Lee A. Silva
Copyright © 1985 by Lee A. Silva
A fact unknown to even some of the oldest residents of Quartzsite is that the Hi Jolly camel driver's tomb is not the only grave marker in Quartzsite of a legendary figure from the old west.
Obscured from view amidst a jumble of old machinery across the road opposite the Quartzsite Yacht Club is a fourteen-foot-square fenced off plot of ground which is the grave site of George Washington "Buck" Conner, who also at times spelled his name Conner or Conners. The grave site can be viewed by driving into the West end of the parking lot at Ted's Truck Stop.
Conner was born in Streeter, Illinois on November 22, 1880, and he wasted little time in living a life that even the most imaginative Hollywood writers wouldn't believe.
He served in both the Army and Navy during the Spanish American War of 1898, and while in the Navy, he was recommended for the Congressional Medal Of Honor for saving the lives of three shipmates during a shipboard fire. He did not, however, receive the medal because his heroic actions did not take place during actual combat, one of the basic requirements for qualifying for the Medal Of Honor.
Buck had straddled quite a few cow ponies during his growing up years. After the Spanish American War Buck joined the famous Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a performer. Buck Stayed with the show for several years and became the Manager for all the Indians who performed in the show. He became a close friend of Buffalo Bill, so much so that Cody would write to him affectionately as "one of the old guard" even years after Buck left the show.
When the opportunity was offer him, Conner was commissioned as a private in the Texas Rangers and served as a Ranger for over two years. After he left the Texas Rangers, he was assigned by one of the first motion picture companies from St. Louis, MO. to go south of the border and take movies of the fighting during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1910's though Buck was physically small in stature, he was cut from the same cloth as the earlier cowboys of the old west. Buck ended up fighting in the revolution instead of merely taking motion pictures of it.
After his service in the Mexican Revolution, Conner joined the Pawn Bill Wild West Show and performed in it for a number of years.
With this type of "cowboyin" exposure and through the contacts he had made while taking motion pictures in Mexico, it was inevitable that Conner was offered jobs in some of the first silent movies, all of them Westerns of course. From 1916 on, he starred in many leading roles in the old one and two reelers of the silent film era, and he became a member of that elite handful of real cowboys who went on to become reel cowboys as well. As one of the earliest of movie cowboys he counted amongst his closest friends was trail pards like Will Rogers and cowboy artist Charles Russell. In fact Conner was one of the last persons that Rogers correspond with, receiving a telegram from Rogers on the same day that Rogers and Wile Post were killed in Alaska.
In later years, Conner shifted from starring roles to playing classic western characters of every type, usually appearing as a miner, preacher, or saloon bum. Unlike many silent movie cowboys who's voices betrayed them when talkies came along, Conner shifted into the era of sound as easily as he sat a horse. Amongst other movies that he made, he was much in evidence in one of Gary Cooper's first movies, "The Plainsman", but Conner was most often seen in may Saturday matinee as Buck Jones or Bob Steele's sidekick.
Conner was also a founding member of the Screen Actor's Guild and the Chuck Wagon Trailer's Association, the latter of which was an early cowboy actors union, and, as an ordained minister, he was also chaplain of that organization.
He also found time to become technical advisor and ghost writer for some of Marguerite Bowers' early novels, the most famous of which was "Chip Of The Flying U".
During the 1920's, many members of the Hollywood movie colony discovered the beautiful winter air of Quartzsite and built winter homes here. Among them was Conner, who ended up owning the entire 160 acre section of what is now the west side of Quartzsite.
Conners ranch house is still standing, windmill and all, just south of Interstate 10 between the highway and Desert Gardens Estates. He also built a church and a museum, which was located almost directly across the old highway from the Hi Jolly tomb and Quartzsite cemetery. Ironically, after standing for almost half a century, the church and museum building was directly in the path of the tornado that swept through Quartzsite years ago, and the building was almost totally demolished. What remains of tit now houses the office of the Quartzsite RV Repair.
Never one to remain idle, Conner also became interested in flying, and he was one of hew earliest licensed pilots in California and Arizona. He built the airstrip which is just south of his old ranch house and just north of Desert Gardens. During World War II, he was assigned to train Army pilots in low level flying while they ere based at his air strip, which, at that time was dubbed Conner Field.
Conner was still active in the movies and was even carrying a Yuma County Deputy Sheriff's I.D. card and badge and the six-shooter that he had worn throughout his various careers when he died of a heart attack while visiting Yuma on February 4, 1947.
But his story doesn't end there, for, besides leading an action-packed life, he left behind him a mysterious legacy that will probably never be solved.
During his lifetime, Conner had accumulated many souvenirs from his activities, most of which were displayed in the museum at his church. Charles Russell, for one, had given him over a dozen of his oil painting, including a life size oil portrait of Buffalo Bill that Russell had painted especially for Conner on the smooth side of a buffalo hide. There were also a couple of filling cabinet drawers full of letters from Russell, most of which had hand painted water-color logos done by Russell as a letterhead, which was Russell's custom in writing to his close friends.
When Conner died, all of this Russell art, along with most of the other mementos of Conners careers, was left in storage an adobe building on Judge Hagely's place, the ruins of which can be seen on the Northwest corner of Moon Mountain Road and the old highway through town.
On today's market, this treasure trivia of Russell art would be valued at well over a million dollars, but, over the years, everything disappeared from Judge Hagely's storage building without a trace. During an interview with me in 1967, Judge Hagely "allowed as how", over the years, some reporters had borrowed some of Conner's things and never brought them back, and many of the Quartzsite youngster had broken into the old adobe building and helped themselves to whatever fascinated them, including banjos, guns, etc., and, twenty years after Conner had died, there was nothing left in inside the adobe building but dust.
Also among the missing artifacts was one of the most historic guns in western history. It was the double-barreled shotgun that Doc Holiday used in the famous O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. Wyatt Earp had loaned the shotgun to Holiday just before the gunfight, and, afterwards, Holiday gave the gun back to Earp. Years later, Earp gave the shotgun to the father of one of Quartzsite's most longtime residents, Ben Scott. The Scott Family had a ranch near Tombstone at the time, and Ben Scott's father was a good friend of Earp. The elder Scott later gave the shotgun to Conner when Conner had his museum in Quartzsite, and the shotgun subsequently disappeared along with all the Charles Russell art and Conner's other artifacts that were stored in Judge Hagely's adobe building.
To this date, not one trace of any of this historic property has been found, even though Conner's wife Hazel, who is still alive and living in Hawaii, and Conner's son Paul, who divides his time between living in Quartzsite and Hawaii, could still identify every item from the museum.
In the meantime, in the hustle and bustle of the town which now, each winter, becomes the largest swap meet in the world, Conner's life and even his gravesite lie forgotten and ignored by all except those who knew him.
Even efforts to have Conner's gravesite declared a state historical monument have thus far fallen on deaf beaurocratic ears.
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