James Dayton was the long-time caretaker of the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California. worked as a prospector with Shorty Harris in previous years and also as a swamper for the 20 Mule Team wagons hauling borax.
On the morning of July 24, 1898, though he complained about not feeling well, he set out for Daggett to get supplies. When he never showed up, friends began to search for him. They found his body curled up beneath a mesquite bush about 20 miles from Furnace Creek. His wagon was sitting about 50 feet away and his six mules were also dead. His illness probably made him more susceptible to the desert heat. He was buried at the bottom of Death Valley, where he was found.
His eulogy was “Well Jimmie, you lived in the heat and you died in the heat, and after what you’ve been through, I guess you ought to be comfortable in hell.” Many years later, in 1934, when his friend Shorty Harris died, he requested to be buried next to Dayton. The graves are marked with a monument.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated April 2019.
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