Arthur J. (Arthur Jerome) Burdick.

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LIBRARY



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA.




BANCROFT LIBRARY



The

Mystic Mid-Region

The Deserts of the Southwest



By
Arthur J. Burdick



With 54 Illustrations




G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York and London
Cbc fcnicherbocher prese

1904










COPYRIGHT, 1904

BY
ARTHUR J. BURDICK



Published, April, 1904



fmicfcerboc&er press, flew



Kingdom of solitude, thou desert vast,
The keeper thou of secrets of the past,
For what, O Desert, was thy land accurs'd ?
Thy rivers dried, thy fields consumed by thirst ?
Thy plains in mute appeal unfruitful lie
Beneath a burning, stern, relentless sky
That brings its showers of life-renewing rain
Unto the mount, but ne'er unto the plain.

What secret guardest thou, O Desert dread ?

What mystery hidest of the ages dead ?

Doth some strange treasure lie within thy breast

That thou wouldst guard from man's most eager quest ?

Or doth there in thy solitude abide

Some mystery that Nature fain would hide ?

Some secret of the great creative plan

Too deep, too awful for the mind of man ?

O Desert, with thy hot, consuming breath,
Whose glance is torture and whose smile is death,
Realm of the dewless night and cloudless sun,
Burn on until thine awful watch be done.
Then may the shifting winds their off 'rings bring
The yielding clouds their life-fraught dews to fling
Upon thy yearning, panting, scorching breast,
That with abundance thou at last be bless'd.

s

So, where thy wasted sands now barren lie,
Green fields may some day meet a smiling sky.
Where now but lurks grim, ghastly, burning death,
The violet may shed its fragrant breath.
It hath been said a sure, divine decree-
That in the solitude shall gladness be ;
And, by that One from whom all goodness flows,
That thou shalt bloom, O Desert, as the rose.

A. J. B.
iii



130389



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I THE DESERT ..... i

II. THE LAND OF THIRST .... 17
III. CURIOUS PLANTS WHICH LIVE IN THE

DESERT 38

IV. STRANGE DWELLERS OF THE DESERT . 60

V. HUMANITY IN THE DESERT ... 68

VI. A FUNERAL IN THE REGION OF DEATH . 80

VII. DESERT BASKET-MAKERS ... 92

VIII. SHIPS OF THE DESERT .... 107

IX THE STORY OF A STREAK OF YELLOW . 124

X DESERT BORAX MINES .... 142

XI OTHER MINERALS FOUND IN THE DESERT 154

XII. A REMARKABLE HARVEST-FIELD . . 162

XIII. DEATH VALLEY 172

XIV. THE MOUTH OF HADES .... 184
XV. DESERT MISCELLANY UNUSUAL AND

PECULIAR FEATURES. . . . 189

XVI. JOURNALISM BELOW SEA-LEVEL . . 209

XVII . THE END OF THE DESERT . . . 218

INDEX . 235



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PACB

* TEAMING IN DEATH VALLEY : Frontispiece

* THE DESERT . . . . . 3

* MOUNT SAN JACINTO FROM THE DESERT . . 7

* ANCIENT SEA BEACH, COLORADO DESERT NEAR

COACHELLA II

* WHEN CALIFORNIA WAS AN ISLAND ... 15

From an old Spanish map.

*AN INDIAN WELL IN THE DESERT ... 19

* AN OASIS IN THE COLORADO DESERT . . 23

* SENTINEL PALM ...... 27

A welcome sight to the desert traveler, for it marks an
oasis hidden in the cafion.

* AN OASIS DWELLING THATCHED WITH PALM-

LEAVES IN COLORADO DESERT . . .31

This might pass for a cannibal's hut in the
South Sea Islands.

* A DESERT BEDROOM 35

* SAHUARO, OR GIANT CACTUS .... 39

* SPANISH BAYONET 43

* A DESERT CACTUS IN BLOSSOM ONE OF MANY

VARIETIES 47

* " THE WELL OF THE DESERT " . . . . 51



via Illustrations



PAGE



* ONE OF THE DESERT BLOOMERS .... 55

* A YELLOW DIAMOND-BACK RATTLER . . 58
DESERT LIZARD, CHUCAWALLA, CLOSELY AKIN

TO THE GILA MONSTER ..... 61

HORNED TOAD ....... 62

TARANTULA . . 64

CENTIPEDE 65

SCORPION . . . . 66

* A CHEMEHUEVI INDIAN AND CqvoTE ... 69

* A CHEMEHUEVI DWELLING ..... 73

* A CHEMEHUEVI SQUAW AND CHILD ... 77

* A DESERT DWELLING ON THE COLORADO RIVER 81

* THE DESERT " WHITE HOUSE " . . .85

* THE FUNERAL PYRE , 89

* A MOJAVE INDIAN POUNDING MESQUITE BEANS

IN WOODEN MORTAR 93

* RARE TULARE AND POMO BASKETS ... 97

* A YUMA WOMAN WEAVING COARSE BASKETS . 101

* MOJAVE BASKET-MAKER 105

* THE ADVANCE AGENT OF PROGRESS . . . 109

* SHIPS OF THE DESERT 113

* BEARING THE RED MAN'S BURDEN . . 117

* TAKING ON THE CARGO 121

* THE PROSPECTOR SETS FORTH . . . .125

* AN AGED PROSPECTOR AT MOUTH OF HIS MINE . 129



Illustrations ix



CAGE



* AN ANXIOUS MOMENT LOOKING FOR THE YEL-

LOW STREAK 133

* AN AERIAL FERRY PROSPECTORS CROSSING COL-

ORADO RIVER . . . . . 137

* A TRACTION ENGINE HAULING BORAX FROM

DEATH VALLEY . . . . . . 143

* THE PAINTED DESERT ..... 147

* A MONUMENT IN THE LAND OF THIRST . .151

* A TYPICAL DESERT MINING TOWN . . . 155
PLOWING SALT IN COLORADO DESERT . . . 163

* TEAMING IN DEATH VALLEY .... 173

* INDIAN CHIEF LYING IN STATE . . . 179
A DESERT POTTERY FACTORY . . . .191
BLACK BUTTES PHANTOM SHIP OF THE DESERT . 197
DIGGING THE IMPERIAL CANAL . . . . 203
IMPERIAL CHURCH FIRST WOODEN BUILDING IN

LOWER COLORADO DESERT .... 207

YEAR-OLD WILLOW TREES AT INTERNATIONAL LINE 2 1 1

IRRIGATING DESERT LAND ..... 219

DESERT SORGHUM 223

MILO MAIZE ON RECLAIMED DESERT LAND NEAR

HEBER ........ 227

ADOBE HOTEL, CALEXICO, WHICH HAS THE ONLY

SHOWER BATH IN THE DESERT . . .231

* From photographs reproduced by permission of C. C. Pierce & Co.




THE MYSTIC MID-REGION



CHAPTER I

THE DESERT

BETWEEN the lofty ranges of mountains
which mark the western boundary of the
great Mississippi Valley and the chain of peaks
known as the Coast Range, whose western
sunny slopes look out over the waters of the
placid Pacific, lies a vast stretch of country
once known as the " Great American Desert."
A few years ago, before the railroad had
pierced the fastness of the great West, ex-
plorers told of a vast waste of country devoid
of water and useful vegetation, the depository
of fields of alkali, beds of niter, mountains of
borax, and plains of poison-impregnated sands.
The bitter sage, the thorny cacti, and the
gnarled mesquite were the tantalizing species
of herbs said to abound in the region, and the
centipede, the rattlesnake, tarantula, and Gila



2 The Mystic Mid-Region

monster represented the life of this desolate
territory.

More recently, as the railroads have spanned
the continent at different points, we have
knowledge of several deserts. There are the
" Nevada Desert," the " Black Rock Desert,"
the " Smoke Creek Desert," the "Painted
Desert," the " Mojave Desert," the "Colorado
Desert," etc. ; the "Great American Desert"
being the name now applied to that alkali
waste west of Salt Lake in Utah. As a mat-
ter of fact, however, these are but local names
for a great section of arid country in the
United States from two hundred to five hun-
dred miles wide, and seven hundred to eight
hundred miles long, and extending far down
into Mexico, unbroken save for an occasional
oasis furnished by nature, or small areas made
habitable by irrigation.

Where the old Union Pacific drew its sinu-
ous line across the northern section of the
desert, a trail of green spots was left to mark
the various watering-stations for the engines.
The Southern Pacific railroad left a similar line
of oases down through the Colorado Desert,
and the Santa Fe, in like manner, dotted with
green spots the Great Mojave Desert. The
water at these stations is obtained in some



The Desert 5

instances by drilling wells, and where it can
not be obtained in this manner it is hauled in
tank cars from other points.

A portion of the desert lies below the level
of the sea. Death Valley, in the Great
Mojave Desert, has a depression of one hun-
dred and ten feet below sea-level, while por-
tions of the Colorado Desert lie from a few
feet to four hundred feet below ocean-level.
In the latter desert there are 3900 square
miles below sea-level, and there are several
villages in this desert which would be many
feet submerged were the mountain wall be-
tween sea and desert rent asunder.

There is a mystery about the desert which
is both fascinating and repellent. Its heat, its
dearth of water and lack of vegetation, its
seemingly endless waste of shifting sands, the
air of desolation and death which hovers over
it, all these tend to warn one away, while
the very mystery of the region, the uncer-
tainty of what lies beyond the border of fer-
tility, tempts one to risk its terrors for the
sake of exploring its weird mysteries.

Strange tales come out of the desert. Every
one who has ventured into its vastness, and
who has lived to return, has brought reports
of experiences and observations fraught with



6 The Mystic Mid-Region

the deepest interest, which tend to awaken
the spirit of adventure in the listener. The
most famous of the American deserts are the
Great Mojave and the Colorado, the latter
lying partly in the United States and partly
in Mexico. As trackless as the Sahara, as
hot and sandy as the Great Arabian, they
contain mysteries which those deserts cannot
boast. Within their borders are the great
salt fields of Salton and of Death Valley,
which have no counterpart in the world ; the
"Volcanoes," a region abounding in cone-
shaped mounds which vomit forth poisonous
gases, hot mud, and volcanic matter, and over
which region ever hang dense clouds of steam ;
the great niter fields and borax plains of the
Mojave, and other equally strange exhibitions
of nature.

There are other mysteries in the desert.
Amid its sands are gold and gems for the for-
tunate finder, and many are they who have
lost their lives in search of these treasures.
Hovering over the desert, too, is that phantom,
that desert apparition, the mirage, a never-
ceasing wonder to the fortunate traveler who
wants not for water and who is in no doubt as
to his way across the dreary waste, and a never-
ceasing torment and menace to the thirst-



The Desert 9

tortured wayfarer lost in the dread solitude.
Imagine the mockery to the thirsty traveler
of a rippling sheet of water, its blue waves
rolling ever in view but receding as he ad-
vances, leaving only the burning sands to the
perishing one ! Is it any wonder that men go
mad in the desert ? And yet, locked in the
breast of this waste is more fertility than is
necessary to supply the continent with suste-
nance.

The Colorado Desert is thus called because
the great river of that name carved it out of
the sea. It is also destined to lose the name
of desert because of that same river.

At one time the Gulf of California extended
nearly up to ^Banning, where rise those two
sentinels of the plain, Mt. San Jacinto and
Mt. Grayback, each towering nearly two miles
above the surrounding country. This was

o

before the Colorado River had cut its way
through the mountains to the sea, forming
that magnificent chasm known as the Grand
Cafton. For endless centuries the great river
has been eating out the heart of the continent,
pulverizing the rock and earth, and bearing it
in its turbid tide down from the mountains
and tablelands to the lower plains and to the
sea.



io The Mystic Mid-Region

A part of its burden of silt was laid down
over the northern portion of the gulf, and a
part of it was carried by the force of the cur-
rent far down into the great body of water and
was piled up ninety miles below the present
boundary line between Mexico and the United
States. This bank was about sixty miles long,
extending in an easterly and westerly direc-
tion. Along the right side of the current was
formed a lateral embankment, which event-
ually shut off the river from its former inlet
into the gulf and directed it to its present
mouth, some two hundred miles lower. This,
joining with the sixty-mile embankment, sev-
ered one portion of the gulf from the main
body and left an inland sea where now is the
desert. Then the thirsty sun drank up the
waters of this sea and left the land of desola-
tion. How long ago all this happened is a
matter of conjecture.

There are many places on the boundaries of
the desert where the ancient beach-line may
be traced long distances. Here are found
numerous shells and corals. Many of the
shells are unbroken, and one might almost
believe, to look upon them, that they were
tossed there by the restless waves no longer
ago than yesterday. The varieties of shells



The Desert 13

and of sea relics correspond very closely with
those now abounding in the sea.

There are evidences that the desert has
been dry land many centuries. Upon its
breast are found Indian pottery and imple-
ments of a style and pattern antedating those
in use at the time the white man reached this
country. Then, too, as far back as the six-
teenth century, when the earliest exploration
of that region was made, the desert-dwelling
tribes seem to have been thoroughly estab-
lished in the territory once occupied by the
gulf. It doubtless required centuries, after
the waters were cut off from the region, to dry
up the inland sea and make it possible for
man to enter in and occupy the territory.

It is the belief of some scholars that the
land was submerged when the first Spanish
explorers reached the coast. In support of
this theory they point to certain maps which
show the gulf as covering that region.

A map of the early navigators recently in the
possession of General Stoneman of the United
States Army, which was obtained by him in
the City of Mexico, shows the Gila River
as entering the gulf, whereas the Gila River
now enters the Colorado River ninety miles
north of the present mouth of the Colorado.



H The Mystic Mid-Region

A map of California, published in 1626 by
N. Sanson d' Abbeville, geographer to the
King of France, pictures the Gulf of California
as extending along the entire eastern boundary
of the State, and connecting with the Pacific
Ocean on the north. This map was made
from sundry drawings and accounts furnished
by the early navigators, and is glaringly in-
correct. It is certain that the gulf did not
then, or at any time, extend to the Pacific.
The early explorers and map-makers con-
veniently guessed at matters upon which they
could get no information.



(,K A









by C. C. Pierce & Co.

WHEN CALIFORNIA WAS AN ISLAND



tVBRATTp

'

^ITY

IH\L




CHAPTER II

THE LAND OF THIRST

WHEN the " tenderfoot" first strikes the
desert country he is surprised to learn
that he is expected to pay for the water he uses
for himself and for his beast. A little later he
becomes indignant upon finding himself un-
able to purchase even a small quantity of the
necessary fluid because of the extreme caution
of the proprietor of some desert well where
he has expected to replenish his stock of water.
It is not an unusual happening for the
desert traveler, who has toiled hours over the
burning sands after his supply of water has
been used up, to find the desert-dweller un-
willing to spare a drop of his scanty supply.
Not all desert wells are dependable, and some-
times the solitary dweller of the oasis finds his
supply exhausted ; he then has to haul all the
water he uses forty or fifty miles until such
time as the winter rains come to replenish the

vein which feeds his well.



17



1 8 The Mystic Mid-Region

One who has never experienced it can gain
no idea of the torture of thirst upon the desert.
The scorching sun from a cloudless sky, with
never so much as a hint of haze to temper its
rays, seems fairly to drink the blood of the
traveler exposed to its fierceness. From the
sands rises a cloud of fine alkali dust which
penetrates the nostrils and enters the mouth,
stinging and inflaming the glands, and adding
to the torture of thirst. A few hours of this
suffering without water to alleviate the pain is
sufficient to drive most men mad.

It is this desert madness which travelers
most fear. If one can keep a clear head he
may possibly live and suffer and toil on to a
place of safety, even though bereft of water
many hours, but once the desert madness
seizes him all hope is lost, for he no longer
pursues his way methodically, but rushes off
in pursuit of the alluring mirages, or chases
some dream of his disordered brain which pic-
tures to him green fields and running brooks,
ever just at hand.

Men tortured by thirst become desperate.
A thirsty man knows no law save that of
might. Men who would, under ordinary cir-
cumstances, scorn to do even a questionable
act, will, when under the pressure of extreme



From photograph by C C. Pierce He Co.

AN INDIAN WELL IN THE DESERT



<



;ITY




The Land of Thirst 21

thirst, fight to the death for a few drops of
water.

Not long ago a respectable citizen of a little
California town had occasion to cross the
desert at a point where water-holes were few
and far apart. He depended upon obtaining
water at a certain ranch, established at one of
the oases on his route, and when he arrived
there he and his guide and burros were in sad
condition, having been several hours without
water. He gave his guide a five-dollar gold-
piece and told him to see the rancher and
purchase the water necessary to carry them
to the next watering-place. It happened that
the rancher's well was in danger of going dry,
and he declined the money, refusing to part
with any water. Pleadings were unavailing,
and the guide returned to his employer and
reported his inability to make a deal. Then
the staid citizen arose in his wrath and, with a
ten-dollar gold-piece in one hand and a revolver
in the other, he sought the rancher.

44 There is ten dollars for the water, if you
will sell it," he said; "and if not, I will send
you to Hades and take it, anyway! Now which
will it be?"

There was but one reply to an argument of
that kind ; the rancher sulkily accepted the



22 The Mystic Mid-Region

money, the brackish water was drawn from the
well, and the journey was soon resumed. As
a result of this transaction, however, the
rancher was obliged to take a forty-mile jour-
ney over the desert and back, to replenish his
water-supply from another well.

John F. McPherson, of Los Angeles, man-
ager of the Nevada Land Office, left Los
Angeles, in August, 1900, to traverse the
Great Mojave Desert, on his way to look over
the lands in the Parumph Valley, in Nevada.
His experience, which was by no means un-
common, is best related by himself.

" I left Los Angeles by team," he says, " for the pur-
pose of retracing the Government surveys and making
field notes. I had with me two companions, one Samuel
Baker and a young man from the East. We proceeded
over the foothills to Cajon Pass, thence to Victor, out on
the desert. It was in the burning days of a fierce, dry
summer. The earth was fervid and the air quivered
with the intense heat of the sun which poured its burn-
ing rays from a cloudless sky. Bad luck accompanied
us from the very start. At Pomona, thirty miles from
Los Angeles, we lost a horse and had to purchase
another. At Daggett, out in the desert, which place we
reached the second day of our desert travel, we found
the thermometer registering 128 degrees in the shade.
We passed through Daggett and made camp, ten miles
farther on, at dark.

" Eighteen miles beyond Daggett is Coyote Holes,
where we expected to find water to replenish the supply




From photograph by C. C. Pierce & Co.

AN OASIS IN THE COLORADO DESERT



The Land of Thirst 25

with which we left Daggett at seven o'clock in the morn-
ing. We found the well dry when we reached there, and
the place red with alkali. Near the well, two pieces of
two by four scantling marked the grave of some traveler
who had preceded us and who had run short of water
before reaching the Holes. He had arrived too far gone
to go farther, and his companions had remained with
him till the end and had given him a burial in the sand
and set the scantlings to mark the spot. Those scant-
lings proved our salvation a little later.

"By noon we had consumed all but about three gal-
lons of our water -and we determined to save this till the
last extremity, for we had yet eighteen miles to go to the
next watering-place, Garlic Springs. Our horses were
already in bad shape and nearly crazed for want of
water. In their eagerness to reach it they plunged for-
ward at a pace that threatened soon to exhaust them.
Our efforts to restrain them by means of the reins were
unavailing, and we were obliged to take off our coats
and throw them over the heads of the animals and then
lead them by the bits in this blinded condition.

" Just beyond Coyote Holes, on the road to Garlic
Springs, is a fearful sink known as Dry Lake. Here the
ground is shifty and treacherous and the wheels of the
wagon sank deep into the sand. Just as we had reached
the farther side of the lake the forward axle of the
wagon broke, letting the front part of the wagon fall to
the ground. This frightened the horses so that they
became almost unmanageable. They seemed to realize
that this delay meant possible death, and their cries
were almost human-like and were indeed pitiable to hear.

" By this time the condition of my companions and
myself was dire, and we realized that time was of the
greatest importance. The thermometer registered 130



26 The Mystic Mid-Region

in the shade and no available shade. To add to our
misery and increase our danger a terrible sand storm
arose, blinding, stinging, and almost smothering us.

" It was like standing in front of a blast furnace, open-
ing the door, and catching at the blast. There were
1600 pounds of provisions in the wagon at the time, and
if we abandoned that we were sure to perish of starva-
tion. It could not be thought of.

"We unhitched the horses and tied them to the rear
of the wagon and stretched the heavy canvas which had
covered the wagon over them to protect them from the
sand storm. Our salvation lay with the horses. If they
became exhausted or broke loose, we knew that our
bones would be left to bleach upon the desert sands as
have the bones of so many desert travelers.

44 The young Easterner lost his courage and cried like
a baby. The three gallons of water were divided among
man and beast, and then Baker started back to Coyote
Holes to get the two pieces of scantling with which to
mend our broken wagon. While he was gone the young
Easterner and myself threw the freight from the wagon
to make ready for the work of trussing up the rig when
Baker returned with the scantlings.

" The storm continued to increase and it soon became
as dark as midnight. When it came time for Baker's
return the storm was at such a height that we feared he
would have perished in it or that he had lost his way.
Hour after hour passed and still he did not return, and
we lost hope. At about 9 o'clock in the evening, how-
ever, he came into camp with the scantlings. His mouth
was bleeding from thirst and he was nearly blinded with
the sand, but he had the material with which to repair
the wagon, and hope returned to all our hearts.

" With stout wires and the timbers we soon had our




: rom photograph by C. C. Pierce & Co.

SENTINEL PALM
A welcome sight to the desert traveler, for it marks an oasis hidden in the canon



The Land of Thirst 29

wagon in shape, and the freight was speedily loaded
upon it and we prepared to resume our journey. Our
ill-luck, however, was not at an end, for when we at-
tempted to attach the tongue of the wagon the king-bolt
was not to be found. It was midnight when we had our
wagon repaired and loaded, and it was two o'clock be-
fore we succeeded in pawing the king-bolt out of the
sand where it had fallen. Then we had twelve weary
miles to travel before we could reach water. We were
all in a terrible state when we started, and the wagon sank
so deeply in the sand that our progress was fearfully slow.
"Twenty-four hours without water in the desert is a
terrible thing. Before we had covered half the distance
to Garlic Springs Baker went mad. He was for aban-
doning the party, and that meant, to one in his condition,
certain death. There was but one thing I could think
of to prevent him, and that I did. I pulled my revolver
and told him if he attempted to leave the party I would
shoot him. He had enough sense or sanity to heed the
admonition, and he stayed with us. I had to carry my
revolver in my hand, however, and constantly keep an
eye on him. It was ten o'clock when we reached the
springs, and we were all on the verge of delirium. It
was several hours before our swollen and parched throats
would admit more than a very few drops of water at a
time. We bathed in the water, soaked towels in it and
sucked at the ends, and by degrees fought away the
demon of thirst Baker spent five weeks in a hospital


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