PSR Camp

Animals of Panamint Valley

Article Index

Most desert creatures are nocturnal or secretive and are seldom seen---with the exception of coyotes, ravens, ants, and flies. Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and deer inhabited in the mountains surrounding Panamint Valley long before humans arrived on the scene several thousand years ago.

Coyotes, rabbits, bats, rats, mice, chipmunks and other rodents live in all parts of the valley and surrounding mountains. Quail are specifically mentioned as a favorite food of the miners, but there are also chukkars (introduced), ravens, jays, hawks, roadrunners, and all manner of smaller birds. A variety of snakes and lizards are found at all elevations, and of course there are numberous insects, bugs and butterflies. Desert tortoises are found in the southern part of the valley and are considered an endangered species. Watch for them crossing the road. They run slowly. Burros and wild horses are found in the mountains west of the valley, but they are non-native, having been brought in by prospectors and early miners.

The domestic animals currently living at Panamint Springs must protect themselves from native inhabitants that prowl about at close quarters. Charlotte the pig used to lounge at the front door where guests stepped over her imposing girth. At night she might visit a motel room to keep the guests company. Whe she became a mother, Charlotte and baby Porkchop were put in a pen to protect the tender piglet from the coyotes (and to protect the coyotes from Charlotte).

Any one of several cats may visit you during your stay, each with its own personality, but all endowed with the gift to survive on the margins of the wild and next to a busy highway. Gilly (short for Angelica) is the aging German Shepherd who keeps a vigilant eye on the proceedings and tolerates the several cats as she welcomes the many visitiors who enjoy her resort.

The first domesticated animals in Panamint Valley were horses the local Indians brought back from their raiding trips to the Spanish ranchos along the southern coast of California. The Indians, who often lived at barely subsistence level, stole the horses for eating, not riding. The remnants of an Indian stone horse corral is still evident in upper Pleasant Canyon.

Mr. Brier, one of the lost Death Valley emigrants of 1849, called one of his camps "horse-bones camp" because of all the horse bones he found near today's Indian Ranch on the east side of the valley north of Ballarat (a "living" ghost town).

The '49ers drove oxen into the valley in the first days of 1850, and the hard-used animals were in as poor condition as were their human masters. These tired animals had pulled heavy wagons for thousands of miles, much of it over roadless country, through sand, and over mountains. The deserts offered them poor feed and worse water, and their ox shoes had worn through. The lucky ones wore oxhide moccasins made from the hide of a brethren slaughtered for food. Reverend Brier said of the oxen: "When we cut them up, we found their bones had no marrow in----nothing but blood and water. Their flesh was poison, covered with yellow slime. We lived on the hides, boiled." When Scheldon Young, another '49er, was in Panamint Valley he wrote, "Lost one steer....(2 days later) Country looks hard ahead. Cattle are fast failing. Three was left today." Although some of the oxen carried small packs, they, as the horses the Indians brought before them, were there to provide marginal sustenance for their human travelers.

The Bennet-Arcan party, lead by famed William Lewis Manly, also of the lost "49ers, crossed Panamint Valley in early 1850 at a point farther south in the valley where the Briggs mine now searches for gold. They also drove oxen, but the pet favored by the children was Cuff, Bennett's large white mastiff. Cuff probably wore rawhide booties as did the humans and the oxen as he crossed the rough mountains and sandy desert. His job was to warn the company of danger. Cuff survived the desert tek and accompanied Bennett to the gold fields at Georgetown (near Placerville) where he was stolen and never seen again.

William Manly speaks fondly of Old Crump the ox with a bent horn who carried two, sometimes four, children out of Death Valley over 250 miles to Newhall in southern California. He saw Old Crump again six years later, out to pasture, fat and well cared for. His new owner said after saving the children in the desert the valiant ox deserved a rest.

The first mule in Panamint Valley came with Manly and Roger, the '49ers who rescued the Bennett and Arcan families from Death Valley in early 1850. It was a sorry little one-eyed mule that Manly bought from some trail builders in San Francisquito Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains when he and Rogers hiked out of the desert to find supplies for those left behind. Manly said, "One man offered to sell us a poor little one-eyed mule, its back all bare of covering from the effect of a great saddle sore that had very recently healed. He had picked it up somewhere in Arizona where it had been turned out to die, but the beast had enough of the good Santa Ana stock in it to bring it through and it had no notion of dying at the present time, though it was scarcely more than a good fair skeleton, even then. The beast became mine at the price of $15." That little mule scaled canyon walls and cliffs that were too difficult for the horses that Manly and Rogers brought back for the women and children to ride out of Death Valley. It carried the wheat and beans that gave the needed strength to the party to hike out of the desert.

Animals were essential to the mining development of the panamint area, as a source of food, as pack animals and the as stagecoach and freighting teams. With the advent of motorized vehicles, animals here are no longer beasts of burden, but are either pets or living wild in their natural habitat.

Dedicated to the animals at Panamint Springs Resort, by their compadre, Caramel Kitty.