Tom and I work at Scotty’s Castle, but – as I explained in a previous post – the Castle was built by Albert and Bessie Johnson as a vacation home. So who was Scotty and why is the Castle named after him?
Walter Scott, also known as Death Valley Scotty, was born in Kentucky in 1872. He went out west and became a cowboy at a very young age. Scotty ventured into Death Valley for the first time when he was 12 or 13 and after that he returned to Death Valley as often as possible. Scotty was one of the cowboys with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and he learned the art of promotion.
Scotty was known for his tall tales, first of which was the gold mine he had in Death Valley. He recruited investors and then spent their money lavishly, all the while telling reporters that he had all the money he needed from his gold mine. He broke a land speed record when he chartered and rode a train from Los Angeles to Chicago in 44 hours. After that, his name was often in the news.
Albert Johnson, who really built Scotty’s Castle, was the primary investor in Scotty’s gold mine from 1906 on. Albert learned early that Scotty didn’t really have a gold mine, but he enjoyed Scotty’s company so much that he continued to “invest.” Every year when Albert came out to Death Valley, Scotty was his personal guide.
When Albert Johnson started to build his castle in the desert, Scotty told everyone that it was his (Scotty’s) castle, built with money from his gold mine. Albert enjoyed Scotty’s tall tales, so he didn’t contradict him, and Scotty spent as much time at the castle as the Johnsons. Albert even built Scotty a special guest room in the castle and a house on some other property Albert owned where Scotty spent most of his time.
We might think it is odd that Albert would let Scotty tell other people that the Castle was Scotty’s, but the two men were best friends for over 40 years. Albert credited Scotty with helping him recover his health after his train accident. Scotty, on the other hand, found a real gold mine – and his name was Albert Johnson!