the Lone Pine railway station. Kate carried her shotgun to ward off hijacking bandits.

Kate J. Wells herself, was packed over the Inyo crest to the salt tram station and loaded on the salt tram to Swansea. Kate and a miner named Smalley had been loading timber at the mine, when a mule whirled around with logs on his back, caught her on the side of the head and broke her neck.  The year was 1918.

All that's left today at the Burgess Mine is an adopt a cabin (maintained by users) and magnificent views of Owens and Saline Valleys.

This story was adapted from Beveridge Ross Spear’s eyewitness rendition written for the Saga of Inyo County published by the Southern Inyo AARP  in remembrance of the Inyo County 1976 Bicentennial.  The story of her death comes from The Mule Men: A History of Stock Packing in the Sierra Nevada by Louise A. Jackson.  A picture of her grave can be found here:




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