Flies !

By C. B. Glasscock
from Clarence Rasor's personalized copy of
"Here's Death Valley"

As the Tonopah & Tidewater crawled northward toward the Amargosa Desert, it opened up notable scenic attreaction, though at the moment {1906-7 - ed.} they were somewhat obscured by the unequaled swarms of flies around mule corrals and cook-houses at each construction camp. Those flies must go down in history {still there today! - ed.}. I have seen them so thick over a cook-house table that a man could hardly see across it. Conditions were somewhat improved after Borax Smith was made conscious of them through the more delicate sensibilities of Evelyn Ellis and Grace Sperry on an historic tour of the region. The fact that John Ryan, Chris Zabriskie and "Lord" Baker were participants in that same tour of inspection may have helped.

It was a gay adventure for the young women. They even wrote a little book about it, an limited edition to a score of copies, bound in limp leather, and presented to each member of the party. The copy before me bears the name of John Ryan, stamped in gold. It all happened only in 1906, but it was the first automobile trip ever undertaken from Beatty, Nevada, to the Lila C. Mine. That part of the journey consumed an entire day, it can now be made in an hour. They began to object to the flies first at Ash Meadows where they stopped for lunch. They spent the night at the Lila C., and there discarded their automobile in favor of a mountain wagon and four-horse team driven by Borax Smith. The flies accompanied the horses in greater swarms. Another day was consumed on the winding fifty miles to the abandoned Amargosa Borax Works {near today's junction of the Tecopa Hot Springs Road and CA 127 - ed.}. from there, on still another day, they struggled over what Mr. Baker described as "the Devil's Staircase." The authors of the little book asserted that "sometime in prehistoric ages a wagon may have passed that way."

It was, in fact, the way over which Ed Stiles {Cahill's Uncle - ed.} drove the first twenty-mule team {from the Amargosa Borax Works - ed.}, the way through which the T. & T. Railroad was soon to extend. As they reached the railroad grading camp they commented again upon a million flies. And still they had to drive on for hours to the end of steel where Borax Smith's and John Ryan's private cars awaited them.

It is a revealing record of the difficulties of travel into the eastern Death Valley country as late as 1906. Many more months were consumed before the T. & T. was completed.

By the time that was accomplished, and reasonably fast, safe and comfortable access to Death Valley had been provided, all of America had been aroused to an exciting consciousness of the valley's mysteries. Not borax, not gold, not engineers, not miners, but the tricks of a master showman presented Death Valley to a curious, credulous world. Walter Scott had become "Death Valley Scottie", and how !

 
 

 

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07/20/2007