October 2012 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 officially


as of July 25, 2012

Please phone Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Cerro Gordo (760-876-5030) for additional information.

Caretakers are still on site to prevent vandalism.


Contact us through email at:

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.

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

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

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:  echco@msn.com

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

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, 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.



The Irish Harlot of Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page  Vargo

The bad girls of the thriving 1870’s silver mining town of Cerro Gordo primarily worked for Lola Travis or Maggie Moore at the Palace of Pleasure or the Waterfall at opposite ends of town, but a few chose to set up shop on their own and sell their wares to lonely men searching for companionship and carnal knowledge. May Merritt, a blue eyed Irish lass, was one of these women. She called herself "The Fenian", after fraternal organizations dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in her homeland known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

May Merritt was known as a big hearted woman who was noted for charitable acts to those in sickness and financial distress; but it was her penchant for whiskey and her voracious temper that earned her celebratory fame in Lone Pine and Los Angeles, as well as Cerro Gordo. Her name frequently appeared in newspaper headlines. During the election year of 1872,  during the absence of the Inyo Independent newspaper’s editor, Merritt’s status rose to new levels, when the printer’s devil took liberties and declared at the top of the editorial page:  “FOR VICE PRESIDENT, THE FENIAN OF LONE PINE.”

The Fenian travelled with a big black dog, perhaps to stand by her side and offer extra protection when her drinking and her fists got her into trouble. In Los Angeles on a visit, she beat up a man for calling her an Irish bitch, broke an Italian boy’s harp when he refused to honor her request to play an Irish song for her, and subsequently landed in jail. Merritt was not to be held captive for long, however, and managed to escape from jail. She was allowed to leave town with the promise she would never return.

Dance halls were lively places in Cerro Gordo, where fights were common occurrences. One night Dr. Hugh K. McCelland decided to pay a visit to one, where he usually only went when someone was shot or cut-up. This particular night he was fascinated by a fiery Mexican girl.  A young man equally enamored by her more than lively stunts on the dance floor stood beside the doctor and asked him if he knew the girl’s name. As soon as McClelland replied “The Horned Toad”, she drew a stiletto ready to plunge into him.

This image taken in the late 1960's or early 1970's shows a building (upper right) that may have been one of Cerro Gordo's dance halls. The building below it in the center of the photo may have housed prostitutes' "cribs".                    (Photo by Robert C. Likes)

The quick thinking Fenian was nearby and grabbed her wrist, thwarting the attempt at harm. A Mexican friend of the Horned Toad darted out with a knife in his hand, and the doctor prepared for the inevitable, when a shot rang out from the revolver of a prominent Cerro Gordo mining man by the name of George Snow, killing the Mexican and saving the doctor’s life. Turmoil broke out as the hall filled with more shots, and gunpowder smoke as the lights dimmed.

Commotion and pandemonium seemed to follow May Merritt. One star lit night she was overly loaded with whiskey as she strolled along the steep hillside paths of one of Cerro Gordo’s cabin lined streets with roofs terraced close to each other. Her foot slipped in the rocky soil and she fell through the roof of one shack full of ten or twelve Chinese men playing a game of tan. She landed on the center of the table where they were playing and all hell broke lose. One frightened man hurried out the exit and fell over an embankment breaking his leg.  

In September of 1872, the Inyo Independent reported that May Merrit was lying very low in Lone Pine with small prospects of recovery after attempting suicide by poison. She apparently survived to create more headlines, eventually dying ten years later in the then faded silver town. Her burial service was recorded as an impressive one, conducted by Hon. S. D. Woods.  The cemetery on the mountaintop still sits overlooking town, but all graves are lost to time, weather and vandals in modern centuries.  It is unknown if The Fenian’s was among them, but her stories remain as testament to the rough and tumble life of the Irish harlot of Cerro Gordo.

Most of the graves in Cerro Gordo's cemetery have been lost to time, weathering and vandalism. Burial records were destroyed in a fire at the Inyo County Courthouse. The Fenian may be among the more than 300 people believed buried in the hillside cemetery above the ghost town.


 Looking Back At Cerro Gordo

by Robert C. Likes

Rosedog Books, Pittsburgh, PA



The Life And Times Of Cerro Gordo’s Lola Travis

by Robin Flinchum

Half World Books, Tecopa, CA



The Silver Seekers

by Remi Nadeau

Crest Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA


Returning Home to Cerro Gordo

Photography by Roger  Vargo

Bob Likes, co-author of From This Mountain-Cerro Gordo and author of Looking Back at Cerro Gordo was never able to return to Cerro Gordo after retiring to South Carolina. Bob's book was part of our inspiration to learn more about Cerro Gordo. We valued and respected his friendship for the short time that we knew him.

Bob's daughter, Phyllis Fludine, found Explore Historic California on line and our many references to her father's book. Bob was unaware his book was still in print. It is through her efforts that Bob reasserted his intellectual rights to From This Mountain and it is through Phyllis that we came to know her father.

Phyllis grew up in the San Fernando Valley of California, but now lives on the East Coast. She had planned to journey west last year, but family matters got in the way and her trip was postponed until this August.

She finally returned to Cerro Gordo after a 40 year absence. Many things had changed in the ensuing four decades; but today Cerro Gordo is in better physical shape because of the efforts of Jody, Mike and Robert Desmaris.

We shared her memories and recollections of time there with her father and made new memories for all of us.

Plyllis Likes Fludine (in white dress) and Cecile Page Vargo get into the spirit of old time Cerro
Gordo by dressing in period costumes. The pushed an old style ore car (top), posed at the bar in the American Hotel (bottom left) and sat in the shadows of historic structures (bottom right).


Though 40 years and death separate them, Phyllis was able to once again sit with her father on the porch of the American Hotel through some Photoshop magic.



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