The History of Desert Hot Springs, California
Posted on November 8, 2022
Desert Hot Springs was incorporated on September 17, 1963, but its history goes back much further.
Jack Riley is reported to have been the first white man to set foot in what is now Desert Hot Springs somewhere around 1908 – and not long after the Desert Lands Act permitting homesteading was passed.
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 Xmas”.
Eagle’s 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.
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.
That pueblo stands today, as Cabot’s Pueblo Museum – a spectacular desert treasure, and a fitting monument to Yerxa’s faith and love for this desert community.