On This Date in History: Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level. One can actually find some interesting wildlife in one of America’s most inhospitable environments. If you dig a few feet below the surface, you just may unearth Shorty Harris, who was buried standing up so that he “could be ready to step into heaven.”
Frank “Shorty” Harris was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1857. At the age of 7 he became and orphan and by 11 he was a mill hand. By the age of 14, he had hit the road and before he hit his 20’s he had taken up prospecting out West. Shorty was just under 5 feet tall but that didn’t prevent him from thinking big. There was a cook, Bessie Hart, who towered over him at 6 feet tall and her 210 pound physique literally dwarfed him. She worked at a mining camp at Ballarat, California. Shorty asked her to marry him. She let him down gently.
Shorty may have been unlucky in love but he became famous for his luck in the gold fields. Several times he discovered gold but he had a penchant for not making any money. Once, he found the glittering substance and sent his partner to file a claim. On his way to the record office, the man went to a saloon and never made it. Shorty by no means was a tea-totaler as on another occasion, had a claim but sold it for $1000 and three cases of booze. His partner was the big winner though because he held on to his share and sold it for $40,000. But Shorty had a rather pleasant disposition and didn’t mind too much. It didn’t take long for his partner to lose the money gambling at Ballarat. In fact, it was in such short order that Shorty hadn’t even finished off his case of whiskey.
On This Date in 1904, the biggest gold rush in Death Valley history began when Shorty Harris and partner Ed Cross made his biggest strike at Bullfrog Mountain. When first discovered, Shorty is reported to have exclaimed, “Hellfire Eddie! We’ve struck the richest jackpot this side of the Klondike!”
Shorty got to drinkin’ and starting boasting to everyone about his strike and in a matter of days, the biggest gold fever rush ever seen in Death Valley was on. The town of Bullfrog and the Bullfrog Mining District sprang up and the mountain where Shorty and Ed found the gold gained its moniker. The reason was that the first chunk of gold they found was rather greenish in color and was about the size of a bullfrog.
As was often the case, the suppliers to miners were the only people guaranteed to make a fortune. Burros were being sold at $500 a piece. When the animals were all sold out, miners turned to handcarts and when they were all gone, wheelbarrows were used on the 75 mile journey to the gold fields. Shorty had the prime claim. But, I suppose Shorty’s greatest reward must have been the hunt and the find. Once again, Shorty sold his claim for $1000 after he went on a 6-day boozing spree. But, he soldiered on until his death in 1934.
His coffin was standard length but he was so short that the gravediggers dug a short hole. When they lowered the casket, it became wedged at an angle. So, the gravediggers tried to lengthen the hole but sand kept pouring back in which eventually forced the casket into a nearly upright position. Then, one of the gravediggers remembered that Shorty wanted it that way. Even in death, Shorty was lucky. So, he was buried in the upright position and the gravemarker left to mark his final resting place bears the epitaph written by Shorty, for Shorty: “Here lies Shorty Harris, a single-blanket jackass prospector.”
Of course, there isn’t any more gold mining left in Death Valley, but you can find several Death Valley Ghost Towns.