Cabot Yerxa was a naturalist and he wrote his observations about various animals, plants, and the desert. Below are excerpts from his column, On the Desert Since 1913, in The Desert Sentinel.
One of the most interesting creatures to be found in the desert is the tortoise, which is classed as a reptile because it crawls. In the ocean, similar creatures, which grow to great size, are called terrapins, and from them turtle soup is made.
All over the U.S., you are very familiar with mud turtles, seen along the banks of lakes and rivers. They will eat meat. But our desert tortoise is a vegetarian and eats only grass or leaves. It cannot swim but lives its whole life on dry land.
This very curious tortoise..is remarkable because its skeleton is brought to the surface of its body. But in the tortoise, the bones of the chest are formed into sort of hard, rounded box, which contains within itself all the muscles and viscera. At the will of the little fellow, its four legs and head can be withdrawn into the shell, leaving no apparent openings. Thus it can rest in peace and perfect safety. Many small living things on the desert tremble in terror when snakes, foxes, coyotes, or large birds appear. But not the tortoise. Let the coyotes howl! Who cares? Not he.
All four feet of the tortoise have rather thick, dull claws with which he can dig slowly, but well. With the front ones, he digs holes in the ground for winter home or to get shade from the desert sun.
Do not think that you can rush out of doors in Desert Hot Springs and find a tortoise in an hour. In over 40 years I have only found three in this valley. You see, a tortoise must have green grass and leaves in order to exist, and in this area, we do not have enough rain to make this possible. However, in the Big Mojave Desert, there is more vegetation, and therefore tortoises are in happier surroundings.
In captivity the yare very fond of lettuce, bananas, peaches, grapes, and other fruits. They particularly also enjoy green corn on the cob, picking off one kernel at a time until all are gone. Tortoises on hot days will hunt shade or dig a hole underground. They delight in throwing earth over their backs with skillful movements of the front feet. This lessens the heat of sunrays on the shell.
At the Old Indian Pueblo, I keep about 23 desert tortoises as pets and for observation, and have had them for a number of years. In November they go into hibernation and do not wake up until the middle of March. During all this time they do not eat, or drink, or move about.
Much controversy exists as to the exact age of the desert tortoises, and their life span is not known. But all observers agree that they attain great age, probably 100 years or so. I myself have had some for 50 years. Therefore my conclusion would be that they eventually reach a grown-up size, after which they do not get much larger.
These denizens of the desert are very slow and patient. If you feel all in a dither, flustered and hurried, just sit down and watch a tortoise for half an hour and you will calm down. Because after all, you have nothing to gain by all the dither. Relax—rest—slow down, and will live longer. The turtle does. Why not you?
Listen to Cabot Yerxa! As summer approaches and plans are made, remember to find some time to relax, rest, and slow down.
I later named it Miracle Hill, because at its base I discovered hot curative mineral waters, and on the other side cold water…
In one of his “On the Desert Since 1913” columns for Desert Sentinel newspaper, Cabot Yerxa writes about how he searched and claim his homestead land. He also shares how he learned about the wells in the area.
For a few days, Bob and I tramped over the desert, searching out corners, examining land, and exploring canyons, sleeping where night overtook us, but returning to Two Bunch for water. We walked over what is now Desert Hot Springs and encountered only rabbits and a few snakes. Bob chose land adjoining Two Bunch because, as he said, he could get water there, such as it was.
I took another day alone and, returning late in the afternoon, found broken bits of pottery on the slope of the big hill. From this reasoned Indians had lived in the vicinity. “Good enough for Indians, good enough for me” – I picked this hill for my claim. I later named it Miracle Hill, because at its base I discovered hot curative mineral waters, [and] on the other side cold water. Miracle Hill is not sedimentary like the others, but thrust up out of the earth’s surface in ancient times. Round about it are beds of red clay and blue clay from which Indians made pottery. Also, there were to be found rocks, building sand, good earth, and desert soil, all of which is ample reason for the name “Miracle Hill”.
After paying my filing fees for the homestead location to the Government land office in Los Angeles, I had less than 10 dollars left. The law reads that homesteaders must live continuously on the land seven months of each year for three years, cultivate 20 acres of soil, build a house, dig for water, build fences, and otherwise show definite intention of making the claim into a home. And I had less than 10 dollars!
Cabot was a good friend of Carl Eytel, whom he was visiting one evening when a Cahuilla elder joined them for dinner and conversation. This was the day Cabot learned about the wells near his cabin.
One night just before dark, an old Indian with [a] wrinkled face came up to our mesquite fire and we invited him to have supper with us. The frijoles were divided into three tin plates and [the] coffeepot filled with water. After the meal, we sat round enjoying the balance of the coffee and the newly risen moon casting slowly-moving shadows over the desert floor.
The friendly conversation was mixed English, German, Indian, and Spanish. However, we all understood each other very well. When I mentioned that my home was on the other side of the desert near Two Bunch Palms, the old man’s face lighted up with interest, and he asked me many questions.
Therefore I took a stick and scratched a map on the ground. This showed clearly Palm Springs, where we were, a trail leading to Seven Palms Oasis, and a route over to Two Bunch Palms with the location of the water hole there. Also, Miracle Hill and where my cabin stood on a smaller rise.
Water is the first thought of any desert man, so he asked me what I did about water. I then told him how far I went and the time it took to carry water in pails that distance. He listened attentively, then said in Spanish, ” You go too far. Indian find water here, ” and with the stick, he marked a spot which I recognized at once as being close to the cabin.
After his conversation with the Cahuilla elder, Cabot found both hot and cold mineral wells on his homestead land. This pivotal moment leads to Desert Hot Springs being known for its hot springs and having the best tasting water in the world!
Sleeping with a Happy Heart
March 5, marks 57 years from Cabot Yerxa’s death at the age of 81 from a heart attack…
Today, March 5, marks 57 years from Cabot Yerxa’s death at the age of 81 from a heart attack due to arteriosclerotic heart disease. An obituary newspaper article in 1965 reported that more than 400 people attended a funeral service — conducted by Desert Hot Springs’ American Legion post and Masonic Club — at Eighth Street Community Center. Cabot’s cremated remains are buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. His grave marker includes the line “He led us to the miracle waters.” The following, in Cabot’s words and included in the museum’s book Cabot Abram Yerxa: On the Desert Since 1913, seems worth republishing here on the anniversary of his passing.
The moving onto a homestead claim in the desert has many a thrill. It is a new, strange, and different life from any other.
Thornton Green met me at the railroad station with a team of lonesome mules hitched to a small wagon. We loaded in the trunk, a sack of potatoes, onions, flour, canned goods, coal oil, blankets, tin stove, a few simple tools, and many other odds and ends. The wagon was full, and so we walked in the sand all the seven or eight miles to my homestead claim.
There were no roads to speak of, and so we slowly picked our way around bushes or rocks, up some washes and down others or through drifted sand.
We arrived at sundown, threw the various things out over the ground, and he and the mules left, as it was getting dark.
Here I was with one canteen of water, all my earthly possessions scattered about, and the future in my own hands. I made a little campfire of dry sticks, warmed some simple food, and spread the blankets on the sand. This was to be my home, my land, and no rent to pay!
I felt as rich as Rockefeller! There was not another building to be seen, and as darkness increased, not a light. Coyotes yapped up toward the mountains, and I went to sleep with a happy heart.
Notable interments at Desert Memorial Park in addition to Cabot include Busby Berkeley, Sonny Bono, Frederick Loewe, Cameron Mitchell, William Powell, Frank Sinatra, and Donald Wexler. Cabot’s gravesite is in the section just to the right of the park entrance off Ramon Road.
On this significant day, we republished this newsletter to reflect the contributions of Cabot Yerxa and his legacy. The newsletter was first published on March 6, 2021.
A Young Cole Eyraud
Cole Eyraud was a man who was civic-minded, participated in his community, and loved history. On August 10, 1943, Cole enlisted…
Cole Eyraud was a man who was civic-minded, participated in his community, and loved history. He served on various boards in the Coachella Valley such as Sunline Transit Agency, Coachella Valley Historical Society, and Riverside County Arts Planning/Advisory Committee among others. The following are excerpts from his letters to his mother, in which we glean a glimpse of a young Cole Eyraud during his service in the U.S. Navy.
On August 10, 1943, Cole enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and during his service (1943-1946), he wrote on United States Navy onionskin stationery. These letters were mailed from Sout Pacific outposts to his parents in Glendale, CA.
April 3, 1945
I mailed you my camera today by airmail $4.20. It is in a cigar box and also along with it a roll of exposed color film. Now the rewind handle on my camera is broken (not bad). So I want you to take it and get it fixed and given a general checkup. Have the lens looked at and taken apart and cleaned, etc. Be sure and get it attended to as soon as you possibly can, then mail it back to me by first class. We had some trouble and everyone had to turn in their cameras, so I am killing two birds with one stone. Mine is on record as being sent home. By the time you get it back to me, everything will be OK again on cameras.
April 10, 1945
Almost all the fellows in our gang have earrings. I started it and now a lot of the guys are getting them. Jeanne did raise hell about me wearing an earring. I answered her but haven’t gotten a letter back yet.
That earring with the star is sure nice. I have all the guys envious of all the different kinds I have.
April 17, 1945
I got all the color slides, 6 envelopes or three rolls. I was kinda disappointed. I guess they were like that as it was outdated film. A kid gave it to me, so I’m not out any [money].
I got your swell letter No. 87 with the two sets of earrings in it yesterday. Those earrings were sure swell. I like the 4-leaf clover one best.
Daddy is certainly doing a lot of work on his grapes. I sure hope they come out as good this year as last. Comparing the amount of work and vines trimmed, I think you should really have a good crop.
I have sent you 7 snapshots in another envelope that were taken here onboard the barge. I will send the slides soon to have prints made.
July 11, 1945
Believe it or not, I met three kids from Glendale today — one at the beer place. Then tonight two kids just from the States moved into our barracks. One kid went to Hoover. The other Glendale High and graduated in my class. I told him my last name and he remembered my first name. So we had a big talk. And to think he was just there a few days ago. Boy would I like to get home and see the place once more.
I sent Peggy a grass skirt the other day and sent Myrtle a present. Her birthday is Aug. 4. But I didn’t get a card.
Say I don’t seem to be doing much writing, as I have a lot to talk about and have been on this for an hour in between talking. I will close and write tomorrow.
July 19, 1945
Have received a lot of back mail in the last few days, but am still short letters No. 101, 102, 104, 110, 111. Also one packet of the first four packets of Kodachrome prints. I did receive the 50 prints of the barge. Now I will have to send them to one of the fellows to sell for me. Or I’ll be stuck. Oh, yes, I got the roll of 620 Kodacolor yesterday.
Marge has sent me three books since I have been here. She sure is swell. Also sent me a bunch of pictures, but I don’t like the way she fixes her hair. My N.Y. redhead writes at least once or twice each week. She is real nice too.
Through his letters, we learn more about Cole and his close relationship with his parents and his carefree spirit. In our recent publication, we learn more about Cole, but what he most will be remembered for is rescuing Cabot’s Pueblo Museum from being demolished, in doing so, saving Cabot’s legacy for future generations.
Dreams and Hopes
This excerpt describes Cabot’s dreams and hopes about his desert claim and his discovery of mineral hot water…
As we begin a new year, the excerpt below describes Cabot’s dreams and hopes about his desert claim and his discovery of the mineral hot water. One of his wishes was for a healthy city.
No person in this world will ever get enough money, or gain enough distinction over his fellows, to equal the thrill and quiet joy of the ownership of land, which was mine when I stood on my desert claim for the first time. All papers signed and filed, there round me were some boxes of groceries [and] a canteen of water with a blanket spread on the ground. This was my land. This feeling was, I am sure, the same with all pioneer homesteaders.
The future of the desert and the future reward to each man differed greatly according to his slant on life’s picture. To some it was a field of alfalfa standing strong and green in winter sunshine. To some this alfalfa would turn into money as baled hay, or be fed to cows for milk, or to pigs to get fat and go to market. Some men talked chickens of different types, and turkeys too. A few expanded the idea of winter vegetables, or early fruits going to market. We heard stories of fantastic prices sometimes paid for the first grapes, figs, tomatoes, etc., which were then growing in very small quantities at widely separated spots on the desert between here and the Mexican line. Every man had a dream of the future in which he would be the man who had a large bank account and could write checks freely. It mattered not that no man in the desert could change a five-dollar bill at that time.
Another fact to be noted besides the general optimistical outlook, was that each settler was sure that he had the very finest claim in the whole desert. Each man would listen politely while another was explaining the good qualities of his homestead, but at the first break in the conversation, the listener would then expound at great length with convincing detail why his very own claim was by far and above any denial the best ding-busted piece of desert land between here and Mexico.
. . . My own dream in the distant past day was not of alfalfa, chickens, or pigs, little or big, but based on beef cattle. The beef cattle would provide money for an art gallery, museum, and time to paint desert pictures. . ..
My entrance into the ownership of cattle was to have had a very meager start. I planned to buy one beef cow, which was all the money I could then hope to get. The cow would have a calf, and in the years following I would be in the beef cattle business.
But when I discovered the hot mineral waters and we found that it would help ailing people, all plans were changed. Bob Carr and I reshaped our dreams of the future to take recognition of this very surprising circumstance. He and I sat often on hilltops, gazing at many thousands of uninhabited acres of hot, dry desert land. If the weather was bad, we crouched by small fires in deep arroyos or in thick brush. But always, much of the long talks was the same. Bob and I visualized a health city, growing up out of the greasewood here on the desert!
Brushes with Greatness
With Cabot Yerxa’s keen interest in art and studying at Académie Julian in Paris, it is not surprising that he befriended many desert artists…
With Cabot Yerxa’s keen interest in art and studying at Académie Julian in Paris, it is not surprising that he befriended many artists in the desert. Among them were Carl Eytel and Agnes Pelton, whose works are in museum collections and prized by private collectors. One artist with whom Cabot became especially close was Burt Procter, whose work is in the permanent collection of The Nelson Museum of the West in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Burt Procter was born in Massachusetts in 1901. His family’s 1908 move to Oak Park, Illinois, put him in proximity to the renowned Art Institute of Chicago, where he took art classes. It is anyone’s guess what route his creative endeavors might have taken had he not moved to Wyoming at the age of 17 and become enthralled by the Western landscape and cowboys in particular.
Procter relocated to California and studied mining engineering at Stanford University, after which he got a job at Grand Canyon National Park. In 1920, he moved to Pasadena and worked as a commercial artist.
Later in that decade, Procter moved back East — to New York, where he spent five years as an art director for an advertising agency. When he returned to California in the 1930s, he returned to his previous occupation as a mining engineer and spent his leisure time painting Western/desert scenes. He studied at two prestigious Los Angeles establishments, Chouinard Art Institute and Otis College of Art and Design. Eventually, he committed to painting full time.
In the late ’30s, Procter married and settled in Southern California with his wife, Katherine. They spent their early years together living in Corona del Mar in the summer and in the desert in winter, renting a small rock house in the section of Palm Springs known as Araby.
We do not know when or how Burt and Katherine Procter met Cabot and Portia Yerxa. But in 1946, they were living in Pasadena with their daughter, Virginia, when Katherine wrote a letter that indicates they had known each other for a while. The news in that letter was not good.
When I wrote you Tues. afternoon, little did I realize that tragedy would come so soon. At 5:30 that day, Burt and Ginny took our old trailer up to the corner to get air in the tires. Since the valve in one was crooked, Burt took the tire off. Somehow or other, the tire exploded and the rim cut Burt’s left thumb off and it landed 15 feet away. (The letter goes on to report he was treated at the hospital.)
Burt Procter used his mining skills looking for lost mines, which we know was an activity Cabot also pursued. They also went camping together. At some point in time, the Procters purchased land adjoining that of the pueblo museum and camped on it. In 1949, they sent Cabot and Portia a Christmas card with a Norman Rockwell cover and the following note written by Katherine, which indicates they had built a cabin on their land:
I don’t know of any place I’d rather be now than in our little cabin at the Yerxa settlement. It’s cold, windy, and rainy! We certainly enjoyed every minute and thank you. We will be in P.S. one night at least between Christmas and New Year’s and hope we can see you a few minutes. Ginny is more excited over Santa this year than ever before, and we have a 9-foot tree up beautifully decorated. Burt’s mother and father will be with us for Christmas. I wish we could see you, but we’ll be thinking of you.
The inside of another Christmas card, the cover of this one featuring a painting by Procter titled Ranch Christmas (shown above), indicates Cabot had provided reference material for a commissioned work by Procter.
Have been working on Mrs. Howard’s elephant tree and wrote her yesterday that it would be complete Monday. We’ll probably be down between Xmas and New Year’s, and I told her I would bring it and leave it with you or wherever she wished. I started it a long time ago, but never could make it look convincing. In its present shape, I am well pleased myself. I hope she is too. Many thanks for elephant tree article. I had thought bark was reddish. I have checked and double checked and am now convinced that tree is right as it stands in the picture. I want to hear your reaction to it.
For 17 years, Burt Procter served as art director for the Pageant of the Masters live re-creations of famed artworks at the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts. In 1956, one of his paintings — titled The Harpist (a departure from his typical subject matter) was one of the works staged in the Pageant. Cabot’s Pueblo Museum archives contain an undated clipping from the Desert Sentinel newspaper that reads as follows:
Burt Procter has land adjoining Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo and will build a home and studio here where desert scenery is close at hand. There is now a one-man show of his with 22 large oil paintings on exhibit in the Cowie Art Gallery located at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. For several days of this week, Cabot Yerxa has been visiting the Procters at their home in Laguna Beach. Burt Procter is Art Director for the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts. In this connection, he has to paint about 40 backdrops for the living pictures. While in Laguna, Cabot helped him in painting one backdrop, and its size was 9 feet by 23 feet.
The May 29, 1953, issue of Desert Sentinel newspaper included a note in one of its columns that seems to hint the Procters had perhaps finished their home as above referenced: We are happy to welcome those two fine people, the Burt Proctors [sic] as neighbors in DHS. They’re the sort of folks who give a town tone, if you know what I mean. Burt is one of our more distinguished artists. The painting he gave Cabot and Portia Yerxa some years ago as a wedding present is beautiful.
After Procter’s death in 1980, Wyoming gallery owner Robert Nelson purchased many of his paintings and his studio setup. In 1998, Nelson opened The Nelson Museum of the West in Cheyenne, which includes The Studio of Artist Burt Procter
Western Art and Architecture published an interview with collectors Robert and Charla Nelson in March of 2015. To the question “What is your most loved piece and why?” Charla Nelson answered, “The one piece that keeps popping to mind is the one Bob gave me. It’s a Burt Procter painting of an adobe church, which hangs in our master in Wyoming, It’s a 10 on a scale of one to 10.”
Procter died in Palm Springs on July 2, 1980.
Many paintings by Procter, oils on panel and canvas, have sold at auction in a wide range of prices. According to one online source, the record price paid for his work was $30,800 in 2005 for a painting of a cowboy on horseback titled Canyon Walls. A six-minute film shot in Procter’s studio in the 1950s, featuring narration over video, illustrates the artist’s “direct method” of painting. It can be viewed here. Cabot Yerxa often expounded on the joys of simple living. However, we cannot help but think he would have appreciated that technology allows us to literally tap into an artist’s legacy.
Not So Fast
A tribute to three desert rats who also were writers: Cabot in Desert Hot Springs, and Harry Oliver and Paul Wilhelm in Thousand Palms…
In one of his “On the Desert Since 1913” columns for Desert Sentinel newspaper, Cabot Yerxa quoted from an editorial column by another Coachella Valley pioneer: Randall Henderson, Palm Desert founder and publisher of Desert Magazine. In 1956, Cabot wrote that the excerpts below had appeared in Henderson’s publication “10 or 12 years ago.” They constituted a tribute to three of Henderson’s compatriots, desert rats who also were writers: Cabot in Desert Hot Springs and Harry Oliver and Paul Wilhelm in Thousand Palms.
My friend Harry Oliver of Thousand Palms, California, is building an adobe house, a quaint little replica of an Old Spanish mission. Harry has a formula I can recommend to those who aspire to live to a ripe old age. He calls it his 20-year plan. It is very simple. The first day he makes 10 adobe bricks, good bricks with just the right amount of adobe and gravel in them. It takes three days for the bricks to dry and cure. Harry spends the next three days in contemplation of his handiwork. On the fifth day, he carefully lays the bricks in the wall. Then he rests and is ready to start work the following day on the next 10 bricks. And thus the cycle continues. Not a very speedy way to build a house perhaps, but Harry’s theory is that too much speed is taking all the fun out of life for the majority of Americans. And perhaps he has something there.
Another desert neighbor with a 20-year plan is Cabot Yerxa, one of the old timers in the Desert Hot Springs section of Coachella Valley. Cabot very recently brought a Texas bride to his desert homestead, and now they are building a combination dwelling and art studio up in a gully at the foot of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Cabot has been gathering materials for that studio for the last 30 years. He has lumber and chicken wire and rocks and sash scattered all over the landscape. But slowly, one stick at a time, Cabot is putting his house together; and it is going to be a work of art when finished, which will be in about 20 years — that is, if he stays on the job and doesn’t go gallivanting around with his easel and paintbrushes, as these artists are prone to do.
Harry Oliver and Cabot Yerxa are speed-demons compared with Paul Wilhelm at Thousand Palms Oasis. Paul already has been on the job 20 years, and his grand plans for the development of a super resort on the oasis are still in the dream stage. At the present rate of progress, Paul will need at least 100 years to convert his poetical ideas into cement and wood and windowpanes.
But do not get me wrong. I envy those fellows, Harry and Cabot and Paul. Somehow, they have found a way to detour all the zip and bustle and worry that keep the rest of us in a state of demoralization. They are healthy and happy in doing the things they want to do.
As far as I am concerned, it all adds up to this: We need more poets and artists in this old world and less chamber of commerce secretaries and super salesmen.
While we at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum would refrain from disparaging chamber of commerce secretaries and salesmen (super or not, as long as they are ethical), we appreciate the point Randall Henderson made in his conclusion.
As the calendar year begins to wind down, the days grow shorter (at least until the winter solstice on December 21), and a season of compressed holidays arrives, it behooves us to consider the practice of creative homesteaders and slow down the pace with which we attack things. We’re not advocating procrastination, but, rather, a measured approach to progress and, sometimes, just allowing ourselves time to reflect and dream.
Cabot Yerxa and fellow pioneers envisioned a new city and recognized the need for roadways to encourage commercial investments…
Cabot Yerxa and fellow Desert Hot Springs pioneers envisioned a city capitalizing on the area’s hot mineral water and immediately recognized the need for roadways to encourage commercial investments (and bring jobs to the desert). The following comes from Cabot’s “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper columns, which have been collected in a book published by Cabot’s Museum Foundation and available for purchase through the museum’s Trading Post.
Bill Anderson and I decided we could do something about roads. We first made a road from Bill’s cabin down Palm Drive to the corner of Pierson Boulevard for one-half mile. On each side, we planted tamarisk cuttings and watered them as often as possible. They did well for a time but eventually died because there came a period when neither Bill nor I had any chance to carry water.
Then we made a one-way road from my Miracle Hill cabin to Frank Houghton’s and from there down the section line of Pierson Boulevard to the corner of Palm Drive. From the central corner of roads, we made a hit-and-miss road, taking advantage of any existing trails, all the way to the railroad at Garnet — a distance of seven miles!
It was not for some years that Riverside County appropriated any money for roads here — and then in only very small amounts. Bill and I always traveled with a pick, a shovel, and a mattock [an adze and axe tool] in our Ford Model T cars. We very patiently and laboriously worked at removing stones or taking out brush as we traveled about the desert. When we went to the post office [in Garnet], we worked the road down and back again.
Our objective in all this unpaid work was partly to make our own trips with less trouble. But also, because we were very poor people, we hoped that, by making roads into the desert, city people and investors would come see what was here and make developments.
When Riverside County authorized money for a road from Desert Hot Springs’ old schoolhouse to Two Bunch Palms, Cabot and Wilbur McCarger took on the task.
We started very early one sultry morning. We were reluctant to leave the welcome shade of the schoolhouse. But shouldering picks, shovels, heavy mattocks, and canteens of water, we dragged our steps out into the soft sand of the open desert.
We set up small flags to guide our direction and to keep the trail as straight as possible. The sun climbed higher in a pale blue sky and shone down without benefit of any breeze. Big, rolling clouds appeared over the Little San Bernardino Mountains, and humidity increased rapidly. We drank from our canteens often, and our few clothes were wet with perspiration. White patches of salt appeared on our shirts where this evaporated. When near Orr Sang’s cabin, I walked a half-mile to it with empty canteens, trusting to find water. None was there. With labored exertion, I made my way back to where we were working and the last canteen of water. We chopped down a few more greasewoods, drank all the remaining water, and then quit for the day. We had each brought water and had drunk seven gallons, but the sun was yet high in the sky. We learned later that the temperature in Palm Springs that day was 128 degrees.
Cabot also recalls when state officials sent an engineer to the desert to survey a roadway from Banning to Arizona. Some six men, Cabot included, met the engineer at Whitewater.
The engineer was driving a single-seat auto of that year’s vintage when we started out on our expedition. Frank Green and I went ahead, picking out the routes. One had a shovel and the other a grub hoe. We merely indicated the path to follow, whether to the right or left of bushes, rocks, or deep-cut wash banks, and making minor improvements in the terrain, however always keeping a fairly straight line towards an objective. Jack Thelson and the other men kept close to the engineer. At times, they pushed the auto or filled in holes and cut down brush. When the auto could no longer proceed with its own power, Thornton Green came up and attached the mules, who hauled the car to better ground.
It was fairly easy as far as Garnet. The real work started when the group left there bound for Thousand Palms. Water, food, and blankets were carried along for the men and forage for the animals. We ate and slept as circumstances required. The other bunch of men from Indio, intent upon the road being established north of the railroad tracks, were waiting for us at Thousand Palms.
Of course there was no pay of any kind for us, but we pioneer men were glad to give a few days’ time and much hard work to see an improved road come into the desert. And that road now has become Highway Number 60-70-99 [superseded by Interstate 10 in 1964] because of our efforts. The names of Frank Green and Jack Thelson should be written in the record, because it was these two who learned of the new road survey and called upon the rest of us to volunteer services. Just think how important that highway has been and still is to the growth and happiness of this community and the desert region — in fact, the entire state — as a gateway to California carrying trucks and vehicular traffic all over the country.
The next time you drive through Desert Hot Springs or along the I-10 corridor through the Coachella Valley, give credit to the pioneers who put forth painstaking efforts to establish routes for automobiles. And if you see heavy equipment at a road-construction project, don’t forget that homesteaders labored with hand tools — and under an unrelenting sun — when they blazed a trail across the desert sand. As we enjoy our car stereos and air conditioning, perhaps we’ll find a bit of extra driving pleasure in appreciating the fact that we’re able to travel without picks, shovels, and mattocks in our trunks.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Lost Treasure?! The legend of the Lost Peg Leg Mine is commemorated by California Registered Historical Landmark No. 750…
Myths draw us in with their colorful stories and characters. The ones that tell of lost treasures are even more compelling, because we love to think we could discover them, whether or not we actively pursue such dreams. The legend of the Lost Peg Leg Mine is commemorated by California Registered Historical Landmark No. 750 in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
You can find multiple versions of the story behind the infamous Thomas “Peg Leg” Smith. Suffice it to say that he found gold nuggets in 1829 and, years later, traded his tale and guide services to gullible prospectors in exchange for liquor. He died in 1866, but people continued looking for the “lost” mine.
Cabot Yerxa was a prospector as well as a homesteader and museum operator. He panned for gold in the desert and in Alaska. Letters in Cabot’s Pueblo Museum archives indicate he and his friend Harold Kinney followed the Peg Leg myth around this time 72 years ago. We begin with a letter Kinney wrote to Cabot on August 26, 1949.
I told you of Mrs. Sophia Williams, the medium who rode around helping a doctor find hidden or rather buried crosses. I presumed she still lived in Chicago and would not be available for us for the Peg Leg deal. But she has lived out here for a year.
I’d better explain that she is not only a direct voice medium, but anyone present can hear the voice emanating from her body. In a room in daytime with windows and doors open and sunlight streaming in, she merely sat quietly and evidently called mentally for my [presumably deceased] father in my presence.
To boil this down, let me say that he said he has found the mine; he will be present with us when we go there with Mrs. Williams and tell us exactly where it is. …. It involves digging the topsoil off a foot maybe to get at the stuff, and later probably involve regular mining operations. When I asked him if there was enough of it to be worth setting up mining machinery, etc., he said there’s plenty there.
I have arranged with Mrs. Williams to ride down with me this coming Tuesday evening to Desert Hot Springs to meet you and stay overnight, getting an early start — you, she, and I — Wednesday morning, going to the mine, setting up monuments for two claims (dad says), and then returning you home and going on to record or file the claims on Wednesday.
I am assuming you will be willing to go along and can furnish two shovels or spades and maybe a pick-axe, plus a compass to take bearings for filing the claims.
I had to borrow money at the bank a month ago to keep going, so hope we’ll find enough nuggets in the loose topsoil from our short efforts Wednesday to cash in and have something to operate on. I am hoping that you can take charge of the mining operations, with of course others to be hired who have done such work and know it well.
If you see any hitch in these plans or cannot go with us Wednesday, wire me collect to the above address so I can make other plans. Please make hotel reservations at an inexpensive place for Mrs. Williams and for me. I’m footing the bills and haven’t any to waste, so make it light on the bill.
I hope to reach your house by 9:30 p.m. But if you want to get to bed earlier, I’ll just look for a note on your gate so as not to disturb you.
A subsequent letter (undated) reads in part as follows:
Finally found a place to get forms today and have just finished filling them out; will take to p.o. now to register mail.
Seemed foolish not to file a claim for you. Called it The Psychic!
I have your pick and shovel in trunk of the car.
Driving back down to mine site to hunt in canyon and dig. Will bring two fellows along to help. Must set up a monument for you. Suggest you drive down too and help with that and with the hunt. If you come, please try to bring a lantern, plus snake-bite kit if you have on hand, plus post. If you don’t show, I’ll send your shovel and pick to you by parcel post. Like to visit your place, but too hot and takes more time.
Kinney signed the following document, addressed, “to whom it may concern,” on September 16, 1949.
This is to certify that the three claims known as The Judge, The Collie [both of the foregoing refer to Kinney’s father] and The Psychic — claims believed to cover the Peg Leg Smith mines — and recorded in the names of Mrs. Sophia Williams, Mr. Cabot Yerxa, and Mr. Harold Kinney with the Recorder of San Diego County, are to be pooled so that any assets or discoveries of value in any one of these shall be jointly owned by all three persons above mentioned.
The claims are located in the Cleveland National Forest, approximately three miles east of Highway 79 on the road marked Indian Flats Camp.
The three parties concerned hereby declare their intention to pool all resources and efforts and work toward the retention and exploitation of these three claims, to share equally in any profits accruing from same.
We do not know if these claims yielded anything of value, but we can believe that the parties involved enjoyed exploring the potential of a myth.
Cabot’s friend Harry Oliver, also a desert rat and spinner of tales, started a Peg Leg Smith Liars Contest held in Borrego Springs. The photo is from the annual Peg Leg Day celebration includes Oliver (black hat and pipe) and Cabot, holding a copy of Harry Oliver’s Desert Rat Scrap Book.
Desert Hot Springs’ ‘Classification’
As someone who enjoyed imparting lessons, Cabot would be pleased with having a school named for him…
A little more than a half-mile west of Cabot’s Pueblo Museum lies another property bearing the Desert Hot Springs pioneer’s name. Twelve years ago this month, Cabot Yerxa Elementary School opened for K-5 education. As someone who enjoyed imparting lessons, Cabot surely would be pleased not only with having a school named for him, but also with the museum’s commitment to ongoing programs with multiple elementary schools in the Palm Springs Unified School District. With the school year starting this month, it seems like a good time to step back to 1912, when Desert Hot Springs’ first schoolteacher arrived. The following edited sections come from the museum’s book On the Desert Since 1913.
Ethel Rouse was a very young and a very small person. But what she lacked in size she more than made up for in quiet courage, enthusiasm, cheerfulness, and ability to overcome difficulties. Her arrival at the Garnet railroad station was in one of those sandstorms that sometimes sweep out of nowhere with such fury.
The station agent helped the four McCarger boys load her trunk into a small wagon pulled by two burros. The journey was made over several miles of sandy roads to the McCarger cabin, where she made her home with the family for the school year. Not a house was passed, not a fence, not a tree. All was open desert. The burros plodded at one mile per hour. The wind howled and kept the small cavalcade in a cloud of moving sand. Such was the initiation of this young city girl to her first teaching position in the desert. Only next morning was she informed that there was no schoolhouse.
There was a hurried meeting of the very few scattered neighbors and a location and plan decided upon. When he arrived in the desert, Jack Riley dug a hole in the ground and placed over it a patchwork of materials for shade. Just recently, he had started a very small cabin nearby. It was decided to enlarge his dugout and let him live in his unfinished cabin. Jack drove two burros hitched to a very small, homemade scraper. The new schoolteacher and Mrs. McCarger, between them, managed to fill the scraper with earth.
Cabot notes that neighbors contributed time and materials as work progressed. A few sheets of battered, corrugated, galvanized iron and pieces of rusty tin were found along the railroad tracks when lumber gave out. Armloads of desert brush were stuffed into openings and onto the roof. The structure lacked a floor and a door, but a small American flag flew on a rough pole at its northeast corner. One of the McCarger boys acted as “janitor”: It was his duty to remove sand that blew into the schoolroom and to look for snakes and other desert critters that had easy access through the makeshift walls.
The children had only a piece of 1 x 12-inch board for a desk, and they sat on a crude bench. Ethel Rouse obtained from somewhere a wooden packing box, which served as her desk. She sat upon a smaller box. The schoolroom did not have a blackboard, so she scratched words and problems in simple arithmetic on the ground. She also made use of stones to illustrate addition and subtraction.
In 1914, county officials, sensing there would be more children to be schooled here, arranged to build a school on one acre of donated land near B-Bar-H Ranch. This served for the next several years, but eventually burned down.
News of the promised, carpenter-build school to be constructed out of real lumber was welcome information to all households having children. But just at this critical time, the Schlicter family, with all its children, moved to Morongo Valley. This decreased the number of youngsters to the point where there were not enough left to justify a school under county laws. Therefore, frantic appeals were made to relatives in the city to send out some children to live here on the desert. This was done and the new building completed, serving its purpose well. It also was the meeting place for picnics, a few dances, and other gatherings.
Executive director Irene Rodriguez reports that when students from the elementary school down the street visit, they learn many things about Cabot Yerxa — including the fact that their school is named in honor of his pueblo museum and not vice versa.
With the challenges of home schooling during the pandemic, one can surmise that many parents and their children, as well as teachers, will be happy to sit in classrooms this year. Any complainers might be reminded of the conditions endured by Ethel Rouse and the children of Desert Hot Springs’ pioneers — and perhaps asked to check for snakes.
Many people who have read or heard about Cabot Yerxa are aware that his first name derives from the maiden name of his mother, Nellie — a distant relative of Boston’s prominent Cabots. The Yerxa surname is less well recognized. The following information on the family tree comes to us from research by Cabot’s Pueblo Museum’s History Committee.
Paulus Jurcksen (or Jurkse, as the “son of” suffix could be shortened) was born about 1630 in Texel, the largest of the West Frisian Islands across from Waddensee on the mainland of Holland. He was a servant for the Maichael Jansz family and may have emigrated with them, as he married one of the daughters, Christina, in New York in 1652. He fathered nine children and died in 1676.
Tracing Cabot’s paternal lineage, not much is known about the next three generations beyond their names and dates of birth and death. The eldest of Paulus’ nine children was Johannes, born in 1658. Johannes also named one of his sons Johannes. The younger Johannes, born in 1700, fathered six children, one of whom was Abraham, born in 1726.
It was during Abraham’s generation that the surname spelling became Yerkse. The first reference to the family name spelling as Yerxa comes with Abraham’s son John (baptized Johannes), who was born in 1751 and was Cabot’s great great grandfather.
John Yerxa was among colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution. On the losing side of the Revolutionary War, John and his wife, Catherine, moved from their farm in New York’s Courtlandt Manor to New Brunswick, Canada.
Among John and Catherine’s 14 offspring was another Abraham, born in 1775. Abraham and his wife, Barbara, had 15 children, including Abraham Jr., born in 1816.
A census roll in 1851 shows Abraham Jr. at the age of 34 to be a farmer. The 1861 census shows his occupation as a grocer. Abraham Jr. brought the Yerxa clan back to the United States. He and his family show up in the 1880 census rolls of Boston, Mass., and the 1885 census rolls of Minneapolis, Minn. The August 14, 1900, edition of The Saint Paul Globe published an obituary under the following headers: “Abram Yerxa is Dead: Directed Store in St. Paul Until Very Recently, Although Eighty-Four; Had Been Ill Only a Week.”
The article reported as follows: “Up to a short time before his death, he made daily visits to his store in St. Paul and overlooked the business of the establishment. Mr. Yerxa was the father of thirteen children, of whom twelve are living. Mrs. Yerxa died on May 8, after a married life of sixty-two years.”
The second-to-youngest of Abraham Jr.’s children was Cabot’s father, Frederick, born in New Brunswick in 1861. After the family settled in Boston, Frederick began working in a grocery store and fell in love with the store’s bookkeeper. According to Cabot’s own accounting, his father’s salary was not enough to marry, so he asked his older brother Woodford in North Dakota to help him get established there with his own general store. In 1882, Fred and Nellie wed in Boston and returned to North Dakota, where Cabot Abram Yerxa was born 11 months later.
The Yerxas, for the most part, appear to have been involved in farming and mercantile businesses (particularly groceries). But they also ventured into other interests. Fred’s brother Woodford was elected mayor of Fargo, N.D., at the age of 33. He subsequently partnered with Fred and brother Thomas in mercantile stores in Minnesota. Woodford later moved to California and became one of the largest growers in Sacramento Valley with 400 acres of prune trees (having imported seedlings from France). His sons Woodford Jr. and Max farmed, but also handcrafted premium fishing rods. One of the Thomases on the Yerxa family tree was a successful oil painter of urban realism; his works are in the collections of eight museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and National Academy of Design in New York. Serendipitously, a member of the Cabot’s Museum Foundation Board of Directors discovered a Yerxa name on her bookshelf — not attached to one of the museum’s publications. A native Canadian and distant relative of Cabot, Winslow Yerxa wrote Harmonica for Dummies (among other books on the harmonica).
A lover of creatures great and small, Cabot Yerxa found companionship in a common pet when he heard a weak cry from a tiny black kitten…
A lover of creatures great and small, Cabot Yerxa found companionship and enjoyment in the burros, snakes, lizards, and tortoises with whom he shared his property. He also had a more common pet — a situation that arose from happenstance. It was in 1953 that Cabot heard a weak cry and spotted a tiny black kitten, which retreated into a clump of thick brush. Let’s let Cabot pick up the tale from there in his own words.
That night, I carried a small saucer of milk to the spot, but saw no cat. The next morning, the dish was empty. This went on for over a week before I discerned the small fellow to be watching one night as I placed the saucer in the accustomed spot.
It took more than a month to break down the kitten’s distrust and get it to come to the goat corral for its milk. Even then, if I approached within 10 feet, it would back up and spit with fur raised along its back. Fully two months passed before it could be petted. Someone had thrown this tiny kitten away on the desert when it was so small that it could curl up in a cereal bowl. Weak, thin, and scared, it distrusted all humans. However, after three years, it has become large and strong and is a very important part of the Old Indian Pueblo. Now he acts as though he owns the place.
It never played like most kittens — never would chase a spool on a string or anything like that. It was too dignified and knew the difference between desert rats and spools on a string.
Because this cat is black with gray shades, we named him Smokey. His fur is very thick and much longer than usual. He walks proudly with his tail straight up in the air. It is much too long to be like other cats’ tails. In fact, it measures 15 inches, and the end has a curl just like a question mark. He keeps curling and uncurling the last 5 inches of his tail as he walks.
After trying all the different canned cat foods, of which he took small interest, we tried a can of dog food. This he likes. Presumably he considered cat food too sissy for a cat that lives out of doors all the time.
This Old Indian Pueblo has 65 doors, and it is possible to enter or leave the building by any one of 17 doors. So when I first go out to gather milk from the goat, Smokey never knows which door will open. At first, he was much frustrated and would come screaming in protest for his breakfast. But Smokey now has this situation all figured out. The pueblo has 30 roof levels, and it is his custom soon after daylight to sit on one of the high levels and listen intently for a door to open. Then down he jumps from one level to another, finally to the ground to claim his breakfast.
Occasionally Smokey makes hunting trips into the small canyons back of the pueblo and stays out from three to five days. Back in those canyons, there is much small life — desert rats, field mice, kangaroo rats, lizards, snakes, rabbits, etc. So he has a very exciting time, no doubt. Sometimes, he brings home with him rat tails, rabbit ears or feet as proof of his prowess. These he deposits always under one certain tree in the yard.
He drinks milk out of a blue bowl. One day, this was being washed and his milk was put in a green one. He refused to drink it. I went into the house and changed the milk into his regular blue bowl. Then he drank the milk.
When I work outside about the buildings, mixing concrete or making repairs, Smokey comes along and sits down to watch. He accompanies me on short walks and follows closely at my heels as the goat and various desert tortoises are fed and watered for the day.
When he sits down on his heels in quiet contemplation, he wraps that extra-long tail all around his four feet and purrs very quietly.
Smokey’s transformation from weak and frightened to strong willed and contented reminds us of the power we wield when we possess caring hearts. Cabot’s devotion and patience in gaining the kitten’s trust further exemplifies the way humans should treat creatures great and small. When we question ourselves, “Why should I bother?” the answer may be as simple as “Because my efforts might make a difference.”
An adventure awaits you.
An adventure awaits you.
May typically brings the peak of wildflower season, but Mother Nature makes no guarantees, perhaps she delights in surprises…
May typically brings the peak of wildflower season. But Mother Nature makes no guarantees, perhaps because she delights in surprises. Cabot Yerxa noted as much in his newspaper column in 1957. We hope to enjoy some of the sights — and fragrances — he describes before the calendar moves on to June. The following excerpts come from the museum’s book On the Desert Since 1913.
When rains come in quantity, the desert puts on a very colorful show of bright blossoms over its very many wide stretches of open land. Low-lying desert verbenas cling closely to the shifting sands. Encilia bursts into masses of brilliant yellow as it covers the rocky lower slopes of the Little San Bernardino Mountains surrounding our village. The ocotillo with its flaming red tops are worth the necessary miles of travel to see them in blossom. Mixed in along the encilia, usually on somewhat rocky terrain, will be found the very noticeably large flowers of beavertail cacti.
The sturdy barrel cacti, by far the largest in this desert, put forth a single ring of greenish yellow flowers, like a crown. The creosote, with a more common name of greasewood, is very widely distributed over all our Southwestern deserts. If encouraged by rain, it will fill with small bright blossoms, which stay on for several weeks. These finally change to small white fluffs containing seed, which blow away with the wind, thus starting new bushes elsewhere. The petals drop to the ground and simulate a yellow carpet.
The Indian dye plant puts forth a profusion of bluish purple flowers, which have a very distinctive odor if crushed. Desert chuckwallas, that largest and most interesting of all our lizards, are very fond of these flowers and will climb up among the branches of this bush to obtain them. But when you see a desert indigo bush in full bloom, you will be amazed at its strong blue-colored flowers, which are violet-like in shape. No one can help but being thrilled with the beauty of this bush.
Now I must mention my favorite flowering tree: It is the desert willow. The flowers are bell-shaped, often tinted pale pink, and have a faint, delicate, sweet odor very noticeable in early morning hours.
After rains come, nature will provide very many kinds of flowers in various colors. There will be desert daisies, beautiful white Rafinesque, desert poppies, desert asters, star flowers, thresh plant, desert trumpet, desert sunflowers, evening primrose, wild potato, desert milkweed, coyote melon, palo verde sage, desert mistletoe, Mormon tea, desert sand lilies, and chia.
Do not overlook chia, a quite small, straight, soldier-like, single-stem, blue-button type of flower and seed pot. The plant is usually six to 10 inches tall and produces seeds that are small but of high food value.
As the season progresses, one of the late patches of color is the strikingly deep yellow blossom of thick bladderpod bushes, which are of very noticeable size and are most common along dry watercourses. This bush has a strong, pungent odor, and it is better that you look at them rather than make a bouquet.
Should the season be wet, there will be extensive patches of lupine, with its purple blossoms, said to be poisonous to livestock, but the flowers make a bright show and last for many days.
There are very small, inconspicuous flowers clinging close to the earth called Nama Demissum [purplemat], which grow in very flat, small clusters. The color is a bright, attractive pink.
Among the larger-growing things to have flowers, you will notice the screw bean mesquite, mountain cat claw, wild tobacco plant, and honey mesquite. In favored places, you can observe the Spanish dagger, yucca, and nolina, which attain a height of 8 feet.
If you enjoy flowers and the out of doors, then pull on heavy shoes for short hikes away from the village or your parked automobile. Get out into the desert, kick around in the sand. Examine how desert plants live in a land of little rain. You will be inspired with a new appreciation of the real desert, learn much of interest, find beauty in many things you never can see while sitting on a cushion in an automobile traveling at 45 or more miles per hour, and you also will attain peace of mind.
Cabot Yerxa clearly possessed an uncommon mastery of plant identification. You might want to look up in a book or on the internet what some of the above look like. Knowing the names of what you see may bring an extra thrill of discovery, but most certainly isn’t necessary to enjoy their beauty. If this spring fails to yield a spectacular show, we can always look forward to next spring. Patience is becoming one of our virtues.
Food for Thought
“The finest Grocery Store in the United States!” states an ad in The St. Paul Globe for the grand opening of a Yerxa store in St. Paul, MN…
In 1886, when Cabot Yerxa was 3 years old, his parents, Fred and Nellie, moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, from the Dakota Territory (the Dakotas were not admitted to the Union until 1889). Fred Yerxa joined two older brothers in opening and operating grocery stores for some 15 years after that. Ads and newspaper articles around the turn of the century reveal much about the times and their business operations.
Let’s start with an ad in the July 3, 1896, edition of The St. Paul Globe for the grand opening of a Yerxa store in St. Paul.
The finest Grocery Store in the United States! The brightest, cleanest, and most attractive Meat Market in the Twin Cities. We will give Grand Opening Prices that will annoy all competitors, but will please the Buyers with Cash. We are the Price Makers in this city and will continue to be.
Below the introductory paragraph were listed prices for certain goods, including the following:
1 cent per loaf (full weight 16 oz.) for best Vienna bread. Baked by ourselves in our own oven, by first-class union workmen.
16 cents per pound for Yerxa’s extra creamery butter. Positively the best ever offered for sale. This quality is well worth 20 cents.
8 cents per dozen for strictly fresh eggs. (Every egg guaranteed.)
An 1889 ad in the same newspaper, announcing the grand opening of another St. Paul store, featured the name Yerxa repeated line over line all the way down the left side of the column. Words to the right included the following:
We shall throw open to the public what others tell us will be the handsomest Grocery Establishment in the West, if not in America. We have spared neither pains or money to make it what “others tell us.” The goods we shall display are what they will always be — new, bright, and clean. We have exercised our best judgment in engaging first-class attendants and invite complaints of shortcomings to the counting room. We make all wrongs right. The modest prices we shall ask for groceries are not thrown out as a “bait” for the “opening.” They will prevail.
After noting that all sales are cash only (“hence our ability to sell cheap”), the following enticement was offered:
At our opening, we shall present to every purchaser a handsome bon-bon of selected candies. They will be found pure, toothsome, and wholesome. We extend to the housekeepers of St. Paul a cordial invitation to visit us, look over our wares, our prices, and then count their possible gains by so doing.
The Yerxas touted their in-house capabilities, including the manufacturing of candy and “delightful all-Havana tobacco cigars, made before your eyes in our Cigar Department.” The March 5, 1899, issue of The St. Paul Globe published an article with a photo of a coffee roaster at a Yerxa store under the header “Improvement in Roasting Coffee. A Machine at Yerxa’s That Would Be a Revelation to Our Grandmothers.” And the following editorial copy appeared in The Minneapolis Journal on May 17, 1901:
Minneapolis Women: Why Baking Day in Summer Is No More Dreaded by Them.
Warm weather months bring a large increase in the sale of bakery products. Minneapolis women procure the bread and pastry supplies of their table in an easier and more economical way than by tempting the torrid blasts of the oven on a warm day. The proof of the pudding is the eating. Yerxa’s immense sales of bakery goods are the proof.
None but the most competent and careful help is employed in Yerxa’s bakery. Yerxa’s patrons are supplied with the very finest of bakery goods at a very reasonable cost. The plum pound cake, the German pound cake, and gold cake, light, easy to digest, and of very fine grain, are favorites. The sunshine cake and sponge cake are very popular. Yerxa birthday cake, ladyfingers, plum, almond and cocoanut macaroons have gained a wonderful and deserving sale.
The Yerxa bakery supplies any item in the entire line and guarantees absolute satisfaction. One thing appreciated by the ladies is the placing on sale of warm biscuit between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. Orders for parties are booked in advance. Many Minneapolis hostesses accord the Yerxa bakery enthusiastic praise.
Though you may long for the days when you could buy a loaf of fresh Vienna bread for a penny and a dozen “guaranteed” eggs for a nickel and three pennies, take heart in the fact that newspapers no longer can get away with unconscionable sexism. What strikes us as amusing is that, although The Minneapolis Journal aimed its oven-mitt rhetoric solely at women, a photo of the Yerxa bakery reveals it was manned by, well, men (indeed, according to the 1896 ad, “first-class union workmen”). Also, check out the left side of the bakery photo. We imagine today’s health inspectors would frown on the presence of a cat on a stool in a bakery. Ah, yes, times have changed — and, ahem, Minnesota no longer is considered to be the country’s “West.”
Leaving Space to Believe
Given his connection to nature and time living with Native Americans, it’s no surprise Cabot embraced “alternate” systems of beliefs…
Given his connection to nature and his extensive exposure to other cultures, including time living among Native Americans in Alaska and the desert, it’s no surprise that Cabot Yerxa developed an open mind about spirituality and “alternate” systems of belief. He explored automatic writing (a method of “turning off” the conscious mind while the hand writes) and was a follower of Theosophy. Portia Fearis Graham studied astrology and metaphysics and carved out a career giving lectures on “face reading.” After they wed, Cabot built a meditation room for Portia on the upper level of their pueblo home. When flying-saucermania swept America in the 1950s, Cabot and Portia, figuratively speaking, went along for the ride.
In her book Flying Saucers and Cities of Gold: Cabot Yerxa and the Contactee Movement of the Mojave Desert, former pueblo museum board member Jane Pojawa identified two men with whom Cabot and Portia became friends. George Adamski, a teacher of mysticism who lived in Desert Center, claimed to have visited Mars, Venus, and Saturn — and that Venusians aboard a flying saucer visited him in the desert. George Van Tassel claimed to have received a channeled message from Venus suggesting he build “a receptivity” allowing Venusians to communicate with Earthlings their concern over the development of hydrogen bombs. Van Tassel responded by building The Integraton sound chamber in Landers, not far from Giant Rock, where he led meditation sessions.
The Yerxas’ friendships with the two Georges appear to have begun after Portia went with three other women on January 5, 1950, to hear Adamski speak in Banning. The following year, Hollywood released the now-classic, visiting spaceship-themed The Day the Earth Stood Still. But the desert’s notable saucerian year was 1953.
On April 4, 1953, Van Tassel hosted his first Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention at Giant Rock (above photo of Portia, at left). A little more than four months later, on August 24, Van Tassel allegedly was visited by a space being. In her book, Jane quotes Van Tassel’s account:
From the position of the full moon, I judged it to be about 2 a.m. On the desert here it is nearly as bright in full moonlight as it is in daylight. I awakened, not knowing why, but sensing that something had disturbed me. We sleep outside about eight months out of the year, so you can see that our bedroom is readily accessible. … I asked the man what he wanted, thinking his car might have given him trouble and he walked into our remote field as many others have done. … Beyond the man, about a hundred yards away, hovered a glittering, glowing ship, around 8 feet off the ground. The man said, “My name is Solgonda. I would be pleased to show you our craft.”
Adamski not only was one of the featured speakers at Van Tassel’s 1953 convention, but also, Jane writes, “published the first ‘nonfiction’ narrative of contact with a man from a spaceship.” With co-author Desmond Leslie, Adamski wrote the book Flying Saucers Have Landed.
The October 29, 1953, edition of Desert Sentinel newspaper reported the following under the headline “Flying Saucers Near Our Village”:
Professor George Adamski, who is a friend of Cabot and Portia Yerxa, claims he has taken photos of flying saucers and had an hour talk with a small man who came and left in an outer spaceship from the sky. … Yerxa believes Professor Adamski knows more about flying saucers than any man in America.
The article notes that Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was selling Leslie and Adamski’s book, but fails to explain why Cabot may have had the expertise to assess the professor as the nation’s most informed individual on flying saucers. Perhaps tellingly, the article does not quote Cabot. But we know from extensive coverage by the newspaper on him and his pueblo that its editor believed the Desert Hot Springs pioneer’s opinions held sway.
When the Desert Sentinel reported in its September 23, 1954, edition on the return of Cabot and Portia from a vacation trip of several weeks (“Yerxas Come Home”), it included the following highlight:
The first of August, they attended the “Flying Saucer” forum on Mount Palomar and talked with George Adamski, who contacted the flying saucer at Desert Center [and] Truman Hothrum, who is the man who talked with the beautiful woman captain and her crew of 32 men, who flew their flying saucer here from the planet Clarion. Also they spent some time with Dan Fry, who boarded a flying saucer and was given a ride of 4,000 miles in 30 minutes, and Desmond Leslie of England, a nephew of Winston Churchill, who told them of very astonishing facts concerning flying saucers in Europe.”
Shortly after that article, Jane writes, Desert Hot Springs presented a UFO-themed fundraiser:
On Oct. 7, 1954, Cabot introduced Gilbert N. Holloway, whose speech “Flying Saucer Mysteries: Truths and Fallacies Concerning Their Origin and Effect on the World” raised $92 for “new and large highway signs to attract more visitors to our community.” Gilbert Holloway was well known to the Yerxas. His father was the president of the chamber of commerce, and Cabot and Portia owned a couple of the younger Holloway’s self-published, metaphysical books, including Dawn is Coming: Thoughts for the New Age.
Putting all of the above into context, it is worth noting the last sentence of the Desert Sentinel’s article on Cabot and Portia’s return from vacation:
But they say that DHS is the finest place in the world to live, which can be proven by travel to other places.
It’s fun to speculate what beings from other planets may have thought of Cabot and Portia had they encountered them — and vice versa. One suspects there would have been admirable respect. That said, none of the foregoing represents an attempt to sway anyone’s opinion on the existence or nonexistence of life forms from other planets, but simply to suggest that, because there is so much that we don’t know, there should be space in every mind to accommodate all beliefs that do not infringe on the safety and rights of others.
Our gratitude goes out to Jane Pojawa for granting us permission to use material and quote from her book in addition to culling from museum archives.
When Harry Met the Desert
Harry Oliver was an Oscar-nominated art director, then a desert settler/humorist writer…
In last week’s newsletter, we recounted some of Bob Forester’s memories of spending time, as a young boy, with Cabot Yerxa. What we held back for this week was his recollection that Cabot sometimes read to him from a monthly publication by another self-proclaimed desert rat. Harry Oliver was an Oscar-nominated art director in Hollywood, architect of everything from an adobe house for himself to the storybook design for Van de Kamp’s original windmill bakery restaurant on a studio lot, and then a desert settler/humorist writer. Oliver moved to Thousand Palms in 1941 and in 1946 and 1947 designed and supervised the Arabian Nights Stage for the National Date Festival fairgrounds in Indio. Meanwhile, he produced the Desert Rat Scrap Book. “Cabot would read the stories to me and then explain what parts were true and which of the many parts were, well, less true,” Forester recalled. “They were always fun to hear, and Cabot had a knack for reading them.”
The December 6, 1951, edition of The Desert Sentinel reported that Oliver was a “prominent” guest at the opening of Cabot’s Indian Pueblo. “If you really want to be a desert rat, this is a great place to take lesson No. 1,” Oliver was quoted as saying. The following excerpts come from an earlier Sentinel article (August 29, 1946).
Several months ago, Harry Oliver, famous desert rat of Thousand Palms instigated a movement that would split the desert areas of Riverside County into a county of its own, which would be called “Desert County.”
According to Oliver, the proposed line for California’s 50th county would lay due north from the peak of Santa Rosa Mountain and would include all the desert areas south of that point. He proposed Desert Center, which is midway between the Coachella Valley and Palo Verde Valley, for the seat of the new county.
Oliver even went as far as designing a flag for his new county: a sturdy green cactus on a field of white with the name Desert County in sand-colored letters.
When asked why he did it, the old desert rat replied, “My little Desert Rat Scrap Book got back to New York and someone on the New York Sunday News giving it a write-up called Thousand Palms a tiny outpost in Riverside County, California. There are 16 of us here in Thousand Palms, four with whiskers. Anyway, the good people in New York would bear down on their pens to make Riverside County show up, and it made me mad and ashamed.
The other day in Riverside he said, “I’m going to concentrate on changing the name of Riverside County to Desert County. Riverside County is meaningless to thousands of tourists who bask in the desert sun at Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Palm Springs, Coachella, Desert Center, and on through to Blythe. So far as tourists are concerned, it might as well be Brookside or Meadowbook County. Examine the map and you will discover there are Riversides in most every state in the union. The desert has romance, lure, and fascination.
Those of us who live in Riverside County’s riverless desert should at least be able to appreciate Harry Oliver’s proposal. Why should we accept everything that has been established? So let’s all keep ideas coming, because that’s what energizes societies. And even if our ideas don’t gain traction (like Harry’s), that doesn’t mean they don’t bear merit. (Psst, if you want to take up an effort to change our county’s name, let us know, wink wink.)
History matters, because it is filled with people whose thoughts and actions have, as Cabot said, shaped our world…
While much of what we know about Cabot Yerxa comes from his own writings and newspaper/magazine articles, we also are fortunate to have reminiscences from people who knew him. Members of the pueblo museum’s history committee spent years conducting research, including interviews and correspondence, to formulate a more comprehensive profile of Cabot. One of their contacts was Bob Forester, who grew up in Desert Hot Springs and met Cabot in 1962. Bob was 5 years old when his mother was looking for a nearby place for her son to spend time while she volunteered at Angel View Crippled Children’s Foundation.
As we walked across the courtyard up to the pueblo, I was in awe — so much to take in all at once. We went up to the front door and rang the old bell. The door opened and there stood Cabot, who welcomed us in. We met Portia, his lovely wife. She was a short woman with very soft-looking skin and the smile of a gentle grandmother. We had not been there very long before Cabot and I were talking about his house and how much fun I thought it must be to live in a house like that.
After that first meeting, Bob spent a few hours with Cabot on days his mother worked at Angel View.
Cabot talked of coming to the desert — how the town of Palm Springs was too crowded for him, how his burros had saved his life when returning from getting water at the old Garnet railroad station on a very windy day. He talked about how the pueblo was built. He said there was still work to do but that chatting with me on the front porch was more fun for him that day. He asked me if I liked to draw or paint and, of course, it was so he could talk about how the colors of things would change as the sun moved and how shadows changed the look of things, how the sky was never just blue or mountains just brown. I never looked at anything the same again. We sometimes would walk around the property and he would tell me about the plants and the reptiles we came across. Cabot told me he could never get some people to stop touching cactus. He always kept a roll of tape and tweezers to assist removing the spines from their fingers.
During his tours or just talking to me, he never made the focus about just himself but about the people he had met, their lives, and how the desert was when he first came. He told me once that people see what they want or what is obvious to them first. He said when asked about the desert, most people would say there is nothing much out there.
Cabot was teaching me to be resourceful, creative, and not wasteful of anything. At that age, I was learning to spell, read, and add. I later figured out that Cabot was teaching me to think outside the box. Thanks to him, the desert became my playground and one big, seemingly endless adventure.
He spoke of how Native people treated each other and took care of kids and cared for their elderly, how strong their belief was in the natural world around them. I never read a history book in school that talked about Native Americans as real people.
Cabot was not wealthy, but he was a rich man to be able to talk about his life adventures and all the people with whom he had interacted. He was very good to me and always asked what I thought about things and did I understand what he had said about something, lastly did I have any questions.
Mostly I remember the man, how he spoke, the look in his eyes, the passion he had about history and people he knew. Portia was a small, gentle woman who was kind to me, but I did not spend much time with. Mainly I remember she would bring us cookies and water to enjoy.
When Bob began school and his mother had less time to volunteer, he visited Cabot and Portia less frequently.
When Cabot died in 1965, I had not been to see him for several months. I assumed, as a kid at the time, that he would always be there.
One of the last things Cabot taught me was the handshake. He asked me what I thought history was. My answer was simply things from long, long ago that no longer mattered because everyone was dead. With that, Cabot put out his hand and told me to shake it firmly, so I did. “Now,” he said, “the importance of a handshake is to remember that history and the people we talk about in history are no more than a handshake away. When you shook my hand, you shook a hand that shook the hand of people who helped shape the world we live in today. They are as close to us as a handshake from another person.” This lesson has stayed with me, and I continue to use it when someone says, “That was 100 years ago and does not matter today.” It does!
Although handshakes are verboten in these pandemic times, Cabot’s concept of connection holds true and remains relevant. History matters, because it is filled with people whose thoughts and actions have, as he said, shaped our world. Recognizing this fact behooves us to also realize the opportunities we have to make a positive impact on those who live beyond us in time.
Sleeping with a Happy Heart
An obituary newspaper article in 1965 reported that more than 400 people attended a funeral service…
March 5, marked 56 years from Cabot Yerxa’s death at the age of 81 from a heart attack due to arteriosclerotic heart disease. An obituary newspaper article in 1965 reported that more than 400 people attended a funeral service — conducted by Desert Hot Springs’ American Legion post and Masonic Club — at Eighth Street Community Center. Cabot’s cremated remains are buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. His grave marker includes the line “He led us to the miracle waters.” The following, in Cabot’s words and included in the museum’s book Cabot Abram Yerxa: On the Desert Since 1913, seems worth republishing here on the anniversary of his passing.
The moving onto a homestead claim in the desert has many a thrill. It is a new, strange, and different life from any other.
Thornton Green met me at the railroad station with a team of lonesome mules hitched to a small wagon. We loaded in the trunk, a sack of potatoes, onions, flour, canned goods, coal oil, blankets, tin stove, a few simple tools, and many other odds and ends. The wagon was full, and so we walked in the sand all the seven or eight miles to my homestead claim.
There were no roads to speak of, and so we slowly picked our way around bushes or rocks, up some washes and down others or through drifted sand.
We arrived at sundown, threw the various things out over the ground, and he and the mules left, as it was getting dark.
Here I was with one canteen of water, all my earthly possessions scattered about, and the future in my own hands. I made a little campfire of dry sticks, warmed some simple food, and spread the blankets on the sand. This was to be my home, my land, and no rent to pay!
I felt as rich as Rockefeller! There was not another building to be seen, and as darkness increased, not a light. Coyotes yapped up toward the mountains, and I went to sleep with a happy heart.
Notable interments at Desert Memorial Park in addition to Cabot include Busby Berkeley, Sonny Bono, Frederick Loewe, Cameron Mitchell, William Powell, Frank Sinatra, and Donald Wexler. Cabot’s gravesite is in the section just to the right of the park entrance off Ramon Road.
Lecia Augustine, one of Cabot Pueblo Museum’s staff members, with her husband, Russ, visits Cabot’s gravesite on a regular basis. When they first saw it, they noted that it required attention, as no Yerxa family members live in the area.
“For nine or 10 years now, Russ and I attend to the gravesite,” Lecia says. “At least once each year, we clean the headstone, and we decorate it for Christmas.”
Without people like Lecia and Russ Augustine, without volunteers who care about preserving the memories and histories that enrich our culture, the very soul of humanity would hold little value. Honoring the endeavors of people who came before us — who paved the way for us — helps us sleep at night with a happy heart.
Cabot’s Remarkable Feat
In a circa-1950 photograph, Cabot Yerxa sits on a bench at his abode, while a sign posted on the wall reveals his overall mindset…
In a circa-1950 photograph, Cabot Yerxa sits on a bench just outside one of his adobe’s many doors. Looking at the desert tortoise in his hands, he appears contemplative. We can’t know what he is thinking at the captured moment in time. But the sign posted on the wall by the door reveals his overall mindset. It reads as follows:
THERE IS NO PLACE
JUST LIKE THIS PLACE
ANYWHERE NEAR THIS PLACE
SO THIS must be THE PLACE
Cole Eyraud, who purchased the pueblo in 1969, four years after Cabot’s death, clearly agreed. He spent much time and energy toward securing historical recognition. A letter dated just over two weeks after escrow closed evidences that he had already sought interest from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Thirty-four years ago this month, Desert Hot Springs’ city council designated Cabot’s pueblo museum “an official historical landmark of the city.” Below are the whereases and now therefore of Resolution No. 77-10.
Whereas, Cabot Yerxa was a pioneer in the development of the Coachella Valley and became an integral part of the living history of the City of Desert Hot Springs by his discovery of the City’s natural hot water on Miracle Hill, which led to the continuing economic stability of the community; and
Whereas, the City was fortunate to have Cabot Yerxa settle in the community, to bring forth his love and faith for our desert area by being one of the first founders and first president of the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association; and
Whereas, Cabot Yerxa felt the overpowering, driving need to preserve for posterity, for all to see and appreciate, he labored for 24 years preserving early-day Indian relics and hand constructed, with a labor of love and dedication, a replica of an adobe Indian pueblo; and
Whereas, Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo is both in architecture and artifact an extremely remarkable feat; and
Whereas, Cabot left this adobe monument for the City of Desert Hot Springs, it is deemed fitting and proper that this area be designated an historical landmark of the City;
Now, therefore, the City Council of the City of Desert Hot Springs does hereby resolve as follows:
Section 1. The Desert Hot Springs City Council does hereby declare and designate Cabot’s Indian Pueblo an official landmark of the City.
Section 2. The City Clerk shall certify to the passage of this Resolution and cause copies thereof to be forwarded to the Riverside County Historical Commission, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, and the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association.
Four years later, on April 26, 1981, Eyraud hosted a dedication program for County of Riverside Historical Marker No. 054. Unfortunately, neither Cabot nor Eyraud lived to see the day, in 2012, when Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was named to the Registry of National Historic Places. As noteworthy as national designation is, we can’t help but be partial to the City of Desert Hot Springs’ recognition of Cabot’s impact on the city’s future and his passion for cultural posterity.
Visitors to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum can see the City of Desert Hot Springs’ historical landmark honor on a plaque near the grounds’ entrance.
From a Sage’s Pages
We step back in time to newlywed advice from L.H. Winkley to Cabot Yerxa’s maternal grandparents, Charles and Frances Cabot…
With our post-Valentine’s-Day brains still processing thoughts of hearts, we step back even further in time to newlywed advice from L.H. Winkley to Cabot Yerxa’s maternal grandparents, Charles and Frances Cabot. The clergyman clearly was a family friend and likely presided over the 1854 wedding, as he did 28 years later for the couple’s daughter Nellie (Cabot’s mother) to Fred Yerxa. Following are excerpts of Winkley’s guidance, which he prefaces by stating it is based on his personal experience in marriage.
I. Lay aside somewhat of your income this first year of your married life. If you can spare one dollar or five at this moment, make a deposit in some savings bank. That you may lay aside more, be not only economical but orderly and neat; for neatness and order are not only comforts in themselves, but save money also.
II. Lay aside all anger and jealousy toward each other. How is neither of you without faults? While you recognize them as uncomfortable, do not fret about them. The more you wish to have them abolished, the more patiently you must bear them and the more good-naturedly and affectionately you must labor to win each other from them. If you have love enough for each other to pursue this course, you may be sure of a very happy union. Just as far as you depart from it, you will find sorrowful hours, if not days.
III. Be cheerful and hopeful. You will have your share of troubles, for no one escapes them. Because they are sure to come, be ready for them. Meet all the vexations and trials of life, small or great, with a cheerful spirit. Despondency only adds to an evil. Cheerfulness makes prosperity brighter and destroys about one-half of adversity. Let no clouds, then, settle on each other’s brow.
IV. Be intelligent. By this I mean cultivate your minds. Read. Read together. Talk together of what you read. If you have but little time, still read, tho’ you read but five minutes a day. Read stories, only let them be good, if you are too weary to read anything else. You have no idea how much knowledge you will acquire in ten years by a little daily reading. This fullness of thought begets mutual respect and esteem and binds you together more and more firmly.
V. Be good. Not only promote each other’s happiness, but also all others as far as you may. Never do a wrong without mutual confession. Be good toward your relations and friends. Do not mind their faults. Do not talk about them. Rather, cultivate charity for their imperfections and love for their virtues.
And now my dear friends, I have said my brief say. It remains with you to profit by it. My long acquaintance with at least one of you deepens my interest in your happiness. I long for you both to have not only a happy new year [the letter is dated January 4], but also a happy lifetime. That you may shall ever be the prayers of
Your affectionate friend, L.H. Winkley
Though offered to newlyweds, L.H. Winkley’s timeless counseling should encourage anyone to think about harmonious living. The problem lies not in the fact that we don’t recognize the high road; it’s that too often we ignore “lane-departure” alerts and drift into a ditch. Self-correction here and there helps everyone traveling life’s highway.
Love is in the Air
The bond that made Cabot and Portia the perfect couple to find bliss in a work-in-progress home surrounded by raw desert land…
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, we highlight the bond that made Cabot and Portia the perfect couple to find bliss in a work-in-progress home surrounded by raw desert land. The following excerpts come from an article in a July 1964 issue of The Desert Sun profiling the lady of the house on Miracle Hill, who described meeting Cabot. Portia clearly found amusement in the “new” life she found when she married for the third time in August of 1945 at the age of 61 (Cabot was 62).
“Rattlesnakes?” said Mrs. Cabot Yerxa. “Yes, we find an occasional one here. Not as many as a few years ago, but they still like to curl up on the ladders leading to the fourth story. I will never forget the day about 10 years ago when the Desert Sentinel editor came up to see if we had any news. We were short on furniture then, and she was sitting on a couple of packing boxes that doubled as a chair in the living room. I hear you found a rattlesnake up here the other day,’ she said, ‘I’d love to have a look at it.’ ‘You won’t have to look far,’ I said ‘It’s in that box.’ She screamed once, jumped, and the last Cabot and I saw of her, she was running down the hill as fast as she could go.”
Portia Yerxa sighed. “When I came to Palm Springs to visit 20 years ago from Texas, I never expected to end up living in an Indian pueblo. But the people with whom I was staying were invited to the Desert Inn for dinner, and I was asked to join them. My hostess had told me that she was going to seat me next to the most fascinating bachelor. He turned out to be Cabot and insisted that I later see his castle.”
The castle was the skeleton structure of a four-story Hopi Indian pueblo.
“‘Marry me, and I’ll finish the pueblo, then take you an a European honeymoon,’ Cabot said. We never have gotten to Europe,” Portia explained. “Cabot says he still has 10 more years to do on the pueblo, although we have already completed 35 rooms, several caves, 65 doors, and 140 windows.”
“When we get tired of living in one part of the house,” she said, “we just move to another. Twenty of the rooms are furnished, and we clean them as we need them. Actually, we move up and down with the seasons. In the winter, our second-floor apartment is warmer. In the summer, it’s cooler on the ground floor. The east wall of the house is built right up against a mountain, so Cabot dug a little cave, just big enough to hold a cot, and that’s where he sleeps during the summer.
“I’ve grown accustomed to having snake skins instead of pictures on the walls,” she said, “and I don’t mind if Indian relics are strewn all over the place.”
Then Portia, who is a petite five feet, paused. “But there’s one question I do wish tourists would stop asking. After Cabot shows them the 60-pound bricks he uses to build the pueblo, they always want to know if I carry the bricks.”
Outside the living room is a hot-water well dug by Cabot that brings in water at 126 degrees. An electric pump carries the water to a 1,200-gallon reservoir on top of the mountain above the house. Gravity pulls the water down, and it is piped throughout the pueblo.
“Although the pueblo will never be finished,’’ Portia said, with a gentle smile on her lips, “I’d never live anywhere else.”
Cabot and Portia loved each other and each loved the desert. If you find happiness with someone special, tell them so this Valentine’s Day. Then again, why wait for tomorrow? Nothing says you can’t repeat yourself … often. So take this to heart: The board and staff of Cabot’s Pueblo Museum find happiness with its special members and other supporters.
Press and Presence
Even without platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Cabot managed to attract the kind of publicity rarely available to a noncelebrity…
BSM, Before Social Media, people got their news from printed paper. They stepped outside, perhaps with morning coffee in hand, to pick up the daily newspaper tossed onto their porch or driveway. Even without platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, Cabot Yerxa managed to attract the kind of publicity rarely available to a noncelebrity. When he opened his pueblo to the general public in 1951, Desert Sentinel newspaper ran a piece titled “Cabot’s Pueblo Brings World to DHS.” Below are excerpts from that December 6 article.
Sparkplugged by the wonderful publicity given Cabot’s old Indian Pueblo in the Daily Enterprise and also the Press of Riverside, the preopening was an outstanding success. In only 2 days, 400 who would never otherwise have known what our health city has to offer came, saw, and were impressed both by our Village and its prodigious growth and the unique Indian pueblo, 10 years in the building.
In order that all in the Village may familiarize themselves with this project, a price of 35c for adults, 25c for teenagers, and 5c for children under twelve, is made for conduct over the entire structure, good only on Dec. 11, 12, 13, and 14. A view of the Art Gallery is something no one can afford to miss and alone is worth more than the regular charge of 65c for adults, 30c for teenagers, and 12c for children.
In all California there is no other building like this. Only the extinct race of Aztecs inspiring it could duplicate its originality and rustic charm. Rising out of the sand like a magician’s handwork, a part of Cabot’s soul is built into its rugged walls and timbers, a creation conceivable only by a great artist.
Cabot’s old Indian pueblo will grow in value to the community as time marches on. The historic structure will continue to advertise this region of the desert, bringing in thousands to view its wonders and to remain to benefit not only D.H.S., but also Palm Springs and the entire desert area.
Here are just a few ways Cabot’s old Indian pueblo has forwarded D.H.S.: With advertising from out of town. Mentioned editorially in Riverside Press, almost full page in both Enterprise and Press of Riverside, with wonderful pictures. 29 Palms Desert Trails’ fine story of pueblo. Banning Record story. L.A. Times last week, 3-column story; and a few months ago covered front page of Times with pictures; more newspaper coverage soon. Palm Springs Pictorial, read all year, pictures and story. Feature in KFI, Nelson McIninch’s broadcast; over 5 million people in national broadcast over KFI in Ben Hunter’s “People and the News” at 9:45 p.m. last Monday featuring artist Cabot Yerxa and old Pueblo at D.H.S.
As predicted in the Desert Sentinel article, Cabot’s most unusual creation continued to attract publicity, extending to national publications. After Cabot’s death, Cole Eyraud not only purchased the property to preserve the pioneer’s legacy, but also pursued media outlets and the attention of officials to raise the pueblo’s public and historical recognition. Magazines, particularly those with a focus on travel and tourism, found their hosts charming and the hand-built construction awe-inspiring. In keeping with the times, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum now maintains a social-media presence on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram.
Perceptions of Precipitation
Cabot Yerxa’s impressions of days when clouds watered the typically arid landscape…
On the heels of this week’s winter rains, we look back to Cabot Yerxa’s impressions of days when clouds slipped past the protection of local mountains and watered the typically arid landscape. The following excerpts, dating back to 1954, come from the museum’s book titled On the Desert Since 1913.
Yesterday it rained for the first time in nine or 10 months, and the desert was drenched. Just a steady, slow rain without any blustering wind. The sandy soil absorbed the welcome moisture completely. The greasewood bushes opened their leaves, which are folded close together for protection during dry weather; and the damp air was full of their clean, haunting fragrance. All the sparse desert growth of bunch grass and small plants, usually quite brittle, were as limp and soft as though made of pretty colored rubber.
The few birds and small animal life scurried for their own type of shelter. A half-dozen song sparrows chirped at me from under a palm ramada. The lone shrike sat bedraggled on his usual perch in the rustic building we call Indian Camp. Lizards got under boards or rocks and shivered the time away as best they could. The eagle took to the high mountain crags and the security of big timber. The owls, no doubt, went to the protection of the Two Bunch Palms, as I have seen them do in other spells of bad weather. Rabbits hunt a depression under roots or sit in silent discomfort about half below the surface of the ground, but hunched up on their strong hind legs, ready to spring into immediate action at any unknown sound approaching. The coyotes slink around with wet feet, fur dripping with rain and drooping tails.
Overhead, one solitary goose flies strongly with head and neck outstretched through the murky rain. He was headed as straight for Mexico and warmer weather, as an aviator could with a compass. The goose was flying low and honking very mournfully; and I heard him minutes after he was lost to vision. His heart was troubled because of separation from his flock.
Here Cabot describes a sustained soaking of the desert floor:
If the winter season is normal, we have a three-day rain during the middle of January. At such times, the desert changes much in appearance. The barrel cactus gets very red in color because of the thorough washing. Cholla cactus becomes bright yellow; beavertail and deer-horn show up suddenly green. Greasewood branches and most small brush appear to be nearly black. Indigo bushes, burro sage, and others of similar types are strongly contrasting grays.
There is also a difference underfoot. Scattered bits of brush that litter the desert floor do not crackle and snap when you walk, as they do in dry weather. When you step on small rocks after the rains, they sink into the wet earth; and there is no sound of crunching as formerly.
The January storm gathers slowly. First a soft, moisture-laden wind comes up from the southeast. Clouds drift into the valley. Wet mist forms, followed by slight showers. This is the first day and night. During the second, steady rain falls, soaking the ground. Thick, low-lying clouds completely blot out surrounding mountains. You and your cabin are alone in an unfamiliar world. There is a complete hush of all sound. The pale, bluish smoke from the chimney hangs close to the cabin roof, as though reluctant to leave. Water falls freely from the wet shingles, and the smell of wet wood is strongly noticeable.
During the third day, precipitation tapers off to many short, intermittent showers. Patches of thick, small clouds hang only a short distance above the ground and drift very lazily along the lower foothills. All vegetation is dripping with raindrops. Pungent odors of greasewood, sage, croton, indigo bush, and other plants fill the air. It’s a joy to be alive and a privilege to breathe deeply.
As desert residents, we may find ourselves running to the window or door when water falls from the sky. Some of us even might have called a distant relative to report the past week’s graupel (so unusual that the local weather forecaster took time to explain what it was). One of the pleasures of living in the Coachella Valley is finding precipitation interesting. But how many of us notice as much about it as Cabot Yerxa did? Maybe a post-shower walk is in order — or at least a deep inhalation of the scented air it leaves behind — to share his appreciation for a good soaking.
Points of Departure
“When I pick up and leave the desert, I am sad for days,” Cabot wrote. “I never have left a ship without regret…”
Cabot Yerxa typically ended his written communications “Adios.” His use of the Spanish word conveys not only his appreciation for other cultures, but also seems jauntier than “Farewell.” After his second viewing of the 1931 movie Trader Horn (about an African adventurer who “at the end says ‘goodbye’ to comrades”), Cabot collected his memories of partings. “When I pick up and leave the desert, I am sad for days,” he wrote. “I never have left a ship without regret, and goodness knows. I have been on over a hundred. And a city in which I have lived I am loathe to leave.” Below are some of the occasions Cabot recalled. “I can sit down and think of ‘goodbyes’ that open a place in my heart large enough to put in the Pacific Electric building and room to spare,” he wrote.
I remember Alaska slipping back into the horizon and a school of whales lazily spouting water as clouds close in and cover the sun low in the west, and I shed tears.
* * *
I took the burro 11 miles to T+K Ranch, and I can still see it looking at me over the gate and hear its peculiar screaming cry whenever I left it. It could not follow me again in the canyon. I heard the cry, and I hear it yet.
* * *
Among the hundreds of hands and handkerchiefs waved as the train pulls out, I look and see one tiny bit of white waving. And I know that handkerchief waves for me with all the good luck possible from one to another.
* * *
I have got my discharge from the Army. As I take my place in the train, I see the men falling in for the flag ceremonies at the end of the day, and I have pangs of regret at departure.
* * *
I have sold a baby burro and, with the help of trainmen, have loaded it in the express car. The way it looked at me I would give the money back and take again the burro. But the train is moving away. And so we only have things to love and to give them up again. Sometimes I wonder: Does it pay to form attachments? Is it worthwhile to hold or cherish anything?
* * *
In the Seattle shipyards was that hard, bitter, burley, rough, big Scotsman. He was an expert ship machinist of the old school. I dragged his tools around engines, up and down ladders, and together we worked in the most impossible places: inside boilers, on planks swung by ropes, walking on steel eye beams, dodging hot rivets and moving cranes. He had about as much sentiment as a blacksmith’s anvil in a snowstorm. And yet, when I told him I had volunteered for the Army and shook hands goodbye, tears came to the old devil’s eyes and he said, “Lad, I have been a machinist all my life. I have had helpers following me around all these years and know an endless number of men. But I have never become as attached to a man as I have to you. You are doing a fine thing to volunteer. That’s a tough fight over there, and perhaps you won’t get back. Me and the old woman never had no boys, and so you can be our son in the war. Me and the old woman will pray for you, lad, as long as the war lasts. Now goodbye and may God bless you.” Tears ran down his cheeks through the grease and grime as he climbed an iron ladder into a maze of steel girders and engines under construction. And I was on my way into the Army.
* * *
It is almost dark and I go into the art school alone to get a forgotten article. The men have gone. The room smells of paint. Dim portraits gaze at me from many easels. The eyes of each seem reproachful and sad and seem to follow my every move. I stumble out the long, dark passage to the street with reluctant steps and eyes blurred.
* * *
Blue eyes and golden hair she had. Quick smiles. A perfect storm of protest or ever-increasing, bubbling interest and enthusiasm. Never quiet. Never two days alike — nor two minutes for that matter. Restless change and vivacity. She kissed me goodbye with a little eager rush, turned on her heels, and was lost in the crowd like a breath of wind.
* * *
A group of Eskimos had gathered to shake my hand for the last time — friends every one. We parted — they north and I south. We waved and shouted “al-le-on-nomayuk.” Again and again we waved and shouted the goodbye of Alaska. The time, the place, the peculiar lonesome chill of the north, the bareness of the country all worked on my heartstrings. And the last time I shouted before it was too far to hear, I added “na-na-co wonga itlee-ok-toonga”: “Someday I will be coming back again.” I wonder if I will.
As Cabot paused for reflection on the goodbyes in his life, he countered them with his philosophy on hellos.
But then there are sunrises. Familiar scenes that reappear, eyes that welcome, hands with a grasp of loyalty, and those who love us (few through they be).
And always is the charm of new places, the excitement of new surroundings, the knowing of what lies on the other side of the hill, the interest of searching new faces for possible friends, the novelty of strange food, the pleasure of strange experiences, and the everlasting freedom of being able to proceed without criticism or claims of routine. So a rolling stone has his ups and downs, his rewards and punishments. Life is only an experience, and we only experience that which we are capable of seeing.
As poignant and shaded with sadness as goodbyes often are, we should not shy away from thinking about the people, animals, and places that have shaped who we are but from whom we are separated. As long as they remain in our hearts, they are not lost to us. As for Cabot’s one-time question, “Is it worthwhile to hold or cherish anything?” he clearly concluded that it is.
What’s in the water? Learn about Cabot Yerxa’s groundbreaking water discovery on Miracle Hill.
In 1914 Cabot Yerxa, using little more than a pick and shovel, unearthed the curative mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs. He was the first one to rediscover the mineral water at 132 degrees in modern times. Only 600 yards from his home, Cabot dug a second well delivering drinking water. Finding both the hot and cold mineral wells, prompted Cabot to name the area Miracle Hill.
Desert Hot Springs is one of the few places in the world with naturally occurring hot and cold mineral Springs. The Mission Creek Branch of the San Andreas Fault bisects the area and on one side is the cold-water aquifer and on the other, is the hot-water aquifer.
The natural hot mineral waters originate from the Desert Hot Springs Aquifer and are heated by geothermal forces thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. Naturally heated to temperatures as high as 180 degrees, the waters hold therapeutic value. The Mission Creek Aquifer holds the award winning cold mineral waters. This water is ranked among the nation’s best water for taste and was awarded the International Water Tasting Competition at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Desert Hot Springs now boasts more than 20 boutique resorts and spas where guests can enjoy these unparalleled waters in the midst of unspoiled desert terrain and stunning mountain views.
What’s in the water? Learn about Cabot Yerxa’s groundbreaking water discovery on Miracle Hill.
In 1914 Cabot Yerxa, using little more than a pick and shovel, unearthed the curative mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs. He was the first one to rediscover the mineral water at 132 degrees in modern times. Only 600 yards from his home, Cabot dug a second well delivering drinking water. Finding both the hot and cold mineral wells, prompted Cabot to name the area Miracle Hill.
Desert Hot Springs is one of the few places in the world with naturally occurring hot and cold mineral Springs. The Mission Creek Branch of the San Andreas Fault bisects the area and on one side is the cold-water aquifer and on the other, is the hot-water aquifer.
The natural hot mineral waters originate from the Desert Hot Springs Aquifer and are heated by geothermal forces thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. Naturally heated to temperatures as high as 180 degrees, the waters hold therapeutic value. The Mission Creek Aquifer holds the award winning cold mineral waters. This water is ranked among the nation’s best water for taste and was awarded the International Water Tasting Competition at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Desert Hot Springs now boasts more than 20 boutique resorts and spas where guests can enjoy these unparalleled waters in the midst of unspoiled desert terrain and stunning mountain views.
Snow and Slow
Sobol’s “American Cavacade,” published in the San Francisco Examiner relates his visit to B-Bar-H Ranch near Cabot’s homestead…
In last week’s newsletter, we published excerpts from Hearst Newspapers syndicated columnist Louis Sobol’s “New York Cavalcade” column, which was primarily devoted to Broadway show business news and gossip but also included communications he had with Cabot Yerxa on life in the desert. The following comes from Sobol’s “American Cavacade,” published in the February 13, 1939, edition of San Francisco Examiner and relating his visit to the B-Bar-H Ranch near Cabot’s homestead.
We arrived in time to witness a desert phenomenon — snow on the mesquite. Not in seventy years had the beautiful white fallen in this region, they solemnly assured us — and some of the old-timers pointed with awe to what looked in the greyness of the day like a chinchilla wrapping on stately San Jacinto, rambling San Bernardino range, and the Gorgonios. Snow on the peaks was nothing unusual, but never had it mantled down so low. And as for this blizzard where there should have been hot sun, not only was it cause for wonderment, but also for considerable distress among the innkeepers. Let me hasten to add, however, that as these words tumble out of the typewriter, the sun is high and hot in the skies — the blessed windbreak of tamaracks sway only gently — and Mike, the four-month-old cocker spaniel of the ranch, is trying to catch up with a frolicsome bird.
There is laziness in the air. Walt Disney, who has just left, was finally persuaded to mount a horse. But aside from that, the order of the day is complete inactivity.
The desert abounds in colorful characters. Today I drove over to a windy, sandy ribbon of road to Cabot Yerxa’s place. Cabot, a mild-mannered fellow of about 50, lives here with his white-haired mother in serene aloofness from what we call the outer world.
Mother Yerxa proudly escorted us into her kitchen and started pumping water. I tasted it — and then I knew the reason for her pride. It was boiling hot — for that is how it comes out of the ground.
Cabot, a talented artist who studied both in Paris and in Berlin, has many of his prize paintings hung around the walls. But his chief wall decorations are newspaper matrices — dating back twenty-five or more years, when he first came to the desert after having hermited for a spell in Alaska. He is not averse to selling his art nor to selling anything, for he has a little store outside in which a few sundries are on display. Unfortunately, few people drift up his way, except a casual guest from a ranch wandering by accidentally on horseback.
Yet this desert recluse has great visions of a day when all the world will come flocking to these magnificent outdoors, retain health from these unpublicized magic waters, and drink in the hot sun. I had an idea, though, from his conversation that when, or if, that day comes, Cabot and his aged mama will pack up — seek other isolations where he may paint to his heart’s content, dig around for rare stone specimens, and at night sit under the mellow desert moon and dream in peace.
Interesting personalities, too, are Charles and Paul Bender, who own this B-Bar-H Ranch in partnership with producer Lucien Hubbard.
Sobol mentions the names of B-Bar-H past guests, including Hollywood’s Joan Crawford, the Marx brothers, Tyrone Power, Darryl Zanuck, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Taylor, and Eleanor Powell.
As this is being written, the station wagon is starting off to fetch half a dozen Easterners, among whom are playwright Moss Hart. The talented Beatrice Kaufman [a New York editor, writer, and wife of playwright George S. Kaufman] is also scheduled to be a guest.
I have already been initiated into the Order of Pamperers, founded here a season or so ago by publisher M. Lincoln Schuster. The code of the Pamperer is, “Never do today what can be done tomorrow.” And the favorite byword is, “Well, give me until tomorrow and I’ll give you a definite ‘Maybe.’”
There’s a lot to be said for heeding Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. And yet we can see wisdom in occasionally following the Order of the Pamperers’ clashing credo. Perhaps the wisest course, in the interest of avoiding stress, is a balance between the two: making an effort to accomplish tasks but recognizing when it’s time to stop and relax — and take in the beauty of our surroundings.
Image courtesy of Desert Hot Springs Historical Society.
Cabot Yerxa wedding to his second wife was announced nationally in the January 2, 1946, edition of New York Journal-American…
Although Cabot Yerxa wed his second wife on August 8, 1945, the occasion was announced nationally in the January 2, 1946, edition of New York Journal-American. For two or three years, Cabot wrote a monthly letter to Hearst Newspapers columnist Louis Sobol about life in the desert. Sobol often used them in his “New York Cavalcade” column, which otherwise was devoted to Broadway show business. Below are excerpts of Sobol’s “A Hermit Weds!”
And now, dear friends, to start off the New Year, would you like to get away from gay Manhattan and effervescent Broadway to read a little bit of gossip? Remember my pal Cabot Yerxa, the hermit of the desert out Garnet, California, way? Well, he’s gone off and married a lovely lady named Portia Graham. Yep, the hermit who shunned all society is now hooked by a beauteous belle from the West — and heed well what he writes:
“Now the cabin is swept, the table dusted, and I have washed all the windows. The lady’s name is Portia, and she is from an aristocratic family in Texas. She never saw a desert before, nor imagined people could live with the water all carried home in tin cans. And be happy without radio, newspapers, or neighbors.
“I used to use goat sacks for pillowslips, but now they are slips from the effete city, all white and ironed. The towels have colored designs and decorations and look so clean and useless that not yet have I used them. The goat sacks seem more practical.
“I am building a new trading post and art gallery and studio in which to paint pictures. The new cabin will be built of stone and adobe bricks on the edge of a small gulch and dug back into the mountain so that one wall will be all rocks without doors or windows. To you Easterners who travel comfortably over the Southwest in trains or autos, rocks are just rocks. But if you live with them in close proximity, they have differences. For years, I have been collecting rocks for the new building. There will be black, grey, blue, dull red, and some that sparkle with mica flakes to give the appearance of golden particles.
“One room has five corners and only one is square. Windows are on different levels and vary in size. It is necessary to step up or down between different rooms. There is no blueprint of the building, because I just construct one room at a time and make it fit the mountainside and be useful and practical for its purpose.
“The goats, chickens, desert turtles, chuckwallas, rattlesnakes, and other pets will all have new homes suitable to their needs. Portia does not seem to be very enthusiastic about the rattlesnakes as pets. This matter has not been fully decided yet.
“Any married man will understand that some matters of family importance are not decided on the spot. Any delay usually means that his wife has won the day, and postponement is to assuage the male ego for having lost the battle. So it may be that someday I will gather my good friends, the snakes, and we shall make a sorrowful journey to a deserted part of the desert where I shall turn them loose and we will bid adieu, affectionately, to each other — and regretfully.”
Good luck to you, my desert friend — good luck to you and your bride. And say, bud, if ever you decide to sneak away from the quiet and serenity of the desert to mingle with us folks out here on Broadway, do me a favor. Keep away from our snakes. I tell you, you won’t like our Big City snakes at all!!
Despite Cabot and Portia having wed five months prior to the above account, it feels appropriate that a fresh phase in Cabot’s day-to-day life was then and is now published when everyone else enters a new year. Even if you don’t face the possibility of parting with rattlesnakes, you may find yourself letting go of something from your past. But maybe a new perspective will allow you to make room for embracing your own metaphorical pillowslips.
Incidentally, Cabot and Portia’s marriage certificate lists his occupation as “artist” and the general nature of his business as “home.” In a sense — in the way we shape our domestic environment, we can all be artists of our homes.
No Place Like Nome
We look at how the desert pioneer called upon his entrepreneurial spirit to make money in a frontier filled with “bad men and desperados”…
Last week’s excerpts from the museum foundation’s new publication — 1900 Gold Rush to Nome, Alaska: Cabot Yerxa’s Coming of Age Memoir — established Cabot Yerxa’s experience with winter in Alaska. This week, we look at how the desert pioneer called upon his entrepreneurial spirit to make money in a frontier filled with “bad men and desperados,” as well as with Native people that spoke a language new to him. Like other adventurers, Cabot was lured to Alaska by a gold rush. With his lack of success on the mining front, he turned to something he knew to be reliable as a source of money: selling cigars.
[In Nome] I found a tent, 7 x 10 feet, and rented it for $150 per month, cash in advance. This was on Front Street, not too far from saloons and dance halls. Now I knew $150 was too much for me to pay as rent, so I hunted ’round and rented [space] inside the tent to a barber for $100. We put a box in a corner with a tin basin, soap and tin can of water on top, and he was in business. Then on one side of the tent opening on the street, I placed a good-sized wooden box and rented this to a man from which to sell newspapers, and he paid $25 per month. On the other side of the tent door, my showcase was placed — full of cigars, chewing tobacco, pipes, gum, etc., and my rent then was only $25 per month.
The street was full of tramping men, horses, dog teams, and a scattering of Eskimos. [The Eskimos] interested me tremendously; and at every opportunity, I would learn some word of their language. I gave them tobacco and gum so they would stand ’round and come back again. They seemed pleased that I tried to learn to talk to them, and we got on well together.
Eventually things got slack. A barbershop opened in a saloon with a real barber chair, and men would no longer sit in an uncomfortable kitchen chair. So the barber quit me and went to work in a butcher shop. He was both a barber and a butcher. He liked knives. The newspaperman went back to Seattle.
When he lost the rental income, Cabot resorted to making money by helping construct a store and a roadhouse. Eventually he rented a spot next to a saloon and teamed up with a candy maker named Hood, with whom he had mined for gold. Amid the rough-and-tumble environment, they sold candy and cigars from a location with a street frontage of 8 feet wide. In an 8×10 tent behind the building, they slept and cooked meals. Cabot mostly tended the store at night; Hood took the day shift. Following is Cabot’s anecdote that emphasizes his resourceful nature.
One day Hood said, “Cabot, we have a lot of shelled peanuts and plenty of sugar. I could make some good peanut brittle candy, if I only had a slab of marble to cool it on. See if you can’t find a piece of marble in this camp.” So I borrowed one dog and a small sled and went out investigating. In the afternoon, I returned with a good-sized slab of marble, and we made a lot of peanut brittle. This was placed in small paper bags, and I canvassed the saloons, dance halls, and gambling places, selling all the candy in 25-cent and 50-cent bags. The next day, we repeated this with sell-out success, and the next day all went well again. But the fourth day, I said, “Hood, we cannot make candy and cool it on the slab today, because we must return the slab to where I borrowed it. You see, I got it from the undertaker. A man was killed last night in the Northern Saloon, and the undertaker wants to lay out the body. He says we can have [the slab] again in a couple of days, unless there is another killing.”
“If you carried a sandwich, it had to be inside your undershirt, otherwise it would freeze so hard nothing less than an ax could break it up…”
Now that we have officially entered winter, it seems apropos to relate Cabot Yerxa’s 1900-1901 experience of wintering in Nome, Alaska. As you read the excerpts below, you should feel quite content to be in the Southern California desert where even the shortest days of the year bring us light and warmth.
Nome was unbelievably cold during stormy weather. The sun showed on the very edge of the horizon about 10:30 a.m., rolled along without rising much, and then disappeared at 2:30 until the next day. If you were out and carried a sandwich, it had to be carried inside your undershirt, because otherwise it would freeze so hard that nothing less than an ax could break it up.
The standard procedure if caught in a blizzard was to start walking in a circle, so as to keep up circulation and not wander off to get lost.
One of the frightening things about a winter in Alaska is to be out on the frozen ocean two or three miles from shore and then to see and hear a pressure ridge in action. There is a loud report resembling powder explosions, and great blocks of ice are forced up into the air, some as large as half a small cabin. These pressure ridges form without warning and run across the ice, throwing up great blocks of ice.
In Nome, winter of 1900 and 1901, the ocean froze up across to Siberia, and to go fishing there had to be a hole cut into the frozen surface of the sea. To get the hole down through the ice is a problem, which I volunteered to do for our group. No other man would try it on account of the danger involved. I started chopping a hole through the ice three by five feet, throwing out the ice as I dug. I chopped down seven feet and now was in a hole too deep to climb out. So I made the bottom of the hole very level and by the color of ice judged it to be six or seven inches of floor ice. Then very carefully and evenly, I chopped a small ditch or trench all around the sides of the ice floor, evening the edges until water oozed up at all points. I balanced on the ice, reached the top, and stepped off safely. But the danger is that if the ice cake tips, the chopper slides into — perhaps under — the ice and is injured or drowned. The ice has to be chopped evenly, and one test is to bring the ax back to the surface, because in the excitement some men drop an ax. I brought mine back OK.
One wonders if Cabot might have remembered the difficulty of chopping through Alaska’s ice when he dug wells in what is now Desert Hot Springs. In opposition to his Nome experience, the water he unearthed at 30 feet below the desert surface measured 132 degrees, so that he resorted to wearing rubber boots and standing in five-gallon cans of cooled water to complete the task. Surely there are very few people who have — especially voluntarily — put themselves is such extreme situations.
In any event, Cabot wrote of the arrival of spring and, with it, a steamer. The townspeople waited for the ship on shore, but Cabot, wearing mukluks and carrying a pack, exhibited no patience.
I felt wonderful and confident of what I could do on broken ice, because I had been fooling ’round the ice floes for days past. So I started on the run over the ice blocks, headed for the ship, jumping from one cake to another.
I was having fun and ran on from ice cake to ice cake. A very few other men followed. But I reached the ship first, and a man threw me a bundle of San Francisco papers, Chronicles as I now remember. I shouted thanks to him, put them on my pack, and raced back over the ice to the mining camp and into the saloons, shouting, “Newspapers, one dollar each!” And I sold them.
Cabot Yerxa met a man leading a small black burro, spent $10 to buy it for help on his homestead and named it Merry Xmas…
While walking to Morongo one day, Cabot Yerxa came upon a man leading a small black burro. The man had purchased the animal specifically to carry his belongings to the railroad. Judging the burro to be intelligent, Cabot spent $10 to buy it for help on his homestead after the man completed his trek. He named the burro Merry Xmas “as it was about that time of year,” he explained in his “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper column. Following are edited sections from the museum’s compilation of Cabot’s columns into a book of the same name.
This turned out to be a most unusual burro, willing and quick to learn. I was very patient with it, also making rewards of candy or lump sugar when deserved. Merry Xmas learned to follow me like a dog, to come when its name was called, to lead on a rope without being pulled like most burros, and to walk three miles per hour when the average was only two. And it was taught to have another burro or several tied to its tail and to lead by voice command: go, stop, right, or left, etc. It would follow a trail and even the single footsteps of a man in loose sand if told to do so.
One thing it did, unlike any other burro, was walk side by side with me. On good roads we walked four miles per hour that way.
On exploring trips about the desert, at the end of day when camp was made, Merry Xmas would eat grass or vegetation nearby but when called would come to supper and eat its fair share of whatever we had. It would eat a newspaper with relish. At night, this amazing animal would come up and lie down by the fire too.
No other burro approached this one in intelligence. Burros sold for five to 10 dollars as a rule. But on several occasions, I refused 100 dollars for Merry Xmas. I shared all my food with it on trips and kept my pockets full of candy or peanuts to hand out for good behavior or learning new things. It followed me everywhere. Once in Palm Springs, I forgot this fact and walked into the only store. Up the steps and into the store came the burro.
Cabot wrote that Merry Xmas loved hot pancakes and would come to share breakfast when it smelled the aroma in the desert air. Cabot had rigged up a wooden spool that could be used to open the coil-spring screen door at his kitchen.
Merry Xmas was taught to grasp the spool in its teeth and jerk the door open wide with a quick twist of its head. In the split second before the spring snapped the door shut, that big black head and neck were in the door, with mouth open for hot pancakes.
Merry Xmas performed its part of the work every day, hauled water and wood, and made trips to the railroad. I saved up enough money to buy a very fine Swiss sheep bell with a clear ringing tone that could be heard a long ways. This bell hung from a heavy strap around its neck, and every step rang the bell. This was a very cheerful help to my many hours of walking trips about the desert.
In a 1960 Press-Enterprise newspaper article titled “His Burro Saved His Life,” Cabot told this anecdote:
One night when the sand and wind blew so thick that you could cut it with a knife, Merry Xmas saved my life. We were crossing the Whitewater Wash between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs when I lost my sense of direction. I put my head down on the burro’s neck to get protection from the wind, threw my arms around her, and said, “Take me home.” And she did.
A Weighty Problem
Cabot Yerxa tells the story of Orr Sang, a retired policeman from Los Angeles with a burro carriage, fringed canopy, and cushioned seat…
Featuring burros in this month’s newsletters, we turn to an amusing story Cabot Yerxa told that begins with Orr Sang, a fellow homesteader. The retired policeman from Los Angeles not only had the desert’s first bathtub, but also a burro carriage with a fringed canopy and one cushioned seat. His two burros were Molly (“white, strong, and willing”) and Fanny (“of Maltese color and always sulky and slow”). The following is excerpted from On the Desert Since 1913.
After Sang completed his homestead, he spent much time in Banning and the mountains. Not wishing to have the continued care of his burros, he sold them to me. The price was 50 dollars for two good burros, a fancy wagon, an excellent harness, a riding saddle, and a few odds and ends. Paying for it was difficult, but I set more traps, caught more coyotes, cleared land for others, and dug wells by hand. Some small income was derived from hauling things about the desert in the wagon.
One commission that came my way was hauling a very heavy lady and her trunk to the railroad station — a trip of several miles. Far be it from me to be disrespectful or curious about a lady’s age or weight, but I am explaining a problem of the transportation. So, in all honesty, the estimated weight for the lady was over 200 pounds; and her trunk was near that figure too. With this task ahead of me, I patched up enough harness with short straps, wire, and ropes to have burros out in front of the two in good harness attached to the wagon. This gave pulling power of five animals, which seemed sufficient for the project.
Very early on the appointed day, I arrived at the cabin door where she was visiting, loaded in the trunk and the lady herself. We proceeded to cross the desert, bound for the railroad at the speed of one and one-half miles per hour. The lady was on the cushioned seat under the canopy, and of course I walked all the time to encourage the burros and keep them in movement. I had allowed ample time, which was fortunate, because that day a strange thing happened.
When we were still a long way out from the railroad, there galloped up to us a group of loose burros. The leader was a large male animal, and I could see they were bent on mischief. Twice I scattered them when they approached too close to my team. Then they drew off a hundred yards and seemed to be planning trouble. All at once, they wheeled and dashed — closely packed together — straight toward us. The big male burro guided the band at full speed toward the tails of my lead burros. The impact broke the improvised harness and threw the three lead burros to the ground. Then all the animals, my lead three and all the loose burros, galloped out of sight — leaving bits of harness here and there.
Now there were only two burros. This called for a readjustment of plans. So I told the lady, “From here on, two burros can haul the trunk and you must walk. Or we can leave the trunk here on the desert, and you can ride to the railroad.” She chose to ride. So the trunk was left in the sand for me to get later.
It was two weeks before I found the runaway burros and recovered parts of the harness.
Tales of Tails and Trails
Cabot’s burros, Merry Xmas, became his companion and confidante…but first let’s establish how he fared in the desert…
Now that December is upon us, it seems like a good time to pay tribute to Merry Xmas: Cabot Yerxa’s first burro. This month, we’ll present Cabot’s story of how he acquired the animal that became his companion and confidante. But first let’s establish how burros, including Merry Xmas, fared in the desert. The following comes from the museum’s book On the Desert Since 1913.
Gradually every family managed to get one or two burros, and each one had an individual name, which we all knew just as well as the owners. Burros are wonderful little animals and were of tremendous help to the early pioneers. They did not require shoes or as much care as a horse, and that is why prospectors and desert men used them so freely in pioneer times. Burros could carry about 150 pounds on their backs if well balanced and tied on properly. They would also work in harness and pull a wagon. Average-sized men could ride them, and burros are known to be very sure-footed on dangerous trials.
The speeds would seem rather slow to this generation, which flits about hither and yon in autos. Burros hitched to a wagon travel one and one-half miles per hour. When saddled, the speed is increased to two miles per hour.
They kept in good condition feeding on sagebrush and other desert vegetation. But they had to be turned loose to range over many acres of land. Therefore, when we wanted a burro, we took a canteen of water and a little food and started out walking to look for them. A burro might be found in half a day or it might take a couple of days. The old joke about the prospector and his burros has much truth in it. The tourist, speaking to an old desert character, says, “So you have been on this desert 40 years! Have you been mining all that time?” And the desert rat replies, “Well, not all the time, because I have hunted burros 20 years.”
When Cabot had established his homestead, he left the desert for five months to earn money working in a camp for oil drillers. When he returned to his cabin, he took a canteen of water and went in search of Merry Xmas.
Burros are gregarious in character, and usually all the loose animals in the valley would be found ranging within a mile of each other. Knowing that they must go to a water hole when thirsty, I first went to Two Bunch, then Willow Hole and Seven Palms. The freshest hoof marks leaving the muddy bank of the pool would indicate in which direction they left.
They knew that capture meant work, and often the smart ones would lie down to escape observation. But if a man approached on their trail, they would pursue one of two tactics: either walk 20 steps out of reach all day or kick up their heels and run for a mile, thus prolonging capture. This is where the payoff came for the time I spent giving Merry Xmas an education on proper behavior. It would come like a well-trained dog when I called.
This day, Merry Xmas was with a band of animals near Willow Hole, but came up readily to eat peanuts and jellybeans from my pockets. Its coat was jet black and glossy, shining in the sunshine like some expensive fur in an exclusive shop window. It was entirely black except for a creamy white muzzle — truly a beautiful animal. It was in excellent condition, fat and full of spirit, kicking up its heels now and then. It seemed happy to again take up duties as a beast of burden at the ranch. We called our place a “ranch” now, because we had a cabin, a well, and one burro.
It is worth noting that when Cabot paid for a 20-acre mining claim in the foothills northwest of Sky Valley in 1955, he named it after Merry Xmas.
The More Important Things
Cabot dabbled in creative writing, plays and poetry. This text highlights how he viewed relationships…
Most of Cabot Yerxa’s writings comprise his recountings in journals, letters, and newspaper articles about his life and the lives of people he encountered. But a person with his flair for narrative and observation surely needed another creative outlet of expression. And so it was that he dabbled in creative writing: poetry, short story, play. The text below, which comes from a typewritten page headed “Scene one, Act three of four-set play,” speaks volumes about the way Cabot viewed relationships.
The principals in casual clothing are comfortably seated and conversing quietly. They are alone. She is speaking.
During these last two years, you and I have filled in the gaps of the long-ago years so that we might have a better understanding of each other’s viewpoints to better visualize the future, so that we can meet every situation without any surprise. Because if each knows all of the other, then there can be great peace.
We have been acquainted 26 years — very great friends for seven years. And during the last two years, we have been filling in the small details of past history not already known to each other.
So at various times, we have discussed my early life; but it will not take long to go over the more important facts so as to bring all of them freshly to mind and so that each of us can view with all fairness the situation as it exists today and the consideration of which involves our future. Because all the futures are built up out of the pasts, and what we humans try to do is to make intelligent use of the past and learn from that the plans to make to improve the future.
We who live life seriously try to make the present — today, this day, these moments — honest and true, so that when this day joins the others behind us and becomes the past, then the future which will in time become a new present will bring a reward for right thinking and right acting.
This is rather a digression from the subject in mind in one way. Yet in another it is entirely in order, because it gives you my mental process by which I try to weigh and decide all things of importance every day — and particularly in this case, because the problem today is not one of figures or business or any tangible thing. What we talk about today involves the subtle, the unmeasurable, the more important things which we in our poverty of language can only give a nebulous heading and call it, perhaps, by the vague name of heart interest.
The association between one man and one woman, in its highest and truest sense, which we again call by a name inadequate of conveying ideas, is called love. And so this word — at this time, and in this situation and during this discussion — refers to the very highest and sweetest and truest quality of the word and not as the average person throws the word around in ordinary use and conversation.
No man or woman having lived 50 or 60 years has done so without having made friends, enemies, and mistakes in judgment or experienced unhappiness or occasionally found memories worthwhile to cherish. The longer we live, the more of life we see, the more people we have known. I think that we reach a state of mind wherein we appreciate more fully those people who have been true and who have been guided by idealism. Because, after all, it is only the ideal, the spiritual values that are worthy of thought and retaining. The gross, the vulgar, the sensual, the materialistic fade and have no value, and they but put a smear in our memory. And so, for true happiness and for progress in this life which will influence the next, we should strive to weigh decisions from a high-grade viewpoint.
If we absorb the wisdom that Cabot Yerxa epitomizes in his appreciation for the human spirit and the value of truth in ourselves and others, then surely we can see that his legacy surpasses that of having discovered and promoted Desert Hot Springs’ hot mineral water, his devotion to honoring Native American culture to the extent that he built by hand an incredible pueblo incorporating used materials, and his desire to inspire an appreciation for the desert environment. As we have entered the holiday season in a year where everything — including annual celebrations — has changed, we should bear in mind that some critical things do not change. Let’s take to heart these words from Cabot’s play: “the future which will in time become a new present will bring a reward for right thinking and right acting.”
Saving the Legacy: Cole Henry Eyraud
The story of how Cabot’s Pueblo Museum survived and became city-owned property…
By the time of his death on March 5, 1965, Cabot Yerxa had hand-built a 35-room pueblo with 150 windows, 65 doors, and 30 rooflines. As noted in last week’s newsletter, Portia Yerxa helped her husband operate the pueblo as a museum offering tours and a trading post. When her health failed and she entered a nursing home, the property faced a precarious future. The vacated pueblo was vandalized and subject to potential demolition under direction from the City of Desert Hot Springs. How Cabot’s Pueblo Museum survived and became city-owned property is a long story. Here we present a synopsized version.
In the late 1960s, Cole Eyraud was managing a division of a company in Glendale that produced centrifuges for hospitals and laboratories. He had visited the pueblo and found in Cabot a kindred spirit. So when he learned of the likely demise of the structure on which Cabot had devoted much of his life, he sought investors to purchase, restore, and open it to the public as a museum.
Desert Sentinel newspaper broke the story on December 5, 1968, that the property had been sold to a group of individuals in Burbank and Saugus. Soon newspapers were identifying the new owner as Landmark Conservators, but the deed of trust in March of 1969 vested title in “Colbert H. Eyraud, a married man, as his sole and separate property.” Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo and Museum opened on July 4, 1969.
In 1972, Cole announced plans for an art center at the museum. “It’s just what Yerxa would have wanted,” he told The Daily Enterprise. “His greatest disappointment in life was that, despite his training in Paris, fame as an artist eluded him. But he did the next best thing. He befriended young artists.” When the Pueblo Art Center opened for its second season in 1973, local artists were invited to register to have their work displayed in the gallery with paintings from Germany through a cultural art exchange. The exchange program continued for at least three years.
Cole also remained committed to the status of Cabot’s creation as a historical treasure. In 1974, he received a citation from the Conference of California Historical Societies “in appreciation of service to California History.” What he really wanted, beyond recognition for himself, was what he had sought from the City of Desert Hot Springs in 1969. The city council finally voted to recognize the pueblo museum as its first historical landmark in January of 1977. Then, in 1981, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum hosted a dedication program for County of Riverside Historical Marker No. 054, which was donated by Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association.
Cole’s next major undertaking was the installation of a 43-foot-tall, Indian-head monument, carved on-site by Peter Toth, and now a prominent feature on Miracle Hill.
Not surprisingly, Cole’s civic activity came to light in the historical arena, when he set in motion plans for reorganizing Desert Hot Springs Historical Society. He also participated on boards of directors for multiple Desert Hot Springs entities, including the chamber of commerce, architectural advisory commission, a low-cost housing project, and a project to build an arthritis treatment center. From March of 1976 until April of 1980, he served on the city council. He lost his bid to be the first elected mayor in 1980, but took a seat on the city’s planning commission and then rejoined the council in November of 1982. He served multiple terms, including as vice mayor, until January of 1991.
Sadly, Cole Eyraud did not live to see one of his dreams come true when, in 2012, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places. While walking in a parking lot in October of 1996, he was struck by a car and died. In 1998, his heirs assigned title to the pueblo property to the City of Desert Hot Springs. A commission was formed to reopen the museum, which happened in 2001. A 501(c)(3) foundation was subsequently formed and now operates the museum with the mission “to promote and preserve Cabot Yerxa’s legacy of cultural respect, education, art, community, and the desert habitat.”
To all you dreamers, pioneers, environmentalists, historians, preservationists, educators, the civic-minded, and the hard to pigeonhole and sometimes even understand: The world needs people driven by passion and the desire to leave a legacy for future generations.
A Woman of Spirit: Portia Fearis Graham Yerxa
After his first marriage, Cabot remained on his own for 20+ years before wedding again at 62…
After his first marriage ended in divorce, Cabot remained on his own for some 20-plus years before wedding again at the age of 62. The following profile of his second wife, Portia, comes from Cabot Yerxa’s Family Circle. That book, published by Cabot’s Museum Foundation, contains a more in-depth reconstruction of Portia’s life based on research by the foundation’s history committee and is available through the museum’s Trading Post.
One of Nannie and Bervadus Fearis’ eight children, Portia Fearis was born in Texas in 1884. Census records showed her father’s occupation in 1900 to be “livestock raising” and in 1910 to be “merchant, druggist.” The family lived in Waxahachie, a town Bervadus’ immigrant Irish father helped found.
A diary that Portia kept from 1907 to 1908 indicates she had by then moved to Oklahoma, where she taught piano and voice in the town of Chickasha. She sang at the local opera house and in the Christian Church choir. Professor Burnell led the musical effort in town, and Portia was often linked with him. Cabot’s Pueblo Museum possesses three handwritten compositions by Burnell, including one with these words: “Oh Portia, love thee so tenderly; Love thee, Adore thee, Adore thee, my Guide Star of Life.” But shortly after a visit by her father, Portia returned to her parents’ home in Waxahachie.
By 1908, Portia was receiving letters from another suitor: a bank executive from Galveston named Malcolm Graham. Nineteen years older than her, he was a widow of five years with two children. When Malcolm and Portia wed in 1910, she became stepmother to a boy of 12 and a girl of 9.
Portia’s new life included entrée into Galveston society. Newspaper clippings record her hosting parties at a posh hotel and attending balls, but also noted she was president of a psychology club and delegate to multiple psychological conventions.
Portia was 40 when Malcolm Graham died in 1924 after an illness diagnosed as a nervous breakdown. Within the following year, she launched a career as a traveling teacher (e.g. “personality building through psychology”), lecturer, and personal counselor in the Upper Midwest.
By late 1932, Portia was in Los Angeles and for the next dozen years moved between there and San Francisco. In 1936, she married a man named Paul Randolph, but it seems he only lived some months after they wed.
Portia devoted much of her time to investigating alternative spiritualist movements. In late 1943 or 1944, she left San Francisco with a few friends to start a “metaphysical ranch” in Morongo Valley. But she continued lectures and private consultations, which she presented in Palm Springs. On some Thursdays, she gave free lectures to recovering servicemen at the World War II military hospital on Palm Canyon Drive. Cabot worked at the hospital as an “engineer,” so this may be where they met. Then again, he was a theosophist and may have first seen her at one of her public lectures.
Cabot and Portia married on August 8, 1945. For a few years after moving into his Desert Hot Springs pueblo, she taught classes in a room he built for her on the top floor and at club meetings in town. She also participated in operation of the pueblo museum, giving tours and minding the trading post.
When Cabot died in 1965, Portia left the pueblo abruptly and at some point transferred to a nursing home in Orange, California, where she died on April 1, 1969.
A Woman of Character: Mamie Katherine Yerxa
Records list her father’s occupation as a ‘saloon keeper’ who plead not-guilty for selling alcohol on Sunday…
Our knowledge of local history is blessed by the fact that Cabot Yerxa was an astute observer and prolific writer. Much can be gleaned from his personal journals, letters, and newspaper articles. To develop an even deeper understanding of his life and legacy, Cabot’s Museum Foundation History Committee delved into and organized the pueblo museum’s trove of archives. Additional investigation has included newspaper repositories, census and other official records, and communications with Yerxa descendants. In 2014, the foundation published Cabot Yerxa’s Family Circle. This week, we’re sharing information from that book about Cabot’s first wife.
Mamie Katherine Carstensen was born in Minnesota in 1885 to German immigrant parents: Emma Jurgensen Carstensen and Christian Carstensen. She was the middle child, with two older siblings and two younger ones. Census records from 1895 list her father’s occupation as “saloon keeper.” In 1886, a St. Paul newspaper reported his not-guilty plea for selling alcohol on a Sunday.
By 1900, the Carstensens had moved to Puget Sound in Washington. By 1901, they were established in Seattle. Christian Carstensen worked as an electrician for Sunset Telephone and Telegraph, and Mamie got a job as a telephone operator.
Mamie moved on in 1903 to a career as a stenographer. But on April 2, 1905, the magazine section of The Seattle Sunday Times published a witty piece by her titled “The Confessions of a Telephone Girl.” Here’s an edited excerpt from that cover article:
One time a woman was on my line using a downtown phone and she dropped a nickel in the slot before I got the party. I could not raise the party she wanted. She wanted that nickel back. I did not have it, had not seen it, and would not know it if I did see it; but that made no difference to the woman. She wanted that coin, and as I was the only person connected with the company she could get in touch with, I had to stand for a blessing called down upon the heads of the president, the stockholders, the manager, the chief operator, and the “hello girls” that rattled and reverberated over the wires in an unbroken stream. When she finally paused for breath, I told her if she would send in her name and address, her nickel would be returned to her the next morning. I don’t know if she ever got her nickel. Perhaps she will read this and let me know, as I would hate to think that a woman who loves money as she does did not get hers back.
Two months after that article, The Seattle Times announced the grand opening of a “semi-wholesale” store by Cabot’s father and his sons. The store was located a few blocks from the Cartstensen residence. At the end of August, F.R. Yerxa and Sons advertised for a stenographer/bookkeeper. It is not known whether Mamie responded to the ad or whether her connection to Cabot related to the coincidence that the Yerxa’s first store was in Minneapolis, not far from the Carstensen’s home in 1886. In any event, in 1907, Mamie advertised herself in TheSeattle Times as a “public stenographer.”
Cabot and Mamie wed in San Francisco on February 3, 1908. The marriage certificate lists her residence as Seattle and his as Sierra Madre, California, where he had purchased a grocery store in April 1907 and where the newlyweds settled and the Yerxa family owned a citrus ranch. The Yerxas later sold that ranch and bought another one in Riverside.
In January of 1913, a deep freeze destroyed their family orchard in Riverside. In October of that year, Cabot arrived in the desert north of Palm Springs and staked out a homestead. Mamie joined him the following fall, 10 days after the birth of their son, Rodney.
After gaining title to the property in 1917, Cabot moved with his wife and son to Seattle, where they could live with Mamie’s parents. He took a job as a machinist’s helper in a shipyard. In 1918, he enlisted in the Army Tank Corps. After World War I ended and he was discharged in 1919, Cabot purchased a grocery store in Fertilla, California. Mamie and Rodney appear on the Seattle and Fertilla pages of the 1920 U.S. census (the former dated January and the latter dated February). Mamie did not remain in Fertilla with her husband, however. Records show that, in 1924, Rodney transferred from public schools in Los Gatos, California (where Mamie’s sister lived) to Seattle.
The museum foundation’s history committee found no record of Mamie and Cabot’s divorce, but she ceded property to him in June of 1921, which indicates a legal separation. In 1936, she remarried and went by the name of Beverly Grimes, continuing to work as a stenographer. At the time of her death in 1945, she and her second husband, George Grimes, owned Rainier Florists in Seattle.
After graduating from high school in 1931, Rodney moved to Oakland, California, where he worked for the telephone company. Then, after a World Ward II tour of duty in the Army, he reconnected with his father in the desert. Rodney and his wife, Marguerite, spent six months of 1946 living at the pueblo while he helped with its construction. They both died in 1985, leaving one child: daughter Laurie, born in 1951.
Looking back to Cabot’s lifetime provides fascinating insight into a world that seems, in so many ways, removed from the 21st century. Yet history provides a window into how our lives have been shaped by people who came before us and, one hopes, informs the way we think about our environment and our culture.
Ways and Means
In Desert Hot Springs’ homesteading days, cabins encompassed around 120 square feet. Cabot Yerxa describes the early 1900 dwellings…
With all the time we’ve had to spend in our homes for some eight months now, our abodes can seem small to us, even with thousands of square feet under a roof. In Desert Hot Springs’ homesteading days, cabins encompassed something like 120 square feet. Cabot Yerxa described the early 1900 dwellings in his 1962 presentation to the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association.
Now the typical homestead cabin is 10 by 12. We had a stove on one side, and we went out into the desert and picked up wood to cook with and keep warm. We had a box on the outside of the wall with a little trap door. You open that and then you reach through the wall and get your wood out of this little box. That saved carrying the wood into the house and all of the mess and dirt.
I was here for 10 or 20 years before I ever had a piece of ice. Yet we could keep meat and butter and anything we wanted to in a very satisfactory way. We took a dish about 10 or 12 inches in diameter and about two inches deep and filled it full of water. Then we took a Mason jar or something like that and put it top down in the water. Then we took a wet rag and put it in the water, in the dish, over the jar, and into the water on the other side. We put that in the breeze, and the evaporation of water through that cloth was so fast in the desert that it would keep a piece of butter as hard as you could in your icebox.
Then if you got some piece of meat, you’d take a mesh bag — something like they put onions in — and you put the meat in the bag and hang it in a breeze. That meat would keep two and three weeks, believe it or not.
Beyond the need for providing heat and cold for food preparation and preservation, homesteaders had to be resourceful when it came to other household and personal needs. Cabot offered the following examples.
I wanted a dustpan. Sears Roebuck had a good dustpan for 35 cents, but I didn’t have 35 cents. So I said, “I’m going to make myself a dustpan.” I walked 11 miles to the T Cross K Ranch, where there was a cowboy with a pair of tin snips. I borrowed the tin snips and walked 11 miles to get home. I found an old tin can down at the railroad and cut off a piece to make the front of a dustpan. Then I walked 11 miles to return the snips and 11 miles home. I walked 44 miles because I didn’t have 35 cents. For years, I lived on $5 a month.
I told that story to a school class that came to my place one day, and the teacher said, “That’s a cute little story, but you destroyed more shoe leather in walking 44 miles than 35 cents would buy. You just wasted money.” “Well,” I said, “I took tin cans and pounded them flat for shoe soles. So to walk 44 miles, all I had to do was find two more tin cans.”
Now, you get down to clothing. We could buy a straw hat for 25 cents. You could get bib overalls for $2. I wore one hat and one pair of overalls with patches on them for four years.
We desert people couldn’t spend money, so we had picnics. And what did we do on a picnic? We would walk from here to Thousand Palms, 10 or 12 miles one day or something like that and camp out. Or we’d have a picnic at home with six or seven people. We’d get one can of fish for 10 or 12 cents, and it was either salmon or sardines or herrings or something like that. Then we’d put in some potatoes, some rice, and some onions. We were very happy, because that was a big change from rabbits. I don’t like rabbits. I’ve eaten so many rabbits that it just nauseates me to see a rabbit. And I don’t even like chicken now because they look like rabbits to me.
By the standards of the desert’s early settlers, today’s typical homeowner lives a life of comfort and ease. Yet we have red-tape, business/commercial, and technological hassles they didn’t have. We have exponentially larger expenses that cannot be avoided and may put a stress on our means. For months, we have endured a major risk to our health — and all that risk entails. What we hopefully have learned about ourselves is something Cabot and his fellow homesteaders learned about themselves: We find ways to cope, because the human spirit rises to a challenge.
Waokiye, meaning “Traditional Helper” was a gift to honor of our Native American past.
Waokiye, meaning “Traditional Helper” in the language of the Lakota Sioux, was built in 1978, by Hungarian-born sculptor Peter “Wolf” Toth. Toth, who escaped the Soviet invasion of Hungary with family, noted similarities between the plight of the Magyar people and the struggle of Native Americans.
As a gift to his adopted country, Toth carved a giant log into a sculpted head in every single state in honor of our Native American past. Collectively these are known as the Trail of the Whispering Giants, and Waokiye was the 27th in the series. Sadly, it is the only giant left in California, the state where Peter Toth received the inspiration for his life’s work. He did not accept money for his work and lived on donations, sales of small carvings, and sales of his self-published book, Indian Giver. “If I charged money,” he said, “then it wouldn’t be much of a gift”.
Herb Miller, a winter resident, met Toth in Wisconsin, where he was carving his 25th head and proposed that his next project be erected in Desert Hot Springs, CA. Cole Eyraud, who was the Vice-Mayor as well as the Curator of Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, saw the similarities between Toth’s tribute to Native Americans and Cabot Yerxa’s and volunteered the museum to be the site for the sculpture.
A 45-ton redwood log was donated through the efforts of the Riverside County Fire Department and the California State Department of Forestry. The 750 year–old tree, which was almost 200 feet tall, was originally from the Sequoia National Forest near Porterville, CA. It had been struck by lightning in the mid-1940s.
The overall height of Waokiye, which includes the base, face, and feather, is 43 feet. The face is 22 feet high by eight feet in diameter and weighs 20 tons. The feather, carved from an Incense Cedar from Idyllwild, CA, is 15 feet tall, four feet wide, and one-and-a-half feet thick. Peter Toth used power tools for the rough finish and set to work with a #5 chisel and a hammer. All of the work was done on site.
The project was sponsored by Landmark Conservators (Cole Eyraud’s management company for Cabot’s Pueblo Museum), the Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, and the California State Department of Forestry.
On May 20, 1978, Waokiye was ready to meet the public. Dennis Banks, educator and founder of the American Indian movement, was the guest speaker, and about 250 people enjoyed the event. This project could never have been achieved without donations, and community support – Peter Toth’s time and talent, the land, the tree, transportation – every step of the project required an act of generosity.
L.W. Coffee finds his way to Bill Anderson’s homestead by following a map that Cabot gave him showing the landmark of Two Bunch Palms…
Our recent newsletter about Los Angeles-based developer L.W. Coffee mentioned his finding his way to Bill Anderson’s homestead by following a map that Cabot Yerxa gave him showing the landmark of Two Bunch Palms. In a 1962 speech to the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association, Cabot talked about how that spot had guided him and others to their homesteads.
When I came here in 1913, I’d been to the land office in Los Angeles and looked at the maps. I found out that in 1856, there was a surveyor who chiseled on six rocks around Two Bunch Palms. And so it was my duty and my necessity to find at least one of those rocks. If you look at all the thousands of rocks that were here, with no road and nothing there to tell where to go, then to find a rock that had been put there [a half-century earlier], you have quite an order. Well after three or four days, I found one of those rocks with a little mark on it. From that one rock I made my homestead entry for 160 acres of land, and that’s the way I oriented myself.
Around the same time, Bob Carr joined Cabot as a homesteader and told two colleagues of his in Los Angeles about the desert.
Walter Woods and Ford Beebe came out one day in June. It wasn’t really hot, but it was pretty hot to somebody from the city. They walked across from Garnet [the railroad station] to my place. They were out of breath and very tired. They said, “We’ve come out to take up a homestead. Can you help us get a piece of ground?” I said, “Well, sure. I can get you each 160 acres just by putting down four stakes.” So, I get them out on the side of the little cabin. And I said, “You go off over there and you put down a stake. You’ll find a rock with such and such a mark on it right there where I’ve got a wagon track. And you walk to this rock, and then you walk north so many feet, and you walk west so many feet and so on.” And I told them just how to put out those stakes. Each of them had a gallon jug of water and a canteen. In about three hours, they came back. And I said, “Did you find the place and make the stakes out for your entry?” “No, we came back for more water.” So I had to go back with them the next day and told them where to put in their stakes.
Cabot also used the pair of palm bunches to describe his location to the Native Americans, who preceded the homesteaders as occupants of the desert. Cabot recalled meeting Indians from Palm Springs at Willow Hole.
They talked Spanish, and I talked Spanish enough to understand. They said, “Where are you over there on the desert?” I made a little map and showed where Two Bunch Palms was and where my piece of ground was in relation to Two Bunch Palms; and they said, “What do you do for water?” “Well,” I said, “I get my good water down at the railroad, and I get a little bit of muddy water at the palm trees.” And one Indian spoke up. He was an old man with gray hair. He said, “You don’t have to do that. You do this.” He brushed over a piece of clean sand and took a little stick and marked it all out and told me in Spanish, “You go dig at this point right here where I’m showing you. There is an old Indian well there, at least 100 years old. You can open that Indian well and get the water. It isn’t very good water, but it’s all right for burros and to wash with and so on.”
In three or four days by digging, I uncovered the beginning of this Indian well. Now you go back when the Indians lived here. They did not have picks, shovels, ropes, pulleys and wheels. How did they make a well? They would start into a bank that looked promising and would dig a hole with the path going down. And if they were encouraged, they kept on going down, down, down until they got into water. And that was what happened by Two Bunch Palms on my side of the road, on the north side of the mountain. I uncovered that Indian well, but it was 20 feet off of my line. I shed tears on that 20 feet enough to fill a bucket full of water.
I couldn’t move the well, so the next best thing I could do was to dig a well on my side of the line and try and approximate what the Indians had done. I made a circle in the sand on my side of this Indian well. I made it 22 feet in diameter, and I shoveled dirt until I had a pile 3 feet high. Then I went inside of that and shoveled another circle and shoveled that second circle up to the first circle. I made four circles, each 3 feet deep. It took me all winter to do that. And then I got into clay and I went down 8 feet in the clay and got a well. Then I started the next well, and that was the hot [water] one.
Think about what you use for landmarks to give people directions. It’s probably a building — maybe a fast-food chain, which are commonly placed on corners — or a gas station or a prominent sign. Then again, with today’s system of GPS navigation, you may not be giving people directions at all. But in Cabot’s homesteading days, there were no addresses and, even if there were, no satellites for locating them. Then think about how Cabot was able to find a marked rock and an old Indian well. People who lived in the desert before us came to know the land more intimately than we do. The next time you go for a walk or ride, pay attention to natural features. You may notice something you would otherwise miss.
Money in Trust
Two gentlemen trusted enough in the future of Desert Hot Springs to invest time and money in developing its raw land as early as the 1930s…
As noted in recent newsletters, two gentlemen from Southern California cities trusted enough in the future of Desert Hot Springs to invest time and money in developing its raw land as early as the 1930s. One was developer L.W. Coffee, who came from Los Angeles and opened a bathhouse/resort. The other was Aubrey Wardman, a successful businessman in Whittier whom Coffee convinced to advance money for the subdivision of 160 acres into a residential community. We could not revisit Desert Hot Springs’ history without honoring Aubrey Wardman, as we did L.W. Coffee. Of note, in aiding our understanding of the man who became a believer without moving here, is a letter he wrote to Cabot in 1944.
I have just finished reading the article in the Desert Sentinel, which was copied from the feature section of the New York Journal-American, and I must say that it made me feel how nice it would be to chuck all of my everyday business worries and go up to the desert and live in the sensible way which you brought out so very forcefully in your article.
Then I got to wondering about the statement you made to me some time ago that you would be happy when you could use the designation Desert Hot Springs instead of Garnet. And then I got to wondering what you might say about such a change in your desert.
I will admit it is hard for me to analyze just what your feelings might be when, for instance, you are now seeing fifty-foot lots selling for $2,500, which Mr. Coffee has already refused across from the Dodds’ place, which formerly could be bought for perhaps $50 per acre.
What about the roads to be oiled shortly, thus creating paved roads from the heart of Los Angeles? What about the modern bath with an attendant and the plunge compared to the way the desert rat took care of his bath a few years ago? What about the automobile and headlights at night which no doubt can be dimly seen from your place? What thoughts do you have when you think of the encroachment, so to speak, of your front yard by a thickly built city, with the possible thought that you may have to take your rattlesnakes, etc., farther back for peace and comfort, while on the other hand you see the joy of these people in getting away from the congested city and smoke and noise. You see people in ill health recovering from the use of the clear desert air and medical water.
You are probably happy with your former desert neighbors who are now reaping considerable profit from the incoming population, and still you probably feel that they are losing something in the nature of peace and quiet such as you mentioned in your article. At this point, my mind runs into a blank wall and will leave the matter in your hands and see what comes of it.
I was very happy in having the opportunity to advise with Mr. Dick Morris of Whittier, an old-time friend of mine, in reference to the purchase of Two Bunch Palms by your good self and can frankly say that I could honestly recommend Mr. Morris to purchase the painting. And I might say further that his family and his wife are very happy with it, and I have already had the pleasure of seeing it hung in the front room of his home in Whittier.
In 1957, Cabot heralded Desert Hot Springs’ spring wild flower show and noted that, in conjunction with what he anticipated would be an annual event, April 6 would be known as Aubrey Wardman Day.
The desert will witness a big parade going up Palm Drive, to the Veterans Hall on 8th Street, to officially open the Wild Flower Show. This will be the largest parade ever seen in Desert Hot Springs. Several bands are expected, a large drill team, very many floats, mounted posses, camels, mounted horseback riders, marching soldiers, and village Boy Scouts, Brownies, and Cub Scouts. At noon, there will be a luncheon at Addington’s to honor Aubrey Wardman. This will be attended by all the “old-timers.” The early residents of this village wish to show their love, friendship, and appreciation for Aubrey Wardman, because over the years he has done so very many public-spirited things to advance the prosperity of DHS, to safeguard its future, and to make this a happy place to live.
The name of Aubrey Wardman will always be remembered in Desert Hot Springs with sincere friendship, admiration, and respect because it is largely by his vision and active interest that this village has become possible.
It is important to believe in and invest in oneself. But we also need to cast our energies afield and show our belief in other people, places, organizations, and causes. There’s no guarantee we’ll get a day named for us, like Aubrey Wardman did. However, our investment of time and/or money may hold greater value for the recipient than we realize.
United States of Mind
Harry Chester, Cabot Yerxa, Viola Dinsmore, and James Compton at the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association building…
We’ve reviewed the development of Desert Hot Springs in recent newsletters. This week, we zero in on a key component that advanced the viability of a livable town that became a city: Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association. Cabot Yerxa was among the area’s most ardent promoters, so it logically follows that he became one of the organization’s founders. According to Cabot, some 17 people (“practically everyone in town then”) met in January of 1943 at the home of Blue Heaven Rancho owner Viola Dinsmore. “Someone brought a cake, which was auctioned. The cake money was put into a box to be used as petty cash by the group to improve living conditions in any way possible,” he once recounted. The group elected Cabot as its president, a position he held for the next three years.
Within a year and a half of forming, the group purchased a lot on Pierson Boulevard and began building a meeting place for itself, for Red Cross activities, and for use as a church. In August 1944, when the building was nearing completion, Cabot wrote in the Desert Sentinel newspaper about the association.
The building was only possible because of the generous and wholehearted effort of everyone in the village, each contributing from his means or ability. Some at a distance sent checks and encouragement in the mails.
Money was raised through bake sales and raffles, a flower show, and fiestas. People donated materials, fixtures, and furniture.
The construction work itself was done by volunteer labor.
This is a more generous contribution than it sounds. Because every man who has worked on this building has left his own work undone at home. Or he has worked his full day elsewhere and come here to work on the building until too dark to see. Or with fellow villagers they have gathered to work on Sunday instead of taking much-needed rest. The village is very fortunate in having so many men well versed in the mechanical trade who have constructed so splendid a building. The whole project is tangible evidence of the pioneer spirit prevailing in Desert Hot Springs and the friendly, cooperative feeling among the people who have chosen this place as home in its highest sense.
At the time of his article, the association had 155 members (paying dues of $2 per year) and approximately $400 cash on hand. Its main focus was on improved roadways, but it also tackled efforts such as the planting of trees and the numbering of houses.
Banded together as we are, the association can do things that would be impossible as individuals. Meeting together in these friendly ways will serve to make strangers acquainted and foster a good community spirit.
In 1958, Cabot recounted other efforts made by the association, including spearheading construction of a fire station, acquisition of a post office, numbering of houses and naming of streets, road paving, installation of stop signs and streetlights, and establishment of a city dump. But, even in 1944, he sounded the horn for limitless possibilities when people band together.
And even for the “West Wind,” we are gradually gathering a committee who may be able to do something about it. This committee is also open for volunteers.
Though gatherings such as those that occurred in Cabot’s time (indeed in our own time until this past spring) are not possible under the cloud of a pandemic, we are reminded that it remains true that people united in purpose — in a friendly and cooperative spirit — can achieve many things that one person alone cannot.
The above photo from December of 1955 shows Harry Chester, Cabot Yerxa, Viola Dinsmore, and James Compton at the Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association building.
Coffee and Hot Water
Coffee interested successful businessman Aubrey Wardman to advance money for advancement of Desert Hot Springs…
Last week’s newsletter excerpted a 1958 newspaper article that Cabot Yerxa wrote about Desert Hot Springs’ early development. He continued by quoting an article from developer L.W. Coffee published in 1947. Though we were unable to uncover the original piece, we found other sources that reinforce what Cabot presents. And so, here is another side of the story (also excerpted/edited) as related by the man who subdivided lots and opened a bathhouse in Desert Hot Springs in 1941.
One day in November 1932, I stopped to call on Cabot Yerxa at his general merchandise store in Moorpark. He described the location (of hot springs on his homestead) and told me all the difficulties he had in digging a well by hand — stating that when he struck water at some 30 feet, he was unable to work in the well with rubber boots on account of the heat. He would take five-gallon cans of water and let it cool overnight, then lower the cans into the well and stand in the cold water, while deepening the well each day. The well water was 132 degrees.
He persuaded me to make a trip to his homestead to determine what could be done with the property and presented me with a letter of introduction to Bill Anderson, a neighboring homesteader.
The map Mr. Yerxa furnished me showed the homestead 6 1/2 miles from where I was to leave the highway in a northeasterly direction. With no definite road, I had to choose a faint track leading in that direction. Mrs. Coffee was with me, and we finally arrived at a deserted schoolhouse, from which we could see the green tops of palms. I knew that was Two Bunch Palms marked on the map that Mr. Yerxa had given me. We could also see a small white speck up the hill from the palms that I decided was the Anderson Home.
We found Mr. Anderson very hospitable and glad to receive us as friends of Cabot Yerxa. But he informed me that he had nothing to eat but hot cakes and coffee. The only water he had was about one-half a gallon in a bag hanging on the wall. He said that he brought the water from the railroad station at Garnet, because his small plunger pump was broken.
After dinner, he proceeded to tell us of all the hardships he had gone through while improving his homestead. There were no returns from the land, and he had to go a long distances to get odd jobs to earn money. He went into great detail pertaining to the possibilities of the desert, particularly if hot water could be developed in the vicinity, such as Cabot Yerxa had discovered on his homestead. He said the drawback was lack of population and that he and Mike Driscoll were the only two living in the vicinity at the time.
I made arrangements with Bill to stay at his home, and he agreed to cook for me. He was an expert at making hot cakes. Then I left for Los Angeles. After a few days in the city, I returned to the Anderson homestead with a good month’s supplies and repairs for the pump. After pumping constantly, practically all day, I gauged the temperature and found it to be 104.
By that time I had made up my mind that I was going to contact the homesteaders and owners of property in the vicinity. I set out to develop a health community.
After three or four months of hard work interviewing and explaining my ideas to property owners and homesteaders, I organized a trust. Pioneer T & T Co. was trustee, with the owners as beneficiaries.
My next move was to lay out the property and plan a campaign to establish the outside boundary. In running the west boundary of this township, we found the survey had never been completed. When the survey party gave up the job, they made a notation on the official records: “Too hot. Gone to the mountains!”
The project was moving along when Dr. Frank Chandler, with his attorney, drove up to the adobe and told me that he had bought Bill Anderson’s interest in the trust and was going to break the trust and run me out of the country.
I said, “Well go right ahead,” feeling sure of my trust company. But it was not long before I was served with a notice of termination of the trust. From then on until 1938, the trust property was in litigation. The trust was finally dissolved and the property returned to the original owners. All activity ceased, and the area was as much a barren desert as it was in 1932 when I made my first trip there.
According to Cabot, Coffee then interested successful businessman Aubrey Wardman of Whittier to advance money to subdivide the 160 acres of the Ford Beebe homestead at Pierson and Palm streets. “Over the years, Mr. Wardman has poured money into the advancement of Desert Hot Springs, making it possible for individuals to buy a city lot and establish a home here in the desert,” Cabot wrote. “In due time have come city-paved streets, stores, a public library, electric power, phones, churches, schools, picture theater, lumber yard, garages, gas stations, cafes, bars, a post office and all things necessary to make this a complete modern town.” Cabot concluded that, “Desert Hot Springs has an assured future, and we who are here today are pioneers in reality.”
Note that, although he arrived in the desert in 1913, Cabot Yerxa in 1958 was calling local residents “pioneers.” Yes, those were still early days for the city, which did not incorporate until 1963. But it brings to mind the concept that every generation can serve as pioneers. There always remains the possibility of a bright future as long as people strive for improving everyone’s way of life. Think about what you might do to that end. And then put on your pioneer’s hat and step out into the sun. Until we find utopia, your efforts are always needed and welcome.
From Desert to Desert Hot Spring
“In our desert were only a handful of men…Strangers laughed when we said the desert had a future…”
For some six and half years (1951-1957), Desert Sentinel published a weekly column by Cabot Yerxa, titled “On the Desert Since 1913.” In 1958, the newspaper gave him space to present in one fell swoop his personal account of Desert Hot Springs’ history. Below is a considerably edited offering for those who missed the original article that approached 4,500 words.
About 1910, Dutch Frank and Old Man Coolidge came here. Dutch Frank prospected, accompanied by Coolidge, who got tired of walking so much and located a 160-acre homestead on the flat in front of Two Bunch Palms.
Probably in 1912, Jack Riley, Orr Sang, the McCarger family, and Hilda Gray took up claims. In 1913, Bob Carr and I picked our locations north of Two Bunch. Gradually came in many other people. But there was no rush, and no land was sold. I knew of one very desirable 160 acres offered for $900, but none of us had a dime. Strangers laughed when we said the desert had a future. So there things rested for years.
Somewhere in the 1917 period, there was an automobile race from Los Angeles to Phoenix through Banning, over this desert, out to Blythe and so on into Arizona. The roads varied in many places from awful to impossible. The race occupied two or three days, and some cars never finished. The newspapers gave much notice to this race and made complaints about road conditions to state authorities, who sent out surveyors and mapmakers.
In our desert were only a handful of men at the time. We heard of the project and each contributed nickels and dimes. We sent a telegram to Sacramento to explain the new road should go through here. After several telegrams that cleared us out of pocket money, we met the engineer for the state at Whitewater. He had a Model T Ford. There was no bridge of any kind, but we finally got it across the river.
By shoveling sand, cutting down greasewoods, moving boulders, persuading the mules to pull, and with much pushing and shoving, we were successful in getting the auto and engineer to the point on the desert called Thousand Palms. At this place was a party of men from Indio, who took the engineer to their town, which was just a spot in the road then. And so from this effort, the state adopted our route through the desert. On March 20, 1949, the official count of cars going both ways was 65,000.
Water was of course the first problem of every resident. Some carried it in canteens. Jack Riley used a wheelbarrow; others used buckets. Scott Farris swung a five-gallon can on each end of a pole over his shoulders. Very gradually, wells were dug here and there, so the distance to carry water was lessened. In 1923, Ford Beebe developed a well at the corner of Palm and Pierson, to which a few people in the vicinity came on Sunday for water and to hear news. Perhaps someone had a newspaper or had seen a stranger at the railroad station. Bits of conversation were repeated and evaluated.
In 1925, Walter Woods put in a well on 1st Street. It had a small pump, so we all went there on Sunday, because at the Beebe well, water was pulled up by a bucket on a rope. Walter had us plant two acres of fig trees near the well. They started all right but burned up with the heat one summer. The few pepper trees planted at the same time survived in healthy condition.
The same year of the fig trees, Bill Anderson, who homesteaded the land across the street from Coffee’s Bath House, and I got all enthused about progress. We started out on the section line from the corner of Pierson and Palm and broke out a road straight west on now Pierson Boulevard to Indian Avenue 3 1/2 miles. We turned the corner there and headed for the railroad with our new road. Mike Driscoll, Jack and Bill Riley, and others helped on this, going to the railroad.
The year of 1924 witnessed Charlie Bender and Lucien Hubbard drilling a well down 800 feet on their land.
Approximately 1937, Tom Lipps came over from Palm Springs. He acquired possession of Two Bunch Palms and started improvements. That same year, more or less, L.W. Coffee, who had signed up a large block of land into a trust, helped develop the Aubrey Wardman holdings into the first subdivision advertised as cabin sites. Lots started at $95.
Seeing Tom Lipps come over to this side of the desert and knowing that Mr. Wardman was behind Coffee’s venture, it appeared that I ought to branch out. So I gathered some secondhand boards and constructed an art gallery, trading post, and museum on the east end of Miracle Hill. By 1941, the village had grown so much that it became wise to move my place of operation nearer. So, in that year, the Old Indian Pueblo was started to house the museum and related projects. I have been building along, as I have had free days for 17 years since that time and will work five more.
The year of 1944 was important because on September 5, the first sack of mail was delivered to the first post office called “Desert Hot Springs.” Every resident in the area wrote to everyone they knew to tell the world that Desert Hot Springs was at last a place in the desert with a post office. Four hundred pieces of mail were sent out the first day.
The above photograph shows Cabot Yerxa and Bob Carr, when traveling by foot was the way people typically got around.
Rules to Abide By
This photo shows Cabot Yerxa at the main gate of Fort Benning, Georgia. The words under the Tank Corps’ mascot reads, “Treat ’em rough”…
In last week’s newsletter, we featured a 1911 letter that Cabot Yerxa wrote to a former president — Theodore Roosevelt — after hearing a speech Roosevelt gave at a college. Years later, in 1918 and 1919, Cabot served in the Army, where he came in contact with a future president: Dwight Eisenhower. Cabot was a mess sergeant in the tank corps under the command of Lt. Col. Eisenhower. Below is a portion of a letter he wrote while stationed at Camp Meade in Maryland to his wife and son four months before he was discharged.
March 23, 1919
My dear Mamie and Rodney,
Yesterday I was platoon leader during a sham battle. That means I directed from my own tank the movements of the other small tanks in attacking a supposed enemy. Nothing wonderful, but I got through without reprimand from the officer in charge, which is wonderful because he is a regular wildcat.
One day I was driving in third gear. I changed to second, jumped a ditch OK, and in changing back to third either I or the engine did something wrong and I stalled. Out jumps the officer.
“What in H is the matter with you?” “Changing gears, sir.” “You could make that ditch in third.” “Lieutenant X told me always to take it in second because he stalled on third.” “Well, you ought to know better.”
Then I drove up to the tank shed and he jumped out again.
“Are you the man who stalled in that last ditch?” “Yes sir.” “Don’t you know better than to take a ditch as big as that in third?” “Yes sir. I changed to second for the ditch.”
“Don’t talk back to me. Always take ditches in second gear.”
Do you notice the way he reversed himself?
Here is his line of reprimands etc.
“Button that blouse!” “Put your heels together!” “Is that a tank corps hat cord?” “Where’s your hat?” “When did you shave last?” “Wipe that smile off!” “So you think it’s funny? Well what in H is your name?” “Sergeant, take that man’s name.”
I have had an ulcerated tooth for a week. I go to the dentist every day. He says it will be well next week. My face looks like a balloon, and the pain has been severe. But in the Army, if a man can walk, they figure he must work with the others. This is Sunday and I enjoy being quiet; the tooth does not pain so much that way.
Being so near Washington, I think the mess sergeant will have to spend the money on us he is supposed to, which will let us eat good enough for soldiers. Down in Georgia, I know he did not spend 50 cents a day on us. Fifty cents a day buys plenty of plain, hearty food — good enough for healthy men. So we all talk and wait to be mustered out. That is an endless conversation in any barracks: “Going Home.”
No doubt veterans and active members of all military services can understand the predicament of inconsistent orders and the yearning for home. But everyone could benefit from adhering to a few rules that Cabot seemed to abide by: (1) Rather than let frustration control your emotions, find humor in life’s irony. (2) Seek help for addressing pain you feel, but also find healing comfort in simply being quiet. (3) Remain devoted to relationships that bring you joy — be they with your colleagues, your home, your family, or your friends.
A note about the photograph shown above: This photo shows Cabot Yerxa at the main gate of Fort Benning, Georgia. The words under the Tank Corps’ mascot, a black tomcat, reads, “Treat ’em rough.”
Toward a Common End
Cabot traveled to Los Angeles and witnessed then former President Theodore Roosevelt give a speech to students at Occidental College…
As noted in last week’s newsletter, Cabot Yerxa served as postmaster of Fertilla simultaneously with operating an eponymous store in that town (now merely ruins) from 1919 to 1925. Years earlier (1908-1911), Cabot served as postmaster of Sierra Madre, where his parents owned and operated an orange ranch and store. It was during this time that Cabot traveled to Los Angeles and witnessed then former President Theodore Roosevelt give a speech to students at Occidental College. The following day, March 23, 1911, Cabot wrote the following on letterhead identifying him as postmaster of Sierra Madre.
My dear Mr. Roosevelt,
As one of the common people, I want to say that your ideas, long followed by yourself in public life, and as expressed yesterday at the auditorium in Los Angeles, are the ideas surrounded by the term a “square deal,” as used by western men from here to Alaska.
You, being the very embodiment and personification of these principles, will always be the idol of the western people, because we, more than in any other section of the U.S., appreciate a man.
This letter, no doubt takes its place among thousands, as my cheers did in the crowd. But, from the accumulative evidence of letters and cheers from the thousands of thousands of your friends, you will realize that the American people made up of all classes, believe in you and your policies and none more sincerely or consistently than westerners, because we admire a “Square-Deal Man.”
Respectfully, Cabot A. Yerxa
Below are edited excerpts from the speech that inspired Cabot to write the foregoing letter.
Life is a great adventure, and I want to say to you, accept it in such a spirit. I want to see you face it ready to do the best that lies in you to win out — and, resolute if you do not win out, to go down without complaining, doing the best that is in you, and abiding by the result.
Nothing worth having normally comes unless there is willingness to pay for it; and perhaps the highest good that comes from training of the kind which you get in school or college is not merely training of the body, not merely training of the mind, but the training of what counts for more than body, more than mind: the training of character, especially in the two ways of giving you the proper perspective (so that you may see what are the important and unimportant things), and of giving you the type of soul which will make you willing to strive.
If you have small, shallow souls and shallow hearts, I will not say you will be unhappy. You can obtain the bridge club standards of happiness, and you can go through life without cares and without sorrows and without conscious effort, insofar as your brains will enable you to do so. But you will have richly deserved the contempt of everybody whose respect is worth having. On the other hand, you can make up your mind to lead your lives well and nobly, doing first of all your duty to yourself and to those immediately dependent upon you and then to do the duties that lie beyond them, the duty of joining with your fellows in common work toward a common end.
We stand now well over the threshold of a century big with the fate of mankind. Many great problems confront us all over the civilized world, and nowhere do we face problems graver than those here in America. Ours is not an easy task. The continent is pretty well filled up, and our business is to make the best use of what we have received from our fathers and leave it in better shape to our sons. Do not flatter yourselves that you can stand still or that the nation can stand still. If you think you can stand still, you may be perfectly certain that you are going back. We as a nation will either go forward or backward.
Cabot received a reply dated March 28, 1911, and signed by the ex-president’s secretary, Frank Harper.
My dear Sir:
Mr. Roosevelt desires me to tender to you his thanks for all you say in your letter. He greatly appreciates your kindness in writing to him.
Given the challenges facing our country and the world beyond our geographical borders, it is clear that Theodore Roosevelt’s words are as relevant today as they were more than a century ago. We present them in this newsletter with the hope that you find them inspiring — as Cabot did.
When the war ended and he was honorably discharged, Cabot opened a store in Fertilla, a few miles north of Blythe…
As has been established, Cabot Yerxa came to our desert in 1913. But he did not live on his homestead uninterrupted. In 1918, after he acquired title to the land, he joined the Army. When the war ended and he was honorably discharged, he opened a store in Fertilla, a few miles north of Blythe. He operated his eponymous store from 1919 to 1925, when he journeyed to Europe to study art in Paris. In Fertilla, Cabot experienced the scorching heat of a desert summer, so one cannot think he was there for the weather. The following is an edited version of a letter he wrote in July of 1921 to a relative in Boston.
Dear Cousin Herbert,
No — I have not forgotten you, but I do not always feel like letters, and when I do, sometimes it is too hot. We are now in the midst of summer like all the rest of you, only with this difference: that in our weather, hot days run from 116 to 127, and a cool one is 105. So you can see that 12 or more hours a day and seven days a week in a store with this kind of weather uses up all the energy a man has. When the thermometer is 120, cans pop on the shelf like the 4th of July, bar chocolate runs off the shelf like molasses, candles melt down into a lump, and the sealing wax on olive oil bottles, etc., slips down the neck of the bottle and sticks everything up. Weevils and bugs get into all cereals, rice, cayenne pepper even, and tobacco (plug), and you can well imagine crackers, flour, etc., under those conditions. Candy gets discouraged too and melts into a thick, sticky lump. Yet people must eat, and so the store is open no matter what the weather.
I run the store all day, eat sardines or milk in the store at noon, lock it up at about seven, go home, cook my supper and eat it alone, wash dishes, keep a few books, and then I do not have anything to do till tomorrow. This is every day in the year, Sundays, holidays, EVERY day. I have been here three years doing this, because I have some plans after this that take a little money, and I am saving some here. When I got out of the Army, I did not have even a five-dollar bill. But a man who had faith in my ability to run a store said he would find me $5,000 if I would pick out a store and see it through. So here is where I am and why. Someday I will be traveling ’round again and see you and tell you the story, because it has some interesting features.
Everything went fine until cotton made that awful drop from 50 cents to 10 cents a pound. (This is cotton country.) The store lost a thousand dollars a week during the slump, because stores and banks out here had to or thought they had to help farmers with the crop. Well, I did not quite break, although two out of three banks did, and about 11 stores did out of 15. Anyway, I got through and learned many things and am still doing the best I can. The store is on the upgrade again, and I am breathing easier.
I’ll tell you some things about the store, because it is different from anything you have down east.
First, it is on the edge of the desert. Leaving this store, it is 37 miles to the next man, woman, dog, fence, building, tree, or even one single drop of water. Desert out there: sand, cactus, snakes, and 120 to 130 out there in the shade, and no shade. Men can die out there easy without water.
For customers I have Indians, cowboys, Mexicans, miners, moonshiners, Texans, ranchers and farmers. The post office is here; I am the postmaster and Spanish interpreter.
The stock in the store is mostly drugs, groceries, shoes, hats, clothing, dry goods, notions, hardware, tin ware, toys, dishes, ammunition, and other things.
Many of my customers carry guns, and I have a couple under the counter. Spanish is spoken more in the store than English.
The judge down here is one of the old original Jesse James gang. He was pardoned years ago, then U.S. marshal, and now judge. And he is a good one too.
Then there are two pardners here. They got drunk and each took a six-shooter in one hand and a candle lighted in the other. They moved about 25 feet apart in the hotel and then each held his candle and each shot at the other’s candle, the object being to put out the lights with the fewest number of shots.
Every man that goes by the door, I could tell you some story about, because this is a new country and hard to get along in.
The Colorado River is held back by a levee and sometimes it breaks. It broke this summer, and in three days 35,000 acres went underwater. For some time it looked bad for the store, but fortunately the danger is now past.
Although I work very hard and very long hours, it is not quite as bad as it sounds, because so many different things happen in a day.
When I go to the store in the morning, there will be some Mexicans that want tobacco, then will come a cowboy for a new rope or ammunition, then some Indians perhaps for calico. Then will come a Mexican. He is sick. He tells me where he aches and I give him medicine from my stock; or if I think he is too sick, I send him to the nearest doctor seven or eight miles away. Then will come a Texan, and will I write a letter for him to his people. Then a white woman wants to make a dress. I help her decide how many yards and what to trim it with. Then will come a moonshiner and lean a rifle in the corner. He will buy cornmeal and some other things and sneak back to his hangout. Perhaps then a herd of beef cattle bellows past in the dust, and I stand in the door to keep ’em out and wave my hand to whatever cowboy is driving them.
So the day passes. Cooking one’s own meals when it is 120 is no small joke, and no one that has not experienced heat like that can quite understand the conditions. I have invented some food that lets me live a day at a time, and that is enough. For instance, I take a large can of tomatoes and stir it into three quarts of boiling water, then drink the whole thing, one gallon, with bread or crackers. Once or twice, rather than have a fire in the stove with the room already 120, I have put salt on raw beef and eaten it for supper.
Well, say, I guess you are tired hearing about the desert, because it is a bit unfair to send a man a letter and make it too long.
Always sincerely yours,
The foregoing was written on the reverse side of an advertising letter that read as follows.
AUTO ACCESSORIES — GASOLINE AND OILS
You will probably be interested in knowing that I am well prepared now to give your motor car needs special attention.
As a motorist, you will find my store a great convenience. Because when you stop for mail or groceries, you can, without loss of time, have your gasoline tank filled and get any accessories you need.
My grocery line has always been high class, as you may know, and we shall be just as exacting about motorcar accessories.
We lay special emphasis on the fact that we have taken on the Goodrich line of tires and tubes, a line that you well know and that does not require any more sufficient guarantee than the name Goodrich.
This letter is our only means of meeting you until you call and see us. Come in at your first convenience. We’ll be glad to know you and always have time to talk, whether or not you make a purchase.
Our recent newsletters have profiled some of Cabot Yerxa’s neighbors in the landscape that decades later became Desert Hot Springs. We would be remiss to move on to other topics without paying tribute to a person who lived in Palm Springs but whose friendship and company Cabot regularly enjoyed during his homesteading days: Carl Eytel. With a seemingly infinite capacity for observation and a creative mind, Cabot naturally connected with art and artists. But we know from his writings that he admired Carl (21 years his senior) for more than his visual output. While Cabot pursued sketching and painting, his path in life most closely followed one of business and devotion to creating what is now known as Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. On the other hand, Carl devoted himself entirely to his art. Here’s what Cabot had to say in his “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper column:
Carl Eytel was the first artist to ever live and paint in Palm Springs. One day in 1914, I was hunting my burro Merry Xmas in the vicinity of Seven Palms. Carl Eytel was camped there, making interesting sketches of sand dunes with San Jacinto Mountain in the background. And so we became acquainted.
His camp was by a small pool of water near the base of a large native palm tree. It was a very simple affair: just a faded blanket and piece of dusty canvas showing wear. By the grayed ashes of greasewood roots was the inevitable, well-blackened coffee pot. Carl was German and liked plenty of coffee at every meal. Upright in the sand, handy to the fire, rested a covered tin pail in which to boil cereals. One tip cup, tin plate, camp-style knife, fork, and spoon completed his outfit. Palm fronds cast shade over a canteen leaning against his saddle, which had been thrown carelessly on the ground. A bright-pattern, woolen, Navajo saddle blanket hung to dry in a mesquite tree. There was no gun, as Carl had an aversion to killing any desert creature.
All of this equipment was tied back of the saddle when moving camp, as he never liked to bother with a pack burro. His horse was an old cow pony raised on the desert, bay in color, with stiff knees. But it had been his trusty companion on many miles of rough country travel, and he was very much attached to it.
Carl and I often went sketching together. Sometimes he would come to my cabin near Two Bunch Palms and stay several days. At other times, I would go over to Palm Springs and visit him. His cabin was of redwood shakes and very small, scarcely 6×8 feet, in which was a single cot; small, wooden, unpainted table, homemade; and his painting paraphernalia. Of necessity, I slept out of doors on the ground.
There was no space enough for a stove in the toy-size room. Therefore, cooking was accomplished over an outdoor fire, ringed with a few small, blackened rocks.
One day when I was visiting him, two ladies who were strangers in Palm Springs came to buy a picture. He seated them outside on campstools in front of the cabin. Carl then went into the tiny building and brought small pictures to the open doorway for them to see. One lady purchased a sketch for 12 dollars. He was elated, because finances were low and paint and food items needed, one of which was canned milk. Carl was a very indifferent and haphazard cook. He relied upon canned milk as the mainstay of his every meal. It took no fire, no time to prepare, and was always ready and satisfying.
He had true and deep appreciation for all these colorful western lands. His pen-and-ink sketches and paintings show careful, sincere effort to reproduce the beauty and mystery of the desert.
Carl Eytel, who was born in Germany in 1862, died five days after his 63rd birthday. A 1963 newspaper article recalled the artist through the words of Cabot:
We burro men named him the “aristocrat” because he owned a horse instead of a burro. But Carl used to make long trips into the Arizona desert and New Mexico to paint the Indians and he never could have used a burro whose top speed was two miles per hour.
Carl told me how he ran away from his home in Stuttgart, Germany, when his family insisted he become a baker. Horses and cattle had always fascinated him, so he roamed the plains as a cowboy until he could lay aside enough money to live on while he taught himself to paint.
He was such a frail man and so very poor. About the only money he earned when he first came here was made by selling his sketches to the few tourists we had. Finally, he did get a break when George Wharton James commissioned him to illustrate his book, Wonders of the Colorado Desert.
Cabot further recalled that, when Carl was working on sketches for Wharton’s book, he was mistaken for a noted horse thief and condemned to hang. According to Cabot, the only thing that saved him was that the horse’s owner confirmed that the animal found in Carl’s possesson was not his stolen horse.
The 1963 article concludes thus:
Carl was far from being a timid man, but an experience like that so unnerved him that his hands shook whenever he talked about it.
His work required persistence, patience and gentleness. Carl possessed all of these qualities. The Indians loved him and when he died, they buried him in their tribal cemetery in Palm Springs, the first time they had accorded a white man this honor.
A sketch by Carl Eytel hangs in Cabot’s Pueblo Museum; and Palm Springs Art Museum has a Carl Eytel collection that includes watercolors, drawings, and paintings. More than a hundred years after Cabot and Carl met, how fortunate we are that both men left behind something of themselves to inspire us.
A Host of Visitors
Cabot Yerxa appreciated the value of attracting visitors. After all, he enjoyed showing people what he had created with his pueblo…
As recounted in our recent newsletters, a host of hardy individuals embraced the desert’s simple living in the early 20th century. Clearly, in our tech-enabled world, we would find surviving as they did quite complicated. “Simple” refers to a scarcity of material goods and the concept that a luxury comprised something like watching the sun set behind the San Jacinto mountain range. Although he thrived in a raw environment, Cabot Yerxa appreciated the value of attracting visitors. After all, he enjoyed showing people what he had created with his pueblo and opened a trading post and art gallery in keeping with his family’s mercantile background.
Cabot credits one of his neighbors for Desert Hot Springs gaining attention far and wide. In 1937, when he began operating his trading post and art gallery, Lucien Hubbard had recently opened his B-Bar-H Ranch in Seven Palms Valley to the public. And so it was that visitors from beyond the desert soon became Cabot’s “neighbors.” In his “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper column, Cabot wrote that Lucien Hubbard “was a professional writer of note, war correspondent, and contributor to Reader’s Digest. As a writer and producer of plays in Hollywood, he was known from coast to coast in movie and theatrical circles.”
The accommodations and comforts of this B-Bar-H Guest Ranch became famous, and guests came from every state. From New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Hollywood, and other large population centers came the great and the near great to stay a week, a month, or the season. Bankers, financiers, men prominent to political life, and big businessmen rubbed elbows with movie stars, actors from the legitimate stage, famous writers, and well-know musicians. [Shown in the photo on the left is actor Peter Lorre at the B-Bar-H portal.]
Because Lucien Hubbard was an outdoor man and an expert horseman, the atmosphere of the place was entirely western in character. Overalls or khakis and cowboy shirts of bright colors or wild patterns were worn at all times. Many went in for expensive, high-heeled cowboy riding boots. The ladies also planned all-out for informal western clothing and had many most attractive outfits.
In the dining room often would be groups of happy people dressed like real cowhands, and at the next table might be people just down from the city all decked out in swank evening clothes. But if they stayed long on the ranch, they “went western.”
Charlie Bender [Hubbard’s son-in-law] was the active host and manager of the B-Bar-H Ranch of those days. He, with his wife’s help, organized picnics, campfires, and riding parties for nearly every day. Of course they visited Seven Palms, Willow Hole, and various mountain canyons, along with trips to Two Bunch Palms, that beautiful oasis so close at hand. And often they came to my homestead on the east end of Miracle Hill. These rich, sophisticated people seemed to get a great kick out of visiting my crude trading post. They would buy my desert sketches to take back to cities and browse among the strange things that I then had for sale. There were some women’s high-buttoned shoes, corsets, coyote traps, small arms ammunition, fans from Cuba, jewelry from Europe, women’s hats, groceries, tobacco and smoking materials, cloth yardage, candy, women’s veils, nails, soda pop, cough syrup, horse collars, pins, ribbons, needles, and dynamite, etc.
They came on horseback and tied the animals to three hitch racks of long poles securely fastened to upright railroad ties deeply set into the ground. … Mostly they came in groups, but occasionally a lone rider would come over to talk for a time with me. These talks were quite often about the desert; but in some instances they involved personal problems, and the visitor wanted a complete outsider’s viewpoint. I discovered that people that were rich or on the front pages of newspapers had problems like the rest of us sometimes.
Reading about Cabot’s eclectic inventory reinforces the idea that he was a pioneer in business as well as in homesteading. You might even call him an early Jeff Bezos.
These days, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum still operates a Trading Post, but the 21st century inventory is devoted to arts and crafts, especially of Native American flavor. If you’re
in need of a corset, horse collar, tobacco, or 50 Sticks of Dynamite (an eponymous CD),
you might want to look at Amazon’s website. Don’t forget that even though the museum
is currently closed because of COVID-19, you can still purchase items from the
Cabot Pueblo Museum’s book On the Desert Since 1913 collects Cabot Yerxa’s newspaper columns recounting his homesteading days.
We can learn from Cabot about the personalities and activities of desert pioneers such as Bob Carr (featured in last week’s newsletter). But, this week, we’re looking at what might lead a former cowboy from South Dakota to homestead in the Southern California desert. In January of 1913 (the year both Bob and Cabot arrived in what is now Desert Hot Springs), The Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, published an interview with Robert V. Carr. Below is his story as told in that article.
You must not think that the way of the writer of western verse is strewn with posies. I believe I was about 14 years old when, in addition to an overpowering ambition to be a cowboy, I began to cherish fond hopes of becoming a writer. Possessing a couple of Indian ponies, I drifted from ranch to ranch, from cow outfit to cow outfit. And when I was not annoying the cooks, I was scribbling poetry. Some of those verses I sent to a country editor. He returned them with a note to the effect that they were not worth space. Years later, that editor transgressed the law and was sent to jail. That served as an awful warning to me. When I became a country newspaper editor, I always published the poetry sent in.
Still, in the camp and on the trail in that trampled country north of the Black Hills of South Dakota, I wrote of the things I saw. Sometimes they were printed, but more frequently rejected.
I left the western country for a bitter experience in the Army in the Philippines and returned to the Black Hills a physical wreck, but still writing. I then sought the cities, but managing editors had little space for western poetry, and I drifted on. In that time I came in contact with the down-and-outs, the hungry men, the broken men. I need no books to tell me of despair. In many a dark hole in the city, I longed for the clean prairies and a sniff of sage. But still I scribbled. And in time I returned west.
Years later, when my old cowboy friends had coiled their ropes forever, a magazine editor wrote me, asking for some cowboy lyrics. I was the most surprised mortal in the United States. The editor got his lyrics and I received a check. I hated to cash that check. Naturally, one does not desire to part with something that has cost him 15 years of fighting.
Yes, the way of the poet, like that of the transgressor, is hard. But yet, when I get a friendly letter from one of the boys in the West or some chap whose authorship is confined to chalk marks on water tanks, I do not regret the efforts. I am thankful that I was made to suffer, for it is only by suffering that we learn anything worthwhile.
Robert Carr not only belonged to Seth Bullock’s Cowboy Brigade, but also was its official poet. Bullock (a main character in HBO’s Deadwood) formed a “brigade” of 60 cowboys to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue during President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905. Before that, in 1902, the poet had a published collection titled Black Hills Ballads. The following is one of the poems from that book. We chose to highlight this one because it offers good advice for us all — not just for cowboys in the early 20th century.
Let’s Quit Quarrelin’ Fer Awhile
Let’s quit quarrelin’ fer awhile,
In this ornry kind of stile,
Let’s quit envy, hate an’ all,
Let th’ light o’ heaven fall,
Into hearts that’s dark an’ dim,
Thinkin’ life’s a mournful hymn;
Sing a song brim o’er with joy,
Like we sang as when a boy.
Let us smile an’ let’s be gay,
Let’s quit quarrelin’ fer to-day.
Let’s quit quarrelin’ fer awhile,
Let’s shake hands an’ let us smile;
Let’s not think a single thought,
That we really hadn’t ought.
Let us play th’ friendship card,
Let us have a kind regard
Fer how othur folkses feel;
Let us quit this envy deal.
Let’s jes’ live an’ let’s be gay,
Let’s quit quarrelin’ fer to-day.
Bob Carr: A Fast Friend
Cabot strongest bond was with Bob Carr, a neighbor with whom he envisioned a “spa city” based on their discovery of hot springs…
Our past two newsletters have profiled Dutch Frank and Hilda Gray: individuals who, like Cabot Yerxa, homesteaded in Desert Hot Springs. Cabot held his “neighbors” in high regard. But his strongest bond was with Bob Carr, with whom he envisioned a “spa city” based on their discovery of hot springs. The following comes from stitched-together excerpts of Cabot’s “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper columns.
Bob Carr had been reared in the Black Hills of South Dakota, going to a country school for a meager education out of a few schoolbooks. But his real education had come from contact with life itself and very extensive reading of good literature. His father, a frontier doctor, was called from many miles ’round to attend white pioneer settlers for all their physical ills, both natural and accidental. Sioux Indians, too, were given medical care. And often domestic animals were treated.
Bob started under 10 years of age to accompany his father on medical calls. His first practical job was on a country newspaper. He learned to set type and developed a flair and marked ability to write. Setting type taught him spelling and grammar. The Spanish-American War came up and Bob volunteered, serving throughout in the Philippine islands, seeing much actual fighting. He was top sergeant.
On return, he again entered newspaper work. Going east to Chicago, he spent time with some of the big dailies. He tried St. Paul papers for a while, Kansas City, and other places. However, there was an interval when he was publicity man for big meat packers, contacting cattle ranchers of the West in order to have them ship cattle to certain meat packer plants. Eventually, Bob got out to Los Angeles and did a special column under his own name and general reporting for the Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express.
Besides newspaper articles, stories, and novelettes, Bob wrote two published books of poetry dealing with the Western life of pioneer people and Indians.
Cabot considered Bob’s cabin to be the “most picturesque and attractive” of those on the desert during homesteading days.
The cabin was on a sandy shelf 30 feet above the desert floor, with a clear view to the south and San Jacinto Mountain. On the west was a thick, high bunch of mesquite, which gave ample shade and furnished complete protection from the west wind.
The living room was 10×14 feet. There was a cast-iron stove at the east end and a small sleeping porch at the west end. The only furniture was a plain pine table, with Bob’s typewriter, the only dictionary in the desert, and a few books of synonyms. Three plain wooden chairs and a couple of boxes for extra seats and a pile of mesquite wood for fuel completed the cabin requirements.
Bob and I learned how to witch for water, spending many hours with a witch stick walking over our claims. We started a well on a witched spot 200 feet from Bob’s cabin door, finding good water at 20 feet, and this happily settled his water problem. I too, carried much water from his new well, it being only about a mile walk for me.
Cabot and Bob also cleared circular spaces near the cabin in which a campfire could be safely lit and unaffected by winds.
To these secluded spots we often went for long discussions of outside news which had trickled in to us by mail, sometimes to wonder at the way nature had provided plants, birds, and animals, and other desert things with qualities which made their survival possible in such a land as this. For variation, we talked about books, famous people, historical events, and pages out of history which have changed the course of the world. Sometimes Bob would recount again parts of his past life, which had been very eventful; and on some days, we went over the trials and experiences which had befallen me.
In next week’s newsletter, we’ll share some of Bob Carr’s own writings, including poetry. Meanwhile, why not engage with a friend in a long discussion. Seeing as how it’s August in the desert, you probably won’t want to emulate Cabot and Bob’s practice of chatting by a campfire. But you can talk about the wonders of nature, good books you’ve read, and experiences in your lives. And then you might even envision Cabot and Bob smiling.
In last week’s newsletter, we introduced you to one of Cabot Yerxa’s fellow Desert Hot Springs pioneers: a prospector known as Dutch Frank. Again aggregating and editing sections of Cabot’s “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper columns for this communication, we offer the following profile of an individual who set a shining example not just for her gender, but for all people facing hardships.
Hilda Gray came to this desert to stay on her homestead claim in October 1912 and was the first woman to live in the Desert Hot Springs area. She had a very pleasing smile, and so much intelligence shown in her eyes that she was quite attractive. Even though many of her daily tasks might be described as man’s work, she never wore any article that could be classed as men’s apparel. A hat tied on with ribbon gave protection from the sun. Always she had tightly laced canvas leggings extending to her knees as protection against rattlesnakes.
Hilda Gray was reared on a cattle ranch in West Texas, and her father early taught her to ride cow ponies and to be an expert shot with a revolver and other guns. She grew up being familiar with horses, rattlesnakes, camping, and campfire cooking. She received a very good education, some college years, and also musical instruction. Before she was 20, Hilda was a schoolteacher in a one-room school.
When she came to California, her work was that of stenographer for a prominent lawyer. She was very efficient and liked the work, but chafed under city living conditions. She loved the out-of-doors. So when opportunity offered, she took off four years from her city life and homesteaded 160 acres of land on this desert.
Hilda Gray weighed not over 110 pounds. Yet she lived alone, cleared land with a mattock, gathered wood from the desert, and carried water all during her four-year homesteading period.
Her original cabin was of pine boards with bat strips on the cracks. It was 10 by 12 feet, with a black felt paper-covered roof, which made the interior hotter than Hades, except on cold days. Later, this cabin was made somewhat more livable by the addition of a lean-to. Cooking was accomplished on a wood stove. The wood she had to gather on the desert and carry home in her arms.
In one of his columns, Cabot noted the location of Hilda’s cabin as a mile southwest of Two Bunch Palms, where she collected water.
For the first two years of her stay on the desert, she made daily trips for water and carried home two gallons, which weigh 20 pounds. Sometimes strong winds blew, which added to the effort. Occasionally, sidewinder rattlesnakes lay in the path. After the first two years, she was able to finance a small burro, which then carried 12 gallons of water.
When Miss Gray first arrived in the shadow of palm trees at Two Bunch Palms, she filled a tub with water and bathed alfresco. Her small dog, Trixie [shown in the above photo], would have barked had anyone approached. After bathing, she washed all the clothes from the cabin and hung them on a wire stretched between two trees before proceeding to fill the water cans.
In 1916, a Los Angeles Times reporter interviewed Hilda. This is how she explained to him how she was able to protect herself (and head off trouble):
Did Dutch Frank tell you about our shooting match? It was when I first came to live here. I learned to shoot a pistol and all that sort of thing when I was a teacher in Texas Plains. Ever since I came to live here on the desert, I have carried a revolver with me. One day soon after I met Dutch Frank at the [Garnet] station. We were both waiting for the train. He saw me about to unload the revolver before going into the city and to pass the time suggested that we shoot a bit. I think he wanted to know what I could do in that line. So we shot at a knothole in the ties that were stacked by the track. Well, Dutch Frank is a good rifle shot — very good — and good with a shotgun, too. But he can’t handle the revolver so well. I hit time after time, and he didn’t come near the mark. So the word went around that I was a dead shot, and I didn’t contradict it. Why should I?
Hilda’s wherewithal clearly impressed Cabot. In one column, he related a story about a time she was driving at night and attempted a short-cut road, on which her car “settled down in the sand like a sitting hen on a nest.”
Now, Miss Gray is not a young woman. Neither is she strong or husky. But alone in the darkness, she got that car out, because she knows the desert and has courage. She had a frying pan and tin pie plate. With these two implements, she got down on her knees and shoveled the sand away from in front of the wheels, then pulled small brush, filling the holes and some of the sand ruts ahead of the car to give the wheels traction. Thus she was able to move her auto to safer ground. Then she went back and repaired the roadway so that no one else would get bogged down in the same place.
Hilda, incidentally, was a naturalized citizen. Born in Cambridge, England, she immigrated to the United States at the age of 7. After fulfilling the requirements for her homestead claim, she moved to Arcadia and resumed her vocation of stenographer in a lawyer’s office. Cabot wrote the following words of respect and inspiration after she, as he put it, “departed this world” in 1953:
Hilda Gray was a most unusual woman. She filled a very obscure niche in the scheme of things, but filled it well, with great courage and optimism. May we all do as well.
Dutch Frank spoke broken German with much profanity if directed to misbehaving burros, of which he had three…
As much as we think of Cabot Yerxa as Desert Hot Springs’ quintessential pioneer with a quirky personality and a vision beyond his lifetime, he acknowledged many of the other singular “characters” that provide a rich history to homesteading days. The following portrait of one of those individuals comes from stitched-together, edited sections of Cabot’s “On the Desert Since 1913” newspaper columns.
About the turn of the century, Dutch Frank and Old Man Coolidge were two of the very few men to be found in this corner of the Southwestern desert. They were prospectors and partners. Traveling with burros and replenishing their water supply from widely separate water holes, they prospected up one canyon and down another, climbed mountain ranges, struggled through deserts searching for gold or mineralized rocks. They met with some small successes, but never found a mine of big importance. After many years of this hard-roving program, Old Man Coolidge became too old for the rigors of camp life and took up a homestead claim on the flat in front of Two Bunch Palms.
Dutch Frank continued life as a prospector alone. He spoke broken German with much profanity if directed to misbehaving burros, of which he had three. The best dash, dang, blank, ding burros in the desert, if you asked his opinion. Frank was a small man with noticeably short legs. Two burros carried his camp outfit and supplies, with pick and shovel on top. He always rode the third animal. Frank could walk. I have even seen him walk, but only on rare occasions. Because no matter what he did, he always rode a burro. If only a few hundred feet to a waterhole, Frank rode a burro. And if firewood was needed for the camp, he rode a burro to look for it. When he visited me, he arrived on a burro and left on one, even though the distance was no more than a city block. While making the visit and carrying on our conversation, he sat on a burro.
Dutch Frank carried his German thoroughness into all that he did. The burro harness, straps, saddles, and equipment were always in the very best of repair. His animals were well shod, with extra shoes in the packs.
Frank did not crave company, but rather resented intrusion. I never saw him read a book. He would glance over a newspaper. However, he valued it as an easy way to start a fire. He could have homesteaded any piece of land in the desert, but nothing in this world could get him to live in a house settled down in one spot. He liked to roam, and he liked his three burros. He was a thoroughly contented and happy man. So who can say that it is better to live in a city and chase the elusive dollar, in the hope that at some future date enough dollars will have been captured with which to buy happiness? Dutch Frank was already happy without dollars.
He paid no attention whatever to desert animals. He, in a good-natured way, took them for granted and was amused rather than angry at what they did. He protected his outfit and belongings as best he could; but if they outwitted him and cut a hole in the flour sack, he only laughed. Snakes meant no more to him than flies; they were a nuisance, but nothing to be afraid of.
He was a very short man with bow legs. He was small, but active and quick. All that he did was with that German careful thoroughness. He could patch clothing as good a woman, repair tents and harnesses skillfully. Meals were well cooked. And if a forge was available, he could make burro shoes or do iron work.
Frank wore a black felt hat, the crown high, the brim stiff. Always a large red handkerchief was tied loosely about his neck. Thrust into his clenched teeth was a short-stemmed, wooden pipe. The bowl might be up or down. Sometimes he put tobacco into this ancient pipe and could light it with one match just as easy in a heavy wind. During waking hours, Frank had the pipe in his mouth, even while chopping wood or preparing meals.
He wore blue overalls, blue shirts, faded but washed clean, and heavy types of shoes. He had the soles and heels filled full of Hungarian hobnails.
Frank was never in a hurry. Anytime during the day, he would stop, take his hand axe, make a fire, prepare coffee. Of necessity and by habit, it was black and strong. Should the burros appear hungry, he stopped, unpacked, and let them eat as much desert vegetation as they wanted.
Burros were important animals to homesteaders, including Cabot. And the homesteaders tended to regard their burros as people when it came to communication. In fact, in the following, you can see that Cabot assumes he knows what runs through a burro’s mind. Dutch Frank, he points out, “talked to his burros just as naturally as he did to Old Man Coolidge or any other man.”
Frank’s largest burro was called Jimmy Barley Hay, and the next one answered to Captain Jack. The third burro, with its pack, was always lagging behind, thereby attracting to itself much profanity in mixed German and English from Frank. Its name was Joppo the Devil. Frank explained, with affection, that it was just a colt and would learn better ways later. However, it was 7 years old at the time I knew it.
Joppo the Devil was mischievous. He could untie ropes, get into food supplies, eat up prunes and pancake flour or rice, tip over canteens of water, and tangle up harnesses. He seemed to do all these things just to hear Dutch Frank expound and try first in English and then in German to tell Joppo what kind of a burro he was, where he might be going, and what his ancestors were.
Joppo would listen without much attention. But in his brain, beneath those tremendous ears, he was even then planning something else. When not properly staked out or if his stake pins loosened, Joppo would lead the other two burros off on a skylark trip out of camp and into the open desert. Sometimes, it would take Frank all day to patiently trail the three runaways into a clump of thick brush or down in a gully where they were hiding out. Frank said, “Joppo, he eeze the devil.”
Even though time does not move more quickly than it did in Cabot Yerxa’s day (we’re pretty confident in making that claim based on established science), it seems to do so. And that is precisely why it behooves us to look back to people who came before us for inspiration on how to live our lives. No, we are not suggesting you go out and buy three burros (one primarily for sitting upon), never read a book (where do we start on that one?!), or clench a pipe in your teeth while preparing dinner. But you might find a way to adapt your thinking to embrace — if not the details of, well then the spirit of — the following.
Dutch Frank carried no watch, received no mail, never knew the day of the week or month. He never worried about time or weather. On his three burros, he had all his worldly possessions and could set up camp in a few moments. Perhaps he had something we strive to attain and fail, because he had found peace of mind and a happy heart under any and all circumstances.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum hopes that you find peace of mind and a happy heart in whatever way you can. Don’t lose sight of the fact that attitude is one of the things about life that rests in your control.
Form and Function
When we consider how many things serve but one purpose, it’s nice to know we can still grab a stick and a square of cloth and be ingenious…
Last week’s newsletter advised readers, via Cabot Yerxa’s “On the Desert Since 1913” columns, on how to use a stick to carry a rattlesnake home. So it makes sense to follow that up with his further thoughts on the value of a stick. He wrote the following after listing important items to carry for a walk in the desert (in addition to a lunch, canteen of water, knife, matches, magnifying glass, compass, and field glasses).
I wish to mention one more item of equipment, which is very essential and adds much to any walking trip. And that is a stick. Not a cane. A cane is not long enough nor strong enough. Also it is too straight. If you walk many miles, a straight cane becomes an irritation; because all about you, nature fashions things which are not straight. What you need is a walking stick of natural wood — for instance, manzanita, white oak, or perhaps greasewood.
A crooked walking stick has many uses. Carrying this walking stick creates a balance and swing to your walk, which greatly lessens fatigue. With it, you examine animal holes, overturn rocks, and find lizards or snakes in hiding. It will push away cactus or thorny brush and permit you to pass through without severe scratches or torn clothing. If a fire is needed, it will pull pieces of wood within reach; and as long as the fire burns down, it will enable you to keep the fire together. When the fire is no longer needed, with this you can push dirt over the ashes.
If you wish to sit down or to sleep, the stick will clean the ground of rocks or cactus thorns and miscellaneous brush.
Often on a walking trip, you will have water canteens, lunch, perhaps a camera, or extra clothing. In this case, stand the stick straight up in the ground and tie the neck handkerchief to it as a marker. Then you can safely leave your extra equipment and find them on your return. Things left on the ground in the desert are often very difficult to find again.
If extra clothing, canteens, or other things become heavy or burdensome, then swing them from one end of the stick on your shoulder like a soldier’s rifle. For a rest and change, put the stick across the small of your back and then loop each arm over this in the crotch of the elbows.
Tying a handkerchief to a stick was far from the only use of a square cloth, as Cabot wrote for Palm Springs Villager.
A red handkerchief ’round his neck is not something just to make a desert man or cowboy look picturesque. A big bandana is part of his equipment for the life he leads. With a good handkerchief, he can tie it tight around his neck in bad weather and receive much protection from cold and wind. It creates quite a noticeable degree of warmth. Paradoxically, in hot seasons, if tied loosely with the large part kept high on the back of the neck, close to his hat, the heat of the desert sun is modified and the blood stream kept cool as possible.
A red handkerchief is the towel of a man traveling light, performing its use as such and washed when opportunity offers. It is a napkin if one is needed. And for handling hot dishes or coffee pots at campfires, it is indispensable. If mosquitoes are a nuisance, the face can be protected in sleep. When the weather is too windy for a hat, the same handkerchief knotted up makes a practical head covering. In case of cuts, burns, or bruises, the handkerchief is available for bandages and can make a sling if one is needed. Should rest be necessary in the daytime, the handkerchief folded over the eyes induces sleep. As a tourniquet in cases of snake bites, it might save a life or retard the effects of poison until a doctor arrives.
A bandana is very practical as a marker for a camp in heavy brush and makes an excellent flag in running survey lines. On camping trips, money or watches tied in a handkerchief are kept free of sand and are easy to find.
I do not know of any greater joy than bathing the face with a wet bandana after a grueling day’s walk through deep sand on the desert. If there is enough water and soap, it can be used as a satisfactory washrag.
A large bandana spread over a small bush in the desert makes enough shade for one’s head to lie down and rest. When wet and used on wrist or back of neck, it will prevent injury from too much sun. While wet over bottles and canteens, the evaporation will keep the contents cool.
Bandanas spread flat on the ground answer as a table on which to play cards or place lunch.
When placed on a counter in a store with the four corners tied together, it will hold a surprising number of small articles and will not break like a paper bag.
When we consider how many things in modern times serve but one purpose,
it’s nice to know that we can still grab a stick and a square of cloth and be ingenious.
Keeping it Quiet
Cabot Yerxa kept an assortment of reptiles — tortoises, snakes, and lizards — as “pets.” We offer Cabot’s advice on capturing a rattlesnake…
As noted in last week’s newsletter, Cabot Yerxa kept an assortment of reptiles — tortoises, snakes, and lizards — as “pets.” Should you, too, wish to populate a snake pit, don’t bother looking for a how-to video on YouTube. As a public service, we offer below Cabot’s advice on how to capture a rattlesnake.
First, lift the snake and put it into a gunnysack that someone holds open for you. Second, take a stick and get it to coil without too much excitement. Then take a water pail and place it slowly over the coiled snake. Now if you slide a wide shingle or piece of tin under the bucket, it can be tipped upright and you have a convenient handle to carry anywhere. … If you have no sack and no pail with shingles handy, use a cane-like stick about forty inches long to get the rattler in a good tight coil. Then thrust the stick through the middle of the coils without hurting it. Now you lift and carry towards home. The snake will always make its way along the stick towards your hand. When too close, drop it gently to the ground, encourage recoiling, again insert the stick and, lifting it up, resume your journey towards home. Repeat if necessary.
In a 1953 letter, Cabot wrote the following when his snakes were hibernating (giving them a witty alibi for their lack of presence).
I replenished water for my pets in the snake pit, and of all the different reptiles there, only two chuckwallas were in evidence. Not a single rattlesnake. That’s because the 4th of March is usually the time they select for their convention. I picked up one of the chuckwallas and placed it on my shoulder, where it examined my ear, then turned its head and eyed me quizzically. The other I held in one hand and stroked with the other. The warmth was pleasing to its cold body, and so we re-established trust to each other.
Cabot offered his impression of chuckwallas in his “On the Desert Since 1913” column.
It is very large for a lizard and has some intelligence. By much time I trained some to play dead, to hold their front paws up while sitting down, say their prayers, … climb up my clothing, nibble my ears, sit on my hat, … also to eat out of my hand, come when I called them, to jump into my outstretched hand from a rock shelf, etc.
They have a loose skin which they can inflate at will and deflate as they desire. They run between rocks when chased and inflate their skins; thus they cannot be pulled out. When danger is gone, they deflate and back out the way they went in. That takes intelligence.
They will sit for an hour on a rock in the sun, sometimes asleep. But at other times, they are just as alert as a sentry on duty. They are surprisingly quick in movement for such a clumsy-looking creature.
Lest anyone think that Cabot was indifferent to keeping reptiles in a pit, the following episode — following a drenching desert rain — should put that notion to rest.
What took me out into the rain? My rattlesnakes. You see, so much rain made their quarters in the snake pit a little uncomfortable. So I put on plenty of storm clothes and went outdoors to make the rattlers a better home. Into a wooden box of good size, I put 10 inches of fine, dry, soft sand, which was in the workshop waiting to mix up for a plaster job. Then I constructed a heavy wooden lid, covering this with tin. When all was ready, the box and sand were moved down into the snake pit. I then lifted the rattlesnakes carefully and placed them in the nice, dry sand, covering them with a piece of warm quilt from the cabin, then replacing the watertight lid. The snakes seemed very happy over the change into their new home; and when I returned to the fireside in the cabin, I was happy too.
As an endnote, Cabot subsequently built a larger snake pit: 12 feet square and 5 feet deep. “The rattlers will make me nice pets for the summer,” he wrote. “They are quiet and will be company, as very few people ever [visit] in hot weather.”
in 1945, Cabot wrote a letter to Portia in which he mentioned understanding a turtle’s “delay in action”…
As people familiar with Cabot Yerxa know, he had great respect for and loved watching wildlife. He also kept a variety of desert creatures — e.g., snakes, tortoises, and chuckawallas — for the enjoyment and education of visitors to his pueblo museum. In 1956, his “On the Desert Since 1913” columns for the Desert Sentinel newspaper included the following (excerpted) about tortoises.
One of the most interesting creatures to be found in the desert is the tortoise, which is classed as a reptile because it crawls. All over the U.S., you are very familiar with mud turtles, seen along the banks of lakes and rivers. They will eat meat. But our desert tortoise is a vegetarian and eats only grass or leaves.
This very curious tortoise is remarkable because its skeleton is brought to the surface of its body…. [I]ts four legs and head can be withdrawn into the shell. Thus it can rest in peace and perfect safety. Many small living things on the desert tremble in terror when snakes, foxes, coyotes, or large birds appear. But not the tortoise. Let the coyotes howl! Who cares? Not he.
The tortoise’s tail looks like the elephant tail in miniature. Both are extremely curious creatures and are a demonstration of the “big” and the “little” in this very intriguing world of ours.
At the Old Indian Pueblo, I keep about 23 desert tortoises as pets and for observation. In November, they go into hibernation and do not wake up until the middle of March.
After noting that tortoises have life spans of some 100 years, Cabot — as was a tendency of his character — brought a human perspective to his observations of nature:
These denizens of the desert are very slow and patient. If you feel all in a dither, flustered and hurried, just sit down and watch a tortoise for half an hour and you will calm down. Because, after all, you have nothing to gain by all the dither. Relax — rest — slow down, and you will live longer. The turtle does. Why not you?
More than a decade earlier, in 1945, Cabot wrote a letter to Portia in which he mentioned understanding a turtle’s “delay in action.” He had been working for more than 12 hours with a pick and shovel on volunteer work in town and was “too tired to write” so copied a story for her that he found amusing:
Three turtles decided to have a cup of coffee. Just as they went into the cafe, it started to rain. So the biggest turtle said to the littlest turtle, “Go home and get an umbrella.” The little one said, “I will if you don’t drink my coffee.” “We won’t,” promised the other two. But two years later, the big turtle said to the middle turtle, “Well, I guess he isn’t coming back, so we might as well drink his coffee.” When he said that, a little voice called from just outside the door, “If you do, then I won’t go.”
Under the story, Cabot drew a trio of tortoises walking across the desert under a smiling sun over distant mountains. Portia clearly found Cabot charming, as she married him a little more than two months after that letter.
The Very Finest Claim
No person in this world will ever gain enough distinction over his fellows to equal the thrill and quiet joy of the ownership of land..
Our past two newsletters have offered a glimpse into the range of jobs Cabot Yerxa performed throughout his life. Once established in the desert, he could not spend all his time, as he wished, working on his homestead. Traveling to Los Angeles to make money, he labored on a pick-and-shovel team for a utility company, dug holes for telephone poles, etc. In 1952, he wrote the following about himself and fellow homesteaders in his “On the Desert Since 1913” column for the Desert Sentinel newspaper.
No man ever refused to work, because we were glad to get anything that would turn into a dollar. The wage scale was not important. I have often walked as much as seven miles, carried a pick or shovel or other tools, worked all day, and walked seven miles home again to earn $1.60 or $2 for the whole day. I carried a canteen full of water hung on my neck to last all day. Other men did the same. In the beginning, there was a very large pile of big rocks between Rolly’s corner and the R.R. depot. The county paid Jack Riley and me to break up these boulders and make a passable road. We walked back and forth each day to work. My pay was $2 per day and his was $3 a day, because Jack placed the dynamite to blow up some of the larges ones.
In his next two columns, Cabot explained what drove him to work so hard.
No person in this world will ever get enough money or gain enough distinction over his fellows to equal the thrill and quiet joy of the ownership of land, which was mine when I stood on my desert claim for the first time. All papers signed and filed, there ’round me were some boxes of groceries and a canteen of water with a blanket spread on the ground. This was my land. This feeling was, I am sure, the same with all pioneer homesteaders.
The future of the desert and the future reward to each man differed greatly according to his slant on life’s picture. To some, it was a field of alfalfa standing strong and green in winter sunshine. To some, this alfalfa would turn into money as baled hay or be fed to cows for milk or to pigs to get fat and go to market. Some men talked chickens of different types — and turkeys too. A few expanded the idea of winter vegetables or early fruits going to market. We heard stories of fantastic prices sometimes paid for the first grapes, figs, tomatoes, etc., which were then growing in very small quantities at widely separate spots on the desert between here and the Mexican line. Every man had a dream of the future in which he would be the man who had a large bank account and could write checks freely. It mattered not that no man in the desert could change a five-dollar bill at that time.
Another fact to be noted, besides the general optimistic outlook, was that each settler was sure that he had the very finest claim in the whole desert. Each man would listen politely while another was explaining the good qualities of his homestead. But at the first break in the conversation, the listener would then expound at great length with convincing detail why his very own claim was by far and above any denial the best ding-busted piece of desert land between here and Mexico.
My own dream in the distant past day was not of alfalfa, chickens, or pigs, little or big, but based on beef cattle. The beef cattle would provide money for an art gallery, museum, and time to paint desert pictures.
But when I discovered the hot mineral waters and we found that it would help ailing people, all plans were changed. Bob Carr and I reshaped our dreams of the future to take recognition of this very surprising circumstance. He and I sat often on hilltops, gazing at many thousands of uninhabited acres of hot, dry desert land. If the weather was bad, we crouched by small fires in deep arroyos or in thick brush. But always, much of the talks were the same. Bob and I visualized a health city, growing up out of the greasewood here on the desert!
When we consider the hardships borne by Cabot and other homesteaders, we feel grateful not only that they saw the desert’s potential as a place to live, but also for the hard work and effort they put into bringing into being Desert Hot Springs and the other cities of the Coachella Valley. These trying times may lead us to feel distracted and discouraged, but Cabot reminds us to appreciate the place we call home.
Work, Work, Work
Cabot began learning about business as a child when his father and two uncles owned grocery stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN…
In our last newsletter, we presented a “resume” that Cabot Yerxa prepared for a prospective employer. It is worth noting that he began learning about business firsthand as a young child. Below is an edited recounting of his background beginning when his father and two uncles owned grocery stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
I worked in and out of the store from 6 years old. At 16, I was floor manager — not because I was the son of the owner, but because I knew the business and was as capable as a man would be. I had 30 people under my control — to hire and discharge. I okayed all checks to be cashed, made out payrolls, and made bank deposits.
I was given every opportunity to learn, of course. I was put in the candy factory of the business and helped make all kinds of candy; then the bakery to make bread and pastry; then the cracker factory to make crackers and cookies; then the place to make extracts, jams, and jellies. I was taught to roast coffee, roast peanuts, and make peanut butter. I spent time in the cigar department learning how to buy and sell and make crude cigars. Then I was in the meat department to watch and learn about cutting meats.
One day, Cabot’s father announced that he had sold the business and the family would move to Cuba. At the age of 20, Cabot started a mail-order business selling cigars. In 1904, the Yerxas moved back to the States and — at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri — sold Cuban jams, jellies, and cigars. They also spent time in New York, where Cabot worked for a brokerage, and Boston, where he worked for a “commission business.”
Father sent me to Seattle to learn how the grocery business was done there. I got a job with a wholesale grocer and worked in different departments. Then I took a job with the largest retailer. I had many jobs there, called on ships and all the large restaurants. One time, I cleaned up a carload of cheese, which had been shipwrecked and considered worthless. My boss bought them and said to me, “Cabot, can you save anything out of this junk?” The cheese was soaked with saltwater, green with mold, and some of it was slimy. I went to work in the basement of the store and worked days, but saved several hundred pounds for sale. He was so pleased that he made me salesman for ships and restaurants in Seattle. So I called everywhere every day; and I learned a lot about cooking, because every day I was right in the kitchens of all of them and watched what was being done on the stoves, etc. Then I got a job dressing the windows of all the food stores in Seattle.
Cabot’s family eventually opened four grocery stores in Seattle. However, competitors forced them out of business by inducing wholesalers not to sell to F.R. Yerxa and Sons because the family was undercutting prices as a “semi-wholesale” business.
We landed in Los Angeles broke. … I read the want ads every day and applied many places, all to no avail. I got desperate, as we needed money at home just to eat. So I answered an ad for an office boy in the Pacific Electric Building. John Stuart looked at me, 22 years old, and said, “You don’t want this job; it is for an office boy and only pays $35 per month.” I replied, “I will take it and be the best office boy you ever saw.”
At first I just emptied wastebaskets, took out mail, and went on small errands. But gradually he let me handle money. Gradually I did what Stuart was paid to do — rent offices, collect money, keep all books, hire cleaners, elevator operators, supervise carpenters, plumbers, painters, etc. One day the cash was “over” [by] $5 and I gave it to him. We both handled money, so it could be anyone’s mistake. Then, in a few days, the cash was “short” $7, and he said to me, “That is your mistake and comes out of your wages.” So sure enough, next payday, out came $7. My wages were increased from $35 to $45, then to $65. And one day Stuart said, “The shortage in cash and the overages were just tricks to see if you were honest. Now your salary is $100, and you are to take on some duties for George S. Patton [father of Gen. George Patton], the right hand of Henry Huntington.”
Next to my office was the office of George Patton, and I wrote some letters for him and screened all men who wanted to talk to him. I now had full charge of all the money handled for the Pacific Electric Building. Next to the Patton office was that of Henry Huntington, who owned the streetcars in Los Angeles. He owned part of Catalina Island, the steamship going between, and much of Southern Pacific Railroad stock. He found out I could write a good letter. He sometimes sent for me and said, “These are the circumstances; now you write a letter.”
Cabot was able to return to family business when his father received an offer for land he owned in Cuba. With that money, he bought a citrus ranch in Sierra Madre. In addition to running the ranch, Cabot worked as postmaster for Sierra Madre. After a few years, the family sold the ranch and bought another one in Riverside. After a freeze decimated the citrus industry and his father died, Cabot traveled up the West Coast, working as a deputy sheriff and newspaper reporter, among other jobs. It wasn’t long, however, before he arrived in the Coachella Valley with a friend who had proposed homesteading in the desert.
A Wellspring of Talent
One talent that Cabot did not give himself credit for were his poetic abilities, but we think it deserves note…
Cabot Yerxa’s fame and legacy derive from the 35-room, Indian-inspired structure he built in Desert Hot Springs (a destination on the Registry of National Historic Places). Supporters, friends, and fans of Cabot’s Indian Pueblo Museum — people like you who receive this newsletter — know more about his adventure and achievements. But, to use an apropos metaphor for the pioneer who discovered the desert’s subterranean hot springs, the well is deep. And so we offer Cabot’s self-written “resume” for enlightenment of his talents and skills. Based on a reference in the undated, typewritten letter (the original of which only indicates with a handwritten note that it was addressed to “JB”), we can assume he wrote the following in 1942.
Not knowing exactly what you had in mind, herewith are a few facts concerning my abilities, etc.
I am honest. H W Dill, owner of Dill Lumber Co Palm Springs will say that from knowledge dating to World War I.
Sober, never use liquor of any kind at any time.
Never smoke on the job.
Started working for wages at 6 yrs of age, and never have been out of work at any time or never fired from any job.
Of course I have been in business for myself many times, generally merchandising; have bought and sold approx 25 stores, in value from a thousand to 20 thousand. And employed people for yrs.
At odd times have been paying cashier for the Pac Tel & Tel Co San Francisco, paying all construction men and materials over 2 states, but I could write no check larger than 15,000.00 nor draw more than 5,000.00 cash from bank.
Also was assistant agent for the Pac Elect Bldg in Los Angeles and a minor secretary to Henry Huntington. Collected rents for bldg, hired and fired common employees like elevator men, and bought materials to keep up bldg, broken glass, lumber, etc.
During World War I was Mess Sergeant, feeding 400 men every day part of time and also in the adjutant office keeping up the army system of books and records.
For the telephone co in Los Angeles, I was timekeeper on construction jobs and in charge of all materials used, the cost records, and straw boss over the men at times.
I have been Postmaster in 3 different cities and towns, and Wells Fargo Express agent at two more.
I can keep books, office records, handle stock rooms of materials; speak Spanish, Eskimo, some French; and have held down jobs as cook, salesman, butcher, newspaper reporter, deputy sheriff, stage driver 4 horses, dog team driver, fireman on ships, gold miner, and some other different things.
Being here on the desert off and on since 1913 (29 yrs), I have constructed many small bldgs, doing the cement forms, cement work, carpenter work, plumbing, paintings, etc and quite often all alone, which complicates some work.
I am not a finished [sic] carpenter, but have bldgs on this desert 25 yrs old and still in good shape. My largest bldg has been a 2 story one of 25 ft square. One stone cabin 29 yrs old has stood all the earthquakes and does not have a crack yet.
I have built with snow and ice in the Arctic, palm leaves in the tropics, rock, concrete, galv iron, lumber, adobe, etc.
There are other things besides these that I can do, and if you have something new, well, then I can learn that too.
One talent that Cabot did not give himself credit for in the foregoing self-assessment was the ability to wax poetic. He probably did not consider being a poet as relevant to employment, but we think it deserves note. So here is one of his untitled, undated poems:
Over haunting mysterious deserts,
among the purple shadows of mountains
upon the turbulent surging sea
and over frozen Arctic wastes
for many long dreary years
I have visioned the ideal that is you
under many a star strewn sky
I have pictured the eyes of you
by many a lonely camp fire
I have hungered for the sight of you
during long silent hours of darkness
I have grieved for a glimpse of you
throughout a lifetime I have searched for you
The heart that thou didst leave in my care
is valued more highly than fabulous riches
and with each coming of the morning sun
longing eyes will scan the horizon
that they may someday be gladdened by the return of
the owner than whom among all the millions there
is not any other who could fill
her place in the affection of the one who
“Homeschooling” – The Desert as Teacher
We get impressions of Cabot and the desert through the eyes of a visiting writer named Belle Ewing…
We’ve been giving this newsletter over to Cabot Yerxa through the journal he kept throughout his travels to and from Europe in 1925-26. This week, we get impressions of him and the desert not only through his words, but also through the eyes of a visiting writer named Belle Ewing. Below are excerpts from the aptly titled “Adventure’s Son,” published in the November-December 1947 issue of the National Automobile Club’s National Motorist magazine.
To the east, Two Bunch Palms were gray-green rosettes against the hill on top of which a white cross spread its arms. Miracle Hill it is called, named years ago by Cabot Yerxa. Two miles from Desert Hot Springs, this hill rises abruptly from the sandy floor. The cluster of buildings which comprise Cabot’s present home are around Miracle Hill from Two Bunch Palms, and there I found this adventurer, who became one with the desert — and who lives to paint its moods.
Cabot came to the Colorado Desert in 1913, where he homesteaded 160 acres of land. He is a blue-eyed, medium-sized man of 52. But there is zest in his eyes and a spring to his step that belie his years — for the desert rewards those who love her with a sort of perpetual youth; they always stay young.
The loss of a beloved member of the family and the family fortune caused Cabot to seek solace in the desert. Here he took up a homestead on the sunny slopes of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. He had hoped to raise cattle, allowing them to graze in the public domain. But Palm Springs began its early bid for fame about this time and California passed a law forbidding cattle running loose in that area. He was forced to give up the idea of becoming a cattle rancher.
“Pioneering is never easy,” Cabot said. “At that time, there were but 10 homesteaders in the whole section. We had to carry our groceries to relays. Our nearest store was at Palm Springs, 15 miles away. I would carry part of my grub slung in a sack over my shoulder for half a mile, drop it, and return for another load. This I kept up the long, weary miles through sand, greasewood, and mesquite. Water, too, had to be carried. Some of the homesteaders made Chinese yokes from which two buckets were suspended. Believe me, we saved every drop of wastewater, giving it to the desert trees we had planted around our shacks.
“At that time, each pioneer would look out every morning to see if smoke was rising from the other nine cabins. If he saw no smoke, something must be wrong. So the nearest neighbor would go over to investigate.
“With money from the sale of several of my own paintings, I bought lumber and started to build a cabin on the side of Miracle Hill. I hauled the cement and the water up the hill on my back and on my patient burro’s. But every night, I had a good night’s sleep; and every morning, the dawn rewarded me with unsurpassed beauty — beauty one can find only in the desert.
“When the cabin was built, I started digging my well at the foot of Miracle Hill. I was down only 30 feet when water came bubbling up. I leaned down to dip my hands in the cool water, but leaped back astounded: The water was hot! I didn’t know it then, but I had tapped the desert’s storehouse of medicinal waters. The water in my discovery well registered 132 degrees!”
“Desert hills always fascinate me,” I mused. “You never know what you’ll find in them — or see in them. I’ve heard so much about the Angel of San Jacinto. Can you show it to me?”
“Sure, come over here to the lookout.”
We rose from the homemade bench on which we had been sitting and stepped over pale orchid gilias and tiny white daises to a three-sided building.
Inside the lookout were benches and homemade chairs, placed so the visitor may look down across the desert to where Palm Springs sleeps in the sun. The mountains were cobalt blue, with wine in the canyons. An ash-throated flycatcher flashed through the air to a palo verde that was beginning to unfold its petals of gold.
“There,” Cabot said, pointing to a misty canyon in the rocky side of San Jacinto, “see the angel with her wings outstretched?”
I peered through the rustic frame made of logs. My imagination seldom needs stretching, so I saw the angel — or at least I thought I did.
But if the Angel of San Jacinto lies sleeping, Cabot certainly does not. He has purchased land bordering his original homestead until now he has nearly 400 acres. With his own hands and his burro for a helper, he has transformed his holdings into a home and a business. Besides his home, he has a trading post, art gallery, museum, and a snake pit.
Cabot has dug 11 wells. They range all the way from cold to 180 degrees — hot enough to boil an egg and make coffee.
“I have a well in my kitchen, “ he said, “just the right temperature for a shower or to wash dishes.” An impish grin spread over his features. “Put it down after the house was built.”
I looked incredulously at the cement floor, “Not through that?”
He nodded. “I had a friend living with me; and we got tired of carrying water, so we knocked a hole in the cement and started drilling. When we’d hit rock, we’d throw in a half a stick of dynamite and let things blow up! We dug a cellar, too, and struck subterranean heat. It keeps the house 20 degrees warmer in the winter than outdoors.”
Although the white man has brought many changes to the Valley of the Palms, the desert mountains still stand as they did when only Indians lived there. They rim the valley: snow-wreathed San Jacinto, towering San Gorgonio, blue-clad Santa Rosas, and the Little San Bernardinos.
No wonder Cabot’s favorite pastime is to paint the desert in all its moods and warm friendliness, its ageless palms and timeworn peaks, its copper-colored hills.
“The desert,” Cabot declared, “teaches people to be resourceful, to overcome difficulties. At times it is a hard taskmaster, but the ones who stick it out are repaid a hundred times over. There is camaraderie among desert folks seldom found elsewhere. We have many jolly times together.” He looked out over his land. “I love it here. I hope never to leave.”
The sun cast fingers of gold over rough cinnamon hills as I left. The Angel of San Jacinto’s rocky bosom was garbed in violet mist, and San Jacinto was turned into a pot of gold — gold that is free for the taking.
Make time each day to enjoy the beauty around you and to
experience peace of mind in recognizing that, while the circumstances
of life can be unsettling, the desert offers us a lesson in resilience.
Our armchair travels with Cabot Yerxa over the past couple of months have brought us to the end of his voyage to Europe. On January 13, 1926, as the U.S.S. Leerdam made its way into New Orleans, Cabot found himself — like us today — in an unusually solitary environment. Unlike us, he was not yet home.
The ship can carry 900 passengers. But as it happens, I am the only passenger. So I eat alone in a room that seats 250 at one time. For 20 days [of the voyage], only one other man could talk English of 472 passengers. Then he got off and an American got on for three days. He left and no one could talk English for seven days and then I am all alone for 10 of 40 days on the S.S. Leerdam.
When the sailors came on board in Mexico, some had parrots, another some cactus planted in sand, one carried a large pottery bowl, and one was very proud of a gilded box on which were glued many seashells painted blue, red, or green. People who know talk of discord in music. That box was sure discord for the eyes. But the sailor thought it beautiful.
70 men in the crew to handle the S.S. I am the only passenger. No difference between me and the owner of a private yacht except the color of my ticket. Today I had soup, steak, potatoes, bread, green beans, tea, and wine — eating all alone. Some class.
Cabot turned introspective, as would most likely any other traveler after a stretch of eight months at sea and immersed in foreign cultures.
Soon I will land in U.S.A. again. One of the lasting impressions is that of being part of the life of the land where I may be for the time being. In Europe, I seemed to belong to life there; and to recall details of the U.S. was an effort. Now Europe is commencing to get more dim in memory. Just like day and night: Day is the fading of night or night is the fading of the day. Which is real?
You see flags waving everywhere you go, but the one that makes you puff out your chest is the Stars and Stripes. Even though I shout for America and its people, also I can see that all people are alike and only differ because conditions, food, climate, etc., differ. In France you can see their point of view, in England theirs, and so on. What is more to the point, you can see the failings of the U.S.A. too.
Shortly after his return to the States, The Sierra Madre News published a piece written by Cabot in which he reveled in both being gone and being home.
Great castles loom up in memory and fade to leave a column of marching soldiers. Sunlight glints upon bright pieces of metal. Cathedrals flash in memory so plainly that you hear the peal of bells. Art galleries of wonderful interest slide past, picture by picture. Black eyes (or were they blue?) look into yours. Languages differ. Spoken words are not understood. But you remember kisses with just as much pleased memory as though they had all been explained in perfect English.
Traveling 21,000 miles takes you into many places. But the best of all is the country from Los Angeles to San Diego. In this stretch live many satisfied people. And I will not quarrel with you as to which is best. But if you want to find me in a few days, get a burro and a canteen of water and walk out into the desert. As the sun goes down, you will see a dull, slow fire. A man sits in the sand and cooks supper. He will be talking to his burro. What about? Listen: You doggone, long-eared burro, you are eating better sagebrush, seeing better scenery, breathing better air, and having a better time than all the crowned heads of Europe.” The burro will come up and put a soft muzzle on the man’s shoulder gently to say, “I’m glad you’re back, you old desert rat.”
Looking back to Cabot’s journal, we may be inspired by the following words to find parallel thinking almost a hundred years later.
Another impression of having been away, and wiping the slate clean of routine habits, is to maintain some semblance of freedom. For 17 years, I have been a slave to duty and routine of different kinds, with very small rewards of appreciation or recreation. I must now watch the future trail so that I get something out of the few remaining years and keep clear of ruts of employment or thoughts. Keep clear of people with #6 hats, women whose minds revolve ’round hats, clothes, amusements and relatives, mental leatherheads of all kinds, and people who are bound up in material interests in general. It is best to make one’s own rules and regulations and to watch the rising sun of each new day so that whatever of value or happiness may be enjoyed from one’s personal slant of interest.
In particular, we hope you take heart in Cabot’s words of wisdom, written on December 28, 1925 — the day the S.S. Leerdam left Cuba.
The steamer is today bucking a headwind, and the waves roll high towards us. But she meets them one by one, and they appear looking backwards to be very flat and unimportant. So it is with many things in life that threaten awhile and appear formidable, but later when passed and we get a true perspective, they are not to be given much attention. So if mistakes are made or days of ill fortune come, let them pass. When passed, perhaps they will form a background and a knowledge from which days in the future can be more fully enjoyed. The past is gone; look to the future. Perhaps we can grasp moments of contentment.
A Virtual Tour of Paris, France
Cabot appreciated the value of perspective. The following comes from his time in Paris, France…
Let’s try something new again this week as we follow Cabot Yerxa’s journey to Europe in 1925. This time, instead of excerpting whole sections of his journal related to his impressions of a place or event, we offer intermittent bits at how he appreciated the value of perspective. All of the following items come from his time in Paris, France, where he studied art.
Every morning men cry in sharp words the information about their goods or work, such as “vegetables for sale,” “will buy old clothes,” “will mend old dishes,” “window glass put in,” “knives sharpened,” calling in loud tones. Yesterday it seemed very unpleasant and unnecessary noise. But today the same street calls sounded musical and agreeable. All day I have pondered over this. The street calls were the same both days, but my attitude toward them was different. How to hold the agreeable outlook? …
A little cur dog, ragged and dirty, stood at the water tap trying to lap a little water. The small homeless dog was panting, hot and thirsty. Some passersby spoke harshly to the dog as it was standing on the narrow sidewalk. X crossed the muddy street in her new shoes and turned the water on so the dog could drink. Her one best dress was splashed with water and whipped by the dog’s tail in appreciation of getting a drink. X does not go to church, but she did this, and also she stops on the sidewalk and kicks banana peels to the curbstone and picks up broken glass, for the reason that children or old people might be injured thereby. Who can say whether this or going to church is of greater importance? …
At first I thought the French could not speak their own language, because I talked just the way it was in the book and they did not seem to understand, but later I learned to shrug my shoulders on periods, raise my eyebrows on commas, and wave my hands on adjectives. Then they understood me much better.
November in Paris has all the leaves on the ground and in the Jardin des Tuilleries they were wet and thick underfoot this Sunday. Just park chairs, one alone, two together side by side, two facing, three at a time, and so on. But they tell many a story to the imagination. One chair is a nurse or mother watching a child at play, a man or woman waiting for someone to come, a person in trouble wrestling mentally with conditions. Or perhaps just a lonesome one alone in a strange city. Two chairs facing, two men or two women, or two relations, two old people resting with scattered conversation. Two chairs side by side is two unmarried people, and the degree of distance between chairs measures much of the degree of sympathy between them. Three chairs can be studied, and the third in relation to the two tells the character of the group. Three at even distance shows three adult people with casual interest in each other. Three close together is three girls exchanging plans or confidences. Three chairs left at any angle are three boys or one adult and two children. If it has not rained and footprints remain in the path, more is recorded.
Cabot Yerxa’s ineffable understanding of what it means to be one person among billions encourages us to look at situations we confront from more than one angle. Doing so can lead us to enlightenment about our own predispositions, which in turn could lead us to greater understanding and empathy.
Shortly after the last entry above, Cabot wrote the following, which reminds us to hold dear things that we may overlook if we let our brain function on autopilot.
Things pleasant to remember: autumn leaves raked into a pile and burning with a pungent smell, to see the snow melt in the spring, white tablecloths and clean dishes, sleeping on a stack of new hay, newly made cigars, the brown of a well-cooked turkey, the flame and flash of Northern Lights, the purple shadows of desert mountains, new books and magazines, the pelting of rain on a cabin roof, munching of sagebrush by burros, the booming of arctic ice in pressure ridges, mangoes when fully ripe, the smell of coffee and bacon early in the out-of-doors, to see snow falling in a thick storm, drinking milk from coconuts, going to sleep on sheets and pillows in from the sun, the bugle call for dinner in the army, to see the sun rise in the desert, the handclasp of tried friends, swimming in shaded water, smiles of personal interest, the receipt of letters from far places, words of appreciation, the feel of a clean rifle, the smell of tobacco, paychecks, the picking of oranges, eyes that smile, the sweep of rain, the whisper of pine trees, some girls’ kisses, the chug of a Ford engine if it starts, the closing bugle call of an army day, the cheer of a campfire, the lapping of water on a boat, walking in woods, to be hungry and have food, to be sleepy and sleep outdoors.
You no doubt have wonderful feelings of your own to remember from your personal experiences. Do not let them slip into obscurity, for these are the things that sustain us in the face of the unknown. Most of all, we hope that one of Cabot’s “things pleasant to remember” makes your list: eyes that smile.
We look forward to the day when we see your smiling eyes at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. Until then, we hope you find our weekly newsletter entertaining and inspirational. And, above all, we wish you health and safety.
A Virtual Tour of Panama, France, and England
Cabot’s dining-out experiences as related in his journal..”I ate fish for dinner: head, eyes, and fins…”
Through this newsletter, we have been offering our supporters and friends episodes of armchair traveling by following Cabot Yerxa’s journey to Europe in 1925. In our current day, with restaurants closed since mid-March and reopenings just now starting with limited service, we thought we would put together some of Cabot’s dining-out experiences as related in his journal. Bon appétit!
IN COLON, PANAMA
I ate fish for dinner: head, eyes, and fins. This fish, plate of plain boiled rice, 1/2 roll, and black coffee was my dinner at 11 a.m. … This place is a mere hole in the wall in the working-class section of Colon, patronized only by a few Spaniards. I am the only white man in sight for blocks. When a barefooted boy (he’s the waiter) put this darn fish down in front of me, with that fixed stare of a dead fish eye looking up out of the middle of my dinner, … I looked over at a man just starting his dinner, also having a dead fish, eye and all, on his plate. I lagged behind him to see whether he put the fish on the rice or rice on the fish or trimmed up his fish first. He kept eating fish and rice about 50/50, picking out the bones from his mouth, reserving the fish head for last. With one continuous movement he slid his knife under the fish’s head and swung it into his mouth, eye end all. He chewed happily for a few moments and then deposited a few bones on his plate. I did not eat my fish’s head, and that fish eye looked at me when I left in vague surprise.
Go down side street and stop when you see two flowers planted in two standard oil cans on the sidewalk, near which is a box. On the box is a cage containing two small green parrots with yellow heads. The owner is Spanish, and the patronage is Spanish. In the door sits a glass case homemade. Three feet long it is and contains rolls, fried bananas, and fried pork scraps. Behind it is a jar containing melted butter in which a knife stands on end. Two tables each seating four people on wooden benches nearly fill the room. In the corner, Conchita has two fires of charcoal, on one coffee, on the other is cooking the 11 a.m. meal. Steam from this kettle smells of peppers and garlic. On the wall are two guitars which belong to the place, and anyone at all plays them before or after eating. They belong to the guests to use. So most always there is music in Conchita’s restaurant.
IN PARIS, FRANCE
Today noon I went into cheap place to eat on rue St. Michel near jardin du Luxembourg. Had cold potatoes, fish in vinegar, olive oil over all, next mutton stew, next French fry potatoes, bread (no butter), next custard, next glass vin rouge — for five francs. Served absolutely one thing at a time, only very, very small portions. It would all go on one plate in American style. But it is enough and is 25 cents U.S.A. This same meal with music and served where tourists go would cost $1 to $1.50 American money.
The other day in a restaurant came an American man and woman. They could not talk French. And they tangled up the whole room trying to get things as they were in America. No, they did not drink anything but water. Then they wanted all their meal at the same time, which of course is out of the question. Because following the custom, you eat only one thing at a time. Even if you order pickles, you eat pickles and then order potatoes and so on. The tables are not large enough to put more than one dish down at a time per person. … When [the couple] paid their bill, there was a charge just to sit down and an extra charge for drinking water instead of wine — new things to the Americans. The French were highly amused and said Americans are funny people. Well, I understand how the French looked at them, and I know just the thoughts the tourist had.
Le Petit Vatel was started by an artist and a musician. The name is “little Vatel,” meaning that in a small way they will try to make the cooking good. Street singers stop outside and sing for pennies. Wandering or broke musicians play for hat collection and then sit down to eat. The food is fine and very cheap. Soup, meat, vegetable, dessert, and bottle wine, all of this for 24 cents with tip to girl.
Three of us, strangers to each other, sat in the back room of the Petit Vatel Restaurant. The waitress is very busy. Strolling players, a violin and flute, are playing a lively tune. French shop girls, eager for amusement, are singing or tapping plates to keep time to the music. It is late. The first rush is over, and the tables are covered with bottles and dirty dishes. Menu cards on the floor, table papers soiled or discolored with spilled beer or wine. Some diners tarry and smoke. One girl has to wait on 28 people here, and our chance for service looks slim indeed. One of the three of us is a French woman with good jewelry and a diamond or two. No doubt she is used to better surroundings. She shouts at the waitress and makes claims for attention. The waitress smiles and promises “half a minute.” The other of the three of us is a poor, pale, hunchback girl. She knows the restaurant and its system. So she gets up and brings a clean table cover, three glasses, three bottles of wine, and three sets of eating tools and a basket of bread from somewhere back of the scenes. And so we start our meal and get along very well.
IN LONDON, ENGLAND
Bertorelli’s Italian Restaurant in middle of foreign quarter; went to supper here with M.P. and found a very excellent meal. Bohemian atmosphere and everyone knows the waitress, a very quiet Italian girl with plain combed hair who says goodbye to the regulars who eat here, a few Hindus, Italians, students, and nondescripts. Cigarette smoke and garlic. Closes at 10 p.m. Only warm room I have found in London.
Our thoughts are with those who own or work in a restaurant. We know that this has been a particularly difficult time for you and wish you a bright future no matter what you decide to do moving forward. We further hope that people particularly patronize locally owned dining venues when they reopen. Restaurants play an important role in our communities’ economic welfare and fill us with delight through tantalizing dishes, a variety of ambiances … and, typically, a shared experience.
A Virtual Show of the Folies Bergére
Excerpts from CAbot’s distillation of “the most famous show in all of France”: the Folies Bergère…
We’ve been following Cabot Yerxa’s journey to Europe in previous newsletters, “listening” to his impressions of the people he meets and places he visits. We thought we’d try something different this week, though it still relates to his trip in 1925, the main purpose of which was to study art at the Académie Julian in Paris.
Sheltering in place means we not only are prevented from leisure travel, but also from attending live performances. So let’s see a show through Cabot’s eyes. Following are edited excerpts from his distillation of “the most famous show in all of France”: the Folies Bergère.
I bought a “promenoir” ticket, which lets you walk around in the theater, but you have no seat. Show lasted [from] two to six [o’clock] with one intermission. It takes the form of vaudeville. Short acts with a wonderfully costumed bunch of girls coming in every once in a while, with a set spectacle of some kind. 50 chorus girls all matched to an inch for height and five pounds in weight, graceful, pretty and well trained. Taken with the costumes and stage effects, this is the most spectacular thing I ever saw on stage.
Among the unusual acts: seven girls wheel in seven wheelbarrows of wood. #7 sings and they throw the wood on the stage, then pick up the wood and stand the pieces on end. Eight pieces are seen to make a wooden man. Six wooden men lean against a back curtain by a clever arrangement. Then a policeman comes in with dialogue, and it turns laterin to a dance of wooden men. The wooden men are take-offs on prominent Paris men in politics.
One curtain clear across the stage is bare trees in a swamp. Owls in trees blink eyes of lights. Curtain goes up and there is a big swamp at night. Woman in gorgeous dress of silver sings, and daylight comes gradually into the swamp. 50 chorus girls dressed as frogs come through the trees and close to the water’s edge in lock step, and this is all reflected in the water. The 50 get out on the stage and for 15 minutes go through locked drill as though blocks. Very effective and pleasing act and fine stage. For instance, the 50 stand in a row. #1 lies back on #2, #2 on #3, and so on till 50 are down flat on the stage. Then up same way. 50 girls is a lot, and this falling block idea takes some time but was very pretty.
Ship covered in ice and snow on its way to the North Pole, mostly a song act. Setting splendid.
Seven dresses of seven periods of France, very beautiful and charming. Hoop skirts, puff sleeves, etc.
Scenes at North Pole, 50 chorus girls dressed in white dance with the northern lights played over them and on icebergs. Then sun, moon and stars are shown. Sun and moon were two women covered with rhinestones, and headdresses same thing. Searchlights played on these on dark stage. Brilliant beyond any comparison. A row of star girls clear across the stage is lit up. As they go up in the sky, electric stars of great beauty and color follow them. Through this, you see in a haze of light the mass spectacle of sun and moon.
A flight of stairs in a place of dreams. Down the stairs one at a time came the beautiful birds of the world. Of course they are girls, and of course the bird is to merely hinted by the costumes, which are more lovely than I ever saw in the U.S. Most girls were naked to the waist, but wore gorgeous head decorations and colored silk trains for tails. There were three peacocks with trains 15 feet long. They started up the stairs and stopped, posing, and electric lights were lit under their tails and all the colors flashed like real birds.
Intermission —Restaurant and café, tables and chairs, fountain of water, statuary, bars, salesroom for perfumery, candy, cigars and other knickknacks. Above this great place is a balcony all around. Up there was kind of a sideshow of dancers and music. All the audience leaves their seats and walk around, smoke, eat or drink something.
Stage opens with all 50 girls back and in a big scene based on gathering grapes for wine. At the end, two glasses of champagne each higher than a girl and each supported by two girls beautifully posed rise up through the floor. Very lovely.
Nine nude girls (or with costumes cut out of paper) do very pleasing pantomime dance as a background for songs. Several ordinary acts follow. Then comes the sideshow part of a country fair, which has many laughs. A drunk man on roller skates is a scream. Throwing baseballs at dummies, compressed air that blows men’s hats off and balloons girls’ dresses, and the sledgehammer machine, etc.
The 50 chorus girls back again in a big act based on flowers of summer and much solo singing, but very pretty act.
Life-size autos painted on the curtain, policeman on corner. Heads stick out of first row of autos to make them look more real, and they argue with police and each other.
Life-size horse hitched to a wagon fixed up to live in. Artist going to the country for vacation talks to horse. Horse is two men. Opens its eye, shuts eyes, moves ears, mouth and tail. Very funny effect. Later, driver lets down the side of house and there are seven human heads on small figures against a black velvet curtains. The heads sing and dialogue, moving arms and legs of figures with hands in a natural and pleasing way.
The show closes with two great flights of steps in a palace down which come many girls in many costumes to dance or sing, and from the door in the center come the most beautiful girls in most wonderful costumes until all are on stage. THE END
For the moment, our applause is reserved for healthcare and other essential workers. Until stages light up again, look for the kind of wonderment that Cabot experienced in the natural beauty mimicked at the Folies Bergère: the light of the sun, the glow of moon, the twinkling of the stars, and the colors of birds that soar in the sky above us.
A Virtual Tour to London and Paris
Finding amusement in Cabot’s notes about other modes of transportation, including the traffic in London…
In our previous newsletters, we’ve traced Cabot Yerxa’s 1925 journey from America down to the Panama Canal and then to Europe. Accustomed to walking miles in the California desert to get water and mail — and being of a frugal nature, Cabot tended to get around foreign cities primarily on foot. But he also took note of other modes of transportation. In our continuing armchair travels, we find amusement in his observations about the traffic in London.
This London traffic has to be seen to be believed. Perhaps New York has as much, but N.Y. meets at right angles and goes by turns. Over here, streets do not come together at right angles. They always try to avoid that. The street designers and city planners of London try to bring as many streets into an opening as possible. This they call a “circus” — Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, etc. And it is a circus. Streams of traffic going both ways enter a circus. Traffic is composed of autos — all kinds: bicycles, buses, men with pushcarts, men with bundles on the head, donkey carts, burro carts, horse drays, fine carriages and horses, college boys in running pants.
This traffic is all held in the five to 11 streets entering a circus by as many London bobbies with white gloves. Every now and then, a bobbie thinks a few hundred of his traffic can get through, so he waves them on and encourages speed. Now we pedestrians do not watch the policeman; we rush in anywhere at all angles and scamper in all directions. Run, jump, dodge, advance or retreat, everyone for himself. Scattered about are from four to 25 safety islands holding from one to 20 people. So when you can get on a safety island, you take a long breath and look ’round to see who has been killed and what the chances are to reach the next island. Every time a person leaves an island, some of the traffic tries to run him down. It is great sport, and the English circus is more exciting and difficult to watch than an American three-ring circus.
Every time I reach an island, I feel like yelling to those auto drivers, “I’m safe here. You did not catch me that time.” And in spite the auto drivers watch your departure from a safety island with glee and determination to run you down the next try.
Never see any lame or decrepit people downtown in London. I think they are all killed before reaching these real busy downtown circuses. …
In the part near London Bridge, I saw a woman get into the middle of traffic with a flower in a pot in each hand. There she stood. I watched 10 minutes and she still stood. Maybe she is there yet.
On July 25, 1925, two days before he was to begin art classes at the Académie Julian (the main reason for his journey), Cabot studied the streets of Paris near the place he had found to stay.
I find a post office in three blocks, River Seine and bridge to the Louvre in three blocks, and will start on Monday at Académie Julian, 31 rue du Dragon, also only three blocks, with restaurants, coffee shops, groceries, delicatessens, bakeries, and all I need to buy in a three-block circle, so this will save car fare and be very handy in rain. …
The “Street of the Dragon” is the most “French” street I have seen in all my walks so far. It is only 600 feet long, sidewalks two to four feet and street just wide enough for a one-way passage of wagons. … The art school is inside an alley at the lower end. This part of Paris, called Students’ Quarter, or Latin Quarter, is very similar to parts of Havana, only here the buildings are four to six stories high and grey with age, so the whole impression is dark and dull, like people living in caves….
Taxi drivers here drive more reckless than anywhere else. I understand if pedestrians get run over, the police arrest them for obstructing traffic.
While we shelter in place, we at least can be happy we are not exposed to the dangers of traffic — be it in 2020 or 1925.
Stay safe and healthy — and know that Cabot’s Pueblo Museum continues its mission to preserve the legacy of a pioneer, an adventurer, an artist, and an appreciator of other cultures.
A Virtual Tour to Ireland
“I asked one Irishman if the sun didn’t ever shine over here. “Well, yes,” he said, “it did last year. I think it was on a Wednesday…”
As related in our last two newsletters, Cabot Yerxa traveled in 1925 from California to Europe via a steamer ship. After initial stops in the Panama Canal, he reached the United Kingdom. The following edited excerpts from his journal pick up the story in Ireland — the land of shamrocks, leprechauns, Celtic music, and pubs. Particularly in these days where we feel the stresses of a global pandemic, we might take heart in the resilience not only of the pioneering Cabot Yerxa, but also of the people he encountered in his travels. May you also find comfort and joy in small things.
Went out to Dalkey, a small town on the seacoast, then walked for several miles to castle grounds of Killiney, built in 1748 by rich man to give employment to starving Irish of Dublin. They built miles of roads and high stone fences around a big, hilly promontory jutting out in the sea. The view from the very top is rated as one of the finest in Ireland and was well worth the climb. I had tea and egg and jam in a small, round defense tower. Cooking was done over a fire in the stone wall.
Good thing I came over here still young, because I had to walk several miles to get a train back to Dublin. Sightseeing is a chance to walk miles every day. The whole country is divided by stone fences into small fields of one to three acres of different shapes. Every stone cottage has its field of potatoes.
Over here in Ireland, if it is not actually raining they say, “It’s a splendid day, and it is a fine summer we are havin’.” I asked one Irishman if the sun didn’t ever shine over here. “Well, yes,” he said, “it did last year. I think it was on a Wednesday.”
Walked back from the depot through slums to my home, and I cannot understand how people live to laugh and be happy in such surroundings. …
At nine a.m. Sunday, June 28, 1925, left Dublin for Belfast, Ireland. My first experience with the side-door trains. Once an hour they stopped the train so people could drink a cup of tea. Never see coffee over here. The trip was through rolling green country past small villages and a few small cities. All bridges are of stone, track laid in stone, farmhouses of stone. In three hours did not see any wooden building, and only two autos. People, walk, ride bicycles or these Irish pony carts of two or three different styles.
My home in Belfast was with a typical, hardworking Irish family. The old man had a funny little collar with round corners and a big green necktie. His derby hat was at least 20 years old. Boy of 17 working in machine shop for 2.50 a week. Two grown girls, red hair in curl papers, slippers off because their feet hurt, joking about everything. Old lady always moving ’round with kettle of tea. Grandfather clock in room but not running. Religious pictures on walls. Black iron pots ’round the fire. Only one small window. Oilcloth on table. Towels all black. Dishes cracked. … He was a very large man, and his shoes were the largest I ever saw outside of a circus giant. His hands very large and made to fit a wheelbarrow’s handles. The girls smoked cigarettes and spoke careless slang when he was not around. … Poor people, their opportunities in life seem very restricted, yet they are happy over the small things that happen.
A Virtual Tour to Panama City
“As soon as we arrived I cut the bunch I came with as I knew they would start drinking right away…”
Although we find ourselves sheltering in place, we nevertheless partake in a virtual trip with Cabot Yerxa, thanks to the journal he kept of his travel to Europe in 1925. The first leg of his adventure, aboard a steamer, took him to Central America. Here are excerpts in which he describes his observations in Panama City.
As soon as we got to Panama, I cut the bunch I came over with, because I knew they would start drinking right away. So I started out alone and walked 27 blocks out and 35 blocks back. Sixty-two blocks and hot weather got me tired, so I took a streetcar to the end of the line at La Sabanas, near which is the ruins of Old Panama, where Morgan the English buccaneer destroyed the town by burning it 300 years ago. On the way was the bullfight ring, racetrack, also the largest hospital in South America.
Then I took car back to the president’s palace and got talking to a policeman. He took me down to see the old jail built in the wall of the old city, Spanish-fashion. Then hunted up the famous “flat arch” of Panama and the old churches, some six or seven, one of which has an altar of 14-karat gold. This was the most wonderful thing of this kind I have ever seen; it must be 40 feet wide and 5 or 60 feet high. It occupies the whole end of a good-sized church; and with the sun shining on this mass of gold, it makes you gasp for words.
This old part of Panama is very, very interesting and beautiful — 10- or 12-foot streets, sidewalks two or three feet or none at all, everything of stone and clean. Buildings tinted all the bright colors, no two alike. Most houses two stories high with overhanging balconies, on which are many potted flowers and palms. Parrots and songbirds hang in cages, and children play and laugh. Every now and then, one sees small gardens in which are banana palms and numerous tropical plants and flowers which will not grow up north. Everyone seems to have his own coconut tree, because they stand up over streets, walls and houses.
Once I came into an open square planted solid with royal poinciana trees. Here was a sold block of royal red flowers under which one might walk and soak up the beauty of it.
Automobiles and streetcars, carriages and donkey carts just go one way on account of streets being so narrow. There are many stores and many fine stocks of goods, because so many vessels stop in here and create business far beyond the size of the town. The traffic on the streets is carried on left-hand side instead of right. People pass this way on sidewalks too, of course.
Old women sit in chairs on the sidewalk selling lottery tickets wherever there is a crowd. They keep the money in a bag tied ’round the neck and the lottery tickets in one hand, and they generally smoke a cigar with the other.
Peddlers go ’round the streets with pineapples, bananas, charcoal, bread, cakes, and many different kinds of tropical fruits. Panama City has much hustle and seems very prosperous. It is very beautiful too in this walled, Spanish-city style.
Well, after walking all this time, I walked back to boat two miles, took saltwater shower and rested for supper. Two or three of the gang came into supper, but the others had got drinking and so into jail. It took $87.50 to pay the fines and get them out to the ship in time to sail, so this excitement interfered with a calm night’s rest. It was hot, so the carpenter and a mining man from New Hampshire joined me and we slept on the boat deck. The dew which falls in the night here in the tropics is very wet, almost a rain and uncomfortable.
We sailed at 5 a.m. Tuesday, May 26. Entered the Canal at 6 a.m. and tied up at Cristobal on Atlantic side at 2 p.m., having had a perfect day through Canal.
Embarkation to Europe
Cabot possessed a nature that allowed him to make the best of situations that most of us would find uncomfortable and undesirable.
Cabot wrote and sketched in his journal during the entirety of his trip to Europe in 1925. Given this time when we are sheltering in our homes and trips to other places are curtailed, it seems like a great time for armchair traveling. Fortunately, we have Cabot Yerxa for our guide. The intrepid traveler exhibited a flair for keen observation and an interest in humanity, so we can “see” other places and people through his writings.
Cabot’s 400-page journal of his journey abroad begins with his embarkation in San Pedro, California, aboard a steamer bound for the Panama Canal. He continued onto England, Ireland, Scotland, the islands of Jersey and Guernsey, and then France. His return to the United States involved stops in Cuba and Mexico. But let’s start where Cabot did on May 9, 1925.
I walked up the gangplank into a gang of Chinese deckhands. Located the purser’s office, and a China boy took me down to steerage and he disappeared. There were 23 Chinamen and two Mexicans … all sitting ’round smoking. So I’m myself at home at once. …
One white man is a carpenter from Boston. He has been out at Santa Barbara 20 years. Says he likes the steerage … A fireman said, “You are better off in the steerage than with those jellybeans and stiff-necks in first class. They are lonesome only two in a room. Just look at the company you have.” …
Our quarters are aft over the propeller and under the steam steering gear — the noisiest place on the ship. But this is all the sweetest music to me. And taken with the long, slow, steady roll of the ship, I am having a better time than anyone on the ship. …
The study of faces when a ship sails is very interesting. I mean the faces of people on the dock. Yesterday I saw tragic faces with tears, happy faces, and a thousand passing expressions, all of which go to build up the story of which life is made.
We have deck space on the deck aft. Today the sailors rigged up a canvas swimming pool on the deck 8 x 16 and eight feet deep. This is for first-class passengers, but we Chinamen can see all the fun without getting wet.
As you can see, Cabot possessed a nature that allowed him to make the best of conditions and situations that most of us would find uncomfortable and undesirable.
He could identify himself with people from other cultures and appreciated the personalities and qualities of others. Here’s an excerpt from his entry of May 10, 1925, referring to a second passenger from Boston:
The painter is a very sociable fellow, so he talks to everyone. He has much to say to the Mexicans and Chinamen, who do not understand a word. But he is so deaf he does not hear what they say. So he smiles and tells them something else or the same thing louder. What they try to say is they do not understand English. But he keeps on talking.
Enlightened, inspired, or simply entertained by Cabot Yerxa’s own experiences, may we all find within ourselves a joy of life and empathy for humankind.
While we do not suggest you follow Cabot Yerxa’s method for keeping track of the week, we think you might find it amusing.
Humans, for the most part anyway, tend to be social creatures. We like to gather with others to play games, enjoy performances, dine in company, and learn about wondrous places through guided tours. We find ourselves among others when we go to galleries and museums to view art, visit a library, shop, walk in the park or on trails, and exercise in gyms. We work in teams outside or in offices and industrial shops. We invite friends into our homes and are guests at our friends’ homes. We congregate to worship, celebrate, and memorialize.
And so we find our worlds turned upside down now. Many of our usual activities are suddenly curtailed because access to places we typically go has dissolved, and we are told that we should not gather with others for the sake of everyone’s health. We feel isolated in our own homes, even though we can go outside — as long as we maintain a “social distance.”
The days may seem to run together without our usual external contexts. Is today Monday or Tuesday? Well, while we do not suggest you follow Cabot Yerxa’s method for keep track of the week, we think you might find it amusing. The italicized text below is excerpted from his weekly “On the Desert Since 1913” column, published by the Desert Sentinel newspaper and dated Aug. 30, 1951.
Living without neighbors and no phones or newspapers, it is quite impossible to keep track of the days of the week. So if it was important for me to go to the R.R. or P.O. or to work somewhere on a certain day, I would build a fire outdoors, for instance on Monday. Then each morning I built a fire in a new spot, and so on until the designated day arrived. I was sure of it because I went back to my Monday fire and counted the days — each represented by the ashes of a fire.
Cabot continued in this column to explain that he walked seven miles to the railroad station once a week, filled canteens, and walked seven miles back to his cabin.
On this weekly trip I also tended to the mail. An empty canned-milk box in the corner of a freight care was the “post office.” All mail for the dozen homesteading families on the desert and railroad workers was dumped into this box. Then each person who called looked through the box, picking out his own mail and neighbor’s, if any. When not in a hurry, other people’s postcards were read, newspapers and magazines perused.
When is the last time you sent or received a postcard? Did you ever wonder if anyone who handled the postcard read it? Did you ever read someone else’s postcard without their permission? Did you ever send a postcard whose only message was “Wish you were here”? Have you ever wondered who is reading your emails? Have you ever read someone else’s emails without their permission? Have you ever sent an email whose only message was “Wish you were here?”
Having been written in August in the desert, Cabot’s article further related his method of keeping his cool.
After the cattle company put down a steel-cased well 400 feet at Seven Palms, it turned out to be a flowing well and formed a pond 30 feet across. If the day was hot, I often walked three miles out of my way to this point. Into the pond I waded fully clothed, holding the mail above my head in one hand. I crouched down in the middle until water ran into my ears, then walked out of the pond dripping and continued on my way. This was very refreshing, and in a short distance I was completely dry.
That Cabot Yerxa not only lived but also thrived and remained cheerful under conditions that would challenge many of us today inspires us to think that we can be strong and resilient during a time that has temporarily halted our usual pleasures. Time moves forward, things change, and we adapt. We can do so grudgingly or with focus, purpose, and optimism. No doubt Cabot would always choose the latter pathway.
Thank you to our adventurous Visitors, Donors, Sponsors, and Volunteers. The Pueblo’s story comes alive through your unique experiences, and our team is here to assist with any request, big or small. If it’s important to you, it’s important to us.