Seldom Seen Slim aka Charles Ferge
The Unofficial Curator of Ballarat Ghost Town
by Lynn Bremner
Can you imagine living in a deserted ghost town, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, with no water source or electricity? Can you imagine living in a place once referred to as “The suburbs of Hell?” It's hard to believe that anyone would want to, but one man did. His name was Charles Ferge, aka Seldom Seen Slim. Slim was a prospector who spent 50+ years living and working his claims in a deserted town called Ballarat, known for its extreme temperatures and mining history.
Seldom Seen Slim was an uncommon man who found his peace and solitude in the desert. He was a prospector who was always seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I‘m not sure who coined the name “rainbow chaser,” but that's what Slim was. His focus was his mining claims; the comforts afforded by society were not necessary to him. Material wealth was not important to him. He just needed enough money to maintain the meager lifestyle of a desert prospector. Slim only needed enough to buy food, tobacco for his pipe, water, gas for his car and a few clothing items.
Slim arrived in Ballarat between 1914 and 1917. He moved there before the town became deserted. When the last mine was closed and the post office closed in 1917, everyone who lived in Ballarat moved away, except for Slim. Ballarat became a ghost town and Slim was the only resident for many years. He lived there until he died of cancer in 1968 at the age of 86. He was buried at Boothill and his grave is marked with a plaque surrounded by an ornate fence.
Slim liked Ballarat. It was his home. His mining claims were there and he didn‘t mind being alone at all. It was a way of life that suited him. Slim had the whole town to himself. At one point or another he had lived in just about every abandoned building in Ballarat. He said a fire had come through the town one year and burned down some of the buildings, one of which he had been living in. He then roughed it for a while and eventually got himself a trailer to live in. In reply to the common question of whether he got lonely living in the desert, his response was “Me, lonely? Hell no! I‘m half coyote and half wild burro.”
Far away from the closest spring or well, Slim had to drive
many miles to get water, bringing it back to his camp in jugs. There used
to be a water source in the Ballarat area, but the water table had dropped and
the water had dried up. Slim would travel to Trona, 30 miles away for supplies.
Slim lived with no electricity and
no water for years. He only bathed a couple times a year. He claimed he would
bath in the rain as the water kept his skin soft. Other times he would tell visitors
that he got his hair cut and bathed once a year in Trona.
While Slim enjoyed his time alone, he also enjoyed visitors. He always welcomed company and had entertaining stories to tell and information to share with all who stopped by. He acted as the unofficial curator of Ballarat Ghost Town. He would often walk around the town with visitors explaining what each building was and telling them a little about the history of the mines and the town.
One of the questions that comes up a lot is how did Slim make money? No one knows for sure if he had money when he arrived in Ballarat. He was between 32 and 35 years of age when he first moved there. He claimed he was born into an orphanage and had no people. His early years are undocumented. Slim made some money from what he produced from his mining claims. Mines in the area had produced money for some of the larger operations. What Slim produced from his own claims is unknown. In later years, he made some money selling rock samples to tourists and rock hounds. He even sold photos of himself, as he had become quite the celebrity over the years.
As the sole resident of a ghost town and a true character of the wild west, Slim became the subject of many articles. Harry Oliver, also a “desert rat,” published a pocket newspaper called Desert Rat Scrap Book. It was published four times a year and it became so popular that he gained international subscribers. Readers enjoyed Oliver‘s colorful descriptions of desert living. Slim was a regular celebrity in the Desert Rat Scrap Book. His infamous sayings and singular lifestyle fascinated readers. Slim was one of the poster boys for all desert rats and old-time prospectors. He represented both freedom and adventure to those who read about him. When tourists and rock hounds met Slim they wanted their photo taken with him. They wrote stories about him and they told stories about him. He captured the attention of everyone who crossed paths with him.
Slim was a simple man who lived a simple life. He never struck it rich or did anything specific to make himself famous. He just lived his life the way he wanted to. It was this act that brought him minor fame and notoriety. The U.S. Department of the Interior even named a peak in the Panamint Mountains in honor of Slim, calling it Slim‘s Peak. Slim shared his memories and experiences with those visitors who cared to listen. He was what you might call a living window to the past.
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