Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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D. The Valley Floor (continued)

5. Nevares Cabin and Homestead

a) History

The small undramatic wooden cabin with nearby root cellar that comprises the Cow Creek Ranch are located immediately southwest of Nevares Spring. The site was evidently co-owned in the early 1900s by Adolphus ("Dolph") Nevares, a Death Valley prospector of Spanish-American descent, and Montillus Murray ("Old Man") Beatty. The former was a native of San Bernardino who retained a permanent home there all his life. He worked as a prospector for the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early years of the twentieth century, acquiring the job mainly because of his part in one of the company's most publicized episodes--the search in 1900 for the company caretaker, Frank Dayton, who was long overdue from a trip into the desert. When he was finally found, the victim of a heart attack or sunstroke, Nevares was appointed caretaker in his place and served in that capacity until his advanced age forced his retirement. While working for the borax company he lived on a homestead near their headquarters at Furnace Creek in a cabin bought at a nearby mining town, dismantled, and rebuilt on its present location. The copiously-flowing spring nearby facilitated the growth of a small orchard in which fruits and vegetables were raised. [55]

"Old Man" Beatty's son remembers periodic visits to what he considered the family ranch at Cow Creek in Death Valley during the early 1900s. Beatty's at least partial ownership of the homestead is substantiated by a 1905 newspaper article that recounts Beatty's return from the ranch, where he was in the process of developing the spring for power purposes. Eastern capitalists were already hounding him in efforts to buy the ranch as a site for an electric power plant to furnish much-needed energy to the Bullfrog and South Bullfrog districts. In 1906 a visitor reported that "another garden spot is Cow Creek. There is a hot spring at this point, and Mr. Beatty has done a lot of hard work in cleaning the ground and developing and gathering the different streams." [56] In September 1907 another paper reported that the Beatty family had gone off to their Cow Creek ranch "where they have a well-irrigated garden on the edge of Death Valley." [57] According to the Weights, however, Nevares did not acknowledge Beatty as co-owner, but described him as a squatter residing in a wickiup in the area with his Paiute wife and owning nothing but a wagon and team. Nevares stated he acquired the property when Beatty died and the land was not claimed by anyone else. [58] Some confusion of facts and identities is apparent here, for when Nevares received final papers and title to the Cow Creek property of 320 acres in 1908 from the government, an article describing the change of ownership mentions that Nevares resided there with the Beattys. Fields of alfalfa are mentioned on the homestead, as well as many types of vegetables and melons. [59]

During the mid-1930s the first CCC camp in Death Valley was established at Cow Creek, and according to a picture in the monument files, it appears that some of the men were housed in tents in the vicinity of the Nevares homestead. After Nevares was forced to quit his job with the borax company about 1942, he lied about his age and obtained further work with the National Park Service until forced to retire in 1952 at the age of eighty.

Nevares Spring has always been the important aspect of the site both because of its potential as a power supply to generate electricity and operate stamps and because it is a plentiful and usable drinking source for people and animals in an arid land. Naturally a schism over its future development would arise between mining operators in the central Funeral Range and the National Park Service. From the early 1900s on, companies operating in nearby Echo Canyon coveted the water supply as a power source for any mills they might contemplate constructing. The spring was thought to possess enough force to run one thousand stamps. [60] As late as 1937 Inyo Consolidated Mines, Inc., was interested in obtaining the water to operate a twenty-five-ton mill connected with their mining activity in the Schwab area. [61] In order to prevent such extreme development of the property and to prevent its falling into private hands, the NPS anxiously began negotiations to acquire it or at least obtain an option. The homestead finally came under federal ownership around 1949.

b) Present Status

The Nevares homestead is located at the end of a restricted-access road leading east from Park Village, the principal residential area for monument personnel. The wooden cabin on site contains two rooms, each about twelve feet square. The front room has a loft area, but is devoid of furnishings. It does, however, contain a pelton wheel, an early type of water-powered generator, one of which was used at the Skidoo Mill and another at Furnace Creek Inn. This item should immediately be incorporated into the monument's interpretive collections. The only other objects in the room are the remains of a heavy, coarsely-woven rug and two burners from the old four-burner stove that used to reside in the southeast corner of the kitchen.

Dolph Nevares
Illustration 270. Dolph Nevares, no date. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM.
homestead and tent cabin remains
Illustration 271. Nevares homestead and remains of (CCC?) tent cabins, 1950. Photo by L.F. Keller, courtesy of DEVA NM.

The second room to the south was used as the kitchen and eating area, and contains a porcelain sink, faucet, washbasin, and a wooden cupboard, bench, table, and shelves. East of the house is the orchard, and twelve feet west is a six-by-eight-foot root cellar. In front of the house and also southwest of the root cellar are piles of adobe left by the CCC workers who were employed in making adobe bricks used in reconstruction efforts at the Harmony Borax Works. About one mile west on the access road (back toward the residential area), and south of it, is a post and barbed wire corral.

c) Evaluation and Recommendations

The Nevares homestead is not an impressive complex either in physical extent or in architectural style. The historical value it possesses is attributable on the one hand to its position as a surviving example of a twentieth-century farming/ranching desert homestead made self-sufficient by the presence of nearby springs that facilitated the growth of a variety of fruits and vegetables. It also has associative significance due to its connection with two early Death Valley pioneers--M.M. Beatty and Dolph Nevares. The Nevares homestead will be nominated to the National. Register as being of local significance on the basis of its connections with Beatty and Nevares and as a type specimen of a permanent Death Valley home concerned with stockraising and farming and unrelated to mining activities.

cabin entrance
Illustration 272. Nevares cabin entrance. Photo by Linda W. Greene, 1978.
root cellar
Illustration 273. Entrance to root cellar.
Illustration 274. Pelton wheel inside cabin. Photo by Linda W. Greene, 1978.

Problems in interpreting the homestead arise because of its proximity to Nevares Spring, which is a water collection point and drinking source for the monument. Contamination of the spot is undesirable, meaning that visitor use could be permitted only if the cabin were removed from its original location, an action unacceptable from the standpoint of National Park Service policy and National Register compliance. The historic scene around the cabin has already lost some of its integrity, having been altered by development of the spring and by its occupation and utilization by the CCC. The past policy of the National Park Service has been to stabilize and preserve the cabin and outbuilding and hold them in reserve because of their potential interpretive value. It is recommended that this course be continued.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003