The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999 Page: 267
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In 1901 rancher Dix Van Dyke settled in a Southern California desert town
called Daggett, where silver veins and borax mines had produced a small, boom-
ing community some twenty years earlier. The town served as an important rail-
road connection and water supply and thus a supply center for the area. As a
point of civilization in the unfriendly and isolated Mojave, it also met the inter-
ests and needs of those who most likely did not assimilate very well in more
While a resident of Daggett, Dix assumed the role of local historian, observing
with a keen eye events that ranged from the tedious and boring to the wild and
wooly. His rich narrative-much more lively than the many memoirs of the Old
West that merely catalogue daily life, and more realistic than the shoot-'em-up
Hollywood depictions-captures a place and time larger than one isolated lo-
cale. Perhaps without intending it but by accident accomplishing it, he recounts
life in Daggett within the context of the larger frontier (as a place and as a state
of mind) and demonstrates through his storytelling the changes not only on the
frontier but nationwide that the opening of the twentieth century dictated.
Contributing to the uniqueness of Dix's storytelling was his crossing paths in
Daggett with personages like John Muir and John C. Van Dyke, Dix's uncle and
an Eastern establishment art critic and author. Dix's father, who settled the fami-
ly in this desert outpost, was something of a well-known naturalist, author, and
engineer who actually initiated a successful project to pipe water out of the
mountains of California and into San Diego. Like many who ventured West, he
brought some less distinguished baggage with him and an unorthodox view of
life that he passed on to his son. All of this provided the makings for a colorful
Editor Peter Wild discovered Dix's reminiscences in the Barstow Pnnter Review,
a local paper that published periodic articles authored by Dix carrying such titles
as "The Pioneer Story" and "Pioneers" (p. 18). Wild merged these with a copy of
what was probably Dix's original manuscript to produce Lfe in a Mojave Frontier
Town. His introduction and epilogue are helpful in introducing the reader to
the town and its colorful raconteur and in carrying Daggett's story to the pre-
sent. Dix's account affirms Wild's contention that the frontier rarely remained
uncivilized-"where conflicting brute strength provided the only rule"-very
long. Rather, as a new century opened and the changes it brought had their im-
pact on such communities, a frontier experience that tolerated a broad range of
behavior nevertheless increasingly set limits through custom and law and dis-
played the accoutrements of a more urban society.
Dix uses conversational dialogue throughout, which enlivens his account but
may distract those who question the veracity of reconstructed conversations. The
thirty-plus photographs reinforce the visual images that Dix creates and reflect
the town's evolution from turn-of-the century frontier to more modern town.
His stories do not ignore racial conflict and economic rivalry or female influ-
ence. In regard to the latter, he describes the "fillet de joys" (p. 44) in some de-
tail but also speaks of the mother and sister who arrived in Daggett with a herd
of goats. "Long before," Dix related, "the old folks had separated, and the girl
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999, periodical, 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/m1/310/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.