Skidoo, CA (Death Valley National Park)

 

Gold was first discovered in the Skidoo area on January 1st, 1906 by two prospectors, John Thompson and John Ramsey.  They called the find “The Golden Eagle.”  They would end up staking thirty claims in the area before anyone knew of their operations.

On March 23rd, 1906 the Rhyolite Herald would break news of the new find, “A new strike has been made 10 miles northeast of the Wild Rose. The information obtainable says that the ledge is from 8 to 10 feet wide and that the values range from $300 to $960.”

The biggest problem for Thompson and Ramsey is that they didn’t have the capital to work their claims to any real extent. In May, the men sold the Golden Eagle claims to Bob Montgomery and associates for an amount of $100,000. Bob Montgomery had plenty of experience running a large-scale mining operation as he was the owner of the famed Montgomery-Shoshone mine in Rhyolite, NV. His financial backing came from none other than wealthy business man Charles Schwab.

The new mining company would be named the Skidoo Mines Company. In order for the Skidoo mines to make a profit, a lot of hard work and finances had to go into it. Skidoo was so far in the middle of nowhere that roads had to be built, pipelines laid, and tons of supplies and equipment had to be hauled in.  The only way for this venture to be profitable was to build a mill close to the mines because transportation costs would have eaten into any profits. The mill required a dependable water supply, which meant building a 23 mile pipeline from Birch Springs in Jail Canyon to the Skidoo Mill site.

In August of 1906, a townsite was laid out under the name Montgomery in honor of the mine owner.  In September, the Los Angeles Times was calling the town Skidoo, and the Inyo Register had to say, “Skiddoo Town. Alleged to Be the Designation of the New Inyo Camp Near Emigrant Springs. Death Valley’s first town as been founded. It is Skiddoo. The foundation for its charm against the hoodoo of the fated region is twenty-three claims, and every one Skiddoos….”

September would see reports that 40 miners and 25 carpenters are in employ of Skidoo Mine Company. The camp now also had a mess house, bunk house, and an office for the mining company. A general store had also been opened, and was stocked with $25,000 worth of merchandise.

On October 22, 1906 the post office was opened under the name Hoveck. Matt Hoveck was a partial owner and the manager of the Skidoo Mines Company. When the post office was applied for in June of 1906, it was applied for under the name Montgomery (in honor of Bob Montgomery). The name Montgomery was declined due to the name being too common. Skidoo was the second choice, but was again denied. The explanation being that the word Skidoo was a slang word, and considered too bizarre.

In the spring of 1907, the government had a change of heart on the name, and allowed the town to become officially Skidoo. The change officially took place on April 1st of 1907. The Rhyolite Herald declared, “Skidoo is the town, and Skidoo is the postoffice.”

In March of 1907, the townsite was sold to Capt. W.R. Wharton. Wharton had a big vision for the town of Skidoo. He added 48 new lots on top of 320 lots that had already been set aside.

April 1907 would see telephone service installed which allowed the people of Skidoo to communicate with folks in Rhyolite, NV. The telephone install was provided by Skidoo Mine Company, however, they did charge $1.00 per call to use the phone. The telephone lines ran up the canyon which is now called Telephone Canyon. It is said that you can still find original poles in the canyon when hiking it.

It was estimated that by the end of April that upwards of 400 people had made residence in Skidoo. A number of businesses had been opened including four saloons, three restaurants, a general merchandise store, a meat market, barber, lumber yard, laundry, bakery, newspaper, and numerous brokers. Residential lots sold for $100 each, with business lots going for as much as $1,000 each.

Listing of Known Businesses in Skidoo

Ballarat – Skiddo Stage (Dec. 06) Stage Coach
Death Valley Forwarding Company (April 07) Freighting
Durnford, Curtis (April 07) Painter, Hotel
Earle, R.W. (Nov. 06) Assay Office
Follansbee, W.G. (Dec. 06) Assayer
George, R.D. (Dec. 06) Barber
Gold Seal Saloon (Dec. 06) Saloon
Hoveck House (Dec. 06) Boarding House
Kimball Brothers Stage (Feb. 07) Stage service to and from Rhyolite, NV
L.E. Thompson Mercantile Co. (Sept. 06) General Store
McCoy, J.C. (Dec. 06) Shoe Repair
Milbery, W.S. (Dec. 06) Contractor
Modern Hotel (April 06) Hotel
Olsen & Berulson (April 07) Broker & Real Estate
Panamint Brokerage Co. (Jan. 07) Broker
Panamint Club (April 07) Saloon
Pioneer Store (Dec. 06) General Store
Pittie, Mrs. Nelson (Nov. 07) Restaurant
Sheehey, J.J. (April 07) Billiards & Saloon
Skidoo Bank & Trust Co. (Feb. 07) Bank
Skidoo Club (Dec. 06) Saloon
Skidoo Lumber Co. (April 07) Lumber Yard
Skidoo Lunch Room (May 07) Restaurant
Skidoo Market (Dec. 06) Meat, Hay, Grain
Skidoo Mines Co. (Aug. 06) Mining Company
Skidoo Mining & Brokerage Co. (Feb. 07) Brokerage
Skidoo News (Dec. 06) Newspaper
Skidoo Townsite & Mining Co. (Dec. 06) Real Estate
Skidoo Trading Co. (April 08) General Store
Southern California Bank (May 07) Bank
Thisse, Frank G. (April 07) Justice of Peace, Notary
Young, Austin ( Dec. 06) Notary

By the end of 1907 the town was already in a decline, this was before the mine was even in full production as the water pipeline had just reached the townsite in December (one year later than anticipated). The population began to thin, and businesses began to close down by the summer of 1908. The population was estimated to have dropped to as few as 150 people.

Despite the loss of population and businesses, the mines at Skidoo managed to be profitable for the next nine years (1917). In October of 1908, the company built a smaller five stamp mill below the large mill complete with concentrating tables and cyanide tanks.  On a couple of occasions over the years mining was forced to come to a halt due to pipelines bursting.  The longest break in mining took place for six months in 1913 when the pipeline broke in numerous places.

The spring of 1908 brought on the event that Skidoo is likely most known for: the murder of Jim Arnold and the lynching of Joe Simpson. Jim Arnold was a respected citizen and business man in town, Joe Simpson was known to be a pimp, drunkard, and pretty much all around bad guy. On April 19th, 1908 Joe Simpson entered Arnold’s place of business (Skidoo Trading Company Store), and shot him dead. There are numerous accounts and stories about what brought the murder on, which has left the murder to be somewhat of a mystery.

 

 

On August 24th 1908 the Inyo Register ran the following story:

“From what we can learn from a party who was present in Skidoo at the time of the killing an unprovoked and uncalled for murder was committed by Joe Simpson, a saloon-keeper of that place last Sunday. It seems that Simpson went to Mr. Dobbs, the banker of that place and requested that he be given twenty dollars. Mr. Todd said: “Joe you know your account stands.” Simpson replied, “I don’t care. I want it anyhow.” The money not being handed out to him he became abusive, and Mr. James Arnold, proprietor of the building and store in which the bank is situated, hearing loud words approached Simpson and prevailed on him to leave the building. Simpson was in an ugly mood and went around town seeking trouble. Mr. Arnold seeing how matters stood, and thinking to preserve the peace and quiet of the town, started to find the Justice of the Peace and have Simpson arrested. Learning that that officer was out of town about fifteen miles, sent after him and had him brought back. Between 10:30 and 1:30, the time of the shooting, and before the arrival of the Justice, Simpson learning what he had done, approached Mr. Arnold and said, “Jim, what have you against me?” Arnold replied, “Joe, I have nothing against you, but when under the influence of liquor you are intensely ugly.” On hearing Arnold’s reply, Simpson pulled his gun and shot him, remarking “By God, your time has come.” The bullet penetrated the body in the region of the heart and made its exit in the back just below the kidneys. The unfortunate man lived only a few hours after being shot.”

“Deceased was one of the prominent citizens of Skidoo and was identified with all its interests. He was highly respected, and in his death Skidoo loses a citizen who had the best interests of the entire community at heart.”

At the time of this publication, the news had not yet been received that on August 22nd, 1908, Joe Simpson had been lynched by members of the community and hung from a telephone pole in town. The towns people were happy with the conclusion, so the courts decided to not look into the case any further and Joe Simpson would go down in the records as being the last person to have been lynched in the state of California.

The April 30th edition of the Inyo Register reported as follows:

“Joe Simpson, who deliberately murdered James Arnold at Skidoo Sunday of last week, was taken from the guard on Wednesday night and hanged to a pole. There was a strong sentiment in favor of lynching Simpson the night of the murder, but the plotters were dissuaded from the plan. Arnold was a prominent and respected citizen of the camp, and his killing was an unprovoked and cold-blooded affair. Simpson wsa [sic] a gambler, hailing from Reno, but a resident of the desert camp for some time. He seems to have been a bad character, a number of offenses being charged against him. Once, some time ago, while he was in Independence as a witness on a case in the Superior Court, he fired a pistol through Gunn’s saloon door, for which he paid a fine of $150. The opinion of the Skidoo people appears to be that the lynchers did a justifiable piece of business.”

Rumors followed that Simpson’s body had been hung a second time following his death in order to appease newspaper reporters that had been late on the scene. This rumor could never be proven.

The Skidoo Mine closed in September of 1917 due to the pay ore being exhausted. The pipeline was sold to Standard Oil in October, and crews began dismantling it immediately and hauled it off to Trona. The closing of the mine eliminated all commercial business in the area almost over night. The post office did manage to hang on for nearly a month after the closure.

The mine was leased out on occasion over the next several years, but never with much luck.

In the 1960s, a number of buildings still stood proudly at Skidoo, but every remaining one of them disappeared before the 1970’s rolled around. Nobody is sure what happened to them, but it is rumored that the National Park Service destroyed them.

Today when visiting Skidoo, the only structures that still stand are an ore bin and the massive fifteen-stamp mill. The townsite has been reclaimed by the desert as it is filled with brush. Hiking around the area will uncover broken glass, rusty cans and car parts. The fifteen-stamp mill is the prize here for mining enthusiast, its size and condition is hard to come by, as most of the old mills have been torn down for various reasons of the years. The views of Death Valley are also some of the most impressive in the park.

 

 

 

 

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.

  • Rich Trickey

    Regarding the double hanging, the story goes that Bill Keys (then of Joshua Tree, CA) and George Cook (then of Lone Pine, CA), two old timers who witnessed the events, and in Cook’s case, claimed to have participated in the first lynching and hanging, were reunited at the 1960 Death Valley 49ers campfire, where they told the story as they remembered it, essentially as you present it here. While that’s definitely heresay and not hard proof, I’ve accepted it as fact as much as any other DV lore.

    Anyone wanting a more detailed account of the story might want to check out “Death Valley to Yosemite: Frontier Mining Camps & Ghost Towns” by L. Burr Belden and Mary Dedecker, (Spotted Dog Press, 1998, ISBN 9780964753082) Lots of other cool stories of the DV and Owens Valley area in there too.