Walter Edward Scott - "Death Valley Scotty"
Death Valley Scotty was born Walter Edward Scott, on September 20, 1872, near Cynthiana, Kentucky. His father, George Scott, raised trotting horses and made moonshine. He had five brothers and sisters. His mother died while he was an infant and he was raised by a stepsister until he was fourteen when he ran away to join two of his brothers in Wells, Nevada. The three brothers worked as cowboys and Scotty became skilled in riding in local rodeos. At some point in the 1890s he got a job in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Each year he worked for Cody from April through October and then took odd jobs on western ranches and mines until the season started again the following year.
In 1900 Scotty met and married Ella Josephine McCarthy Milius in New York. After a nine day honeymoon in Kentucky, Scotty sent his bride, who he called Jack, back to New York while he headed to Cripple Creek to take a job in the mines for the winter. Scotty rejoined Cody's Wild West show in New York the following Spring. In the fall of 1901 Jack accompanied him back to Cripple Creek. In April 1902 Scotty and Jack returned to New York intending to rejoin the Wild West Show, but Scotty and Cody had a falling out and Scotty quit.
During the winter of 1901-1902 Scotty had collected a few samples of the high grade ore being mined at Cripple Creek. Using these samples he convinced Julian M. Gerard, third vice president of the Knickerbocker Trust Company, that it came from a mine that he and a partner owned in Death Valley. Gerard was fascinated with cowboys and had met Scotty when he attended the Wild West Show. He had studied mineralogy at Yale and recognized the ore as being very valuable. On April 23, 1902, Gerard and Scotty became partners and Gerard gave Scotty $750 in cash and a promise of more later. Jack and Scotty moved to Los Angeles and Scotty focused on his con game. On two separate occasions mining engineers were sent west to investigate the mine, but Scotty managed to turn them away and keep Gerard's money flowing. In 1904 Gerard himself visited, but returned to New York without having seen the mine. Even so, he continued to send funds to Scotty and by the end of 1905 when he decided to write the mine off as a bad investment, he had lost close to $10,000.
Scotty spent the money as fast as he got it. When he had money he spent it lavishly, when he did not he disappeared into Death Valley where he had a secret hideaway in the Black Mountains which he called Camp Hold Out. Apparently he did not give Jack enough to live on because she moved to Stockton and got a job to support herself. Scotty cultivated mystery, told tall stories about his activities, and sought publicity wherever and whenever possible. In December 1904, his mysterious ways resulted in his being suspected for a time of having robbed a Wells Fargo messenger near Daggett. The press, particularly Hearst's Examiner, began to print stories about him and he became something of a celebrity. Death Valley was in the news as well because legitimate mines there were producing real gold and making real profits.
In November 1904, recognizing that Gerard's interest in his story was fading. Scotty sold Edward A. Shedd and Albert M. Johnson on a partnership to develop his Death Valley mine. By the time that his two new partners suspected a scam they were too embarrassed to do anything about it. This time Scotty netted almost $4,000 for just a couple of months work. In June 1905, Scotty met E. Burdon Gaylord. Gaylord had been attempting unsuccessfully to promote his own mine - the Big Bell, and needed Scotty's help in publicizing it. Gaylord agreed to finance Scotty's high living in order to prove the value of the Big Bell mine. Scotty was delighted with the arrangement and so was Gaylord. They both understood one another very well and found their motives and objectives compatible.
On July 9, 1905, a huge crowd watched as a special Santa Fe train called the "Death Valley Coyote" left Los Angeles for Chicago in an effort to break the existing record of just under 53 hours. The train was composed of an engine, a baggage car, a Pullman sleeper, and a Fred Harvey dining car where elaborate meals were served. Scotty, Jack, and a couple of reporters were the only passengers. During the trip, speeds of 106 miles per hour were recorded - faster than any train had ever run before. The engine and crew were switched frequently and they made the trip in 44 hours 54 minutes - a new record. "Death Valley Scotty" was front page news in newspapers around the nation. Cody even paid his former employee a compliment by hiring an impersonator to play him in the Wild West Show.
One of the people who met Scotty after his arrival in Chicago was Albert M. Johnson, the man who Scotty had bilked the previous winter. Johnson was the owner and President of the National Life Insurance Company and was still interested in Scotty's mine. At the time, with Johnson re-interested, Scotty was worried about his original mark, Gerard. In order to avoid trouble, Scotty signed over to Gerard all rights to the imaginary Knickerbocker "claim" in return for $100. The Death Valley Coyote trip had stirred up considerable interest in him and a few inquiring minds began to publicly question his honesty. Some thought that he was working for mining interests, some for the Santa Fe Railroad, and some for the Hearst Newspaper chain. Scotty continued to court publicity and the tales that he told grew taller and taller. Late in August 1905, a prospector found Scotty's Camp Hold Out. When no mine was found near the camp site the mystery deepened.