Like the many men before him, Carl Mengel, came to the Death Valley area in search for that one mine that would make him rich. Born in San Bernardino, CA in 1868 – he was no stranger to the desert, he had made previous attempts at mining, as well as fishing and farming. In the early 1900s, he landed in Butte Valley via Goler Wash, through the Panamint Mountain Range. In 1912, he purchased the Oro Fino Claim in Goler Wash, where he found a nice amount of high-grade ore. Exactly how much, nobody seems to know – whatever amount it may have been, it must have caused Mengel to catch a bit of gold fever.
In 1924, Mengel filed several additional claims both south and west of Anvil Springs. These claims would become known as Topah Nos. 1-4, Topah Extension, and Mah Jongg Nos. 1-6.
During a mining accident, Mengel lost one of his legs – forcing him to use a prosthetic leg. He died in 1944 of tuberculosis, and was dirt poor. His ashes sit just a short distance from his homestead, atop Mengel Pass – named in his honor.
There are a couple of accounts, and a bit of a mystery regarding the stone cabin in which Mengel lived. One story states that Mengel found the stone cabin when he first came to the area. If this is indeed accurate, the cabin had been built by Mormon Pioneers, that had been in the vicinity in 1869. L. Burr Belden, who was a reporter for the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, and a friend of Mengel’s disagreed, stating that Mengel, “built a rock house and then a second cabin alongside just so he could be hospitable and accommodate visitors.”
Neither story has been confirmed, and like with most things in the desert, it is sometimes best to let the myths and stories live on.
After Mengel passed in 1944, the claims went through several sales in the 1940s through the 1960s. In 1962, the property was granted to Clinton and Stella Anderson. The couple continued the tradition of working the claims, mostly for gold, silver, lead, and mercury. The couple made Mengel’s old cabin their home, and lived there together until Clinton died in 1973. Stella remained at the remote homestead, even after Clinton’s passing – despite its lack of electricity, plumbing, or telephone. She had no car, and no close neighbors, but she was adequately taken care of – hitching rides to and from the nearest town of Trona, with miners, friend, and later four-wheel drive enthusiasts that regularly traveled the remote valley.
Stella stayed at her remote cabin until she passed away on Jul. 30, 1984. She is buried at the Searles Valley Cemetery, in Trona.
Today the homestead consists of the two earliest cabins. The stone cabin which both Mengel and The Andersons lived in, and the “guest house,” which was built by Mengel. The property is fenced off, a sign on the gate reads, “Please keep gate closed & burros out.” The first impression pulling up to the old homestead is eerie, like something out of the The Hills Have Eyes.
The cabins themselves are dilapidated, and run down. One the exterior, the tin roofs are a layer of solid rust, the wood weathered with age. The interior walls have began to crumble, and many of the fixtures are in a state of disrepair. There are several pieces of furniture, including a kitchen table, chairs, and a gutted refrigerator among other items.
The current condition is unfortunate, it wasn’t always this way. In the not so distant past, this place was cared for by those that passed by.