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Loafing Along Death Valley Trails

Chapter XXIV

Indian George. Legend of the Panamint

The previous chapter records accepted history of the silver discovery at Panamint City. Indian George Hansen had another version which he told me at his ranch 11 miles north of Ballarat. It fits the period and the people then in the country.

George, when a youngster lived in the Coso Range. East of the Coso there was no white man for 100 miles and renegades fleeing from their crimes and deserters from the Union army sought hideouts in the Panamint. Thus George was employed as a guide by three outlaws to lead them to safe refuge.

George, a Shoshone, had both friends and relatives among the Shoshones and the Piutes and took the bandits into Surprise Canyon where a camp for the night was chosen. While staking out his pack animals, George discovered a ledge of silver ore. Breaking off a chunk, he stuck it into his pocket, saying nothing about it until they were out of the locality. Then he showed the specimen and to promote a deal, gave one of them a sample. They wanted to see the ledge but George refused to disclose it. Then George said the three fellows stepped aside and after talking in whispers told him they didn’t like the country and returning with him to the Coso Range, went on their way. Two or three months later they were back to bargain.

George had traded with the white man before. They had always given him a few dollars and a rosy promise. “Now me pretty foxy. So I say, ‘no want money. Maybe lose.’ Him say, ‘what hell you want?’

“‘Heap good job all time I live.’

“‘Okay,’ him say. ‘We give you job.’

“I show claim.” George paused, a look of smoldering hate in his dark eyes, then added: “I get job. Two weeks. Him say, ‘you fired.’ I get $50.”

All Indians and many of the old timers believe that the ledge George found was that for which Jones and Stewart paid $2,000,000.

George made another deal worthy of mention. The town of Trona on Searles’ Lake needed the water owned by George’s relative, Mabel, who herded 500 goats and sold them to butchers at Skidoo, Goldfield, and Rhyolite where they became veal steak or lamb chops. Trona offered $30 a month for the use of the water. Mabel consulted George as head man of the Shoshones and advised Trona that the sum would not be considered. It must pay $27.50 or do without. A superstition regarding numbers accounted for the price George fixed for the water.

My acquaintance with Indian George began on my first trip to Ballarat with Shorty Harris and was the result of a stomach ache Shorty had. I suggested a trip to a doctor at Trona instead.

“No, sir. I’ll see old Indian George. If these doctors knew as much as these old Indians, there wouldn’t be any cemeteries.”

I asked what evidence he had of George’s skill.

“Plenty. You know Sparkplug (Michael Sherlock)? He was in a bad way. Fred Gray put a mattress in his pickup, laid Sparkplug on it and hauled him over to Trona. Nurses took him inside. Doctor looked him over and came out and asked Fred if he knew where old Sparkplug wanted to be buried. ‘Why, Ballarat, I reckon,’ Fred said.

“Well, you take him back quick. He’ll be dead when you get there. Better hurry. He’ll spoil on you this hot weather.’

“Fred raced back, taking curves on Seventeen with two wheels hanging over the gorge, but he made it; stopped in front of Sparkplug’s shack, jumped out and called to me to bring a pick and shovel. Then he ran over to Bob Warnack’s shack for help to make a coffin. Indian George happened to ride by the pickup and saw Sparkplug’s feet sticking out. He crawled off his cayuse, took a look, lifted Sparkplug’s eyelids and leaving his horse ground-hitched, he went out in the brush and yanked up some roots here and there. Then he went up to Hungry Hattie’s and came back with a handful of chicken guts and rabbit pellets; brewed ’em in a tomato can and when he got through he funneled it down Sparkplug’s throat and in no time at all Sparkplug was up and packing his flivver to go prospecting. If you don’t believe me, there’s Sparkplug right over there tinkering with his car.”

George’s age has been a favorite topic of writers of Death Valley history for the last 30 years.

I stopped for water once at the little stream flumed out of Hall’s Canyon to supply the ranch. He was irrigating his alfalfa in a temperature 173of 122 degrees. I had brought him three or four dozen oranges and suggested that Mabel would like some of the fruit.

“Heavy work for a man of your age,” I said.

He bit into an orange, eating both peeling and pulp. “Me papoose. Me only 107 years old.”

There were less than a dozen oranges left when I began to cast about for a tactful way to preserve a few for Mabel. Seeing her chopping wood in the scorching sun I said, “I’ll bet Mabel would like an orange just now. Shall I call her?”

“No—no—” George grunted. “Oranges heap bad for squaw,” and speeding up his eating, he removed the last menace to Mabel.

Once George told me of watching the sufferings of the Jayhawkers and Bennett-Arcane party:

“Me little boy, first time I see white man. Whiskers make me think him devil. I run. I see some of Bennett party die. When all dead, we go down. First time Indians ever see flour. Squaws think it what make white men white and put it on their faces.”

I asked George why he didn’t go down and aid the whites. “Why?” he asked, “to get shot?”

“How many Shoshones are left?” I asked George.

He counted them on his fingers. “Nineteen. Soon, none.”

George died in 1944 and it is safe I believe, to say that for 110 years he had baffled every agency of death on America’s worst desert. Because his ranch was a landmark and the water that came from the mountains was good, it was a natural stopping place and he was known to thousands. Following a curious custom of Indians George adopted the Swedish name Hansen because it had euphony he liked.

The Panamint is the locale of the legend of Swamper Ike, first told I believe by Old Ranger over a nation-wide hookup, while he was M.C. of the program “Death Valley Days.”

A daring, but foolhardy youngster, with wife and baby, undertook to cross the range. Unacquainted with the country and scornful of its perils, he reached the crest, but there ran out of water. He left his wife and the baby on the trail, comfortably protected in the shade of a bluff and started down the Death Valley side of the range to find water.

After a thorough search of the canyons about, he climbed to a higher level, scanned the floor of the valley. Seeing a lake that reflected the peaks of the Funeral Range he made for it under a withering sun. He learned too late that it was a mirage and exhausted, started back only to be beaten down and die.

After waiting through a night of terror, the young mother prepared 174a comfortable place for her baby and went in search of her husband. She too saw the blue lake and made for it, saw it vanish as he had. Then she discovered his tracks and undertook to follow him, but she also was beaten down and fell dead within a few feet of his lifeless body.

A band of wandering Cocopah Indians crossing the range, found the baby. They took the child to their own habitation on the Colorado river and named him Joe Salsuepuedes, which is Indian for “Get-out-if-you-can.”

Joe grew up as Indian, burned dark by the desert sun. But he had an idea he wasn’t Indian. Learning that he was a foundling, picked up in the Panamint, he set out for Death Valley, possessed of a singular faith that somehow he would discover evidence that he was a white man.

He obtained a job as swamper for the Borax Company. When he gave his name the boss said, “Too many Joe’s working here. We’ll call you Ike.”

Early Indians, as you may see in Dead Man’s Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and numerous canyons in the western desert had a habit of scratching stories of adventure or signs to inform other Indians of unusual features of a locality on the canyon walls—often coloring the tracing with dyes from herbs or roots. Knowing this, Swamper Ike was always alert for these hieroglyphs on any boulder he passed or in any canyon he entered.

One day Swamper Ike went out to look for a piece of onyx that he could polish and give to the girl he loved. While seeking the onyx he noticed a flat slab of travertine and on it the picture story of “Get-out-if-you-can.”

Swamper Ike had justified his faith.

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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