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The Arnold-Simpson Affair

     Simpson’s official Inyo County death certificate has its own little details of the lynching. Joe Simpson had lived in Skidoo and California for two years. He was a white male, no date of birth recorded, but estimated to be 38 years old. The names and birthplaces of his mother and father are marked as unknown. He is listed as being married. His occupation was listed as a cook. April 22, 1908 is the date given for his death, that by strangulation. The contributing factor in his death was a "rope with a slipknot on it," for "ten minutes." Joe was buried April 23, 1908 and Fred Oakes served as his undertaker.

     Legend and later publications tell a different story. The legend says that Simpson’s body was buried out of town outside of the town cemetery. The press from Los Angeles, due to transportation what it was in those days, arrived too late to get the scoop and photos. So the town obligingly dug Simpson’s body up and re-hung it for the benefit of the press.

     But other sources say that Dr. Reginald MacDonald dug up Simpson’s body for his personal inquest upon Simpson’s remains, what effects that syphilis inflicts upon the human brain. They state that Dr. MacDonald hung Simpon’s body in his tent, possibly to show the manner in which he died. Look closely at the photo of Simpson hung — the tent material and beams show plainly. Then he opened the skull and proceeded to probe.

     After MacDonald satisfied his curiosity, he then took Simpson’s head from off the corpse and dumped the remainder. He boiled the skull, then set it upon an ant hole. Afterward he kept the skull for a momento. After Skidoo was abandoned, MacDonald left for more promising prospects in Los Angeles. In the 1930s two men who lived in Trona ran into MacDonald in a L.A. bar and told them that the company doctor of the American Potash Company had a fondness for desert relics. MacDonald told the men of Simpson’s skull and where he stashed it in his cabin at Skidoo. The men later retrieved the skull and it later became the unofficial "mascot" of the company doctor’s office at Trona, leering down and greeting all comers. The skull has passed from hand to hand, and is still in a private collection today — "convertible top" (from Dr. MacDonald’s handiwork) and all.

     After Simpson died, there was no further mention of the lynching and little about Simpson himself. However, there does come to light a little glimpse of Simpson’s wife. Simpson’s death certificate gives the first clue that Simpson was married. Did his wife live in Skidoo with him? Or was Simpson a rogue, living the life of a fun loving bachelor, possibly the cause of his case of syphilis? The June 11, 1908 Inyo Register sheds some light. And it also downplays later legend that Simpson was a penniless drunk:

It is said that Joe Simpson, who was lynched at Skidoo, left a considerable fortune and that if his wife, whereabouts unknown, will communicate with A.V. Carpenter or John W. Seller, Skidoo, Inyo County, California, she may learn something to her advantage.

     In August, 1908, the Owens Valley newspapers give the name of Simpson’s wife, her place of residence and their relationship.

WANTS HUSBAND'S ESTATE. 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. — August 6, 1908 Inyo Register

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. —August 7, 1908 Inyo Independent

     The newspapers are mute regarding the outcome of Nellie Simpson’s action. With these articles, Joe Simpson’s memory faded from Inyo County. For a while.

     Interestingly enough, C.B. Glasscock and C.E. Kunze, the dynamic duo who had published the eccentric newspaper / magazine, the Death Valley Chuck-Walla at Greenwater, and were currently publishing the Inyo Magazine at Bishop, published a two part article in the October 15, 1908 and November 1, 1908 issues of the magazine under the title Murder In Camp: A True Story of a Mining Camp." Reading the articles, it greatly appears that the author based a fictional story on the Simpson-Arnold affair at Skidoo. The names of the characters were changed as well as the name of the town. However, events, circumstances and dialogue in the magazine article was much the same as published accounts in the Inyo County newspapers:

"‘Have you have anything against me, John?’ ‘No, Jim, I have nothing against you,’ answered Turner. ‘You lie! You have!’ snarled Brayton. ‘Your end has come! Prepare to Die!’ And with a word he jerked from his pocket a heavy revolver."

     Other than Simpson’s name showing up in the newspaper in June, 1909 on the Delinquent Tax List, the life of Simpson was snuffed out on this earth and silenced in the published record until later authors began to recount the legends.