Phantoms of Vallecito
Not only is the Vallecito
Stage Station, in San Diego County, a
Historic Landmark, it is also reportedly haunted.
Located on the west side of the forbidding
Colorado Desert, the name "Vallecito"
means "Little Valley," which dates back to the times when the Spaniards
were exploring this vast land. The valley, with its natural spring
and grasslands, was a welcome relief to travelers after crossing the
desert, which they called "The Journey of Death."
Originally the valley
Indian lands which they called "Hawi.” The first European to
visit it was the Spanish Captain, Pedro Fages, in 1781.
The road through the
valley was the only wagon road into southern California
and during California's
days, thousands of prospectors passed through Vallecito,
refreshing both themselves and their animals.
The original Vallecito
Stage Station was built about 1851
About 1851, a pioneer
by the name of James R. Lassiter saw opportunity in the valley and
established a store and campground to accommodate the many emigrants. His home and outbuildings were made of sod cut from the plentiful ciénega (salt grass). Soon, other pioneers built homes and businesses
in the valley to serve the many travelers.
In 1854, two men by
the names of Samuel Warnock and Joseph Swycaffer, implemented the
first regular mail route in southern California. The semi-weekly horseback delivery between San Diego and Yuma,
Vallecito a regular stop along its route. In the fall of
1857, the nation received its first overland Atlantic to Pacific mail
service when James E. Birch's San Diego-San Antonio mail began
operation. The forerunner of the
and the northern stage lines, it was a known as the "Great Southern
Overland, " but more familiarly called The Jackass Mail.
In addition to being
a regular mail stop it also became an important resting place for Army
detachments traveling to and from California. In 1858 it was made one of the stops of the famous
Overland Stage Route that traveled between
and San Francisco. With the new passenger service, Vallecito
soon became a place of prominence as hundred of travelers utilized the
valley as a resting place.
Though a welcome
relief after days of exhausting travel through the desert, the stage
station also had its dark side. Like numerous other places of
the station was witness to murder, robberies, and daily human
It is from this darker side, that the
station allegedly became haunted by the spirits of those who had met
their death there -- natural or otherwise.
One of the ghostly tales is the specter of the
White Horse of Vallecito that allegedly began with a stage robbery long ago. When the stage was traveling on its way to Vallecito
Station, four men on horseback held it up just before it reached
Carrizo Wash. With guns pointed at the stage, the driver gave up a box
containing some $65,000 and the bandits immediately fled.
However, as they were fleeing, the stage
driver fired one shot, hitting one of the bandits. Once the rest of
the robbers were gone he carefully approached the man he had shot and
was surprised to find not one, but two dead bandits. The driver
concluded that the gang leader had perhaps shot one of his own men in
order to keep a greater percentage of the loot.
Stagecoach with guard sitting on top.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
The two remaining bandits rode on towards Vallecito
Station, stopping somewhere in between to bury their ill-gotten gains.
When they arrived at the
stage station, they stopped for food and drink and while there began to
argue. According to the tale, the bandit leader then excused himself
for a moment, promising to continue the discussion when he returned. A few moments later, he rode through the doorway mounted on his big white
stallion and shot the other bandit. However as the wounded man
returned fire and the leader fell dead from his horse. Spooked by the
blasts of the guns, the white horse ran through the door and out into the
Today it is said that the ghost of the White
Horse continues to roam the hills near where the bandits buried their
loot. Usually appearing around midnight, the White Horse seemingly
appears out of nowhere, before galloping through the sand and disappearing
Two more ghosts who are said to lurk about the old stage station are two
emigrants named Buck and Roland who were allegedly both killed in a duel
with each other.
In the Carrizo Wash area
there is supposedly a phantom stagecoach that has been spied numerous
times over the last century. Pulled by four mules, the ghostly stage
lumbers along the old Butterfield Stage Road carrying no passengers but
driven by a spectral figure.
According to the legend,
the stage was traveling from El Paso,
to San Diego with a box of gold coins in the 1860’s. In addition to
the driver, the stage also carried a guard to protect the money. However, when the stage reached Yuma,
the guard fell ill and the driver continued on without him. Somewhere in the area of Carrizo Wash, between the Fish and Coyote
Mountains, the stage was held up by bandits, who killed the stage driver
and fled with the box of gold. After the robbery, the stage,
along with its dead driver, continued on toward Vallecito Station before disappearing, never to be seen again.
Since then, the phantom
stage is said to continue its journey on moonlit nights, hesitating
briefly at the site of the old Carrizo Station, before continuing on its
way and out of site. The next morning, the prints of wagon wheels
and horses can be seen in the sand.
Vallecito's most "famous” ghost is that of the "White Lady of Vallecito.”
When she arrived on the Butterfield Stage, sometime in the late 1850’s,
she had taken ill and had to be carried into the station. From
somewhere back east, she was on her way to Sacramento,
where her fiancé had struck it rich in the Sierra goldfields. Young
and frail, her name was Eileen O'Conner, and she was taken to a bed in the
back of the station and cared for over the next two days. Despite
the best attempts of those tending to her, she died. When the
station staff went through her traveling trunk they found her white
wedding dress in which they dressed her and buried her in unmarked grave. But evidently, she was not ready to "go,” as almost from the beginning
people have said that she paces restlessly about the old station site,
waiting for the stage to take her to Sacramento.
Today, her grave, along with two others, are in a small cemetery (Campo
Santo) near the old stage station.
Another anomaly of the
area are strange balls of light which are seen on Oriflamme Mountain ,
just north of the Vallecito Station. On dark nights, numerous people have reported seeing
mysterious "ghost lights" that bob over the slopes of Oriflamme ("French
for golden flame") Mountain. The first recorded account of the
ghostly balls was reported in 1858 by a Butterfield Stage driver. After
that first report, more came in from soldiers, prospectors and explorers
traveling in the area. Not only were they seen near Oriflamme Mountain,
but also over Borrego Valley and in other nearby areas. In the 1880’s,
travelers said the "burning balls” were so bright that the lit up the
night sky like fireworks over the Vallecito
Maintaining the history
and the legends, the old stage station has been preserved in the Vallecito
Regional Park in San Diego County. The present building, built in
1934, is a reconstruction of the original Vallecito Stage Station. In addition to preserving history, the park also
offers modern-day campers and picnickers a quiet place to enjoy the
desert. The park is located on County Road S-2 about four miles
northwest of Agua Caliente Springs.
Vallecito Stage Station
37349 County Route S-2
Park open Labor Day weekend through last week in May. Closed during summer
of America, updated June, 2017.
Legends (main page)
Butterfield Overland Stage
Death Valley Ghost Towns & Mines
West (main page)
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