Pete Harmon

Keep on Steppin’ — The man who walked 481 miles to see a sick friend

. . . At our home he [Shorty Harris] lay on his back for weeks, fed with a spoon. Always talking of putting another town on the map. Always losing a million dollars a day. He was miraculously but slowly recovering when an Associated Press dispatch bearing a Lone Pine date made front page headlines with an announcement of his death.

Though the report was quickly corrected, his presence at our house brought reporters, photographers, old friends, and the merely curious. At the time the Pacific Coast Borax Company’s N.B.C. program was featuring stories based on his experiences over a nation-wide hook-up. Among the callers also were moguls of mining and tycoons of industry who had stopped at the Ballarat cabin to fall under the spell of his ever ready yarns.

Pete Harmon

Among these guests, one stands out.

It was a hot summer day when I saw on the lawn what appeared to be a big bear, because the squat, bulky figure was enclosed in fur. Answering the door bell I looked into twinkling eyes and an ingratiating smile. “They told me in Ballarat that Shorty Harris was here.” I invited him in.

“I’ll just shed this coat,” he said, stripping off the bearskin garment. “… sorta heavy for a man going on 80.” He laid it aside. “It’s double lined. Fur inside and out. You see, I sleep in it. Crossed three mountain ranges in that coat before I got here. May as well take this other one off too.” He removed another heavy overcoat, revealing a cord around his waist. “Keep this one tied close. Less bulky….”

Under a shorter coat was a heavy woolen shirt and his overalls concealed two pairs of pants. He went on: “I was with Shorty at Leadville. My name’s Pete Harmon. We ought to be rich—both of us. Why, I sold a hole for $2500 in 1878. Thought I was smart. They’ve got over $100,000,000 outa that hole. I was at Bridgeport when I heard Shorty was sick, so I says, ‘I’ll just step down to Ballarat and see him.’ (The ‘step’ was 298 miles.) When I got there Bob Warnack tells me he’s in Los Angeles. When I get there they tell me he’s with you. So I just stepped out here.”

He had “stepped” 481 miles to see his friend.

Shorty Harris

I ushered him in and left them alone. After an hour I noticed Pete outside, smoking. I went out and urged him to return and smoke inside, but he refused. “It’s not manners,” he insisted.

Later I happened to look out the window and saw him empty the contents of a small canvas sack into his hand. There were a few dimes and nickels and two bills. He unfolded the currency. One was a twenty. The other, a one. He put the coins in the sack and came inside. A few moments later, from an adjacent room I heard his soft, lowered voice: “Shorty, I’m eatin’ reg’lar now and got a little besides. I reckon you’re kinda shy. You take this.”

“No—no, Pete. I’m getting along fine….”

I fancy there was a scurry among the angels to make that credit for Pete Harmon.

Late in the afternoon, Pete donned his coats. “I’d better be going. I’ve got a lotta things on hand. A claim in the Argus. When the money comes in, well—I always said I was going to build a scenic railroad right on the crest of Panamint Range. Best view of Death Valley. It’ll pay. How far is it to San Diego?”

“A hundred and forty miles….”

“Well, since I’m this far along I’ll just step down and see my old partner. Take care of Shorty….” And down the road, he went.

With humility I watched his passage, hoping that the good God would go with him and somehow I felt that of all those with fame and wealth or of high degree who had gone from that house, none had left so much in my heart as Pete.

Adapted from;
Chapter XVII
Shorty Frank Harris
Title: Loafing Along Death Valley Trails
       A Personal Narrative of People and Places

Author: William Caruthers

Protecting the Mojave in 1974

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection
Howell, E. Bruce – 1974

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Shy desert tortoise curls up inside his shell on top of a groove left in desert sand by motorcycle on the Stoddard Valley off-road vehicle racing area of Barstow. Already legally protected as an endangered species, environmentalists and scientists say the threat is heightened along with other desert life by off-road vehicle activities.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Environmentalist group that recently toured the Mojave Desert to show evidence of damage done by indiscriminate use of off-road vehicle say they believe holes on this live desert tortoise shell were caused by bullets.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Tiny marker planted in Mojave Desert at Stoddard Valley, marks U.S. Bureau of Land Management boundary separating approved off-road vehicle race course from a restricted area. Heavy tire tracks on both sides of marker indicate that such markers are virtually ignored, except by desert visitors with guns, who have riddled them with bullets.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Stoddard Valley on Mojave Desert near Barstow, despite its vast openness is a continuous maze of off-road vehicle tire tracks. Federal plan for managing off-road vehicle use on desert has left it open for off-road vehicle races and closed other areas. But environmentalists and scientists say regulations for restricted areas are too vague and open to this kind of damage.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “These people seek to defend the vast Mojave Desert from a federal program that regulates off-road vehicles. They claim regulations are vague, unenforceable, and could open the desert to extensive off-road vehicle damage. From left are UC Riverside professors Bill Mayhew, zoology; Sylvia Broadbent, anthropology; and Richard E. Gutting, Jr., attorney for Environmental Defense Fund.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Judith Winder, staffer for Environmental Defense Fund, sketches petroglyph of longhorn sheep from rock in Inscription Canyon.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Hand of UC Riverside anthropology professor, Sylvia Broadbent, points out recent chisel mark at bottom of a chipped out section of volcanic rock which had an ancient Indian carving on it. Such damage to antiquities, which is widespread in the Mojave Desert is illegal. This damage was in Inscription Canyon near Barstow.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Richard E. Gutting, Jr., kneeling, attorney for Environmental Defense Fund, and UC Riverside anthropology professor Sylvia Broadbent, examine off-road vehicle dislocation of ‘desert pavement,’ a dark, rocky covering on desert floor which takes thousands of years to form but is important to the natural balance of desert life. Light swath was made by off-road vehicle race.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Off-road vehicle race course touring party gathers at scene of ancient Indian sleeping circle (foreground), a circular formation of larger rocks in midst of small ones, which anthropologists say were foundations for shelters built by prehistoric Indians. All such sites, they assert, should be protected.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Not just ordinary boulders, these, according to Dr. Sylvia Broadbent, UC Riverside anthropology professor, who said there is no question that the slightly concave rock in the upper half of photo was worn that way by ancient Indians grinding grain and marks on the surface of the rock in the lower photo were also made by the same Indians.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “Petroglyphs, ancient Indian rock art, abound on the walls of Inscription Canyon near Barstow. Archaeologists look upon them as valuable keys to unlocking the secrets of prehistoric peoples who inhabited the vast Mojave Desert, but complain they are being destroyed by desert visitors at an alarming rate.”

Photograph caption dated April 3, 1974 reads, “He calls the Mojave Desert ‘home.’ Desert lizard suns itself on dark, porous volcanic rock in Inscription Canyon. Same rocks are covered with ancient Indian petroglyphs, and rock art carvings, indicating the canyon may have been where Indians trapped and captured longhorn sheep and other desert game. The entire canyon is falling victim to vandals and souvenir hunters.”


High Desert Small Atlas

Cajon Pass/Victor Valley Roads

Working copy – not all roads included

1 – Old Spanish Trail/Indian trail (1827)
2 – Cajon Pass (Lower) – Indian trail
3 – Lone Pine Canyon – Indian trail
4 – Sheep Creek – Indian trail
5 – Sanford Pass (c.1854-57)
6 – Fort Tejon – Indian trail
7 – to Mojave River – Indian trail
8 – to Daggett (c.1855)
9 – Lucerne/Cushenbury Lumber road
10 – Van Dusen/Holcomb Valley Road – (1862)
11 – Mojave Indian trail (c.1776, 1826)

The Legend of ‘Three-fingered’ Bob

A Mystery of the Mojave – Men on the Mesa:

‘Three-fingered’ Bob lay dying on the saloon floor in the mud and the blood and the beer. He was an old man for his time–34 years old to be exact. Quite old for a varmint and bank robber like him up here on the mesa.

They called him ‘Three-fingered’ Bob because, of course, his name was Bob. He liked that. He was playing cards one night and lost a bet. He lost his finger to a dull knife for a marker on his debt. Six days later he paid his debt and his finger was returned to him, but it was too late to reattach. Bob didn’t learn his lesson.

The next week he lost a finger on the other hand–another bet he couldn’t cover. He paid his gambling debt sooner this time, after only one day–but it was too late to sew the finger back on.

Within days it happened once more. Bob was now down to two fingers remaining on one hand and three on the other. Three fingers, on the one hand, wasn’t why they called him ‘Three-fingered’ Bob. He was called ‘Three-fingered’ Bob because he kept his three dried-up fingers in a little bag tied to his belt.

I never did find out what happened to ‘Three-fingered’ Bob, why he was dying, and why the mud and the blood and the beer were all over the floor. Because by the time I finished telling you his story he died and the coroner came and took his corpse away.

“What did kill ‘Three-fingered Bob?” you may ask. This, no one knows that I know of. In fact, we may never know as this is, . . . A Mystery of the Mojave ~