Desert Rat 10 Commendents [sic]

BY THE EDITOR (from Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrapbook)


Thou shalt love the DESERT, but not lose patience with those who say it’s bleak and ornery (even when the wind is blowing).

Coyote Lake wind storm
Even when the wind is blowing ..

Thou shalt speak of the DESERT with great reverence, and lie about it with great showmanship, adding zest to Tall Tales and Legends.

Bath tub in desert.
Adding zest …

Thou shalt not admit other DESERTS have more color than the one on which you have staked your claim.

Amboy Crater

Thou shalt on the Sabbath look to the Mountain Peaks so’s to know better your whereabouts, so’s you can help others to know the DESERT, dotting on the map the places where you have camped.

Summit Valley, Hesperia
… on the Sabbath look to the Mountain Peaks …

Honor the Pioneers, Explorers and the Desert Rats who found and marked the water holes . . . they tell you about the next water hole and try to help you.


Thou shalt not shoot the Antelope-Chipmunk, Kangaroo Rat or other harmless Desert friends. (Keep your shot for a snake.)

white-tailed antelope squirrel
Don’t shoot these.

Thou shalt not adulterate the water holes nor leave the campsite messed up. Be sure to take 10 gallons of water with you. Don’t have to ask the other fellow on the road for a quart, but be able to help the tenderfoot by giving him some water.

10 gallons of water ought to do it.

Thou shalt not steal (from the prospector’s shack), nor forget to fill the wood box and water pail.

Burro Schmidt Cabin, El Paso Mountains
Don’t be an asshole and mess up or steal stuff from some guy’s cabin.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor; you know the mining laws; you know the whereabouts of his monuments.

no tresspassing sign
Sign of the times.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s sleeping bag, his gun, nor the contents of his canteen.

Shoshone Cemetery

~ The End ~

Getting Used to the Wind

Death Valley was having one of its periodic wind storms when the tourists drove up in front of Inferno store to have their gas tank filled.

Hard Rock Shorty was seated on the bench under the lean-to porch with his hat pulled down to his ears to keep it from blowing away.

Desert wind storm
Desert wind storm

“Have many of these wind storms?” one of the dudes asked.

“Shucks, man, this ain’t no wind storm. Jest a little breeze like we have nearly every day. You have to go up in Windy Pass in the Panamints to find out what a real wind is like.

“Three-four years ago I wuz up there doin’ some prospectin’. Got together a little pile o’ wood an’ finally got the coffee to boilin’. Then I set it on a rock to cool while I fried the eggs.

“About that time one of them blasts o’ wind come along and blowed the fire right out from under the fryin’ pan. Blowed ‘er away all in one heap so I kept after it tryin’ to keep that fryin’ pan over the fire to git my supper cooked.

“I usually like my eggs over easy, but by the time 1 got one side done I wuz all tired out so I let ‘er go at that. Had to walk four miles back to the coffee pot.”

from; Desert Magazine – December 1953

Shorty’s Grubstake

Shorty Harris in Ballarat
Shorty Harris in Ballarat

Once I asked Shorty Harris how he obtained his grubstakes. “Grubstakes,” he answered, “like gold, are where you find them. Once I was broke in Pioche, Nev., and couldn’t find a grubstake anywhere. Somebody told me that a woman on a ranch a few miles out wanted a man for a few days’ work. I hoofed it out under a broiling sun, but when I got there, the lady said she had no job. I reckon she saw my disappointment and when her cat came up and began to mew, she told me the cat had an even dozen kittens and she would give me a dollar if I would take ’em down the road and kill ’em.

“‘It’s a deal,’ I said. She got ’em in a sack and I started back to town. I intended to lug ’em a few miles away and turn ’em loose because I haven’t got the heart to kill anything.

“A dozen kittens makes quite a load and I had to sit down pretty often to rest. A fellow in a two-horse wagon came along and offered me a ride. I picked up the sack and climbed in.

“‘Cats, eh?’ the fellow said. ‘They ought to bring a good price. I was in Colorado once. Rats and mice were taking the town. I had a cat.  She would have a litter every three months. I had no trouble selling them cats for ten dollars apiece. Beat a gold mine.’

Prospector with grubstake essentials

“There were plenty rats in Pioche and that sack of kittens went like hotcakes. One fellow didn’t have any money and offered me a goat. I knew a fellow who wanted a goat. He lived on the same lot as I did. His name was Pete Swain.

“Pete was all lit up when I offered him the goat for fifty dollars. He peeled the money off his roll and took the goat into his shack. A few days later Pete came to his door and called me over and shoved a fifty-dollar note into my hands. ‘I just wanted you to see what that goat’s doing,’ he said.

“I looked inside. The goat was pulling the cork out of a bottle of liquor with his teeth.

“‘That goat’s drunk as a boiled owl,’ Pete said. ‘If I ever needed any proof that there’s something in this idea of the transmigration of souls, that goat gives it. He’s Jimmy, my old sidekick, who, I figgered, was dead and buried.’

“‘Now listen,’ I said. ‘Do you mean to tell me you actually believe that goat is your old pal, whom you drank with and played with and saw buried with your own eyes, right up there on the hill?’

“‘Exactly,’ Pete shouted, and he peeled off another fifty and gave it to me. So, you see, a grubstake, like gold, is where you find it.”


Loafing Along Death Valley Trails
A Personal Narrative of People and Places
Author: William Caruthers

 Shorty Harris

Coyote Killers

Bill Frakes was a gentleman from Argentina who brought sheep out to his claim at the old Camp Cady along the Mojave River. As soon as he got there, it seemed he had sheep problems. They kept dying. They kept dying because the sheep had coyote problems. The coyotes had issues because they always seemed hungry, and the sheep were so tasty.

Bill Frakes noticed the coyotes rarely messed with the local bighorn sheep. The bighorn would kick the hell out of the coyotes and cause them more coyote problems than the meal was worth–like broken bones, punctured lungs, and death and stuff…

Bill Frakes had an idea on how to solve everyone’s problems–to interbreed the bighorn with the domestic sheep. He would make coyote killers, and Bill Frakes would be on Easy Street raising flocks and flocks of bad-ass sheep.

The details of what happened next are left in the gray fog of best-forgotten history, but there were rumors that several unfortunate and disturbing creatures were tied to a shed, and at night strange animal-like crying and sobbing could be heard.

Bill Frakes’ plan failed miserably with a possible exception; up there in the hills, a hybrid ram is said to have escaped; too ugly to die, too ugly to let itself be seen, the King Mutant Ram’s wailing and moaning can be heard to these very modern times in the mysterious night winds of the Afton Canyon highlands . . .

The End

Fiction inspired by a true event as described in “Daggett, Life in a Mojave Frontier Town,” by Dix Van Dyke – Edited by Peter Wild.

Hula Ville

After retiring as a ‘carny,’ or carnival worker at the Venice Pier and Santa Monica Pier, Miles Mahan (1896-1997) began building Hula Ville in 1955.

Wine- and beer-bottle tree sculptures adorned Joshua trees and wooden posts. Desert sandblasted wood signs held poetry and prose; dolls, award statues, and other found objects were displayed outside. A homemade miniature golf course bordered by half-buried bottles was included in his residence, as well as a pickup truck camper and a pickup truck camper without a truck. There was no charge, and donations were accepted.

Mahan also erected a large dancing hula girl sign at the entrance, a business discard he rescued and repurposed. The crude hand-lettered sign beneath her read: “People travel through the state, how little will they know her fate, for the traveler who’ll ever be the wiser, the Supervisors saved her life.” Busses traveling to Las Vegas from Los Angeles would stop, and Miles would entertain them by dancing on his little wooden stage, and they would leave tips. Even in his eighties, he was still able to dance. As much as he enjoyed guessing people’s weights at carnivals, he enjoyed watching Hesperia grow into a city. His poetry and books mention the many people he met along the way, with whom he loved talking about real estate. Whiskey Pete and Scotty from Death Valley were his friends, and Miles was quite a storyteller. These were all true stories. He appeared on the Johnny Carson Show as Johnny invited him back due to his outspoken personality 2 or 3 times. They would send a limo to pick him up and return him.

In 1995 Miles Mahan moved to a convalescent home and died on April 15, 1997. In September 1997, Hula Ville was demolished.

Jackrabbit Homesteads

Jackrabbit Homesteads, a unique phenomenon in the American Southwest, hold a significant place in the region’s history and culture. These small, rustic cabins were built on public lands in the mid-20th century. They offered settlers the opportunity to claim a piece of the desert and forge their own paths. We will explore the intriguing story behind these homesteads and their enduring legacy.

The establishment of Jackrabbit Homesteads dates back to the passage of the Small Tract Act of 1938, which aimed to encourage settlement on federal lands. Under this act, individuals could claim up to five acres of land and build a dwelling upon it. Many of these homesteads were constructed between the 1950s and 1970s, attracting individuals seeking a simpler, off-grid lifestyle or a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Jackrabbit Homesteads were typically modest, one-room cabins constructed from inexpensive materials such as concrete blocks or plywood. These structures were often sparsely furnished, reflecting the self-sufficient nature of the homesteaders who built them. Although lacking in modern amenities, these homesteads provided a sense of freedom and a connection to the surrounding natural landscape.

Living on a Jackrabbit Homestead required resourcefulness and willingness to adapt to harsh desert conditions. Homesteaders relied on rainwater catchment systems and solar power; many grew their own food or raised livestock. The simplicity of this lifestyle allowed individuals to reconnect with nature and find solace in the vast desert.

While Jackrabbit Homesteads have passed, their legacy lives on. Many homesteads have been abandoned or repurposed today as reminders of a bygone era. Some have even been transformed into art installations or preserved as historical landmarks. The National Park Service has recognized the cultural significance of Jackrabbit Homesteads and is working to preserve and document these unique structures.

For those intrigued by the allure of Jackrabbit Homesteads, there are opportunities to explore and experience these historic sites. For instance, Joshua Tree National Park in California is home to several preserved homesteads that offer a glimpse into the past. Visitors can wander through these time capsules, imagining the lives of the individuals who once called these cabins home.

Jackrabbit Homesteads are a testament to the human spirit of resilience and the desire for independence. Scattered across the desert landscape, these modest dwellings tell a story of determination and self-sufficiency. While the era of homesteading may have faded, the legacy of Jackrabbit Homesteads continues to captivate and inspire those who appreciate the allure of a simpler way of life.

(c) Walter Feller

Indifference of the Desert: Gateway to Eternity

The desert, a vast expanse of arid land, holds an enigmatic allure that has captivated explorers, writers, and artists for centuries. In its barrenness lies a certain indifference, an apathy that transcends the human realm. It is a world of endless silence, where life struggles to survive, and time appears to stand still. This place, looking into the indifferent nature of the desert, exploring its striking beauty, unforgiving climate, and ability to evoke a sense of insignificance in the face of its vastness.

The desert’s indifference is paradoxically intertwined with its mesmerizing beauty. Stretching as far as the eye can see, the landscape is dominated by sand dunes, rocky outcrops, and expansive plains. The desert’s neutral color palette, comprising earthy tones of beige, ochre, and rust, creates a harmonious symphony of hues. Its vastness and emptiness instill a sense of awe as if gazing upon an infinite canvas that has been left untouched by human hands.

The desert’s indifference is most apparent in its extreme climate. The desert’s temperatures fluctuate dramatically from scorching heat during the day to bone-chilling cold at night. The barrenness of the landscape exacerbates these conditions, as there are no obstacles to provide shade or shelter. Survival in such an environment requires adaptation and resilience, as even the hardiest of creatures struggle to endure the harshness of the desert’s indifference.

In the desert, time seems to lose its relevance. The shifting sands, sculpted by the wind, erase any trace of human presence, leaving behind a blank canvas for nature to paint anew. The desert’s indifference to the passage of time can be both humbling and disorienting. It serves as a reminder of the transience of human existence, as the footprints we leave behind are quickly swallowed by the relentless sands, making us feel insignificant in the face of eternity.

While the desert’s indifference may seem daunting, it offers valuable lessons for those who are willing to listen. It teaches us to embrace solitude and find solace in our own company. It encourages us to adapt and persevere in the face of adversity. It reminds us of the impermanence of life and the importance of cherishing the present moment. The desert’s indifference serves as a gentle yet profound reminder of our place in the grand tapestry of the universe.

The indifference of the desert is a captivating paradox. Its silent beauty, harsh climate, and timeless sands evoke a sense of insignificance in the face of its vastness. Yet, within its indifference lies wisdom and resilience. The desert beckons us to embrace solitude, adapt to change, and appreciate the fleeting nature of existence. Let us heed its call and find solace in the indifference of the desert, for within its silence lies a profound understanding of the human condition.

(c)Walter Feller

The Pessimist’s Perspective on the Victor Valley


The Victor Valley, located in Southern California, is often hailed as a vibrant and promising region. Its picturesque landscapes, growing economy, and close proximity to major cities make it an attractive destination for many. However, in this blog post, we will explore a different viewpoint – that of a pessimist. By examining the potential drawbacks and challenges faced by the region, we aim to offer a contrasting perspective on the Victor Valley.

1. Economic Challenges:

Despite its apparent economic growth, the Victor Valley faces several challenges that a pessimist would highlight. The region heavily relies on a few industries, such as agriculture and tourism, which leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in these sectors. Furthermore, the lack of diversification in the job market can lead to higher unemployment rates during economic downturns, leaving many residents struggling to make ends meet.

2. Infrastructure and Public Services:

From a pessimist’s viewpoint, the Victor Valley’s infrastructure and public services are not without their shortcomings. The area’s rapid population growth has strained the existing road networks, leading to congestion and longer commuting times. Additionally, public transportation options are limited, making it difficult for residents without private vehicles to navigate the region. Moreover, the availability and quality of essential services, such as healthcare and education, may not meet the demands of the growing population.

3. Environmental Concerns:

The pessimist’s perspective also sheds light on the environmental challenges faced by the Victor Valley. As the region continues to develop, it risks encroaching upon natural habitats and disrupting local ecosystems. The demand for water, in particular, poses a significant concern, as the Victor Valley is located in a semi-arid region with limited water resources. Excessive groundwater extraction and inadequate water management practices could have long-term consequences for the region’s sustainability.

4. Limited Cultural and Recreational Options:

Contrary to the popular perception of the Victor Valley as a vibrant cultural hub, a pessimist might argue that the region lacks diverse cultural and recreational opportunities. The area’s limited investment in arts, entertainment, and recreational facilities may leave residents with fewer options for leisure and personal growth. As a result, the Victor Valley may struggle to attract and retain young professionals and families seeking a well-rounded lifestyle.


While the Victor Valley undoubtedly offers many benefits and opportunities, it is essential to consider the pessimist’s viewpoint to gain a well-rounded understanding of the region. By acknowledging the economic challenges, infrastructure limitations, environmental concerns, and cultural and recreational limitations, we can foster a more comprehensive dialogue about the future of the Victor Valley. It is through such discussions that we can work towards addressing these issues and ensuring a more balanced and sustainable future for the region and its residents.

Controlling Local History: The Practice of Marginalization and Banning People


Local history shapes community identity and collective memory. It preserves the stories, events, and heritage that shape the present. However, in some cases, the practice of controlling local history and banning people from it has raised concerns. This blog post explores the implications of such practices and their potential consequences for communities.

1. The Power Dynamics of Controlling Local History:

Controlling local history involves the selective interpretation and presentation of historical narratives, often influenced by those in power. Controlling the narrative can emphasize certain perspectives or events while suppressing others, resulting in a skewed understanding of the past. This power dynamic can lead to the exclusion and erasure of marginalized voices and communities.

2. Banning People from Local History:

Banning individuals from participating in local history recording, sharing, or access restricts collective memory and perpetuates exclusion. This exclusion can occur for a variety of reasons, such as political dissent, social status, or cultural differences. However, by denying individuals the right to contribute to, learn from, and engage with local history, a community risks losing valuable insights and perspectives.

3. Implications for Communities:

When individuals are banned from local history, the community as a whole suffers. The diversity of experiences and perspectives is diminished, resulting in a narrow understanding of the past. This can lead to a distorted sense of identity and an inability to learn from past mistakes or appreciate the contributions of all community members. Furthermore, the practice of banning people from local history can perpetuate social divisions and hinder unity and cohesion.

4. Promoting Inclusive Local History:

To ensure a more inclusive and accurate representation of local history, it is crucial to adopt practices that encourage participation from all members of the community. This can be achieved through initiatives such as oral history projects, community-led documentation, and the establishment of inclusive historical archives. Communities can create a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of their shared past by actively involving diverse voices.

5. The Importance of Dialogue and Understanding:

Rather than banning individuals from local history, fostering open dialogue and understanding can lead to a more inclusive and comprehensive narrative. Communities can work toward reconciliation and healing by creating spaces for conversations, sharing different perspectives, and acknowledging history’s complexities. This approach allows for a more accurate reflection of the past, embracing diversity and promoting a sense of belonging for all community members.


Controlling local history and banning people from it has far-reaching consequences for communities. It perpetuates power imbalances, excludes marginalized voices, and limits collective memory. Instead of resorting to such practices. Communities should strive for inclusivity, open dialogue, and the active participation of all individuals in shaping and preserving local history. Doing so can create a more accurate, diverse, and enriching understanding of the past, ensuring a more inclusive and united future.

Walter Feller – 8/2023

The Waning Character of the Victor Valley: A Reflection on Change


The Victor Valley, once known for its vibrant character and idyllic charm, has witnessed a gradual decline in its unique essence over the years. Let us examine the factors contributing to the waning character of the Victor Valley and reflect upon the changes that have shaped its present state.

The Historical Significance:

The Victor Valley has a rich history, deeply rooted in the California Gold Rush and the railroad system development. These historical events played a pivotal role in shaping the valley’s character, attracting settlers, prospectors, and entrepreneurs seeking opportunities. The region blossomed with small communities, bustling industries, and a strong sense of community.

Urbanization and Economic Shifts:

Over time, the Victor Valley has undergone significant urbanization and economic shifts, which have profoundly impacted its character. With the expansion of cities and towns, vast open spaces have been replaced by commercial developments and residential neighborhoods. This rapid growth has led to a loss of natural beauty and a decline in historical landmark preservation.

Furthermore, economic changes have influenced the character of the Victor Valley. The decline of traditional industries, such as agriculture and mining, has resulted in a shift towards a service-based economy. While this has brought economic stability and employment opportunities, it has also contributed to a loss of the valley’s unique identity as small businesses struggle to compete with larger corporate chains.

Cultural Shifts and Loss of Community Spirit:

Another significant factor contributing to the waning character of the Victor Valley is the cultural shifts experienced by its residents. As the valley has become more diverse, the sense of community and shared values that once defined its character has diminished. People are now more connected virtually than physically, and the traditional community spirit has given way to individualism and isolation.

The Impact of Modernization:

The advent of modern technology and social media has further eroded the character of the Victor Valley. The constant connectivity and virtual interactions have replaced face-to-face communication, making it harder for residents to connect and engage with each other. The valley’s unique charm, once fostered by personal connections and local events, now struggles to compete with the allure of the digital age.

Preserving the Victor Valley’s Character:

Despite Victor Valley’s challenges, there is hope for preserving its character. Community-driven initiatives, historical preservation efforts, and a renewed focus on local businesses can help restore the valley’s identity. By embracing sustainable development practices and promoting cultural events celebrating the valley’s heritage, residents and local authorities can work together to attempt to revive the character that once defined the Victor Valley.


The waning character of Victor Valley reminds us of the ever-changing nature of our society. The forces of urbanization, economic shifts, cultural changes, and technological advancements have left an indelible mark on the valley’s identity.