Frank “Shorty” Harris & James Dayton Graves (Death Valley National Park)

The grave of James Dayton. The bones covering his grave are those of his horses.

The grave of James Dayton. The bones covering his grave are those of his horses.

The graves of Frank “Shorty” Harris and James Dayton are situated along West Side Road between the turn offs for Hanaupah and Johnson Canyons. It was at this location that James Dayton died in July of 1898, while crossing Death Valley on his way to the town of Daggett.

Dayton was a caretaker for Pacific Coast Borax Company at Furnace Creek. He had been en-route to Daggett to pick-up supplies for the company, but never made it. Nearly a month later word reached back to Furnace Creek, and a search party began the hunt for Dayton.  Only twenty miles from where he departed, they found Dayton’s body along with the lifeless bodies of his six-horse team. The only survivor was his pet dog. It is speculated that Dayton died of an illness that he had come down with before the trip, or of a heat related illness. The wagon which he was pulling contained sufficient amounts of both food and water, so dehydration likely didn’t play a roll. Dayton was buried on the site of his death. His eulogy read, “Well Jimmie, you lived in the heat and you died in the heat, and after what you’ve been through, I guess you ought to be comfortable in hell.” (writers note: I can only hope that something so kind is said about me upon my death.)

Frank "Shorty" Harris and his burro.

Frank “Shorty” Harris and his burro.

Frank “Shorty” Harris was the quintessential example of a Death Valley prospector. It was often said that “Shorty” had the ability to “smell gold,” because of his keen ability to discover good claims. Despite his ability, and being responsible for discovering the areas largest producer, the Bullfrog Mining District, “Shorty” never actually owned or operated a mining operation.  “Shorty” preferred to drink away what little profits he would make from selling a claim. Once funds would deplete, he would again begin the search for good gold-bearing ground.

“Shorty” prospected for most of his adult life, first in Colorado, Arizona and Idaho. A majority of his prospector years were however spent in the Death Valley region. He died in 1934 at the age of 78, at his cabin in Big Pine. He requested to be buried beside his old friend James Dayton in Death Valley, with his tombstone reading, “Here lies Shorty Harris, a single blanket jackass prospector – 1856-1934.”


The plaque above the graves.

The plaque above the graves.


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.