Albert Mussey Johnson – Death Valley Ranch Owner

Albert Mussey Johnson
Albert Mussey Johnson

Albert Mussey Johnson (1872 – 1948) was a businessman and investor who received notoriety as the millionaire, who built “Scotty’s Castle” in Death Valley, California. He was born into a Quaker family n Oberlin Ohio and attended Cornell University to study engineering.

Johnson borrowed a sum of $40,000 from his father and invested in some mining operations in Joplin, Missouri. This initial investment returned five hundred percent dur to a zinc boom. Albert travelled across Utah and Colorado, in December if 1899, with his father looking for investment opportunities in power production or mining ventures. While on this trip, the father and son team are involved in a rail accident which kills his fater and leaves Albert bedridden with a broken back.

Johnson eventually recovered from his broken back but he suffered with chronic medical issues and walked with a noticeable limp. This injury caused Johnson to focus his professional efforts in economic investment pursuits. He pursue relationships with his fathers partners and soon built up a career as a vice president of the Arkansas Midland Railroad and later the president of the North American Cold Storage Company.

In 1904, Walter Scott AKA Death Valley Scotty ran into Johnson while Scotty is looking for new investors for his gold mines in Death Valley, California. Scott was a conman who would defraud investors of this infamous gold mines. Despite no return on is investment, Johnson continued to send Scott’s ventures.

Death Valley Scotty and the Johnsons
Death Valley Scotty and the Johnsons

Johnson first visited Death Valley in 1906 to tour Scott’s Gold Mines. The two became embroiled in the Battle of Wingate Pass, where Scott’s brother is shot in the groin. This injury forced a retreat from Death Valley. Johnson did not return to Death Valley for another three years. In 1909, he returned to the valley seeking to visit the mines in which he invested. It is said the dry air was a benefit to Johnson’s health. For whatever the reason, Johnson began purchasing land. Johnson purchased about 1500 acres of land. The Steininger Ranch was the most important parcel. Nestled in a spring-fed verdant valley, this was soon to be the site of the Death Valley Ranch.

Scotty's Castle located in Grapevine Canyon in Death Valley.
Scotty’s Castle located in Grapevine Canyon in Death Valley.

In 1922, Johnson started building Scotty’s castle as a vacation home.  When the size and scope of the property was realized, people assumed Scotty used the proceeds for his gold mine to pay for the Ranch.  Scotty, ever the promoter did nothing to correct the record and soon The Johnson’ vacation home.

Due to its remote location, the Death Valley Ranch needed to maintain its own power station and water supply and evaporation cooling system. Despite the conditions, Scotty’s Castle boasts a 1,121 pipe theater organ, fountains, clock tower and a massive unfinished swimming pool.

The stock market crash impacted Johnson’s fortune. He was not able to complete the Death Valley Ranch.

References

James Crysanthus Phelan – Rhyolite Shopkeeper

James Crysanthus Phelan
James Crysanthus Phelan

James Crysanthus Phelan was a business man and early pioneer of the desert southwest, who like many others followed the boom towns west. Early in his life, he owned a series of butcher shops in various towns throughout the south west, including Rhyolite. It is believed that his butcher shop was located on Golden Street across the street from the Cook Bank Building and near the Porter Brothers Store.

Biography

The automobile garage owned by James C. Phelan, and named after him, is cleverly planned, well built, and managed according to up-to-date methods. Mr. Phelan’s father, who was an honored veteran of the Union Army in our Civil War, is D. F. Phelan, and he is still living at Los Angeles.

Prior to casting his lot in the Golden State, he was a pioneer in Colorado. Mrs. Phelan, who was Annie Donahue before her marriage, is deceased. Born in the Centennial State on October 25, 1867, James C. Phelan was educated at the public schools in Colorado and New Mexico, and also, as he likes to put it, in ” the great school of experience.”

As a young man, he ventured in both the grocery and butcher business, having a store when only nineteen years of age, at Albuquerque, N. M. For fourteen years, too, his business at Williams, Arizona, was one of the most progressive and profitable establishments in that town. On September 9, 1893, Mr. Phelan was married to Miss Myrtie Dickinson, and this union was blessed with three boys and four girls, viz : Mary M., Chris E., Roy N., Jimmie J., Ruth E., Bernice L., and Leoma C, all of whom were educated in the public schools of Fresno, the two eldest studied at Heald’s Business College, while Roy N., is a student at the University of California at Berkeley.

Cook Bank Building, Rhyolite Nevada, Photo marked 1908 and "Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society"
Cook Bank Building, Rhyolite Nevada, Photo marked 1908 and “Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society”

Mr. Phelan has accepted the doctrines of the Christian Scientists, socially he finds recreation in the circles of the Woodmen of the World, the Knights of Pythias, and the Young Men’s Christian Association. In May, 1916, he built the finest and most complete auto establishment in California, spending $90,000 upon the same. He then became agent, for the San Joaquin Valley, of the Maxwell, Mitchell and Marmon automobiles, and the Kleiber and Maxwell Trucks. He employs from forty to fifty men to man the several departments, each of which is complete in itself.

When he first came to California, in 1905, he worked for three years on the Fresno ranch ; and then, getting into the automobile business in a modest way, he has made success after success. Mr. Phelan sold out in August. 1919. Mr. Phelan is a stanch Democrat, but always something more than a political partisan. In advocating and working for good roads, for example, his public-spiritedness has been particularly shown.

References

Stellars Jay ( Cyanocitta stelleri )

The Stellars Jay ( Cyanocitta stelleri ) is a common character found in the forests of the western half of the United States. The bird is an opportunistic omnivore and closely related to the Blue Jay. The Stellars Jay has a black crested head and a vibrant blue body which is commonly about between eleven and twelve inches long. This bird has a lot of variations depending on location.

Stellar's Jay ( Cyanocitta stelleri ) stealing peanuts in Big Bear, California
A Stellar’s Jay ( Cyanocitta stelleri ) stealing peanuts in Big Bear, California
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Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatium)

A member of the mustard family, the Western Wallflower ( Erysimum capitatium ) is a brightly colored yellow flower which is quite common across the western United States, including Arizona, Utah and Nevada.. In European countries, the wallflower earned its name from a habit of growing on… you guess it, walls. More specifically stone, masonry or wooden fences. The name was transposed to the American species despite the fact the plants have no preference for walls.

Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatium)
Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatium)
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Common Fiddleneck ( Amsinckia intermedia )

The Common Fiddleneck ( Amsinckia intermedia ) is a wildflower common across the United States and a member of the forget-me-not-family. Also known as the Intermediate Fiddleneck, the name is derived from the flower stems which are formed in the appearance of a violin or fiddle.

Common Fiddleneck ( Amsinckia intermedia var. intermedia )
Common Fiddleneck ( Amsinckia intermedia var. intermedia )
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