Stella’s Cabin aka. Mengel Cabin (Death Valley National Park)

 

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.

Carl Mengel with dog "Whitey at his home in Butte Valley, April 1940. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM.

Carl Mengel with dog “Whitey at his home in Butte Valley, April 1940. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM.

 

Clinton and Stella Anderson

Clinton and Stella Anderson

 

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's Cabin - "Please keep gate closed & burros out."

Stella’s Cabin – “Please keep gate closed & burros out.”

 

Stella's Cabin - The guest house, complete with hantavirus warning.

Stella’s Cabin – The guest house, complete with hantavirus warning.

 

Stella's Cabin - A quick peek inside the guest house.

Stella’s Cabin – A quick peek inside the guest house.

 

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.

Stella's Cabin - Inside the main cabin.

Stella’s Cabin – Inside the main cabin.

 

Stella's Cabin - Inside the main cabin.

Stella’s Cabin – Inside the main cabin.

 

Stella's Cabin - A view of behind the cabin.

Stella’s Cabin – A view of behind 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.

10 Comments

  • Thanks for the creepy but beautiful photos and story. It looks like it would have been wicked hot in the summer and bone cold in the winter.

      • Yes, we get those crazy warm days in the winter too here in Los Angeles; I remember 95 degree days in January.

        But I bet it is still chilly chilly chilly at night… Creepy, too.

        • Well I haven’t spent the night there but I have stayed on the trail about half way to Mengle Pass from Death Valley. Not too bad at night and have stayed lots of times in Ballerat in the Panamint Valley and it’s nice at night.

          • Since it is Halloween, have you seen anything weird or paranormal? UFOs?

            With the Black Project stuff at China Lake and Edwards AFB folks up in the Kern River Valley see lots of unusual things flying around…

          • No, we just have a couple of drones that fly at night over the neighborhood. Been doing that for the last month or so.If its close enough you can hear a whirring sound but it does have nice bright red and white flashing lights. Stays up for over half hour, forty-five min.

          • Hey Tim:

            That’s cool – I have seen some strange stuff that I couldn’t identify as drones with certainty.

            But now that you mention drones, I’m pretty sure one UFO I saw was an enormous drone. It was long and narrow with a series of lights and must have been the length of a football field.

            Silent.

            This was in Jawbone one Friday night in November maybe five years ago. It was also seen by several folks in the Kern River Valley numerous times. One of our “Black Project” things.

    • I’ve been up there in December. It is quite cold at night, though the daytimes are pleasant (mid 50’s to mid 60’s). Those rock walls soak up any heat that the stove produced. Maybe if you had the stove going 24/7 for weeks at a time they would warm up and keep you toasty but that would be a *lot* of firewood. The stone walls would however keep the cabin relatively cool in summer, it probably never gets above the mid 80’s inside the cabin.

      Stella did not actually die at the cabin. According to a Trona local, she was relocated to Crabtree Camp in Homewood Canyon by locals who were concerned about her health and safety. See //www.deathvalley.com/dvtalkarc7/messages/15858.shtml . There she had access to reliable electricity, water, etc. According to a NPS survey in 1981 Stella was no longer living there in 1981 though she occasionally visited and her claims were still (at the time) active: //www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/deva/ . Which also claims she lived in Trona at the time, LOL (Homewood Canyon is NOT Trona, though it opens into the Searles Valley and has a Trona postal code). And also claimed that the Mengel / Stella’s Cabin was not historically significant, despite also claiming that the story about it being built by Mormon pioneers in the late 1860’s was probably the true one (with the annex being built by Mengel).

      Hopefully the above historical resources will help you refine part of the story. I do know the woman at the first link in real life, and yes, she was born and raised in Trona and knew Stella personally.

  • The Park Service’s 1983 survey seems to imply that Mengel found the upper cabin but without a roof so he “built” it, but only in the sense of restoring it to habitability, and Emmett Harder seems to say that Mengel built the lower cabin for guests. Of course that’s the same park service survey that said that the cabins have “no historical value.” Sigh. Barbarians. Destroying our mining heritage seems to be high on too many people’s priority list within the Park Service.

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