Jack Riley is reported to have
been the first white man to set foot in what is now Desert
Hot Springs somewhere around 1908. Apparently it all started
with the Desert Lands Act an Act that allowed Homesteading.
And according to Information the first person to actually
live here was Hilda M. Gray a woman described as a
diminutive, feminine, hard working and rugged pioneer. Her
homestead was just south of what is known today as Two Bunch
Palms. She was here when Cabot Yerxa arrived in 1913. She
homesteaded for 4 years and then moved to Arcadia to resume
her career as a legal secretary.
Cabot Yerxa came to this desert in 1913 as one of the very
first homesteaders. He walked in during the night from the
railroad with some food in a paper bag and a quart of water
but he had no blanket. For two weeks he kept warm at night
by a campfire and slept some in the daytime by lying on the
sand warmed by the sunshine.
After much walking and exploring, he finally made a
homestead of 160 acres next to the Two Bunch Palms. At that
time there were 100,000 acres of desert land open and no
roads. It seems fantastic now but at that time no one was
interested in a desert with no water or anything deemed
essential by the city people.
In the beginning, he slept on the ground by a fire or in the
sunshine. Then he dug a hole in a bank and lived there with
no roof, no floor, no windows, no bed, no door, no chair and
no stove. He cooked on a campfire. Next came a one room
cabin which was 10 feet by 12 feet in size, with walls of
one inch boarding.
Money was scarce in those early days; in fact, it was
nonexistent. However when Yerxa finally came into possession
of $10, he purchased a black burro which he named "Merry
EAGLES NEST CABIN
In 1914 Yerxa very laboriously dug a large hole with pick
and shovel on Miracle Hill, the location of which could not
be seen. Inside this hole he constructed the first permanent
building in the area - EAGLE'S NEST CABIN. It was 10 feet by
20 feet in size and built of stone. Cabot and Merry Xmas
would walk seven miles over the desert to the railroad
station at Garnet. Here they each got a drink of water. Then
a 100 pound sack of cement was placed on the back of each
and they walked back to the homestead cabin - another seven
miles. Gradually the cement, lumber, rocks, sand and water
were carried to the top of Miracle Hill and Merry Xmas was
turned loose on the desert to have a burro's holiday.
Eagle's Nest Cabin had one door and one window out to the
world, but the rest was practically underground. A fireplace
in one end added cheer and warmth. The main idea was to get
out of the wind and to make safe storage for belongings.
Every few days, Merry Xmas would climb the hill about noon
time after having eaten wild grass or sage brush and lay
down to rest. When Yerxa opened his paper bag of lunch or
fried a little bacon or beans over a campfire, Merry Xmas
stepped right forward and was given half the lunch. She
would eat meat, potatoes, beans, bread or anything at all.
She would chew tobacco and could drink water out of a
bottle. Merry Xmas was different from the average run of
burros and became famous because of her unusual
characteristics and intelligence. She wandered away while
Yerxa was a soldier in World War I.
All went well for years, but the inevitable happened.
Eagle's Nest was discovered by vandals and made a shambles.
Later it was wrecked and buried beneath the sand one mile
south of the present pueblo.
OLD INDIAN PUEBLO
By 1941 there was talk of a town at Desert Hot Springs; so
Yerxa started the Old Indian Pueblo near the mountains. The
architecture is Hopi Indian style, similar to the
architecture found in New Mexico 1000 years or so ago. There
are steps inside instead of ladders outside. Also, the
Indians had only one door and one window per room but in
this building there are two or three windows and doors to
each room to make it practical. The structure is four
stories high, contains 150 windows and 65 doors, 17 of which
lead to the outside.
Having no money at the time, he took a pick and shovel and
cut down the mountainside, put the earth in wheelbarrows and
filled up the canyon to make a front yard. This took about
one year and then he built the pueblo in the hole he had
made because he wanted it to fit into the mountain.
The east wall on the ground floor is 100 feet long and has
no doors or windows. The sun rises but does not shine into
the rooms downstairs until it is on the way down. This helps
to keep it cooler. The east wall is 24 inches thick at the
bottom and 10 inches or more thick at the top. For most of
the construction, he hauled sand in a Model T Ford. The
rocks and water for cement were transported in barrels. He
mixed it all by hand in a box and did most of the
construction alone. On occasion he had another man help him.
Cabot toiled for over twenty years on his beloved pueblo.
There are 35 rooms in this unfinished building. The lumber
is all "recycled". Poles were retrieved from mountain
floods, many railroad ties were used and some timbers came
out of the Metropolitan Aqueduct tunnels. Bent and rusty
nails were saved to straighten and use again.
Cabot's Old Indian Pueblo is one of the most fantastic
structures in Southern California. Cabot Yerxa has built
part of his soul into these adobe walls. His "castle" is an
incredible building which stands as a fitting monument to
his faith and love for this desert community.
The incorporation date of Desert
Hot Springs: September 17, 1963
Here are some old photos of
early DHS history: