Desert trails and mysteries, 3

Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library also depicts a time when the Kumeyaay Indians lived in an oasis just south of Ghost Mountain.  It is supplied with water draining down from the nearby Laguna and Sawtooth Mountains. Plants are plentiful in this mesquite-shaded area, including edible plants such as Agave and Yucca.


The outbreak of the war with Mexico in 1846 and the California Gold Rush (1848-1852) brought increased traffic, including emigrant caravans through this area.


The name for this area is Vallecito, Spanish for “little valley”, and has been credited to Lt. Pedro Fages, who came searching for deserters from the San Diego Presidio in 1772. (1)  The first road for wheeled vehicles was built here by the Mormon Battalion on their way to San Diego in 1847. (2)  In the early 1850’s a stage station was constructed using sod from the nearby salt-grass cienega (3), which was used by the Jackass Mail, 1857-1859, and followed by the Butterfield Overland Stage.  Stagecoach attacks and holdups were not uncommon in the area.


There is a story of one stage holdup that resulted in a double-murder.  It is said that the leader of the gang of thieves, while riding a white horse, shot his companion to avoid dividing up the loot.  It is also said that sometimes the ghost of the white horse can be seen galloping by at midnight.  In the mid 1920’s Marshal South and his wife Tanya began taking camping trips to the desert.  They often stayed at Vallecito until Tanya reportedly saw the ghost of the white horse (4).

Vallecito Stage Station was reconstructed in 1934 and one time Marshal took his son, Rider, on a hike from their home, Yaquitepec, down Ghost Mountain to the Vallecito Stage Station. (5)


From Vallecito, Marshal could see the ridge on Ghost Mountain where his Yaquitepec is located, dotted with plants…


and depicted in his frieze in the Julian Library.


Marshal South’s last visit to Vallecito Stage Station was in 1948, the year he died of heart failure.  His picture at Vallecito can be seen here. (6)

After a full afternoon of following the trails and mysteries of the Marshal South story, Bert Gildart and I returned from Julian, the final resting spot and “last known address” of Marshal South and the location of his frieze just as rain clouds were pouring over the mountains.


It will take more than a candle to fully illuminate some of these mysteries.


Thank you, Bert for brightening our day and for getting excited about Marshal South’s story and our (Bill and Larry’s) story, as evidenced in your superb post, “Ghost Mountain or Brokeback Mountain? Maybe There Is No Choice“.


Notes (1.) page 350, (2.) page 351, (3.) page 352, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, Diana Lindsay, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California, 2001

Notes (4.) page 19, (5.) page 51, (6.) page 36, Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living, Edited with a forward by Diana Lindsay, Introduced by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California, 2005, ISBN: 0-932653-66-9