Compiled from the book, Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles,
edited and with a foreword by Diana Lindsay, ISBN 0-932653-66-9 (San Diego:
Sunbelt Publications, 2005, www.sunbeltbooks.com). The book includes 102
articles and poems that South wrote for Desert Magazine.
over 50 years an adobe house on windswept waterless Ghost Mountain, on the
western edge of California’s Colorado Desert, has been slowly
disintegrating. A one-mile-long steep trail from the southern edge of Blair
Valley, in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, leads up to the site — on a flat
just below the top of the mountain. The skeletal remains of the house, known
as Yaquitepec, still stand — a rusted bed frame, the base of a large adobe
oven, the frame for an arched doorway, and the many cement and barrel
cisterns that once caught the seasonal rainfall, the only water available
other than what was hauled up the trail. Here is where poet, author and
artist Marshal South and his family lived from 1930 to 1947, pursuing a
primitive and natural lifestyle that became well known through South’s
monthly columns written for Desert Magazine.
Portraits of Tanya and Marshal in
years since the park acquired the property in 1958, curious desert explorers
have hiked that trail, off San Diego County Highway S-2, to view the ruins.
Invariably hikers will ask themselves why someone would have chosen to live
in such a dry desolate area with small children for all of those years?
Questions about the Souths are frequently directed to volunteers at the
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, but the responses have been
based on limited information. When more information is wanted, it invariably
leads to searches on the computer web pages or to libraries where past
editions of Desert Magazine can be read.
South authored a total of 102 articles and poems for Desert Magazine from
1939 to 1948 — 80 articles about life on Ghost Mountain, 15 articles about
the Anza-Borrego region and seven poems. South introduced hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of people to the desert through his monthly columns. He had a
very loyal following, deservedly so. South wrote with a lyric quality,
painting word pictures as only a poet or artist could. He wrote with passion
about the desert — its silence, beauty and natural history; its healthful
qualities; its early inhabitants and their lifestyle.
was an inspiration to Desert Magazine publisher Randall Henderson and
contributed to the early success of the magazine. Henderson said that his
columns were “the most popular feature in the magazine.”
Although South explained in his articles what drew him and his wife Tanya to
the desert and Ghost Mountain, how they built their home and why they chose
an unconventional lifestyle, questions still remain. There has always been
an aura of mystery and secrecy surrounding the Souths’ past — especially
their life before Ghost Mountain. The Souths’ abrupt and acrimonious
divorce, rumors of fictionalizing accounts of life at Yaquitepec, Marshal’s
early death and Tanya’s years of silence did not help matters. Attempts to
learn more about Marshal South have led to dead ends, and the extent of his
writing career beyond his novels, one or two short stories and his articles
in Desert Magazine was unknown.
unanswered questions and general interest in the Souths have led to over 40
published articles and website postings since 1969 that speculate about the
Souths. Some of those articles were well researched, using the limited facts
and materials that were available. There are academics who are currently
studying Marshal South’s contribution to western literature — even an opera
is being considered as a vehicle to tell the story. But the real story,
based on previously unknown facts, has never been told — until now. It is a
story long overdue.
South, like a character out of one of his Western novels, was part fiction.
His real name was Roy Bennett Richards. A man much more complex and talented
than previously supposed, he was a widely published writer of poems (over
50), short stories and essays (over 40), novels (8) and Desert Magazine
articles and poems (102). His writings were published in South Australia,
Great Britain and the United States — in local and syndicated newspapers and
magazines in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and Texas. An
artist who painted watercolors and oils, made pottery, carved wood and
designed iron sculptures, he also worked in silver and leather, made
weavings and ran his own printing press — creating booklets, greeting cards
and newsletters decorated with colored blocks hand-carved from linoleum.
Bennett Richards was born on February 24, 1889, in the seaside suberb of
Glenelg about six miles southwest from the center of Adelaide, South
Australia. His mother, Annie Emma Afford Richards, was born in Australia,
but his father, William Charles Bennett Richards, was born in the United
States. Charlie owned and managed large ranches and could easily afford to
send Roy to St. Peter’s College in Adelaide, South Australia’s most
prestigious boy’s school. While he was a student, Roy began his writing
1904 and 1907, Roy had several works published by the Port Augusta Dispatch
— prose, poetry, fiction, humor, satire and commentary on political and
social issues. He also had articles published in The Gadfly — a humorous
abandoned Charlie in 1908 and she and her sons Roy and Norman moved to the
United States. Because Charlie had been born in the United States, the boys
were American citizens, which made it easier to obtain passage. They arrived
on the West Coast sometime in 1908.
family settled in Oceanside and used the Richards family name. Roy had
already shown a penchant for using pseudonyms, so in all likelihood, it was
an easy decision for him to select a nom de plume. Roy changed his middle
name from Bennett to Benjamin or B. Richards and dropped Roy.
his new pen name, Roy’s first known published work in the United States
appeared in the Los Angeles Tribune on May 7, 1912. It was a poem entitled
“Intervention.” This is the earliest known reference of B. Richards writing
as Marshal South.
B. Richards was again in writing stride and had once again become the
darling of a local newspaper, the Oceanside Blade. The Blade began making
regular comments about his poems and stories and even made note of the
volume of works produced that year, which included at least 10 poems and two
short stories. By the end of 1914, the local paper was referring to B.
Richards more often as Marshal South.
Marshal’s activity through the Fall had reached a crescendo, just as his
poetry had. The greatest praise to date came with the publication of
“Progress” in the November 1915 issue of the American Magazine. The Los
Angeles Tribune paid tribute to South and reported in a headline that his
poem was “Being Complimented and Copied Widely.”
Sometime before July or August, Marshal South was tapped by the draft. He
was 27 years old. He served in Arizona with the Transportation Division of
the Army Quartermaster Corps — the QMC. Unfortunately his military records
were burned in a massive fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records
Center in St. Louis, so the details of his service are sketchy. It is also
known that he served as a clerk in the office of the QMC where he met
Margaret Frieda Schweichler who also worked in the same office as a civilian
secretary. While he served in Douglas, his poetry was regularly published by
the Los Angeles Times, the New York Forum and the Douglas Dispatch.
A relationship developed between Marshal and Margaret. She was 21 years old
when they met. They took out a marriage license on December 21, 1917, and
were married by the Justice of the Peace in Bisbee, Arizona, on January 17,
1918. She resigned her job with the QMC on March 1, 1918, and Marshal Jr.
was born in Douglas on December 5, 1919. Marshal was discharged from the
Army sometime in early 1920.
1920, a few months after Marshal was discharged from the Army, Margaret
asked him to leave. Distraught, Marshal hoped Margaret would take him back.
He repeatedly tried to return to her, only to be rebuffed.
The marriage failed because they had different expectations. Marshal was
never interested in money. He grew up in wealth and never valued it. He
lashed out against the drive for money in his earliest essays written for
the Port Augusta Dispatch in 1906. He valued creativity and freedom.
Margaret was practical and ambitious. She wanted a spouse that could provide
a comfortable home and living — one that would find a good job and stay with
Marshal sank into depression and stayed there until he met Tanya.
South was born on November 4 (Gregorian calendar), 1897, in Zhmerinka,
Podolsk, near Brahilov in the Russian Ukraine near the Romanian border. She
was the sixth child of Nahoom (Nathan) and Seepa (Celia) Oocheetal (Lehrer)
— orthodox Jews. Her father was a school teacher who was drafted into the
Russian Army and served 20 years in the medical corps performing surgeries —
mainly amputations. After he was discharged, he opened a small shop that was
subject to periodic raids (pogroms) by the Czarists. The family regularly
witnessed atrocities during these raids. Fortunately for them, they were
able to immigrate to the United States, arriving in New York in October 1906
when Tanya was eight years old.
September 1920 after her father died, Tanya moved to Oceanside and began
working immediately for the Rosicrucian Fellowship. She was interested in
astrology, the occult and spiritual pursuits. Tanya worked as a healing
department secretary and soon became an astrologist. When Marshal moved back
to Oceanside, he began working as a carpenter for the Rosicrucian
Fellowship. He was depressed and contemplating suicide when he met Tanya.
She began counseling him through astrology, doing horoscopes for Marshal and
In the next few months, Tanya and Marshal decided to wed. They were married
on March 8, 1923, in Santa Ana, California. They moved to Los Angeles where
Tanya took a job with an oil company and Marshal began work for an “office
later expressed to her children that she married Marshal because he hounded
her and she finally gave in. The children are not sure whether Tanya ever
really loved him. She told them that they fought on their wedding night. She
was also not as disinterested in material comforts as Marshal wanted to
believe. She later wrote, “I can’t say when the so-called depression hit us
because with Marshal we were always suffering in a depression.”
In the following years Tanya continued to work while they both pursued their
interest in writing. Marshal worked on short stories and novels while Tanya
wrote poems. Marshal had some success with his own writings when two of his
short stories were published in 1926 and 1927, but he was unable to find a
publisher for his novels until a later date.
and Tanya began taking camping trips to the desert in 1925 or 1926,
exploring sites along San Diego County’s unpaved Highway S-2. They stayed
often at the Vallecito stage station before it was restored. In 1928 they
moved back to Oceanside and continued to struggle to make ends meet.
A PRIMITIVE LIFESTYLE — A SOURCE OF INCOME
What really encouraged Marshal to drop out and to seek such an isolated
place that was miles away from anything? His article in the Saturday Evening
Post of March 11, 1939, explained the surface reasons — they “were tired”
and “out of step …temperamental misfits and innate barbarians…not equal to
the job of coping with modern high-power civilization.” They did not want to
be slaves to making money and they wanted to pursue more creative and
spiritual endeavors. They wanted peace and solitude and wanted to experience
a total sense of freedom — mentally and physically.
understandable that with the Depression their options for supporting
themselves became very limited. Moving someplace where they could homestead
or live on free land made financial sense to two writers with little income.
But why choose an isolated area and a natural and primitive lifestyle?
are a few possibilities that may have led to this choice. Marshal was well
read and may have been influenced by popular writers of the day. He
undoubtedly read books by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and
Hermann Hesse. Also, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German
natural-living movements — the Lebensreform (life reform), Naturmenschen
(natural men) and Wandervogel (migrant birds/free spirits) — were taking
place and spreading to the United States.
Marshal had come to accept Tanya’s Rosicrucian beliefs about the ability to
move closer into the spirit world as one surrounds himself with silence,
peace, harmony, the rhythm of a disciplined life, natural foods and nature.
Hard work and discipline were seen as a way of strengthening the resolve for
spiritual connection. They had already connected with the desert through
years of camping, and this particular desert was reminiscent of Marshal’s
boyhood home in South Australia. Not only was the landscape similar, but the
very isolation must have reminded him of Pandurra. In the desert he could be
free to spend time on his writing and artistic interests while she could
practice her religious teachings and develop her poetry skills. They were
both strong-willed and energetic, and probably the challenge of building
their own home had its own appeal.
became nudists. Living without clothes had a practical side. There was no
water on Ghost Mountain. Every drop had to be hauled up. There was no extra
water for washing clothes, and clothing holds body odor. Although Marshal
felt very comfortable with no clothes, Tanya was not. She told her daughter
that Marshal had insisted over her objections. When company came to Ghost
Mountain, Tanya always wore a dress.
Whatever the final motivation was, the Souths packed their Model T with all
of their possessions and headed to the desert on January 15, 1930, despite
the objections of friends. They drove their car to Blair Valley, which was
land that was owned by the Bureau of Land Management years before it became
part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. They camped in the valley and
explored the “thin, ghostly trails” that led to their eventual abode on the
obscure ridge they named Ghost Mountain.
spent years building their house. Marshal’s years of building expertise was
put to the test as he hand-built Yaquitepec, engineering an extensive system
of cisterns and catch basins to store rainwater.
called their house Yaquitepec — from Yaqui, the fierce freedom-loving
Indians of Sonora, Mexico, and “tepec,” referring to the hill. Five years
after they began their adventure, they could point to a comfortable small
adobe home that would provide the basis for continual expansion as their
Although there was always something under construction and work to be done,
Marshal could now take the time to concentrate on publishing his works.
Manuscripts that he had previously written were finally accepted by a London
publisher, and by 1936, he had four published books: Flame of Terrible
Valley, Child of Fire, Juanita of the Border Country and Gunsight. His
publisher, John Long, Ltd., had this to say about his first two novels:
“Flame of Terrible Valley and Child of Fire…are strong stuff, but in the
best senses, that of excitement, colour and originality. There is, in our
opinion, no doubt that Marshal South is to be classed as one of the finest
Western storytellers of today.”
books would follow, with all of them following a basic formula, differing
only in the setting and the characters. There was always a treasure, a
damsel in distress and a hero with sterling qualities that prevailed over
the villains and won the heart of the damsel. All the books were
cliffhangers. To his London audience he promoted himself as an American
Western novelist with “a drop of Red Indian blood in his veins.”
following year, on March 11, 1939, South’s article on Ghost Mountain
entitled “Desert Refuge” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. It was a
milestone. It led to a contract with Desert Magazine to publish a one-year
series entitled “Desert Year” that would feature life at Yaquitepec, month
by month. The children were the highlight of the series.
children were born while the Souths lived at Ghost Mountain. All three were
born in Oceanside where Tanya spent her last month of pregnancy with each
child. Rider Del Sol South was born January 22, 1934; Rudyard Del Sol South
was born December 20, 1937; and Victoria Del Sol South was born September
series was extremely well received. Beginning in May 1941 a new monthly
series began entitled “Desert Home.” In introducing the series, Henderson
wrote that the Souths “have found happiness in primitive living and close
association with Nature.” He said that the series would give “some
interesting glimpses of their daily life on Ghost mountain [sic].” The
series name changed to “Desert Refuge” after three months and continued
until December 1946. The series now included a poem written by Tanya that
would appear at the end of almost every article.
praise heaped on South did not go unnoticed. He had become the desert
prophet — and he fell into character, giving his audience what they
demanded. He spared them the difficulties of living on Ghost Mountain and
focused on the positive aspects while emphasizing his own brand of
philosophy. Most of the comments by readers were very positive and
supportive through the years, as the Souths had a very large following.
TRAPPED BY AN IMAGE
Henderson periodically provided background on the Souths for new Desert
Magazine readers. This biography always began with their move to the desert
during “the Great Depression.” He helped to create the image of who they
were, making them larger than life. It was good marketing hype and it helped
to build his readership. He wrote that the Souths were “free and independent
— and happy.” They built their home, working “from sunup until dark, long
hours of hard labor, but it brought them added health and a serene
philosophy of life.” Of the children, Henderson said, “Tanya is teaching
them from books.
is teaching them from Nature… For them, their experiment in primitive living
has been a glorious success and they have no desire ever to return to the
world where humans fight each other for food and shelter and power and
gold.” He said the monthly articles “give a vivid cross-section of their
daily lives and a fine insight into the philosophy of their way of living.”
Henderson had created the perfect family.
helped to paint Marshal into a corner. As the desert prophet, Marshal wasn’t
mortal and he had the perfect family.
Marshal had become the desert prophet
things were not well. Tanya and Marshal fought “like cats and dogs,”
according to Rider. Tanya did not want a divorce — her religion might have
had something to do with it. A failed marriage might have been viewed as
spiritual failure. But she felt more and more trapped on Ghost Mountain,
especially after Victoria was born. Tanya was worried about the children and
felt they needed to adapt to city life while they still could. Tanya and
Marshal were also getting older, and the hikes up and down the mountain were
Desert Magazine readers, all was well, and maybe in Marshal’s mind it was
also. His truth was in his character — a prophet of the desert. He believed
in his philosophy even though it was at odds with reality.
THE MOLD BREAKS — END OF THE EXPERIMENT
Tanya filed for divorce on October 18, 1946. Neither guests to Ghost
Mountain nor the Desert Magazine readership suspected that things had
reached such a point, but there were subtle indications that things were not
Sometime in October, Tanya gathered up the children and walked them three
miles down to Highway S-2. There she flagged down a vehicle to carry a
letter to San Diego, asking for help. The Red Cross responded some days
later and provided her transportation to San Diego to file for divorce. Her
attorney advised her that in order to get the divorce, there needed to be
cause as incompatibility was not sufficient to grant a divorce in those
affidavit filed on October 28, 1946, she made several statements, some of
which were probably exaggerated under the advisement of her attorney.
Judge Arthur L. Mundo issued an order to show cause and placed a restraining
order against Marshal, ordering him to appear in court on November 12. At
that time the court assigned custody and care of the children to Tanya and
ordered Marshal to provide financial support and to bring food and supplies
to the house once each week.
Magazine editor Randall Henderson discovered what happened when he opened a
San Diego newspaper and saw the headline, “Divorce Plea Breaks Up Hermit
Family.” He related to his readers in the January 1947 issue that the “news
was no less disillusioning to me than it will be to thousands of Desert
readers.” He told his readers that he drove to Ghost Mountain with the hope
that he could contribute something to “Operation Salvage.” He had considered
both of them friends and had “always found them kindly and sincere people.”
He summed up their “domestic difficulties” with this sentence: “Two
temperamental poets lived so close together in such a small world they
finally got on each other’s nerves.” He also announced that a serial based
on a home life of a family that was no longer united could not continue, but
he would continue to run Tanya’s poems, which he did until February 1959.
Henderson reported that Marshal would be living in Julian where he had a
position. He said Tanya and the children would remain on Ghost Mountain in
their “comfortable home.” In actuality that would have been impossible for
any length of time.
Marshal did not contest the divorce. He sent a letter to Judge Mundo on
January 21, 1947. He told the judge that the “divorce is only the
culmination of an intolerable domestic friction which has existed over a
number of years…it had to come — for the good of all concerned.”
AFTER GHOST MOUNTAIN
Tanya and the children lived in Carlsbad for six months until a four-room
unit became available at the Frontier Housing Project in Point Loma. While
they lived in Carlsbad, Tanya found a job cleaning movie theaters to help
support herself and the children. After they moved to Point Loma, she found
a position as a secretary with the Welfare Department.
The Souths in Carlsbad in 1947.
From left: Tanya, Victoria, Rider, and Rudyard
Marshal the separation and divorce was arguably more difficult. It had
shattered his world and had taken its toll on him physically. He was ill.
The newspapers had cast him in a dim light as “the cruel poet” with
allegations of “privation.” Few reached out to befriend him, with the
exception of Louis and Myrtle Botts of Julian, and Bill and Ad Mushet of the
Banner Queen Ranch.
contacted Henderson at Desert Magazine and began writing again — first an
article about the Banner Queen Ranch and Bill and Ad Mushet, which appeared
in April 1947, and then an article about Agua Caliente Hot Springs in the
July issue. Henderson was happy to have Marshal writing again and told his
readers that Marshal was making frequent trips to the desert and hoped to
open up a shop where he could sell his leather and silver crafts. Beginning
with the August issue, a new South series began, entitled “Desert Trails,”
which included explorations of the surrounding desert.
April 1948 a doctor told Marshal that he needed to avoid high elevations,
like those found in Julian, because of a heart condition.
wrote Henderson and told him that he was “very weak, but if a cure is
possible the desert will do it.” He told Henderson that he was working on
two new articles. A month later, on October 22, he died. He was 59 years
Magazine announced Marshal’s death in the December 1948 issue, which
included his last published story. Henderson’s final comments are
particularly apt in understanding South:
He was a dreamer — an impractical visionary according to the standards of
our time, but what a drab world it would be without the dreamers. Marshal’s
tragedy was that he tried too hard to fulfill his dream. He would not
compromise. And that is fatal in a civilization where life is a never-ending
compromise between the things we would like to do and the obligations
imposed by the social and economic organization of which we are a part.
Marshal wanted to live a natural life…so he moved out to Ghost Mountain to
be as close to Nature as possible. If he had been a hermit that would have
worked very well. But Marshal was not a hermit by nature. He wanted to raise
a family — and impose upon his family his own unconventional way of life.
Therein lay the weakness of his philosophy. He despised the rules and taboos
of the society he had left behind, and immediately set up a new and even
more restrictive code for his own household. And therein lies the
explanation of the break in the South family life…
Marshal’s magazine stories were popular because of the beautiful prose with
which he expressed the dreams which are more or less in the hearts of all
imaginative people. Those of us who knew him well, felt for him the respect
that is always due a man with the courage of his convictions.
We’ll miss his stories of the desert trails. We will remember him for the
artistry with which he expressed ideals we all share.
Tanya raised the children, who all grew up to lead very successful lives.
She continued writing her poetry for Desert Magazine until Henderson stepped
down as editor in 1959. Her name is found on 202 poems in the magazine.
Tanya also wrote “A Sequel to Ghost Mountain” for the April 1949 issue of
Desert Magazine, telling readers how well the children were doing since they
left the mountain.
maintained her privacy after the children were grown and gone — she never
granted an interview. She never lost her anger toward Marshal and always
cherished her Rosicrucian books. Victoria said, “Her focus was very much
inward and her faith sustained her, even if she didn’t show it to others.”
She died of old age on May 31, 1997, just months short of her 100th