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Sagebrush Annie & the Sagebrush Route

Sagebrush Annie

Early in 1930, about a month after his 54th birthday, George Sibert moved to the Bryman/ Helendale area. He leased the Strassberg ranch for a year with a member of his family, probably his brother. His wife Bessie lived in the Los Angeles area and visited him several times that year, staying a few weeks on one occasion, and he would also stay down there.

It is possible George was sick and was testing to see if farm work and the climate helped. It evidently did, because after the lease expired he moved his wife up with him, bought property, built a house, and lived the rest of his life on the Mojave Desert. The lot purchase probably did not put too much of a strain on the family budget, as it was only 10 dollars. Not too bad for 250 feet of frontage on the state highway, even if it was the depth of the depression

George and Bessie moved into their new home in May of 1931. It is not necessary to speculate on when the move occurred because it was announced in the newspaper, just as if they were celebrities come to live near Helendale. The May 15, 1931, issue of the Victor Valley News-Herald carried the story that George and Elizabeth Sibert had moved from Los Angeles to their place near the Dew Drop Inn.

The newspaper spelled the name as "Siebert," and this is still a common misspelling, but all the official records show that it is "Sibert." The first syllable is pronounced with a long "i." Elizabeth always went by the name Bessie, never using Liz or Beth or any other such variation.

The business started as the Sage Brush Service Station and was referred to as such for the first few years. The Siberts had it built by Guy Wadsworth, and it is a good example of his stone architecture. It must have been done shortly after Guy was released from jail for beating the deputy with the monkey wrench. He was no doubt in good shape, tanned and ready to work after a year on a road gang. George dug his own well in May and June, just after moving in.

About a year after they opened the Sage Brush Station, a movie named "Tugboat Annie" was produced. The story was about the skipper of a dilapidated tugboat, whose emotions were torn between her well-meaning drunk of a husband and their son as she engaged in life's struggles. It starred Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery. Beery played the same old loveable, slow-thinking, slow-talking slob that he always portrayed so well. Marie Dressler was the self-sufficient, charismatic woman that she played in several of the talkies that resuscitated her career in 1927.

The personality of the movie character seemed to the service station customers to fit that of Bessie Sibert, and so in 1933 she acquired the nickname Sagebrush Annie, soul-sister of Tugboat Annie. Bessie apparently liked the comparison.

However, a coarse, boisterous woman did not appeal to everyone, and she frightened small children. Bill Bender, who as a child visited his uncle Chris Beck across the street from the Siberts, recalled that her loud voice and language scared him to the point that he very seldom went to her place and never without his uncle being present. Bill also confirmed that in her absence she was almost always referred to as Sagebrush Annie, but in her presence people called her Bessie or Annie about equally.

The surprising thing was that despite her coarse personality she was an attractive woman, even at an advanced age. Bill asked her once if she was pretty when she was young and her answer to that was, "Hell, I was so damn beautiful the young bucks used to follow me around with a cot strapped to their backs."

A couple of years after her arrival, Bessie was called to her mother Rosa Russell's side on several occasions, possibly because she was old and sick and needed care. From 1932 to 1934 various newspaper articles announced Bessie's extended stays with her mother in Arizona. Rosa's other children, Eva and Paul, the latter of whom lived in Texas, also were making trips to see her.

Finally, Bessie convinced her mother and sister to visit with her at the service station, and both of them said they liked what they saw of the country. They described the area as well suited to their needs and said they were "enthusiastic" about moving here. Bessie evidently wanted her mother close by and arranged to have her, together with her sister Eva, move to the Nixon residence at Fifth and B Streets in Victorville.

Bessie was able to convince other relatives and friends to come to the desert. In fact, it almost became a little Sibertville. Her sister-in-law's nephew Harold Winters and his wife Anita moved in right across from the service station. They bought 20-plus acres and drew up plans for their house. Bill Bender said they ran a beer bar there. Harold was the bartender and was his own best customer, and Anita was the cook.

Bill added that from time to time "the couple got into arguments, often with weapons. One time, Harold tried to shoot Anita with a rifle, but she ran out of the bar, fell in a hole and broke both ankles."

An incident similar enough to be the same one was covered in the newspaper. In this version, the Winters were digging their well when Anita fell 25 feet vertically and landed on her feet. The news from the Los Angeles hospital where she was sent was not good: she had broken both heels requiring plaster casts, and the doctor said it would take 14 months before she could walk again. No mention in the paper about a weapon or anyone being inebriated, but then that is not something the Winters would very likely have wanted known.

The Winters household was the scene of many injuries, and they were in numerous car accidents. While they recuperated they spent their time in a raised, built-in bed that allowed them to look out a spare window. "They spent most of their time in bed with broken bones, or broken this and that," Bill Bender said. He would certainly know about the raised bed because he bought their place, and now occupies the former Winters home/bar.

George also had a member of his family move to the area, his brother David Sibert. David located in Helendale, where he worked on the local farms.

Mirl Orebaugh, a resident of Helendale since 1936 and a keen observer of that region of the Mojave Desert, remembers George's brother. He worked with him on many occasions in the fields. He said that while George was a rather heavy man, his brother was slim and wiry.

David worked primarily for Hubert and Edith Miller on the Millers' ranch in Helendale. Mirl did not recall that he ever heard David's given name; everyone called him Peg-Leg. David was missing a leg below the knee, thus the moniker, plus it seems he fashioned a prosthetic device himself using a two-by-four. This is in keeping with the Sibert family, who, in addition to all being colorful characters, had the reputation of being careful with their money.

Bessie invited some friends who were former neighbors out to visit them, and she convinced them to move to the desert. The couple was George and Minnie Eva Vondettum. He was an oil worker and the two lived in Fullerton. They bought the land just north of the Sage Brush Inn.

Vondettum made the wooden molds and manufactured his own concrete blocks for their home. He died in 1951 at the age of 70, but Minnie lived well into her 90s, passing away in 1978. She was well known for her desert poetry. She saw beauty in everything and a tumbleweed bouncing over the sagebrush would be all the inspiration she needed to run and get a pad and pencil.

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Two Ruts in the Sand

The Needles Road

Chief Bootlegger & Builder

Sagebrush Annie


Sage Brush Route Tour

Photo of  Sagebrush Annie Photo from Orebaugh Collection ELIZABETH LOUISE SIBERT
Bessie Sibert (Sagebrush Annie)

Polly Gas Station sign and 1949 Hudson

National Old Trails Road

Sidewinder Road (I-15 Freeway)

Oro Grande, Ca.

Helendale, Ca.

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