September, 2003 Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts


Legends and Lore

Twenty-Three Skidoo, and Tommyknockers, too.
by Cecile Page Vargo

Up the hills from Ballarat some 40 miles or more
The Man who made the Panamints, He left a ledge of ore,
The Man who made the Panamints, had something on his Mind,
He left the ledge of ore in sight for you and me to find. 
It’s forty miles from Ballarat, the mountains there are blue,
The place is numberd 23, they’ve named the camp “Skidoo!”
From GOLD by Craig Macdonald

John L. Ramsey and John A. Thompson wandered around  Emigrant Springs in January 1906 and became famous for the discovery of the Skidoo ledge of gold ore.  They staked 30 claims along the great mother lode and named it the Gold Eagle.  By March, the Rhyolite Herald & Shorty Harris with a sack of ore samples, were doing their part to let the world know what was going on in the Wild Rose   District . George Ottis and E. Oscar Hart came along and bought a sixty-day option for 23 of the original 30 claims.  Nevada mining magnate Bob Montgomery came to town and managed to get his hands on those twenty three.  The town of Skidoo soon built up around the Skidoo Mining Company. Eventually as much as $1,500,000 was pulled from the entire area.

There are several stories as to how “The Famous Skidoo” mine got it’s name.  A  popular saying  of the day,  “23 Skidoo,”  probably played a part in it.  The March 1, 1907  Rhyolite Herald attributed the name to Bob Montgomery and his associates who bought the original properties of the Skidoo Mines Company which consisted of twenty three claims.  After surveying and laying out the site,  they soon realized that, like their mining claims, their new town consisted of  twenty three blocks: “23 claims, 23 city blocks -- 23 Skidoo.”  It sounded good, so they stuck with it.  A proposal was soon made  to change the original  Hovick Post Office ( after part manager and owner of the Skidoo mine) to the official name of Skidoo. The United States Post Office initially rejected the name, saying it was inappropriate slang.   By March 31, 1907 ,  it was announced that mail addressed to Skidoo would be delivered to the "richest gold camp in the desert and on earth."

In his book, Gold,  Craig MacDonald, tells the naming story a bit differently. According to MacDonald, as the camp surrounding the Skidoo Mines grew to 1500 residents, the miners gathered around to decide upon an appropriate name.  One prospector suggested that the camp be called Montgomery after Bob himself, who was responsible for  putting Inyo County on the map of the world with his mining ventures.  Everyone agreed this was a fine name, but Bob Montgomery was a modest man and did not want his name used.  This put a damper on things, until someone reminded them of  the man who traveled the 23 miles to bring water twice a week  from a spring at Telescope Peak. “Skidoo” Stewart Skidoovich, received the honor of having the new town named after him, and the rest is history….or perhaps not…..    

Regardless of which story you choose to believe, the town of Skidoo was born.  A flood of miners came in to help pull out a great amount of gold ore.  Many of these  miners were English and Cornish. They were often heard singing songs of “two foot high brown men in little mining boots.”  These elf-like gnomes, better known as Tommyknockers, were famous for the tapping sounds they used to warn of mining disasters.  Imagine the Skidoovian miners as their hearty voices echoed through the tunnels as they worked:  

I’m a hardrock miner an I ain’t afeard of ghosts,
But my neck-hair bristles like porcupine’s quills,
An’ I knock my knuckles on the drift set posts
When the Tommy Knockers hammer on the caps an sills,
An’ raise hallelujah with my picks an’ drills!
Pick, Pick, Pick.
Has someone behind us knocked?
Pick, Pick, Pick.
For they’re locked in the earthen wall,
Those that found death down there…
And we leave the haunted place,
For we won’t work where they be,
And whenever we hear them knocking
We sure will always flee.
For it means whoever hears it
Will be the next inline,
For the pick-pick of the “Tommy Knockers
Is the last and awful sign.  

Today a couple of signs, and a piece of the 23 mile long pipeline that made Stewart Skidoovich’s  job as water boy obsolete, are the most visible remains of the old gold camp which is now a part of Death Valley National Park.  A road around the corner from the main town site leads to the stamp mill.  You can find it easily….. if the Tommyknockers haven’t hidden it from you!


Special Thanks to:

Craig MacDonald and his book GOLD published by Pacific Bell

Alan H. Patera & David A. Wright and their book Skidoo!  
published by Western Places

And all my friends at who often inspire me with their special sense of humor & history .

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