Meadowmom

Meadowmom

Posted on 09/30/2013


Photo taken on September 30, 2013


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Death Valley National Park Death Valley National Park



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Death Valley
funerals
Shorty Harris
Darwin Road


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The Three Funerals of Shorty Harris

The Three Funerals of Shorty Harris
In this photo, the white line in the distance is the original dirt road into Death Valley from the west... narrow, winding, steep. Built in the '20s to accommodate the agile old Model As and Plymouth Phaetons...today you need 4wd to drive it. I want to tell you about Shorty Harris's Third Funeral and what happened on this road in 1934.

Shorty, not much over 5 ft. tall, was a Death Valley prospector, very smart yet slow spoken. He made many gold strikes including 3 big ones. Known and liked all over the area, he would come into town occasionally to get drunk. Each of the three times he struck it rich, he threw a party for everyone that went on for days. At his party celebrating his discovery of the Bullfrog ledge near Rhyolite, Shorty made history by ordering a tank car to be brought in on the Tonopah and Tidewater, and to be left, with spigots unlocked, on a siding. A tank car full of whisky.

Once, Shorty came to town and later in the evening fell off his barstool. Looking down at him, his buddies remembered that there was a fancy coffin in the back room. It had originally been shipped in by mule freight for some poor soul who was planted long before it arrived. They dumped Shorty in it. He eventually came to, and finding himself in a polished satin-lined box, gave off some very satisfactory bellows. The story was told for years as Shorty's First Funeral.

And, by golly, it happened again. This time Shorty revived on the bar room floor to find a pious-looking stranger in a black suit coat with a book in his hands muttering over him. Again he gave a loud response, to the delight of onlookers. And that became Shorty's Second Funeral.

Shorty's Third Funeral was different, because, as far as I know, he was really dead.

Death Valley National Monument had been in existence 1 year when Shorty died. The Park Service decided to make a big thing of his burial. They issued invitations to a lot of VIPS, ordered up another expensive silk lined coffin and a big bronze plaque, and sent the most elegant hearse in all the country east of the Sierra, to pick him up at the home for the indigent in Big Pine.

The fancy people, men in stiff collars or crisp uniforms, women in cloche hats and pointy strap shoes, assembled on the West Side Road in Death Valley and waited.

And waited.

The driver of the shiny hearse, knowing that he would be coming down the road you see in the photo, left Big Pine in plenty of time. But all along the route, at places like Swansea, China Gardens, Panamint Springs, Stovepipe, Keane Wonder Mine, dusty old guys in obsolete suit coats and ragged pants waved their hats to flag him down so they could pay their last respects to the Short Man.

The driver said he hadn't thought that there were that many old prospectors still living in the entire Mojave Desert. Shorty was 2 hours late to his own funeral. He would have laughed at that.

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To see a much circulated old pic of Shorty , click here.
More stories in my album, Speaking of Death Valley.

John McKay, southern♥girl, Peter Van Der Houwen and 2 other people have particularly liked this photo


8 comments - The latest ones
slgwv
slgwv
Thanks for sharing!
3 years ago.
Peter Van Der Houwen
Peter Van Der Houwen
What a nice story and a fine photo illustration!
3 years ago.
W9JIM - Jim Doss
W9JIM - Jim Doss
I read this once and have always liked it:

When I die
I'm sure
I'll have a
Big Funeral
Curiosity seekers
Coming to see if
I'm really dead
Or just trying
To make trouble.

The Rebel by Langston Hughes
3 years ago.
Meadowmom has replied to W9JIM - Jim Doss
:-) Perfect.
3 years ago.
Jenny Downing
Jenny Downing
what a great tale!
3 years ago.
Jaap van 't Veen
Jaap van 't Veen
Beautiful image and interesting information.
3 years ago.
tiabunna
tiabunna
Great story about Shorty. Great photo too, it really puts a perspective to things to see the road wandering into the distance.
3 years ago.
John McKay
John McKay
Excellent photo and I really enjoy your stories with the photo's.
3 years ago.