February 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 info@explorehistoricalif.com 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: info@explorehistoricalif.com.

     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

The Making of Josie Bishop,

Radium Queen of the Mojave

 By Cecile Page Vargo

         One day in January of 2007, I decided to do a little time traveling from Los Angeles to the wilds of the western Mojave. With horse and buggy I headed, to Jawbone Canyon and to Josie Stevens Whitehill Bishop's grave. Somewhere along the way I picked up a little tidbit that Josie's papa was from New Mexico, so I turned my buggy around and headed straight for Silver City.

           My horse was getting pretty tired by now, and so was I. We stopped in a saloon and there a young man overheard us asking about Sheriff Whitehill. It was pretty scary for a moment when I realized who this kid was - but he came over and tipped his hat, then sat down right next to me at the old bar. I slung down a shot of whisky real fast before I took him up on his offer of his rough hewn hand. "Name's Henry, Henry McCarty," he said, "But most people around these parts know me best as Billy."

           So this kid, Billy, and I started talking, and one thing led to  another in the conversation, as they often do. Turns out that Sheriff Whitehill arrested him once for throwing rocks at Chinamen, and stealing several pounds of butter from a rancher. The Sheriff's boy was friends with Billy, and he felt sorry for the kid, so he let him off with a warning.

            A few months later, Billy found himself arrested by Sheriff Whitehill once again. This time for stealing clothing from a Chinese laundry. The case went to court and Billy was sent to jail, in hopes it would temporarily keep him out of more serious trouble and teach him a lesson that he would take with him later in life. Unfortunately, for Billy, it didn't work. I shuttered when I realized that after our brief encounter at that Silver City bar.... Billy's fate would eventually wind up in the hands of another sheriff named Garrett.

           The bartender came around and offered the kid and me another round, which by this time I was in more desperate need of than the first one. We clunked our glasses together before taking the second shot. I wiped my hand across my mouth, then my jeans, before offering Billy my hand once again. "Thanks," I said. "You've been more than helpful." I then got up from the creaky bar stool and headed out the saloon.

           I realized the library was just down the street from where my horse and buggy rested. I paused to pat the horse in assurance, and then headed towards the building. There the librarian kindly directed me to a room in the back where the newspaper archives were kept. I thumbed through until I found 1875. Sure enough, April and September of 1875, Henry McCarty, better known in later years as William Henry Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, was arrested by the Sheriff of Grant County, Harvey Howard Whitehill.

           My heart was racing by now, and I knew I had to get back to California and the western Mojave Desert. I hurried back to my buggy and with a holler to the horse; we were fast on our way. In record time, we were back at Jawbone Station and a quick look at the calendar behind the BLM visitor center counter, assured me it was 2007. Upon request, a volunteer behind the counter directed me to the information pamphlets.

Josie Bishop, Radium Queen of The Mojave

          There it was: Josie Bishop, Radium Queen of the Mojave. A few paragraphs down I read:

"Born June 18, 1875, Silver City, New Mexico, Josephine Stevens Whitehill was the fifth of ten children born to Sheriff Harvey Whitehill and his wife Harriet Stevens."

           And my mouth dropped open. Harriet Stevens would have been pregnant with Josephine at the time her sheriff husband was arresting Billy the Kid!

           Fifty years after Sheriff Whitehill let Billy the Kid off easy for stealing several pounds of butter, the sheriff’s daughter moved to the Mojave Desert from New Mexico. She was quoted in a 1937 edition of Time Magazine as arriving with "a can of beans, a loaf of bread but no butter." But the lack of butter didn't seem to bother Josie as much as it had bothered the infamous outlaw. She owned some promising acreage between Jawbone and Redrock Canyons that would eventually earn her the title “Radium Queen of the Mojave”.

           It was indeed June 18, 1875, when Harriet Stevens, the wife of Harvey Whitehill of Silver City, New Mexico gave birth to their second daughter, and fifth child of seven, Josephine Stevens Whitehill. In 1884, at the age of nine, Josie graduated from normal school and met Herbert Bishop.  By March 4, 1896, Josie and Herbert were married.

           Over the next 24 years they would have seven children together. They moved back and forth from New Mexico, to Arizona, to New Mexico again, then San Francisco and Kennett, California. When her famous father died, Josie was deeded 80 acres of his Silver City ranch. Josie and Herbert lived on the Silver City ranch until 1918, when the call of Southern California’s oil and mineral resources lured them west. By 1920 Josie’s marriage to Herbert soured. Herbert and two of their sons moved to Colorado, while she remained in Southern California.

           An old friend from Silver City, John Christie, introduced Josie to the riches of the desert north of the town of Mojave. In 1925, she partnered with 27 year old Henry Scotty Cook to work Christie’s claims and inhabit three tent cabins near Red Rock Canyon. When Christie died in 1928, Josie acquired his claims.

          To survive financially, Scotty took on odd jobs, while Josie wrote for the Cantil newspaper, and served on juries in Bakersfield. They sold water, a precious commodity in the arid Mojave Desert, from their well to locals to make ends meet when the claim years were lean.

            In 1932, a fire destroyed the tent camp they called their home. Josie and Scotty moved five miles away where  wood cabins  already stood waiting to be used. This site, located off of route SC175, between Jawbone and Redrock Canyons, would be Josie’s home for the remainder of her life.

           Josie and Scotty worked their claims for gold and silver for 12 years. One particular claim puzzled her. Every time she entered the shaft her eyes would burn. So in 1936, Josie dug up some ore samples to show to a mineralogist in San Diego. He promised to examine them and send her a report, but she didn’t hear from him for over a year.

           In August of 1937, following a long battle over ownership of her 170 acres, and 11 claims, word was released in both Life and Time magazines, that an old time desert rat had discovered radium. The ore sample taken to San Diego had assayed in at 130 milligrams of radium bromide per ton of concentrated ore.

           In between the New Mexico and Mojave Desert years, Josie did a little acting, appearing in such movies as "The Last of the Mohicans", and "The Pathfinder", which gave her some claim to fame. However, it was her radium discoveries that turned her into an overnight celebrity.

           In addition to the articles in Time and Life, she was listed in Who’s Who Among Noted Women In America. Josie toured the nation, appearing as the Radium Queen of the Mojave at the 1939 Worlds Fair, and on Robert Ripley’s Believe It Or Not radio show of October 25, 1940. A visit to New York even earned her a seat at a Mrs. Vincent Astor’s tea party, where she was introduced to the discovers of radium, Pierre and Marie Curie.

           Non-strategic mining came to a halt in 1942 thanks to the declaration of World War II. Josie’s claims remained undeveloped until February of 1945. Three officers of the Canadian Radium and Uranium Corporation paid a visit to the mines, and the presence of radium was confirmed once again.

            By October of 1945, Josie was in a one year lease agreement providing her $250 a month, and a share of the profits until she received a minimum of a million dollars. At nearly seventy years old, Sheriff Whitehill’s daughter, Josie, would soon be the world’s richest woman. In 1946 she was featured as a speaker at the annual meeting of the Colorado Mining Association in Denver. The following year she would speak at the American Mining Congress convention in El Paso Texas.

           The year 1948 brought tragedy to Josie’s rich desert life. Tuberculosis claimed the life of her son Charley, and she buried him on her claim. Easter morning of 1949, Josie and the remaining children attended sunrise services at Red Rock Canyon and enjoyed breakfast at Josie’s cabin. January 1951, the Inyokern Naval Ordnance Testing Station sent out their scientists, who again found strong evidence of radium at several locations on Josie’s property. She received a letter announcing that Chicago based geologists would soon arrive and do additional test drillings. That June, at the age of 76 years old, Josie Whitehill Bishop went to Trona to celebrate her 76th anniversary at one of her son’s homes.

           July 11, 1951, a man named James McCarthy came to pick up Josie for a meeting in the town of Mojave. As they passed Jawbone Road, the winds raged. Worried her hair would be blown unpresentable for the meeting, Josie reached to roll up the window of the car. In stead she grabbed the latch of the door, causing the door to swing open, and throw her to the pavement. She was taken to a Bakersfield hospital where she died in the night, July 12, 1951. All of her remaining children were by her side.

Visitors gather around the graves of Josie Bishop (top left and bottom) and her son, Charley (top right). The graves are  located near her former claims on BLM land overlooking Jawbone Canyon.


           Ownership of Josie Bishop’s claims reverted to her children. Son Jack, and other children, worked the claims to no avail. Partner Scotty remained on the claim until health forced him to his daughter’s home in Los Angeles. Meantime, Josie’s son, Jack, died in 1973. Eventually, arsonists burned everything on the Bishop claims.  At the death of Josie’s last child, Gene, the claims went to her husband, Herbert, and son Jim.

           In recent years the State of California recognized Josie’s claims as a Point of Historical Interest. A monument was erected in front of Jawbone Bureau of Land Management Station. The Bishop family decided to discontinue maintaining the claims and they were released to the Federal Government. The Friends of Jawbone adopted the site of Josie’s claims as a Bonanza Trail site. The graves of Josie and her son Charles are on the site. Desert travelers, with suitable four wheel drive vehicles, can pay tribute to Josie at her claim today.

           To obtain more information visit www.jawbone.org .











Josie Bishop Radium Queen Of The Mojave
Bureau of Land Management
Ridgecrest Field Office
Flyer  - Written by Myrt Railey


Happy Birthday, Mike

Mike Patterson, the ghost of Cerro Gordo, recently celebrated a birthday at a surprise party in Ridgecrest.

Looking over a scrapbook are Mike, Gary, Cecile and Mary.

Mike leads the celebration with the "secret" salute. With him are friend, Marla (left) and his mother.

Mike looks over artwork by Robert C. Likes depicting Cerro Gordo's early leaders.


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