[Article 2: July 26, 1951]
Between 1893 and 1913 when I came back to the desert to live, I was mostly in Minnesota, with a very adventurous two years in Alaska during the gold rush days of 1900, lived with the Eskimos awhile, then a stay with 2,500 Sioux Indians on the Dakota prairies, down to Cuba before the Spanish American war ended, over to the Isle of Pines in [the] Caribbean Sea, then lived some time in New York City, St. Louis, Boston, Seattle, back to Alaska and other places, as I have a roving disposition.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed me postmaster of Sierra Madre—[the] next move [was] to Pasadena.
All went well and the family reassembled and joined together, pooling resources to buy large orange ranches near Riverside. In 1913 they froze. All the combined life accumulations were swept away in the few hours of undreamed-of freezing weather. We lost about $80,000, and there was nothing left. Also during that year some members of the family died. It was a tragic period.
Conditions in California were bad as a result of the general freeze. Work was scarce and wages low. However, I got a job at $10 per week. Later, thinking to better myself, I went to Idaho, ran an amusement park for the street railroad, operated a menagerie, was deputy sheriff, etc., and ended as a newspaper reporter on the largest newspaper in Idaho. There were more opportunities there than in California, but when it started to snow I became quite unhappy, because in Alaska I had experienced weather 65 below zero, together with enough snow to last a lifetime.
One day a letter came from Bob Carr in California, temporarily living at Banning. Bob was a successful writer of western fiction, with his stories appearing in magazines like Adventure, Popular, and other newsstand publications. He wrote under the name Robert V. Carr and had a colorful background of living with Sioux Indians, cowboy, prospector, soldier, newspaper reporter. He was an outdoor type.
Bob wrote, “We can each take up a homestead of Government land on the desert, no water, no roads, no rain, no neighbors, but we do not have to pay any rent. We can eat rabbits, write a few stories, buy a cow, the cow will have a calf, and in time we will be in the cattle business.”
I wired him, “O.K., I will join you.” Within a week I got off the train in Banning, had supper with Bob and his wife, Stella. That night we boarded another train for the desert. Banning, by the way, at
that time was little more than [a] R.R. depot, a livery stable, and [a] half-dozen stores.
The train stopped only long enough for us to get off at 2 a.m. in the desert, then disappeared down the track towards Indio in a swirl of dust. The conductor wondered why we wanted to get off at this particular water tank, commenting,
“There is nothing there.” He was right. Just a water tank and a very small depot with the name Palm Springs painted on a white board. He further explained that Palm Springs was a small Indian village with a post office and a dozen white families five miles to the south.
When the fading lights of the train left us in utter darkness, I was quite surprised to recognize that this very spot was where I had stood as a boy in 1893 when first setting foot in California.
After searching the sky for the North Star, we trudged off into the unknown desert, setting our course east of north. There was no road.
We had a canteen of water, crackers, bread, cheese, sardines, bologna, and a tin pail for coffee. But no fry pan or other dishes, and no blankets. No other equipment. It was October and chilly, so [we] kept warm by walking until the sun was up and warm, then lay down and slept.
Daylight disclosed one very small wooden shack in a sandy clearing. Smoke issued from a tin pipe thrust through the roof, so we walked that way. Miss Hilda Gray, a cheerful person, greeted us at the door and praised the desert from her few months’ experience as a homesteader. She said that within the 10,000 acres round about were a few other homestead shacks, but too widely scattered to be seen from here. She mentioned Jack Riley, the MacCargers, the three Green families, Coolidge, Conway, Grandma Riley, Thieson, all of whom we later met. Then followed in closely, the names coming to mind, of Joe Bonhorn, Mike Driscol, Bill Riley, Thumb, Sweetingham, Dana, Bill Anderson, Ford Beebe, Walter Woods as pioneer settlers. Swanson, Ridings, Harding, Tex Barkay, Hicks, Edwards, Ferris, Mussen, Charlie Tipton, Robert MacDonald, and a few others followed in this early group. Then in Mission Canyon 12 miles to the west were the Delongs; they had some gravity water, a cow, and two or three horses, which was homesteading deluxe as far as we desert people were concerned.