Last week I received an email from The CVAS’s Historical Consultant, Steven Preston. In the body of the email was nothing but a simple web address that landed me on a Wikipedia page belonging to a quarterly publication based here in the Coachella Valley, Desert Rat Scrap Book. This quarterly publication (circa the 1950’s) was solely written and produced by one man, Harry Oliver. Eye brow raised, I had to find out more….
I dug up all the information I could on Oliver’s Scrap Books. In searching, I found links to photos of the prints, typed-out articles, links to other projects Oliver worked on and also… my favorite… audio recordings of him reading these Scrap Book writings.
As I read and listened these stories written by Oliver I tried to imagine what the Coachella Valley was like in the late 1940’s, the 1950’s, all the way into the 60’s. I imagined wide open land where people could escape to for complete solitude and relaxation, and because so this was a place to refuel the imagination. Perfect place for a writer.
Hopefully you find this as fascinating as I do. As a fellow desert dweller, you can respect the lifestyle. And as a fellow blogger/journalist you can respect this man’s DIY attitude. If Harry Oliver was young today, I’m sure he’d have a fabulous blog.
Below are some tidbits of information that I pulled from the internet and some quotes that I enjoyed from the first print of the first Desert Rap Scrap Book publication. Make sure to tune back in next week to get some from print #2. Links to more info on these gems can be found by clicking here or by clicking through the links at the bottom of the page.
About the Desert Rat Scrap Book:
The Desert Rat Scrap Book (or DRSB) was a (roughly) quarterly, southwestern humor publication based in Thousand Palms, California. DRSB was published in editions of 10,000 to 20,000 copies, whenever its creator, Harry Oliver had sufficient material, and money enough to pay the printer. Forty-six issues were printed and distributed via Southern California bookstores and newsstands, and by mail worldwide. DRSB was devoted to lore, legends, lies and laughs of the American Southwest region, especially featuring prospectors and other desert rats. The publication was launched in late 1945 and ran through early 1967. – via Wikipedia
Each issue bore on the front cover the name of a supposed theme for that issue, such as: Desert Burros, Death Valley, Good Old Desert Fun, Ghost Towns, Along the Border, Simplicity, Indians, Desert Folklore, Peg-Leg Smith‘s Gold, Lost Mines And Buried Treasure, Frontier Wild Women, Desert Rats & Hermits, Death Valley Scotty, etc. Besides these, Oliver would also deal with such themes as: The Lost Ship of the Desert; his Desert County secession movement and Keep the Desert Beautiful campaign; outlaws and lawmen; communicating with animals; and what others had written about him.
The above descriptions do nothing to convey the ambiance and attraction of the Desert Rat Scrap Book. It’s like holding a booklet that becomes an old-time news sheet, filled with information old and new, real and imaginary, serious and hilarious, all informed by a strong and cantankerous personality. There’s always another detail in another corner, another timeless tidbit waiting for a patient reader to stumble upon. Even when new, each issue is a small time machine.
About the Author:
Harry Oliver (April 4, 1888 – July 4, 1973) was an American humorist, artist, and Academy Award nominated art director of films from the 1920s and 1930s. Besides his outstanding work in Hollywood, he is now best remembered for his humorous writings about the American Southwest, and his publication (1946–1964) of the Desert Rat Scrap Book, an irregular broadsheet devoted to the Southwest. He was born in Hastings, Minnesota and died in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California.
Oliver produced 44 ‘quarterly’ issues of his Desert Rat Scrap Book or DRSB newspaper, often at irregular intervals, between 1946–1965, until his health and optimism failed. In 1967 he gave his operation to ex-merchant seaman Bill Powers, who produced two more issues and reprinted a few old issues, then abandoned the DRSB forever and disappeared, possibly returning to sea. While it lasted, the DRSB had a devoted worldwide audience.
He is known for his Hollywood work as art director on the films Seventh Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928), for which he was nominated for the very first Academy Awards, as well as set design or art direction on the films Ben Hur(1925), Sparrows (1926), Scarface (1932), Viva Villa! (1934), Mark of the Vampire (1935), and The Good Earth (1937). – via Wikipedia
“When you’ve been here in the Desert a few years you find yourself talking to yourself. . . . After a few more years you find yourself talking to the lizards. . . . Then in another couple years you find the lizards talking to you. . . . When you find yourself stealing their amazing tales you are about ready to start a Desert paper.” – Harry Oliver
Stories/Snip-bits from the Scrap Book
“After years of writing of the Desert, I present this Desert Scrap Book with its strange facts, desert oddities, and bits of humor, that you may enlarge on them, until they take their place as Desert Folklore.
You will find Legends, and Tall Tales will brow like dust devils with your te-telling, so when they call on you at the camp fire, make your story tall and give it a home in your own Desert Valley.
That’s the reason of this little newspaper, or one of the reasons, the other is that I never had a newspaper of my own before and I think it will be a lot of fun.”
“Harry Oliver, EDITOR”
Harry Oliver’s Argument Starters
“Roadrunners kill rattlesnakes.”
Desert turtles live a hundred years.
The loudest noise in the world is thunder.
The horned toad is not a toad; it’s a lizard.
The Vinegaroon is half spider and half scorpion.
Animals are wild because man has made them so.
The largest gold nugget ever found weighed 630 pounds.
A cubic foot of gold weighs more than half a ton — 1203 pounds.
There are many kinds of cactus that will not grow in the desert.
A lightning-flash lasts approximately one-millionth part of a second.
Horsehair rope as a barrier to stop rattlesnakes has been proved a myth.
One pound of honey represents the life time work of more than 1,000 bees.
A mule knows three times as much as a horse, and a burro is smarter than a mule.
Needles of the prickly pear cactus are cut to size, shaped, polished and sold as phonograph needles.
Each rattlesnake helps man by killing off between 100 and 150 rats, mice, gophers and ground squirrels every year.
The dried stalks of the desert yucca are gathered and sent to a factory in Brooklyn, New York, for the manufacturing of artificial limbs.
Horned Toads sometimes lay eggs and other times will give forth living young. It seems that the mother can’t quite make up her mind.
Over 3,000 different herbs and plants for therapeutic use were grown in Montezuma’s Mexican botanical gardens years before the discovery of America.
It is estimated that half a million snakes and twice that number of lizards were killed for their skins and turned into shoes and purses last year for milady’s fancy.
Many old prospectors have been saved from thirst by the water contained in the famous barrel cactus. Today this barrel cactus furnishes the base for some of the noted cactus candies.
Wrinkled inhabitants of the desert shake their heads and whisper startling exaggerations when you ask about the Jumping Cactus (Cholla); nevertheless it does jump, but only when stirred by the swish of your pant leg or coat sleeve.
– Harry Oliver, Desert Rat Scrap Book
If any of this interests you, then do read further!!!
To read actual full articles from this famous Quarterly, please visit:
To listen to Harry Oliver read some of his own works (with coyotes howling in the back and all), please click here:
one of my favorite stories on record: http://www.klaxo.net/hofc/mp3s/03_The_Wonder_Of_Desert_Cactus.mp3
To learn more about Harry Oliver, please click here:
To read all the articles, please click here: