Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” – A Ballarat Prospector

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim"
Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” is the last of the known prospectors who lived in the town of Ballarat located in Death Valley National Park, California.

Seldom Seen Slim, named Charles Ferge, was born in Illinois on October 21st 1881. Slim came to Ballarat sometime between 1913 and 1917 not long after the town was abandoned by the miners seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

Ferge became the last resident of Ballarat and had a reputation as a recluse with a cantankerous side. He survived in one of the harshest landscapes living on his own in his town of Ballarat. It is said that he lived in every remaining building of the ghost town. His focus was mining and he just needed enough money to survive as a desert prospector. Slim only needed enough money to buy necessities of food, tobacco for his pipe, water, gas for his car and clothes.

When the water source in Ballarat dried up due to a dropping water table, Slim would haul water into the town using jugs from other sources miles away. The scarcity of water would only allow the man to bathe a few times per year.

While is is the sole citizen of Ballarat, the town had no running water, no electricity or any other services He became an unofficial curator for the ghost town. Slim would often tell stories to visitors and sell them souvenirs of gold ore.

Seldom Seen Slim died of cancer in 1968 in Trona, California. He is buried on “Boot Hill” in Ballarat and his greave is a popular place to stop.

Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”

References

Pete Aguereberry – A Panamint Valley Miner

Pete Aguereberry was a prospector and miner who operated around Death Valley National Park, for whom Aguereberry is named. Born in the Basque Region of France on Oct. 18, 1874, Jean Pierre “Pete” Aguereberry sailed to America with his fater in 1890.

Pete Aguereberry
Pete Aguereberry

Aguereberry struggled to learn the English while working an assortment of odd jobs to make a living. He worked as a handball player, sheepherder, cattle driver, milk truck driver, ice delivery man, ranch hand, and stage driver. A a stage driver he found his was to Goldfield, Nevada around 1902.

A few years later, he and fellow miner Frank “Shorty” Harris struck gold at Harrisburg Flats, 55 miles southeast of Lone Pine on July 1, 1905. Aguereberry worked the the northern edge of a ledge, while Harris worked the southern side. Within a month, over 20 different groups were working the area which later became Harrisburg. Aguereberry transformed that claim into the Eureka Mine, which he worked until his death on Nov. 23, 1945 at Tecopa Hot Springs at age 72.

Aguereberry is perhaps best known for the road he built to Aguereberry Point so visitors could enjoy its spectacular view of Death Valley.

Though he wished to be buried at the point in Death Valley, government officials, citing the 1933 monument status of Death Valley, denied his final request. Augereberry’s remains were buried in Lone Pine. A plaque in Lone Pine, California honors the life and memory of Pete Augereberry. Pete is remembered amount friends as a modest, hardworking, honorable man and a true legend of Death Valley.

References

Charles Milles Maddox

Charles Milles Maddox AKA Charlie Manson was a serial killer and most of the bad parts of the Old Testament sort of criminal. He briefly lived in the Panamint Mountains on the western edge of Death Valley National Park.

The booking photo of the dimunutive Charles Milles Maddox.  Inyo County October 1969.
The booking photo of the dimunutive Charles Milles Maddox. Inyo County October 1969.

Introduction

As a preface, I would like to say that I have been extremely reluctant to include Maddox on my website. I do not wish to glorify him in anyway. Growing up in the 1970s, just a few miles from the La Bianca house, I can not remember when I first heard of Manson. Our family loved the 395 highway and knew some law enforcement officers in Lone Pine, Inyo County.

Long Story Short

Most books and movies of Manson tend correctly focas on the Tate-La Bianca murders. In summary, Manson, a career criminal, is release from prison. He meets young women and uses the girls to attack young men with sex a drugs. Over the coarse of about two years, he forms them in a cult of followers who live at Spahn movie ranch.. On August 9th and 10th, 1969, Manson orders these followers to slaughter 7 people in their homes.

After the murders, the family cult moves to Barker Ranch in Goler Wash, in Death Valley. It is here that he is captured for vandalizing some earth moving equipment and auto theft. Once captured, he is connected to the murders in Los Angles, tried and convicted by Vincent Bug

Panamint Charlie

Myers Ranch, Panamint Mountain
Myers Ranch, Panamint Mountain

Mansons original destination is the Myers Ranch in the Panamint Range. In October, 1968, he started to look for a desert location to move his “brood”. He choose the desert because “Out there, things aren’t so crazy”. (Ironic) One of his followers is Cathy (Cappy) Gilles is a grand daughter of Bill and Barbara Myers. “Cappy” obtained permission from the family matriarch for her and some girls to come up and stay at the ranch. One can not help to wonder if the true purpose of moving them to the Panamint mountains is to further isolate his followers from society.

Additionally, Manson supposedly discussed operating out of Barker Ranch with the owner Arlene. He convinced her he was a musician working on a record and would maintain the property for her. He gave her a Beach Boys gold album in payment, which would undoubtably prove his claims of being a musician. Between 40 acres at Myers Ranch and 5 acres at Barker, he had control over 45 acres of property in the sparsely populated Panamint Mountains.

The family stayed in Goler Wash from October 1968 to about January 1969. The family of nineteen people travelled using a school bus to the mouth of Goler wash, and would hike in with supplies up the ranch house. During this time, they made regular trips back down to Los Angeles or over to Las Vegas. The family would regularly shop for supplies in Ballarat which still had a small population and general store.

In the winter months of 1969, Manson and his followers returned to Los Angeles. They stayed at several other locations beside the infamous Spahn movie ranch. During this time, they continued to steal cars, deal drugs, probably prostitution and all in all anything to make money and “acquire” supplies.

Desert Deterioration

Barker Ranch - The building complex was heavily vegetated with trees, with a sparsely planted understory. Note the Charles Milles Maddox bus in the left hand side of the image. View northwest, 1969 (DEVA collection). - NPS
Barker Ranch – The building complex was heavily vegetated with trees, with a sparsely planted understory. Note the Manson bus in the left hand side of the image. View northwest, 1969 (DEVA collection). – NPS

After the Tate-La Bianca murder in August of 1969, Charles Milles Maddox and his cult travelled back up to Goler Wash. This time he setup operations around Barker Ranch. Paul Watkins was a former follower who left the family before the murders. His book is fascinating.

Prior to Charlies arrival, Watkins and some prospectors where living at Barker Ranch. Watkins received guidance from a prospector named Crockett who helped Watkins leave the family. Manson knew of Crockett’s influence over Watkins and recognize an adversary. Upon his arrival, Manson asked permission to enter the area. As Watkins et al where living in Barker Ranch, the Manson Cult moved into the Myers Ranch.

Over the next few weeks, Charlie Manson continued his mental downward spiral. At the time, the neighbors at Barker Ranch knew Charlie was dangerous, however did not know about his guilt in the Los Angeles Murders. Crockett would have philosophical conversations and push the boundaries of Manson. This prompted the unstable Manson to come visiting the occupants at Barker ranch in the middle of the night. On at least two attempts he was caught trying to sneak into the ranch house while the occupants slept. He was greeted with the muzzle of a shotgun and left into the night.

Manson is said to have driven around the area of the Panamint mountains and Death Valley looking for a hole in the earth. These excursions opened the door into the capture of the psychopath. During this time he continued to prepare for a racial war he thought was coming.

Investigation

Jim Pursell at the Manson Trial, L.A. Superior Courthouse, 1970
Jim Pursell at the Manson Trial, L.A. Superior Courthouse, 1970

The beginning of the end for Manson started with a report of a fire on a Michigan front loader out at Racetrack valley. The front loader was moved to the playa in Race Track Valley to repair damage to the playa surface by off-roaders. On September 19th, 1969, Manson ordered the some family members to burn the machine because he construed it to be the device of environmental damage. Oddly enough, it was there to repair environmental damage…. This decision by Manson set in place a series of events which led to his capture and a life time in jail.

Inyo County officials were extremely upset about the loss of their newly acquired $35,000 earth moving equipment. They quickly dispatch officers and launched an investigation.

Park Rangers arrived at the scene of the fire sometime later. They noted several tire tracks leading away from the fire. One set of tire tracks belonged to a Toyota Land Cruiser. Follow up investigation included reports of a Red Toyota Land Cruiser driving around in the area. It was reported this Red Land Cruiser is driven by some hippies who lived up at Barker Ranch.

October 9th, 1969

On October 9th, CHP Officer Jim Pursell and Park Ranger Dick Powell drove up to Barker Ranch approaching from Mengel Pass. They ran into two of Mason’s girls and lacking evidence moved on down Goler Wash. In doing so, the came across Brooks Poston and Paul Crocket. When questioned why he was hauling supplies for the groupd Crocket replied, ‘‘I think my life might depend on it.’

The two men are instructed to return to Barker Ranch. On questioning about Manson, Brooks and Crocket told the two men about the families activity. According to Paul Watkins, Crocket left the ranch for fear of Manson was going to attract law enforcement. This event s probably because Crockett told law enforcement. Pursell noted that a VW was hidden beneath a purple nylon parachute beneath a trash heap. nd recorded the VIN number.

The two men left the ranch again and travelled down Goler Wash they stopped at a draw. Dick Powell started up the draw and was soon within a group of naked young women, one of who is Squeaky Fromme. Fromme claimed to be part of a girl scout troup from San Francisco and with no other evidence, the two officers continued down the valley.

A Series of Raids

Enroute to Trona, the two law enforcement officers found out over the radio that the car was stolen and a predawn raid is slated for the following morning. Looking forward to a long night, the two men hand dinner in Ballarat before parking at the mouth of Goler Wash.

October 10th

The first raid took place on October 10th, 1969. Just before dawn, a small task force made up of officers from the California Highway Patrol, Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, and the National Parks Service maneuvered into position around Barker Ranch. The cult members had pilled rocks up along the road, which necessitated the officers travel on foot.

At first, it seemed the operation was a success. The task forced found several stolen cars and dune buggies. Weapons suchs a pistol, knives, food, gasoline, and other survivalist supplies confirmed that the cult was building a stronghold in the desert for the long haul. They arrested three men, ten girls, and two babies, one of them just a few weeks old. A count of the number of sleeping bags informed the task force they had not captured everyone involved.

October 12th

On the evening of October 12, the small force of park rangers headed back to Barker Ranch. From an observation point, the witnessed four people walking towards the cabin and entering the building. One of the people is covered head to tow in a buck skin outfit and obviously the leader.

The task forced stormed the ranch with guns drawn. The ordered the occupants inside to raise their hands. They met no resistance. The man dressed buckskin is nowhere to be found.

Charles Milles Maddox Capture

Barker Ranch, CCharles Milles Maddox’s hiding place  Vernon Merritt III Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock
Barker Ranch, Charles Manson’s hiding place Vernon Merritt III Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Following the raid, Jim Pursell search for the buckskin man. He enters the bathroom where is sees a very small cabinet. The door is slightly open and he notices a few long hairs sticking out. In the failing evening light, armed with a candle and a .357 revolver, Pursell noticed some fingers wiggling inside.

Pursell later recounted “I put the candle way down, and this figure starts unwinding and coming out. How he got into that cupboard, I’ll never know. He’s not big. I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you shoot the son of a bitch?’ But again, we really didn’t know what we had, and you can’t just shoot somebody that climbs out of a little cupboard, and says [cheerily], ‘Hi! I was pointing the gun at him and told him exactly what I wanted him to do, and what not to do. ‘Make one wrong move and I’ll blow your head off.’ I ask his name, and he said, simply, ‘Charlie Manson.’ Right off. I led him out to the guys outside”

The raid of October 12th lead to arrest of six males and three more females. All in all the bravery of the CHP, INYO Sheriffs and Park Rangers led to the apprehension, conviction and sentencing of one of the worlds most notorious people, Charles Milles Maddox. The cult or family that Manson started literally killed many and ruined the lives of hundreds of people. The story of Mansons life in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley is more fascinating that the typical most people will understand and his activities in Death Valley are far larger than “Barker Ranch.”

Manson’s Locations in and around Death Valley

Ballarat, California - Marriedtofilm at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Malafaya using CommonsHelper.

Ballarat California – Inyo County Ghost Town

Ballarat, California Located in Inyo County, Ballarat California is a ghost town which supposedly has a few residents living their dream within the town. Ballarat…
This image, taken circa 1940, shows the main residence, workshop, retaining walls, and ornamental vegetation. Note the windmill located behind the workshop. View north (DEVA collection) - NPS

Barker Ranch

Thomason/Barker Ranch is a five-acre property within Death Valley National Park. This historic site is located off of Goler Wash in the southern Panamint Range…
Myers Ranch, Panamint Mountain

Myers Ranch

Myers Ranch is a privately owned ranch located in Goler Wash in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley National Park, California. The forty acre ranch…
The Racing stones.

Racetrack Valley

TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack. Racetrack valley is a rough graded road which departs the Ubehebe…
Looking down at the Lippencott Mine Road from the Lippencott Mine, with Saline Valley in the distance.

Warm Springs Road

A short side trip from the Saline Valley Road to the Saline Valley Warm Springs in Death Valley National Park, California. The road is used…

References

Ballarat California – Inyo County Ghost Town

Ballarat, California - Marriedtofilm at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Malafaya using CommonsHelper.
Ballarat, California

Located in Inyo County, Ballarat California is a ghost town which supposedly has a few residents living their dream within the town. Ballarat is located in the Panamint Mountain range just off the Trona Wilderness Road and sough of highway 190.

As early as 1849, the area served as a watering hole known as Post Office Springs. Prospectors and travelers alike would stop for water in the hot and dry Mojave Desert.

The town of Ballarat was founded in 1897 and named for Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The town is named by an Australian immigrant George Riggins. Ballarat California was originally founded as a supply point for the mines Panamint Mountains and surrounding area. A blacksmith shop and store supported this efforts.

Within a year of the founding, the towns population stabilized at about 500 residents. Three hotels, seven saloons, a school, jail and morgue all served this outpost along with a post office and Wells Fargo station. The town site featured few natural resources and ore to be shipped into the remote location. The town buildings is constructed primarily of Adobe bricks.

The town was relatively lawless and was mostly filled with hard working miners looking for relaxation and an opportunity to blow off steam. The saloons and a population of prostitutes were supported by Ballarat.

The main mine, the Radcliffe, produced 15,000 tons or more of ore from 1898 to 1903. From 1927 to 1942 its tailings are reprocessed with cyanided. This process reported recovery value of one quarter of a million dollars in gold. The town began to fail following the closure of the Radcliff Mine in 1903. Despite supporting other mining towns like Harrisberg, as the gold played out, so did the fortunes of Ballarat, which closed the post office in 1917.

In 1941 the Ballarat Mining and Milling Corporation, a Nevada company, bought property in the Slate and Panamint ranges in San Bernardino and Inyo counties. A Los Angeles company intended to make exhaustive metallurgical tests, paving the way for a projected modern fifty-ton reduction mill south of town to perform custom work. An assay office and metallurgical laboratory were to be part of the complex, and once again Ballarat would see a resurgence of mining activity.

“Shorty” Harris, along with a few other prospectors continued to live in and around the town site for decades after the closure. The last of these die hard prospectors, “Seldom Seen Slim” died in 1968.

Notoriety

In 1968 and 1969, Charles Manson and his “family” moved into Barker Ranch. The town of Ballarat was Mansons last link to civilization and served as a supply source for his desert exploits. Not to caste the town with the murderer, the town also supplied the arresting officers who raided Barker Ranch and subsequently arrested Manson and his family.

“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat, California
“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat, California

Time has taken its tole on the builds of the adobe buildings. Wind and water are literally melting the builds back into the desert.

Today, Ballarat is the subject of a few odd television shows and again made headlines with the Ballarat Bandit. In 2003, George Robert Johnston camped around Ballarat and Death Valley. During this time, he committed burglaries before leading investigators on a chase across the desert.

Ballarat Personalities

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim"

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” – A Ballarat Prospector

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim" Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim" is the last of the known prospectors who lived in the town of Ballarat located…
The booking photo of the dimunutive Charles Milles Maddox. Inyo County October 1969.

Charles Milles Maddox

Charles Milles Maddox AKA Charlie Manson was a serial killer and most of the bad parts of the Old Testament sort of criminal. He briefly…
Frank "Shorty" Harris

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Frank Harris was a prospector, desert rat and perhaps the best known character in western mining history. He looked the part, often travelling the desert…
Pete Aguereberry

Pete Aguereberry – A Panamint Valley Miner

Pete Aguereberry was a prospector and miner who operated around Death Valley National Park, for whom Aguereberry is named. Born in the Basque Region of…

References

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Frank Harris was a prospector, desert rat and perhaps the best known character in western mining history. He looked the part, often travelling the desert with his mule loaded to the ears with gear. “Shorty” Harris was named, as one would suspect, due to his limited height. Standing just a little over five feet tall, this prospector casts a long shadow over the desert southwest having discovered and started several mine sights and towns.

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Shorty Harris sought is fortune in the desert prospecting and mining for gold. In the summer of 1904 he discovered the Bullfrog Mining District near Rhyolite, with Ed Cross. It is said that Ed sold his interest in the claim for $125,000. Shorty Harris claimed to have discovered that he sold him claim during a 6 day celebration.

One night, when I was pretty well lit up, a man by the name of Bryan took me to his room and put me to bed. The next morning, when I woke up, I had a bad headache and wanted more liquor. Bryan had left several bottles of whiskey on a chair beside the bed and locked the door. I helped myself and went back to sleep. That was the start of the longest jag I ever went on; it lasted six days. When I came to, Bryan showed me a bill of sale for the Bullfrog, and the price was only $25,000. I got plenty sore, but it didn’t do any good. There was my signature on the paper and beside it, the signatures of seven witnesses and the notary’s seal. And I felt a lot worse when I found out that Ed had been paid a hundred and twenty-five thousand for his half, and had lit right out for Lone Pine, where he got married.

Frank “Shorty” Harris
Touring Topics: Magazine of the American Automobile Association of Southern California
October 1930

The discovery led the to the founding of the town Rhyolite.

Shorty Harris had the reputation as a prospector, not a miner. He discovered many mines which produced, but he never appeared to develop the mine sites he found. Perhaps like many, the thrill of the hunt and the lure of saloons and drinking appeared the be his passion. He is known to have been a friend of the women, and loved to tell tall tales and was known to be well liked.

Following his adventures in Rhyolite, Shorty found himself in Furnace Creek where he ran into Pete Aquerebuerry. The two men pared up and decided to do some prospecting in the Panamint Mountains. They arrived in the areas known as Harrisberry Flats where in, one of them found gold. Two gold strikes in two years. He was also involved in mining operations twice in Goldbelt Springs. Once in 1905 mining gold and again in 1916 was a tungsten operation which earned him $1500.00

Frank “Shorty” Harris lived 77 years and passed in Big Pine, CA. At his request, he was buried in Death Valley, and his grave is visited by many travelers each year.

“I hear that Frisco is a ghost town now—abandoned and the buildings falling to ruin. That is what happened to many of the towns where I worked in the early days, but nobody then would have thought it was possible. Even now, it’s hard for me to believe that owls are roosting over those old bars where we lined up for drinks, and sagebrush is growing in the streets.”

Frank Shorty Harris

Articles Tagged Shorty Harris

One of the few remaining structures in Bullfrog, Nevada - Photo by James L Rathbun

Bullfrog Nevada – Nye County Ghost Town

One of the few remaining structures in Bullfrog, Nevada - Photo by James L Rathbun Located at the northern end of Amargosa Desert, Bullfrog is…
A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California - Photo by James L Rathbun

Goldbelt Springs

A discovery by the famous prospector "Shorty Harris", led to the founding on the Goldbelt Springs mining district off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley…
Cashier Mill ruin and Pete Aguereberry, 1916. From Dane Coolidge Collection,

Harrisburg California – Inyo County Ghost Town

Harrisburg California is a ghost town is located at 4987 feet above sea level in Inyo County and currently part of Death Valley National Park.…
Keane Wonder Mine - 1916 - Quartz mill. Mine said to have produced $1,000,000. Closed May 1916 as the developed ore bodies were worked out.

Keane Wonder Mine – “King of the Desert”

The Keane Wonder Mine is perhaps the most visited gold mining facility in Death Valley National Park in eastern California. Mining operations began in December…
Pete Aguereberry

Pete Aguereberry – A Panamint Valley Miner

Pete Aguereberry was a prospector and miner who operated around Death Valley National Park, for whom Aguereberry is named. Born in the Basque Region of…
Rhyolite, Nevada photo by James L Rathbun

Rhyolite Nevada – Nye County Ghost Town

Rhyolite is a ghost town location just outside of the Eastern edge of Death Valley National monument in Nye country, Nevada.  Founded in 1904 by…

Resources