Ballarat Ghost Town

Ballarat, named for the gold-producing region of Australia, was founded in 1897 as a base camp / supply station for the gold and silver mines of the west Panamint Mountains in Death Valley. It had been a miner’s stop – Post Office Spring is nearby and finding that water saved the lives of some of the Jayhawkers that were trying to escape Death Valley in 1850. Apparently, Post Office Spring got its name because of an accommodation that had been reached with some bandits, outlaws and rustlers in the 1870s. I think it’s more likely that they were miners that couldn’t get into town much, but the story goes that a box was wired to one of the mesquite trees at the spring and the stage driver would leave

mail addressed to "John Doe" in it and tie a rag to a tree. Under cover of darkness, the wanted men of the Panamints would pick up and leave their mail.

 

At one time Ballarat had 400-500 residents, a school, a Wells Fargo office, a post office, a jail, three hotels and seven saloons. No church, they’re quick to point out. The view from Ballarat is so pretty a church would just get in the way. The town went into decline in 1905 when the Ratcliff Mine shut down. Finally, the post office closed in 1917, sealing Ballarat's fate as a ghost town. Frank "Shorty" Harris, whose big mouth and alcoholism (Oh Be Joyful Whiskey, specifically) cost him several fortunes, barkeeper Chris Wicht who went down with the town, Wyoming gambler and gunman Michael "Jim" Sherlock were there in the heyday.

Being a ghost town didn't mean it was completely unoccupied – certain desert rats find the ghost town lifestyle appealin'. Seldom Seen Slim aka Charles Ferge lived there from 1917 until his death in 1968, and is buried in the cemetery. Fred Grey, honorary mayor of Ballarat, lived in one of the adobe huts for 51 years.  According to Lightfoot Louie, a local historian, Grey had a college education (USC) in mining, engineering and assaying.

 

In 1968 and again in 1969 the Manson family lived at Barker Ranch, just south of Ballarat by about 20 miles. One story says that they lived at the assayer’s office before moving to Barker Ranch. An old Dodge Power Wagon, the Hummer of its day, was apparently stolen by Tex Watson, then commandeered by Charlie Manson because he took such a likin' to it. The rusted-out truck decorates Ballarat's main street. Ballarat is occupied by a few people now and although you can get a cold drink in the store, they are not offering much in the way of amenities. Have a good look at the crumbling adobe walls and imagine how it was 100 years ago.

 

Ballarat is just off the main road outta Trona. There is a sign, no doubt crafted by the Michelangelo of the welding torch, that points the way and a few others besides. This is serious mining county; keep a full tank of gas, lots of water, sun block and all the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ballarat Map

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~ by ravenjake on June 19, 2008.

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