Friday, January 29, 2016

Lifetime resident tells of early life in Tri-state

History Lesson: Margaret Mary Soto Perry shared her life experiences growing up in the Tri-state during a special presentation hosted by the Laughlin library and co-sponsored by the Colorado River Museum and Historical Society. “The valley didn’t get electricity until the 60s and didn’t see television until the 70s,” she said. (DK McDONALD/The Daily News)

The Mohave Valley Daily News

LAUGHLIN — Margaret Mary Soto Perry lived in the Tri-state before the arrival of refrigeration, electricity, television, subdivisions and paved roads.

“I have to remind people that I wasn’t around in the 1800s or even for WWII,” she said. “But the valley didn’t get electricity until the ’60s and didn’t see television until the ’70s. Before people were moving here to build vacation homes, it was very old-timey.”

Soto Perry shared her life’s experiences growing up in the Tri-state during a presentation hosted by the Laughlin Library and co-sponsored by the Colorado River Museum and Historical Society.

“The Soto family has a revered name in this valley,” said attendee Mary Hughes, past president of the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum. “The family is known by people who study the history of the area. I can never get enough of the stories she tells.”

Soto Perry’s grandparents were pioneers in the valley. At one point the family ran 15,000 head of cattle and sheep over a huge area from Bullhead City south to Topock, and east from Silver Creek in the Boatman Hills to Goldroad.

“It all started when my grandfather first went from Spain to Mexico City,” Soto Perry said. “At the time, Pancho Villa was running amok, and my grandfather was raising horses and burros to supply his army.

“One day my grandfather was arrested for aiding and abetting the enemy, and scheduled to hang first thing in the morning. In the middle of the night, someone opened the gate of the cement bunker he was held in, and he was immediately put on a boat to San Francisco.

“Well, that was 1906, the year of the great San Francisco earthquake; he soon left there and stepped off the train in Needles. It was winter, and he noted that the weather was warm and beautiful. He made up his mind to get a ranch in the valley to raise cattle and sheep. And that’s what he did.”

Soto Perry, who was born in 1939, spent “a solitary but not lonely” childhood on land rich with trees, wildlife and hard work.

“There was nothing here,” she said. “The river was wide, wide, wide. There were forests of cottonwood, mulberry and willows, and arrow weed blanketed everything. The roads were ruts. It was very difficult to get through the valley without a horse.

“My grandmother loaded up vegetables from the garden and fresh meat, and sold them off the back of a buckboard wagon in Kingman, Needles and Oatman.

“My father leased a dairy farm, south of the current (Bullhead City) Safeway. He was a carpenter; he started the first garbage service in Needles.”

Twice a day, at 4 a.m. and at 5 p.m., Soto Perry walked down to bring the cows in for milking. She attended sixth and seventh grade in the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse, now a museum at Bullhead City Community Park.

“The family wasn’t big on education,” Soto Perry said. “They were big on hard work. That’s probably why I’ve lived so long; they worked me like a donkey.

“But there was a sense of peace, serenity, and a sense of well-being. You felt glad to be alive. There was a pattern to the days, and a sense of purpose, a tremendously good feeling. Work hard, eat well, and rest.”

Winter visitor Evie Augeson said she was surprised by some of what she learned during Soto Perry’s presentation.
“It was fun and interesting to hear,” she said. “You look out at what seems to be a barren landscape, and wouldn’t think agriculture is such a huge part of the history here.”

Tanya Brown-Wirth, Laughlin library branch manager said, “People here seem to like the historical lectures and events we offer. Maybe some are looking for a connection like they had at home; knowing the history of the place where they have chosen to live and play. Margaret’s history, having grown up with the region, is a fascinating look at how an area can change so much in a single lifetime.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jennie Kelly Memorial at Salton Sea Yacht Club

May 1, 2010-Grand reopening of the restored North Shore Beach & Yacht Club at the Salton Sea (SLWORKING2-Flickr)
Kelly Supporters Rally to Bring Back the Salton Sea History Museum

North Shore, California--The Salton Sea History Museum celebrates the life of its founder, Jennie Kelly, on January 30, 2016, 1-5 pm, at Albert Frey's North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. Kelly, a Salton Sea resident for 35 years, died October 11, 2015, of cancer. She was 66.

Jennie was known throughout the Coachella Valley and beyond for her passionate advocacy for the Salton Sea and its history. She led the fight to save Rancho Dos Palmas, fought to save John Hilton's Art and Gem Shop, launched a groundbreaking exhibit of Salton Sea art (Valley of the Ancient Lake) and established the Salton Sea History Museum, at the urging of the late Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson.

More than 17,000 visitors from all over the world stopped by the modernist seaside landmark to learn about the Sea's history, before the museum was temporarily closed in 2011.

"To put the museum back where it belongs--that was Jennie's final wish," says Kelly's husband, Steve Johnson. Supporters are lobbying to have the museum reopened so the extensive archives gathered by Jennie can once again be shared with the public. Jennie's friends believe telling the story of the Sea is intrinsic to saving it, and that the museum is an integral part of that message.

Born in Arizona, Kelly worked as a model as a young woman, then as a technical illustrator. After moving to the Sea, she founded the first Chamber of Commerce in North Shore and also chaired the Community Council. She served on the Indio Sheriff's Mounted Posse and as a volunteer firefighter, as well as serving on the Riverside County Historical Commission. She was an avid backcountry horsewoman who often rode in the Indio Hills above North Shore. "Everything she did, she went into it with passion," says Johnson.

The Memorial reception is from 1-5 pm on January 30, 2016. For information about the event or efforts to restore the Museum, please call (760) 250-8927 or e-mail The museum's website is:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Museum building won’t move

Colorado River Museum building
The Daily News

BULLHEAD CITY — At its meeting Tuesday, the Heritage Center Task Force has decided not to move the Colorado River Museum building to the Colorado River Heritage Center at Bullhead City Community Park, “at this point,” said chairwoman Lisa McCabe.

The Heritage Center consists of the head frame from the Moss Mine and the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse, which was recently moved from its Third Street location.

Potential problems with moving the museum building, which served as Bullhead City’s first Catholic Church, include the integrity of the building — whether it could survive a move — and having to clean up the site after moving the building per the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land. The building itself is the property of Mohave County. The Board of Supervisors would have to approve any plans to move the building and transfer ownership, if required or desired.

Shawn Blackburn, Mohave County Parks director, said if the museum vacates the building, his department will find other uses for the facility, which borders Davis Camp, a county park.

Elsie Needles, Colorado River Historical Society and Museum president, said the current building doesn’t meet the needs of the museum.

“I want to see this museum move forward,” she said.

The task force is entertaining the idea of constructing a modular building in Community Park to serve as the new site of the museum. The modular design would allow for the museum to expand.

Roy Dean, owner of A-Arid State House Movers and Enterprises, moved the schoolhouse and participated in the meeting by phone from his Buckeye, Ariz., headquarters.

He said it would require “a lot of restoration to bring (the current building) up to code.”

Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, task force members discussed moving the General Store to Community Park. The 12-by 30-foot structure was relocated from Old Bullhead to the museum grounds in 1992. It served as a post office for a number of years and is said to be Bullhead City’s oldest building.

With $1,800 in the bank, the Task Force is a long way from accumulating the money needed for moving buildings or constructing new ones. Fundraising will be its focus, by selling commemorative bricks, seeking grants and corporate donations.

“There are a lot of groups in town that would help,” said Jim Zaborsky, owner of Village Construction.

The important thing is “to keep the train moving, get something going,” said Dick Whittington, Golden Vertex CEO and president, who — along with his wife Gillian — conceived the idea of a heritage center for Bullhead City.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Popular western artist Bill Bender dies at 97

Oro Grande resident's paintings were collected by President Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover

Bill Bender, considered one of the few original and last plein air western artists who captured the beauty of the American desert, died Jan. 5 on his 97th birthday as a result of a fall at his farm in Oro Grande. (Courtesy of Ann Japenga)

By Rene Ray De La Cruz
The Daily Press

Bill Bender, a working cowboy and western artist whose artwork was purchased by a President Dwight Eisenhower and other political leaders, has died.

Known as “Cowboy Bill” by those who knew him best, Bender died Jan. 5 on his 97th birthday as a result of a fall at his farm in Oro Grande, according to his wife, Helen Bender.

“He was a good man who worked hard and always kept moving,” Helen Bender, 83, told the Daily Press on Wednesday. “We were married for almost 60 years, then we moved to Oro Grande from the Los Angeles area.”

Helen Bender said the couple continued to live in the same house, an abandoned tavern, that they began fixing up back in the 1950s, “when there was nothing out here but dirt.”

“Bill was quite the accomplished artist and he, his wife and his mother were the nicest folks around,” said Joe Manner, a longtime resident of Oro Grande. “When I delivered mail, I never had to put it in their box because one of them would always come out and greet me.”

Those in the art world knew Bender for his paintings of desert landscapes, horses, cattle and ranch scenes; and illustrated stories and written work. As a stuntman, the cowboy began unleashing his artistic side while recovering from an injury suffered during a rodeo ride, his wife said.

Bender was considered one of the few original and last plein air western artists who captured the beauty of the American desert, according to many online art sites. Plein air paintings are created outdoors, with the painter reproducing the actual visual conditions seen at the time of the painting.

Bender’s friend, Mark Cliath, said some of the collectors of Bender’s work included FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark and President Eisenhower, who was surrounded by bodyguards when he visited the farm on Old Highway 66 for some painting pointers.

Over the century, Bender was one of many artists who would travel to the lower High Desert to find the perfect location to paint. The Oro Grande artist would often camp out under a cottonwood tree and survive on grapefruit while he worked on his masterpiece, according writer Ann Japenga.

Japenga, a Palm Springs writer specializing in stories about the California deserts and the West who operates the website, said Bender was good friend and the “poster boy for longevity.”

“Bill was into holistic medicine and he was the perfect picture of health,” Japenga told the Daily Press on Wednesday. “He was 100-percent cowboy, but still very caring and kind.”

From movie stuntman to a lineman who traveled by horse to string utility line from Kernville to Lone Pine, Japenga said Bill Bender lived an adventurous life.

“I just got a card from him and his handwriting was perfect,” Japenga said. “He was a man who left his mark on the art world and will truly be missed.”

Bender, who admired the work of artist James Swinnerton and his lifestyle, began taking “sketching trips” with Swinnerton on unpaved roads in the late ‘40s. Bender said the two would often park their car on high ground in Arizona, throw their sleeping bags near their car and cook steaks over an open fire, Japenga said.

“Bill’s artwork hangs in big buildings in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, yet he lived a simple life in a house that was probably in the family for over a hundred years,” Manner said. “They don’t make people like Bill anymore.”

Helen Bender said the family will have a private ceremony to celebrate her husband's life.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Traveling a forgotten road in the Cajon Pass

Crowder Canyon Bridge, then and now.
By Cliff Bandringa
Victor Valley Daily Press

There is a forgotten road in the Cajon Pass that was originally a wagon toll road built in 1861 and, later, was used by many early Route 66 travelers. There are no signs to point out this historic road or to tell you about its connection to the Mother Road but there is still evidence of where it once existed.

Early automobile travelers used this steep, narrow and hazardous road as a short cut when traveling Route 66 (although it was never used as an alignment for Route 66). Unlike old segments of 66 in the upper Cajon Pass, sections of this road can still be traveled on today.

Our trip begins at the Summit Inn located at the Cajon Summit and ends next to the truck scales located halfway through the Cajon Pass. Half of the trip is on dirt road with the other half on pavement and it can be traveled in either direction.

Even though most of the dirt road is maintained by the Forestry Service, it is still subject to deep ruts and bumps that make it difficult for normal vehicles. We have seen plenty of standard cars on this road but we don’t recommend it. A high-clearance vehicle, such as a truck or SUV, is best.

The historical Summit Inn (off the Oak Hills Road exit), is a favorite spot of tourists for breakfast or lunch. One of its most famous patrons was Elvis Presley. The story goes that Elvis wasn’t fond of flying to his frequent shows in Las Vegas so he and his entourage traveled by car. They would usually take up the one large booth in this roadside cafe.

As you leave Summit Inn, turn right onto the frontage road and head south. The pavement ends in half a mile but this short distance of pavement was the alignment of Route 66. The alignment then turned right, crossed the northbound lanes of I-15 and continued down the middle of I-15.

For our trip, continue on the dirt road (when the pavement ends) as it makes a quick left and then heads south. You will quickly see how rough the road is. At a 90-degree left turn there’s a great viewpoint of the Cajon Pass on the right.

Past the viewpoint, the road twists and turns and a road intersection is reached. Turn right here to pass through the obvious road cut. This road cut was originally dug for the Brown Toll Road and probably hand excavated in 1861, which is when the American Civil War started.

One of the first cross-country roads built in the USA was the National Old Trails Road. For the road’s alignment through the Cajon Pass, the toll road was still usable and it was logical to use the same alignment. However, because this section was steep and treacherous, the new road was realigned in 1918 to where I-15 is today. Thrill-seeking Route 66 travelers still used it, though.

Continue steeply down the old road south as it crosses four railroad tracks. Beyond the tracks, you might spot faint patches of pavement from the original road build in 1914.

Turn right onto Highway 138. Here, the new highway was built on top of the old road. Just before 138 turns into four lanes, the old road veered off to the left. We will see the other side of that road in a moment.

To walk on the old road, drive past the McDonalds on the frontage road next to I-15. At the end of the road, you’ll see a monument. Park here and walk to the end of the road to find a hiking trail. This is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Walk up into what is called Crowder Canyon. Soon, you’ll be walking past an old bridge foundation and on old pavement from 1914, which was the first auto route through the Cajon.

Read an expanded version of this article at Along with driving directions, you’ll find a YouTube video and an interactive map.