Covered Wagon (prairie schooner)


Covered wagons significantly impacted the United States’ westward expansion during the 18th and 19th centuries. These wagons, often called “prairie schooners,” were designed to transport goods and settlers across the North American continent.

Family & covered wagon (prairie schooner)

Key features and uses of covered wagons included:

  1. Design: Covered wagons typically had a wooden frame with a canvas cover. This cover protected the contents from weather elements like rain and sun. The wagon bed was usually made of wood and was about four feet wide by ten feet long.
  2. Cover: The cover was made of canvas or similar durable cloth, stretched over hooped frames, providing shelter and goods for the occupants.
  3. Wheels: The wheels were often large and designed to handle rough terrain. The front wheels were usually smaller than the rear wheels, allowing easier turning.
  4. Draft Animals: Oxen, mules, or horses were commonly used to pull these wagons. Oxen were preferred for their strength and endurance, especially over long distances.
  5. Role in Expansion: Covered wagons were essential for westward migration in the U.S. They carried settlers’ belongings, including tools, food, and sometimes even passengers. These wagons were a vital part of the movement to settle the American West and were commonly seen on trails like the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and the California Trail.
  6. Living Quarters: The covered wagon was a temporary home for many settlers traveling west. Families would cook, eat, sleep, and spend much of their time in or around the wagon during their journey.
  7. Historical Significance: The image of a covered wagon crossing the plains has become an iconic symbol of American frontier life, representing the pioneer spirit, exploration, and the challenges of frontier life.

The use of covered wagons declined with the advent of railroads, which offered a faster and more efficient means of transporting goods and people across the country. However, their legacy remains an integral part of American history and folklore.


Are we there yet?

An odometer was an instrument used by American pioneers, particularly during the westward expansion in the 19th century, to measure the distance traveled. These devices were vital for journeys along routes like the Old Spanish Trail, as they helped travelers gauge their progress, estimate their arrival times, and manage their resources more effectively.

Wagon odometer – Courtesy LDS Church

The basic principle of the odometer dates back to ancient times, with variations used by the Romans and Chinese. However, the version used on covered wagons was adapted to the needs of the pioneers. It typically involved a mechanism that counted the revolutions of a wagon wheel. Since the wheel’s circumference was known, each revolution corresponded to a specific distance traveled. This count was then converted into miles or another distance unit and displayed.

This simple but effective device was crucial for pioneers who had to navigate vast, often unmarked territories. Knowing how far they had traveled, they could make informed decisions about when to rest, resupply, or seek shelter, especially as they faced the weather, terrain, and other uncertainties of frontier travel.

Borax Wagons

The 20-mule team borax ore wagons used in the late 1800s to transport borax from the mines in Death Valley, California, were quite large and had specific dimensions.

Here are the approximate dimensions for a typical 20-mule team borax ore wagon:

  1. Length: Approximately 30 feet (9 meters)
  2. Width: About 8 feet (2.4 meters)
  3. Height: Around 7 feet (2.1 meters)
  4. Weight: These wagons weighed approximately 7 tons when fully loaded with borax ore.

These massive wagons required a team of 18 mules and two horses to pull them across the harsh desert terrain. They were an iconic part of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century and were crucial in transporting borax to the nearest railroad for distribution.

  1. Two large ore wagons were used to transport the borax ore from the mines in Death Valley to the nearest railroad for shipment. They were massive and could carry a significant amount of borax.
  2. One water tank wagon: There was a specialized tank wagon in addition to the two ore wagons. This wagon carried water for the mules and horses that pulled the wagons. The desert environment of Death Valley was harsh, and providing water for the animals was crucial to their survival during the long and arduous journey.

So, the 20-mule team borax wagons actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses pulling two ore wagons and one water tank wagon. These wagons became an iconic symbol of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century.


20-Mule Teams


The Mojave People

The Mojave Indians are a Native American tribe indigenous to the southwestern United States, primarily in the Mojave Desert region, which spans parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. They have a rich ethnography and ethnohistory characterized by their unique cultural practices, social organization, and historical interactions with European settlers.

Here are some key aspects of the Mojave Indians’ ethnography and ethnohistory:

  1. Language and Culture: The Mojave people traditionally spoke the Mojave language, part of the Yuman language family. Their culture was closely tied to the natural environment of the Mojave Desert, and they had a deep knowledge of desert plants and animals. They practiced farming along the Colorado River and engaged in hunting and gathering.
  2. Social Organization: The Mojave society was organized into clans, and their social structure was matrilineal, meaning descent and inheritance were traced through the mother’s line. Clan membership played a significant role in their social and kinship systems.
  3. Religion and Spirituality: Mojave religious beliefs were centered around a complex system of spirits and deities associated with the natural world. The Colorado River played a significant role in their spiritual beliefs, and ceremonies often revolved around it. The Mojave Creation Story is an important part of their religious narrative.
  4. Contact with European Settlers: Like many Native American tribes, the Mojave people experienced significant changes with the arrival of European settlers. In the 19th century, they encountered Spanish explorers, Mexican settlers, and American pioneers. These encounters led to conflicts and changes in their way of life.
  5. Fort Mojave Reservation: In the 19th century, the Mojave people were relocated to the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which is located near Needles, California. The reservation is still home to many Mojave tribal members today.
  6. Contemporary Mojave: Today, the Mojave people continue to preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage. They have cultural centers and organizations that work to maintain their traditions, languages, and arts. The tribe also engages in economic development and land management on their reservation.

The ethnography and ethnohistory of the Mojave Indians provide valuable insights into the history and culture of this indigenous group in the American Southwest. Researchers and historians continue to study and document their traditions to preserve their cultural heritage for future generations.

The Von Schmidt Boundary


The Von Schmidt boundary, or the Schmidt Line, refers to a historical boundary line in California. It was surveyed and established by Alexey von Schmidt, a Russian engineer, in the 1860s. The purpose of the Von Schmidt boundary was to delineate the border between California and Nevada during a time when there was confusion and disputes over the exact location of the state boundary.

Von Schmidt’s survey helped clarify the boundary and resolve conflicts between California and Nevada. His efforts included placing markers and monuments along the boundary line to make it clear and permanent. The boundary he established still exists today and is the official border between the two states.

The Von Schmidt boundary is of historical significance and has been preserved as a reminder of the surveying and boundary disputes of the past. It is located in the eastern part of California near the Nevada border.

Why was the initial boundary incorrect?

The initial boundary between California and Nevada was incorrect and subject to disputes for several reasons:

  1. Lack of Accurate Surveys: In the early years of California’s statehood and during the Gold Rush era in the mid-19th century, limited resources and technology were available for accurate land surveys. As a result, the initial surveys and boundary markers were not precise.
  2. Rush for Mineral Resources: The discovery of gold and other valuable minerals in the region led to a rapid influx of settlers and miners. This rush created a need for clear land boundaries and property rights. However, the focus was often on extracting resources rather than conducting precise surveys.
  3. Overlapping Claims: Different parties, including miners, settlers, and land speculators, had conflicting claims to land in the region. These overlapping claims added to the confusion regarding the exact location of the state boundary.
  4. Political Disputes: California became a state in 1850, and shortly thereafter, disputes arose over its eastern boundary. Nevada was not established as a separate territory until 1861. Political disagreements and conflicting interpretations of earlier treaties and agreements existed during this period.
  5. Multiple Surveys: Various individuals and surveyors attempted to establish the boundary, but their surveys often differed. This further complicated matters.

Given these factors, there was much uncertainty and disagreement regarding the California-Nevada boundary in the early years. It was only through the efforts of surveyors like Alexey von Schmidt and subsequent legal and political resolutions that the boundary was eventually clarified and accepted. Von Schmidt’s survey work played a crucial role in resolving these disputes and establishing a more accurate boundary line.


Aurora, Nevada 1910

The town of Aurora, Nevada, experienced a move due in part to the boundary disputes between California and Nevada. Aurora was originally founded in the 1860s during the Nevada Silver Rush. At its founding, the exact location of the California-Nevada border was still uncertain and subject to disputes.

As a result of the boundary disputes and the fact that Aurora’s initial location was close to the border, there were concerns about which state’s jurisdiction the town fell under. Aurora’s residents and businesses moved the town slightly to the east, further into Nevada’s territory, to avoid potential legal and tax issues. This move ensured that Aurora would be firmly within the boundaries of Nevada when the border dispute was eventually resolved.

The relocation of Aurora was a strategic decision made to secure the town’s status as part of Nevada rather than California, given the uncertainties and conflicts related to the state boundary at the time. This move allowed Aurora to thrive as a mining town in Nevada without the legal complications associated with straddling the border.

Is everybody happy?

It’s difficult to determine whether “everybody” is happy, as people’s feelings and satisfaction with their circumstances can vary widely. Happiness is subjective and depends on individual experiences, perspectives, and circumstances.

In the context of the town of Aurora’s relocation due to boundary disputes, it’s possible that the decision to move was made to address specific legal and jurisdictional concerns at the time. The move may have been necessary for the town’s continued growth and prosperity. However, whether every resident or stakeholder was happy with the decision would depend on their perspectives and interests.

In any community or population, there will be a range of opinions and emotions regarding significant decisions like a town’s relocation. Some may have been happy with the move because it resolved legal uncertainties, while others may have been less pleased due to the disruption and changes associated with relocation.

To determine the current happiness or satisfaction of people in a specific context, it would be necessary to conduct surveys or interviews to gather their perspectives and opinions.



The history of the Tecopa and Shoshone area in California is closely tied to the region’s Native American heritage and the later development spurred by mining and tourism. Here’s a brief overview of the history of this area:

  1. Native American Presence: Before European and American settlement, the Tecopa and Shoshone region was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Southern Paiute people. They had a rich cultural history and lived harmoniously with the desert environment.
  2. Mining Era: In the late 19th century, mining activities brought settlers to the area. Tecopa was named after a Paiute leader and became a mining town. Various minerals, including borax, were mined in the region. Mining operations attracted people looking for economic opportunities.
  3. Shoshone’s Beginnings: Shoshone, known as Metberry Springs, developed as a railroad station and water stop along the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad in the early 20th century. The name was later changed to Shoshone.
  4. Water Resources: The presence of natural springs in the Shoshone area, including the famous Shoshone Springs, played a crucial role in attracting settlers and supporting mining and agricultural activities in the arid desert environment.
  5. Borax and Tourism: Borax mining was a significant industry in the area, and the famous Twenty Mule Team wagons transported borax from the region to the market. The Harmony Borax Works, located nearby, was a key mining operation. Additionally, the unique desert landscapes and proximity to Death Valley National Park began to draw tourists.
  6. Modern-Day Shoshone and Tecopa: Today, Shoshone and Tecopa are small communities that rely on tourism, agriculture, and the natural springs for their economy. They serve as gateways to Death Valley National Park, attracting visitors interested in exploring the desert’s unique beauty, geology, and history.
  7. Cultural and Historical Preservation: Efforts have been made to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the Tecopa and Shoshone area. The Shoshone Museum, for example, provides insights into the region’s history.

Overall, the history of Tecopa and Shoshone, CA, reflects the area’s development from its Native American roots through mining and the growth of tourism, all while showcasing the rugged beauty of the Mojave Desert and its natural resources.

Rainbow Basin Geology


Rainbow Basin

Rainbow Basin is a geological formation in the Mojave Desert of California. It is known for its unique and colorful rock formations, which provide valuable insights into the region’s geological history. Here are some key aspects of the geology of Rainbow Basin:

  1. Sedimentary Rocks: Rainbow Basin primarily comprises sedimentary rocks accumulated over millions of years. These rocks include sandstones, shales, and mudstones. The different layers of sedimentary rocks represent different periods of geological history.
  2. Fossilized Marine Life: Within the sedimentary rocks of Rainbow Basin, fossils of marine life from the Miocene epoch (approximately 15-20 million years ago) have been found. These fossils include shells, bones, and other remnants of ancient sea creatures. This suggests that a shallow sea once covered the area.
  3. Faulting and Uplift: The geology of Rainbow Basin has been influenced by tectonic forces. The region is situated near the intersection of several fault lines, including the Garlock Fault. These fault movements have caused the uplift of the rocks, exposing them to erosion and creating the unique landscape seen today.
  4. Erosion and Weathering: Over time, erosion and weathering have shaped the colorful rock formations in Rainbow Basin. These processes have created intricate patterns and exposed layers of colored sediments, giving the area its name.
  5. Geological Time Scale: The rocks at Rainbow Basin span a significant portion of the geological time scale, providing geologists with valuable information about the changing environments and life forms that existed in the area millions of years ago.
  6. Geological Tours: Rainbow Basin is a popular destination for geological enthusiasts and tourists interested in its unique geology. There are guided tours and interpretive exhibits that provide insights into the geological history of the area.
Rainbow Basin photo
Rainbow Basin, Barstow, Ca.

In summary, Rainbow Basin is a geological wonder in the Mojave Desert, characterized by its sedimentary rocks, fossils, faulting, erosion, and vibrant colors. It offers a glimpse into the geological history of California and the forces that have shaped its landscape over millions of years.


Barstow Railroad History

Barstow, California, has a rich history related to railroads. Here is an overview of the railroad history in Barstow:

Harvey House – Casa Del Desierto
  1. Early Railroad Development: Barstow’s history as a railroad town dates back to the late 19th century when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) and the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) played significant roles in its development. The AT&SF arrived in Barstow in 1883, and the SP followed shortly after.
  2. Railroad Facilities: Barstow became a strategic location for both railroads due to its position as a junction point. It was a division point on the AT&SF line, meaning it had extensive locomotive maintenance and repair facilities. Additionally, it served as a crew change and refueling station.
  3. Harvey House: The historic Casa del Desierto, also known as the Harvey House, was a prominent feature of the Barstow railroad history. It was a luxurious hotel and restaurant built by the Fred Harvey Company in 1911 to serve passengers traveling on the AT&SF railway. The Harvey House has been beautifully restored and now houses a museum.
  4. Railroad Growth: Barstow continued growing as a railroad town over the years. It had a large rail yard, roundhouse, and various support facilities to handle the extensive railroad traffic passing through the area.
  5. Importance as a Railroad Junction: Barstow’s strategic location made it a crucial junction for freight and passenger trains. It was a hub for transferring goods and passengers between different rail lines, making it a bustling activity center.
  6. Modern Times: While the significance of railroads has declined in recent years, Barstow still maintains its historical ties to the railroad industry. The Barstow Rail Museum and the Harvey House Museum are popular attractions for visitors interested in learning about the town’s railroad history.

Barstow’s history as a railroad town is an integral part of its identity, and the legacy of the railroads can still be seen and appreciated in the town today.

Barstow Area Mining

The history of mining in the Barstow area is closely tied to the extraction of various minerals and resources that played a significant role in the development of Southern California. Here’s a more detailed look at the history of mining in the Barstow area:

  1. Borax Mining: Borax mining was one of the earliest mining activities in the Barstow region. In the late 19th century, borax deposits, a valuable industrial mineral used in various applications, were discovered in the nearby Calico Mountains. The Pacific Coast Borax Company, owned by Francis Marion “Borax” Smith, was instrumental in developing borax mines in the area. This marked the beginning of significant mining operations in the region, with borax being a primary focus.
  2. Calico Mining District: The Calico Mining District, which includes the town of Calico, was a major center of mining activity in the Barstow area. Silver and silver-lead ores were the primary resources mined in this district. At its peak in the late 1800s, Calico had a population of over 3,000 people and was a bustling mining town.
  3. Calico Ghost Town: Calico, often referred to as Calico Ghost Town today, was once a thriving mining town. It featured numerous mines, including the Bismarck, Silver King, and Oriental Mines. Visitors to Calico can explore the well-preserved historic buildings, mines, and artifacts, gaining insight into the region’s mining history.
  4. Railroad Transportation: The expansion of railroads played a crucial role in facilitating the transportation of mined materials from the Barstow area to other parts of California and beyond. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway was a key transportation link for the mining industry, enabling the efficient movement of ores and minerals.
  5. Variety of Minerals: While borax, silver, and silver-lead ores were among the most significant resources mined in the Barstow area, various other minerals were also extracted. These included gypsum, limestone, and barite. These minerals had industrial applications and were important for construction and manufacturing.
  6. Decline of Mining: As the easily accessible mineral deposits were depleted, mining activities in the Barstow area began to decline. Many mines were abandoned, and mining communities saw a decrease in population. The shift in economic focus led to the decline of mining as a major industry in the region.

Today, the mining history of the Barstow area is preserved through places like Calico Ghost Town, museums, and historical sites. These serve as reminders of the pioneering spirit of early miners and the role mining played in shaping the history of Barstow and the surrounding region.

The Curse of Bodie


The Curse of Bodie is a legend that suggests the town of Bodie, particularly its well-preserved buildings and artifacts, is cursed. This legend is not uncommon in ghost towns and adds to the town’s mystique. Here are the key elements of the Curse of Bodie legend:

  1. Taking Artifacts: According to the legend, the curse affects those who take artifacts, items, or souvenirs from Bodie Ghost Town without proper permission. This includes visitors who remove historical objects from the town as keepsakes.
  2. Misfortune and Bad Luck: Those who are believed to have taken items from Bodie may experience a series of misfortunes and bad luck in their lives. The curse brings financial troubles, health problems, or other unfortunate circumstances to those who have taken something from the town.
  3. Returning Stolen Items: Some versions of the legend suggest that the curse can be lifted or mitigated by returning the stolen item to Bodie. Restoring the item to its rightful place is believed to break the curse and avoid further misfortune.
  4. Mail-Back Items: Over the years, there have been reports of people mailing stolen artifacts or items back to Bodie, accompanied by letters expressing remorse for taking them and hoping to undo the curse. These returned items are often referred to as “Ghost Town Mail.”
  5. Warnings and Signs: Bodie’s visitor center and park rangers often display warnings and signs advising visitors not to take anything from the town, emphasizing the belief in the curse and the importance of preserving the site’s historical integrity.
  6. Cultural Preservation: The legend of the curse serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving historical and cultural heritage. It encourages responsible tourism and respect for the historical significance of Bodie Ghost Town.

It’s important to note that the Curse of Bodie is part of the folklore and mystique surrounding the town, and there is no scientific evidence to confirm the existence of such a curse. Nevertheless, the legend has become a cultural phenomenon associated with Bodie, and many visitors are aware of it. As a result, most people who visit Bodie today respect its historical artifacts and refrain from taking items as souvenirs, contributing to the ongoing preservation of the site.