William Edwin "Doc" Smith

Daggett Area Prospector

by Farrall S. Smith

 

William Edwin “Doc” Smith at his Aztec Spring mine, probably in the 1920's or 1930's.
William Edwin "Doc" Smith at his Aztec Spring
mine, probably in the 1920's or 1930's.

Exploring our local deserts, we often come upon the remains of what was once an isolated desert home or mine site. We ponder who lived there and what they did so many years ago. I can put a name and a face upon one such location. The place is Aztec Spring, located in a canyon on the north face of Ord Mountain, some 11 miles south of Daggett, California. The name is that of my late uncle, W. E. Smith.

William Edwin Smith was born in September of 1873 in Greeley Colorado. He spent his younger years working for Montana cattle outfits as a cook, and later, worked at a Virginia City assay office where he picked up the nickname "Doc". Some years later found him working as a Los Angeles, California deputy sheriff and as a horseback riding bit actor in early Hollywood silent films. Doc Smith appears to have relocated to Ord Mountain around 1910. One of his first mines was located on Ord Mountain well above Aztec Spring. I was able to find and identify this site while on a hike a number of years back.

Doc Smith on left. Mine shack around 1910 and the site as seen today.

Doc Smith on left. Mine shack around 1910 and the site as seen today.


Blasting at the mine around 1910 and the site as seen today.

Blasting at the mine around 1910 and the site as seen today.


At some point, Doc Smith abandoned this site and moved down the canyon to Aztec Spring where he built a substantial cabin. Water was plentiful at the nearby spring and to this day, it keeps a concrete water trough well filled. Doc started a number of copper mines at this location; a number of vertical shafts can still be seen as well as his extensive horizontal shaft just up the canyon on the left. In later years, Doc maintained a small house in Daggett, California in addition to his Aztec Spring place. In 1947, Doc Smith and his sister, Irene Wolfe bought the Calico Museum at Calico ghost town from Larry and Lucile Coke and at some later time sold it to Walter Knott. This is mentioned in "Man Who Bought a Ghost Town", Desert Magazine, July, 1953.

Doc Smith's Aztec Spring cabin as it once appeared.
Doc Smith's Aztec Spring cabin as it once appeared.

Early photos of the Aztec Spring home site made it quite easy to identify where the house and various out buildings were situated. It felt a bit strange, on my first visit to Aztec Spring quite a few years ago, to contemplate those old photos and realize that not very much is left of the place where a man spent some 42 years of his life. The cabin was gone, the dog was gone and Doc Smith was gone. There was only the melancholy creaking of a sheet of galvanized roofing material in the warm breeze to interrupt the emptiness of that place.

 General site of the cabin as it appears today.
Above, general site of the cabin as it appears today.

Here we see two unidentified visitors at the front of Doc Smith's Aztec Spring cabin. Note the flagstone walkway. These very same flagstones are still largely in place and can be seen today as indicated in the photograph below.

Here we see two unidentified visitors at the front of Doc Smith's Aztec Spring cabin. Note the flagstone walkway. These very same flagstones are still largely in place and can be seen today as indicated in the photograph below.

These very same flagstones are still largely in place and can be seen today.

In later years, the Aztec Spring property came under the control of the Slash-X Ranch, who ran and watered their cattle there. Doc Smith would divide his time between his house in Daggett and a tiny shack at the entrance to his mine. Doc also served as gravedigger for the town of Daggett. On June 16, 1952, a Slash-X cowboy, Paul Roberson, rode out to Doc's tiny mine shack with the intention of inviting him out to the ranch for dinner. He found Doc lying in bed, dead. Not appreciating the hard Daggett earth, it was Doc's wish to be buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Barstow, next to a tree. And so, he was. The remains of Doc's bed can still be seen in the rubble of the shack immediately below the mine entrance.

As much as I enjoy exploring all of our local desert, finding a site that has a strong family connection is fascinating and important. I have found that what little is known of that desert pioneer, "Doc" Smith, or just "Uncle Ed" among his relatives, to be a most meaningful chapter in our family history.

This photo is of some concrete portion of the Aztec Spring cabin along with one of the early photos that allowed me to identify the site.
This photo is of some concrete portion of the Aztec Spring cabin along with one of the early photos that allowed me to identify the site.

      
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