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Death Valley National Park:
Cottonwood Mountains

Hunter Cabin


William Lyle Hunter, born in Virginia in 1842, came to the Death Valley region in the late 1860s. Marrying a girl from Virginia City, Nevada, Hunter subsequently settled down to a life as stockman, miner, and explorer. During the Cerro Gordo excitement he drove a large train of pack mules, realizing a considerable profit from this venture. Exploring widely in the surrounding region during these years, Hunter was among the first to penetrate the Ubehebe section (referred to then as part of the Rose Springs Mining District) in 1875, locating some valuable copper claims there. He and his compatriots are said to be responsible for changing the name of the area to "Ubehebe." In the lush green hills and forested area south of the Ubehebe District, where a variety of springs provide an abundance of water, Hunter grazed the mules and horses he raised and no doubt used in his pack trains. This green swath later became known as Hunter's Ranch Mountain, and was still being used many years later by his grandson Roy as pasture land for his cattle. Among other discoveries made by Hunter and his partner John Beveridge were those of the Belmont silver Mine east of Cerro Gordo and the Beveridge District in 1877. [1]

In 1897 Hunter and Reuben Spear, with whom he worked the Ulida Mine, were still performing development work "on old claims at 'Hunter's ranch.'" [2] The property was at this time crossed by an early mining trail leading east from Keeler to the Ubehebe region. Traversing the Inyo Range south of Cerro Gordo, it crossed the head of Panamint Valley "and finally ascends a superbly wooded and amply watered upland for many years known as Hunter's Ranch." [3] From the area of today's Lee Pump trails led to Saline Valley to the north, to the Lee Flat Mining District to the southwest, and on to Furnace Creek to the southeast via Cottonwood Canyon. Another reference to what is believed to be this area mentions the "several good camping grounds around the nut-laden trees and bunch grass of Hunter's Ranch." [4]

By 1900 Hunter and his family were living at George's Creek south of Independence, where he died in 1902 at the relatively young age of 59. In 1907 water from Hunter Ranch Creek 1/2 mile above Hunter Ranch was filed on for use by the Ulida Copper Company, which intended to pipe the water to its Ubehebe mine. Another location was filed five days later requesting 100 miner's inches on Hunter Ranch Creek 1-1/2 miles above "Indian Garden," the water to be piped to the Ulida Copper Company property for mining purposes. [5]

Three early survey maps were found, two of which show an irregularly-shaped plot of ground labelled "Hunter Ranch." The earliest map, dated 1924, presents a confusing array of buildings. It shows, for instance, a "Hunter Ranch" plot, complete with house, nearby Indian camp, and an extensive reservoir system, located between a ranch to the east (probably Steininger's) and another site referred to as "Scott's Old Ranch." The accuracy of this survey is extremely doubtful. Actually what is designated as "Hunter Ranch" on this map seems to refer to what is the Lower Grapevine complex today, with the "Scott's Old Ranch" site located about where the present swimming pond is (see Illus. 222). The township lines shown support this assumption.

A 1927 survey again shows a Hunter Ranch in the vicinity of an "Indian Gardens" as mentioned in the water location notices filed by the Ulida Copper Company in the early 1900s. Otherwise, the same features are noted as in 1924: a house, an Indian camp site, and the reservoir. No corral complex is shown. On the same plat is the layout of the old Steininger place. The plot referred to on the earlier map as Scotty's old ranch appears on this survey but is unnamed, suggesting that an attempt was made to correct the earlier survey (see Illustration 223). [6] Some puzzling questions remain, however. Julian Steward, in his study on the Indian populations of the Great Basin/Plateau area does not mention the Hunter Mountain region as being home to any particular group of Death Valley Indians, although the presence of "Indian Gardens" might indicate that some occasionally occupied the lush area to avail themselves of the pinyon nuts and cooler air (see Illustration 223). An Indian camp did exist near Death Valley Ranch during construction of the castle, however, to house the Indian laborers. As late as 1955 Hunter's Ranch was sporadically utilized as a cattle ranch. [7]

b) Present Status

Hunter Cabin is located on Hunter Mountain on the west side of Death Valley immediately inside the National Monument boundaries and about 3/4 mile south of the Hidden Valley road that passes via Jackass Canyon to California State Highway 190. Although not inspected by this writer, the site was visited by the LCS crew in December 1975. Development at the site consisted of a one-room log cabin constructed of pinyon pine and measuring approximately twelve by twenty feet, a spring twenty yards uphill that had been opened up into a watering trough, and a primitive corral about one hundred yards northeast of the cabin. Visitors obviously have used the area in the past as a campground.

c) Evaluation and Recommendations

Either a "Hunters" or a "Hunters Ranch" is located on the "Itinerary of Scout made by Co. D, 12th U.S. Infantry, Commenced April 30th and ending May 25th 1875," the "Itinerary of Scouts made by Co. "D," 12th U.S. Infanty [sic] during May, June, July and August 1875," and "Route marched by Co. I, First Cavalry, Commanded by Capt. C. C. C. Carr, First Cav. from June 8th to June 25th [1875]." [8] According to Levy, however, the present Hunter Cabin was built by a "packer" named John in 1910, using materials salvaged from an earlier cabin at Lee Pump. [9] That place, however, is west of Jackass Spring, while the ranch site shown on the military reconnaissance maps is definitely east of this waterhole, implying that some sort of ranch layout existed at this precise location as early as 1875. The ranch area as far as can be ascertained was primarily used for grazing of the mules and horses that Hunter used in his pack trains or supplied to the army. [10] It is doubtful that it was ever occupied for any extended period of time, but was instead used mostly as a line camp.

The Hunter Ranch complex is of more than passing interest for several reasons: first, because it was built by W. L. Hunter, father of one of Inyo County's foremost pioneer families and a founder of the Ubehebe Mining District; secondly, because of its location along an early historic military route from Camp Independence to Nevada, which later became a heavily-traveled trail into the mining areas of northern Death Valley, and because of its reputed status as a supplier of horses to the army troops; and thirdly, because of its interesting construction of pinyon pine logs. Because insufficient data exists to properly evaluate the ranch's role in Death Valley history or to justify placement of it on the National Register, it is recommended that it be accorded treatment of benign neglect. Camping in the area should be discouraged in order to lessen the dangers of fire and vandalism.

Hunter Ranch is one of only two small early homestead or ranching cabins viewed by this writer during survey trips to Death Valley, the other being the Nevares Cabin near Cow Creek. The Hunter cabin appears more rustic than the other, being built of pinyon pine logs squared on three sides to ensure a tight fit. Some of these have been spliced together because they were not long enough to extend the entire wall length. The cabin rests on a stone foundation on the downhill slope and directly on the ground on the other three sides. Other features of construction include: a one-by-two plank floor, square-cut corner log joints, rag chinking, a corrugated-iron roof resting on a pole frame, and a board-and-batten gable. Although somewhat protected by its location in a thick pine forest, a few conditions are leading toward the cabin's ultimate demise: decaying logs, an unstable floor, a loose roof, insect infestation, and water seepage from the nearby spring.

Geology of Hunter Mountain

Route #7 - Hunter Mountain and Hidden Valley


Illustration 221. Map of Hunter Mountain.


Illustration 222. Map dated 1924 showing "Hunter Ranch." From history files, DSC.


Illustration 223. Map dated 1927 showing "Hunter Ranch." From history files, DSC.


Illustration 224. William Lyle Hunter cabin located just inside monument boundary northeast of Hunter Mountain. Later lived in by Bev Hunter. Photo by Wm. C. Bullard and Dan Farrell, 1959, courtesy of DEVA NM.


Illustration 225. Corral complex at ranch, 1959. Photo by Wm. C. Bullard and Dan Farrell, courtesy of DEVA NM.

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