Cabot Yerxa: A Life in the Desert

Cabot Yerxa as a Young Man

In that great migration westward that characterized the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there were many men of genius such as Mark Twain, who wrote Roughing It; Frank Hamilton Cushing, the ethnologist who studied the Zuñi Indians of New Mexico; John Muir, the great Scottish-born naturalist; and Cabot Abram Yerxa (1883-1965) who, in discovering the eponymous springs of Desert Hot Springs (DHS), embarked on a fascinating life full of creativity at every turn.

Today he is mostly remembered by a school in DHS named after him, but most especially for the pueblo he built of mostly found materials in imitation of Hopi pueblo architecture.

The Cabot Museum in Desert Hot Springs That Served as Yerxa’s Home

Last Sunday, my brother Dan and I attended a Mexican Day of the Dead festival (more about which in a following post) at the Cabot Museum. There were unfortunately too many attendees for us to take the guided tour of the inside, so that will have to wait for another visit.

When Yerxa first settled in DHS, he had to walk thirteen miles to the nearest known well. Using a dowsing stick, he discovered a well on his own property and commenced to dig. What he found were the first hot springs. That was fine for bathing, perhaps, but not for drinking. Taking up his dowsing stick again, he located another possible candidate and, this time, found cold water not too many feet away from the hot springs. DHS is right on the San Andreas fault, so there is a large underground aquifer in the area that is being replenished by runoff from the surrounding mountains.

The Pueblo Contains Many Examples of Pueblo Indian Art

During the 1950s, Yerxa wrote a series of newspaper columns for The Desert Sun during the 1950s describing his life on the desert. The Cabot Museum Foundation published these columns along with other biographical information in a volume entitled On the Desert Since 1913. In the weeks to come, I intend to reprint some of these columns for this blog.