26 El Paso to Los Angeles – on Foot

When I first read Hayes’ diaries in the 1970’s, the following walk made on me perhaps the deepest impression of any in his 35 year journal.  Imagine walking from El Paso Texas, to Los Angeles California, with no money, a quart jar for water, and only the clothes on your back.  The sheer physical feat, through blistering days and freezing nights, was unimaginable to me even at when I was 20.  Further impressing me as a young man: he made that walk entirely based on ethical resolve – freight trains, easily hopped, rolled by regularly.  But Hayes walked – except for one short stretch when he was invited aboard.

The map below won’t appear in an email.  His desert walk is the green section.

Click here to download chapters 1-26 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:
26.1  150 Mile Walk to Rodeo

February 26, 1904

Straight across the desert from El Paso, Texas to Rodeo, New Mexico is 150 miles. Hayes walked it in 5 days – and nights. Some nights he tried to sleep on the frozen earth, but usually he just kept walking to keep warm.

How does a lone traveler walking across the high desert find water? “At long intervals there has been a station, a section house where I could get a drink of water. Once or twice a ranch on the horizon, and one night I slept in a recently abandoned ranch house where a spring burst from the mesa near the track.” Food? With his cash almost gone, “At the few ‘towns’ (Hayes’ quote) – Hachita, Hermosa, Columbus – it has been possible to buy some raw meat and a loaf of bread. Raw beef is not so bad when one is famished and there is nothing else.”

This high flat land supports a few half-wild cows – Hayes describes being chased up a tree by a bull that eventually lost interest and wondered away. The night before entering Rodeo, walking through heavy snow, “a troop of coyotes followed me for miles, howling dismally all the way. For a while I was alarmed at their boldness, but they made no hostile move.” The coyotes feed in a large valley completely taken up by a prairie dog colony.

The only human beings around are railroad workers. The boss is always an American, the workers Mexican. The latter live in huts made of railroad ties and adobe and receive $1.25 a day to be worked continually at full speed. “They are often kind hearted and genial, better than my own countrymen, who look on me as a tramp, which I truly am.”

26.2 A Little Work in Douglas

February 28, 1904

On the last day before entering Douglas some Mormon woodcutters living back in the Chiricahua Mountains stopped on the road to share their meal with Hayes. “They refused my last miserable pennies, and I appreciate it from my heart. … These rangy, bearded men were friends in need. I will always feel kindlier to Mormons after this.”

Douglas rises from the desert around a smelter for the copper mined at Bisbee thirty miles distant. Douglas is booming with nearly 5,000 residents inhabiting new additions sprawling all across the Mesa. Hayes catches on at the Phelps-Dodge Company.

March 3, 1904

Hayes was hired as a rigger setting up machinery in an ore sampler; work he probably could have managed but when the rigging work went flat, “I worked with the bull gang hefting heavy steel rails, timbers and other weight lifting contests until I broke down. There was nothing else to do but hop it.” This means he quit.

“The odd part about it all, I am in debt to the company.” Working two days in February and three days in March leaves a man behind: he owes two months hospital fees, at a dollar a month, plus road tax and poll tax, “this last for the great privilege of voting in elections.” Had the office staff collected full taxes, Hayes would have owed Phelps-Dodge $1.60 for the five days he worked for them. “In the end they were charitable and magnanimously gave me $1.40 of my own money, saying they could not collect a fraction of the tax.”

This tax racket is quite profitable for the “white collar staff in connivance with the elected administrators of Cochise County.” The deputized clerks keep one dollar for every five collected. With the punishing work, as many as 600 Mexican laborers pass in and out of the jobs each month. The hospital fee, poll and road tax amounts to six dollars per man or $3,600 monthly – and there are no roads in the area! “I am sore right through. My luck is out, no use talking.”

26.3 Church at Bisbee

March 5, 1904

After walking thirty miles across the desert to the mining town of Bisbee, Hayes finds no work and no place to stay so he crawls into a culvert in the dry bed of an arroyo where he finds many of the Mexicans employed at the mine already camped out.

The next day, with nothing else to do, Hayes and another wanderer attend the “Negro church” in town. “If one had been at the court of St. James he could not have seen more display of pomp and pageantry than among these simple people, whose love of ceremony and solemn punctilio is beyond understanding.” All are dressed to the nines and speak and pray in grand terms. Hayes is amazed at one prayer: “Oh T’ou Lawd Gawd ob Heaben an’ earth, T’ou who makest de sun to rise and set fah out beyon’ de weste’n hemispheah! We beseech T’ee, oh Lawd Gawd, to heah us!” (Hayes quote.) After the meeting, Hayes went to shake the speaker’s hand “in something akin to awe” at what he assumes must be an educated Negro. Later in the day, both men were “amazed and embarrassed” to meet again at the speaker’s boot black stand just outside the post office.

26.4 Walking

March 7, 1904

Somehow Hayes has heard of a job in Red Rock, 150 miles west, so he departs Bisbee with 85¢ in his pocket walking fast: sixty miles, from Bisbee to Benson, in twenty-four hours! Apparently on these long solitary walks, he usually follows the railroads because on this date he describes, “taking a short cut across the desert to the Santa Cruz River, missing a lot of extra miles by leaving the railway.” His shortcut was twenty-two miles – without water. Oddly, in the middle of the desert, half way to the Santa Cruz River, he found himself on the corner of Magnolia Boulevard and Seventh Avenue. A “grizzled rancher” told him he stood at an intersection in the “embryo city of San Luis,” with lots marked out and sold at high prices to Eastern investors. “There seems to be no law against such robbery.”

Benson “is one of these little Arizona cow towns, where are a few stores, a restaurant or two, saloons to fit the population, gambling and perhaps a Mexican lady of the evening.” The Mexican laborers working the railroad section for a dollar a day live with their familes in traditional “Jacals” made of sticks and adobe.

Jacal, Texas circa 1900

The dollar a day wage buys “beans and chili pepper, perhaps a little flour for tortillas, no more.” The section boss “drives the docile peons at top speed, for every man knows there are others ready to slip into their shoes if they slack in the least.” Speaking to the workers in their broken English and his poor Spanish he reports learning that, “They resent it too.”

With his money almost gone, Hayes must hurry on. At Benson he is able to buy a little food: a loaf of bread for 10¢, and “fortunately meat is cheap. A string of bologna will serve until I reach Tucson,” another 50 miles distant.

Broke, hungry, alone, and exhausted in this fallen-down little town, he nevertheless writes with a little pride of the previous days walk: “Sixty miles in one day is the best walk I have ever made.

26.5 A Job at Red Rock

March 10, 1904

Between Benson and Tucson Hayes’ walking pace slowed a little: only forty-nine miles in one day and night. He thought he might sleep in a boxcar part way along but was rousted by a “surly Mexican watchman,” so kept on walking until reaching Tucson where, “everything was high priced, and I saved every cent I could.” His last 15¢ buys “soggy biscuits” at a section house somewhere west of Tucson. “I ate them all before reaching Red Rock, coming in here hungry.

But, miraculously, the job information back in Bisbee was good; he’s on with a railroad construction crew outside Red Rock. “Almost all the crew are Mexicans or Yaqui Indians, the latter quiet chaps, hard workers, doing their best to get a gunstake to shoot Mexican soldiers in Sonora.” A Mexican boss assigns Hayes to digging sagebrush. His feet are so swollen and sore from the 150 mile, five day walk that he has to kneel to dig. “Later the boss put me to driving a span of mules, and did so well I was promoted to dressing down the dump, a superior position in this camp.” In March in the Arizona desert the days are hot with dust a foot thick, but, “During the night the ice freezes two inches thick on the mule trough, we have to break this with our boot heels.” A couple of stolen grain bags stuffed with straw helps keep off much of the chill of the starlit night. “At least I have enough to eat at last, and this means more than I can say.”

He’d like to be able to stick with this job long enough to earn train fare to Los Angeles. Howwever, can’t stand the mistreatment of the horses here. With the daytime heat and dust, unless a driver bathes a horses’ shoulders noon and evening sores form as the animals are continually flogged to pull hard against their collars. Just when Hayes has a horse nearly healed with humane treatment, the cruel bosses re-assign his horse to another driver who seems to delight in punishing a horse until lame. For fifty cents more the company could get skilled teamsters, but these “would ask for a bed, or at least a blanket.… [so] to hell with the mules”

March 15, 1904

After only seven days on the job, rumor has it that the tax assessor is coming, “so a general exodus took place. Even many of the Mexicans left with we eight Yanks, for none of us cared to further enlarge the exchequer of these hounds who live by robbing men who work thru the medium of “taxation” (Hayes’ quote).” Fortunately a decent station agent cashed Hayes’ time check raking off only 10%. The $8 in his pocket feel like a fortune but it’s not enough for train fare to Los Angeles. The other tax dodgers with whom Hayes left the railroad job look to hop a freight at Red Rock, but Hayes won’t do it. “I quit that when I attempted to straighten my life at Victor, [at the mission in Colorado] and will endeavor to keep on as I am now.” So he’ll walk the remaining 450 miles across the desert to LA.

26.6 Walking

March 17, 1904

Walking along the rail track, Hayes steps out of the way for a passing train and “some of the more friendly Mexicans ensconced on top of box cars waved recognition as I stepped clear.” At Casa Grande, chickens thrive on a few alfalfa patches, so “I bought for 25 cents 18 eggs and devoured them all at one time. Raw, of course, and they heartened me much.” Other than the eggs, he subsists on bread and sausage. At Maricopa several Indians offer Hayes 50¢ to buy them a bottle, “they being forbidden drink.” He refuses, for, “Then I would be in bad with Uncle Sam, and they don’t need the booze anyway.”

26.7 Walking

March 20, 1904

On all this long walk, Hayes has carried a “small quart glass jar” for water. After blistering hot days, the desert nights are so cold, the water in his jar almost always freezes at night. Along the rail track he frequently comes across stacks of abandoned tires. “…so each night [I] take some of these and stack them like the letter H. In the central fleet I place others to lean like a roof, and build a fire before the small cave thus made. The heat is thus reflected on me from every side and in this way I am escaping the bitter cold.” His glass jar froze so hard one night it broke and had to be replaced in Gila Bend.

26.8 Walking

March 22, 1904

“Have had one awful hike so far, but am well and game to keep on. Sore feet, chapped lips, an empty belly most of the time and money slipping away.” At Mohawk a Negro bummed money from Hayes, “and I was weak enough to give him a few cents.” A dog bit him passing the railroad station house where a fire had recently burned a railcar carrying canned oysters. Hayes bought five of the salvaged tins from the station agent for 5¢ each, “Ate the lot during the day and could do with a bit more.” One glance at “the soiled looking village” of Yuma with its penitentiary on the bluff overlooking the town convinces Hayes that “I will sleep on the desert tonight.”

26.9 Walking

March 24,1904

At Imperial Junction Hayes begins: “The last two days have been hard ones,” quite a statement following his entries for the last month. He estimates he’s 60 to 70 miles out from Yuma walking through “barren sandhills” along the railroad line. His only food came from a passing construction train: “A sly Chinaman stealthily sold me some food, this when I thought he had a right to. And a friendly teamster slipped me a few biscuits.” In country he describes as “absolute desert,” water is only available at the far-flung railroad station houses; his quart jar quickly runs dry and “it is a thirsty hike between stations.” With no place to make a bed, Hayes walked on through the night. Fortunately the rattlesnake coiled beside the rails in the dark gave him ample warning to make a wide detour and is now miles behind.

Though Imperial Junction has “sage and mesquite, a welcome interlude after the constant sand,” the Salton Sink looming ominously ahead lies so far below sea level it looks like a lake from where Hayes rests before what will surely be another long difficult push.

26.10 Finally a Ride

March 27, 1904

Hayes writes of his walk across the Salton Sink without mention of the Salton Sea that appears on maps today; perhaps it was dry in 1904. At one place before reaching the town of Salton, “I heard in the darkness water running over the ripples in the sand. First it seemed I must be light headed, but it was there. One great gulp went down and it was saltier than the sea … there to tantalize the wanderer.” Finally at the salt works in Salton “at the very nadir of this waste, I got fresh water.”

Continuing on, his knee gave out forcing an hour’s rest at Mecca before pressing gingerly forward to Coachella and then to Indio where fresh water flows freely from artesian wells. At Coachella, as had happened once before, a chef cleaning the pantry on a Pullman train gave him a gift out the train window: “three loaves of bread, each a different sort, pie, steak and other viands almost struck me. I filled up on these, gave a fellow wanderer one loaf and kept on.”

Then after Indio, a trainman did him another real favor: As a cold night-wind blew gravel in his face on a long steep uphill trudge, “A train crawled up the long hill, and the trainmen almost stopped. When I failed to get on they did stop entirely, picked me up and continued on to Beaumont, where I slept for the first time in days.” Hayes’ incredible walk, hundreds of miles through the desert, alongside the track frequented by passing trains, attests to his determined ethic to forego stealing rides. However, a ride offered by a friendly trainman going out of his way to stop the train to invite one on board cannot be considered stealing.

Leaving Beaumont bound for Los Angeles on foot again, but at least rested, Hayes has a loaf of bread remaining from the Pullman and a bucket of oranges a passing wagon sold him for a nickel, “so it is a feast.”

4 Responses to 26 El Paso to Los Angeles – on Foot

  1. Tim Bell says:


    Thank you very much for your work on publishing these diary entries. I read every one and enjoy them thoroughly. Hayes was a character and had fortitude that I admire. It leads me to ask myself what I would do if I found myself in a similar situation.

    Regarding the Salton Sink versus the Salton Sea: There was no water in that basin when Hayes passed through. The ‘Sea’ was created by mistake in 1905, according to this CA State Park website entry:


    That page writes:

    “One of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at -227 below sea level, Salton Sea was re-created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River rushed downward into the Salton Trough. By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born at 45 miles long and 20 miles wide […]”

    The engineers plugged the leak in 1907, and since then the ‘Sea’ has been shrinking and increasing in salinity.

    Best regards-

    Tim Bell

    • johnmmartin says:

      Hey Tim, Thanks for your encouragement. I think I enjoy writing it as much as you enjoy reading it.

      Thanks for the information on the Salton Sea. 1905. Had his walk been one year later, he might have seen the spill. That’s quite a little mistake.


  2. Jean Putman says:

    Yes, that was a sad segment to see Hayes having such a hard time.. It is so easy to forget how blessed we are each day to have food, clean water, and a shelter over our heads.

    • johnmmartin says:

      Hey Jean, Yes it was a tough stretch for him – and I think maybe not unrelated to the death of his father. The good news is that he’s going back to Alaska, will do a stint in school and then finally make it to Africa for the first time.


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