Rancho Dos Palmas

About 5 miles east of North Shore, CA. lay Dos Palmas. Dos Palmas was one of the main stage stops on the Bradshaw trail, which ran from 1862 till the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad in 1876. Mysteries and legend have always surrounded Dos Palmas.

Herman Ehrenberg was murdered there on the night of Oct 6th 1866 as he lay outside on a pallet. Legend has it that he wasdospalmas3 carrying $3,500.00 in gold from the La Paz gold fields in AZ., back to Los Angles. Newspapers reported that it was by Indians, but some have even come to believe that it may have been by the station keeper himself Mr. Smith. He was buried the next day, close to the station.

A letter from Dos Palmas Station from Nov. 1873 stated: “The son of old Chino Theodore”, from Yuma, came to the station recently about dark, on foot, and nearly dead for water. He said he had left his father and a boy, out forty miles on the desert, without water and nearly dead for the want of it, having been without it for nearly three days when he left them twenty four hours before. Joe Dittier, the station-keeper, and Hank Brown started the next morning with a team and plenty of water to find them. After going twenty-five miles, they came upon the old man. He had found a cask of water that had been left by surveyors. One of the parties stayed with him, and the other went to look for the boy. After going fifteen miles he was discovered stretched out under a bush, naked and almost dead—his tongue being swollen and black, and blood running out of his nose and ears. He was brought to after two hours hard work, having been without water for five days and nights. Their three horses died. The party are now stopping here and getting along all right. The old man says that if he had not lost his knife he would have cut his throat, and ended his misery.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad came thru the Coachella Valley, from Yuma to Los Angles, They established a train stop called Dos Palmas. It was 260’ below level. When the Colorado River broke thru its levies, causing the floods of 1905 thru 1907, which would eventually form todays Salton Sea, the train station disappeared underneath its waters.

It is well documented that a family from Texas passed through Dos Palmas and while there, their baby died and was buried next to the grave of Herman Ehrenberg. The “baby white” headstone was carved in 1906 and placed on the grave by 30 year resident Frank Coffey. The headstone survived at the ranch until after 1987. It had been moved to the compound headquarters area of the ranch for safekeeping after someone had taken a shot at it. It disappeared sometime over the next several years following the sale of the ranch by its last private owners.

Frank Coffee, who had prospected the Chuckwalla Mountains and surrounding area since about 1885, and was also known as the mayor of Dos Palmas, built a cabin and settled there sometime after the turn of the century. He located (or relocated and renamed) a mine in the hills north of the spring that he called the Good Enough Mine. The Good Enough Mine was described near the Red Cloud Mine in the Chuckwalla Mountains in the Indio Date Palm, February 7, 1912. Coffee died at the age of 77 in October, 1936. In November, 1940, his cabin was but “charred remains.”

The adobe walls of old Dos Palmas stage station had almost disappeared by the winter of 1920, but this was still the camping place of prospectors, as it had been since the 1860s.

In March of 1927, the property was deeded to Frank M. Campbell by Charles F. Derby. John Voss, who had been living at thedospalmas2 ranch and prospecting in the Orocopia Mts. Since 1931, recommended that Gertrude buy the ranch. She lived there from 1938-1943. Ranch handyman and noted desert landscape artist John W. Hilton lived and worked at the ranch for a time. Famous painter Barry Atwater had a little cabin there.

In later years, Hollywood executive Raymond Morgan owned the property. 1943 – 1980. Ray Morgan produced radio and television shows, including “Queen for a Day”.

Most of the vast Dos Palmas Valley in North Shore is a Preserve managed by The Bureau of Land Management. The Nature Conservancy acquired the property from private owners in 1989. Several years later it was transferred to public ownership with BLM being the lead agency overseeing management of the 22,000+ acres. The site includes a number of natural oases, the site of the historic Dos Palmas stage stop, numerous large ponds built and used by the previous fish farm, and the 40-acre headquarters compound.

Andy “the Donkey Man” Rolan

He stated that,  ”This country’s not free anymore”,  the law gave him a ticket for walking along the highway. I’ve been walking along the highway for 42 years, against the traffic, like you supposed to. The fine was $5.oo. He said he wasn’t going to pay $5.oo for doing nothing. He fought the ticket in court and won. The judge told him to “go ahead and walk where you have been Andy.”


Born in Newark New Jersey, He quit school in the 7th grade to work on a peddling wagon. He and an old man sold fruits and vegetables in Newark.
In 1915, he hopped a freight train to come west. “I RODE lots of freights,” he said. “How else could you go? He came to the desert in 1931.

For 42 years Andy the Donkey Man has been a squatter on some of the most expensive land in the desert. Hell, I’ve had some of the best neighbors a man could ever ask for, Andy declared. “Movie stars, Millionaires, President Eisenhower lived just down the road a piece.” Andy said he “can’t complain about the rent. I stay in one spot ’til I’m run off. Then I find another place.”

Andy "the Donkey Man" RolanAndy lives on the desert from October to mid-May. Then he and his donkeys walk 35 miles up the mountains to a cooler spot. The donkeys pull his old cart. When it gets hotter than hell here, I go to the mountains. When it gets colder than hell up there, I come down here.

Andy got married when he was 65 but it lasted only a few days. “She was a good looker named Ruby,” he continued. “She worked in a cafe as a waitress. I told her “Lets you and I pool our resources and get a couple of acres.’ “She said ‘OK. It’s a deal! So we got hitched. “I sold 10 of my donkeys and bought Ruby a trailer for $475. She slept in the trailer. I slept in my cart. I gave her the pink slip for the trailer, signed with my name. “Then she beat it. Ruby sold the trailer for $300 cash. “She sent me a letter from San Francisco saying next time she would see me she’d have a new truck and enough money to buy our two acres. That was  seven years ago. I’m still waiting. Ruby was 45 when she married the Donkey Man.

Andy Rolan Palm Desert 1965

Around 1969, Andy was hit by a drunk driver, killing 3 of his donkeys. He was unconscious for 11 days. “I’m damn lucky to be alive, I was 69, a drunk ran into me and my cart killing three of my best jackasses. The guy didn’t have a dime”.

Andrew Rolan, better known as  “Andy the donkey man”  was Killed by a car during the early morning hours of Dec. 31, 1973, along Hwy. 111 in Palm Desert, after attending to his donkey’s. The driver was not held. Andy, growing old and losing his sight is believed to have wandered onto the highway and was struck.  Andy was 73 years old.

Steve Ragsdale

Grundyke Well/Old Desert Center

“Old Desert Center” was founded in 1921 when Stephen and Lydia  Ragsdale were passing through the Chuckwalla Valley on their way to Los Angeles on business.  They met an old prospector named Peter Gruendyke who owned a piece of property on what is now the southeast corner of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.  Aside from its optimal location, being near the only road through the valley at the time, the property had a well, windmill and some living quarters.   Ever the entrepreneur, Stephen saw this mid-point between the Palo Verde Valley and the Coachella Valley as having huge potential as a “”supply station for both humans and autos”.Desert Center-3

Fortunately for Steve, Mr. Gruendyke was at the end of his rope.  Loneliness, scorching heat, logistic troubles with his crops, inadequate water supply and the distance needed to travel for supplies, made Stephen’s offer upon his return from L.A. irresistible.  With a three year lease on Peter Gruendyke’s parcel, Mr. Ragsdale loaded up two farm wagons, his wife Lydia and their 4 kids, attached his horses or mules and left the Palo Verde Valley and established his family home in what would later become Desert Center.  In 1922 he opened his first café-store and service station-garage alongside the single lane desert trail that passed between the two valleys.

The Chuckwalla Valley in 1921 was harsh and remote.  The dirt road was temperamental, affected greatly by the seasons, the vehicles of the time had narrow tires, easily stuck in the sand, small radiators, constantly overheating, and Desert Center became an important half way point for all travelers.  Gas was pumped by hand from a 55 gallon drum, and a Model T truck was modified to serve as a tow car.  Lydia, later known as “Mom Ragsdale” administered first aid, served as waitress, cook, and company  for all travelers passing through the remote desert  town.

In 1925 the dirt road connecting the Palo Verde Valley and the Coachella Valley known as the Blythe-Mecca road, was slotted for improvement.   It would be straightened improved and relocated 5 miles south of the existing dirt road which had been the source of the Ragsdale’s customer base.  Seeing the need to move his establishment closer to the stream of traffic, Steven A. Ragsdale (who referred to himself as “Desert Steve”) began to take out patents on the land surrounding what is now Desert Center, and by 1927 he had 700 acres altogether. He moved his entire establishment, transferring some buildings, and pouring an adobe style concrete structure that still stands today as the Desert Center Café.  Attached to the café was a gas station and service garage.  The first post office was a box on the cafe counter.  Lydia Ragsdale was appointed Desert Center’s first postmaster by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in March of 1934.  Across the street from the café you will find a series of buildings all of which were built in 1942 on the Army Air Base which is where the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway is today.  They were purchased by Mr. Ragsdale and transported to their current location.

Stephen and Lydia had 3 sons and a daughter, Thurman, Thelma, Herbert and Stanley.    At that time there wasn’t a school and due to the fact there were only a handful of kids, when asked the county said no to a school.  By law a school district cannot be formed unless a certain number of kids are in attendance.  Mr. Ragsdale was a very resourceful man.  So, he ran an ad in the Los Angeles paper for a mechanic for the service station with one qualification being a large family.  And the man who answered the ad had 8 kids!  The townsfolk combined their resources and built the first school in Desert Center and when it was completed the county provided a school teacher. The Ragsdales donated the land for the school with the stipulation, the land is returned to the Ragsdales if the school was ever discontinued.  The stick frame building covered with paper board served just fine until the rains came. The walls became a soggy, delicious treat for the herd of goats the Ragsdales kept.  The goats ate the walls as high as they could reach!

Just to the south of Desert Center is the location where Steve wanted to be buried. There is a plaque there which reads the following:

DESERT STEVE2013-03-2133

Born June 16, 1882

Founded D. C. Sept. 21, 1921

Worked like hell to be

an honest American citizen

Loved his fellow men

& served them

Hated booze guzzling

Hated war

Hated dirty deal

damn fool politicans2013-03-2134

Hopes guy named Ragsdale

will ever serve humanity

at Desert Center

He dug his own grave

Here are his bones

I put this damn thing up

before I kicked off

Nuff sed——–Steve

Died                  19

ALIAS-DESERT STEVE Founded Desert Center, California in 1921 along then US 60, now I- 10. A real desert rat and eccentric. He ran a cafe,hotel,pool and post office and advertised “No drunks, no dogs. We prefer dogs!” Also he wrote poetry called ” Spasms” and cofounded the annual Peg Leg Smith liar’s contest in Anza Borrego. He originally wanted to be “planted” in Desert Center and even erected his own marker and dug his own grave. Instead he left Desert Center in 1950 and retreated to his log .cabin on Mount Santa Rosa where he lived until he died in 1971. He is buried in the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery.

Cabot Yerxa

Cabot Abram Yerxa (June 11, 1883 – March 5, 1965) came to this desert in 1913. He homesteaded a 160 acre parcel next to Two Bunch Palms. Just a few years before, in Aug of 1905, Louis Wilhelm had traded two mules and a buckboard to Alkali Al Thornburg for his 80 Acre parcel that would become Thousand Palms Canyon. Before his death in 1965, he would become known as “The Father of Desert Hot Springs”.
At first he dug a hole in a clay bank and lived there with no roof, no floor, no windows, no bed, no door, no chair and no stove. Next he built a one room cabin which was 10 feet by 12 feet in size. When Yerxa finally came into possession of $10, he purchased a black burro which he named “Merry Xmas”.cabot-2
In 1914 Cabot dug a large hole with pick and shovel, discovered the now famous hot mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs. Cabot dug a second well and he discovered the pure cold water which was the Mission Springs Aquifer. This is how Miracle Hill got its name. He constructed the first permanent building in the area, Eagle’s Nest Cabin. It was 10 feet by 20 feet in size and built of stone. Eagle’s Nest Cabin had one door and one window out to the world, but the rest was practically underground. The main idea was to get out of the wind and to make safe storage for his belongings.
Merry Xmas wandered away while Yerxa was a soldier in World War I (where he attained the rank of sergeant with the 345th Battalion Tank Corps). All went well for years, but Eagle’s Nest was discovered by vandals and made a shambles. Later it was wrecked and buried beneath the sand one mile south of the present pueblo.
IN 1937, he managed to get the interest of L. W. Coffee of Los Angeles in the value of the natural hot spring waters which led eventually to the founding of the small village of Desert Hot Springs. By 1941 there was talk of a town at Desert Hot Springs; so Yerxa started the Old Indian Pueblo near the mountains. The architecture is Hopi Indian style, similar to the architecture found in New Mexico 1000 years or so ago. The structure is four stories high, contains 150 windows and 65 doors, 17 of which lead to the outside. There are 35 rooms in this unfinished building. The lumber is all “recycled”. Poles were retrieved from mountain floods, many railroad ties were used and some timbers came out of the Metropolitan Aqueduct tunnels. Bent and rusty nails were saved to straighten and use again.
In March 5, 1965 Cabot Yerxa died of a heart attack at the age of 83 while reading the newspaper in the kitchen of his home. Only about a month before, his pueblo was featured on the television show “Happy Wanderers”.
In 1998 Cabot’s Pueblo Museum was donated to the City of Desert Hot Springs.

Stage Stops on the Bradshaw Trail

Highland Springs Resort (Smith Station)
The first white man to reach the area was Dr. Isaac Smith in 1853, who according to recorded land documents, purchased from Paulino Weaver an undivided one-third interest from the Mexican Governor, Pio Pico. Dr. Smith brought his wife and seven children to the rancho to live and built a house known as Smith’s Station, which later became Highland Home and subsequently called Highland Springs. This will mark our starting point in the Pass Area. “Smith Station”. Today is Highland Springs Resort. According to local legend, on October 29th, 1862, a stage coach transporting money locked in an express box, stopped at Highland Springs Resort for the night. The next morning, the box and the money were gone. The two stagecoach hands decided one of the ranch hands named Gordon was the most likely culprit. Gordon was found innocent of the stage coach robbery.

4 miles to: Gilman Ranch (Newton Noble Ranch – Chapin Sheep Ranch)
Banning’s first permanent landmark, Gilman Ranch adobe, was ultimately used as a stage stop by the Colorado Stage & Express Line founded by Alexander & Co. of Los Angeles on its route to the Colorado River in 1862,where gold had been discovered. The route ran through the foothills a half-mile north of downtown Banning, then north of Cabazon and Whitewater, which was the last stop before reaching Palm Springs. This is also where the Willie Boy saga played out. An adobe house was built on the site in 1854 by Jose Pope, a sheep rancher, who bought it from Isaac Williams. In 1862, G. S. Chapin bought the site from Jose Pope and raised sheep. In 1863, entrepreneur Newton Noble bought the adobe, converted it to a stage stop and opened the first post office in the San Gorgonio Pass in 1868. The adobe was next bought by James Marshall Gilman in 1869, who had come to California from New Hampshire. Gilman married Martha Benoist Smith in 1871 and they lived in the adobe until 1879, when they built a two-story ranch house

2 miles to: Hathaway Canyon (Potrero Genio Creek)

2 miles to: Potrero Creek (Antino Creek)

3 miles to: Millard Canyon (Grant’s Creek)

5 miles to: Southeast Cabazon (Indian Run-One Horse Spring)

2 miles to: Whitewater (Agua Blanca / Whitewater Station)
Proprietor: Frank Smith 1862-1867

3 miles to: Windy Point (Whitewater Point)

7 miles to: Palm Springs (Agua Caliente)
Proprietor: Jack Summers 1862-1876

11 miles to: Palm Desert (Sand Hole)

6 miles to: Indian Wells (Old Rancheria)
Proprietor: Ropely ?

15 miles to: Torres Reservation (Toro Village / Station)
In 1856 field notes of John La Croze called it both “Toro’s” and “Torros”. In 1862 Capt. Wm. McCleave speaks of proceeding “to Toro’s, an Indian rancheria”. Toro being the name of the chief. By 1866 the area was known as “El Torro Station”. Around 1875 it 100_0743was referred to by local miners as “Torres”.

5 miles to: Torres Reservation (Martin’s House / Martinez Station)
Proprietor: Hank Brown 1866 – ?

12 miles to: Date Palm Beach/Desert Beach (Palma Seca-Soda Springs-Lone Palm)

7 miles to: Dos Palmas Rancho (Dos Palmas)
Proprietor: W. H. Smith 1866 – 1867, French Charlie 1870
Oct. 9 1866 Herman Ehrenberg was killed at Dos Palmas. Some will believe that it was by a renegade Indian and some will come to think it was by the man who ran the station at the time, W. H. Smith. Stories have it that he was carrying $3,500.00 in gold.Scan0002-AA

10 miles to: Canyon Springs (Canyon Creek)
Proprietor: Nat Small 1877

6 miles to: Tabaseca Tank (Tabaseca)

18 miles to: Chuckwalla Spring / Well (Chu-cu-walla)

20 miles to: Now Vanished (Mule Spring)

15 miles to: Ripley (Willow Spring)
Proprietor: A Frenchman

9 miles to: Ehrenberg Bridge (Bradshaw’s Ferry)
William Bradshaw was a heavy drinker. In the fall of 1864, in an attempt to dry out, he returned to Olive City. While suffering a horrible hallucinations, he walked into a carpenter’s shop, picked up a
drawknife, and nearly severed his head from his shoulders. Yuma County records list his death at Bradshaw Ferry, Dec. 2, 1864.

Harry Oliver

JT-11On Thursday March 8, 1962, The Desert Sentinel reported that Harry Oliver’s old 1929 Ford station wagon was the first vehicle over the new “Fort Oliver Bridge” (Ramon Overpass) in Thousand Palms. He bought his old Ford while he was working at MGM and building homes in Borrego.

Walt Disney says Harry coined the word “litterbug”. Harry was the original Desert Rat, and was also called the desert’s Don Quixote.

Most agree that Harry’s birthday was in 1888 and most historians seem to go along with that. They also place Harry’s birthplace as Hastings, Minn. He said he was the world’s first grammar school dropout, that was the only way I could rebel against people who think there is only one way to spell a word. Harry made his own illustrations from woodblock cuts and designed his own alphabet
using cactus to form the letters. But it was the stories and humor that he so lovingly injected into his Scrap Book that won his following.

Harry Oliver came to California in 1909. He designed and built the set for “Ben Hur” with Francis X. Bushman in Italy. Mary Pickford was delighted with his work and hired him to do dozens of films for her and her actor-husband, Douglas Fairbanks. Oliver won two Academy Awards as an art director, working on some of the classic pictures of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Harry said he came to the desert on Dec. 26, 1941, he arrived in Thousand Palms with $5 cash, a bottle of cheap whiskey and a shiny Ford station wagon, which was only 13 years old. To make ends meet and establish himself as a bonafide desert dweller, Harry went to work for the goverment helping to grow rubber.

Saving up $100, Harry bought a piece of land 8 miles due east of Palm Springs, between San Gorgonio Pass and Indio. Situated on Hwy. 99, Harry was ready to build Fort Oliver and become a legend in his lifetime.

Starting with homemade adobe bricks, Harry constructed a building worthy of any western movie. “Actually”, Harry likes to explain, “It’s as old as the hills-because that’s where the dirt came from”. Harry became friends with Will Rogers and Rogers joined in spoofs with Harry about Peg Leg Pete and his lost gold mine. Harry made hundreds of peg legs, which he planted around the desert after he had aged them with acid and other tricks.

By 1946 Harry was ready to launch his “Desert Rat Scrap Book”, a publication that has sent shivers and laughs down the spine of 2013-03-2991newspaper editors across the country because of the spelling and punctuation. Harry says the Scrap Book is the only paper in America you can open in the wind. Because it is a single sheet of paper folded five times, and his claim held up. On July 5th 1973, Old Fort Olivers flag flew at half-mast. The 85 year old died at Woodland Hills of a heart condition. He always said he wanted to die on the 4th of July and he did. Harry always said he built Fort Oliver to protect Desert Hot Springs from the east.

Today there is nothing left of Fort Oliver. It was located where the Chevron station and Denny’s stand today.

Ship of the Colorado Desert

By far one of the best stories I have ever heard is about the lost pearl ship. While some scoff at this as just pure myth, I have come to believe there is quite a bit of solid fact that surrounds this story.
The basic story involes a pearling ship in 1615 others say and believe that it may be a viking long boat, that somehow navigated from the Gulf of California into what is now the present day Salton Sea. Depending on which story is told, The ship was overcome by local natives or became landlocked and was abonded, sending the crew to walk back into Mexico. Truly a tall tale. There are however credible stories and reports thru the years that tell of this as being fact. Some from very reliable people.
* In 1775, When Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition crossed the Southern California desert, two or three days out of Yuma, a young mule driver (Tiburcia Manquerna) came upon a decayed hull of an acient sailing ship partially buried in the sand. Where he found chest’s full of pearls in the interior. Filled his pockets as full as possible and headed towards San Diego.
* In 1863 Albert S. Evans horse died and he walked out of the Colorado desert. Dos Palmsa towards Palma Seca, and this is where he says he saw the ship.
* In 1870 Indians reported having seen the boat and the location was given as 40 miles north of the San Bernardino-Yuma Road and about 30 miles west of Dos Palmas.

* In 1870 a party of men headed by Charles Clusker went out to salvage the vessel and what valuables it contained. Local charley clusker 2-2newspapers reported the men had found it 45/50 miles southwest from Dos Palmas Station in a region of boiling mud springs, or around the mouth of San Felipe Creek at the Salton Sea.
* In January, 1870, Albert S. Evans had an article published in the New York Galaxy in which he told of having seen the old ship in 1863, south of the road from San Bernardino.
* On October 6, 1870, for instance, a Sacramento newspaper, Sacramento Union, carried an article which stated: “An advance party of four, from San Bernardino, have left to visit the famous wrecked ship in the California desert. The ship, which must have lain a wreck for over 250 Years, is built of teakwood, and is perfectly sound. The bow and stern are plainly visible, and she is 240 miles from the Gulf of California.
* On September 27, 1873, another California paper, the Inyo Independent, carried this: “The ship in the desert story, which has heretofore been attributed to a writer’s lively imagination, is verified by the Tames expedition explorers. In the California desert, over 200 miles from the Gulf of California, they found the mast of a vessel.
* In 1878, three German prospectors saw the ship around sundown. The two survivors reported seeing an immense ship under full sail, floating over the desert, sailing like a cloud into the sunset. One of the three prospectors went after it the next morning, but never returned. A rescue party eventually found him dead from lack of water and strangely naked.
* 1890, an old desert rat arrived at Kane Springs and stated that he had found the ship close by in the desert, half-covered by shifting sands.
* In 1892 Jim Fisk had talked to an old indian, whose grandfather had seen white men come to the desert in a big white bird. Years later he talked to an old prospector who stated that he saw the boat in the sands in the Salton Sink. Fisk believes by what the prospector had told him that the location would have been east of Kane Springs at the south end of the Salton Sink.
* In 1907, Elmer L. Carver went to work in the city of Imperial for Mr. Nels Jacobson, and states that he saw the ship.
* In 1915, in the desert town of Indio, an old Indian tried to purchase some items with pearls.
* In an interview from 1919, W. W. McCoy said that he & Herman Ehrenberg went to the Salton Sea and talked to Chief Cabazon. Cabazon told us that as near as he could judge three hundred years before, two ships had sailed into the Salton Sea. The men had landed and taken timber out of the mountains.
* Sometime between WW1 & WW11 Butcherknife Ike state the when returning from Laguna Salada, he saw it when going through Split Mountain.
* In 1933, near Agua Caliente Springs, Louis and Myrtle Botts from the small town of Julian, stumbled upon the forward half of an old viking ship sticking part way out of the mountains in Tierra Blanco Canyon. Sadly shortly after they discovered it and before any photographic evidence, a huge earthquake occurred and covered up the finding.
* In 1939 Desert Mgazine interview from Petra Socia. Her first husband stated he had found a boat around 1892 while looking for gold. He told her he found it in a narrow box canyon with sheer walls and a sandy bottom. The boat had metal disks on the sides. There was also writing on the walls of the canyon. He didn’t know what language it was but it wasn’t English nor Indian.