Schwab (Death Valley National Park)

The very scattered remains of the town of Schwab.

The very scattered remains of the town of Schwab.

 

Charles M. Schwab, is a name that was synonymous with the Pennsylvania steel empire of Bethlehem Steel. A side from the steel business, Schwab was an investor in many Death Valley area mines. One of his first endeavors in the Death Valley area was the Skibo Mine, and the incorporation of the Skibo Mining Company.  Shortly thereafter, Schwab invested in the Greenwater District, and in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in Rhyolite, NV – but those are other stories, not associated with the townsite of Schwab.

The town of Schwab was constructed in support of the Skibo Mine, and named in honor of the investor himself. In January of 1907, the town literally arrived via five boxcars, which consisted of several canvas style tent buildings. At that time, this was looked at as being modern for the era. It took about two months for the population to swell to around two-hundred residents, and along with the residents came a post office, a miner’s union hall, telephone service, and a daily stage to Rhyolite.

Somewhere along the line, three women by the names of Gertrude Fesler, F.W. Dunn, and Helen H. Black, took ownership of the small community. This was considered an oddity, and newspaper headlines across the region rang out with headlines like, “A Mining Camp Built by Ladies,” said the Death Valley Chuck-Walla, and “One of the most unique wonders of the new West,” said the Bullfrog Miner.

Along with the female ownership, came an odd clamp-down on gambling, drinking, and whoring. The Death Valley Chuck-Walla reported, “The gamblers were told to get out. Saloon men were frowned at and sporting women were positively refused entrance. Men said that a mining camp could not exist under such restrictions, but Schwab did. The women hastened to secure the post office, the first in the district, and everybody in the three towns [Schwab, Lee, California and Lee, Nevada] had to come to Schwab for mail.”

Schwab eventually faltered, and only several months after its inception. The town of Lee provided much competition to Schwab, being located closer to the hub of Rhyolite, as well as looser morals, this combined with the Financial Panic of 1907, sealed Schwab’s fate.

Having consisted of only tent structures, and no wood framed buildings, the location of the townsite was lost to history for a significant period of time. Records indicate that the actual location of Schwab wasn’t reidentified until the 1970s, during historic research performed by Death Valley National Park. For the longest time, Schwab was thought to have existed below the Inyo Mine, and the remains of the town never found, having been swallowed up by the large mine site.

 

The lone grave of Schwab. The grave's authenticity is questionable.

The lone grave of Schwab. The grave’s authenticity is questionable.

 

Thanks to the historic research of Death Valley historians, we now know that the townsite was situated, “in the north or upper branch of Echo Canyon, astride the main Echo-Lee wagon road, across a small ridge from the present Inyo ruins, and about 1-1/2 miles from those ruins.”

Access to the old townsite is now restricted to foot traffic, so I set off on foot one fine December afternoon with the intentions of locating the site of Schwab.  An old wagon road led through the upper branch of Echo Canyon, I followed this path as much as possible – at times it was difficult to follow, having been washed out in many places. Less than a mile from where I parked, I found the scant remains of Schwab, “A Mining Camp Built by Ladies.”

Very little identifiable features are present, the ruins consisting largely of wood tent platforms, stone walls, and tin cans. A single grave lies across the way from one of the thrashed tent platforms, it is marked by a wooden cross, with the words “Death Valley Victim – 1907,” carved in it. The authenticity of this grave is often debated, there being no recorded deaths during Schwab’s short existence.

 

"Death Valley Victim - 1907"

“Death Valley Victim – 1907”

 

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.

2 Comments

  • Not much left of this place, except for it’s history. I really knew nothing about it (until just now). I haven’t been to Death Valley for a very long time. You have really got me wanting to go. I guess I’ll have to stay there for a long time to even see a fraction of the places you’ve posted about. Thanks for allowing me to experience them through you.

  • My wife and I stopped by there after a hike of Winters Peak. Noticed this mysterious spot marked Schwab on the topo and had to see what was there. Really neat to be able to read about the history of this little spot on your page. Thanks, your web site looks like a great resource!

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