Zzyzx and the Last Shaman of the Desert Disillusion, Damage and Evangelism
Authored by C.E. Campbell
Book review by Anne Stoll
Anne wrote this article for our DE newsletter and also submitted it to the Mojave Road Report newsletter. They’re going to run it too, so don’t think you’re losing your grip if you see it there as well and have a little deja vú episode...
Zzyzx and the Last Shaman of the Desert. Disillusion, Damage and Evangelism.
Book review by Anne Stoll
Hot off the presses! Here’s a 199-page paperback about Curtis Howe Springer that was just released by author C. E. “Chuck” Campbell, copyright 2017, Green Street Publications, P.O. Box 953, Sunset Beach, CA 90742. I got my copy by sending a check for $26.00 to Dr. C. E. Campbell, 7031 Candlelight Circle, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. The price included shipping. It came promptly and in fine condition.
As to the contents, let me say up front that, however you feel about “Doc” Curtis Howe Springer and his spectacular rise and fall, this is one book you will want to add to your collection of desert titles. Although it is not an easy read, this work fills in several important and long-missing pieces of the history of Zzyzx Mineral Springs. Campbell writes
with the authority of a man who knows his history and was on the scene at the time.
Turns out, for some of the Zzyzx story anyway, I was there too, as no doubt were other Desert Explorers. Thus the subject matter is bound to resonate with this group. I earned an M.A. in 1984 from Cal. State Fullerton in archaeology as the result of graduate work I did there. I designed and created the displays on the history and prehistory of Soda Springs still on view in the main room (see Campbell’s book, page 36). After graduation, I stayed in touch with the folks at the Desert Studies Center – Rob Fulton and Alan Romspert were especially good friends – and in 1994, at the request of then Director of the Desert Studies Consortium, Gerry Sherba, I wrote the book Zzyzx: History of An Oasis – still in print, I think.
I did a lot of research for that book but I’ll be the first to admit there were parts of the Zzyzx story, particularly concerning Curtis Springer, that always eluded me. What was the truth about his past? How many wives and children did he really have? Did his son really die in a hunting accident at Zzyzx? Etc., etc. I always believed that Dennis Casebier was planning to write the definitive story of Curtis Springer, but as Campbell points out (p. 157), this publication has not materialized. And so I applaud C. E. Campbell for taking the job on and answering these and many other questions about Springer’s past. In addition, there are many pages of transcribed radio programs that bring “the voice” of Curtis Springer to the story, an essential element for anyone hoping to understand the man. But the crème-de-la-crème is the amazing Chapter Six, entitled “Undercover … and More.” Replete with period Kodak color photos, Campbell tells his own story of his undercover work in Los Angeles and his visit to Zzyzx in June, 1969 with his wife, young sons, and hidden camera. In my opinion Chapter Six is the highlight of the book.
But – sorry, I have to add this -- if this author were to ask for my advice, I would tell him to cease all sales immediately with instructions for buyers to wait for the second, revised edition. Everyone expects a few typos here and there, but if Masters
Shumway and Kemp actually did any editing of this book, they should resign their commissions. The errors, misspellings, omissions, grammatical problems and difficult overall organization of this work suggest a rush-to-publish that detracts seriously from the story. You cannot fairly criticize a man for writing an exposé that is “full of misspellings and grammatical errors” (p. 152) if you aren’t absolutely scrupulous in your own writing. It undermines your credibility. Some of Campbell’s misusages I found hilarious, such as, “Also discovered at the Soda Springs site were the ruminants of a portion of the old railroad bed…” (p.50) and his discussion of “… the medley of preparations that Curtis Springer hoisted upon unsuspecting listeners…” (p. 113).
Bloopers aside, this book does call forth some marvelous ghosts of the Mojave in a remarkable way. Does it answer the last, great question about Curtis Howe Springer – did he know what he was doing? Did Springer really understand that he was endangering some truly sick people with his bogus products? No, in my opinion, that question is not answered in this book and likely never will be. The Springer story is fascinating to me because of the gray area between good and evil it illuminates. But we can leave that conversation for the next edition. ~ Anne