Cabot’s Pueblo Museum a real hot spot

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Stories and Photo By Sandra Hale Schulman
Desert Hot Springs, California (NFIC) 2-09

A unique Hopi inspired Pueblo hand-made by Cabot Yerxa over 24 years, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum owes much to the builders Native American friends. This stunning rough hewn eccentric, multi-level building includes 35 rooms, 150 windows and 65 doors, all crafted from found materials.

The museum houses Cabot’s collection of Native American pottery, early 20th century photographs and artifacts from his Alaskan adventures.

The museum grounds, including a picnic area, are beautifully landscaped with native plants and home to many rustic period items – early 1900s tools, machinery and housegoods.

The museum also houses a Pueblo Art Gallery, a bookstore, and the famed sculpture “Waokiye,” a 43-foot-tall Indian monument carved from a 750-year-old Sequoia Redwood, actually one of many across the country.

Guided tours of this historic landmark are conducted daily. The museum is available year-round for group tours and special events.

Before settling in the California desert and being told about the hot and cold mineral water just under the dusty desert floor, Cabot Yerxa led an adventurous life in places as far-flung as Mexico, Cuba, Alaska, New York City and Paris, France (where he studied painting during the Impressionist period). In 1913 Cabot homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Desert Hot Springs.

Pressed for water, he was told by local Natives of the Cahuilla Tribe, who lived in the bubbling spring rich Palm Springs area, that the seemingly dry area he lived in also had water.

He dug a well with pick and shovel, uncovering the now famous hot mineral water of Desert Hot Springs. Nearby, through a second well, he found the pure cold water of the Mission Springs Aquifer. These two wells, hot and cold, give the area surrounding the Pueblo its name – Miracle Hill.

Cabot began construction on his pueblo-style home in 1941 and worked on it until his death in 1965 at the age of 83. The Pueblo was abandoned and vandalized after Cabot’s death. Cabot’s friend, Cole Eyraud, saved the Pueblo from demolition, holding off the bulldozers with a shotgun.

Thereafter, Cole purchased the property and helped restore the Pueblo to its historic state. Later, the Eyraud family donated the property to the city of Desert Hot Springs to be used as an historic museum and art gallery. The Museum preserves the rugged frontier spirit of the pioneer days in the Coachella Valley. It also preserves the history of the life of Cabot Yerxa. His was a life of astonishing adventure, travel, and close friendships with California and Alaskan Natives.

This story is presented here in the words of Cole Eyraud, one of Cabot’s long-time friends.

Cabot Yerxa left a priceless legacy as a result of his inquisitive, imaginative and creative pioneering spirit. When he embraced the seemingly barren desert land of Southern California and called it home, a new chapter in American history began – one which should ever remind us of man’s tenacity and persistence.

Born June 11, 1883, in Hamilton, Dakota Territories, Cabot spent his first five years growing up on the Sioux Reservation where his parents, Mary and Fred Yerxa, operated a prosperous Indian trading post. Said to be a maternal descendant of John Henry Cabot, who discovered Newfoundland, Cabot thrilled to the sense of adventure and exploration at an early age, in spite of his father’s hopes to have him follow in his merchant footsteps.

The Dakota Trading Post was a gathering place for many bearers of tales and legends, such as Cabot’s friend, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, famous Indian fighter and plainsman. While the family lived in Boston for a brief period before moving to Minneapolis, Buffalo Bill frequently stayed in their home during the performance of his famous Wild West shows.

At age fifteen, Cabot aspired to join the ranks of the prospectors heading toward the Klondike in search of gold, but it was not until one year later, and with the amazing sum of two thousand dollars saved, that the elder Yerxa consented to his son’s adventuresome wishes.

Cabot remained in Nome where he successfully sold cigars to the miners during the summer months. His affinity for languages became apparent, and his ever-questioning mind probed the culture of the Inuit where he enjoyed the rare hospitality of their homes during the winter season. Cabot collected curios and artifacts while developing a 320-word vocabulary of the Inuit language. Later Cabot said the Smithsonian Institute offered him 50 cents for each word.

During Cabot’s second summer in Alaska, he utilized the business skill his father had taught him, and opened a small grocery store. However, an illness in the family forced him to delay his venture for another year. When he returned, he quickly established a profitable grocery business, taking grocery orders from all over, with the minimum order being $300, to be filled and shipped from his father’s store in Seattle.

He was enroute to a reunion of pioneers at Dawson City with his largest order of $3,000 when he met Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt. This meeting grew into a friendship which later brought Cabot an appointment as Postmaster of Sierra Madre, California, a position he served from 1906 to 1913.

Cabot’s family had moved to California and invested their fortunes in orange groves near Riverside, but a disastrous freeze in 1913 ended the citrus venture. Cabot then made his way inland to the present site of Desert Hot Springs.

After purchasing a burro, which he named Merry Christmas, Cabot spent his time exploring the desert land and establishing his homestead on 160 acres.        

For Cabot and nine other families in the area, the biggest single difficulty during the first year was obtaining sufficient water, then available only at the railway station at Garnet, a round-trip of fourteen miles, three times a week.

As the building project required it, Merry Christmas and Cabot each carried a large bag of cement on their backs all the way from Garnet. The burro, his constant companion, was quickly becoming legend as she duplicated Cabot’s diet, learned to chew tobacco and drink water from a bottle. During a severe windstorm in the wash at Whitewater, 16 miles away, Merry Christmas saved Cabot’s life when he lost his sense of direction and, laying his head down on her neck to protect his eyes from blowing sand, said “Take me home.”

Cabot, Weary from the inconvenience of the water treks to Garnet, was determined to find his own water supply. He invested his meager savings to purchase well-digging material.

After sharing his dilemma with a neighbor, they gauged the temperature of the hole and found it to be 110 degrees. The imminent natural hot water supply gave Cabot the impetus to continue digging, in spite of enormous difficulties. He secured ropes between him and a nearby greasewood bush and dug though a strata of hard rock to a depth of 27 feet in nearly unbearable heat. By standing in five-gallon cans half filled with sand and water he’d hauled from the railroad, he was able to withstand the heat and dig for fifteen minutes at a time before climbing to the surface to change the water. When he reached a depth of 36 feet, the water temperature registered 132 degrees. Not knowing what minerals were in the natural hot water, and fearful there might be arsenic, Cabot used it for bathing only.

Miracle Hill was named by Cabot in 1914 because of the two original wells he had dug about 600 yards apart. One produced hot water, the other cold water. Later geologists informed him that because the wells were on either side of an earthquake fault, both hot and cold water became available, and thus was named Miracle Fault.

The news of Cabot’s natural hot water discovery was met with scorn and ridicule in 1914. It was not until 1937 that the first scientific analysis of the water took place and people began to realize the therapeutic value of the natural resource. By 1940, Los Angeles businessman L. W. Coffee had formed a profitable trust for the development of subdivisions, which became the city of Desert Hot Springs.

Although Cabot made many lasting friendships during his lifetime, his friendship with desert artist Carl Eytel was special. Together they explored the land, painting and becoming more fully aware of the Indian way of life as they went. Eytel was much loved by the Cahuilla Indians and when he died in 1934 was honored by being buried in their tribal cemetery.

In 1918, Cabot enlisted in the Army, which necessitated his bidding good-bye to his beloved friend, Merry Christmas. Although burros sold for ten dollars at the time, he was offered ten times as much because of her ability and loyalty.                  Cabot decided to allow her to roam the desert free, hoping they would meet when he returned from the war. He never saw her again. In later years he had a small ceramic likeness made of her.

Upon his return to the desert, Cabot became very active in civic activities. He was involved in the founding of Desert Hot Springs as well as being instrumental in establishing the American Legion Chapter there. He was a founding member and first president of the Improvement Association.

He was well known locally as an artist and writer, often disappearing for weeks at a time to return with canvasses of the Cahuilla Indian lifestyle. His love of the desert manifested itself in many ways. Not only did he paint its mystery and beauty and provide tales of its past, but he tried to incorporate its purity through preservation. Cabot always carried a shovel in the trunk of his automobile so he could bury any trash discarded along the desert roads.

On August 8, 1945, Cabot married Portia Graham, renowned lecturer and teacher of metaphysics at the school which she founded in Morongo Valley. Portia was a member of a well-to-do Texas family, but had spent most of her adult life in California studying culture, religion, and philosophy. In a letter to his son he added a postscript: “By the way, have married a friend.” Though the tone sounded casual, the marriage had strong bonds.

The two were closely bound in their love of mysticism, art, culture, and the development of their intellect. Each was eccentric in their own way; Cabot developed a consuming interest in Indian life and a personal commitment to painting as Portia centered her avid intellectuality on Eastern Thought and Theosophical Society metaphysics.

Over the years the two cultivated a belief in what might be termed “probability.” In trying to comprehend the vastness of the Universe, they searched for an expression of universal needs, and came to believe in the probability of other worlds, other life, beyond our own planet. They saw space travel as not simply probable but inevitable, and opened themselves to the communications from other planets and peoples. In 1939 Cabot began the construction of a dream. It was his intention to build a monument to the Indian people he so admired. Without modern equipment he began the construction of what he came to call Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo. With only a pick and a shovel he carved the first room out of the hillside. It was little more than a cave to protect him as he continued with the rambling structure, sans blueprints.

Every portion of the overwhelming building incorporated the Indian’s philosophy of life. Since the Indians believe that symmetry retains evil spirits, nothing is symmetrical in the Pueblo. Doorways and floors slant, walls are slightly uneven, and the windows form a puzzle of multi-shaped glass. The walls, measuring nine to ten feet in some places were designed to ensure warmth in winter and maintain cool temperatures during the summer months.

Cabot combined cement and granite, fortifying the foundation with timbers salvaged from various construction sites throughout the desert. He learned to fashion adobe bricks as the Indians did, forming them in boxes and allowed to dry in the sun, but he added on cup of cement to each adobe block.

Cabot was known to raze abandoned homesteader’s buildings in order to make use of the nails, lumber, masonry and glass. He went as far away as the Salton Sea and brought back wood used in the construction of the aqueduct. Rarely were new materials purchased. The result of his labor is a 35-room Hopi style Pueblo containing 150 windows, 5,000 square feet and is four stories high. During Cabot’s lifetime it incorporated his home, workshop, gallery, museum and trading post. Small narrow indoor staircases join the rooms, although Cabot used the customary Hopi Ladders on the façade of the Pueblo for effect.

cabot_petertoffcarving.jpg

Built by Peter Wolf Toth, the 43-foot Indian head that overlooks the Pueblo was carved onsite from a huge redwood log. 

On May 20, 1998, Waokiye was ready to meet the public. At the dedication ceremony, Peter Toth said simply, “The American Indian is a proud and often misunderstood people. They have suffered atrocities ever since the first white man landed on this shore. Even as a young boy I had admiration for my Indian brothers and perhaps this monument and all the others… will bring awareness of a proud and great people.”

The first floor of the pueblo was originally Cabot’s trading post and personal living quarters. Although the living room floor is packed earth, he constructed a massive stone fireplace, the only source of heat. A small bedroom cubicle houses a single cot. Adjoining the living room was his “Kiva” room, which contains a table, benches and Indian artifacts. This was an important room because it symbolized the Indian concept of the ritualistic prayer room. A large comfortable kitchen, Cabot’s personal office, a foyer and several storage areas comprise the reaming rooms of the first floor.

It is estimated that the basic construction of the Pueblo took Cabot seven years and a total of 23 years continuous building before he died, leaving it yet unfinished. For twenty years, Cabot and his wife Portia worked and created pictorial, verbal and mental images of their lives at the Pueblo. Cabot died in 1965 at the age of 83 after spending more than 52 years working to make the desert a better place to live for him, for others.

The museum also houses a Pueblo Art Gallery, a bookstore, and the famed sculpture “Waokiye,” a 43-foot-tall Indian monument carved from a 750-year-old Sequoia Redwood, actually one of many across the country.

Guided tours of this historic landmark are conducted daily. The museum is available year-round for group tours and special events.

Before settling in the California desert and being told about the hot and cold mineral water just under the dusty desert floor, Cabot Yerxa led an adventurous life in places as far-flung as Mexico, Cuba, Alaska, New York City and Paris, France (where he studied painting during the Impressionist period). In 1913 Cabot homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Desert Hot Springs.

Pressed for water, he was told by local Natives of the Cahuilla Tribe, who lived in the bubbling spring rich Palm Springs area, that the seemingly dry area he lived in also had water.

He dug a well with pick and shovel, uncovering the now famous hot mineral water of Desert Hot Springs. Nearby, through a second well, he found the pure cold water of the Mission Springs Aquifer. These two wells, hot and cold, give the area surrounding the Pueblo its name – Miracle Hill.

Cabot began construction on his pueblo-style home in 1941 and worked on it until his death in 1965 at the age of 83. The Pueblo was abandoned and vandalized after Cabot’s death. Cabot’s friend, Cole Eyraud, saved the Pueblo from demolition, holding off the bulldozers with a shotgun.

Thereafter, Cole purchased the property and helped restore the Pueblo to its historic state. Later, the Eyraud family donated the property to the city of Desert Hot Springs to be used as an historic museum and art gallery. The Museum preserves the rugged frontier spirit of the pioneer days in the Coachella Valley. It also preserves the history of the life of Cabot Yerxa. His was a life of astonishing adventure, travel, and close friendships with California and Alaskan Natives.

This story is presented here in the words of Cole Eyraud, one of Cabot’s long-time friends.

Cabot Yerxa left a priceless legacy as a result of his inquisitive, imaginative and creative pioneering spirit. When he embraced the seemingly barren desert land of Southern California and called it home, a new chapter in American history began – one which should ever remind us of man’s tenacity and persistence.

Born June 11, 1883, in Hamilton, Dakota Territories, Cabot spent his first five years growing up on the Sioux Reservation where his parents, Mary and Fred Yerxa, operated a prosperous Indian trading post. Said to be a maternal descendant of John Henry Cabot, who discovered Newfoundland, Cabot thrilled to the sense of adventure and exploration at an early age, in spite of his father’s hopes to have him follow in his merchant footsteps.

The Dakota Trading Post was a gathering place for many bearers of tales and legends, such as Cabot’s friend, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, famous Indian fighter and plainsman. While the family lived in Boston for a brief period before moving to Minneapolis, Buffalo Bill frequently stayed in their home during the performance of his famous Wild West shows.

At age fifteen, Cabot aspired to join the ranks of the prospectors heading toward the Klondike in search of gold, but it was not until one year later, and with the amazing sum of two thousand dollars saved, that the elder Yerxa consented to his son’s adventuresome wishes.

Cabot remained in Nome where he successfully sold cigars to the miners during the summer months. His affinity for languages became apparent, and his ever-questioning mind probed the culture of the Inuit where he enjoyed the rare hospitality of their homes during the winter season. Cabot collected curios and artifacts while developing a 320-word vocabulary of the Inuit language. Later Cabot said the Smithsonian Institute offered him 50 cents for each word.

During Cabot’s second summer in Alaska, he utilized the business skill his father had taught him, and opened a small grocery store. However, an illness in the family forced him to delay his venture for another year. When he returned, he quickly established a profitable grocery business, taking grocery orders from all over, with the minimum order being $300, to be filled and shipped from his father’s store in Seattle.

He was enroute to a reunion of pioneers at Dawson City with his largest order of $3,000 when he met Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt. This meeting grew into a friendship which later brought Cabot an appointment as Postmaster of Sierra Madre, California, a position he served from 1906 to 1913.

Cabot’s family had moved to California and invested their fortunes in orange groves near Riverside, but a disastrous freeze in 1913 ended the citrus venture. Cabot then made his way inland to the present site of Desert Hot Springs.

After purchasing a burro, which he named Merry Christmas, Cabot spent his time exploring the desert land and establishing his homestead on 160 acres.        

For Cabot and nine other families in the area, the biggest single difficulty during the first year was obtaining sufficient water, then available only at the railway station at Garnet, a round-trip of fourteen miles, three times a week.

As the building project required it, Merry Christmas and Cabot each carried a large bag of cement on their backs all the way from Garnet. The burro, his constant companion, was quickly becoming legend as she duplicated Cabot’s diet, learned to chew tobacco and drink water from a bottle. During a severe windstorm in the wash at Whitewater, 16 miles away, Merry Christmas saved Cabot’s life when he lost his sense of direction and, laying his head down on her neck to protect his eyes from blowing sand, said “Take me home.”

Cabot, Weary from the inconvenience of the water treks to Garnet, was determined to find his own water supply. He invested his meager savings to purchase well-digging material.

After sharing his dilemma with a neighbor, they gauged the temperature of the hole and found it to be 110 degrees. The imminent natural hot water supply gave Cabot the impetus to continue digging, in spite of enormous difficulties. He secured ropes between him and a nearby greasewood bush and dug though a strata of hard rock to a depth of 27 feet in nearly unbearable heat. By standing in five-gallon cans half filled with sand and water he’d hauled from the railroad, he was able to withstand the heat and dig for fifteen minutes at a time before climbing to the surface to change the water. When he reached a depth of 36 feet, the water temperature registered 132 degrees. Not knowing what minerals were in the natural hot water, and fearful there might be arsenic, Cabot used it for bathing only.

 

Miracle Hill was named by Cabot in 1914 because of the two original wells he had dug about 600 yards apart. One produced hot water, the other cold water. Later geologists informed him that because the wells were on either side of an earthquake fault, both hot and cold water became available, and thus was named Miracle Fault.

The news of Cabot’s natural hot water discovery was met with scorn and ridicule in 1914. It was not until 1937 that the first scientific analysis of the water took place and people began to realize the therapeutic value of the natural resource. By 1940, Los Angeles businessman L. W. Coffee had formed a profitable trust for the development of subdivisions, which became the city of Desert Hot Springs.

Although Cabot made many lasting friendships during his lifetime, his friendship with desert artist Carl Eytel was special. Together they explored the land, painting and becoming more fully aware of the Indian way of life as they went. Eytel was much loved by the Cahuilla Indians and when he died in 1934 was honored by being buried in their tribal cemetery.

In 1918, Cabot enlisted in the Army, which necessitated his bidding good-bye to his beloved friend, Merry Christmas. Although burros sold for ten dollars at the time, he was offered ten times as much because of her ability and loyalty.                  Cabot decided to allow her to roam the desert free, hoping they would meet when he returned from the war. He never saw her again. In later years he had a small ceramic likeness made of her.

Upon his return to the desert, Cabot became very active in civic activities. He was involved in the founding of Desert Hot Springs as well as being instrumental in establishing the American Legion Chapter there. He was a founding member and first president of the Improvement Association.

He was well known locally as an artist and writer, often disappearing for weeks at a time to return with canvasses of the Cahuilla Indian lifestyle. His love of the desert manifested itself in many ways. Not only did he paint its mystery and beauty and provide tales of its past, but he tried to incorporate its purity through preservation. Cabot always carried a shovel in the trunk of his automobile so he could bury any trash discarded along the desert roads.

On August 8, 1945, Cabot married Portia Graham, renowned lecturer and teacher of metaphysics at the school which she founded in Morongo Valley. Portia was a member of a well-to-do Texas family, but had spent most of her adult life in California studying culture, religion, and philosophy. In a letter to his son he added a postscript: “By the way, have married a friend.” Though the tone sounded casual, the marriage had strong bonds.

The two were closely bound in their love of mysticism, art, culture, and the development of their intellect. Each was eccentric in their own way; Cabot developed a consuming interest in Indian life and a personal commitment to painting as Portia centered her avid intellectuality on Eastern Thought and Theosophical Society metaphysics.

Over the years the two cultivated a belief in what might be termed “probability.” In trying to comprehend the vastness of the Universe, they searched for an expression of universal needs, and came to believe in the probability of other worlds, other life, beyond our own planet. They saw space travel as not simply probable but inevitable, and opened themselves to the communications from other planets and peoples. In 1939 Cabot began the construction of a dream. It was his intention to build a monument to the Indian people he so admired. Without modern equipment he began the construction of what he came to call Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo. With only a pick and a shovel he carved the first room out of the hillside. It was little more than a cave to protect him as he continued with the rambling structure, sans blueprints.

Every portion of the overwhelming building incorporated the Indian’s philosophy of life. Since the Indians believe that symmetry retains evil spirits, nothing is symmetrical in the Pueblo. Doorways and floors slant, walls are slightly uneven, and the windows form a puzzle of multi-shaped glass. The walls, measuring nine to ten feet in some places were designed to ensure warmth in winter and maintain cool temperatures during the summer months.

Cabot combined cement and granite, fortifying the foundation with timbers salvaged from various construction sites throughout the desert. He learned to fashion adobe bricks as the Indians did, forming them in boxes and allowed to dry in the sun, but he added on cup of cement to each adobe block.

Cabot was known to raze abandoned homesteader’s buildings in order to make use of the nails, lumber, masonry and glass. He went as far away as the Salton Sea and brought back wood used in the construction of the aqueduct. Rarely were new materials purchased. The result of his labor is a 35-room Hopi style Pueblo containing 150 windows, 5,000 square feet and is four stories high. During Cabot’s lifetime it incorporated his home, workshop, gallery, museum and trading post. Small narrow indoor staircases join the rooms, although Cabot used the customary Hopi Ladders on the façade of the Pueblo for effect.

The first floor of the pueblo was originally Cabot’s trading post and personal living quarters. Although the living room floor is packed earth, he constructed a massive stone fireplace, the only source of heat. A small bedroom cubicle houses a single cot. Adjoining the living room was his “Kiva” room, which contains a table, benches and Indian artifacts. This was an important room because it symbolized the Indian concept of the ritualistic prayer room. A large comfortable kitchen, Cabot’s personal office, a foyer and several storage areas comprise the reaming rooms of the first floor.

It is estimated that the basic construction of the Pueblo took Cabot seven years and a total of 23 years continuous building before he died, leaving it yet unfinished. For twenty years, Cabot and his wife Portia worked and created pictorial, verbal and mental images of their lives at the Pueblo. Cabot died in 1965 at the age of 83 after spending more than 52 years working to make the desert a better place to live for him, for others.

Inset Story (Ad in it own text box with photo)

Waokiye

 

 

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