MS 201 James R. Evans Diary

Summary Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection
Evans, James R.
James R. Evans Diary
MS 201
Date [inclusive]
1923-1924 and undated
0.25 Linear feet (1 box)
The collection contains one diary written by James R. Evans beginning in March 1923 and records events related to prospecting in the Imperial Valley and the surrounding desert.

Preferred Citation

James R. Evans Diary, MS 201, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.

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Biographical / Historical Notes

James R. Evans was a geologist, mining engineer, and prospector who traveled through California’s Imperial Valley in the 1920s. Little biographical information is revealed about Evans within the journal. During a significant part of the diary, he travels and lives with Anne L. Evans, though he does not explicitly state that she is his wife. At one point in the diary, he includes excerpts from her diary revealing that his nickname is “Jim” or “Jimmy.”

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Scope and Content

James R. Evans’ diary begins in March 1923. The diary is typed, but includes several handwritten notes by Evans. The first twenty pages of the journal include entries on his travels from San Diego to his intended destination of 29 Palms, noting day of the week and time recorded, though dates (month, day and/or year) are not included. The second portion of the diary commences on page 22 and takes on a different tone. Evans documents places traveled and the people he meets along the way, with many entries recorded in a storytelling manner. He frequently stays at Shaver’s Well, notes the various other wells where he camps, and documents prospecting trips that take him toward 29 Palms, Mecca, the Salton Sea, Cottonwood, and El Centro. Only one date is recorded in the latter part of the diary: and it is February 5, 1924, when a meteor passes through where Evans is camped. Throughout the diary, he notes the hold that both the desert and that mining have over man, noting that he is no exception.

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The collection is arranged chronologically.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection January 24, 2012

1649 El Prado, Suite 3
San Diego, CA, 92101

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number 860919.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Jody Valente on January 24, 2012.

Collection processed as part of grant project supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) with generous funding from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Black Eagle (Calif.)
  • Cottonwood (Calif.)
  • Dale Mining Camp (Calif.)
  • Desert Queen Ranch (Calif.)
  • Imperial Valley (Calif. and Mexico)
  • San Diego (Calif.)
  • Shaver’s Well (Calif.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Evans, Anne L.
  • Evans, James R.
  • Greer, Jim


  • Mining
  • Prospecting

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Collection Inventory

Diary, 1923 March-1924 February 5 and undated

Scope and Content:

Pages 1-20 of the diary document James R. Evans’ travels from San Diego to his intended destination of 29 Palms. The diary describes various roads, which are frequently referred to as trails, which Evans traveled over in his Chandler automobile. He notes the perceived gradient of roads, the difficulty of driving in the sand, and the geology that he sees along the way. He documents various wells where he stops for the night and the people he meets in his travels. He addresses that the desert is becoming increasingly populated, noting on page 20 that, “It is not the Great American Desert anymore, it is only a little spot hemmed in on all sides by California land promoters and Pickwick busses. It is part of progressive booming, beautiful California.”

The first page of the diary includes a handwritten title in pencil, “First diary written on road, March 1923 – page 3 missing. JRE.” James R. Evans made several other handwritten notes within the diary.

Evans’ diary changes in format after page 20 and no longer documents days of the week and times of day. He begins passages with asterisks and documents various people whom he meets in his travels. He speaks of prospecting and testing minerals and of the various men who died or came near to death due to the desert heat and dehydration. He includes descriptions of the various caretakers of Shaver’s Well, where he frequently stayed. He also includes various colorful stories, including the story of the death of Matt Riley and the arrival of the White Faced Bull at Shaver’s Well. He includes tales of prospecting with “Scotti”, who Evans drives to various prospecting sites and provides provisions. At one point in the diary, Evans stops recording his experiences and instead records excerpts taken from a diary kept by Anne L. Evans. She is first mentioned in his diary when she comes to Shaver’s Well and helps watch over the camp. Her diary notes her interactions with the various “desert people” there. She accompanies Evans to Cottonwood and through much of the remainder of his travels.

Entries of Interest:

Evans describes the prevalence of alfalfa in the Imperial Valley and how cotton farming has been replaced by raising cows and steers. Arrives in Brawley which he describes as beautiful, reminding him of Oaxaca, Mexico. The town includes people who are Mexican, Chinese and Japanese, giving it a “foreign tone.” (Pages 1-2)

“The heat is terrific and the glare is terrible.” Evans notes that his vehicle is getting 5 miles per gallon due to the terrain and sand that he drives through. He notes picking up rocks, including felsite, gneiss and scoria. Reaches the deserted mining town of Dale where Evans notes, “Psychologically it smells bad. If ever a place was haunted this is.” (Page 6)

Drives towards El Centro and as he travels on the Bankhead Highway, he notes many tourists with their cars stuck in the sand, without extra water tanks. Evans notes, “Tonight they will freeze…and tomorrow they will pay at the rate of two dollars per mile for a good pair of mules. But I say again it is a crime to call this a highway.” (Page 11)

Records his rules of how best to drive an automobile through the sand. (Page 13)

“It resembles a pastel in delicate rose, and lilac, and amethyst and aquamarine and yet under that delicacy of coloring there is much hardness.” Evans’ description of the vista looking out to the Salton Sea, Superstition Mountains and Yuma. (Page 20)

This passage records Evans reflections of first seeing the desert. Upon looking out at the desert, he notes, “There I should find great belts of iron, and copper, and silver and gold. Great dry lakes filled with Borax and Nitre. Mountains of gypsum and Alabaster.” (Page 22)

“There is a great migration of people from Iowa and Oklahoma to California and they are struggling across the desert in great hordes.” (Page 31)

Evans travels to and describes Cottonwood, an old mining town that had once flourished. (Page 32-33)

Evans documents the death of Matt Riley who set out on July 3 (year unknown) from Dale to Mecca and died from dehydration and heat. The passage is written as a colorful story. (Page 33-35)

Evans writes a story about when the White Faced Bull arrived in Shaver’s Well and how the bull affected the camp. The passage is written as a colorful story. (Page 36-37)

Evans hears on the radio, “We report the Shenandoah just passing Newark bearing North North East. She has broken away from her moorings. All stations will please announce over the radio any news concerning her.” (This may be in reference to the USS Shenandoah, a US Navy rigid airship. It made its maiden voyage in September of 1923, and was wrecked in a storm over Ohio in 1925.) (Page 38)

Bailey, the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Aqueduct visits Evans, as he is about to start surveying land. Bailey intends to survey from Banning to the Colorado River, covering about 150 miles. (Page 39)

“For once in my life I have a strong desire to search for gold and yet common sense tells me to forget the matter. Alaska Gulch lies eighteen miles from water. To mine successfully there is at present impossible. There is no use in chasing a phantom.” (Page 40)

Evans notes the date as February 5, 1924 due to “an unusual occurrence.” He wakes at night with his tent “as bright as day.” A meteor passed through and was seen from over 60 miles away. This passage includes, “N.B. After five years no crater has been found…” (Page 51)

In the preceding entries, Evans noted that a woman name Anne arrived and took charge of the camp. When men attempt to steal Evans’ car, Anne is the one to scare them off by shooting at them. Evans switches from his own diary to documenting entries from Anne’s diary. (Page 53)

Evans travels through the old mining town of Picacho, which had turned into a ghost town (the site is now Picacho State Park). (Page 64)

A visit to the abandoned Black Eagle mine is made. Evans descends to three hundred feet to find other chambers that are one hundred feet high, sixty feet wide and five hundred feet long. Upon looking at old ledgers, Evans notes, “Here money was spent like water and yet the returns from the Mint were even greater. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent and earned here. Here—fifty miles from civilization—twenty miles from water.” (Pages 69-70)

Mining begins at the Black Eagle and minerals are discovered. “The walls were studded with jewels sparkling in the light. The celestial blues of azurite. The greens of perfectly crystallized malachite.” (Page 71)

Scott visits Evans at Cottonwood with men from Union Oil in Los Angeles who are considering investing in the Black Eagle site (Scott is a different person from Scotti and appears to be the foreman at the Black Eagle site). (Page 72)

Evans and Scotti travel to various abandoned mines to see if anything of value can be found. They visit the Desert Queen [referring to the mining site of Desert Queen Ranch near Joshua Tree], passing through the Gold Coin, the Hexehedron, the Dewie, and the Paymaster. Mr. McHaney and Mr. Sullivan lived at the Desert Queen when Evans passed through and Evans described them as the discovers of the Desert Queen. (Pages 73-74)

A mucker [one who shovels broken ore or rock] dies at the Black Eagle mining site. (Page 89)

Evans notes that a traveler comes to Beal Well looking for water, exhausted and dehydrated. Evans notes that the Niland Blythe road has “claimed 27 lives” in the last few years and that “it is criminal that the State of County does not see that these well are at least in shape or post warnings to correspond.” (Pages 96-97)

Anne and Evans head out for water and after scoping for 48 miles, find none. They reach Clemens Well where 50 feet down they find water. (Page 97)

Evans records leaving Shaver’s Well for Buzzard Spring, where he runs short on water after helping men whose car broke down and then gets his car into an accident on Eagle Mountain. He makes his way into Desert Center. This the first passage where he makes clear that Anne’s full name is Anne L. Evans. (Pages 98-100)

Evans drives to Julian to test the Chandler. He describes the mining town of the 1870s as being similar to one found in New England, with picket fences and frame buildings. He meets several men which he refers to as “men of the day of Bret Harte.” (Reference to Francis Bret Harte, American author and poet.) (Page 101)

Evans begins referencing two men who work with him both on and off the desert. Their names are S.D. Reid, a gold miner from Transvaal, South Africa, and Major Ned Millar, who Evans describes as “trained from boyhood in the wastelands of the South West.” Evans, Millar and Reid commence sampling together, looking at the Gold Rose and the Iron Chief. (Page 106)

Describes Eagle Mountain as having “sharp jagged masses of crystallized dolomite intruded by igneous rocks of a diorite character.” The land contains great iron deposits owned by the Harriman interests, which extend for 6 miles. (Page 108)

Evans stops at the Paulo Verde Valley, where he notes that Harry Chandler of Los Angeles sponsored a water project. Evans states that the region is in demise due to the taxes, water issues and bad roads that the water project brought about, leaving many families in distress. When failed projects such as these are mentioned, developers refer to the “Great Imperial Valley”, where 51 million dollars a year in produce are generated, and to the “Egypt of America –the Coachella Valley”, with its successful date farming. (Page 110)

The diary ends with another expedition by Evans and Millar, where Evans notes that within 10 days, the “entire country” has been mapped, from the Burleigh Claims to the Lost Lead Mine. He writes that the Chandler has 68,000 miles of desert trails behind her. (Page 122)


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