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Compiled by David A. Wright

Great Basin Research

Joseph L. Simpson is a well known historical figure in the history of California, as he had the unfortunate experience of being the last person lynched in the state. On April 22, 1908, Joe Simpson was strung up to a telephone pole in the Death Valley camp of Skidoo. Circumstances leading up to Mr. Simspon’s demise involved him ambushing and shooting respected citizen and business man James Arnold in broad daylight on April 19, 1908, who died later that evening.

Most accounts found in subsequent books give more or less the same account of Simpson with variations; painting Simpson as a down and out miner, a camp hanger on, penniless, a bum, a scoundrel, and in general a no good person who was destined to die at the hands of an angry mob sooner or later. Yet the period press gives a rather different side of Simpson, that is until he murdered James Arnold.

Arnold and Simpson were both Skidoo businessmen. Arnold, who was about 43 years old at the time of his death, was proprietor of the Skidoo Trading Company, which housed the Southern California Bank. Joe Simpson, 33 years old, was co-owner of the Gold Seal Saloon with Fred Oakes. Arnold was reportedly the founder of the Skidoo townsite, Simpson came to the region early and was heavily involved in mining interests. Arnold served for a short period as Justice of the Peace, he resigned just in time for the new Justice, Frank G. Thisse, to preside upon the coroner’s inquest over the bodies of both he and Simpson. You will notice some of the newspaper accounts involve litigation over a mining lawsuit in the Inyo County courts, in which Simpson was involved as a codefendant.

Most accounts paint Simpson as an alcoholic. Simpson was involved with a drinking club sponsored by the Gold Seal, called the "Hootch Fighters League," which may have given Simpson an oft published nickname of "Hootch." Simpson had syphilis, a condition caused by his visitations to the red light district, even though Simpson was legally married but estranged from his wife. Skidoo had a small group of prostitutes, such as "Skidoo Babe" and "Blonde Betty." Simpson was listed as the pimp of Skidoo Babe by one modern published source. Simpson was being treated for syphilis by Dr. Reginald E. McDonald, a physician employed by the Skidoo Mines Company who also had a general practice in town.

Popular legend, though, goes beyond the death of Joe Simpson. Legend says that three days after he died newspaper reporters flocked into the camp from big city newspapers only to find that Simpson had already been buried. Obliging town citizens, proud of cleaning up their camp of such filth, gladly disinterred him and re-hung him for the benefit of the press. Research has proven otherwise, but still the legend lives on, even in modern publishings. You will see nothing of the kind in the contemporary press. I found an interesting discovery, quite possibly the seeds of the legend, in the pages of the October 15 and November 1, 1908 Inyo Magazine [published in Bishop, CA] article, "Murder In Camp: A True Story of a Mining Camp," a two part series. The Inyo Magazine, interestingly, was published by C.B. Glasscock and Arthur Kunze, former publishers of the famous Death Valley Chuck-Walla of Greenwater. The wording of the story is nearly word for word the same as the statements supposed to have been made by Simpson and Arnold during their confrontation in the Skidoo Trading Company, although the names published are different. The outcome is the same.

Here now is a look at the life of Joe Simpson through the Inyo County and regional press of the period. Periodically, there will be notes after a particular news item.

Newspaper Items

1906, June 6 Inyo Independent (Independence, Inyo County, California]

A.V. Carpenter and J.L. Simpson, mining men from Harrisburg, arrived in Independence Wednesday morning. They report the southern end of the county as being very lively, and mining property of merit being eagerly sought after.

1907, June 15 Rhyolite (Nevada) Herald

Essence of Wild Rose"

A big strike is reported on the Last Hike claim, formerly owned by Tom Knight, Simpson and others. On this claim there is a strong, well defined ledge of quartz many feet wide, from which assays running as high as $2,000 has been secured. This property has recently been purchased by A.V. Carpenter.

1906, August 10 Inyo Independent

Al Carpenter, Joe Simpson and Tom Knight, came over from Ballarat last Monday.

1906, December 28 Skidoo News



Oakes & Simpson Proprietors

Choice Wines, Liquors, Cigars

Eastern Beers

Schlitz and Budweiser

W.A. Lacy Whiskies

The Most Up-to-date Place on the Desert

Mining Men's Headquarters

1907, January 18 Rhyolite Herald

News of Skidoo From the Skidoo News,"subheading, "More Sales"

Poulson & Weaver of Salt Lake City, well known mine owners of Tonopah and Goldfield, have just purchased valuable property near Skidoo. A.G. Poulson, representing the above named firm, was in camp yesterday and signed papers for the Gaffer and Boratcho claims, situated about a mile northeast of the town of Skidoo. There is a nine foot ledge on the property and a good showing of gold. In these claims J.C. Miller held one-half interest and Fred Oakes, Joe Simpson, Red Ottis and Charles Rudolph the other half. The price paid was well up in the five figures, one-half cash and the balance in ninety days.

1907, April 5 Inyo Independent

Jack Byrne vs. Tom Knight and Joe Simpson -- occupied the attention of the Superior Court for a couple of days during the week and was then postponed for further hearing until June 3rd, 1907 owing to the absence of a material witness.

1907, April 19 Rhyolite Herald

"Skidoo Short Notes"

Oakes and Simpson have installed a big and attractive sign on their Gold Seal saloon, which is a large frame structure at Skidoo and First Streets.

1907, April 26 Inyo Independent


A wagon road and telephone line from Keeler to Skidoo is positively assured. Nearly the entire amount necessary to carry out the project has been subscribed and the road and telephone should be completed, connecting the two points, inside of two months. A.V. Carpenter has just returned from the Keeler country and states that around Keeler great interest is being taken in Skidoo affairs. Within a few hours after the subject had been discussed in Keeler, $4,000 of the $5,000 necessary to complete the wagon road and telephone line, were subscribed. Among those whose subscriptions manifested greatest interest in the project were A.V. Carpenter, $500; Mrs. A. M. Mates, $500; J.L. Simpson, $500; Silas Reynolds, $500; A.W. & J.E. Eibeshutz, $200; Boland estate, $200; H. Levy, $100; Harry Reynolds, $100; Ben Yandell, $100; Jack Gunn, $100; two county commissioners, $200, and several other subscriptions whose names are not available, bring the total up to over $4,000.

The length of the Keeler-Skidoo road will be 65 miles.

Water is obtainable at convenient distances, there being a spring 20 miles out from Keeler and another at Wild Rose canyon, 20 miles from Skidoo. The most difficult grade on the proposed route will be the fall into Darwin canyon but this will not be a serious one. The balance of the distance will be an easy matter for road building. -- Skidoo News

[Note: Simpson could not be so "penniless," $500 was quite a sum in those days.]

1907, May 31 Inyo Independent

The Skidoo mining case of Jack Byrne vs. Joe Simpson and Tom Knight, which was to have come up before the Superior Court next Monday has been postponed until the 15th of June.

1907, June 7 Inyo Independent

A.V. Carpenter arrived at Independence last Tuesday from Los Angeles. He is party to a suit involving the title to certain mining property at Skidoo which was to have been tried last Monday but was continued owing to the illness of Jos. Simpson, one of the principals.

[Note: Simpson’s "illness" was no doubt his battle with syphilis.]

1907, June 28 Inyo Independent


... The first shipment of ore from the Skidoo camp will be made during the present month, unless present plans fail. The proposed shipment is to be made from the American Eagle property to the smelters at Salt Lake City. The ore is now being mined there for this purpose. Several tons are now ready and more is being taken out every day. The development of the American Eagle was started this week by a private leasing company consisting of Fred Oakes, L.E. and C.P. Thompson, Charles Reed, J. L. Simpson, W.C. Fiedler, John O'Harrow, R.H. Austin, J.N. King, and H.L. McNew. The lease runs for one year, during which time steady and extensive development work is to be carried on. There is no stock for sale, the interested parties furnishing all the money necessary to put the proposition on a paying basis. And the amount and value of the ore is such that this will not take much time -- just long enough to establish regular shipping and smelting arrangements. ...

1907, July 19 Inyo Independent

Quite a number of Skidoovians were in town during the past week as witnesses and principals in the case of Jack Byrne vs. Tom Knight and Joe Simpson, which has been occupying the attention of the Superior Court for the greater portion of the week.

[Note: Events that preceded the lawsuit originally involved Jack Byrne and Tom Knight. Byrne was a Goldfield businessman, who grubstaked Knight to prospect the region around Harrisburg. Knight found quite a number of rich mines in what became Skidoo, but claimed he found them shortly after the terms of the grubstake terminated. Byrne refused to believe the claim and filed a lawsuit on May 8, 1906 in Superior Court of Inyo County. The suit named both Knight and Simpson as codefendants. Court proceedings drug on for nearly two years. Knight and Simpson were both ultimately exonerated of the charges, but Byrne appealed the case but was denied. A few days later, Simpson murdered James Arnold.]

1907, July 26 Inyo Independent

Joe Simpson, of Skidoo, who was severely injured at Keeler about two weeks ago, is improving rapidly and is in hopes to be able to do without the aid of crutches in a few days.

[Note: Nothing in the press revealed the cause of Simpson’s injuries.]

1908, April 17 Inyo Independent


... On Monday in the case of Jack Byrne, plaintiff vs. Joe Simpson and Tom Knight, defendants, motion for new trial by plaintiff was argued by P.W. Forbes, Esq., and Ben. H. Yandell and F.C. Sherrer, Esq's, for defendants. The motion was submitted and the Court overruled plaintiff's motion. This case is well known as the "Skidoo" Mining Suit and involves the title to very valuable mineral ground near the town of Skidoo.

1908, April 23 Inyo Register [Bishop, Inyo County, California]


Word came Tuesday that a murder had been committed in Skidoo Sunday, the victim being J.C. Arnold and the slayer Joe Simpson. The particulars as reported to Under sheriff McDonald are that Simpson had been making a disturbance, and had been disarmed by Arnold. Later he walked up to Arnold and asked what he had against him. Arnold said that he had nothing against Simpson. The latter reiterated that he had, and drawing a revolver deliberately shot Arnold through the heart. Officer McDonald and District Attorney Dehy left yesterday for the scene.

A version of the affray reaching this office says that Simpson's nose and upper lip were shot away during a fight in Los Angeles some time ago; that Arnold is supposed to have been the shooter in that case; and that Simpson traveled across the desert to get even. Not verified.

[Note: The 1900 census found Simpson to be living in the 2nd Ward of Reno, Nevada. The census taker had terrible handwriting and Simpson’s occupation at the time appeared to be a "line cook."]

1908, April 24 Inyo Independent


From what we can learn from a party who was present in Skidoo at the time of the killing an unprovoked and uncalled for murder was committed by Joe Simpson, a saloon-keeper of that place last Sunday. It seems that Simpson went to Mr. Dobbs, the banker of that place and requested that he be given twenty dollars. Mr. Todd said: "Joe you know your account stands." Simpson replied, "I don't care. I want it anyhow." The money not being handed out to him he became abusive, and Mr. James Arnold, proprietor of the building and store in which the bank is situated, hearing loud words approached Simpson and prevailed on him to leave the building. Simpson was in an ugly mood and went around town seeking trouble. Mr. Arnold seeing how matters stood, and thinking to preserve the peace and quiet of the town, started to find the Justice of the Peace and have Simpson arrested. Learning that that officer was out of town about fifteen miles, sent after him and had him brought back. Between 10:30 and 1:30, the time of the shooting, and before the arrival of the Justice, Simpson learning what he had done, approached Mr. Arnold and said, "Jim, what have you against me?" Arnold replied, "Joe, I have nothing against you, but when under the influence of liquor you are intensely ugly." On hearing Arnold's reply, Simpson pulled his gun and shot him, remarking "By God, your time has come." The bullet penetrated the body in the region of the heart and made its exit in the back just below the kidneys. The unfortunate man lived only a few hours after being shot.

Deceased was one of the prominent citizens of Skidoo and was identified with all its interests. He was highly respected, and in his death Skidoo loses a citizen who had the best interests of the entire community at heart.

Joe Simpson, who did the killing, is well known here as he was one of the interested parties in the Skidoo mining suit which occupied the attention of the Superior Court for several days last summer, and in all of Southern Inyo's mining camps. When drinking Simpson was regarded as anything but agreeable.

Simpson's preliminary examination will take place today, and he will undoubtedly be brought to Independence in a day or so to stand trial before the Superior Court on charge of murder.

1908, April 24 Inyo Independent


Last evening about 8 o'clock the following dispatch was received by Mr. J.W. Seller, a prominent mining man of Skidoo, who is at Independence on business.

Skidoo, Cal.

April 23rd, 1908

J.W. Seller

Independence, Cal.

Simpson died last night.

J.J. Sheahy.

1908, April 30 Inyo Register


Joe Simpson, who deliberately murdered James Arnold at Skidoo Sunday of last week, was taken from the guard on Wednesday night and hanged to a pole. There was a strong sentiment in favor of lynching Simpson the night of the murder, but the plotters were dissuaded from the plan. Arnold was a prominent and respected citizen of the camp, and his killing was an unprovoked and cold-blooded affair. Simpson wsa [sic] a gambler, hailing from Reno, but a resident of the desert camp for some time. He seems to have been a bad character, a number of offenses being charged against him. Once, some time ago, while he was in Independence as a witness on a case in the Superior Court, he fired a pistol through Gunn's saloon door, for which he paid a fine of $150. The opinion of the Skidoo people appears to be that the lynchers did a justifiable piece of business.

[Note: Substantial newspaper culling during the years of 1906-8 could not locate any news items regarding the shooting incident in the Gunn Saloon in Independence. Such an event would have certainly netted a paragraph or two in that town’s Inyo Independent, although the paper was generally quite conservative.]

1908, May 1 Inyo Independent


The following is the testimony of a few of the principal witnesses that were present at the time Joe Simpson killed James Arnold at Skidoo:

The Jury being duly sworn in upon the request of the Coroner, they went into an adjoining room to view the body of James Arnold deceased, and to identify the corpse.

Coroner Thisse addressing the Jurymen: Do you all recognize him?

Jurymen: Yes.

Coroner: Who is it?

Jurymen: James Arnold.

Coroner: Ralph E. Dobbs will please take the witness chair.

Ralph E. Dobbs wan [sic] then duly sworn.

Coroner: Will you please tell the Jury what you saw and heard in connection with the shooting of James Arnold on the 19th of April in the Skidoo Trading Company's store.

Dobbs: To the best of my remembrance, I was working in th [sic] bank, when Joe Simpson came walking in after dinner. As far as I could tell, he was feeling good so paid no attention to him. He walked toward the back of the store and I knew nothing further until I heard a pistol shot, and saw James Arnold fall and as near as I can remember I heard Mr. Arnold say, "Don't shoot again. You've got me now." As I jumped to the side of my door I saw Joe Simpson turn around and cover me with his gun. Walking toward me, we conversed for a few moments and then he turned around and walked out of the store. I looked over to where Mr. Arnold had fallen and it seemed to me he had tried to crawl under the counter, but I found he had crawled down into the basement.

Coroner: Did you see Simpson with the gun in his hand?

Dobbs: I did.

Coroner: You are sure that Joe Simpson fired the shot at James Arnold?

Dobbs: I am.

Coroner: Mr. Dobbs, you are excused.

Coroner: E.H. Tracy you will please take the witness chair.

E.H. Tracy was then duly sworn.

Coroner: Mr. Tracy, you please tell the Jury what you know about the shooting of James Arnold.

Tracy: I was standing at the Bank counter taking down one of tne [sic] signs, when I saw Joe Simpson coming into the store. I paid no attention to him. He said, "Hello Tray, what are you doing here?" I said, "Holding up the Bank." Then he addressed James Arnold and said, "Jim, what have you got against me?" Arnold replied, "Joe, I have nothing against you." Joe then said, "You have. Your time has come. You've got to die." With that, I turned around and noticed as James Arnold took two steps backward, Joe came forward, raised his gun and fired. I thought he was shot through the heart, for Arnold fell and lay there. Arnold then spoke and said, "For Christ's sake don't shoot me again." I went out, not knowing how.

Coroner: You saw Simpson fire the shot?

Tracy: I did.

Coroner: Do any of the Jurymen wish to ask the witness any questions?

Follansbee: After Joe shot Arnold, did he leave him?

Tracy: No; he stood over him until Dobbs drew his attention.

Coroner: Any further questions.

Coroner: That is all Mr. Tracy.

Coroner: Ben Epstein, will you please relate to the Jury what you know about the killing of James Arnold.

Epstein: About two o'clock yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in front of Fluger's saloon with Mr. Fluger and Dr. Macdonald, when I saw Joe Simpson cross the street and go into the store. Fluger made the remark, "There goes Joe into the store with a gun in his pocket." Pretty soon, I heard Simpson say, "Jim, what have you got against me?" Arnold replied, "Nothing." I did not hear what else was said, but when I heard a shot, I ran over to the door and saw James Arnold's body lying on the floor and Joe Simpson standing with a gun over him. I heard Arnold say, "For God's sake, don't shoot again." I then ran over to Fluger's saloon to get a gun and not finding one there I ran down to the Doctor's office. When I came back, Joe was coming out of the store. Gordon McBain came along and then I saw the Constable right behind them and the three passed into the restaurant. When I got into the restaurant the three of them were in a corner. The Constable had hold of Joe Simpson's wrist, but the three shots fired by Joe in trying to free himself went into the floor. I took the gun away from Joe and later gave it to the Constable.

Coroner: You had the gun in your hand?

Epstein: Yes.

Coroner: Is that the gun (showing gun marked Exhibit A)

Epstein: Yes, sir.

Coroner: Any of the Jurymen wish to ask any questions?

Gavelstad: How many shots were fired in the restaurant?

Epstein: Three, I believe.

Coroner: Any further questions?

Coroner: That will be all, Mr. Epstein.

Coroner: Constable Henry Sellers, where you when this shooting occurred?

Sellers: I was sitting reading a paper in Jack Shehey's saloon when I heard a pistol shot. I got up immediately and ran over toward the store and just as I was stepping in the door I saw the deceased laying on the floor and Simpson put the gun on me, saying, "Do you want anything?" I then ran back to Shehey's saloon and tried to get a shot gun. I could not get the shells into the barrel of Shehey's shot gun, but I got a six shooter from under the bar. When I got on the outside of the saloon, Gordon McBain was with Joe Simpson and they passed on into the restaurant. I went after them and the three of us struggled. I held Joe's gun hand by the wrist and told Gordon several times to get away. Gordon kept on interfering to get between Joe and I, so I took my gun and placing it against his face told him if he did not get away I would kill him. Epstein then took the gun away from Joe and I threw him on the floor and told Epstein to get the hand-cuffs on him.

Coroner: You say Gordon McBain interfered when you tried to arrest Simpson?

Sellers: Yes, I would have had to kill both of them if that gun had not been held by me.

Swinnerton (Juryman): Henry, do you think Gordon tried to help you to arrest Simpson?

Sellers: I don't know.

Swinnerton: Did Gordon have a hold of Joe?

We all struggled together. [Note: no name given before comment in paper]

Swinnerton: Did he (Gordon) hinder you in making the arrest?

Sellers: Yes, he was in the way and would not get away when I told him to. I had to threaten to kill him.

Swinnerton: Did Gordon lay his hands on you or Simpson?

Sellers: I could not say.

Swinnerton: Did he get between you and Joe?

Sellers: Yes.

Swinnerton: You could have arrested him yourself if he (Gordon) had not been there?

Sellers: Yes.

Coroner: Joe did some shooting in the restaurant while you were there trying to place him under arrest?

Sellers: He shot his gun off three times and the bullets went into the floor.

Coroner: Was Simpson's other hand free?

Sellers: Yes.

Coroner: Did he aim at any one?

Sellers: He tried to shoot me. While holding his wrist, I tried to keep him from shooting me in the stomach. I did not want to get hurt.

Swinnerton: Did Gordon protect him while crossing the street?

Sellers: It looked that way to me.

Swinnerton: And while you were trying to place Joe under arrest, did it look like he (Gordon) was trying to protect him?

Sellers: Yes. He was in the way.

Swinnerton: He obeyed you when you threatened to shoot him?

Sellers: Yes. Only when I put the gun in his face and he kept interfering with the prisoner after he was under arrest.

Swinnerton: In what way did he interfere?

Sellers: He (Gordon) came around and wanted to buy drinks for him. He hallooed when I took Joe to the guard house and came around this morning and tried to see him.

Shackett (Juryman): Did Joe admit to you that he did the killing?

Sellers: He admitted to his partner that he did the killing.

Shackett: Did you hear Joe make this remark about killing him?

Sellers: Yes; I heard him tell his partner that Jim had kicked him and that he could not stand for that.

Swinnerton: Did you hear him say that he was a Bohemian; a hero, and a true blue?

Sellers: Yes. He was trying to be a hero.

Swinnerton: Did you hear him make the remark that he had a lot of fun doing it?

Sellers: No; I did not hear that. I heard Fred Oaks telling Joe what a terrible thing he had done and that if Arnold had a gun he would not have cared.

Coroner: Who was present in the saloon when this conversation took place?

Sellers: Tracy, Jack Shehey and a fellow named Sharp.

Coroner: Any further questions to be asked the witness?

Coroner: That is all Mr. Sellers.

Coroner: Jack Shehey will please take the witness chair.

Jack Shehey was then duly sworn.

Coroner: Tell the Jury what you heard and saw.

Shehey: Fred Oaks came into my place and told Joe what an awful thing he had done, Joe replied, "Yes Fred, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Just look at the fun I had doing it." and [sic] then he would laugh. Oaks said, "Joe, the man can't get well." Joe replied, "I am glad of it." He said that at least half a dozen times.

Coroner: Who else was there at the time of this conversation?

Shehey: Henry Sellers and Sharp.

Coroner: Any further questions?

Coroner: That will be all.

1908, May 1 Inyo Independent


In the matter of the inquisition upon the body of James Arnold, deceased.

Before Frank G. Thisse, Coroner.

We, the undersigned, Jurors summoned to appear before Frank G. Thisse, Coroner of the County of Inyo, At Skidoo on the 20th day of April, A.D. 1908, to inquire into the cause of the death of James Arnold having been sworn according to law, and having made such inquisition, after inspecting the body, and hearing the testimony adduced, upon our oaths, each and all do say, that we find the deceased was named James Arnold, was a citizen of Skidoo, aged about 45 years, that he came to his death on the 19th day of April, A.D. 1908, in this county, by gunshot wound at the hands of Joseph Simpson fired with intent to kill.

All of which we certify by this inquisition, in writing, by us signed, this 20th day of April, A.D. 1908.

Foreman: A.T. HALL,



J.J. SHEEHY, [sic]






[Note: James Arnold was listed as 41 years old in the Inyo County Great Register [voting records] of 1906, making him about 43 at the time of his death.]

1908, May 1 Inyo Independent


Dr. MacDonald ask Arnold, "Who shot you, Judge?' Arnold replied, "Joe Simpson." Dr. asked, "How did he come to shot you?" Arnold replied, "Joe came in and asked, "what grievance have you against me? I replied, "none," "well," he says, "your time has come," and shot."

PHIL FANG,} Present




1908, May 1 Inyo Independent


The following is the complete testimony of the witnesses called before the Coroner's Jury, on holding an inquest on the body of Joe Simpson, found suspended to a telephone pole, a few nights after he had murdered James Arnold.

Testimony in the matter of the inquisition upon the body of Joseph Simpson.

The Jury duly sworn visited the spot where the body lay and it was recognized by all as being that of Josaph [sic] L. Simpson of Skidoo.

Arthur Swenerton, duly sworn says:

As I was going to my work at the store this morning I saw something hanging to a telephone post, which looked to me like the body of a man. Going to the spot I fell in with Mason and Ben Eppstein. Found it to be the body of Joe Simpson. It had a rope around its neck by which it was suspended from the arm of the post. I do not know who put the body there.

John D. Mason, duly sworn says:

I was coming down the street this morning, met Ben Eppstein, he attracted my attention to something hanging to the telephone post. I asked Swennerton, who came at that time what it was. He said it looked like crow's meat. On arriving at the spot found it to be Joe Simpson. I knew him at once. Had a rope around his neck, the other end went over the arm of the pole and was made fast to the pole.

Dr. McDonald, duly sworn says:

I made an examination and find that death was caused by strangulation. Yes, I am fully satisfied that strangulation was the cause of death.

Henry Sellers, duly sworn says:

I am a deputy sheriff of Inyo County, California. Joe Simpson was a prisoner in my hands. Las night I was overpowered by a crowd by force and with guns. They took Simpson from me by force.


1908 May 1 Inyo Independent


In the matter of the inquisition upon the body of Joseph L. Simpson, deceased.

Before Frank G. Thisse, Coroner.

We, the undersigned, Jurors summoned to appear before Frank G. Thisse, Coroner of the County of Inyo, at Skidoo, on the 23rd day of April, A.D. 1908, to inquire into the cause of death of Joseph L. Simpson, having been sworn according to law, and having made such inquisition, after inspecting the body, and hearing the testimony addressed, upon our oaths, each and all do say, that we find the deceased was named Joseph L. Simpson, was a citizen of Skidoo, aged 34 years, that he came to his death on the 23rd day of April, A.D. 1908, in this county, by strangulation at the hands of unknown parties.

All of which we certify by this inquisition, in writing, by us signed, this 23rd day of April, A.D. 1908.

Foreman: A.T. HALL,









1908, May 8 Inyo Independent

Sheriff Naylor returned from Skidoo last Saturday evening. Mr. Naylor will report to the Grand Jury all the facts he was able to obtain of the lynching of Joe Simpson at that place.

1908, June 5 Inyo Independent


To the Honorable Walter A. Lamar, Judge of the Superior Court of the County of Inyo, State of California.

We, the Grand Jury, impaneled in the Superior Court of said County of Inyo on the 2nd day of June, A. D. 1908, respectfully report as follows:

... We find the evidence in the matter of the death of J.L. Simpson, and in other criminal matters brought to our attention insufficient to warrant us in taking further action in said matters at this time.

All of which is respectfully submitted.


Foreman of said Grand Jury.

1908, July 24 Inyo Independent


Monday, July 13th, 1908

9 o'clock a.m.

The Board of Supervisors of the County of Inyo, State of California, met at the above stated time pursuant to adjournment, with all members present.

The minutes of the July 10 and July 11th meeting were read and approved.

The following General Expense bills were allowed:

... R.E. Macdonald, autopsy, Simpson and Arnold, $75 allowed 50.00

... C.I. MacFarlane, expe's. trip to Skidoo 50.00

... T.G. Thisse, inquest on Simpson and Arnold 31.50

1908, August 6 Inyo Register


Mrs. Nellie Freeman Simpson, widow of Joe Simpson, who was lynched at Skidoo last April for the wanton murder of James Arnold, is about to begin action to recover at least a share of her husband's estate. He left a will giving all his property to his partner, Fred Oakes.

1908, August 7 Inyo Independent

Mrs. Nellie Freeman Simpson, wife of the late Joe Simpson who passed away suddenly at Skidoo in April last, has been at Independence for the past two weeks searching records and obtaining information in regard to the Simpson estate. She left yesterday morning for her home in Portland, Oregon, where she has resided since her separation from Simpson some years ago.

1909, June 3 Inyo Register


-- O --

Oaks & Simpson -- Skidoo schl dist, in town of Skidoo lot 1 blk 4, personal property state and co tax ............ 16.98


The Inyo County death certificate for Joe Simpson gives some details of Joe Simpson the day of his death: he lived in Skidoo about two years, he was "about 38 years old," that he was married, had an unknown birthplace, Simpson was a cook, and died April 22, 1908 by strangulation with a "rope with slip knot", and that he was buried April 23rd, 1908. Simpson’s age and birthplace are found in the 1900 census of Nevada:

"Joe L. Simpson -- Head of Household -- White -- Male -- Born September 1874 [making him 33 years old at death] -- 25 years old last birthday -- Single -- Born in California -- Both parents born in Ohio -- Ocupation [unreadable - line cook, proprieter??] -- Can read, write and speak English -- No home listed as rented or owned."

After Simpson was buried, Dr. McDonald himself was responsible for digging up the body. He was curious of the effects of syphilis on the brain. A postmortem autopsy was the perfect way to satisfy his interest. McDonald strung the body up inside a tent in the fashion in which Simpson met his fate. He then photographed the body, the result shown here. Then McDonald removed the head from off the body and opened the skull to satisfy his curiosity. Rather morbidly, afterward he boiled the flesh off the skull, the put it on an ant pile for a couple of days. The now clean skull became a momento for a time.

Dr. McDonald later went off to the greener fields of Randsburg after Skidoo began to decline. In the 1920s he was found in a Los Angeles pub by two off-duty laborers from Trona, located an hour south of Skidoo, who mentioned in the conversation that their company doctor liked to collect souvenirs from the dead desert camps for his office. That conversation lead to the location of "Hootch’s" skull and its new home in a doctor’s office in Trona. The skull was then passed from hand to hand over the years and still is found in a private collection, the "flip top" skull a part of Frontier Trails history.

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