Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty)
B. Frasher photo
Death Valley Scotty certainly remains
Death Valley's greatest legend
for his flamboyant and outrageous character.
Born Walter Scott in 1872, he ran away as a young boy from his home in
Kentucky to join his brother on a ranch in Nevada.
He worked numerous jobs in the area, including a few in
a place he loved immediately and which would someday become his home.
In 1890, a talent scout for Buffalo Bill Cody discovered Scotty and hired
him to work as a cowboy with the Wild West show.
After traveling the world with the Wild West for twelve years, Scotty
began a new profession that brought him even more fame and riches - gold
prospecting. He convinced several wealthy businessmen that he had claim
gold mine worth a
Death Valley. Scotty
agreed to split the profits, provided they first offer enough money
extract the ore.
Scotty apparently had little luck while prospecting in
Death Valley over
the next few years. However the desert dweller often turned up at the
hotels and saloons of California and Nevada, and began what would
become his legendary spending sprees.
Johnson Becomes a Partner
Scotty's most steadfast investor was Chicago insurance magnate
Albert Johnson. The two men struck quite a contrast to one another
when they met soon after the turn of the century. Mr. Johnson was a
well respected and religious man, whereas Scotty was a rowdy and shady
Convinced to invest in the mine, Mr. Johnson gave thousands of
dollars to Scotty over the next several years. Unfortunately,
at least according to Scotty, a number of calamities prevented
delivery of the gold. Undaunted, Mr. Johnson finally decided to
take a look at the gold mine on a personal tour of
Scotty remained cool. Using his Grapevine Canyon home as base
camp, Scotty took Mr. Johnson on a grueling trek by horseback through
He figured a few days in the
desert would be too much
for Johnson, whose health had suffered permanently following a
near-fatal train wreck in his youth.
Surprisingly, Johnson loved
so much that he stayed
nearly a month, and his health improved dramatically in the dry,
Although he never saw Scotty's mine, Mr. Johnson did not seem to
mind. He had found riches in the desert far greater than ones that
glitter. Besides, he had taken a liking to the eccentric
The two men began a lifelong friendship that would change the
Death Valley forever.
Johnson and Scott build a Castle
Over the next ten winters, Albert Johnson often returned to
Death Valley. His wife, the former Bessie Penniman, began to accompany him and Scotty
on their desert expeditions. Mrs. Johnson suggested that they build
something more comfortable for their vacations, an idea that lead to
the construction of the
Death Valley Ranch
in the late 1920s.
Recognizing a good story, Scotty told everyone that he was building the
two million dollar home with profits from his gold mine. When questioned
by the droves of reporters who visited, Mr. Johnson actually agreed that
Scotty owned the place, and passed himself off as Scotty's banker.
Towards the end of the Great Depression, the Johnsons retired to Hollywood
and often visited the Castle, which had become a popular hotel and tourist
attraction due to the fame of Death Valley Scotty. Thousands of tourists,
along with reporters from around the country, flocked to the
year to see what they thought to be the dwelling of one of the world's
richest gold miners.
The Johnsons died in the 1940s, and having no heirs, willed the
to a charitable organization called the Gospel Foundation. The Foundation
continued to run the
Castle hotel and tours, and also took care of Scotty,
who lived in the Castle
the last two years of his life. He died in 1954,
and was laid to rest on a hill overlooking the famous home that bears
In 1970, the Gospel Foundation sold the estate to the National Park Service,
whose job is to protect and preserve the
Castle for present and future
generations to enjoy. Perhaps Death Valley Scotty had that in mind when
"The Hall of Fame is going up. We're building a Castle that
will last at least a thousand years. As long as there's men on earth,
likely, these walls will stand here."
Death Valley Scotty Special: In July 1905 Walter "Death Valley Scotty" Scott spent $100,000 to rent a four-car train
pulled by a steam locomotive in an attempt to break the speed record from the Los Angeles to Chicago. The Sante Fe
train made the trip in 44 hours and 54 minutes, a record that stood for thirty years. The Barstow to Needles segment
of the run took just 3 hours and 15 minutes. Also known as the Coyote Special.
B. Frasher photo