Mojave Desert - True Facts, Legends, & Lies

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Death in Death Valley

Originally reported in an August, 1911 issue of the Inyo County Independent, by Phillip I. Earl

Death Valley is perhaps the West’s most aptly named geographical feature and over the years it has taken the lives of countless thousands of travelers, prospectors, treasure hunters and others who have ventured into its tortured, arid wilderness.

The circumstances of these deaths are roughly similar: horses died, they ran out of water, got lost, became delirious with the heat etc., but at least one of the valley’s victims left behind a more accurate account of his last days on earth.

Al William’s body was found on the morning of August 3, 1911 in Sharpe’s Camp a sometime spring a few miles southeast of Darwin, California. A Nevada inspector who had traversed Death Valley many times in the heat, Williams apparently lost his horse and then lost himself on this trip. He had set out from Coso Springs on May 18 and nothing more was heard of him until his body was found, though his freinds had searched for him earlier in the summer. Sick and unable to leave his camp, Williams apparently waited day by day for someone to come and rescue him. As he waited, he recorded his condition and thoughts in the following dairy which was found on his body:

Thursday, May 18 — Left Coso Springs.

Wednesday, May 24 — Nothing to eat since Thursday.

Friday, May 26 — Weak and sick, can’t walk 50 feet. Tried to get dove; no go.

Saturday, May 27 — Hungry, hungry and so weak. Headache and sick. Will probably die soon.

Sunday, May 28 — Very weak today. Nearly froze last night. Very hungry.

Monday, May 29 — Cold; almost froze. Am much weaker; don’t think I will last two days more. Pain in my side.

Tuesday, May 30 — Colder than ever last night. Did not sleep a minute. Very weak. Hell of a headache. Very dizzy.

Wednesday, May 31 — Am nearly all in; can scarcely breathe. Water getting low.

Thursday, June 1 — Worse today. Sick; no sleep; too cold. Water is playing out fast. It won’t be long till the end.

Friday, June 2 — Am about the same. No sleep; cold nights. This is a living hell. Very weak.

Saturday, June 3 — No sleep; cold night. Am worse than ever. Will hold out as long as I can.

Sunday, June 4 — Vomit yellow, bitter stuff when I drink water. Second time now. Cold; no sleep; very weak.

Monday, June 5 –Vomit when I drink. Very weak; legs sore; cold all night; no sleep. Can’t last much longer.

Tuesday, June 6 — Vomited again. Getting weaker.

Wednesday, June 7 — Don’t see how I can live much longer. I stagger like a mad man. Feel drunk and dizzy.

Thursday, June 8 — Worse; am nearly blind; very sick and dizzy. No sleep; gnats are eating me up.

Friday, June 9 — Don't believe I can get another canteen of water. Sick and dizzy; can’t see much. Think it will all be off soon.

In the back of the diary under June 9, 1911, Wiliams wrote the following: “Have stood it 23 days without anything to eat. If I can get one more canteen of water I’m satisfied it will be the last one. This is surely hell on earth. Am so sick and dizzy I can scarcely see this and the gnats are eating me up.” Too weak to write and almost blind for the last three days of his life, Williams merely made his cross in the diary to show he was still alive.

The men who found the body at first considered bringing it out to a nearby ranch and notifying the Inyo County coroner, but its condition was such that they decided against such a course. A shallow grave was dug on a high bench about 50 feet from the dry spring and Williams was laid away.

One of the men wrote a short account of his death from the diary and placed it in a tobacco can which was then stuffed into a crude monument built over the grave.

William’s diary itself was given to the editor of the Inyo County Independent who subsequently published it as a warning to other who might venture out unprepared or give up on a rescue mission too soon, thus condemning another of their fellow to the awful sacrifice which the desert seems to periodically demand.