Sunday, December 06, 2009


Someplace in the high mountains,in that almost uninhabited hundred miles between Hiko and Warm Springs,Nevada, lay the ghost of an old mining camp named Tempiute. I only knew that it had been first settled about 1863.
Road maps show a community named Tempiute in this region, and I had no trouble finding the turnoff. According to the map, the road made a large semicircle,crossed the summit of the mountains, passed through Tempiute and intersected the highway seven miles beyond.
From the outset,however, I had my suspicions. The gravel road was in perfect condition, and it has been my experience that century-old roads on the desert show their age by deep ruts,washboard corrugations and occasional washouts from flash floods. Since there was absolutely no traffic in sight,I kept going in the hope of finding something worth my while.
In a broad canyon,just beyond the mountain summit, I found my ghost. Alas, it was the wrong specter. The only building of any importance in sight was an echoing wooden warehouse, gutted within and half stripped of its unpainted siding. Scattered over the floor of the office in this building were hundreds of mining payroll sheets and ore shipment manifests. This totally abandoned camp was not 100 years old,nor even half that. The papers were dated between 1950 and 1954, and the name was "The Black Hawk Mining Company". (I later found that this was the well-known Lincoln Mine, and the Black Hawk was a leaser.)
Like so many other old camps, I reasoned, Tempiute had been revived in modern times. I simply had to believe that somewhere around I would discover the original 100 year old camp.
For several hours I roamed the area in my jeep, grinding up the dry washes and canyons until they ended in steep cliffs. I located the huge loading chutes of this modern Tempiute, several clusters of ten to twenty-year old miner's cabins, dumps of automobile bodies and modern cans and bottles, but no evidence that this camp had been occupied since about 1940.
Reluctantly, I rolled down the mountain empty handed, and hardly knowing what to do next. Suddenly, there opened up a broad vista of the desert floor 1500 feet below me. In that vast, shimmering valley, somewhere, lay the pavement that would carry me 70 miles north to Warm Springs where I could buy gasoline and maybe find a room for the night.
I took out my binoculars and for long moments studied the desert valley. No road was visible except the single dirt track I was on. Directly below, however, I made out a cluster of buildings that were too far to identify. Maybe a lonely ranch? Another abandoned camp? Perhaps a filling station on the highway which I could not see? (Hopefully ?)
With the mountains well behind me, I intersected a good dirt road which would pass the little "ranch", as I called it in my mind, and in a few minutes I pulled in front of a neat, frame house with a pick-up truck parked in front.
Not until I came to a stop did I notice the man sitting in the cab of the truck, as though he had seen my dust approaching and was waiting to see what I wanted before going about some business of his own.
"Where is the highway?" I asked by a way of greeting. Here I handed him a small tablet through the open window of the truck, explaining that I was deaf.
"They moved it", he replied. (I could not be sure if he was teasing or in earnest.) Staring at my California license plates he added with a smile, " . . .probably to Los Angeles."
" I've got to find the road ! The map says it should be about here, but i don't see a sign of it."
My friend wave negligently at the distant haze as if to say it was out there some where. "What do you do?" he asked. "What is your work?"
I was a bit startled at the question, but told him I was an Aircraft Engineer on vacation, looking for old bottles and somehow managed to misplace Highway 93. His face registered surprise too, but with a welcoming gesture he asked me in for a cup of coffee. His pretty wife, although a little shy, was just as hospitable as her husband. While the coffee perked they showed me their collection of mineral specimens, arrow points, of couple of Carson City silver dollars and a fabulous chunk of ore which they assured me was "100 ounces of pure silver".
Wesley Koyen, as his name turned out to be, was a mining man with several claims in the mountains, a limestone cavern he had discovered and an ore crushing mill. From the window I could barely see the roof of their nearest neighbor some distance away, and beyond ---nothing--- except the flat desert rising gently to the mountains.
I asked Mrs. Koyen, " I'll bet you don't get many visitors out this way?"
She smiled shyly and shook her head, and as she stared across the flat, Nevada landscape a look of indescribable loneliness flitted across her face. I imagined that, for an instant, she was not seeing the sagebrush and purple mountains, but swift-moving waters and towering pines. Then quickly, she was the perfect hostess again, refilling my coffee cup and showing me snapshots of their cavern and 20-ton mill.
"I know where there is a big pile of old bottles, big blue and white ones," Wesley said suddenly. "At Tempiute. Not the Tempiute you just came through, but east of here. That was the Tempiute in 1874! But the bottles are all broken."
"Oh well", I said. "The saloon keeper probable smashed them before hauling them out, so they wouldn't be so bulky. I've seen modern bartenders do the same thing."
Wesley shook his head and a grim look crossed his face. "No! A boy went up there four years ago and deliberately smashed every one with a club. But why don't you go up there and take a look. You might find something he missed."
My watch said 5:30 p.m. and I mentally calculated the time it would take and whether I had enough gas. It was 65 to 70 miles to the next station.
"OK, I'll do it! I said. "Draw me a map so I can find it"
The directions were simply and easy to follow. "Take the road here three miles to the highway and turn left three or four miles till you come to the sign saying, Alamo 46 miles. Just beyond the sign is a big double culvert running under the road. Where the road forks, keep left and you can't miss it. It's three and four-tenths miles from the highway. I go up there all the time."
"Was it a big place?" I asked.
"Not very. There are just half a dozen old stone cabins now." On the sketch he had drawn, he indicated, McBernie's Saloon. Then he made an upside down horseshoe motion with the pencil to show that the bottles were on the other side of the hill, above the saloon.
"Come back tomorrow and I'll put you to work." Wesley grinned as I left. "We start up the mill at eight o'clock sharp."
After many goodbyes, I bumped down the track toward the highway, elated at the luck that had made me stop here.Although it was late , I had no particular schedule to keep, and Old Tempiute sounded like a real adventure.
It was past six O'clock when I located the "Alamo" sign and past the double culvert, turned to enter a dry wash leading into the hills. Snow-capped Mt. Tempiute, which had been in sight off and on all afternoon, was concealed behind the rugged peaks rising directly ahead. Soon I entered a narrow canyon and at a point where the steep slopes rose sharply on either side,the roofless, fallen piles of stone that had been the houses of Tempiute came into view.
I continued through town to the very end,where the road rose steeply to the ruins of an old ore loading chute.Against the massive, almost vertical mountain, it looked like a heap of match sticks which had tumbled from their box. Here I paused to lock in the front wheel drive. Shifting to compound low, I climbed all the way to the base of the chute, wondering at the determination of the hardy men who had driven their teams and wagons over that steep slope.
Turning around with some difficulty, I returned to the center of town. Very few tins were in evidence around the old cabins. Flash floods may have carried everything away. Suddenly my eye caught the glitter of two large bottles lying side by side,but when I picked them up I saw that their necks had been broken off cleanly. My eyes wandered slowly up the steep hillside-- there was another neck less bottle, and near the top three or four which had been which had been smashed to little pieces. My pulse leaped. Quickly I scrambled up the loose gravel , and just over the hill, spread under and around a small pinion pine,lay the pile of blue and white bottles that Wesley Koyen had described.
He had been only too right-- every one was in fragments. Some had only the neck broken off, some were simply "caved in" as from a blow from a club, and still others were shattered as if they had been thrown against a rock. They were big, blue beer bottles with a white film of opalization. The brand on the bottom was the monogram of the old C. Conrad Company of St. Louis,Missouri.
The C. Conrad Company had been absorbed by the Adolphus Buch Glass Manufacturing Company about 1871, and the Conrad initials had not been blown in the glass after that date, although it was carried on the printed label of the beer bottles until about 1920. If unbroken, these bottles would have been worth a lot of money!
Carefully I selected a half a dozen. Three had only small chips the size of a thumbnail broken from the lips. Three more were broken cleanly into four or five pieces, all of which I could gather up and cement together. Even damaged as they were, they were valuable to me. I had never even seen one before!
Down at the road again, beside the wreck of McBernie's Saloon, I found a brown A&D H C (Chambers) which had the letters straight across the bottom instead of in a circle arc. This was a new variant to me. Also, there was a smaller six-ounce brown beer that appeared to be much older-- possibly as early as 1865. The neck was small and in perfect proportion to the size of the bottle, but the applied lip portion was large-- the same size as is usually found on full quart bottles. The copper wire that held the cork in place was still hanging loosely about the neck.
Both of these bottles were in fragments. The vandal had been thorough. I took home all the pieces to reassemble at my leisure.
By the time I had stowed the fragments of the eight bottles it was very late in the evening. Hurriedly, without even pausing to take pictures, I hastened down the canyon and just as the sun dropped behind the mountains I reached the highway and began the long,lonely drive to Warm Springs, more tired by the moment. Darkness came swiftly and I had to stop and top off the gas tank from the jeep cans and put on a heavy coat.
About 9 0"clock a cluster of lights appeared far ahead, and ten minutes later I pulled into the single gas station in Warm Springs.
Climbing stiffly from the jeep, I staggered with fatigue as I inspected the motor. Hunched against the cold wind blowing down the valley, I ordered two quarts of oil. The radiator was o.k., but the jeep can mount on the left side was cracked, so I did not fill the can with gas. Better to carry an empty can than to loose both can and five gallons of gas.
After the attendant had serviced the jeep, I asked if could get something to eat inside.
"Sure," he said. "Anything you want. We can give you a bed, too." Across the street,then , I dimly made out an unlighted "Motel" sign. The meal served at one end of the bar was plain but filling-scalloped potatoes,green beans and a half-pound ground beef steak. Half a dozen local people were clustered around the end of the bar. It amused me that the cook-bartender, a roly-poly little man who looked like t.v. actor George Gobbel, was downing one drink himself for every one he served,and showing no signs of intoxication. I,too,joined the drinkers,and as the stimulating whisky warmed my throat my fatigue dropped away.
I explained my bottle-hunting expedition, and asked, "Where is Tybo?"
A miner in a hard hat answered that he worked at Tybo. "It is just seventeen miles from here and easy to find."
"What about Reveille?" He considered a moment. "Go about thirty miles back the way you came and turn right for six miles."
Both these items of information surprised me. From all I had read,Tybo should be a practically dead town with only one family living there. "Sure, I know Dick Brandt," my informant told me. " He still lives there at Tybo,but he is working his mine and there are many others living there too."
I had thought Reveille to be totally deserted,too, but these people talked as though the mines were all in production.
I decided to go to Tybo in the morning,and, depending on what I found,would either retrace my steps and see Reveille, or go on west to Tonopah and Goldfield.
In my motel room I turned up the thermostat,shaved for the first time in three days,and in a very short time was deep in sleep.

Written by my dad 1919-2005

He added a few foot-notes to this trip some time later. It is worth reading.

Westley Koyen, the friendly rancher I met near Tempiute, was apparently well known as a character in Nevada.
More than twenty years after the events described here I read an article by Richard Menzies in Nevada magazine for April 1988,whose quotation is reprinted here.
"The desert just sort of grows on you," declared Wesley Koyen, pioneer prospector and sole home-owner In Penoyer Valley near Hiko. Wes had become indigenous, as tough and resourceful as the legendary screwtail fish which,according to Koyen, inhabits the Playas of Southern Nevada and survive drought by auguring downward into the sand until it finds ground water."

Friday, December 04, 2009

White Hills Is Dead

During the early days of the West, most Indian tribes were aware of the location of numerous gold and silver deposits which so aroused the stupidity of the white man.
From observing the metamorphosis that came over the palefaces at the sight of precious metal, the Indian knew, with a primitive omniscience, that the revelation of these secret places of the desert could only bring disaster to him and his people.
A notable exception to this rule was a certain Hulapi Indian named Jeff who, in the early 1890's, made his home in the bleak and rugged desert region a few miles south of the Colorado River, in what was then Arizona Territory.
In exchange for some trifling trinket, he led a white friend to an outcropping of silver so rich as to be almost unbelievable. The fears of the Tribal Elders were soon justified, because within a few short months, literally thousands of white men were crawling over the hills like ants around a honey jar. The booming town of White Hills, which sprang overnight, became a crossroads and a Mecca for, it seemed, all the lawless drifters of the west.
No water at all was available at this remote camp, and by the time it was freighted in by mule or ox team, the price of a glass of water was very nearly equal to that of whiskey, of which there never seemed enough.
Saloons and gaming houses operated continuously around the clock; the sound of gunfire in the streets was heard so frequently that the little cemetery on the edge of town began to rival that of the notorious Tombstone, far to the south.
Like so many other boom towns of the day, White Hills burned itself out in a few short years. Little is left today. Half a dozen tottering frame buildings, mounds of tin cans crumbling with rust, tons of broken glass bottles and pock-marked slopes of the mountain backdrop forming a natural amphitheater, are the only indications that a city once stood here.
Two cemeteries remain, but many open graves show, that on the whole, even the dead have abandoned the place. A couple of miles up in the hills stands a huge, empty reservoir, which the promoters of the town believed, would supply the water needs of the people. The reservoir was never filled !
On highway 93, about 30 miles south of Boulder Dam, an Arizona Historical Monument points to the dirt track which leads to White Hills, eight miles to the north. The setting up of this monument spelled out the final demise of this old town. With their attention thus called to a hitherto forgotten village, thousands of tourists have, out of curiosity, negotiated the dusty desert road to visit the site and, finding it totally unguarded, they helped themselves to what ever they desired. All that was useless to them they have wantonly destroyed.
When I visited White Hills in the spring of 1963, seven old frame structures were still standing near what was the center of town. Two others were in a state of total collapse, with rotting timbers still lying where they had fallen.
Six carloads of tourists were poking around in the ruins, mostly people from out of state. They stared with undisguised interest as my business-like jeep passed them, but I continued on to the upper reaches of the town where I could have some solitude. Here, on the steep slopes of the hills, were many foundations and "basement holes" of long-vanished buildings. That some has been saloons there could be no doubt, because tons of fragmented pieces of blue and purple glass littered the ground.
This area had been thoroughly dug up by bottle and souvenir hunters. I found horse shoes, a beautiful mother-of-pearl button from a woman's dress and the broken glass lid of lady's powder box bearing the words "Wellman Peck & Co San Francisco Melrose Brand", within a geometrical heart design.
Seeing that it was practically useless to dig among the broken shards of glass, I moved over to the foundations of the buildings, I uncovered a perfect jewel of an off-white pottery bottle, in the pint size, such as was imported from the British Isles in the 1870's.
Made by hand, with the aid of a potter's wheel, it is said that these cheapest of bottles of the day were often shipped from England as ballast in the holds of sailing vessels, sold and filled with potables at San Francisco or Los Angeles, and then distributed to all the mining camps and outposts of the West. More durable than glass bottles, they were frequently used over and over again, after being drained of their first contents.
This specimen, I deduced, may have been in use at the free-lunch counter of a saloon and may have served as a container for catsup or meat sauce. The half-inch segments of bone I found in the soil were the "round bones" from innumerable steaks or roasts of beef that the saloon keeper had set out for his hungry customers. On the other hand, this old earthen bottle may have been simply drained of its original ale or beer by a thirsty miner and then cast onto the bare earth floor where it eventually became buried in sawdust and refuse.
After lunch I took my jeep into the hills, following the old wagon roads to the mines. Steep and narrow, these roads, cut from the precipitous sides of the mountain, had not been used for years. Every few yards, deep mine shafts opened beside the road wit flat, wide built-up areas of tailing from the shaft falling off steeply into the ravine.
These "glory holes" were excavated at forty-five or sixty degree angles into the hillside. Some even had wooden steps sloping to the floor of the tunnel which, after 60 years or more, were still in very good condition.
By the time I returned to the town, the horde of tourists had departed and I was able to examine the buildings more closely. Most were large, frame structures, some with basements, and located at the center of town as they were, they had housed business establishments of various kinds. They had been more solidly constructed than the rude miners' cabins in the residential areas and for that reason they had better withstood the ravages of time.
In the rear of one of these skeleton structures was a large, leveled area surrounded by a neat rectangle of loosely laid desert stones serving as a low retaining wall. This had been a courtyard and was originally fenced with the slender, thorny withes of the ocatillo. Stables and other structures may once have been within the enclosure, but if so, not a sign of them remained.
Some distance below town, an almost obliterated dirt track led me to one of the town's two cemeteries. In this desolate scene, two things stood out above all the rest. First each grave had been piled high with heavy boulders, which gave the impression of a platform raised several feet above the desert. Secondly, nearly every one of the graves had been opened and the coffins removed. These gaping holes were extremely depressing, for I pictured the work of ghouls and body-snatcher pilfering the graves of the unresisting dead. Later, of course, I discovered a much more prosaic reason for the seeming vandalism. After the town had been completely abandoned, many relatives of the deceased had moved the remains of their loved ones to more congenial climates. The laborers did not trouble to refill the empty graves.
White Hills is not only a ghost town, it is a dead town ! While I could see the dim trails, shaky frame houses and dozens of foundations, and although the tin-can dumps, mounds of colored glass and abandoned mining equipment were abundant evidence of a once thriving community, I sensed no specters of the past walking, invisibly, by my side.
The freshly bull-dozed roads of encroaching real estate developments seemed to be severing all ties with the past and the locust-hordes of tourists, with their blinking camera shutters, were enough to alienate the most nostalgic ghost.
The very bones of the dead had shaken off the dust of the desert and had left their open grave pits to stare at the empty sky.

Dad's trip to White Hills, Arizona in 1963 as told by himself (1919 - 2005 )