“Homestead is where the art is.”

July 5, 2015

Invisible No More

Filed under: Art, Culture, Festival, History — magicgroove @ 12:47 am
Mansions 2015 Carraher

Mansions by Chris Carraher 2015

This blog has served its purpose, and this will be the closing post.

When I started this blog in 2008 it was to document the Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival and to continue to explore the themes of the Festival:  discovering the history, celebrating the culture, and strengthening the community of Wonder Valley through the arts.

Since that time, the high-desert homestead cabins have gained a visibility and vitality as a subject and theme in our arts to such an extent that they no longer need our support or highlighting here. Our humble homesteads have even found their way to a featured exhibition at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles.

I am gratified to know that the Wonder Valley Homestead Cabin Festival played a key part in that vitalization.  When a community is not visible in art, it cannot be recognized in life.  We are no longer invisible.

Christine Carraher/magicgroove, July 2015

May 23, 2012

Homesteads on KCET ArtBound

Filed under: Culture, History, Press — magicgroove @ 4:51 am

The homesteads of Wonder Valley are featured in this week’s edition of KCET’s ArtBound, a vigorous new county-by-county art and culture web program created by local contributors and supported by community input.

Kim Stringfellow’s essay received enough popular favor to be chosen for production into an accompanying web video.  The video features lots of Wonder Valley’s favorite crumbling cabins, as well as interviews with Kim, local historian Pat Rimmington, and myself.

In the essay Kim summarizes some of the observations from her book Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008:

Although some cabins have been passed down from the original jackrabbit homesteaders to family members for recreation and other purposes, today the majority of the area’s jackrabbit homesteads have fallen beyond repair, lending a ghostly and feral presence to the landscape. Others have found new function as primary, full-time residences with modifications, often referred to as “biltmores” by area residents. A small, but growing community of artists and musicians fleeing rising housing prices and general urban ills of the Los Angeles metropolitan area are reclaiming and re-envisioning the structures as artist studios or as creative retreats. Inventive enclaves forming within this geographically defined area are inspired by the Morongo Basin’s spacious desert backdrop, its perceived tranquility, and a desire to form a sense of community within a rural environment. Many have migrated to the region with aspirations uncannily akin to the original homesteaders and share similar outlooks or values with them.

September 28, 2011

An “unusual gathering of people”

Filed under: Culture, History — magicgroove @ 5:02 am

Homesteading is not new, and a trove of personalized postcards from a hundred years ago brings to life how much we may have in common with another set of homesteaders at a different frontier.  From “Homesteaders Show Off Their Claim Shacks”: 

Personalized postcards became a fad in the early 20th century; you could get any photo printed on photo paper stock and send it in the mail. The following are postcards of homesteaders in front of their new residences in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, taken between 1907 to 1920. The subjects are dressed in their finest garments; they sent the cards to family members in other parts of the country to show off their new lives. 

Accompanying the image above is the following:

Homesteading created an opportunity for women to own property for the first time. Many even built their own homes. Out West on these big, undeveloped expanses of land, they could start over, relatively free from scrutiny. “There are stories of lesbians going on homesteads together,” says Michael Williams, who has collected thousands of homesteader postcards over the years. “It was this really unusual gathering of people.”

View the whole slideshow, including some of the handwritten messages, on Slate.com.

October 13, 2010


Filed under: Culture, History, Press — magicgroove @ 2:14 am

This summer’s Basin Wide Spirit profiled the redoubtable Mary Quamme, the angel of Wonder Valley Thrift.  The thrift shop fills a classic cabin on Godwin near the Highway, and according to the article the cabin’s use is kindly donated by the LaCroix family of Torrance.  

Anyone who has shopped there knows Mary and appreciates her unflagging and unflappable presence.  Rain or shine, freeze or bake, Mary is there, comforted by all the technological relief Wonder Valley can muster – in other words, she must really suffer to bring us these bargains!  The shop is famously open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9 to noon all year round, including the doggiest days of summer, when that tiny building stuffed to the rafters with “stuff” can reeeally roast.

Somehow Mary keeps things pleasantly organized, so the sheer volume of merchandise does not cause overwhelming paralysis or, heaven forbid, paralyzing accidents.  And the goods are in the best tradition of serendipity, treasures and trash tumbled together and may your curiousity profit with sorting them out.   How often have I admired a Valley resident’s latest acquisition, be it decor, apparel, or something uncategorizable, and received the proud response, “Wonder Valley Thrift!”   By which they mean not only should you notice their taste, but also that they paid dirt for it!   The prices at WV Thrift cannot be beat.

The Thrift is a production of the Wonder Valley Hiking Club, which has been around for ages but gave up the hiking long ago.  The Club, and the Thrift, are entirely dedicated to supporting the WV fire department.  Your donations of goods, time, or cash are always welcome!

You can view the profile of Mary and the Thrift here (PDF; go to p. 5).

Also in that edition of the Spirit is an article on the Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness Area, another secret treasure of Wonder Valley; see p. 11 at the same link above.

February 2, 2010

The history of the Poste Homestead

Filed under: Culture, History, Press — magicgroove @ 12:15 am

The 29 Palms Historical Society has been an important resource and support in the uncovering of the history of the homestead cabins over the last few years.   In this week’s Desert Trail, the Society publishes an informative Soapbox establishing the story of the Poste Homestead off Amboy and Chadwick in Wonder Valley and clearing up some misinformation that’s been going around.  The adobe ruins and grove of athel trees amid the sand dunes help mark a location that’s been active in local history since the late 1800’s, when it was a water stop for mining freighters.  The Poste Homestead predates the Small-Tract movement, and the article takes a look at the meaning of “homestead”:

There is also the question of the meaning of “homestead.” Random House dictionary defines “homestead” as “a dwelling with its land and buildings.” It is our understanding this is the context used when referencing the place as the “Poste Homestead.” The Homestead Act was a special act of Congress (1862) that made public land available to settlers. In the Mojave Desert the original homestead claims were generally 160 acres, but after the Small Tract Act was passed in 1938, one could file on a five-acre parcel. We should also mention that if a person filed on a homestead but did not prove up, there may or may not be any record in the Government Land Entry files. There will definitely not be a record in the online data base; the data base only contains records of people whose homestead was patented. Patented in this context means the individual satisfied all the requirements of the pertinent act and was issued a Patent (deed) to the property by the federal government.

If you haven’t visited the Museum or joined the 29 Palms Historical Society, you should!   They continue to reach out to include the humble history of the Small-Tract homesteads. (Their latest quarterly newsletter [Winter 2009] includes a version of the talk I gave on this topic at the Museum last March!)  These hard-working volunteers and their expert labors continue to contribute in critical ways to our understanding of our communities, our history, our culture, and the land that has shaped us.

December 10, 2009

“Kcymaerxthaere” this weekend

Filed under: Art, Culture, Events, History — magicgroove @ 12:08 pm

Eames Demetrios, “Geographer-at-Large”, homestead fan, and the instigator of the Krblin Jihn Kabin “historic site” in Joshua Tree, will be presenting “KCYMAERXTHAERE:  A global work of three dimensional storytelling” at Dezart One Gallery in Palm Springs on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12.  Eames tells us the following:

So I am doing a one man show in Palm Springs this weekend based on my alternative universe called Kcymaerxthaere which resides in part in the Kabin we have at Border and Desert Trail (which you are all welcome to visit).

A portion of my talk will touch on these cabins and the way the name Homesteader may actually be a corruption of the word “haumsteadler.”

Eames says the show is a “pretty cool experience for the audience–very simple in a way:  images and storytelling.”

Q&A and book signing to follow each performance.

December 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. Dezart One Gallery, 2688 S. Cherokee Way, Palm Springs (in the Backstreet Art District). Tickets $16 advance/$20 at door.  Reservations: 760.322.0179 or Purchase Online: http://www.dezartperforms.com.   More at Eames’ Events page.

December 2, 2009

“Jackrabbit Homestead” Book and Lecture

Filed under: Art, Culture, Events, History, Literary — magicgroove @ 5:52 am

Kim Stringfellow has announced the release of her long-awaited book, Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008.  Per the JRHS Website:

The 136-page hard cover book with dust jacket includes sixty-one color photographs by the author with an accompanying text by Stringfellow:

  • Discusses the largely underrepresented history of jackrabbit homesteading; its historical and theoretical underpinnings, and the participants and boosters of this popular mid-century phenomena.
  • Examines the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) and other U.S. public land policies that form how we perceive, use, and manage the California desert today.
  • Shares the stories of a diverse cross-section of stakeholders and micro-communities who historically and currently are located within this geographically defined area.
  • Examines the shifting/conflicting cultural values within this High Desert landscape.
  • Discusses the architectural legacy of the homesteads and how study of the shacks can inform sustainable and green design practices.
  • Considers why the homesteads become a catalyst for various human projections including how the shacks serve as a source of creative inspiration for the many artists and other creative types drawn to this area.

You’ll find lots of  the Wonder Valley community (including yours truly) in Kim’s book.  To learn more and to order signed and inscribed copies by the author, click here.

Kim will also be giving a lecture on the homesteads at the 29 Palms Old Schoolhouse Museum on Friday, December 11, at 7 p.m.  $5 at the door.  Click here for more information and directions.

April 11, 2009

“Out of the Mouth of Boards”

Filed under: Festival, History, Literary, Shack Attack — magicgroove @ 7:16 am

Twentynine Palms resident and member of the Desert Writers Guild Nancy J. Knight contributed a story to the Homestead Cabin Festival Show ‘n Tell in February 2008 at The Palms in Wonder Valley and has kindly agreed to let us reprint it, below.  All rights reserved.

Out of the Mouth of Boards

By Nancy J. Knight

 Homesteading in the High Desert – Morongo Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Wonder Valley , and other outlying areas probably began in the late 1800’s, but really began to pick up after WWI and WWII, when veterans hoped the dry climate of the desert, would be a cure-all for the many affects they were suffering from the wars.  There were a lot of conditions that had to be met to qualify as a homesteader, and if you did, the government gave you a one quarter section of land – 160 acres – for about $16.00.  Later, there was some five acre parcels of land called the “Small Tract Act of 1938,” which was, as I understand it, free.  All you had to do was to make the required improvements on the land, and it was yours.

He said:  “Listen, Martha baby, I know you don’t want to leave your family and friends (cough-cough).  And I know you’ll miss the shopping, your garden, and the morning newspaper, but Baby (cough-cough), with all that clean, fresh air in the desert (cough-cough), and the natural beauty to behold, I know this move is the right thing to do (cough-cough).”

The cabin-to-be-built-someday said:  “Why people want to leave their nice, warm homes, beautiful landscapes, comforts and conveniences, beats the heck out of me!  After they get here, there may not be any material to build me, so they may have to live in a tent, an abandoned cabin, or maybe even a cave.  I don’t think the missus is going to like that one little bit, but I can say it is beautiful , and there is a lot of clean, fresh air in this here desert!”

Homesteading was not a piece of cake.  You had to build a “livable” house, and usually an outhouse, in the first year.  There was no electricity, no plumbing, and no running water. Then other improvements had to be made in the following years.  Some committed souls survived, but for most others, the harsh desert life just was not to their liking, and they left.

She said:  “I swear Harold, when you told me the desert had clean, fresh air, I didn’t expect hurricane force winds and sand blowing all over everything!  Why just today, I washed clothes and laid them on some boulders to dry, and that mean, old wind blew them away!  They’re probably – probably…well who knows where by now.  And…and you told me it was beautiful.  What’s so beautiful about sand and rocks? And there aren’t even any trees, except those ole spiny things if you want to call them trees. I just hate this awful ole place!”

After WWII, little by little, growth began to blossom, and by 1947, Joshua Tree had a whopping population of about 550 people!  Small cabins dotted the landscape in the Morongo Basin. I understand there were many turkey ranches in the Sunfair area.  According to some sources, it was estimated almost 500,000 turkeys were there, and it was even suggested the area be named “Turkey Town, USA.”  Well, I guess that didn’t go over, and for unknown reasons, the turkey ranches faded away.  Some say an occasional wild turkey can be spotted.  Gosh, I think I’ve seen some at Wally World in Yucca Valley!

He said:  “Well, Martha, what you think of your new digs?  This sure is a lot better than “tenting” huh?  You were such a sport to put up with it; especially after little Harold Jr. came along, and then later, the twins.  Now I know the outside walls look a lot like the roof, but Bill from down the hill gave me a good price on the stuff.  And look, if you put some yardage up inside, you can partition off three or four little rooms!  How about that?  And look!  You’ve even got a wood   cook stove and little windows so you can look out and see the younguns!  Don’t ya just love it Martha?  Say, I don’t seem to be coughing as much anymore do I?”

She said:  “Yes, Harold I do love it, and I love you for not giving up when I wanted to.  Who could deny the desert beauty … sunrises, sunsets, the little wildflowers in the spring; the little critters that scurry around, and yes, even those spiny old trees have beautiful blooms on them sometimes.  And this land has taught us all to appreciate nature and one another, and many more things that money cannot buy.  Yes, Harold I do love it here.”

Homesteaded cabins were many things to many people.  They were a step up from what they had previously lived in i.e. tents, caves, lean-tos, etc.  As they could afford it, some people added more rooms.  They improved the construction of the cabin to adobe or concrete bricks, or a better quality of wood.  They put in a well, and added indoor plumbing, which also meant not having to go outside to the old “two-holer” anymore.  Others either moved to “larger digs,” or simply left the area.  Believe it or not, some people still live in them, and wouldn’t live anywhere else.  Some folks use them as a week-end retreat to get away from the city.

 But some people were surprised to find that Grandma Martha (on Dad’s side) had left a dilapidated, old, run-down cabin to them in her will … in some god-forsaken place known as the High Desert of California for gosh sakes!  Not only that, but either they had to fix and repair the disgusting mess, or, as deemed by San Bernardino County officials, the most unsightly and more visible by often traveled roads, were going to be leveled and demolished.

The county officials said:  “Look at these ugly, weather beaten, ramshackle shacks.  They’re nothing but eyesores.  What will people think when they come to our area and see these old things?  We must get rid of them, they give a bad impression. And what good are they anyway?  Let’s mow them all down!”

Over one hundred cabins, deemed to be the most unsightly, were razed.  And, although a few of the owners of these cabins did comply with the county’s requests to fix and repair them, most did not – and over 300 cabin owners flattened their own.

As of this writing, only a fraction of the infamous homesteaded cabins were destroyed.  Many still dot the land. Some beaten over the years by sun and wind have only their frames left.  Some are more intact, perhaps a window or two has been broken, and the front door is wide open, and if you look quickly while passing by, you may see an old sofa or a bed.  Sometimes the faded curtains are fluttering in the breeze.   There are still some, who if they had their way, would “mow them all down.”

The cabin said:  “They say that I have outlived my purpose – that I’m no longer needed.  That may be so with some of my fellow cabin mates, but not me.  What?  Am I not entitled to having feelings? I am a part of history.  If only my walls could talk, you would learn so much.  If only you would try to see the beauty in me.  If only you would wonder what happened here.  When was I built?  Who lived here?  Were there children?  What kind of lives did they lead?

If you dispose of me and others like me, what will artists have to paint, or photographers have to shoot, or writers have to write about?  Sure, there are the occasional cabins that though no fault of their own, become involved with some not so nice things.  Sometimes people hang out in them and do drugs, some even make drugs in them, and then there are those who just decide to live there for a while and leave an unsightly mess when they move on.  I can understand why people don’t want these things in the area, but not all of us are like that. Sometimes when people stop to take my picture, I hear them talking, “Mary, it is so peaceful and quiet here (this shouted loudly over the noisy three wheelers that just roared by).  I just love this old cabin.  Why, with a little fixing, we could retire here and get away from the rat race down below (this shouted over the roar of the two four wheel drive trucks that just flew by leaving them in their dust).  And we could sit out at night watch the stars (not really folks, all these houses around here have bright lights on their property that they leave them on all night). Look over there, they’re building more new houses, and look behind us – two more.”  It has really built up around here hasn’t it?  But from the looks of this, they’ll probably tear this old cabin down soon and put up another new house.  Wow, this is getting to be like Orange County huh?”  That’s only some of the things they say.  Some things I can’t repeat.

I only hope that the upcoming generations will have places to go to and to look at, walk around, and wonder what took place there.  It’s too bad big cities and greedy people had to ruin things for us.  Why, I can’t even see my old friend with the pink tiled roof anymore.  I don’t even know if it’s still there.  You’ve heard the expression “out of the mouths of babes …?  If only they knew what could come “out of the mouth of boards.”

November 21, 2008

Grant awarded for homestead art/historical project

Filed under: Art, Events, History — magicgroove @ 9:39 am

Photographer Kim Stringfellow, who gave a presentation on her upcoming book, Jackrabbit Homestead, at the Homestead Cabin Festival opener last February, has received a grant from California Council of the Humanities as part of their California Stories Initiative.

JACKRABBIT HOMESTEAD is a forthcoming book and Web-based multimedia presentation featuring a downloadable car audio tour exploring the cultural legacy of the Small Tract Act in Southern California’s Morongo Basin region near Joshua Tree National Park. Stories from this underrepresented regional history will be told through the voices of local residents, historians, and area artists–many of whom reside in reclaimed historic cabins and use the structures as inspiration for their creative work.

The Web site will also feature a community-created geo-tagged map of the area’s cabins using the Google Maps API. The Web site is scheduled to launch in March 2009 at a public event hosted by the project’s sponsoring organization–the Twentynine Palms Historical Society Museum.

Kim’s book of photos and text, Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape, 1938-2008, is scheduled for publication in fall 2009 by the Center for American Places.

Learn more on Kim’s nifty Jackrabbit Homestead Website.

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