From Desert to Desert Hot Springs

For some six and half years (1951-1957), Desert Sentinel published a weekly column by Cabot Yerxa, titled “On the Desert Since 1913.” In 1958, the newspaper gave him space to present in one fell swoop his personal account of Desert Hot Springs’ history. Below is a considerably edited offering for those who missed the original article that approached 4,500 words.

About 1910, Dutch Frank and Old Man Coolidge came here. Dutch Frank prospected, accompanied by Coolidge, who got tired of walking so much and located a 160-acre homestead on the flat in front of Two Bunch Palms.
Probably in 1912, Jack Riley, Orr Sang, the McCarger family, and Hilda Gray took up claims. In 1913, Bob Carr and I picked our locations north of Two Bunch. Gradually came in many other people. But there was no rush, and no land was sold. I knew of one very desirable 160 acres offered for $900, but none of us had a dime. Strangers laughed when we said the desert had a future. So there things rested for years.
Somewhere in the 1917 period, there was an automobile race from Los Angeles to Phoenix through Banning, over this desert, out to Blythe and so on into Arizona. The roads varied in many places from awful to impossible. The race occupied two or three days, and some cars never finished. The newspapers gave much notice to this race and made complaints about road conditions to state authorities, who sent out surveyors and mapmakers.
In our desert were only a handful of men at the time. We heard of the project and each contributed nickels and dimes. We sent a telegram to Sacramento to explain the new road should go through here. After several telegrams that cleared us out of pocket money, we met the engineer for the state at Whitewater. He had a Model T Ford. There was no bridge of any kind, but we finally got it across the river.
By shoveling sand, cutting down greasewoods, moving boulders, persuading the mules to pull, and with much pushing and shoving, we were successful in getting the auto and engineer to the point on the desert called Thousand Palms. At this place was a party of men from Indio, who took the engineer to their town, which was just a spot in the road then. And so from this effort, the state adopted our route through the desert. On March 20, 1949, the official count of cars going both ways was 65,000.
Water was of course the first problem of every resident. Some carried it in canteens. Jack Riley used a wheelbarrow; others used buckets. Scott Farris swung a five-gallon can on each end of a pole over his shoulders. Very gradually, wells were dug here and there, so the distance to carry water was lessened. In 1923, Ford Beebe developed a well at the corner of Palm and Pierson, to which a few people in the vicinity came on Sunday for water and to hear news. Perhaps someone had a newspaper or had seen a stranger at the railroad station. Bits of conversation were repeated and evaluated.
In 1925, Walter Woods put in a well on 1st Street. It had a small pump, so we all went there on Sunday, because at the Beebe well, water was pulled up by a bucket on a rope. Walter had us plant two acres of fig trees near the well. They started all right but burned up with the heat one summer. The few pepper trees planted at the same time survived in healthy condition.
The same year of the fig trees, Bill Anderson, who homesteaded the land across the street from Coffee’s Bath House, and I got all enthused about progress. We started out on the section line from the corner of Pierson and Palm and broke out a road straight west on now Pierson Boulevard to Indian Avenue 3 1/2 miles. We turned the corner there and headed for the railroad with our new road. Mike Driscoll, Jack and Bill Riley, and others helped on this, going to the railroad.
The year of 1924 witnessed Charlie Bender and Lucien Hubbard drilling a well down 800 feet on their land.
Approximately 1937, Tom Lipps came over from Palm Springs. He acquired possession of Two Bunch Palms and started improvements. That same year, more or less, L.W. Coffee, who had signed up a large block of land into a trust, helped develop the Aubrey Wardman holdings into the first subdivision advertised as cabin sites. Lots started at $95.
Seeing Tom Lipps come over to this side of the desert and knowing that Mr. Wardman was behind Coffee’s venture, it appeared that I ought to branch out. So I gathered some secondhand boards and constructed an art gallery, trading post, and museum on the east end of Miracle Hill. By 1941, the village had grown so much that it became wise to move my place of operation nearer. So, in that year, the Old Indian Pueblo was started to house the museum and related projects. I have been building along, as I have had free days for 17 years since that time and will work five more.
The year of 1944 was important because on September 5, the first sack of mail was delivered to the first post office called “Desert Hot Springs.” Every resident in the area wrote to everyone they knew to tell the world that Desert Hot Springs was at last a place in the desert with a post office. Four hundred pieces of mail were sent out the first day.
The above photograph shows Cabot Yerxa and Bob Carr, when traveling by foot was the way people typically got around.