Death Valley Scotty -- cowboy, prospector and raconteur -- was born Walter Edward Scott on this day in 1872 in Cynthiana, Kentucky.
Scotty ran away from home as a boy to join his brother on a Nevada ranch as a cowhand and eventually ended up in Death Valley in the California desert, a place he was determined to make his home. When he was 18, he was recruited as a cowboy for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, where he showed a knack for self-promotion. After leaving the Wild West Show after 12 years, he eked out a living doing publicity stunts (like chartering a train to beat the land speed record from Los Angeles to Chicago) and selling "partnerships" in bogus Death Valley gold mines.
One of his investors, a Chicago insurance magnate named Albert M. Johnson, gave Scotty thousands of dollars to develop a gold mine and, much to Scotty's surprise, decided to visit his investment. Scotty hoped to scare Johnson off by leading him on a harsh trek in the desert, but Johnson found the arid, hot climate invigorating, and Scotty's bluff was called. Nonetheless, Johnson was enjoying himself too much to be angry with Scotty. Instead, Johnson decided to build a Moorish style "castle" in Death Valley as a vacation home (known today as "Scotty's Castle"), with Scotty in residence as caretaker, storyteller and chief troublemaker.
Johnson allowed Scotty to tell people that his "gold mine" was paying for the $2 million castle, and that Johnson was his "banker." Johnson got the better of the con man in the end, telling his friends that Scotty "paid me back in laughs."
Scotty's Castle is now owned by the National Park Service, and Scotty (who died on January 5, 1954 in Stovepipe Wells) lies buried on a hill overlooking the castle.
Categories: Architecture, Old-West, Southern-California