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

Teakettle Junction

Located at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction is a unique point of interest in Death Valley National Park, California.

Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California

Aside from the mile post at the intersection, the only thing which causes you to take note is the odd tradition of hanging teakettles from the sign. Typically, teakettles are decorated with fun messages and greeting along with the date of their trip. Our family participated in this tradition and it was a big hit with my son. The National Park Service will periodically remove the teakettles, where, I am sure the send them to the National Archives.

Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.
Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.

The origin of the tradition and name of the site is not completely known. There are rumor’s around that it could be so named because the roads in the area will bounce you around like a teakettle.

The site is located about 21 miles from Ubehebe Crater and offers access to Hunter Mountain Road, Racetrack Valley, Lippincott Mine Road and Saline Valley beyond.

Teakettle Junction Trail Map

References

Ubehebe Lead Mine

The Ubehebe Lead Mine is located just west of the Racetrack Playa Road off of the Bonnie Claire Road.  Discovered in 1906, the mine is located on the west side of the Racetrack valley just south of Teakettle junction.    The site was started as a copper mine and during to coarse of its operation would produce lead, copper, gold and zinc.

Ubehebe Lead Mine Trail sign located just off of the Racetrack, Death Valley, CA
Ubehebe Trail sign located just off of the Racetrack, Death Valley, CA

In February, 1908 a large eight foot thick vein of lead ore which was perceived to run through the mountain changed the mines name and destiny.  In order to prepare, the site hauled in 26,000 lbs of provisions to feed and supply a crew of eight men for the duration of the summer.   When processed the order produced significantly lower than expected.  The lack of water, remote location and less than desirable returns caused production of the Ubehebe Lead Mine to be sporadic.

Ubehebe Mine with tramway visible at the top of the hill, Death Valley, CA
Ubehebe Mine with tramway visible at the top of the hill, Death Valley, CA

The site currently has a main adit which is blocked off about 10 feet inside of the entrance.  Several other adits are located up the hillside and all are blocked to entry at this time.  There are a few collapsed buildings of light construction that have given their all against the harsh environment and several foundations are also evident.  An aerial tramway was built to the northern works and a single tramway cable is still suspended and connected to tramway on the ridge above.

Exploring the Ubehebe Mine tails pile, Death Valley, CA
Exploring the Ubehebe Mine tails pile, Death Valley, CA

The entire area has undergone extensive washing: bits of rail and pipe sections lie about near the mine, as do crockery fragments, pieces of glass, and tin cans that have worked down from the camp site. The several dumps nearby contain nothing of historical significance.

Looking back at the jeep, Death Valley National Park, CA
Looking back at the jeep, Death Valley National Park, CA
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Racetrack Valley

TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack.
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 Crater site and heads south into the desert. The road is rough, but easily passable in a regular car. However, when entering back country areas such as this it is always a good idea to have the insurance of a reliable vehicle, high clearance, four wheel drive, etc…  Do yourself a huge favor and air down your tires if you are properly equipped to air up when the trip is over.

Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.
Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.

The racetrack valley road is a 25 miles one way trip to the playa. The road is grated, but can be heavily wash-boarded depending on the time of year, rain fall, etc…

Along the way, there are many side trips and alternate trails to help expand your visit.

As you leave Ubehebe Crater, you will be driving south and gradually gaining elevation. Take your time and enjoy the drive, if you are lucky you may see a big horn sheep herd. The road gradually gains in elevation and climbs through a Joshua Tree Forest.

Once you reach the pass, the road continues to drop in elevation all the way down to the playa. Continue straight through tea kettle junction, and bear left down the valley past the side road to the Lippincott mine, which is a great side trail.

The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.
The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.

As you continue past the road to the Lippincott mine the road drops down to the Racetrack Playa itself. The first stop is ‘The Grandstand’ which is an outcropping of rock located in the north west corner of the racetrack. The second stop is the parking area to hike towards the stones. Don’t try to hike to the stones from the first Grandstand parking lot, or you will be hiking significantly further.

The highlight of the trip, is a short hike to the sailing or racing stones. The start of the hike is the parking area at the southern end of the racetrack playa.

Jeeps and Labradors are not allowed on the playa!

To reach the stones hike east from the parking lot across the playa towards the dark stone hillside. It is short FLAT, meaning really FLAT hike towards the stones. Be sure the check the temperatures before you leave, and bring lots of water. This is true with anything you might want to do in Death Valley. Don’t walk on the playa if it is wet or muddy.

The Racing stones.
The Racing stones.

At the end of the 30 miles road there is a small primitive campground for overnight visits. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for regulations of back country camping within the park.

Every racetrack needs a grandstand.
Every racetrack needs a grandstand.

Notoriety

On September 19th, 1969 a Michigan front end loading is found burning along the road near the playa. Apparently, Manson order the machine burned. Park Rangers were deployed to the Racetrack. The rangers followed a set of tire tracked which belonged to a Toyota Land Cruiser which was stolen by Manson. The follow up investigate lead to the arrest of Charles Manson at Barker Ranch on October 12th, 1969.

Racetrack Valley Trail Map

References

Lippincott Mine Road

The Lippincott Mine Road is a one way road from Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa to Saline Valley. It is a steep trail which is not for the novice or the feint of heart. Greeting you at the trail head is a sign which reads:

“Lippincott Pass, 4×4 High Clearance, No Tow Service, Caution”

Experienced drivers using 4×4 high clearance vehicles only.  What traveler in their right mind could resist a challenge like this? Provided you are equipped to do so.

Lippincott Mine Road from Racetrack Valley, Death Valley National Park, CA
Lippincott Mine Road from Racetrack Valley, Death Valley National Park, CA
Looking back at some amazing landscapes near the top of the Lippincott Mine.
Looking back at some amazing landscapes near the top of the Lippincott Mine.

The top of Lippincott Mine road starts at the end of the Racetrack Valley road and descends into the west towards Saline Valley.  The road is steep and narrow but is not too technical.  At the top of the route is the Lippencott Mine site which gives the road it’s name.  The Lippincott Mine offers great views of both Saline and RaceTrack Valley.  

Looking down at the Lippincott Mine Road from the Lippincott Mine, with Saline Valley in the distance.
Looking down at the Lippincott Mine Road from the Lippincott Mine, with Saline Valley in the distance.

There are several structures, and mines to explore and a lot of time could be spent exploring the site on foot.  The Homestake dry camp offers a great spot of overnight in the area for those of us who are so inclined.

The remains of the Lippincott Mine at the southern end of Race Track Valley.
The remains of the Lippincott Mine at the southern end of Race Track Valley.
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