During the mining
days burros escaped or were turned loose by prospectors all over the Death
Valley area. The sagacious critters found water holes, prospered and
multiplied. A recent National Park Service census indicated 900 within Death
Valley National Monument's 2,900 square miles. Dogged for some time by the
problem of a burro population explosion in the monument area, the Park Service
permits controlled trapping and sale of burros to youth camps and similar
Only a couple of
miles outside of Beatty lives Tex Gates, the world's greatest burro trapper.
Tex Gates is six feet three inches tall and has clear blue eyes that can spot a
wild burro at a distance of five miles. His pretty wife, Margaret, five feet
two and 105 pounds, comes from Rochester, Minn. where, in her single years, she
lavished her affections on an Arabian horse. She rode the horse from Rochester
to Tucson, Ariz., averaging 40 miles a day for 1,800 miles. Remaining in the
Southwest, she met and fell in love with the tall handsome burro trapper. They
were married and went burro trapping on their wedding trip. (This is another
distinction claimed by Beatty—it is the only town in the world with a couple
who trapped burros on their honeymoon.)
At the time the
restless Lions of Beatty were looking for a way to put their town on the map,
Tex and Margaret Gates had 100 wild burros pastured on the flats near town. It
was the presence of such a big herd on the outskirts that sparked the idea for
the great race. The Lions arranged with Tex to furnish and handle the burros.
From Granville B. Liles, superintendent of the Death Valley Monument, they got
permission to run the race into park property. Although it is not the habit of
the Park Service to foster burro races, Liles took history into consideration
and granted the request. But he had the Lions Club put up a $300 bond to insure
that burros would not be running loose after the race.
The men of Beatty
began growing beards, and the women rummaged in trunks for old-fashioned long
dresses and bonnets. A burro race poster contest was held among the school
children, and the crayon drawings, some of them darned good, were hung in the
general store and pasted up behind the slot machines in the windows of the
Exchange Club. Little Darlene Brown won first prize in the poster contest.
staked out in yards and on street corners where tourists could see both them
and the signs proclaiming Beatty the burro capital of the world. Handbills were
printed, and a man led a baby burro around the streets all day long. Norman
Revert, president of the Lions Club, put all the Lions to work rounding up
sponsors, drawing up racing rules and the thousand other chores attendant upon
an event of this magnitude.
were set up in a booth at the end of the bar in the Exchange Club. Thirty-nine
sponsors each paid $150 to enter a wrangler in the race. The wrangler who led
his burro to victory would get the prize money; his sponsor would get the
publicity. A fee of $150 was considered dirt cheap for being allowed to
participate in such an affair.
The starting day
of the race dawned bright and clear, as almost every day does in the desert.
The whole town turned out early. Laughter echoed through the hills as the
wranglers wrestled to get the pack saddles on the burros. The burro—or donkey,
as it is called in the effete East—is unpredictable. The burros provided for
the race by Tex Gates were all wild jacks, frisky stallions capable of almost
anything from utter docility to open rebellion.
burros were finally saddled, and 39 wranglers stood holding the halter ropes. A
volley of pistol shots fired by the judges sent the burros and men on their way
out of town. The crowd in cars, trucks and campers took after them, and the
whole shebang disappeared in the direction of Daylight Pass. That, gentle
reader, was the last the town of Beatty ever saw of its great burro race.
burros were willing to be led by the wranglers. Sometimes a burro would decide
the pace was slow and try to lead his wrangler. At other times a burro would
not move at all, and for agonizing minutes the wrangler would pull and push,
pray and swear, as the others passed him by. Even before they reached the
Bullfrog Hills, a burro that had gained temporary liberty streaked across the
landscape pursued by a posse of judges on horseback.
Through the ruins
of Rhyolite and past the famed Bullfrog Mine, the wranglers struggled on,
followed by tourists who occasionally stepped from their cars to take pictures
of the action.