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Loafing Along Death Valley Trails

Chapter X

Greenwater—Last of the Boom Towns

Located on Black Mountain in the Funeral Range on the east side of Death Valley, Greenwater was the last boom town founded in the mad decade which followed Jim Butler’s strike at Tonopah. Records show locations of mining claims in the district as early as 1884, but all were abandoned.

The location notice of a “gold and silver claim” was filed in 1884 by Doc Trotter, a famous character of the desert, remembered both for his good fellowship and his burro—Honest John—a habitual thief of incredible cunning, “Picked locks with baling wire....”

The first location of a copper claim was made by Frank McAllister who, with a man named Cooper and Arthur Kunzie, may be credited with one of the West’s most spectacular mining booms.

In 1905 Phil Creaser and Fred Birney took samples of the Copper Blue Ledge and sent them to Patsy Clark, who was so impressed that he dispatched Joseph P. Harvey, a prominent mining engineer to look at the property. Harvey started from Daggett and had reached Cave Spring in the Avawatz Mountains when he was caught in a cloudburst and lost all his equipment. He returned to Daggett, secured a new outfit and this time reached Black Mountain, but was unable to locate the claims.

Again Birney and Creaser contacted Clark and this time the mining magnate came to Rhyolite, ordered another examination of the property, giving his agent authority to buy. Upon the assay’s showing, the claims were bought. Immediately Charles M. Schwab, August Heinze, Tasker L. Oddie, Borax Smith, W. A. Clark, and many other moguls of mining hurried to the scene or sent their agents. In their wake came gamblers, merchants, crib girls, soldiers of fortune, and thugs.

$4,125,000 was paid for 2500 claims. Result—a hectic town with as many as 100 people a day pouring out of the canyons onto the barren, windy slope.

Noted mining engineers announced that Black Mountain was one huge deposit of copper with a thin overlay of rock, dirt, and gravel. “It will make Butte’s ‘Richest Hill on Earth’ look like beggars’ pickings,” they announced.

Greenwater stocks sky-rocketed and so many people poured into the new camp that the town was moved two miles from the mines in order to take care of the growth which it was believed would soon make it a metropolis. Before pick and shovel had made more than a dent on the crust of Black Mountain, two newspapers, a bank, express lines, and a magazine were in operation.

Here Shorty Harris missed another fortune only because his partner went on a drunk.

Leaving Rhyolite, Shorty had induced Judge Decker, a convivial resident of Ballarat to furnish a grubstake to look over Black Mountain. He made several locations, erected his monuments, returned to Ballarat and gave them to Decker to be recorded.

When the papers reached Ballarat with the news that the copper barons were bidding recklessly for Greenwater claims Shorty was broke again. Bursting into Chris Wicht’s saloon, he shouted, “Where’s the Judge?”

Chris nodded toward the end of the bar where the Judge, swaying slightly, was waving his glass in lieu of a baton while leading the quartet in “Sweet Adeline.” Wedging through the crowd, Shorty touched the Judge’s elbow: “Lay off that cooking likker, Judge. It’s Mum’s Extra for us from now on.”

“Yeh? How come?” the Judge asked thickly.

“We’re worth a billion dollars,” Shorty said. “I staked out that whole dam’ mountain. Where’re those location notices?”

“What location notices?” Decker blinked.

“The ones I gave you to take to Independence.”

With one hand the Judge steadied himself on the bar. With the other he fumbled through his pockets, finally producing a frayed batch of papers, covered with barroom doodling, but no recorder’s receipt for the location notices. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered.

“So’ll I,” Shorty gulped.

If Decker had recorded the notices both he and Shorty would have become rich through the sale of those claims.

When laborers cleared the ground to begin work for Schwab, Patsy Clark, and others, they tore down the monuments containing the unrecorded notices.

In a little cemetery on the gravel flats at Ballarat, lies Decker.

Pleasantly refreshed with liquor one yawny afternoon he managed 62to have the last word in an argument with the constable, Henry Pietsch and went happily to his room. Later the constable thought of a way to win the argument and went to the Judge’s cabin. A shot was heard and Pietsch came through the door with a smoking gun in his hand. Decker, he said, had started for a pistol in his dresser drawer. But Decker was found with a hole in his back, his spine severed. At Independence, the constable was acquitted for lack of evidence and returned to Ballarat to resume his duties, but was told that he might live longer somewhere else. Pietsch didn’t argue this time and thus avoided a lynching. He left Ballarat and, I believe, was hanged for another murder.

Among those who came early to Greenwater, none was more outstanding than a gorgeous creature with a wasp waist who stepped from the stage one day, patted her pompadour with jewelled fingers, gave the bustling town an approving glance. Then she turned to the bevy of blondes and brunettes she had brought. “It’s a man’s town, girls....”

Bystanders were already eyeing the girls; their scarlet lips and the deep dark danger in their roving eyes.

So Diamond Tooth Lil was welcomed to Greenwater and became important both in its business and social economy.

It was agreed that Lil was a good fellow. Greenwater also learned that her word was good as her bond. She kept an orderly five dollar house and if anyone chose to break her rules of conduct, he ran afoul of her six-gun. Because she could fight like a jungle beast, she was also called Tiger Lil. Somewhere along the line, four of her upper teeth had been broken and in each of the replacements was set a diamond of first quality. As Greenwater prospered so did Diamond Tooth Lil.

One day an exotic creature with a suggestion of Spanish-Creole and dark, compelling eyes dropped off the stage. She too had pretty girls and when the new bagnio had its grand opening, with champagne and imported orchestra, Diamond Tooth Lil sent a huge floral piece.

A few nights later Lil was sitting in her parlor wondering where the men were. The girls were all banked around with folded hands.

“Maybe there’s a celebration....” A moment later a belated male barged in.

“Willie, where’s everybody?” Lil asked.

Willie flicked a look at the idle girls. “Maybe,” he announced, “they’re down at that new cut-rate menage.”

“Cut-rate?” Lil cried.

“Yeh. Three dollars.”

A steely glint came into Diamond Tooth Lil’s eyes.

She tossed her cigarette into the cuspidor, went to her room, picked up her six-gun, saw that it was loaded and hurried to her rival’s.

A rap on the door brought the dark beauty to the porch. “Listen dearie,” Diamond Tooth Lil began. “This is a union town. I hear you’re scabbing.”

The hot Latin temper flared. “I run my business to suit myself....”

“And you won’t raise the price?” asked Diamond Tooth Lil.

“Never!” Suddenly the exotic one looked into hard steel and harder eyes.

“Okay. You’re through. Start packing,” ordered Lil.

Something in the eyes behind the six-gun told the madam that surrender was wiser than a funeral and the scab house closed forever.

A wayfarer in Greenwater announced that he was so low he could mount stilts and clear a snake’s belly, but being broke, he could only sniff the liquor-scented air coming from Bill Waters’s saloon and look wistfully at the bottles on the shelves. Then he noticed that Bill Waters was alone, polishing glasses. A sudden inspiration came and he sauntered in. “Bill,” he said, “gimme a drink....”

Bill Waters was no meticulous interpreter of English and slid a glass down the bar. A bottle followed. The drinker filled the glass, poured it down an arid throat. “Thanks,” he called and started out.

“Hey—” cried Bill Waters. “You haven’t paid for that drink.”

“Why, I asked you to give me a drink....”

“Yeh,” Bill sneered. “Well, brother, you’d better pay.”

“Horse feathers—” said the fellow and proceeded toward the door.

Bill Waters picked up a double barrelled shotgun, pointed it at the departing guest and pulled the trigger. The jester fell, someone called the undertaker and the porter washed the floor.

It looked bad for Bill. But lawyers solve such problems. Bill said he was joking and didn’t know the gun was loaded. The answer satisfied the court and Bill returned to his glasses.

For a few years Greenwater prospered. Then it was noticed that the incoming stages had empty seats. Bartenders had more time to polish glasses. “The World’s Biggest Copper Deposit” which the world’s greatest experts had assured the moguls lay under the mountain just wasn’t there.

Today there is barely a trace of Greenwater. A few bottles gleam in the sun. The wind sweeps over from Dante’s View or up Dead Man’s Canyon. The greasewood waves. The rotted leg of a pair of overalls protrudes from its covering of sand. A sunbaked shoe lies on its side.

But somewhere under its crust is a case of champagne. Dan Modine, the freighter, buried it there one dark night over 40 years ago and was never able to find it.

A Personal Narrative of People and Places
Published by Death Valley Publishing Co.
Ontario, California

A Foretaste of Things to Come
What Caused Death Valley?
Aaron and Rosie Winters
John Searles and His Lake of Ooze
But Where Was God?
Death Valley Geology
Indians of the Area
Desert Gold. Too Many Fractions
Romance Strikes the Parson
Greenwater-Last of the Boom Towns
The Amargosa Country
A Hovel That Ought To Be a Shrine
Sex in Death Valley Country
Shoshone Country. Resting Springs
The Story of Charles Brown
Long Man, Short Man
Shorty Frank Harris
A Million Dollar Poker Game
Death Valley Scotty
Odd But Interesting Characters
Roads. Cracker Box Signs
Lost Mines. The Breyfogle and Others
Panamint City. Genial Crooks
Indian George. Legend of the Panamint
Ballarat. Ghost Town
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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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