Desert trails and mysteries, 2

Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library is a mural on all four walls with myriad images and symbols depicting a variety of peoples, cultures and places, apropos for a library setting, and beckoning its viewers to further explore, read and learn.  A number of images show how the Native American Indians lived, including activities such as hunting, gathering, fire tending, and pottery making.  These are also activities that Marshal and his family did at Yaquitepec on Ghost Mountain during their experiment in primitive living for over 15 years.


My previous article showed Marshal’s depiction of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo‘s arrival in 1542 in what is now called San Diego.  Twenty years earlier, Cabrillo was assisting conquistador Hernan Cortes in destroying the ancient Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, which was rebuilt and became Mexico City, the capital of Mexico.  Marshal painted an Aztec temple in his frieze and also an image of an eagle holding a snake on a cactus, which is also the coat of arms of Mexico.


The coat of arms of Mexico appears to be based on the Aztec image on the first page of the Aztec Codex Mendoza, depicting the founding of Tenochtitlan.  Note that the Aztec image of the eagle does not contain a snake.  Wikipedia’s article, Coat of arms of Mexico, suggests that the element of the snake was added to conform with European heraldic tradition, and would represent the struggle between good and evil, and could be used by the missionaries in the conversion of native peoples.  Also note that Marshal South used the image of the cactus, eagle, and sun (but no snake) as a symbol of his House of the Sun philosophy (and his booklet of the same name) and his son Rider had this symbol placed on Marshal’s grave site marker.

History is replete with civilizations rising and falling.  In the image below, Marshal juxtapositions a pyramid next to a flaming city under attack.


Marshal’s son Rider mentioned at the end of John McDonald’s movie, The Ghost Mountain Experiment, “My father had mentioned in many of the articles, that the life out there was a great experiment… well it was… and like all experiments, there’s a beginning… and an end.”(1)

But questions and mysteries remain. Even though Marshal South was a noted author, writer, poet, artist and proponent for the creation of what became known as the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, why was he considered a useless oddball by some in the small town of Julian? Why was the curator of the Julian Museum told by the board that there is no file on Marshal South and there never will be, even though many visitors were asking for more information about Marshal? (1)


Was it because when he and his family came into town they looked different, wore different clothes, and had longer hair?  Was it because word had spread that Marshal and the kids ran around naked up on the mountain?  Was it because they thought the kids were not being educated in school and not going to church?

In John McDonald’s movie, The Ghost Mountain Experiment,  Julian residents can be heard saying: “I don’t remember anyone even speaking to him… he was just sort of an outcast in town”; “No one had to tell me that Marshal was in town… I could smell him coming (laughs)“; “He must have been something to see, walking into town… a loin cloth, a head band… I’m sure a lot of these people were shocked… and of course the people are gonna talk… I mean, my word… what else… they were little churchgoin’ people… I mean, here comes this man!” (1)

On a more positive note, one resident can be heard saying: “…when Rider was 12, the county became involved in their lives.  The Board of Education or school system decided he needed to be tested… and they put him through an academic test… and he tested out sophomore college level.” (1)

The children were home-schooled by their parents while living on Ghost Mountain.

Note 1: The Ghost Mountain Experiment,  Directed and produced by John McDonald, 76 min., 2008, and previewed here.

Note 2: For further reading: Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living, Edited and with a forward by Diana Lindsay, Introduced by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2005, ISBN: 0-932653-66-9.


  1. says

    Bill, your photographs evoke nice memories of a wonderful day learning about Marshall and his family. Thanks for taking your time to help educate me! Will soon be posting some of my own, and will let you know when I do.

  2. Bill says

    Bert, thanks for your note; it was a most wonderful and rewarding day! Thanks, also, for sharing my excitement about this fascinating story.

    Look for the next part, “Desert trails and mysteries, 3” to be posted by end of week.