|Mojave River Valley Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary.|
BARSTOW • Bootlegging was big business in the Mojave Desert during the Roaring ‘20s, according to Barstow author Cliff Walker.
The bootleggers wanted “to get far away from the sheriff and federal agents,” Walker said as he sat inside the Mojave River Valley Museum, reminiscing about the many chapters of Mojave Desert history.
“After World I, all the farmers and miners were laid off all over the place. There were marginal farms out here and we didn’t have to feed the (Europeans) anymore. So a lot of farmers were pushed off the lands,” Walker explained. “The syndicates from L.A. came out here to set up moonshine operations. Thousands of gallons of booze were made every day. Bootlegging was common thing in the desert. There were actually tunnels under the Mojave River going in where the booze was made.”
Walker should know all about it, because he wrote a book on bootlegging in the Mojave Desert. Bootlegging, however, is just one chapter of a long history blowing through the Mojave Desert. A lot of that history is captured inside the museum located at Barstow Road and Virginia Way in Barstow. The Mojave River Valley Museum Association is celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary on Saturday with a barbecue, sourdough, Cowboy Coffee and, of course, a little moonshine.
“We will make moonshine using cabernet wine from Newberry and we are going to distill it with brandy and, or with Grappa,” Walker said. “We will give people a little cut of it. We are going to make some alcohol from whiskey grain. Dave Romero does it. And he doesn’t drink.”
Walker is on the board of trustees for the museum. Not only does he write books about the desert and its people, but he also knows a lot about the museum.
“We will be honoring the people who helped build the museum,” Walker said, talking about Saturday’s event. He mentioned Little Rainbow Girls, Lenwood Optimist Club and he recalls the Disabled American Veterans on West Main Street became one of the first organizations to donate with $100.
“People volunteered to do the labor for nothing, practically.”
He tried in vain to remember the name of the bricklayer from Hinkley who donated his time.
Walker said original plans called for a 30-by-30-foot outdoor building. But he said the fundraising went so well that the plans were changed to building a 20-by-20 enclosed building with a patio in 1967. The museum opened in 1968. As time went along, the patio was enclosed and other expansions were constructed.
Walker says there’s a need to raise more money for more expansion and add climate control to protect the old photos, law papers and Desert Dispatch editions that go as far back as 1910.
“As you can see, there is no wall space to put anything,” Walker said. “It’s so crowded. We need a better place for people to do research.”
The museum is free and open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum pays its bills by accepting donations and selling memberships, and some people have put the museum in their wills.
More money is also raised by selling “the best collection of Western books anywhere.” Walker also mentioned there is a good collection about women in the West.
“We write books too,” Walker said. “I have 12 books published. One of mine was written for the centennial. ‘The History of the Mojave Desert’ has been sold out for the past 20 years. So that’s not making any money for the museum, but it’s getting reprinted again.”
Patricia Schoffstall, who is the museum’s treasurer, authored the “ Mojave Desert Dictionary” which first came out in 2010. The second edition was published this year.
Walker said the books and the operation of the desert is done for one main reason.
“We’re doing this to save the heritage of the desert for the future.”
Saturday’s celebration will start with an open house from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will feature some new displays, such as the “Old Spanish Trail Display.”
The barbecue will be held form 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dana Park, with adults charged $9. The fee is $8 for seniors and children over 6 years old. Children under 6 are free with any paid dinner.