It's quite possible that the woman I knew and called The
Camel Lady was in fact Patricia Partin, also known as
Nury Alexander, the adopted daughter and one of
famous writer Carlos Castaneda's closest disciples. I told
of Patty in the Outlaw John story that took place when
she lived at Bickel Camp around 1982. Patty Partin was
supposed to be a student at UCLA during this time. In
fact the lady who came into Bickel Camp with a camel
caravan said she was a student, but never called herself
Blue Scout. Blue Scout was the name mystic writer
Castaneda called Partin. The camel caravan that
unceremoniously dumped Patty at Bickel Camp was said
to be conducting a university project to reenact historical
camel usage in the Mojave Desert.
The young woman I knew and now think actually was
Partin was a horrible drunk. In fact, I have few
recollections of her ever being sober. Indeed, it was
Patty's drunkenness that caused the camel riders to
leave her with Bickel in the first place. This Patty did,
however, often speak of a rich husband and was never
short on money. Was this rich husband actually the
famous writer Carlos Castaneda? My main reason for
thinking The Camel Lady and Blue Scout are the same
person is based mostly on comparing my photographs
with photos published of Partin after her death.
Occasionally, Patty would go to Long Beach and would
return with supplies, and cash. Once she brought a shiny
new Jeep back to camp as a present for John. John was
an outlaw biker told of in the related story in question. It
had been my habit to call Patty the Camel Lady for so
many years, I had forgotten her actual name. Sadly, the
Randsburg experience recounted here only established
that the Camel Lady was also named Patty, but not Patty
Partin . Perhaps the most humbling outcome of my visit
to The Joint was a clarification of another event I have
told of in the Outlaw John story. I actually believed for
many years that I was present when Lee the ex-Green
Beret (a character in the story) was challenged to a fight
by one of the town's drunken miners. To my chagrin, I
found I had never actually been in The Joint. I had been
outside the little bar many times but it seems I never
went inside. On further recollection, I realized that Lee
had told me this story once when I visited his cabin. It
was a good story and I liked to repeat in from time to
time. Lee told of this B-movie scene so well, I came to
believe over time that I had been an eyewitness
Chasing Blue Scout
By Bill Gann
A cold wind blows through a Western ghost town and I
find myself walking dusty streets with my camera
looking, looking breathlessly. Golden light plays lovely
tricks on faded wood and Iíve come searching for tricks
in the shadows. A ghost town, after all, is a good place
to chase the lost spirit of Blue Scout.
A recent desert trip and a visit to the town of Randsburg
might shed some light on the story of Patty Partin whose
bones were eventually found in Death Valley. It's ironic
that this Randsburg visit was in preparation for the
ashes scattering ceremony of Alex Apostolides, a one-
time close associate of Carlos Castaneda.
Apostolides, Outlaw John and the Camel Lady all lived at
the remote gold claim known as Bickel Camp, but at
different times. It now seems they all had possible
Castaneda connections. I made the short stop in the
high desert area where the Outlaw John and Camel Lady
story took place. This visit was part of a family desert
outing. My Brazilian wife, Elisabeth, her visiting father
Nakolaus, our children Daniel and Analissa had been on
five day road trip in and around Death Valley. On the
final night on the road, April 6, 2006, we arranged to
stay at a place ran by a Randsburg character known
locally as Cowboy Bob. Bob has an antique shop where
he and his wife Pam also rent rooms.
The plan was to spend the night in the quaint mining
town, and scout the road condition into Last Chance
Canyon for the Apostolides memorial on April 16th.
Apostolides had asked that his ashes be scattered on the
mesa behind Bickel Camp in Last Chance. While my
family was strolling around the old gold mining town, I
had set out to photograph the old buildings in yellow
Randsburg was once considered a ghost town but many
spirits live there today. Still a ghost town is a good place
to go seeking information about a bleached pile of bones
found in nearby Death Valley National Park. It was a
weekday, cold for early spring, and the town was quiet
and the streets were deserted. There was a biting wind
that blew pink clouds past the sun. My golden-hour light
was interrupted frequently by overcast. During one of
these moments when a passing cloud caused amber to
fade to dismal grey, I found myself standing with my
back to The Joint, the town's only bar.
I wanted to get a picture of Cowboy Bob's rustic place
across the dusty street when I heard laughter coming
from the bar's interior. Thinking that waiting out the
slow-moving cloud over a beer would be a good idea, I
ducked into The Joint for the first time in years. There
was an old woman sitting setting in front of a fireplaceó
a fireplace I hadn't remembered was there. There was
the usual bar smell of ashes and stale beer. The room
was dark and mostly lit by neon beer signs. Three men
huddled in a close group at a far booth. The bar itself
was located on the left of the door. Funny I thought, I
had always remembered the bar being on the right
where there was now a new fireplace. Where was the
booth that I remember Lee sitting at when he talked a
young miner out of getting himself killed? Nothing was
as I remembered.
When I replayed the scene told about in the Outlaw John
story, where Lee and his Army buddies were accosted by
the drunken young miner, it always took place in a
booth that was supposed to be where the bar now was.
Strange, I thought. So I announced my presence by
commenting how the place had changed. The old woman
sitting by the fire looked at me quizzically, got up and
took her position behind the bar. She had a round face
framed by a Forties-era hairstyle. She reminded me of
Shirley Temple grown older.
"Nothing's changed much around here in the 50 years
since I've owned this bar," the little woman said. "What
can I get you?" I ordered a beer and explained how
things had been the last time I had been in the place.
"Nope, wasn't like that ever," the woman, who was
obviously quite proud of the place just the way it had
always been, explained patiently. Was it possible I had
never been in the Joint?
"The bar and fireplace have always been just where they
are," I heard her saying. Confused, I spent a few minutes
interviewing the lady who told me her name was Olga
Guyette and that she was 95 years old. She and her now
deceased husband had run the bar for half a century.
She seemed to know something about everybody who
had once lived in the area. When I told her I had been a
friend of Walt Bickel's, she told me she knew Bickel when
he first moved to the area.
I asked her about the famous Della Gerbach, and
mentioned she had been called "The Queen of the El
Paso's" referring to the El Paso Mountains where her gold
mining camp and been near Bickel's. "I went to Catholic
church right down the street with Della," Olga said
somewhat sharply. No one around here ever called her
Della, the Queen of anything." So much for desert
legends, I thought.
Having let a respectful period of time pass, the gents at
the bar came down to introduce their selves. One
gentleman, perhaps in his late thirties, wearing a black
cowboy hat and down-turned mustache, introduced
himself as Cowboy Jim, Cowboy Bob's son. He then
laughed and said he always told people that but it wasn't
true. He said he remembered meeting me once in the
nearby town of Johannesburg. He recalled once when I
was passing through and getting gas, he and his wife
clopped through the gas station on horses. My 12-year-
old daughter Analissa is crazy about horses so I stopped
him so she could adore the beasts. Jim warned me about
Olga's foul language rule and told that she would kick
me out in a flash if she heard me use any inappropriate
language. Evidently my exchange of stories with the
locals had been spiced with my Naval language training.
Another man, Greg Fraser, had a close-cut military look,
and indeed was in the reserves. He said he once taught
geology at Cal State University Fullerton where I went to
school, and that he loved Randsburg so much he had
recently moved there. A third man, who had been behind
the bar helping Olga introduced himself as Dave Adams.
He said he had lived on and off in the little town much of
his life. He was currently living in his parent's old house
up the hill behind The Joint. He had long blond hair
growing out of a well-used ball cap, and intelligent blue
eyes. He was perhaps about 50, dressed in the denim,
plaid, and ball cap uniform of an outdoorsman.
We talked a bit and I gave him my version of the Outlaw
John story as the fire cracked and the others listened on.
Olga listened too but didn't seem to like what she heard.
"Nothing like that ever happened here," Olga spoke up.
"We don't allow cussing, fighting, and I sure haven't had
any shoot outs." Thinking how sad it is when facts get in
the way of a good story, I was wondering if I should go
back to my Outlaw John story and label it fiction.
"You talking about Patty?" Dave asked as he tipped back
his long neck. I saw a bit of sparkle in his blue eyes.
"Yea, I remember her, skinny blond, drunk all the time..."
In a flash of recollection, I remembered the Camel Lady
had indeed really been named Patty. In fact, I only called
her the Camel Lady in my mind when I was thinking
about her and John's shenanigans around Bickel Camp.
Dave however didn't have much to add to the shootout
story. I felt possibly he didn't want to offend Olga.
We talked a bit more when he went outside to have a
smoke and Dave did indicate he wasn't around
Randsburg a lot during the era in question. He allowed
that many crazy things had happened around the dusty
little town and he simply might have missed the Camel
Lady episode. "What about her boyfriend John or
Mexican Bob?" I asked hoping to glean more details
from Dave's memory. In the Outlaw John story Mexican
Bob is a character Outlaw John was supposed to have
wounded in a shootout over The Camel Lady. He told me
that Mexican Bob had once lived in the area, but said he
had very little recollection of the notorious Outlaw John,
who in truth was likely never called anything but John to
Dave had some memory of Lee, the Gerbach Gold Camp
commando, but said he seldom came to town. In the
Outlaw John story Lee was a gun-obsessed loaner living
and caretaking a remote mining camp. Dave didn't know
or remember much about the alleged shootout between
Mexican Bob and Outlaw John. It might have been
something talked about years ago and forgotten. He said
anyone still familiar with such an event was no longer
around town. The time Lee was supposed to have
intimidated a drunken miner in the B-movie bar scene
that I thought took place at The Joint could have any of a
million events where a drunk picked a fight.
As I sat in the bar nursing beer number three, I couldn't
understand why nothing looked familiar about the bar.
Then reality emerged from the fog. I realized that I
wasn't even present during this event. In that moment, I
recalled instead sitting around Gerbach Camp with John
and Lee as they told the story. Lee told the story so
vividly that I had actually felt I was in the bar when it
happened. I realized my memory of the scene was the
colorful imagery Lee had projected as he told the story.
Okay, so a man in a Randsburg bar being able to recall a
drunken blond named Patty is hardly positive proof that
The Camel Lady was also Patty Partin. In fact my memory
laps about being in the Joint brings to question the
voracity of my Outlaw John story. I must admit for the
sake of a good story I secretly hope The Camel Lady was
also the long lost bone pile of a Castaneda witch recently
identified in Death Valley.
Yet, recalling The Camel Ladyís name was actually Patty
at least gives me a straw to grasp and something more
to ponder. The thought actually generates a strangely
familiar feeling. I'm going back to Randsburg and Chance
Canyon over Easter weekend for the Apostolides' ashes
scattering ceremony. Because of Apostolides' connection
to Castaneda and friends, some unusual desert spirits
will likely materialize at this sacred event. Perhaps more
light will fall on the intriguing Camel Lady chronicle.
Since the wind exposed Blue Scoutí ghost in a Desert
sand dune, I've become haunted by mystery and
captured thoughts. I indeed recognized Patty's face in
the newspaper accounts of this story. Since then Iíve felt
a fire burn within. Wanting to know more warms in my
chest, and calls me to keep seeking.
Above is The Joint, the small bar in historic Randsburg owned and operated by 95-year-old Olga Guyette. This photo was taken in 2006.
Pictured above is Dave Adams, a resident of Randsburg. Dave has lived on and off in the area most of his life. He remembered that the young woman I called the Camel Lady was actually named Patty. This refreshed my memory, and for the first time in years I remembered her actual name.
|©Bill Gann Copyright.|