Of Desert Rats and Single Blanket Jackass Prospectors (Conclusion)

(Road leading into Wildrose Canyon area.)

After finding potentially rich gold ore in Death Valley's Wildrose Canyon, old time gold prospectors "Shorty" Harris and Pete Aguereberry grabbed a sackful of samples and headed for Ballarat to celebrate the 4th of July.

Claim Jumped

Once in Ballarat with the ore samples safely ensconced at the assay office, "Shorty" headed straight for Wicht's Saloon and proceeded to celebrate the 4th in his own inimitable style. Whether Pete joined him there is up for debate but either way "Shorty" got drunker than a skunk and then, his tongue loosened by liquor, he proceeded to tell all comers about his and Pete's recent find up Wildrose Canyon.

Treasure Hunting
Gold Concentrators
Metal Detectors

By the time "Shorty" had sobered up and he and Pete had found out their ore samples were rich indeed, their claims had already been jumped by those in earshot of "Shorty's" drunken ramblings at Wicht's Saloon. After much travail and no small amount of persuasion, Pete somehow made the claim jumpers see the errors of their ways and he and "Shorty" were good to go.

Wearing Thin

Soon a veritable tent city sprang up near "Shorty's" and Pete's discovery and the gold boom town of Harrisberry was born. Later on, "Shorty" Harris himself is said to have had a hand in changing the name to Harrisburg, cutting Pete Aguereberry out of the equation entirely. Afterwards, "Shorty" was quick to point out that he was the true finder of the gold there. Pete just shook his head in disgust.

The strike at Harrisburg was rich but didn't last very long. With over 300 miners in the area digging away, the gold there was soon on the wane. As was usual for "desert rats" like "Shorty" Harris, the luster of staying in one place too long eventually wore thin and he sold his claim interests for an unknown amount and headed back into the desert to search for more rainbows.

Ever the Nomad

Interestingly enough, after the all the hub bub died down at Harrisburg and most of the miners and townsfolk had departed for a new strike over the hills at Skidoo, Pete Aguereberry bought out most of the remaining mining interests at Harrisburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, making a respectable living off the gold the others had left behind. No more chasing rainbows in the desert for Pete. He was done with all that.

 (Area near Harrisburg as it appears today.)

"Shorty," on the other hand, maintained his nomadic existence as a single blanket jackass prospector, roaming the Mojave and Death Valley in search of other rich strikes. He found a few small prospects, but none ever reached the richness of the Rhyolite or Wildrose Canyon finds. Eventually age and the elements wore "Shorty" down and he began camping out in an old adobe shanty in Ballarat not far from...yep, you guessed it...Wicht's Saloon.

King of the "Desert Rats"

Oh sure, "Shorty" Harris still loaded up his burro or mule and headed back into the desert to look for gold and silver on occasion, usually in the company of another "desert rat." When the Great Depression came around so did aspiring gold prospectors and miners, many of whom looked to "Shorty" for hope as well as direction. But the times were changing and not for the better.

"Shorty" Harris died flat broke in 1934 in Lone Pine, California. Before his death he requested his body be buried in Death Valley next to the grave of his friend and former "desert rat" Jim Dayton. So it was that the king of every single blanket jackass prospector who ever roamed an arid wasteland returned home to the desert he himself loved so much.

My View

Shorty Harris may have lived a hard and wasted life by the strict measure of those enslaved to money, power, prestige, influence, or material "things." That's one view.

("Shorty" Harris' and Jim Dayton's graves, Death Valley.)

My view is that Shorty and the other "desert rats" of his era were some of the most footloose and free men and women on earth. What job slaving for others could ever be freer or better than searching for your own rainbows? Especially when those rainbows might have a pot of gold on the other end.

Something to think about...

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Of Desert Rats and Single Blanket Jackass Prospectors (Part 2) "

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2013

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. ....and I took the path less traveled. there's a lot to be said for living life on your own terms, no matter what those terms look like to others. Much respect to shorty and friends. Good posts J.R., thanks.


  2. Yes, there's a lot to be said for being free and beholding to no one. We'll never see a mining and prospecting breed like these individuals again. Best, J.R.

  3. I've known a few "Shorties" that talked a little too much though. I'll bet his partner wanted to kill him! I'm sure he was just excited and had one too many drinks, but to work that hard and then blow it that way..... Too bad.

  4. A fool and his money are soon parted, they say. Liquor loosens tongues and "Shorty" loved to wag his! Best, J.R.


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