Chuckawalla Bill & His Stone Cabin Ruins (Joshua Tree National Park)

Chuckawalla Bill was born William Anthony Simon, in August of 1875; in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He spent his early adult years in the U.S. Army, fighting in the Spanish-American war, in the Philippines against post-war insurgents. Once his enlistment was complete, Simon stayed in the Philippines for an additional year. He eventually reenlist in the U.S. Army, it is thought that he had done so to get a free ride back to the United States.

After his second discharge Simon became a transient, traveling the United States. In 1907, Simon again enlisted in the U.S. Army, only to desert in October of 1908. This ended his U.S. military career. He did however manage to apply and receive military disability benefits some years later, sources say that he was not proud of having to do so, but he fell on hard times.

Simon served in the British Army during World War I, to do so he swore to being a British citizen. He became a sniper for the British Army, but immediately after the war was over he denounced that he was a British citizen, but rather an American citizen. He was discharged, and returned to the United States.

Upon his return to the US, Simon returned to his transient lifestyle. Sometime after World War II, he made his way out west. Simon’s time out west is far from well documented, but it is believed that he lived for some time in cave along the Colorado River in the Nevada desert.

This part of Simon’s life had been uncovered by famed backpacker and author Colin Fletcher, who came upon a trunk of belongings near a cave that appeared well lived in, while backpacking the Colorado River route. Fletcher became infatuated with the mystery behind the man who lived in the cave, and his trunk. He spent some time researching the case before coming across Grace Mazeris, who was a female friend of Simon, and lived with him in his cabin for a few years in the 1930s. She was able to help piece Simon back to the cave in the Nevada desert. Fletcher went on to write the book “The Man From the Cave,” about Simone’s life, in 1981.

There is a lot of unaccounted for time in Simon’s life, but it is know that in the 1930’s he lived in an old stone cabin in a canyon a few miles from Desert Hot Springs. He made a living placing mining claims, and selling them to greenhorn miners. He was known to salt the claims (place small traces of gold at the claim from other sites) to make them more attractive to potential buyers.

Simon is rumored to have received his nickname “Chuckawalla Bill,” from a priest that had visited him. Simon made him a dinner of chuckwalla, and tried passing it off as fish. The priest didn’t buy it, and gave Simon the nickname. Apparently, Simon liked the nickname and used it, he even inscribed it above his fireplace mantel while renovating the cabin in 1934.

Simon, aka Chuckawalla Bill died in 1950, at the age of 81. He had no family, no money, his occupation on his death certificate is listed as “unknown”, and he had no social security number. His last known address is simply “General Delivery”.

 

The ruins of Chuckawalla Bill's 1930s era stone cabin, located above Desert Hot Springs.

The ruins of Chuckawalla Bill’s 1930s era stone cabin, located above Desert Hot Springs.

 

Looking through the window of time.

Looking through the window of time.

 

Even by today’s standards, Chuckawalla Bill’s cabin is remote, I can only image how remote this location would have been considered in the 1930s when Bill lived here. Sure, Desert Hot Springs had been founded fifteen years prior to Bill’s arrival, but it was a much, smaller place than what it is today. The cabin is roughly six miles from the nearest sign of civilization in either Desert Hot Springs below or Yucca Valley above, and is located in the protected wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park.

The cabin has seen better days, flooding has caused some of the stone walls to crumble, and the wooden boards of the roof clutter the canyon floor for a quarter of a mile. The prized piece is the fireplace and mantel, above the fireplace the inscription “Chuckawalla Bill 1934,” can still faintly be seen.

 

Chuckawalla Bill's fireplace and mantel. Above the fireplace the inscription "Chuckawalla Bill 1934," can still faintly be seen.

Chuckawalla Bill’s fireplace and mantel. Above the fireplace the inscription “Chuckawalla Bill 1934,” can still faintly be seen.

 

Close up of the mantel and inscription

Close up of the mantel and inscription

 

The spring which once feed the cabin its water supply, lies about 100 feet behind the cabin. It has gone dry in recent years except after a good rain. There is still plenty of evidence that longhorn sheep inhabit the area. Bones and horns can easily be found in the wash, as well as sheep and other animal tracks.

If you decide to venture out and try to find Bill’s secluded cabin, please be aware that it is not an easy walk in the park. I hiked in from Yucca Valley, the first 6-miles was easy-going because it’s all downhill. The return trip is the challenge, with an elevation gain of over 1,800 feet, with 800 feet of that being in the last mile.

 

Chuckawalla Bill's cabin

Chuckawalla Bill’s cabin

 

Historic "trash" near the cabin.

Historic “trash” near the cabin.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • Desert Doug

    Great article! I have been going to Joshua Tree for over 50 years now, and finally have a vacation cabin near the park. I would love to see this place.

  • pat

    Nice! I bet Chuckawalla Bill would have some great stories to tell us.

  • Desertbat

    Great Story!

  • Tender Branson

    He used to hang out at a bar where the Pilot is now on Indian Canyon and drive home. Can’t do that anymore.