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Published at Fort Oliver
Thousand Palms, California
Four Times a Year
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H A R R Y O L I V E R
The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
Dry Camp Blackie (a natural when it comes to training animals) says: Way to teach a dog tricks is to pick a dog so young he is not smarter than you are — but most important is to be damn sure you are smart.
"Maybe you better give it up?"
Not Crazy Like A Fox
Leaning against the "Bali-Bali Bar," I asked Boston Blackie if he thought it could be true that I am the reincarnation of Don Quixote. Yes, said Blackie — as he filled my glass with Mirage Juice — figure it out yourself Harry — nobody could be as crazy as you are in one lifetime — and what's more, in Don Quixote you have made a good choice, or did he choose you? You know Harry, I would say, let them call you Don Quixote all they wish but don't let them start saying you are crazy like a Fox.
AN EDITORIAL OF SORTS
This is what I said— at one of the happiest moments in my life. OR I HOPE I DID
Thanks — Thanks to the Queen of all Desert Beautifuls, Marian Henderson, and Thanks to Walt Disney, the King of Fantasy.
Also thanks to those, in the past years, who awarded me for starting a few happy thoughts about Litterbugs.
I have always looked at the "whole Desert" with a feeling it was my own front yard.
So, having a Happy Little Newspaper, I printed much about keeping this so-called Front Yard clean and safe for the plants and flowers and the Desert's little creatures — including Damsels in Distress that are stuck in the sand.
"I have been young too long." —Seventy-five years old and new ideas popping up all the time.
This idea I tell today — I am sure will do away with Beer Cans — for all time.
It's going to be hard to keep up with you Lady Beautifuls — Desert Beautifuls — as I look out at you all — Lady Beautifuls — is best.
Uncle Sam and I have a great secret — it is so much a secret — that it is a secret is a secret at all — and today I am going to let you in on it.
I watched a little girl eating an Ice Cream Cone in the park the other day — and that is when the idea came to me — she ate most of it, she she crushed what was left of it with her heel. I sat there — then in a few minutes the ants were coming to get the leavings — Walking about the park with the idea going through my brain — Why Not Make an Edible Beer Can. A Cheese flavored — a Cheese Sandwich Flavored Beer Can — As I came back, I noticed a little ground squirrel was cleaning up the rest of her cone.
I thought how wonderful it would be if those cheese can beer drinkers even if they only ate a part of it, — they also would be feeding my little Desert Creatures. Also Burros, even Horses, would eat the rest and like it.
Then we just won't have any more beer cans.
Now for that great secret — That is such a great secret!
The Government at the present time is making plans to have everything aboard the Moon Rocket edible — the dishes you can eat in an emergency — a little hard on the teeth — (they will have to pick boys with good teeth) — even the knife and fork are made of licorice. —And if you get a sweet tooth on your trip you can eat them — that is slowly — if you do a lot of chewing.
So if I can, with your help, put over this big idea and everybody eats his own beer cans — we wont' have to go around saying, "Clean Up"; We'll just say, "Eat 'em Up Boys."
Why do we say the same old grind? We can make it the same, and again we can glorify it, add to it, I oft times roast my coffee, cool it, grind it, and then brew it, thus having the fragrance twice — I find most things in life are that way.
Old Captain Catnip Ashby was asked by that fellow thats been here for sometime, to sit in the sun and get over a sick spell he had.
He ups and asked Cap, "What is life's heaviest burden?"
Cap tells him, "To have nothing to carry."
Today the new-comer sits in the sun with a skinny kitten on one side of him, and a limping puppy on the other side, (he has something to carry,) but he is happy and his own burden don't show in his smiling face.
Don Quixote Edition
THIS IS THE WAY THE PROFESSOR SEES THIS WHOLE BUSINESS.
The need for Harry Oliver in our day and age can be compared to the need of Don Quixote during the Spanish Renaissance.
If you disagree with the sweeping statement above, then you undoubtedly believe the world never has nor never will be in need of men who cannot distinguish the desert from desert mirages.
If, on the other hand, you agree, then you share my view that to a marked degree Oliverism and Quixotism are expressions of faith in the power of the human — you and I — to create value by virtue of our faith in value — to generate a world above the world of nature.
Quixote was not wholly mad nor is Oliver completely crazy. We can not shrug them off as mere curiosities, as characters out of step with the rest of the world or as nuisances who disrupt the peace of you conceptions of right and wrong.
There is something more to them, to their child-like stunts, their fondness for laughter, their love of idealism — perhaps they bring a message to the great mass of us who dress, act, eat, think and even dream alike — "can we afford to pause in our struggle to know what reality really is?"
Are Oliver and Quixote laughing at us?
A box of baking soda in your car is a good emergency fire extinguisher — probably the only one that is also good for indigestion, insect bites and sunburn.
Good Nonsense Is Good Sense In Disguise Page 3
SHAME - - Look What YOU Did! 1955
Your Editor pointed a finger of Shame at roadside "Junk-Tossers" this winter. Pictures went out over the (United Press) to every State in the Union, clippings came in from Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and one from Okinawa.
To Quote The Los Angeles "TIMES" —Oliver who can find humor in anything, including roadside debris, penned these nuggets:
"The highway between here and Wickenburg is beautiful this time of year. All the Kleenex bushes are in full bloom, right alongside the road."
Another quotation from his Scrapbook:
"The widlflowers at For Oliver were so thick this Spring you could hardly see the discarded beer cans."
Bert Fireman of "The Phoenix Gazette," said, on joining the crusade, "It seems that litterbugs pick the prettiest spots, under the little shade provided on the desert — to do their dirty work."
L. Belden Burr of the San Bernadino "SUN" told this:
It seems Oliver started printing those "Shame" signs on his 90-year-old Washington hand press. Ole Nordland of the Indio Date Palm seconded the crusade and took over the sin-printing business.
Bob Hirt of the Riverside "Enterprise" added the Desert Leprechuans. I give you Bob's whole story (all but the picture of me putting up the SHAME signs) in the 8 years I have printed this paper I have never had my picture in it. (But I sure do get it into the other papers.)
By BOB HIRT
THOUSAND PALMS, Nov. 23 — The one-man Chamber of Commerce in charge of mostly Riverside County's deserts, which cover a little more area than other Chambers of Comerce in these parts, was up in arms this week about the sloppy city slickers who drive through his territory and leave tokens of their presence behind.
Desert Chamber president Harry Oliver, more often known as the Desert Rat rather than Harry Oliver, referred the matter to the Desert Beautification Comittee, which is headed by Harry Oliver.
The president was forced into action by the board of directors, which is mostly made up of The Desert Rat, sometimes referred to as Harry Oliver.
>In a formal declaration, Oliver of the board said to Oliver the president who relayed to Oliver the committee chairman:
"In the desert we have a simplicity and cleanliness you cannot find anywhere else in our world.
"Our dirt is not dirty — just clean sand — no smelly swamps — no sewer carrying rivers — no smoke or smog.
"But woe, we have distress and the desert Leprechuans who sweep our desert each night with their feathery brooms can't cover those ... confounded beer cans.
"Due to our cleanliness, beer cans look worse in the desert than anywhere."
Oliver, the committee chairman, who wouldn't speak for his superiors, issued a statement from Oliver the president explaining the desert Leprechuans design the patterns on the sand dunes.
Oliver of the board, not to be outdone by Oliver the president, chimed in that "it's a big desert and you wouldn't think people could mess it up."
With this classic still ringing in his ears, Oliver the beautification chairman, plunged into a man-sized job of posting signs around the desert reminding beer-drinkers to keep their beer cans in the city and off the clean desert sands.
The signs can't be mistaken for the ones that tell you to ride the train next time.
They bluntly say: "Shame . . . Look What You DId . . . (Beauty was here until you came!)."
Oliver hasn't posted these signs just anywhere. He posted them everywhere there is a pile of beer cans, which won his special commendation from Oliver the president.
This spurred Oliver the committee chairman on to even greater things.
He attached a sedond sign to the bottoms of the first ones which says (in fine print): "We love our desert — please keep it beautiful."
This won him special commendation from the bottle makers who still believe the best drinks come in bottles anyway.
Those DAM Beer Cans
Colorado has no beer-can trouble — throw a beer can in the State of Colorado and it rolls down the Mountain into a streamn and the Beaver use them to build their dam' DAMS.
To those people who mess up our cliffsides with such paintings as 'Christ Died for Your Sins" here's hoping they do for theirs.
\ —Wayne Mitchell, Wildlife Photographer
Many New Chapters In The Life Of A Professional Old Timer
After cleaning the tin cans out of the desert, Harry is ready to slice Riverside County — "right smack in the Cabazon."
This "Professional Old Timer" eponym was graciously bestowed on me by Lucius Beebe
By BOB ZIMMERMAN
In the Riverside Enterprise
THOUSAND PALMS, Jan. 15 — "Those dern tourists" are ruining his Desert County secession campaign, desert rat Harry Oliver charged today.
Mad as an ambidextrous sidewinder trying to travel a crooked line Harry left his campaign against tin cans and charged back into the fight to cut up Riverside County with a barrage of buttons.
The buttons proclaim — "I Am a Secessionist" — "We Want Desert County" — "Join" — and are modestly illustrated with a picture of Oliver on a Burro.
The trouble is, Harry complained, the tourists are picking up all the buttons in sight for souvenirs.
Harry, who recently was disqualified from taking part in the annual Peg-Leg Smith Liars Contest on the grounds that he was a professional liar, claims to have been the one who started the idea of the desert's withdrawing from Riverside County and forming its own county.
The Name Did It
It was back in 1946, he said, when he first became ashamed of Riverside because the name is the most unimaginative name in America.
"It made me mad and it made me a little ashamed of my address," the unbarbered don quixote shouted.
Since then he has let it be known that his address is "Old Fort Oliver, Desert of the Salton Sink."
And what's more, the sun-baked sultan of the Salton complained, the desert got cold decked when they called it Colorado. The desert had the name first, before that State came along and stole the title.
"Now San Bernadino had it lucky, with a good Spanish name for the county and a fine Indian name, Mojave, for the desert."
"Why this county could just as well be called Drywashside County," the pundit of the palms proclaimed.
"Desert growers boast of their desert grapefruit. There ain't no other dates but desert dates and nobody has a resort down here that isn't called a desert resort.
"So why shouldn't we throw out Riverside and just be plain Desert?"
Give it "back to the MUSKRATS," or to the Midwest — quoting L. Burr Belden of the San Bernadino "SUN."
The old desert rat calmed down for a minute and admitted that maybe a few other people had latched onto his idea of Desert County — "taxpayers and people with serious thought of the future" and folks of that type.
But Harry wants to conduct his own "secesh" campaign his own way. That is if he can keep from losing his buttons.
I would rather get into trouble ten times a day than curb my enthusiasm.
I maintain I am different from most editors because I am sane enough to know I am crazy.
In March, 1953, Raymond Carlson, Editor of Arizona Highways was gracious and printed 4 pages about this paper under the title "A Salty Western Editor and Sage" — thousands of subscriptions came — it was sure a jack-pot.
In the May, 1953, edition I thank him with this letter which he headed with —
TRAIL OF DICK WICK HALL
My letter to Raymond Carlson—
You son-of-a-gun! You and your staff have wrecked all of my plans. On April 4 I was 65 years old and was going to get my old-age pension, but today wih this stack of mail before me (over two feet high!) (in response to the article in your March issue) I see I will never be able to make my newspaper look like a lazy old man's hobby. I do thank you and think it is generous and big of you to let me walk (for a bit) the trail of Arizona's famed Dick Wick Hall.
Dick Wick Hall of Salome, in an earlier day, dug humor and wit and laughter out of the desert, Harry Oliver is doing it today and we sure hope no old-age persion is going to stop him from digging. Anyway, old desert rats don't stop. They just get old and older and older and then show up finally haunting old ghost towns.
Raymond Carlson, editor.
Old Station Wagon has a sense of humor, says, Phat Graettinger, Palm Springs Editor . . . I like the story he tells about Blackie . . . He and Blackie were riding across the desert in Harry's ancient Ford one hot day . . . Blackie was smoking a cigar in a rubber holder . . . He didn't notice that his cigar was getting shorter and shorter and every little while stopped the car to get out and inspect the brakes, engine and so on . . . "Something's getting awfully hot," he told Harry . . . "Can't you smell the burning rubber? We'll never make it."
Press Agent For A Ghost
From page one of The Southwest section of The San Diego Union, Sunday October 9 1960
By Alfred JaCoby: Editor
With thanks to Patrick Nolan of the Chamber of Commerce, and Clyde E. Strickler, Superviser Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Also my good friend and guide, Joe De Fea, owner and operator of "My Rumpus Room" namely The Six Palms Tavern at Thousand Palms
(Just 17 steps West of Old Fort Oliver.)
Many added thanks to my early neighbors in Borrego, to Leo Carillo and Ed Ainsworth who added sparkle and color to the occasion.
Go to Switzerland and you'll find three different monuments dedicated to William Tell, each claiming the national hero — who never existed at all — was born on that very spot.
Go to Italy and you'll find a monument to a heroine named Juliet — who also never existed.
Go to Old Town, San Diego, and you can visit the marrying place of a California Indian heroine named Ramona — who never existed.
And, go to Scotland, where you'll find a monument to the Devil — who also doesn't exist, as far as anyone on Earth can testify.
Which makes it perfectly reasonable that the State of California at 3 this afternoon will dedicate a plaque in Borrego Springs to a prospector named Peg Leg Smith — who told tall tales, about a gold mine that never existed. The dedication will be a feature of the current Covered Wagon Daze.
It also makes perfectly reasonable the 25-year campaign of a white-haired handsomely-bearded self-styled promoter and "press-agent to a ghost" named Harry Oliver. Others may want to share the glory, but Harry Oliver of Thousand Palms, Calif., can truly claim the distinction.
Newcomers who read his newspaper, "Harry Oliver's Desert Rat Scrap Book" (the only five-page newspaper known), might think he couldn't possible exist and has turned into a legendary character like Peg Leg Smith. Harry's a Legendary Character, all right, but he's also a razor-sharp promoter and a successful businessman, too.
The monument to Peg Leg Smith (as approved by the state Park Commission) will say that "Legends regarding his lost mine have grown through the years . . . The gold mine possibly could be within a few miles of this monument."
It possibly could be so. Harry Oliver says he has talked frequently with Peg Leg — who died in 1866 — in recent years. "He'll talk to anyone," Oliver says, "After you've had six shots of bourbon."
Strangely enough, however, Peg Leg never reveals just where the gold mine is — regardless of how many shots of bourbon you've had.
Harry Oliver and the Peg Leg legend got together back in the 1930s, about the same time Oliver was running Gold Gulch, "the rip-roaring'st mining camp since '49," at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. Gold Gulch was a bonanza of a success, according to Oliver, and even out-drew Sally Rand, another feature of the fair.
"Course we had some pretty hot stuff down at Gold Gulch, too," Oliver confides.
At any rate, after leaving the exposition, Oliver lived at Borrego Springs for a whilke and decided to make Peg Leg Smith live there, too. Soon hand-carved peg-legs were spreading in out-of-the-way places all over the Southwest, each with a message hinting the mine was at Borrego Springs.
Other interests captured Oliver (who earlier had developed a reputation as a top Hollywood set designer) and he has since moved to Thousand Palms, near Palm Springs. Peg Leg, however, has stayed in Borrego.
In fact, Oliver set up a monument thirteen years ago in the valley to Peg Leg with the instructions that "Let hin who seeks Peg Leg Smith's gold monument has grown to ten feet in height over the years, too.
He'll be a guest of honor at this afternoon's ceremonies and will probably spend most of the afternoon topping every story told. In a serious moment he may even explain that a land such as ours can't have too many legends or too much folklore. What better place than the desert for such as this, he says. After all, as he puts it in the latest issue of the Scrap Book:
"Big Shows have simple ideas and mountain backgrounds."
Don't call a Desert Rat a liar. If he is a Desert Rat he knows he is; and if he isn't a liar, he isn't a Desert Rat.
KING OF THE DESERT RATS
The old fort has many untold stories. It is scared from earthquakes, bullets, arrows and the elements, and known to have housed outlaws, renegades and ghosts. Today it is the home of a "crazy old editor" who talks to a weird lot of animals "who talk back." They're all in print in the Villager and will soon be on an LP record. —Carl Kuhlberg, Editor From the Palm Springs Villager 1957
King of the Desert Rats
By GREENFIELD LAWREL
The sandblasted, sunbaked 1928 Ford station wagon pulled off Highway 60-70 and squeaked to a stop under the shade of a palo verde tree.
Its driver sprang out and, removing his huge, black Stetson, ran a lean hand through his flowing white hair and then against his equally white beard. For miles upon miles the bowl-like Chuckawalla Desert of California rolled out to the sharply outlined mountains encircling it.
But, underfoot the Chuckawalla's aspect changed from awe-inspiring to loathesome. Here was the trash and filth, the cans, paper plates, garbage, wadded newspapers of fellow travelers who had enjoyed the palo verde's shade before him.
Despite his 70 years, Harry Oliver moves with a youth's gait. In a matter of seconds he smacked the sombrero back on his head, reached into the station wagon for a hammer and a staked sign, and walked over to the base of the tree. Here the trash was thickest and here he pounded his sign into the ground:
S H A M E !
Look at what you did. Beauty
was here before you came.
In another moment the Ford was moving up the valley towards the next spot of shade — and the inevitable litter.
Thus began a typical Oliver undertaking which carried him over 1,000 miles of Southeastern California and Western Arizona desert roads. Self-financed, self-induced and self-conceived, the "Shame" campaign is believed by many to have been the first significant shot fired in the anti-litter war which today is raging full scale in the Southwest.
Humor with a purpose to it — a scold behind a smile — that's Harry Oliver — and it is a formula which has brought a lot of good to the Southwest besides a desertful of laughter and enjoyment.
Usually his purpose merely is to entertain — "the most completely lost day is one on which you you have not laughed" — but, often the purpose behind a gag or a stunt is to start people working toward a positive good, like keeping the desert free of litter, or protecting feral burros from slaughter or reminding city-bound politicians that residents of the more sparsely populated desert areas deserve a voice in government, too. Sometimes his purpose is to let the world take a look at someone who dares to be different.
Harry is a newspaperman. That is, he started as a printer's devil at the turn of the century, took 35 years off to become famous as a Hollywood art director on such outstanding pictures as "The Good Earth," "Viva Villa," and Will Rogers' "Lightnin'," and then returned to journalism at Thousand Palms, California, where he launched his Desert Rat Scrap Book in 1946, at the age of 58, with this classic of Southwestern Americana — "Your Editor's Prayer":
"Dear Lord: I only want you to go 50-50 with me. If you will keep me from getting greedy, I will try to give my 60,000 readers (Lord, I stretched it a little but maybe 3 or 4 read some of the copies) good clean fun and fan their interests in the many wonderful things you have put out here in your desert.
"Here Is My Deal — The Lord to do: You're to keep me from making this paper a monthly, or adding more pages to it. You're to keep me from getting ambitious. I don't want to make money, I want only to make these five pages better reading. You're to help me remember, the flattering mail comes because of your color Desert, not because of what I write about it.
"Me to do: I will keep people interested in the plants, animals and beauty of your Desert, I will say nice things about the folks that love the Desert and just not talk a tall about those that don't understand it. I will tell only authentic lies. I will be the best gol-dern publicity agent for your Desert you ever had."
Readers of the scrap book rather feel that this is compromise 50-50 deal the Lord was kind enough to make.
As with everything else he has done in life, Oliver's Scrap Book is purposely different. It is printed on light tag board and folded to five pages — "The Only Newspaper in America You Can Open in the Wind."
The Scrap Book is published four times a year and costs 10¢ a copy — "only a thin dime — and it's getting lousier (the dime that is) all the time." The price is subject to change, of course, when a complicated index system (Harry's) shows that Bull Durham abandons its traditional nickel price.
"Sometimes," Harry warns the general public, "they don't always have the paper on the newsstands," so a one year subscription is quoted at 50¢ — "darned if I'm going to the trouble of mailing it for nothing." Two other subscriptions are offered: "10 years — $5; 100 years: $50. This offer expires when I do."
And if you are convinced that Harry is a legend — "a lie that has grown old with dignity" — he gives this guarantee: "Asbestos editions will be forwarded in case you don't make it."
Zany? Harry has 15,000 subscribers and not a few of them have signed up for 100 years.
Brevity and "anchor" are the keys to Oliver's brand of humor. Editorialized Harry in his latest issue:
"An old Western saying goes thisaway: 'Don't use up all the kindling to get the fire started.' I can cut 20 lines down to a line and a half — and make the fellow that wrote the original 20 lines think that my line and a half is where he got his idea."
All his jokes, stories and tall tales are moored to the Desert Southwest. He is definite on this point. "Humorists who stray soon find their audiences doing likewise. Herb Shriner has his Indiana — what would happen to him if he started spouting off about his boyhood days on New York's East Side?"
This is one of the reasons why Harry does not load his scrap book with references to his fascinating boyhood or movie days, but sticks strictly to the desert country he adopted shortly after coming to California in 1909. During all the years he worked in Hollywood he never missed spending even every Labor Day on the desert — and it is still plenty hot in early September.
Harry was born in Hastings, Minnesota, April 4, 1888. His father, Frederick William Oliver, started a trading post there before the Civil War, boarded it up, went hrough the conflict and when he returned found that his business was no longer at the head of navigation on the Mississippi. Twenty-one miles above his trading post, St. Paul had become the big town in the area.
His father was an ardent Mark Twain fan, and Harry grew up in a Tom Sawyer atmosphere. As a boy he knew and mingled with the trappers, the steamboat men and the woodsmen; the shack and shanty life became a vivid part of his life. This cropped out in his career in motion pictures as a character art director and is the very soul of his desert tall tales.
"I was born to be unimportant; there were four of us kids, I wasn't the oldest or the youngest and there was no middle. Seems the only way I could get in the limelight was to be the one that quit school. At the time I was taking spelling in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades — and I couldn't spell in any of them. I hated narrow minded people who thought there was only one way to spell a word. After I quit I went to work as a printer's devil.
"I never did learn how to spell, but I did learn the typesetter's rule: "set up type as long as you can hold your breath without getting blue in the face, then put in a comma. When you gape, put in a semicolor, and when you want to sneeze, that's the time to make a paragraph."
In 1935, already engrossed with desert lore, Harry staged Gold Gulch at the California Pacific International Exposition at San Diego. As designer, producer and director of the 21-acre Old West Mining Camp, he received much encouragement from the common and great alike.
Features of Gold Gulch were the contests Harry dreamed up — contests whch received the private and public praise of Will Rogers — the mule swearing contest; the lazy dog contest where the prize went to the laziest dog, including the owner; the special contest where residents of Florida tried to tell the biggest lies about California. Rogers' Sunday column applause was the most important milestone in Oliver's life.
"I created a ghost town and as an after-thought garnished it with a few stunts. Bill showed me that the laughter created by the garnish was more important than the romance of recreated stone and wood."
With the start of the war and his Hollywood days behind him forever, Harry moved out to Thousand Palms in the Coachella Valley, a small community midway between tourist city Palm Springs and date farming center Indio.
"I arrived with $5 cash, a bottle of cheap whiskey and a shiny Ford Station Wagon which was only 13 years old then. For five years I worked for Uncle Sam, helping the Forest Service, growing rubber at the Bell Ranch, and with the Army at the Palm Springs airport.
"As soon as I could save up $100 — and it was a struggle — I bought a piece of land on Highway 99, made adobe bricks Sundays and after work and in two years I had a roof on it and I moved in. This was Old Fort Oliver. I built it to look as old as the hills and it does. In fact, it is as old as the hills — that's where I got the adobe.
"I started a scrap book never realizing it would be on newsstands from El Paso to Salt Lake City in 10 years — and to think, I do most of it with a pair of shears.
"I could not have kept going these 10 years if I had encouraged my overhead to match my growing circulation list — I just got the habit of going without and I nursed it. You see, most people can't understand how anyone connected with Hollywood could be flat broke at 58. I was.
"I used to use dead men's shoes that the cobbler saved for me — they were broken in besides being cheap. The stores in Indio and Palm Springs would save corrugated paper and used wrapping paper for me. I was just smart enough no to try to use second hand U. S. stamps.
"For years I worked to get the 10-mile road built across the sand dunes from Thousand Palms to the state highway. I sent so many stories to James Guthrie, publisher of the San Bernadino Sun — and, incidentally, road commissioner — that he cringed every time the mail came. I don't know exactly how this helped the road, but we got it and at the same time he sent me a Washington hand press that was 100 years old.
"Then others got into the act. The American Type Founders sent me fonts of rare old type for Christmas for several years. When the Scrap Book was struggling along date shop owners who handled it would watch me leave 10 papers and pick up nine returns and they would go arond back and sneak fruit, nuts and dates into my car. Many a day I lived on dates. One time in order to go to press I took the job as janitor of the Thousand Palms school where today a plaque nailed to one wall reads: 'Harry Oliver Swept Here'."
After 10 years, the Scrap Book is still not a money maker, but that does not bother Harry who has always regarded the making of money as one of the least important things to do in life. "I have six new shirts, have food for my five cats, my crow, my dog (the best dog a man ever worked for), my tortoise and the roadrunners. The burros up in the hills are getting their own feed."
And he has a long list of smashing successes behing him that have enhanced his desert.
Harry's national campaign accepted as the the first organized effort to stamp out the litterbugs, won him the "Top Story" award at the 1956 California State Fair and Exposition. Presentation was made by Governor Knight at the Press-Radio-TV Dinner in Sacramento.
As ex-officio press agent for the Southwest he was one of the first to recognize the threat of litter to our roadways.
To give his thousand-mile "Shame" campaign impetus, he sent out this news release from Fort Oliver: "The highways between here and Wickenburg are beautiful this time of year. All the Kleenex bushes are in full bloom, right alongside the road."
He followed with: "The wildflowers at Fort Oliver were so thick this spring that you hardly could see the discarded beer cans."
Then came a formal declaration:
"In the desert we have a simplicity and cleanliness you cannot find anywhere else in our world. Our dirt is not dirty — just clean sand — no smelly swamps — no sewer carrying rivers — no smoke or smog. But woe, we have distress and the desert Leprechuans who sweep our desert each night with their feathery brooms can't cover those confounded beer cans. Due to our cleanliness, beer cans look worse in the desert than anywhere else."
Today Southwestern communities, counties and states are making it increasingly hard for motorists to destroy the outdoors beauty with their garbage.
For years a controversy has been raging on California's Mojave Desert over the wild burros. Harry Oliver has his own opinions and will tell you, "Cattlemen and conservationists with leanings towards the big horn sheep, traditionally bickering over the predator question, have struck an alliance against the extremely successful burro who they claim is crowding out the native desert species by overgrazing the range. Others — particularly the old desert rats who see in the burro a true partner to man in the exploration, development and conquest of the Southwest — believe the burro should be protected.
'Sportsmen' who saw no sport in buying hunting licenses and tracking legitimate game came more and more to the desert to slaughter the friendly burros. Some merely for the dubious thrill of watching their bullets hit home, others to skin the animals and sell the meat to dog food manufacturers or lion farms."
Oliver issued this set of instructions to burro hunters:
"Get in your car and go to Death Valley. For practice shoot all the road signs and power insulators on the way, along with an occasional shot at a bunch of cattle or some prospector's house (he might be in it).
"When you see the burros, get up wind so your scent will be carried to them. Open a fresh can of tobacco and as the burros come to eat out of your hand you are sure not to miss if you wait until they are 10 feet away before pulling the trigger."
He followed with some good advice:
"Burros are the only animals with a sense of humor. We could do better without the humorless humans who want to rid the state of burros than we could without the burros. There are thousands of Boy Scout groups that should have a pair of burros, at least come camp time."
In 1952 Oliver started the burro-flapjack contest at the annual Death Valley Encampment. It has done more to publicize the burro as the desert prospector's traditionally best friend than all the words — including his own — spent in print for the burro's defense.
The contest is a typical Oliver innovation: prospector-contestants pack their burros with equipment, blankets, canteens and cooking gear. They line up, and at a signal, race 100 yards to a camp area where they unpack, make their beds, tether the animals, make fires and cook flapjacks. The first prospector who makes a flapjack that his burro will eat is declared winner.
And lastly, there is Oliver the philosopher — yes, philosopher.
Today, at 70, erect, six-foot pipe-smoking sombrero-topped Harry Oliver can well claim the distinction that is attendant to true philosophers. He has analysed the problems around him, recommended a course of action — and there are not a few people who think he is right.
And as is always the case with the best of philosophers, his message is simple: humor heals. It heals bitterness, sourness, grouchiness and spitefulness. And once, the philosophy continues, these things are cured, Nature comes along and takes the aches and pains out of your back and out of your head.
As he surveys the world from the fort he assembled on the desert, Oliver sees it top-heavy with needless unhappiness, filled with anxiety and distrust, peopled by men afraid to be different.
"I've thought of everything," he said as he sat in the fort's work room, every inch of its wall surface plastered with a lifetime's prized mementos, "and the thing that works best is humor. When you look at things from the incongruous side sometimes they come into better focus — anyway, as long as you may laugh at your troubles you may be sure that you will never run out of something to laugh at."
Of all the things people have called Harry through the years — liar, brilliant, jester, artist, desert rat, scoundrel, wit — he values least being called a "nice old man" and values most his title as "the old mirage salesman."
"Sure some of 'em are mirages — sure I wald around 10 feet off the ground — but I throw a bigger shadow that way."
He is silent for a minute as he narrows his gaze out of the fort's front window to snow-clad San Jacinto across the valley. "Look at the fellow Don Quixote who fought the windmills. He was crazy — and the little fat man, Sancho, and all the 'Sanchos' in the world said he was crazy — but never, never forget that Quixote led and Sancho followed.
"You're got to fight for what you believe in. Quixote fought with a lance. I fight with humor and showmanship."
And stretching an arm ove a wide circle that took in the desert — still the safe haven for little creatures and wildflowers, still beautiful despite the litter, still free of the black and white smoke of factories and crowded subdivisions — Harry Oliverl, the old mirage salesman, smiles and in a voice he has probably only used on his children before, says, "It's worth fighting for."
Nor did he run over a single Horned Toad
THE ENCHANTED STATION WAGON
Editor Ward H. Grant of THE COACHELLA SUN
Ft. Oliver's comandant, Handsome Harry Oliver, plans to try a different psychology in traffic safety education. When his station wagon gets too old to negotiate dry washes, he's going to spray it with Ghost White paint and mount it on a pedestal beside Speedway 99, topping it with wording something like "The Old Desert Rat drove this for 25 years and never dented a fender. YOU can do it, too!"
Harry's contention is that instead of trying to frighten motorists with slogan like "You May Be Next" they should be encouraged by good examples — like himself.
One Year, $2.50 Three Years, $6.50
Grubstaker: The late Scotty Allen
THE PONY EXPRESS
Stories of Pioneers and Old Trails
Herb S. Hamlin, Editor
Address All Mail to
THE PONY EXPRESS
P.O. BOX 326
Published Monthly at
SONORA (Tuolumne County) CAL.
(Founded by real Sonorans—1848)
INLAWS & OUTLAWS
Ex-Sheriff Slim Law said, "I'll be 89 tomorrow," he said to the clergyman, "and I haven't got anenemy in the world."
"That's a beautiful thought" said the churchman.
"Yup," the old timer said, "I've outlived and out shot every damn' one of them.
Editor Desert Sun
Swank Palm Springs Paper Says
The trougle with this country is that the Inidan didn't have strict enough immigration laws.
Gasoline and Oil
Open the Year 'Round
CALICO GHOST TOWN
13 Miles East of Barstow
Calico in the 1880's was the largest silver mining Camp in the southwest. Almost obliterated by time, it is now being restored by Knott's Berry Farm. An ideal outing for the rockhound, and camping groups.
DESERT RAT SCRAP BOOK 5
LET IT BE SAID WE DIED WITH OUT BOOTS ON
Words & Sketch by Marge Gerke 1956
Like Johnny Appleseed, the old Desert Rat rides out on a new crusade — or maybe lots of miscellaneous old crusades bunched like modern charities into one big push. Without diluting his separate identities as Don Quixote, Bar Munchausen and a sort of Dr. Doolittle of the desert, Johnny Appleseed Oliver calls this current drive his "Keep the Desert Beautiful" crusade.
Tall in the Saddle, he's out again posting signs ("each sign is better than a thousand cusswords") and scolding behind a smile those sheep who eat wildflowers, those tourists who trample desert beauty, and those beer cans and Kleenexes which allow themselves to be tossed undecoratively amid verbena and flowering primrose.
Johnny Appleseed carried a knapsack of seeds, but Oliver says this is unnecessary gear on the desert, where each wildflower plant bears thousands of seeds for the wind to sow in the sands for another spring — if the flowers are left undisturbed.
The Fort Oliver troops — a motley assortment of talking cats, crows, pack rats and other desert animals commandeered by beribboned Whiskers the Dog — are armed like giggers, each with a stick with a pin on the end, for impaling paper trash and beer cans.
Even Oliver doesn't know how many troops this army numbers.
"I don't," he says, stroking his goatee under a smile, "have a gigger counter."
POSTMASTER — DO NOT — send this back — if the subscriber don't know where he lives, I sure as Heck don't either.
All text was hand-entered (no OCR scans) by Ric Carter (all of Harry's misspellings retained). Dick Oakes did the layout, markup and graphics reproduction, but not the contents, which remain the property of Bill Powers and his heirs.