National Geographic : 1970 Jan
time, pursued by Indians. He spent years trying to relocate his strike, and others joined the quest. They became known as "breyfoglers." But enough mines paid off handsomely to keep the fever going, and some of them spawned rip-roaring towns that mushroomed and with ered in the familiar boom-and-bust pattern. Boomtown of Skidoo Wins Grisly Fame In a mile-high valley of the Panamints, we had to look closely to find the remains of one such town-Skidoo. It got its name, one story goes, because its water supply came from near Telescope Peak, 23 miles away. The year was 1905, when "23" was to "Skidoo" what a sneeze is to Gesundheit. But Skidoo's fame rests mainly on a macabre episode, for this is the town that hanged a man twice. The victim, "Hooch" Simpson, had killed banker Jim Arnold one Sunday while in a drunken fury, and by Wednesday night a mob had decided to dispense justice without trou bling a court. Hooch was in his grave when a Los Angeles Herald reporter arrived Friday morning to cover the hanging. In most towns, that would have been that, but not in Skidoo. The sympathetic citi zenry obligingly dug Hooch up and hanged him again. Only one sun-baked old mill remained when we visited the ghost town last summer. Rusted cans and broken glass littered the several blocks of the once-thriving community. We scanned the slopes in vain for the cemetery, where Hooch Simpson and Jim Arnold might rest at peace with each other. Of all the area's ghost towns, the most ambitious-and meteoric was Rhyolite, Nevada, just outside the monument's northeastern boundary. Named for a silica-rich rock found nearby, the town was spawned by a major gold strike in the neighboring Bullfrog Hills in 1904. By 1906 it numbered perhaps 10,000 people. By 1911 it was dead. "In its heyday," Mrs. Frederica Heisler told us, "Rhyolite had 3 rail roads, 3 newspapers, 2 hospitals, a swimming pool, 2 city parks, 10 hotels, an opera house, and 56 saloons." We met Mrs. Heisler, an ex-teacher from Georgia, in the former railroad station. The rails are long gone, but the two-story station, with foot-thick walls of stone, stands by the empty track bed as if expecting trains that cannot come. The old depot is Mrs. Heisler's home; she uses its waiting rooms as a museum and a curio shop. "The station cost $130,000 when it was built," she said. "It's hard to believe now, but five thousand people welcomed the first train." The panic of 1907 had lingering, disastrous effects on the market for precious metals, a key factor in the demise of Rhyolite. Once the mines began closing, the town emptied quickly. Piece by piece, scavengers Ruins from a rollicking era, concrete facades front an empty street in Rhyolite. After a gold strike in 1904 the town boomed, and 10,000 people vied to share the new-found riches. The three-story structure, with marble stairs, mahogany railings, and a stained glass window, housed the John S. Cook Bank. With an electric power plant, a waterworks, telephone system, and churches, Rhyo lite was built to last. But a financial panic left it dead by 1911. Brush conjures up a captive audience for Marta Becket, an artist and ballet dancer who decided to perform her self-created dances in Death Valley Junction-whether people come to see her or not. She and her husband leased an unused movie theater in the former borax town, where she stages a program three times a week, sometimes with only her painted people to applaud her (page 94).