April 1, 1972
David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Golden Mirages. By Philip A. Bailey. (Ramona, California: Acoma Books, 1971). Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. Notes. 353 pages. $9.95.
Acoma Books, in Ramona, California, a successful mail order dealer of Western Americana, has now entered the competitive reprint business. This handsome new printing of Golden Mirages was a wise choice to begin this venture.
First published in 1940, Golden Mirages is a collection of tales about the desert and mountain areas that Philip Bailey knew best. Although his yarns cover territory as far away as Tucson and the tip of Baja, most center on the mountain and desert country within a half day’s drive from San Diego. This was probably because Bailey made his home here from 1911 until his retirement in 1950. From San Diego he ventured into the back country and across the border into northern Baja to interview old timers.
Philip Bailey conducted a one-man oral history project. He was less interested in facts, however, than he was in a good story told for its own sake. Bailey compared different versions of the tales he heard with one another, and sometimes checked their veracity with contemporary newspapers and documents. Although he was not trained in history and occasionally used his sources uncritically, Bailey was skeptical of what he heard. He tried to reconcile contradictions in the yarns he gathered and to explain such phenomenon as the “Burning Balls of Borrego.” The result was a fine collection of folklore, much more satisfying than such recent works as Brad and Choral Pepper’s Mysterious West (New York, 1967). Bailey knew how to put his tongue in his cheek.
Some of these yarns, such as the stories of the lost mission of Santa Isabel, and the lost Pegleg mines, are familiar. But Bailey found new slants on the old stories and many more new yarns than old ones. Places familiar to all San Diegans: Jacumba, Tecate, El Capitan, Julian, Banner, Warner’s Ranch, and Vallecitos, take on new dimension through their oral traditions as recorded in this entertaining volume.
DAVID J. WEBER
SAN DIEGO STATE COLLEGE