Ghost Mountain Chronicles

The Marshall South Family / Ghost Mouintain in Anza-Borrego / 1930s and 40s

Series Concept

John Fraim

Marshall South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles

Edited by Diana South / Introduction by Rider & Lucile South

Sunbelt Publications; Illustrated edition (January 1, 2005)

Bill Evans / Love Theme from Spartacus


Background: Author of above – Diana Lindsay – is a good friend of mine from the desert. She is the most knowledgeable person in the world on that isolated part of the world called the Anza-Borrego Desert, west of the Salton Sea. Diana is a popular lecturer and a historian specializing in the Anza-Borrego Desert. She is the author of Our Historic Desert (Copley Books), Anza-Borrego A to Z: People Places and Things (Sunbelt Publications), and co-author of Anza-Borrego Desert Region (Wilderness Press). She is a park volunteer and has served as a board member of the Anza-Borrego Foundation for over 20 years. She has written the ultimate guide to this area and is head of Sunbelt Publishing that publisher books on the desert. 

Diana’s story Marshall South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles is one of the most interesting stories in American history and certainly the most interesting story from the SW American deserts of California in the 1930s and 40s. Perhaps it is the great piece of American mythology to come from our American desert in the 20th century. Perhaps still, the greatest story ever told or lived in the American desert yet. (Although the American Desert is really the final Heart of Darkness in America to explore for Americans. It is the extreme definition of “off the grid.”)

Anza-Borrego Desert (John Fraim – 2012)

Marshall South was a man who took his family to a remote mountaintop in the desert (Later called Ghost Mountain) where they lived, naked, like primitives for many years. (Way before the hippies of Haight in the 60s and even the ideas of Robert Anton Wilson). The fantastic book by my friend Diana Lindsay chronicles these amazing years in the history of an amazing family. 

During this time, Marshall was a regular writer of articles for the newly established Desert Magazine founded by Randall Henderson, brother of Clifford Henderson, creator of Palm Desert, California. The magazine is recognized as being one of the greatest promotional ventures to attract people to the California desert ever invented. Marshall South was one of the greatest writers for the magazine, posting articles about his life with his family living on top of Ghost Mountain in the 1930s and 40s. 

In many ways, he was a Hunter Thompson type journalist of the 1930s and 40s. Not necessarily rushing to someplace on someone’s command to report about. Rather, creating an incredibly weird personal life that many others wanted to hear about. Something worth reporting on. Via articles to Desert Magazine from the top of Ghost Mountain. 

There is little question in desert history archives that Desert Magazine was instrumental in changing perceptions of the American desert from fear inducing and inhospitable and uninhabitable to a type of blank slate for many in the 30s and 40s to come to a barren place and start anew. With a clean slate, so to speak. One of the leading forces was retired celebrities and movie stars from LA. But it also became the place for many people to have a second home or to completely start anew in that new environment at the time, the desert. Particularly the Cochella Valley and Anza-Borrego. The two great deserts of southern California.

Marshal South Home in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

This is the story of a true life. In many ways, a life that other lives could not come close to equaling. Like a lot of Americans in the 30s looking for a new environment to go to. For southern Californians at the time, like my family, the desert was just two hours east of our home in LA. It offered a grand contrast to the built-up landscape of LA. 

One moment you are in the middle of that set called Los Angeles. Two hours later you are in a totally different place. Not just a different set. But a different studio altogether. And a different film on top of this. Perhaps a set as different from the LA set as possible. Opposition symbols in LA, the grand image making place on earth. And, the great California deserts east of LA. In opposition to LA. The vast California desert of Anza-Borrego. 

Marshall South

And the reporter and creator of this grand opposition symbol to LA was Marshall South, living with his family in Anza-Borrego – naked – on top of Ghost Mountain in the 30s and 40s. If one examines the articles in the old Desert Magazine, like I did, you will find them exquisitely inviting and evocative of this new place called the desert. 

There was a certain inbred cultural reluctance to return to the desert for Californians. After all, it represented the hell awaiting them after their journey across the country to reach California. To make Californians, who had fought so hard to get to the Pacific Ocean to return to the terrible desert they had crossed was a true triumph of PR and there is a good argument that much of it came from Marshall South, reporting from an isolated mountain top in the vastness of the great desert west of the Salton Sea. Helping build the circulation of Randall Henderson’s Desert Magazine and bringing more and more to that new lifestyle called the American desert.

Much like Hunter Thompson. Reporting from inside a crazy situation he has created himself. Rather than some event he has been sent by someone to report on. A journalist, air-dropped into enemy territory so to speak. 

Marshall South


See Diana’s Brilliant Article on Marshall South.

Reviews of the Book

Includes marvelous preliminary essays by Rider and Lucile South…and an absolutely stunning historical account and biography by Diana Lindsay — Mystery and Adventure Series Review, Issue 38, July 2005

Reveals secret life of Marshal South … Lindsay’s compilation will introduce South to a new generation… — North County Times, Jan23, 2005

The real revelation here is the richness and diversity of South’s desert writings … this book left me wanting more …  San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan 30, 2005

From the Publisher

Finally, the true story of Marshal South can be told. The publication of all of South’s Desert Magazine articles in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles stands by itself. The articles reveal a desert writer that stands in a league with Charles Lummis, J. Smeaton Chase, George Wharton James, John C. Van Dyke, and Mary Austin. In his lifetime Marshal’s published works include over 50 poems, 30 short stories and essays, 8 novels, 102 articles and poems in Desert Magazine. His works were published in Australia, Great Britain, and the United States—in local and syndicated newspapers and magazine in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, and Texas. The foreword and introduction to the book add new dimensions to the South story that was previously unknown. Readers of Desert Magazine never knew who South really was, and his sudden and acrimonious divorce that ended the “experiment in primitive living” just increased the mystery and rumors. South died soon after the divorce in 1947 and his wife Tanya kept silent for the next 50 years until she died in 1997, at almost 100 years old. Through the years there has been wide speculation about what happened. Even the children never knew the whole story because of secrecy, changed names and dates, and lost and burned records and letters. It was the research for the foreword of this book that unraveled the story of Marshal South. Rider South, who was the oldest of the three children to grow up on Ghost Mountain with its Robinson Crusoe-type environment, wrote the introduction to the book, which includes his memories of life at Yaquitepec. He was almost 13 years old when he left and his memory his very clear. It was a very difficult life, but as a child, he did not know it was difficult. After years of silence, Rider tells the true story and sets the record straight.

The South Family (Circa 40s)

From Rider South, son of Marshall South …

“Father sometimes called it an experiment in desert living. Now the question comes up—when does a good thing turn bad? One candy bar is a great treat, but 20 makes you sick. As we three kids got older, our parents, each in his or her own way, realized that the great experiment had to end. But how? Mother, coming from city life, wanted us to adapt to city living while we were still pliable in thought. She was more practical and cared for us in that way. Father wanted us to be comfortable with people as he was and not become part of the masses. He was an artist and a writer, and in his own way he cared for us. While each loved us, they had different plans for our upbringing. Eventually, Mother’s plan of making us comfortable in the city won out.” —Rider South, Silver City, New Mexico. After graduation from Pt. Loma High School, Rider became an aircraft mechanic at North Island Naval Air Station, until his retirement in 1989. Lucile Iverson South has spent her whole life involved with, dancing— first as a child prodigy, then, a being a vaudeville star and producer of USO shows. Finally, as a ballroom and ballet dance instructor at San Diego State University. She is the author of Dancing Thru Life on Toes of Gold. The Souths live in Silver City, New Mexico.

Marshall South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles
Diana Lindsay

About My Friend Diana Lindsay – Author/Editor/Publisher of Ghost Mountain Chronicles (2005)

Diana Lindsay is a popular lecturer and a historian specializing in the Anza-Borrego Desert. She is the author of Our Historic Desert (Copley Books), Anza-Borrego A to Z: People Places and Things (Sunbelt Publications), and co-author of Anza-Borrego Desert Region (Wilderness Press). She is a park volunteer and has served as a board member of the Anza-Borrego Foundation for over 20 years. Diana is Publisher, SunBelt Publications, San Diego. Each year, she MC’s the Liars Contest (based on one of the great mythological characters of the desert … a lying gold miner of the area connected to a wild gold speculation scandal in San Francisco). I attended the Liars Contest one windy desert night in Spring. Led by Diana, a few miles out of Borrego Springs where Steph and I had dinner at a hotel a lot of stars of the 30s and 40s escaped to. It was a place even more isolated than Palm Springs.

(To hear of future efforts to spread the word on Ghost Mountain Chronicles … send your name and email address to


John Fraim

John was born in LA and started visiting Palm Springs in the early 50s. His parents lived in Palm Desert from 1970 – 2013. It was really his second home. John lived in Palm Desert from 2012 to 2015. He was a member of the Palm Desert Historical Society and VP of Marketing for the Palm Springs Writers Guild. During his time in Palm Desert, he wrote an outline for a history of Palm Desert. The story of the modern growth of the California desert has never been really told. One of the most curious stories of this growth was the story of a man named Marshall South who took his family to live primatively on top of a mountain in the most isolated part of America in the 30s and 40s. Our outline on the history of Palm Desert, Desert Magazine, Randall Henderson and Marshall South lays the facts at the base of telling the story of the desert I have known in my life. John has a BA in History from UCLA and a JD from Loyola Law School.

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