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Scotty's Castle


Scotty's Castle in Death Valley




The following historical information is from displays that you can see when you visit Scotty's Castle

Death Valley Scotty

In 1883, Walter E. Scott left his family's modest Kentucky home to join his brothers as a cowhand near Wells, Nevada. By age eighteen, Scott was a cowboy and trick rider in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. He toured Europe and America with performers such as Annie Oakley.

Scott left the Wild West show in 1902 after Buffalo Bill docked his pay for missing a parade. Broke but undaunted, he sold shares in a “fabulous gold mine” to Julian Gerard, a New York City banker. Gerard provided funds – a grubstake – for a portion of whatever gold Scott discovered.

To attract other investors, Scott used grubstake money to promote himself. He went on spending sprees in cities from Los Angeles to New York City. He stayed at the best hotels, bought drinks for everyone, left gigantic tips, bragged about his goldmine, and then disappeared back into the desert. As newspapers repeated his wild tales, he became a folk hero known as Death Valley Scotty.

Scotty gained national notoriety in 1905. He hired a three-car Santa Fe Railroad train he called the Coyote Special that took him from Los Angeles to Chicago in a record 44 hours and 54 minutes. “We got there so fast,” Scotty said, “nobody had time to sober up.” The stunt led to a meeting with an earlier investor who would become his lifelong benefactor. His name was Albert Johnson.

Albert Johnson

Albert M. Johnson, unlike Scotty, was a quiet, religious man who did not smoke, swear, or drink. Johnson grew up in a wealthy Quaker family in Oberlin, Ohio. Upon graduating from Cornell University with an engineering degree, he joined his family’s mining investment business. After injuring his back in an 1899 train accident which killed his father, he moved to Chicago and made a fortune in the insurance business. He and his wife, Bessie, devoted much of their time to church affairs.

Johnson first grubstaked Scotty in 1904. After the record train trip, Johnson decided to increase his investment in Scotty’s gold prospecting. Johnson’s visions of gold soon evaporated, but he continued to provide food and shelter for Scotty plus an allowance for his estranged wife. As far as anyone knows, Scotty never had a mine and never paid Johnson a dividend.

Johnson was intrigued by both the romance of the Wild West and the reality of the desert landscape. In Scotty, he found a colorful Old West character and companion. In the desert, he found relief from his back injuries and asthma. In Grapevine Canyon, he found an isolated place to build a home away from home, a castle in the desert. The Spanish phrase Ah! Que dicha! carved in a dining room beam sums up his feelings, “Oh, what good fortune!”

Bessie Penniman Johnson

Bessie Morris Penniman was raised in Walnut Creek, California, at Shadelands, her family’s fruit and nut ranch. Bessie left home to join the first freshman class at Stanford University. Two years later, she transferred to Cornell University, where she met Albert Johnson. They were married in 1896. Like Albert, she found Death Valley to be a peaceful retreat, but she wanted a few amenities. She ended up with a castle!

Over the years, Bessie developed a friendship with Scotty. Bessie said he had a heart of gold and defended him from attacks. He called her Mable: in her book, Death Valley Scotty by Mabel, she described their desert adventures and sang his praises.

Bessie Johnson was a leader in her Chicago Business Women’s Alliance. She helped young women adjust to the city and advance their careers. The Johnsons were active Congregationalists who supported the Christian ministry of Chicago evangelist Paul Rader. Both Bessie and Albert served as lay preachers.

A Golden Friendship


Opposites often attract. Walter Scott was a rough outdoorsman with little schooling. Albert Johnson was a straitlaced, highly educated executive. Johnson visited Scotty in 1906 and again in 1909, hoping to see his gold mine investment in the desert. Both times Scotty avoided showing him a mine. Johnson, however, enjoyed the desert’s fresh air and solitude and had a good time riding horses and camping with Scotty. In each other, this unlikely pair found friendship.

A Massive Undertaking

The Johnsons spent nearly $2 million on labor and materials 1926 to 1931. Most materials and fuel came from southern California. Supplies arrived by train at the Bonnie Clare station twenty-seven miles away and were taken to the site by trucks and mule-drawn wagons. Sand and gravel to mix with the cement, along with feed for the mules and horses, were obtained locally.

A decline in nearby mining provided experienced laborers to build the Castle. About half of the construction workers were Panamint Shoshone and Southern Paiute who were paid $3.50 per day. White laborers were generally paid more but had room and board deducted from their pay. Skilled craftsmen and artisans were brought in from Los Angeles to do everything from setting tiles to creating wood carvings and decorative ironwork. The tile workers were the highest paid at $11 per day. With the impact of the Great Depression, almost everyone’s wages were reduced. Because of the remoteness and harsh desert conditions, employee turnover was high, especially among skilled workers. Scotty often said it took three crews to work on the Castle – one coming, one going, and one working.



Exterior views of the castle


gate and tower
gate and tower
arched gateway
arched gateway

entrance 'Death Valley Ranch'
entrance 'Death Valley Ranch'
courtyard
courtyard

view through archway
view through archway



Interior views of the Castle


living room - fireplace
living room - fireplace
living room
living room

chandelier in living room
chandelier in living room

music room
music room
music room
music room

living room
living room
looking down from 2nd floor
looking down from 2nd floor

2nd floor
2nd floor
bedroom
bedroom

guest bedroom
guest bedroom
chest from Spain
chest from Spain

chapel
chapel
chapel
chapel




The hilltop

The Johnsons set up a charitable organizaton (The Gospel Foundation), which took care of the property until the National Park Service bought it in 1970. The Gospel Foundation also took care of Scotty during his last years. Death Valley Scotty died in 1954, and is buried on the hilltop overlooking the Castle, next to his dog Windy.

Scotty's grave and memorial
Scotty's grave and memorial
Windy's resting place with castle below
Windy's resting place with castle below

closeup of Scotty's memorial
closeup of Scotty's memorial
1872             1954
DEATH VALLEY SCOTTY

WALTER SCOTT
"I GOT FOUR THINGS TO LIVE BY: DON'T SAY NOTHING THAT WILL HURT ANYBODY. DON'T GIVE ADVICE -- NOBODY WILL TAKE IT ANYWAY. DON'T COMPLAIN. DON'T EXPLAIN."

DEDICATED NOVEMBER 12, 1954, BY THE
DEATH VALLEY '49ERS INC.

Scotty's grave marker
Scotty's grave marker
view toward Death Valley
view toward Death Valley




Scotty's Castle is located in Death Valley on North Highway (which turns into Nevada Highway 267 at the border), about 3 miles east of the junction with Death Valley Road. See map.



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