Today, Martine and I visited the Autry Center, the L.A. museum dedicated to the American West. In addition to an excellent exhibit on the American West in the Civil War, there was an intriguing show featuring the “jackrabbit homesteads” of Wonder Valley.
Martine used to live in this area when she worked at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the hospital. It was not a happy time for her, and she has retained zero interest in living in the heat of the desert, even at a couple thousand feet altitude.
I remember one time after tax season in 1995, just after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing, I picked Martine up in Twentynine Palms and took the road through Wonder Valley, Amboy, Essex, and various other obscure desert towns on the back roads to Las Vegas.
Kim Stringfellow, a resident of the area, has done a brief documentary for KCET-TV about the “jackrabbit homesteads” of wonder valley which can be accessed by clicking here. Originally, the area was settled by First World War veterans whose lungs had been damaged by poison gas. It was thought the desert air would help them. It didn’t.
The next population bump came around the 1940s and 1950s after the Small Tract Act of 1938 was passed. Settlers could lay claim to five acres of high desert for as little as $20 an acre if they put up a shack on the property and lived there. These homesteads are now mostly deserted. What could a settler do with five acres of desert and, for all intents and purposes, no water? There was, however, no shortage of hot and cold weather, scorpions, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and—oh, yes—jackrabbits.