Thursday, December 31, 2015

Indian Wells builds new monument to artist Carl Bray

Built in a park-like setting, the Carl G. Bray Smoke Tree Painter monument on Highway 111 in Indian Wells includes six panels – five of which detail the city’s past and one devoted to Bray.
(Sherry Barkas/The Desert Sun)

Sherry Barkas
The Desert Sun

Driving east on Highway 111 through Indian Wells, one can’t help but notice the Carl G. Bray Smoke Tree Painter monument, with its rock walls, colorful display panels and the palette sign near Miles Avenue.

Dedicated in November, the tribute to internationally known artist Carl Bray is situated where his art gallery and the home he built once stood.

“The monument speaks to the history of Indian Wells … and to Carl Bray,” said Jan Holmlund, advisory committee chair for the city’s Historic Preservation Foundation.

The monument was built by the city at a cost of $84,617 in a park-like setting, that includes six panels – five of which detail the city’s past and one devoted to Bray.

The artist built his home himself in the early 1950s along the edge of what is now Highway 111. The Oklahoma-born painter, who worked as a brakeman for Southern Pacific Railroad, was living in Los Angeles at the time but found the desert landscape irresistible as an artist.

He and his wife, Luella, bought the property for $1,000. At the time, their neighbors included “a few cabins, a dance hall, two small grocery stores, two gas stations, a café and … a rattlesnake pen located just across the highway,” preservation foundation President Adele Ruxton wrote in a short historical biography of Bray.

As the city grew and resorts and country clubs went up around them, the Brays held on to their “little homemade house” until 1999, when they sold it and moved to Banning.

Bray’s gallery was a gathering spot for a group of artists who came to be known as the Smoke Tree School.

Under the new owner, the Indian Wells property fell into foreclosure and the city bought it in 2008. It was declared unsafe and demolished in 2010 amidst protests by preservationists and fans of Bray’s work.

His home was the last structure left on that historic site that was at one point also a stagecoach stop.

“It’s the last piece of that village,” Holmlund said.

“This monument and panels speak to so many of the moments in history and early settlement” of Indian Wells, Historical Preservation Foundation member Ann Japenga said.

The original sign marking the landmark spot is displayed in City Hall along with pieces of Bray’s artwork.

Bray’s paintings are prized today “for their blue collar mysticism, lonely freight trains and glowing smoke trees,” the monument states.

His artwork is mystical yet “very precise; detailed,” Holmlund said.

While most of his paintings are of desert landscape and smoke trees, he painted in a variety of genres, including a rare seascape he was commissioned to do, Holmlund said.

Holmlund, Ruxton, Japenga and foundation Secretary Sharon Devine gathered recently at Ruxton’s Indian Wells home to talk of the artist they knew and the importance of making sure he and the city’s rich history aren’t forgotten.

All four women knew Bray and described him as laid back, usually wearing suspenders and speaking with an Oklahoma accent – a working class man who wasn't the typical Indian Wells resident.

“His ordinariness” is what Holmlund most liked about Bray. “He was just a friendly, neighborly, compassionate person.”

He was always ready to help others and made people feel at home in his gallery and his house, the women said.

“His home was your home,” said Ruxton, who has binders full of notes Bray wrote, each of them in envelopes he would mark with a special drawing. “I think anyone who met Carl felt like they had known Carl a long time.”

“He had tremendous appeal,” Japenga said. “He had a very calm and accepting manner. He was more accepting of his house being torn down than we were.”

Ruxton was at Bray’s home in Banning the day he died – July 23, 2011. Luella Bray had died three years earlier.

“We went to see him,” she said, but were met by a doctor who thought they were family and told them of Bray’s passing.

Bray’s hat, easel and paint brushes are on display at the Historical Society and Museum of Palm Desert, where some of his paintings are also for sale.

“With every painting he told a story,” Japenga said.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the Road: Museum hosts program on history of Mojave Road

MOJAVE ROAD: Speaking at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum earlier this week, eastern Mojave Desert historian Dennis Casebier gave a presentation covering the history of the Mojave Road, from its beginnings as a trail used by native tribes, to its present-day status as a recreational trail. “We’re extremely proud to have Dennis here,” said Karole Finkelstein, CRMHSM vice president. “There is no one more qualified to talk about the Mojave Road and the history of the eastern Mojave Desert.” - DK McDONALD/The Daily News

The Daily News

G.K. Chesterton called history a road to be reconsidered and even retraced.

For Mojave Desert historian Dennis Casebier, the history of one road has been his focus for more than 60 years.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum on Monday, Casebier covered the history of the road, from its beginnings as a trail used by native tribes, through time to its importance in moving troops for training during World War II, to its present-day status as a recreational trail, generously illustrated throughout with historic and personal photos, anecdotes, and stories of his drive to preserve history through the cultural center.

“It was an excellent presentation,” said Nancy Nelson, who attended with her husband, Barry. “We traveled the Mojave Road without knowing much of its history, so this is kind of after-the-fact. Just about everything he told us we didn’t know. The history is fascinating.”

Casebier and other proponents of preserving the route founded the Friends of the Mojave Road in 1981; working with the Bureau of Land Management, Casebier and the group identified the route of the trail.

The Mojave Road is unique in that for most of its 138-mile length it is in much the same condition as it was when formed more than 150 years ago, he said. Bisecting the Mojave National Preserve, the twin tracks functioned primarily as a supply, rather than migration, route, and the road was overlooked while many other early major Western routes were upgraded into state and national highways.

The Friends insisted that the BLM place no signage to mark the route; in order to help preserve the road from overuse and prevent the unprepared from attempting its crossing, navigation is only possibly by locating strategically placed rock cairns and through the travel guide.

“It’s a four-wheel-drive-only road,” Casebier said. “In order to travel the road you have to buy the Mojave Road Guide, which tells you how to access the road, and how to behave while on it. It is a dangerous place; people have died out there.”

The road guide is available at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum, 2201 Highway 68.

“It was a wonderful presentation,” said attendee Leroy Jackson. “I am so interested in his stories of earlier pioneers homesteading the region. It’s amazing to think you could be standing in the same places those people walked.”

Casebier, a retired U.S. Navy physicist, is the driving force behind the most complete archive of Mojave Desert history in existence — the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs, Calif.

“He’s a historian above all historians, as far as I’m concerned,” said Elsie Needles, Colorado River Historical Society and Museum president. “He’s devoted his life to that area, and no one is better than Dennis at finding Mojave Desert history.”

Casebier began gathering archival materials pertaining to the Mojave Desert in 1954. When the Friends group transitioned to registered nonprofit status in 1993, his personal collection became the seed of the most complete library known on the history of the eastern Mojave Desert; the cultural center now houses more than 108,000 photographs, 6,000 historic maps of the region, 3,000 files on individuals and cultural sites of interest, 1,300 oral history files, and 6,000 volumes of published literature, including the library and personal papers of desert bibliographer E. I. Edwards, the library and collection of Harold and Lucile Weight, and the collection of San Bernardino County historian Germaine L. Moon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Old West lives on at Pioneertown

What started as an Old West movie set built in the 1940s, Pioneertown still lives on as a getaway that recalls those days. (Photo by Trevor Summons)

By Trevor Summons
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

One of the few places that never seems to change is the small Western town of Pioneertown, or Pi’ Town as many of the locals call it.

A walk down Mane Street — only hoof and foot traffic allowed — is always interesting. If the original builders of the town were to come back they would feel right at home.

Some of these builders were the stars of the old Western movies, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They decided to convert the sets of their films into overnight dwellings and then they put in a small 18-room motel where they could stay after a day’s shooting out in the hot sun.

The six-lane bowling barn is still there, but it’s not functioning at the moment. It’s been up for sale a few times but it’s hard to find many takers; it’s difficult to make money from occasional bowlers.

It’s a shame as the bowling alley is an original — Roy Rogers bowled the first ball back in 1947 and it was a strike (of course!) A decade later school boys and girls were replaced with automatic pin setters, but then gradually business fell off.

At the end of Mane Street, sits Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, which is a thriving bar and restaurant business with regular concerts on the weekends. Its outside walls were some of the original sets used in those early films.

Today, during the daytime, you will find lots of horse trailers unloaded as today’s modern cowboys trail their mounts over the impressive terrain. It was this scenery that attracted Rogers and Autry to film so many movies and early TV series here.

Often at night they would gather in the motel, at the rear of Pappy and Harriet’s, play cards and carouse around. Room No. 9 became known as Club Nine for the fun they had there.

Last time I was there, I met up with John Jeffries who with his partner, Gary Suppes, makes saddles and other leather goods. As I walked along in the center of town he was there again. It was good to see him.

He is one of about 400 who make up the permanent population of the town. Of course that is not just Mane Street, but several blocks on either side.

“We’ve had a very good summer,” he said. “Lots of buses with foreign tourists from all over the world.”

It was a Thursday in late October when I was there, and it was pretty quiet at that time.

“At the weekend, things begin to build up,” Jeffries continued.

They do a lot of weddings, he told me.

“We offer a particular service,” he said. “For a $50 fee, we’ll try and talk ’em out of it!” he laughed into his grizzled beard. “We haven’t had any takers yet. But it might save them a lot of money later on.”

I can never quite work out exactly how many people live on the main street there, as there are a number of places with obvious signs of habitation. Perhaps there is a resident of the shop that sells Soap and Goats, but I never saw anyone about, not even a goat.

Pioneertown is a fun place to visit, and if you want to stay over like the old movie stars, then go online to the motel and see if they’ve got room. Prices vary from $110 to $210 per night. And if you’re thinking of getting hitched, then maybe a visit to the saddle maker might be an idea first.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pioneer monument to be dedicated at St. Helena Cemetery

A monument to honor pioneer John Searles will be dedicated on Dec. 5 in St. Helena.

Register Staff
Napa Valley Register

The public is invited to attend the dedication of the new monument honoring mining pioneer John Searles at St. Helena Cemetery on Dec. 5 at 10:30 a.m.

John Searles was an early California pioneer, arriving by ship in San Francisco in the spring of 1850. After mining gold for 23 years, he discovered that what had appeared to be just salt and mud, was in fact the largest mineral deposit in California. He began mining borax at his discovery. Today, mining of that deposit continues after more than 140 years, and today a variety of products in addition to borax are extracted.

In his honor, his mineral deposit was named Searles Lake.

Despite his importance to California, when Searles died on Oct. 7, 1897, in St. Helena, he was buried two days later with only a curb surrounding his plot marked with his last name. His grave provides no information as to who he was, or what he accomplished.

The St. Helena Historical Society, the Searles Valley Historical Society and several private individuals are erecting a proper monument at his grave.

Napa Marble and Granite Works helped design the marker with historic details from Searles Valley Historical Society. Donations have been collected since 2014 for the $8,000 project. Donations came from Searles Valley Historical Society, with major gifts from Jim and Bonnie Fairchild, Searles Valley Minerals Inc., Searles Lake Gem and Mineral Society and the Death Valley 49ers Club.

Kim Taylor, a Searles Valley native, realized at the Trona (Searles Valley) Centennial Celebration in 2014 that the founder’s grave was unmarked. Taylor, who now lives in Roseville, spearheaded the effort.

Descendants of John and Mary Searles, plus representatives from Searles Valley and St. Helena historical societies, will attend the Dec. 5 dedication at the cemetery, at 2461 Spring St. The dedication is rain or shine.

For information, contact the St. Helena Historical Society at 707-967-5502 or by email, or the Searles Valley Historical Society at 760-372-5222 or

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Yuma Proving Ground: Testing, training that keeps soldiers safer

A platoon of infantrymen at Camp Laguna, the first of the Arizona camps in the expanded Desert Training Center. (Photo: Yuma Proving Ground)

Work at the site also has yielded practical civilian items such as GPS

Roger Naylor
Special for The Arizona Republic

It all started with bridges.

In January 1943, the U.S. Army showed up in one of the hottest, driest corners of the American desert to build and test bridges. At first glance it may have seemed crazy, but the Yuma Test Branch was a brilliant idea. The new Imperial Dam created perfect conditions to test bridging equipment because the Colorado River flow could be controlled.

While engineers were trying to figure out how to build portable combat bridges that could handle tank traffic, Camp Laguna was established nearby to train the men who would drive the tanks and fight alongside them. Camp Laguna was one of a dozen U.S. Army training camps spread across 18,000 square miles of harsh terrain in Arizona and California. The location was chosen by Gen. George Patton to prepare troops for the rugged conditions and mechanized warfare of North Africa. Nearly 1.5 million men trained in this desert terrain.

As the fighting in Europe began winding down, bridges were no longer an urgent need. Yuma Test Branch began growing rice paddies on the banks of the Colorado to mimic conditions troops and equipment could face during the anticipated invasion of Japan. Camp Laguna closed at the end of World War II but work at Yuma continued. The focus shifted as engineers began pitting the fierce desert environment against a variety of machinery.

In 1950, the camp closed but reopened a year later with a greatly expanded mission. The renamed Yuma Test Station became the longest overland artillery range in the country. Armored vehicles, armored systems and air-delivery systems were tested. The installation was renamed Yuma Proving Ground in 1963.

“Far too often in the past we’ve used soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen as guinea pigs,” said William Heidner, museum curator at the proving ground’s Heritage Center. “We put them in situations with equipment that didn’t always work in certain conditions. We didn’t routinely test, even through World War II. Yuma Proving Ground really sprung from that.”

It has become a laboratory virtually unparalleled. Yuma Proving Ground covers 1,300 square miles in a landscape free from urban encroachment and with extremely consistent weather patterns —350 sunny days and fewer than 3 inches of rainfall annually. Sparse vegetation reduces many environmental concerns. Sea-level altitude makes it perfect place to test helicopters.

Every year here, tens of thousands of artillery, mortar and missile rounds are fired; 36,000 parachute drops take place; over 130,000 test miles are driven; and nearly 4,000 air sorties are flown.

“In terms of workload, we’ve been the Army’s busiest test center for the last three years,” Heidner said.

The Apache helicopter, M-1 Abrams tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Stryker armored vehicle and virtually all of the Army’s artillery and ground-weapon systems were tested here. Yuma Proving Ground also contains the western world’s largest and most advanced mine, countermine and demolitions test facility. Much of the work done has civilian as well as military applications.

“One of the tests we pioneered was the benefits of using antifreeze in the summer,” Heidner said. “And GPS was initially developed here.”

Beginning in the 1970s, all developmental work on the global positioning system took place at Yuma Proving Ground. Before money could be allocated to align actual satellites, stand-ins had to be placed on mountaintops. Once promising data was gathered, a bevy of satellites were recalibrated to saturate the Yuma sky and the work on GPS was completed.

Visitors can learn the complex story of Yuma Proving Ground at the Heritage Center. Housed in the installation’s former headquarters, the museum features impressive displays and artifacts. The first several rooms follow a timeline of the installation. A fascinating component of the story is not just the staggering amount of equipment tested here but often how it was done.

“In many cases you had to invent the means to test the hardware,” Heidner said. “In the early days after a test, a team of engineers would lock themselves in a room with slide rules and pore over the data. The challenge was to shoot a test and get results in real time. Today, we have range data transmission systems all over the grounds connected by hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cables. As soon as the test is complete, you can view images of projectiles moving through the air at 5,000 feet per second and print out the data.”

The last few exhibits in the Heritage Center are especially powerful. An entire room is dedicated to the Holocaust and German concentration camps. Haunting images of living skeletons peer back from still photos and a short movie. The room is a tribute not only to those who suffered but also to the men who trained here. Of the 25 divisions stationed in the desert, 10 went on liberate concentration camps.

Another room is a memorial to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, featuring vivid photographs from the Library of Congress.

“Our core mission is training for the organization that’s here, which is by and large a civilian workforce,” Heidner said. “They understand the importance of their work. These are not refrigerators they’re testing. It’s the equipment we’re going to give to our sons and daughters when we send them into harm’s way.”

The newest exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. It includes images painted by soldiers who were there. A detailed map of Vietnam hangs in the hallway, covered with insignia.

“I’ve had a lot of wives tell me this is the first time their husbands really talked about their experience,” Heidner said. “They stand in front of the map for a long time and go, ‘I was here and this is who I was with’ and that’s how it starts.”

Yuma Proving Ground

Getting there: Yuma Proving Ground is about 187 miles southwest of central Phoenix. Take Interstate 10 east to U.S. 95. Turn south on U.S. 95 and go 60 miles. Turn right at the big guns onto Imperial Dam Road. Proceed 0.8 mile to the Visitor Control Center at the Wahner Brooks Military Exhibit Area, a collection of tanks, howitzers and rockets tested in the area.

Entering the site: Visitors must be U.S. citizens. Those who do not have a Department of Defense identification card will be subject to a background check. To complete a background check, which generally takes less than15 minutes, stop at the Visitor Control Center. Drivers must have a valid drivers license, registration and proof of insurance.

Details: 928-328-6533,

Heritage Center: Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. Admission is free.

Details: 928-328-3394.

Tours: The Yuma Visitors Bureau provides tours of Yuma Proving Ground during the winter months. The “Behind the Big Guns” tours give a behind-the-scenes look at the facility and include a narrated motorcoach ride with stops at the Heritage Center, mission-control rooms normally off-limits to visitors and lunch at an on-post restaurant. Dates are Dec. 9, Jan. 12, Feb. 2 and 23 and March 8. Tickets are $55. The “At Ease” tours offer a slightly shorter outing for $40 on Dec. 16, Jan. 26 and March 2.

Details: 928-783-0071,

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Reconnection of Route 66 in Cajon Pass will be done by mid-2016

Old Route 66 roadway in Cajon Pass, San Bernardino County, California.
Ron Warnick
Route 66 News

A massive interchange project at Interstates 15 and 215 that will reconnect old Route 66 in San Bernardino County is ahead of schedule for its projected completion of mid-2016, according to Construction Equipment Guide.

According to previous reporting, about two miles of old Route 66 in the Cajon Pass will be reopened to traffic for the first time in decades.

Commuters driving on Route 66 near the interchange will no longer face a gap in the historic roadway from Kenwood Avenue to Devore Road. Motorists should find less congestion along the old Route 66.

“Motorists will find continuous access where Route 66 turns into Cajon Boulevard,” Prunty said. “That will have a major impact on area commuters.”

John Harrington, vice president of Atkinson Construction’s Southern California office, confirms the project is on track and will likely complete ahead of schedule.

If construction continues to go as projected, that means those two miles of Route 66 will be open to traffic by spring — the beginning of tourism season.

The California Department of Transportation is overseeing the $324 million project, which seeks to improve one of the state’s worst bottlenecks. More than 1 million vehicles go through it each week.

Caltrans isn’t reconnecting old Route 66 entirely out of the good of its heart. The road will serve as an alternate route for when the freeway is closed because of an accident.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Museum setting out to make history

Colorado River Historical Society and Museum President Elsie Needles, right, and Virginia Sutherland, CRHSM founding member and volunteer opened the doors to a new season on Tuesday.

The Daily News

BULLHEAD CITY — The Colorado River Historical Society and Museum is making some history of their own.

“We’re so excited about this new season at the museum,” said Elsie Needles, CRHSM president. “Today is the museum’s opening day, we’re working on our 25th anniversary, and two phases of the Heritage Center have been completed. Moving the museum to the Heritage Center is next in the plan.”

The Colorado River Heritage Center at Bullhead Community Park is being created in four phases, Needles said. The first phase, the installation of the old Moss Mine Head Frame at Community Park was made possible through a partnership between Golden Vertex and the city of Bullhead City. Phase Two was completed in August when the 1947 Lil’ Red Schoolhouse was moved from its location near Lee Avenue and Third Street to Community Park. The building served as Bullhead City’s first school and will function as a museum of its own, complete with period displays.

Phase Three involves moving the Colorado River Museum to the complex, and the fourth phase plans the creation of a Heritage Center administration building.

“The head frame is done, the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse is moved — a ribbon cutting is scheduled for Sept. 26 in conjunction with the first Heritage Days celebration— and the museum is next,” Needles said.

A nonprofit operation of the historical society, the Colorado River Museum is housed in a building that once served as a Catholic church for workers who built Davis Dam in the 1940s and is placed in a corner of Davis Camp, just north of the Laughlin Bridge on Highway 68. Closed during June, July and August, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, September to May.

“I love volunteering here,” said Margo Dunkelman, who along with volunteer Glen Thompson works the museum on Tuesdays. “It’s very interesting and I’ve really enjoyed learning the history of Bullhead City. I used to volunteer somewhere else too, but this is much more fun.”

The Colorado River Historical Society formed in 1963 with two primary missions — the preservation of the area’s heritage and to open a history museum.

“The museum began with nothing,” said Virginia Sutherland, CRHSM founding member and long-time volunteer. “We had lots of support in the beginning from local business and were lucky enough to get some really interesting photos and artifacts.”

Museum displays tell of the Mojave Indians, the Katherine Gold Mine, the history of the Mohave Valley and Fort Mojave, memorabilia from Laughlin, the region’s ties to Louis L’amour and more. The museum has hours of historic video available to view and are working on new displays of local interest.

In the children’s room are wildlife displays and a historic dollhouse. Children are also given the opportunity to make a cornhusk doll.

“The event schedule is packed too,” said Karole Finkelstein, CRHSM vice president. “We have a slate of monthly speakers including Olivia Brasson-McCormick, historian Cheryl Mangin and Dennis Casebier of Goffs, Calif., founder of Friends of the Mojave Road. We have road tours of historic points and we’ll have a booth at the Heritage Days celebration. We over a very popular motor tour that starts at the museum and then goes on the road to about 15 historic locations in the area.

“We encourage anyone interested in learning more about the history of Bullhead City and the Mohave Valley to stop in. We ask for a $2 donation from adults and children are free.”

For more information about the motor tours, call Finkelstein at 928-219-2582. For more information about the museum, call 928-754-3399.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How a 1930s water war between California and Arizona delayed Parker Dam

Parker Dam and Lake Havasu on the Colorado River in 1939. In 1922, six of seven states signed the Colorado River Compact. Upset with its allotment, Arizona refused to sign. So when Parker Dam construction began, Arizona sought to block the project. (U.S. Department of the Interior)

by Scott Harrison
Los Angeles Times

"Water war" has for decades been a term used to describe the political battles over water in the West.

But back in the 1930s, a fight between California and Arizona over water actually veered from cold war to hot war — almost.

In 1934, the Metropolitan Water District began construction on Parker Dam, which was opposed by Arizona. The resulting Lake Havasu would feed the new Colorado Aqueduct.

Before, in 1922, six of seven states signed the Colorado River Compact. Upset with its allotment, Arizona refused to sign.

So when Parker Dam construction began, Arizona sought to block the project.

In March 1934, Arizona Gov. Benjamin Moeur called up the Arizona National Guard. Six soldiers arrived in Parker, Ariz., to observe the construction.

National media, including the Los Angeles Times, ridiculed the deployment.

When an Associated Press photo appeared in the March 10, 1934, edition of The Times, the accompanying caption reported:

"Arizona Troops Leave For (Water) Front.

"Without any flare of trumpets or a band playing martial airs, this squad of Arizona National Guardsmen left Phoenix and arrived at Parker yesterday preparatory to patrolling the dam site to prevent 'encroachment' on Arizona's rights by the Metropolitan Water District. Maj. Pomeroy, commanding the detail, is shown on the extreme right."

For the next several months, the troops patrolled the Arizona side of the dam site.

In November, the construction of a trestle bridge from the California side prompted action. On Nov. 10, Moeur declared martial law. He dispatched more than 100 National Guard troops to block construction on Arizona's shore.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes intervened and halted construction. The troops were recalled.

The resulting legal action led to an April 29, 1935, Supreme Court decision. The April 30, 1935, Los Angeles Times reported:

"Without a dissenting voice, the United States Supreme Court yesterday forced an indefinite suspension of work on Parker Dam by upholding Arizona's right to object and interfere with construction....

"Arizona officials, a dispatch from Phoenix said, hailed the decision as a victory in their battle over the Colorado River, which has been waged for twelve years.

"Gov. Moeur, who last November ordered out the Militia to stop construction, was quoted as saying he was pleased; and he and other State authorities indicated they now intend to let other sides in the controversy make the first move.

"By its far-reaching decision, the Supreme Court virtually justified Gov. Moeur's action in ordering out the troops.

"The decision, written by Justice (Pierce) Butler, assert the dam project never has been authorized by law."

Political compromises were made. Congress passed legislation allowing construction to proceed. Parker Dam was finished in 1938.

1915 Model T drives 3,600 miles duplicating Edsel Ford's road trip of a century ago

"Among the normal fears of the Mojave is the thought of being stranded. It was over 110 degrees. The Model T was running cool. The road was solid but bumpy so we took it slow and steady. Everything was fine until the hard pack soil gradually turned soft and sandy. The Model T was the first to bog down. It stalled and we crank started it only to stall again in the deep sand." We looked around for alternatives and at one point drove the Model T on what seemed to be firmer ground parallel to the road only to find ourselves getting stuck again in soft sand. It took a bit of muscle, but three of us managed to get the Model T back on the road and pointing back towards the way we came." (Historic Vehicle Association)

By Tanya Moutzalias

DETROIT, MI - A restored 1915 Model T Touring Car and its crew of drivers have successfully made the cross country road trip from Detroit in the 100 year-old car to their destination- San Francisco.

On July 17, Historical Vehicle Association President Mark Gessler and Heritage Specialist Casey Maxon began their road trip journey from the Henry Ford Estate adjacent to the University of Michigan Deaborn campus.

They set off to replicate the epic trip taken 100 years-ago by Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford, and friends in the same model, 20-horsepower, 4-cylinder car driven by Edsel Ford.

The most challenging aspect of the trip was being, "mindful of the fact that it is a 100-year-old car and you can't just pound the miles on it like a modern car and just forget about it the next day," said Maxon. He also said the most surprising part was just how smooth the ride was.

The HVA crew tried to chart the same path as Edsel Ford's journey, following the scrapbook of H.R. Caulkins Jr., one of Edsel's friends who documented the trip with a typed log on now-yellowed pages and numerous photographs bound in a blue scrapbook.

Read more about their trip here: 1915 Model T to duplicate great American road trip taken by Edsel Ford 100 years ago

"While the roads were good, they were still not great," Maxon said. "The route they took was the National Old Trails Highway.

At a top speed of 35 mph, the month-long trip was full of adventure for the HVA crew just as it was for 21 year-old Edsel Ford and his six friends.

To say today's drive was an adventure would be an understatement. It became clear why so many were able to travel the primitive roads of this country in Henry Ford's brilliant machine. All five of us concluded that the Model T was easily the most versatile two-wheel drive, commercially available vehicle ever produced. Tackling trails that would make even the most seasoned off-roaders blush, the T performed unbelievably well, the only damage suffered being a broken top latch strap, the result of a bit too much body flexing.

The purpose of the trip was to commemorate "the importance of the automobile in our culture, how it shaped our roadways, how it shaped our nation, how in 1915 it all kind of kicked off," Maxon said.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Many airmen lost their lives in the Salton Sea in WWII

Sonar image of World War II-era Avenger torpedo bomber at the bottom of the Salton Sea. The plane crashed into the sea on Dec. 30, 1947. Navy divers discovered the wreck in January, 1999 while searching for a Piper Cherokee that went down in the sea - killing a husband and wife - on Christmas Day, 1998. (Photo: Riverside County Sheriff’s Department)

Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun

The primary function of Naval Air Station, Salton Sea during World War II was to serve as an operational base for U.S. Navy seaplanes. In addition, it provided target facilities for the area — pile and floating targets distributed throughout the sea were used for torpedo and skip-bombing practice — and serviced sea planes on ferry flights and emergency stops.

Unfortunately, as happened across the U.S. and abroad during military training operations, many fliers lost their lives preparing for war. The Salton Sea has claimed its share of servicemen. In some cases, the inland lake is the final resting place for these men and their machines.

According to AeroQuest, an aviation archeology organization that locates and documents old aircraft crash sites, 25 U.S. Navy aircraft crashed in and around the Salton Sea between Feb. 13, 1942, and Aug. 29, 1945.

Nineteen of these crashes resulted in the death of one or more crew members.

The first fatal crash occurred on Dec. 27, 1942, when the PB2Y Coronado went down in the sea, killing seven men — including plane commander Lt. William O. Carlson — and injured two other members of the crew. The Navy said the bomber was on a routine training flight when it crashed that Sunday afternoon in the north end of the sea. All bodies were recovered.

On June 20, 1944, Lt. Donald A. Innis, 28, was over the Salton Sea on a rocket-firing flight when a rocket body exploded prematurely on the starboard wing. His F6F Hellcat fighter, which was in a 14-degree dive at the time, went into a slow spin and crashed into the sea. Innis was based at Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake.

The pilot, who joined the Navy in 1940, was stationed at Guadalcanal when Americans seized the island. He was on a new assignment after having also served in the Atlantic.

Salton Sea was used as ‘Wake Island’ movie set

Missing bodies found

The Nov. 15, 1943, edition of the Long Beach Independent reported that the body of a naval aviator “who had been dead for some time” was found at the edge of the Salton Sea, near Bertram. The story said he “apparently had been killed in a jump in which his parachute failed to open.”

Another discovery was made less than a year later, as the story in the Sept. 23, 1944, Fresno Bee reported: Maricopa Navy flier locates bodies of buddies killed in 1942.

“The perseverance of Lt. Cmdr. James F. Patterson of Maricopa is credited by the Navy today with the discovery in a Salton Sea canyon of the wreckage of a Navy plane and the bodies of two fliers missing since Feb. 14, 1942.

“Commander Patterson was the flying companion of the two fliers — ensigns Louis M. Winn Jr. of San Diego and William Page of Ontario. They became separated from Patterson during a search for planes overdue on a flight from San Diego from Norfolk, Va.

“The additional search for Winn and Page was abandoned after many fruitless flights by Patterson. He was assigned overseas but when he returned recently, he renewed the hunt, spotted the wreckage and led Marines over rugged terrain to the spot.”

The back story: On Feb. 14, 1942, a single-engine T-6 Texan (SNJ-2) advanced trainer aircraft — with Winn and Page aboard —disappeared while participating in the search for four F4F-4A Wildcat aircraft en route from Tucson, Ariz., to Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego.

The flight of aircraft flew right into a fast-moving winter storm that brought rain and snow to the mountains of eastern San Diego County.

Only one of the Wildcat aircraft managed to land safely. The three missing aircraft weren’t found until the 1950s. Two of the aircraft, discovered in Canebreak Canyon in San Diego County, had crash-landed just 200 feet apart from one another.

Accidental discovery

Another aircraft known to have gone down in the sea, post-war, was discovered by Navy divers in January 1999 while searching for a Piper Cherokee 180 that crashed into the murky waters on Christmas Day 1998.

The body of Grace Chatham, 82, was found floating in the lake on Jan.1, 1999. The body of her husband, World War II vet Robert Chatham, 80, who was piloting the aircraft, washed ashore and was discovered by campers near Salt Creek Beach on Feb. 12, 1999.

Authorities believe the Escondido couple crashed on the way back from dinner at Chiriaco Summit.

About two weeks after Grace’s body was found, Navy sonar equipment detected an aircraft at a depth of about 40 feet. But it wasn’t the Piper Cherokee — it was a World War-II era Avenger torpedo bomber.

Four months later, after matching the aircraft’s Bureau Number 53477 to official records, it was discovered the bomber crashed into the sea on Dec. 30, 1947, and sank as its two-man crew — a pilot and a gunner —stayed afloat with life rafts until being rescued.

The aircraft lost power on a navigation training flight from San Diego when it plunged into the water.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

First Sketch Made in the West

A painting inspired by Thomas Moran’s sketch of Green River tops Christie’s auction of William Koch’s Western artworks.

Christie’s New York still holds the artist record for Thomas Moran, for another Green River oil, painted in 1878. A collector bid $15.8 million for it seven years before the above Green River 1896 oil hammered in at $7.5 million. Editor's Note: Despite Moran's title, his sketch was not the "first" made in the West. George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller and Albert Bierstadt were among the other artists who drew earlier sketches during their travels to the American West.

Written by Meghan Saar
True West Magazine

Before 34-year-old Thomas Moran reached his ultimate destination of Yellowstone in Wyoming Territory in the summer of 1871, he stepped off the Union Pacific Railroad and viewed the towering cliffs of the Green River. The artist completed a field study that he later inscribed, “First Sketch Made in the West.”

Moran would return to this first Western subject of his many times during his storied career. His 1896 oil of Green River, featuring a troop of American Indians in the lower right, was exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and appeared at auction for the first time, on May 21, 2015, at Christie’s New York. Not surprisingly, this rare work of art landed the top bid, at $7.5 million.

The painting was sold from the collection of American businessman William Koch, who is most famously known in the Old West collecting arena for paying $2.1 million for the only known photograph of outlaw Billy the Kid. Koch has been collecting Western artworks for an Old West town he hopes to build, but he ran out of room and decided to put some of the treasures on the auction block.

The Green River oil was painted a quarter century after Moran spent five weeks with Dr. Ferdinand Hayden’s surveying expedition to Yellowstone to complete an article assignment for Scribner’s Monthly. His visual documentation of more than 30 sites, along with photographs taken by William Henry Jackson, inspired the creation of Yellowstone as America’s first national park in 1872.

Although Moran took eight trips to the West, between 1871 and 1892, he never forgot his first experience of the frontier. His sketch of Green River lived on in his studio as the basis for more than 40 depictions he created of the river’s bluffs. His daughter Ruth recalled that whenever the household needed funds, the family would joke, “Well, it’s time for Father to paint another Green River.”

The artist did have a tendency to minimize signs of civilization in his paintings. He didn’t portray Green River’s railroad settlement, which had about 2,000 residents in 1868, the year Congress established Wyoming Territory. Moran ignored the town’s schoolhouse, church, hotel and brewery, and a landscape scarred by train tracks. Easterners viewing Green River from Moran’s perspective saw a virgin, pristine area, whose only inhabitants were wild American Indians. “I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature. My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization,” Moran freely admitted.

Along with Moran’s oil, collectors purchased works by other artists who similarly portrayed a more romantic and nostalgic impression of the frontier.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Retracing history in a Model T Ford

Group follows same route as Edsel Ford's 1915 trip that included stop at Harvey House

Historical Vehicle Association president Mark Gessler is part of a group driving a Model T Ford to San Francisco, retracing the route taken by Edsel Ford in 1915. (Jose Quintero, Desert Dispatch)

By Jose Quintero
Staff Writer

BARSTOW — When Edsel Ford embarked on a trip from Detroit to San Francisco in 1915, once he reached Mojave Desert, he noted in the trip’s log about concerns of “highwaymen” in the area.

Highwaymen were robbers who would hold up travelers at gunpoint, usually on horseback. So when Historical Vehicle Association president Mark Gessler decided to trace Ford’s voyage a century later, horse riding gunmen were not a concern.

Coincidentally, though, Gessler and his crew were hit by thieves who broke into their trailer and made off with tools, some clothing and a small generator. Fortunately, the thieves were not able to get to the prized possession, a 1915 Ford Model T.

It is the same 20-horsepower, four-cylinder model that Ford drove from Detroit to San Francisco on his chronicled 1915 trip.

Gessler and HVA heritage specialist Casey Maxon are replicating the exact trip along the old National Trails Highway taken by Henry Ford’s son and a group of his buddies a century ago. Gessler and Maxon departed from Barstow on Thursday morning after paying a visit to the Harvey House. In July 1915, Ford stayed the night in Ludlow, and stopped by the Harvey House for breakfast before heading to San Bernardino, according to his logs.

The purpose of the trip is to bring national awareness to what Gessler describes as the importance of the nation’s automotive heritage and its impact on shaping American culture. In other words, Gessler is celebrating the birth of the American road trip.

“Over the last century the road trip became an expression of American lifestyle and the Ford Model T helped make it possible for most Americans,” Gessler said. “Edsel’s trip was purely a group of young men, striking out the road and traveling across the country. For us today, 1915 really catalyzed American culture because it was the first time that roads were in shape to be called passable and you could make your way across the country.”

Gessler expects to reach San Francisco on Aug. 18 for the centennial of Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Ford’s trip a century ago also ended at the exposition in San Francisco, where Ford Motor Company had one of the most popular exhibits at the fair — a working Ford Model T assembly line that produced about 18 cars each afternoon. When Ford reached the exhibition in 1915 he returned to Detroit by train. Gessler and his team will return home via plane.

The Model T that Ford used in the trip is not known to exist. But the vehicle Gessler and Maxon are driving across the country has a historical background that includes being driven in Ronald Reagan’s inauguration parade in 1981.

“This Ford has been in numerous parades in Washington, D.C.,” Gessler said. “That’s where we acquired it from. It was owned by the founder of the Washington, D.C. Ford Model T Club. The family that gave this car to us is thrilled that this vehicle is making its way across America.”

The vehicle is actually being driven on the entirety of the trip. Maxon said the throttle lever on the steering column controls the speed and three floor pedals operate the transmission for two forward speeds, reverse and brake. Their Ford is also equipped with “Rocky Mountain” drum-type brakes to improve stopping with a floor-mounted hand lever.

The car has a top speed of 40 mph, but is usually traveling between 20 and 35 mph, depending on road conditions.

“People see this and may say ‘gosh it’s so hot out, they must be miserable driving that car,'” Gessler said. “But the way the car is set up, it’s amazingly comfortable. Riding in this Ford Model T feels like you’re sitting on a porch rocker and there is a nice breeze out. It’s a simple vehicle, but well designed.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Going to school: Lil’ Red Schoolhouse begins two-day move

ON THE MOVE: Roy Dean, of A-Arid State Enterprises, Inc., in the orange safety vest, directs his son, Seth, at the wheel of a 26-wheel rig as the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse makes the turn onto Lee Avenue to begin its 11/2-block journey Tuesday morning. The 68-year-old school will travel another half-mile early this morning to its new home in Bullhead Community Park. (BILL McMILLEN/The Daily News)

The Daily News

BULLHEAD CITY — The Lil’ Red Schoolhouse traveled a block and a half Tuesday morning, a prelude to its half-mile trek today to its new home in Bullhead Community Park.

“I’m giddy,” said Lisa McCabe, chief information officer of Golden Vertex, a local mining company overseeing the project to create the Colorado River Heritage Center at the park in northern Bullhead City.

She wasn’t the only one. Several dozen spectators — some who are working on the CRHC project and others just curious to see history in motion — clustered near the schoolhouse before it inched its way down Lee Avenue, from its longtime home near Third Street to an overnight resting place on a vacant lot off Highway 95 between First and Second.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” asked Roy Dean, of A-Arid State Enterprises, the company moving the schoolhouse. Dean directed the operation as his son, Seth, piloted the 26-wheeled Peterbilt rig slowly down the street.

“Home-moving is unique,” Roy Dean said. “Not everybody can do it. I grew up doing this.”
He said his father started the company; he joined the operation at the age of 12 and eventually took over. He said Seth likely will follow in his footsteps because “it’s in our family’s blood.”
Moving the schoolhouse the short distance appeared to be pretty easy for the A-Arid State crew.

“They’re all a challenge,” Roy Dean insisted. “They all have their idiosyncrasies, big or little.”
By building standards, the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse is relatively small. But that definition of “small” is a brick building weighing about 106,000 pounds. When loaded, the schoolhouse rig was 25 feet wide, 70 feet long and 21 feet high.

The height was an issue getting the schoolhouse out of its original location — the schoolhouse was built in 1947 and opened the next year as the first building for the Bullhead Elementary School District more than 35 years before the city was incorporated. A main cable line for Suddenlink Communications had to be taken down to allow the schoolhouse relocation to begin. Another Suddenlink line had to be taken down in the vacant lot to allow the rig to approach Highway 95. No other utility lines had to be removed, although crews from Mohave Electric Cooperative were on hand in case they were needed. Fortunately, the overhead power lines were well above the schoolhouse’s corrugated tin roof.

Dean said the schoolhouse wasn’t too eager to make the turn onto Lee Avenue at the beginning of its trip.

“Until you make the turn, you really don’t know how it’s going to respond,” he said, noting that the rig had to stop, dollies underneath had to be adjusted and the process had to go extremely slowly as the long load got headed the right direction.

“After that, it was pretty smooth sailing,” he said.

The moving process will resume early this morning when the rig creeps onto Highway 95 for the short trip to the main entrance at Community Park. Because it is traveling on a state highway, the entourage will be accompanied by Arizona Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety vehicles. Highway 95 will be blocked for a short time — between 5:30 and 6 a.m., if all goes well.

The schoolhouse eventually will wind up in the grassy area at Community Park, where a concrete slab already has been poured.

“Of course, once the building is in its new home, there’s a ton of remaining work, at both the new location, as well as buttoning up the Third and Lee location,” McCabe said earlier. “That is currently being scheduled, with careful consideration of the 30,000 or so people expected to be in Community Park ... (for the Aug. 8 Bullhead City River Regatta).”

Plans for the Heritage Center, which already has the head frame from Moss Mine on site, also include the Colorado River Museum. Museum officials, Dean and Heritage Center planners have discusses options ranging from moving the existing museum from Davis Camp to building a new building to house the museum’s many exhibits, artifacts and historical documents.

The American Heroes Museum and other historic pieces of the Tri-state also could wind up in the Heritage Center.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rolling to a new home: Historic Lil’ Red Schoolhouse moving to park next week

The Lil’ Red Schoolhouse is now on wheels and ready to move to its new location in the Colorado River Heritage Center at Bullhead Community Park. (NEIL YOUNG/The Daily News)

Mohave Valley Daily News

BULLHEAD CITY — Next week, the historic Lil’ Red Schoolhouse will be moving from its Lee Avenue and Third Street location to the Colorado River Heritage Center at Bullhead Community Park. The building’s journey will take two days.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, the schoolhouse will be moved from its original location to vacant lots on Lee Avenue between First and Second streets. The move could take anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour, said Lisa McCabe, Golden Vertex chief information officer, who is overseeing the heritage center project.

“Our number one priority to work closely with Suddenlink to make sure the disconnect of the overhead wire is as short of a time as possible,” she said.

The building will remain in the vacant lots until daybreak Wednesday, when it completes the final leg of its journey onto Highway 95 and to Community Park.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety and two pilot cars will meet where the building is parked.

“ADOT will conduct an inspection, and once they give the go ahead, the load will proceed 1,440 feet south on Highway 95 to the ‘launch ramp’ entrance of Community Park,” McCabe said.

After the schoolhouse travels down the highway at a speed of 2 to 3 mph, taking about 20 minutes, the anticipated arrival time in Community Park is between 5:30 and 6 a.m., she said.

“The load must go through some maneuvering in the chamber parking lot and the grassy area of the park,” McCabe said. It should be in place within an hour, she said.

It will take another five days to secure the building at its new site, McCabe said.

“Of course, once the building is in its new home, there’s a ton of remaining work, at both the new location, as well as buttoning up the Third and Lee location. That is currently being scheduled, with careful consideration of the 30,000 or so people expected to be in Community Park August 4-8 (for the Bullhead City River Regatta),” McCabe said.

When completed within two years, the heritage center will include the Colorado River Museum, the Moss Mine administration building and the American Heroes Museum.

“It’s a great time for Bullhead City,” she said.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Con artist builds a crooked road in Death Valley

Feb. 9, 1969: Death Valley naturalist Dwight Warren checks a portion of Titus Canyon Road, which had been closed by a cloudburst. This photo by staff photographer Frank Q. Brown was published in the Feb. 21, 1969, Los Angeles Times.

Posted By: Scott Harrison
Los Angeles Times Framework

The history of Titus Canyon Road was explained in a May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times article by staff writer Charles Hillinger:

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL MONUMENT – It is undoubtedly the longest one-way, no-other-way road in the country.

The 27-mile road winds its way west through a scenic gorge in two states – California and Nevada.

It is so narrow in spots there is barely enough room for a car to squeeze between the 500-foot-high sheer limestone walls that rise spectacularly from the canyon floor.

Titus Canyon Road is, for good reason, the least used of nine roads into Death Valley, America’s hottest and driest place.

Its 27 miles are miserable, none of it paved, strewn with dirt and rocks.

The road was built by a con artist who pushed it through the canyon in 1925 to provide access to one of the most notorious mining hoaxes of the century.

It was in Titus Canyon that Chauncey C. Julian “salted” the Grapevine Mountains and spawned a town near Bloody Gap he called Leadfield.

He proclaimed the hills in “his” canyon were alive with pockets and veins of lead, and published brochures showing ships steaming up Death Valley’s Amargosa River to the mouth of Titus Canyon to take on ore.

The Amargosa River is bone dry.

In March, 1926, Julian ran a 15-car “Leadville Special” train from Los Angeles to Beatty, Nev., for 340 investors – 24 of them women – to visit their diggings. The investors were driven from Beatty through the winding gorge to Leadfield in a caravan of cars.

A hotel, stores and homes were built in Leadfield. But the town lasted only two years. There was a post office from August, 1926, until February, 1927.

Then the bubble burst.

Julian skipped the country and fled to Shanghai where he committed suicide in 1934.

A handful of decaying structures still stand at Leadfield on the Titus Canyon Road, named after Morris Titus, a miner who entered the narrow canyon to do some prospecting in 1906 and never was seen again.

It gets so hot along the road that the National Park Service closes the canyon from mid-May to mid-October – so that nobody gets stranded and perishes in the scorching sun.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

California Gold cameraman Luis Fuerte recalls life with Huell

Luis Fuerte, award-winning cameraman for the late Huell Howser, of the California Gold television show, recounted his travels and fond memories of his employer and friend for the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society on Thursday, July 2. (Paul Prado Photography)

By Paul Prado
Special to Highland Community News

On Thursday, July 2, the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society hosted a lecture by cameraman Luis Fuerte. Fuerte was the editor, lighting director, sound engineer, on air operations person, and cameraman for the late Huell Howser, who hosted KCET’s California Gold.

Fuerte spoke of his travels and times filming with the ever-curious, effervescent, and spontaneous Huell Howser.

“One day, Huell said, ‘Luis (pronounced Louie), I have an idea for a show called California Gold,’” Fuerte said. Fuerte said the format of the show came about during a four-day shoot at a train festival in Sacramento. “That is the first actual California Gold as we see it today.”

Having the privilege to work with a dynamic personality, Fuerte said, “I could tell when he (Howser) needed a break or when things weren’t working out. I could read Huell real well. We worked well as a team. I learned to read him so well, with the tone of his voice”.

Someone asked if the shows were scripted. Fuerte said, “He (Howser) always wanted to be surprised, you remember his famous, ‘Golleeey’ or ‘Reeeeally!’ He knew about the story, but not a lot. He would stop at flowers in a field, and do a story. He was easy going. He could get people to talk to him. He could do a story on a door knob (implying that Howser was that interested in what he saw). He loved working.”

In 2001, after many instances of telling Howser that he wanted to retire from the show, Fuerte gave his last notice to leave California Gold and started his own business.

Howser’s entire collection of his California Gold series was given to Chapman University. The university constructed a replica of his office and has every episode cataloged in a newly constructed building in Howser’s honor. There are pictures of Fuerte, with Howser, in the exhibit that is free to the public.

“The program was good. It was very well done,” said Charles Kiel of the Highland Area Historical Society. “It’s great to meet the guy behind the camera. He contributed a lot to the show California Gold. We’re grateful to Huell and Luis for their part in preserving history. The show was a good documentary about things.”

“We can now put a face to the name when Huell would always say, “Hey, Luis (Louie) get a shot of this!’ He brought to us things that we didn’t know about in California. Those little things; like a “door knob,” commented Kathy Toy of Highland.

Fuerte is scheduled to have a book of his memories, travels, and work experience with Howser published in the near future. The book is aptly titled, “Hey, Louie Take a Look at This!”

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Museum tells story of California water conflict

An exhibit titled “Building Bill’s Ditch” at the Eastern California Museum in Independence commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s completion. The “Bill” of the title is William Mulholland, the chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power when the aqueduct was conceived. (Daniel Davis-Williams)

Sacramento Bee

The jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada that tower over Independence are almost all granite and no snow this year, one of the most visible signs of drought in Inyo County.

Thousands of feet below in the Owens Valley, the Eastern California Museum, which houses an exhibit on a pivotal moment in the state’s water history, has failed to see an uptick in attendance.

“The thing with the snow is almost shocking,” said Jon Klusmire, services administrator at the museum. “Even last year, there was snow on the peaks and some of the fingers sticking out.”

The museum holds vast collections of pottery and beadwork from the Owens Valley Paiute and Panamint Shoshone tribes alongside exhibits on ranching, mining and Norman Clyde, a pioneering mountaineer famous for bagging the first ascents of numerous Sierra Nevada peaks.

But the exhibit most relevant to California’s current predicament with water is also the museum’s most recent addition, an exhibit titled “Building Bill’s Ditch.”

The exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s completion. In a series of black-and-white photographs and century-old letters and pamphlets, it showcases how the city of Los Angeles bought and controlled strategic plots of land throughout the Owens Valley in order to absorb tributaries of the Owens River. Bill was William Mulholland, then chief engineer of the city’s water department.

Mulholland understood that the combination of a booming population in Los Angeles and an arid environment meant that water scarcity would eventually thwart the city’s growth. He saw in the Owens River a distant yet potential source of water for the fledgling metropolis he believed was destined for greatness.

There was only one thing that could slow Mulholland’s efforts to hoard Owens River water: the people of the Owens River Valley, many of whom had an inconvenient desire to retain their main source of water.

Agents of the water department were careful not to alert the populace during some of the first land buys. A former mayor of Los Angeles, Fred Eaton, shopping for land on behalf of the water project, kept his true motives closely guarded while scouting and acquiring the future locations of key sites of the aqueduct.

“The first wave of land deals and options was pretty sneaky,” Klusmire said. “The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the city of Los Angeles were heavy-handed in getting what they wanted.”

Even while Klusmire and the exhibit tell a story of swindle, they offer visitors a full perspective of the controversy that refrains from assigning all blame to Los Angeles. “Local people kept selling land to them (LADWP), and they have ever since,” Klusmire said.

“In ‘Chinatown,’” Klusmire added, referring to the 1974 Roman Polanski film about a detective (played by Jack Nicholson) navigating his way through a maze of corruption and water rights in Southern California, “everything is a big secret.”

But during the actual events of the early 20th century that inspired the film, he said, not all the agents of Los Angeles were as secretive as the movie portrays. Eventually, Los Angeles even placed advertisements announcing its hunger for land in newspapers throughout the Owens Valley. Some of those ads are now behind glass in the Eastern California Museum.

While drought dominates local, state and national headlines, the Eastern California Museum’s attendance has held steady at about 10,000 annual visitors, although slightly fewer visitors have been stopping by during winter. The reason is less snowfall in Mammoth Lakes, the Sierra resort town popular with skiers and winter recreationists. Tourists heading north for Mammoth Lakes during the winter often stopped at the Eastern California Museum, which is just off U.S. Highway 395.

But in a strange balancing act, the visitors lost during winter are regained during the summer months, also due to changes in Mammoth Lakes’ tourism.

“Summer (attendance) is increasing enough to make up for the drop in winter. Partly, that’s because of Mammoth, too. They’ve gotten pretty aggressive with summer programs and events,” Klusmire said.

Visitors who do come – some from as far as New Zealand, England and Hungary – also learn that the Owens Valley has seen great changes in the last century.

“The whole landscape has changed,” said Krystal Kissinger, a graduate student from California State University, Northridge, conducting research in the museum’s archives.

Seen from a car window, Owens Lake, once deep enough to float a steamship, is now a shimmering puddle drying under the sun. The surrounding valley is distinctly dry and crisp around the edges.

Chuck and Jon Shuey, brothers road-tripping through the Owens Valley and recent visitors to the Eastern California Museum, said they think LADWP should do more to assist the Owens Valley in displaying landmarks of the aqueduct. But LADWP is not eager to showcase the tactics it used in acquiring Owens Valley land, they said.

“I think they’re bashful,” said Chuck Shuey. “If it weren’t for DWP, the whole valley would be green.”

The department says it’s doing its part to educate the public. “The Department of Water and Power not only opens its lands up for public use, but we also provide tours of the aqueduct system several times a year,” said LADWP spokeswoman Amanda Parsons.

According to Klusmire and Roberta Harlan, the museum’s curator, LADWP actually owns the land where the museum sits. LADWP has no say over the content of the exhibits, Klusmire said.

In order to raise attendance, Klusmire and Harlan plan to hold more events that involve speakers, presentations and book signings, hoping to entice larger crowds into the museum’s diverse collections on eastern California history.

Harlan, for her part, would like a bigger building to house the museum. Since LADWP already owns the land, maybe it would be willing to fund an expansion?

“Don’t think we haven’t suggested that,” Harlan said with a laugh.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Warren family excavates 19th century homestead

Mark and Sylvia Warren stand in front of the homestead they built in Morongo Valley in the 19th century. (Stacy Moore, Hi-Desert Star)

By Stacy Moore
Hi-Desert Star

MORONGO VALLEY — “We have pioneering in our blood,” Mike Arnett told his family, and the proof was right before them: a new monument marking the spot where their ancestors Mark and Sylvia Warren built a homestead in 1885.

The Warren homestead is on San Bernardino County land a short walk from Covington Park. The building is gone, destroyed by a 1929 fire and simply the work of passing time, but the Warrens’ descendents recently found out where it had stood and began a restoration project.

Larry Turner spearheaded the project. The grandson of Lela Warren Arnett, the youngest of the Warrens’ 11 children, Turner organized his family into a labor force to excavate the footprint of the old homestead, clear away brush and clean up the footpath leading to the site.

“It’s been a project of love, saving this place for history,” Turner told his family when they gathered Saturday morning to see the fruits of their labor.

The family placed a concrete and granite monument that tells visitors the story of Mark and Sylvia Warren and their homestead. The guests of honor for the monument unveiling were the Warrens’ three surviving grandchildren: Lois Arvicson, the daughter of Ed Warren, the first of the children to be born at the Morongo Valley home, and Mary Ellen Grimes and Marion Arnett, the daughter and son of Lela Warren, the youngest of the 11 children.
“Grandpa raised cattle and Grandma raised kids — 11 of them!” Grimes said.

Turner also thanked Donna Muñoz, general manager of the Morongo Valley Community Services District, Mike Lipsitz, who facilitated permission for the project when he was field representative for county Supervisor James Ramos, and the Morongo Basin Historical Society, which also helped.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department provided a 14-man crew to help tear out brush.

Couple met when wagon train stranded

The story of Mark and Sylvia Warren is tale about making a paradise in a wild land, the power of hospitality and the human spirit, but it begins with a truth uncomfortable in today’s America: When Mark Warren first met Sylvia Paine, she was 12 years old. They were married two years later, in 1866. He was 35 and she was 14.

Chuck Warren, an emigrant from Maine who made a living driving a freight wagon, first saw Sylvia Paine as he drove from the Port of Los Angeles to Prescott, Arizona, Arnett said. Encountering a wagon train lost near Baker, he gave them directions and went on his way. When he returned, he found the Paine family was still there,
stranded in the desert on their months-long migration from Texas to California because of the death of their ox. He loaded them into his wagon and took them to his San Bernardino ranch, where they lived for two years.

Chuck Warren at first wanted to marry the oldest daughter, but she was promised to someone else. Instead, he married Sylvia.

Arnett gave his perspective on Sylvia’s age to his family members.

“This 14-year-old had endured privations,” Arnett said. “She knew how to survive on the meagerest provisions. She knew how to take care of her family.”

The two remained married for 51 years, until Chuck Warren’s death in an automobile accident in 1917. Sylvia bore 11 children, living some of the time at the Morongo Valley homestead and other times in Banning and Yucaipa so the children could go to school.

A sound home where strangers were welcome

Chuck Warren found the land for his Morongo Valley homestead on one of his freighting trips, describing it as a beautiful oasis.

The stream ran year-round,” Arnett said, gesturing to a ravine behind him, now dry. “This was a lush area.”

Around the house, built with adobe brick, the Warrens created a ranch that provided amply for their children and the miners and cattlemen who passed their way.

Arnett quoted his grandmother Lela’s words: “The family never suffered any real hardship for there was a sound, protective house for them to live in and always an abundance of food,” she wrote.

With cattle, crops of vegetables and sugar cane, fruit orchards, chickens and a hog, the Warrens lacked for little.

“There were beautiful alfalfa fields, apple trees with red apples peeping through the leaves and grass covered the ground everywhere,” Lela Warren wrote.

In the winter, they could depend on an abundance of wild game, including rabbits, quail, dove, ducks and deer.
“Whoever came by was always asked to eat with them,” the pioneers’ daughter remembered.

“Pioneering isn’t so bad when everyone works together and for the good of all,” she told Arnett. “Mark and Sylvia were not great as most people value men and women, but their greatness was in their goodness.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

From the Archives — Provenance

The Mojave Desert Archives is the memory of the Mojave Desert community and the MDHCA organization.

by Chris Ervin, Archivist
Mojave Desert Archives

In my last column I described how an archivist is a flavor of librarian. The archivist’s practice differs from librarians in that we specialize in the cataloging, retrieval, and preservation of unpublished, rather than published materials. For librarians, there is a prescribed manner for making books and periodicals easy to find, usually by subject, author, title, and date. But, when it comes to cataloging personal papers, manuscripts, family photographs, and official records, the process for an archivist to make sense of these materials is not so cut and dry—especially if they arrive in a jumble.

During my graduate studies I was astounded to learn that even among archival professionals, standards for organizing historical materials have only just been institutionalized in the last twenty or so years. Archivists have also been late to the party when it comes to adopting computers to help them in their work. Fortunately, that is all changing with younger archivists who are coming into the profession technically savvy and unafraid to challenge the status quo. I’m a bit of an anomaly as my age bracket (58) puts me more in the dinosaur camp, but my 32 years as an information technology professional evens the playing field when it comes to adopting and applying new technologies to archival practice.

When it comes to organizing archival materials—unpublished stuff having long term value to researchers—there are a few important guiding principles; provenance and original order. Basically, the principle of provenance requires the archivist to determine who created the materials. That sounds simple, but sometimes needs to be sorted out. Provenance also requires the archivist to document the ownership of and any changes to the materials from the time the creator created them to the time they ended up on the archivist’s doorstep.

This “chain of title” may not be so easy to determine if the materials are really old, yet can directly impact the authenticity of a record. Here’s where that’s a problem; if a document cannot be determined to be genuine, a cautious researcher may not want to risk her reputation by including potentially false data in a publication. Just ask the editors of Stern who published the fake Hitler Diaries back in 1983. Therefore it is the archivist’s job to not only organize unpublished materials in such a way that they are easy to find, but also to document the authenticity of the materials so historians can count on them to be a true representation of the past.

In my next column, I’ll continue this “how archival materials are organized” discussion by describing how the principle of original order helps archivists maintain the authenticity of the record as well as making them easy to find—not just by researchers, but also for the archivist who has to be able to quickly retrieve those materials from the back room.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The 1930s California Dude Ranch That Broke Racial Barriers

The empty lot where Murray's Ranch once stood. (Hadley Meares)

by Hadley Meares
Curbed Los Angeles

In 1937, press from all over the country descended on Victorville, CA, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, to cover the town's star-studded annual rodeo. The rapid growth of Los Angeles in the 1920s and '30s meant that millions of city slickers found themselves itching to escape to a simpler, more rustic time. A precursor to today's "experience-based tourism," the working dude ranch was enormously popular. Only 90 or so miles away from Los Angeles, these ranches—with names like the Lazy W, Yucca Loma Ranch, C Bar G Ranch, and Three Sage Hens—were centered primarily around Victorville and neighboring Apple Valley. While LIFE magazine photographers had originally been sent to these ranches in '37 to cover rodeo-going stars like Clara Bow and Tex Ritter, they quickly honed in on a more interesting story. Heavyweight boxing champion and Wild West enthusiast Joe Louis was in town, and he was spending a lot of time at a place called Murray's Dude Ranch. Besides the fact that Louis was one of the most idolized men in the world, this visit was of particular interest to the white mainstream media for two reasons: Joe Louis was black, and Murray's Ranch was billed as "the only Negro Dude Ranch in the world."

The history of African-Americans in Apple Valley begins long before Joe Louis's highly touted visit in 1937. As early as 1903, a Los Angeles civic club called The Forum encouraged working class blacks to become landowners. Since most of Los Angeles was reserved for whites only, often through racially restrictive real estate covenants, The Forum focused on an area in Apple Valley surrounding picturesque Bell Mountain. In 1914, several black families began homesteading in the unforgiving desert of Apple Valley.

One of the most prominent men in the community was Arthur Cook. Like many people in Bell Mountain, he retained strong ties to Los Angeles. Two of his good friends in LA were a respected couple named Lela and Nolie Murray. Nolie was a strapping six feet, with a larger-than-life personality. He ran Murray's Pocket Billiard Emporium and Cigar Store on East Ninth Street, and was praised for his "honest and just methods of dealing with patrons," which had earned him a "large following of friends." Lela, a registered nurse, was less than five feet tall, with a sweet disposition and tireless drive to help the less fortunate. By the early 1920s, Lela's frequent colds and lung ailments were making life in Los Angeles difficult for the Murrays. Arthur Cook, always on the lookout for potential quality neighbors, offered them 40 acres of Apple Valley land for free. But Lela worried about the legality of such a gift. "I wanted the land to be a legal deal," she said, "so I insisted on paying Mr. Cook $100 in cash and having it recorded as a bona fide sale. That was in 1922, and I moved up shortly afterward."

The Murrays dreamed of making the ranch a haven for troubled and underprivileged children and began building the infrastructure to support this mission. While Lela homesteaded at the ranch, Nolie commuted back and forth to their business interests in LA. Slowly, the ranch took shape—there were bungalows for the children, a deep fresh water well, stables, chicken coops, and a windmill. Nolie moved to the ranch full-time, and the Murrays began accepting children of all races, who were sent to them by the courts. At any given time there were around a dozen children at the ranch, some who stayed for up to seven years. A story in the LA Times illustrated the guidance Lela and Nolie offered:

Clyde, a young black boy, was always picking fights with white children. One day Lela sat him down and said: "You like flowers, don't you?"
He nodded.
"You don't like just pink roses? You like white, yellow and red roses because they are all beautiful, right?"
Again, Clyde nodded.
"Why then should you like only Negro children?" Lela asked. "People are people, just as flowers are flowers, whether they are white, yellow or black."

Despite their tireless work ethic, in the mid-1930s the Murrays found themselves in financial trouble. Though they received a little money from the state for the children's care, the Depression and the cost of running the ranch had wiped out their savings. Inspired by the increasing number of dude ranches springing up all around them, they began to convert their property into a Class-A guest ranch.

The Murrays were financially on their last leg when Joe Louis appeared, bringing a string of LIFE photographers with him. Thousands of tourists swarmed the ranch, hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero. After a six-picture spread of Louis at the ranch ran in November 1937, the Murrays' theoretical guest ranch was now a fact. The county and other ranchers supported the creation of a "Negros only" dude ranch. (Explicit segregation was not the law of the land in California, and customers could theoretically patronize whatever business allowed them in. But communities often self-segregated through local ordinances, real estate covenants, and societal pressure.) The Murrays began promoting the ranch, and the county widened the road leading into the ranch. The property soon included more than 20 buildings and amenities including tennis courts, stables, a dining hall, a baseball field, and a swimming pool.

Celebrities and prominent members of LA's African-American community flocked to the ranch.
Legendary architect Paul Williams and his family stayed there frequently while he was working on designs for the nearby Arrowhead Springs Hotel. Joe Louis, always "happy as a kid" at the ranch, returned to train for upcoming matches. Other famous fighters soon followed suit. In 1938, Herb Jeffries, "the black singing cowboy," filmed two movies—The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides the Range—at the ranch. Thanks to The Bronze Buckaroo, clear images of the property's main house and windmill, and views of Bell Mountain, are preserved for posterity. Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Nina Mae McKinney were also frequent guests. Here, they enjoyed a "most beautiful and restful desert oasis," where they could lounge on screened-in porches or take evening horseback rides in the moonlight, far away from Hollywood.

Everyday Americans also frequented the ranch, which boasted very reasonable rates. In 1940, a couple could stay at the ranch for only $5 a night, while a single person could stay for $3. The ranch often hosted around 100 guests a week from May to September, and became particularly popular with honeymooning couples (no doubt pleased with cottages that were "far removed from each other") and civic groups. It fulfilled a need for recreational activities for middle class African-Americans, who were barred from most vacation opportunities. Lela shared one letter she received that highlighted this problem:

I am a bachelor. I like to ride horseback very much. I have always wanted to spend a few weeks on a dude ranch. Being colored, I doubted that I would ever have the chance. I was happy to learn about your ranch. Please let me know the cost of a vacation with you.

While the ranch hosted guests from all over the country, its bread and butter continued to be visitors from Los Angeles. An ad from the 1940s appealed particularly to time-strapped Angelinos:

Leave your business Saturday afternoon. Take a two hour and twenty minute ride up through Cajon Pass on Highway 66 to Victorville. Get a nice large airy room with every modern comfort of home at Murray's Ranch. Have a cup of hot coffee or fruit juice served to you, early before arising for breakfast. Or you may ride early as you wish. Get your good country breakfast, including milk, butter, and eggs produced on the ranch. Swimming, golf, tennis, and other amusements as you wish. Have your Murray's famous chicken dinner about 2:30 or after. Return home late Sunday evening rested and fresh for the next week's business.

The Murrays continued to be remarkably colorblind when it came to staffing. One friend noted, "The ranch has its own fair employment practice policy and hires cooks, pantrymen, yardmen, stable attendants and maids for their ability, not their color. There are three white employees, four colored and one Japanese." White locals often came to the ranch's popular restaurant, which featured the comfort food of popular chef Malcolm Keys. Lela organized an Easter Sunrise service on nearby Catholic Hill that attracted thousands of SoCal worshipers for many years. Local children of all races often "snuck in" to use the ranch's heavily chlorinated pool, joking with Nolie, who was forever reaching for nuts stuffed in the pockets of his overalls to nibble on while he chastised the kids.

White guests did not spend the night until 1945, when a Workers Union newspaper in Southern California profiled the ranch. Soon many white people were writing to Lela, asking if they could come and stay. "I wrote back, telling them they had made a mistake, that the ranch was owned and operated by Negroes. But then the people wrote right back, saying that was fine with them, when could they come, what were the rates and questions like that," Lela said. And so the ranch became integrated, long before most of the country followed suit.

By the time Lela died in 1949, the Murrays were beloved members of the Victorville/Apple Valley community. Lela was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and volunteered both her time and the ranch's facilities to such organizations as the Red Cross, the USO, and various children's charities. After Lela's death, Nolie remarried and continued to run the ranch, but the decline of the popularity of dude ranches, rising cost of living, and increasing recreational opportunities for SoCal African-Americans made the early '50s difficult. No doubt he was relieved when entertainment legend and noted humanitarian Pearl Bailey revisited the ranch with her husband, the drummer Louie Bellson, in 1955, looking for a respite from the fast life. "We fell in love with the place," Pearl recounted, "and this Murray fellow says, 'You want it?" Well, we bought 35 acres for $65,000. And we're still paying!" Nolie kept five acres and built the Desert Heart Motel on the property, which he ran until his death in 1958.

Pearl renamed the ranch "The Lazy B," a name born from her legendary wit. "I told Louie people would pass by and look at this huge ranch and say to themselves, "There are actors in there, leading a glamorous life. I wonder what those 'Lazy B's are doing there." In between gigs across the country, Pearl became a dedicated Apple Valley housewife, renovating the property's rundown buildings and inviting many Hollywood friends to stay on the ranch. Much like Lela before her, Pearl relished being an active citizen, joining the Chamber of Commerce, serving as a den mother for the local cub scouts, and doing all the chores life on a large ranch entailed, including chasing snakes and pulling weeds. "So much is there," she said. "The earth where food can be planted, the lovely sunsets, the air, and all that space to wander away and get with God."

Pearl's family lived at the ranch for nine years, until work obligations and "freeloading" permanent houseguests from Hollywood slowly pulled them away. The ranch was eventually sold, and by the late 1980s, the buildings were abandoned and supposedly infested with brown widow spiders. The buildings were burned in a training exercise conducted by the Apple Valley Fire department around 1988.

I recently visited the ranch, which is now nothing more than an empty desert lot, filled with scrubby trees, low foundations, and bits of rusted barbed wire fence. Bell Mountain loomed over the barren land, where the outlines of the ranch's trails and roads were faintly visible in the dust. I passed two men in overalls and cowboy hats, one black and one white, cutting across the lot to the gas station across the street. Further into the lot, all I found was a lizard, a colony of ants, and a feeling of peaceful solitude, far away from the pollution and prejudice of the city.