Philosophy and politics make lively conversation. But if you take them too seriously, they can snap a few wires in your brain. Such seems to be the case with John Samuelson.
Samuelson was born in Sweden in 1873. He lived an adventurous life at sea, according to his stories of being shanghaied, shipwrecked, and captured by an African tribe. In 1927 he immigrated to the United States, drifted inland, and staked out a homestead in the Mojave Desert.
On one part of his 160 acres was a low hill piled with granite boulders. Samuelson kept busy fetching water from a nearby spring, and building a modest house out of the plentiful rocks on his land. But his mind was on fire with philosophy and politics. So in his spare time he ventured to the low hill with the granite boulders, with chisel in hand. And there he memorialized his views by carving them into the rocks.
As lapidary as his views were, his command of the English language was limited. And so the epigraphs were mangled by spelling and grammatical errors. Nonetheless they’re decipherable enough to show that this Swede was a controversial thinker.
The epigraphs on Sam’s Rocks contain much that people might agree with or disagree with. But it doesn’t matter whether someone’s philosophies are agreeable or disagreeable. If they take them too seriously, they will go mad.
In 1928, John Samuelson officially filed on the homestead he had spent a year building and chiseling out. But his application was denied. An official discovered he had not obtained American citizenship, and the law forbade non-citizens from owning a homestead.
He left the Mojave Desert and all of his hard work, for Los Angeles. But he wasn’t forgotten. He had befriended the writer of Perry Mason fame, named Erle Stanley Gardner. And Gardner wrote about him in Argosy magazine, and in a book entitled, Neighborhood Frontiers. Gardner was fascinated with John Samuelson, because the old Swede was crazy and entertained him with fantastic yarns about his adventures at sea.
In 1929, at age 56, John Samuelson went to a dance and got into a fight. He shot two men, killing one of them. But he never stood trial, because he was quickly judged insane and sent to the bughouse. A year later he escaped, and the madman fled north to Washington State. He eventually landed a job in a logging camp. And in 1954, at age 81, he was killed in a logging accident. He must have been very physically fit, because not too many people work as loggers, at that age.
Samuelson is no more, but his legacy lives on in a dusty old book written by Erle Stanley Gardner. And also in Sam’s Rocks. Sam’s Rocks lie in an obscure location in the Mojave Desert. But not as obscure as pre-internet days. A little googling can help anyone find them.
There is a fear that if too many people learn of this spot, and it becomes popular, taggers and vandals might destroy this unique monument to a cerebral madman of the West.
So if you are the hiking type and want to visit them in person, do what I did. Investigate diligently. Be persistent, and you’ll eventually find them. And if you give it that much effort, I feel hopeful you will respect your find, and enjoy it harmlessly.