Red Rock Canyon’s beauty includes Mount Wilson and a massive wall of rock called the Wilson Cliffs, which includes the Keystone Thrust. Both can be seen to the west as one travels along state Route 159.
Follow the highway a few miles past the entry to Red Rock’s Scenic Loop Drive to find the South Oak Creek Trail, which leads one near Mount Wilson and can be branched off to reach the summit.
Mount Wilson stands 7,068 feet high and is one of the peaks overlooking Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. The landmarks are named for James Bernard Wilson, an early rancher who lived most of this life in the area. He was better known as Jim. He, along with George Anderson, homesteaded the ranch now known as Spring Mountain Ranch.
Back then, they called it the Sandstone Ranch.
“This one went through a couple of names,” said Mark Hall-Patton, Clark County’s museums administrator. “It was the Bar Nothing and a couple of other names. ... Bar Nothing, Chet Lauck named it that. We’ve had some good ranch names here –– the D4C at one point and places like the Winterwood Ranch, which the Winter family had but was also the place you went to get your winter wood; there was even a Walking Box Ranch that Rex Bell and Clara Bow had. That took its name from an early kind of movie camera.”
Wilson and Anderson’s histories are intertwined.
Anderson had two sons with his wife, Kayer, a Paiute from the Panamint Mountains on the western edge of Death Valley in California. They were named Jim and Tweed.
After Kayer died, Anderson left Sandstone Ranch and his two sons behind. Jim and Tweed were adopted by Wilson, and he raised them as if they were his own.
In 1906, Jim Wilson died and the boys got the ranch. They ran it until they needed to borrow money and ended up selling it to Willard George, a family friend.
George allowed Tweed and Jim to continue living on the ranch. Tweed had two sons, Boone and Buster.
George later sold the ranch to Chester “Chet” Lauck from the radio comedy team “Lum & Abner.” Lauck was partners with actor Don Ameche and raised horses on the ranch. Lauck later sold it to German actress Vera Krupp, who eventually sold it to Howard Hughes. A couple of short-lived ownership transfers later, and the state took it over, and it became Spring Mountain State Park.
It is Tweed’s son Buster (whose given name was really Russell) about whom the most is known.
As a youth, he was sent to the Sherman Institute, an Indian school in Riverside, Calif., where he excelled in art. He went on to make a living by painting sets in Hollywood.
He returned to the ranch in the late 1930s to live with his father and uncle, James Wilson Jr. Buster used a small adobe structure higher on the mountain, called Lost Cabin. It provided shelter on harsh winter roundups and was later used as a prospector’s outpost (in 1998, Lost Cabin was accidentally razed by a U.S. Forest Service fire crew).
Buster would spend most his life living at the ranch, working as a ranch hand, a silversmith, a wood carver and a mason. Some of his stonework can still be seen at Bonnie Springs Ranch. He still painted in his free time, doing both landscapes and portraits.
In University of Nevada, Las Vegas papers, Dave Lowe recalled how his family acquired one of Buster’s paintings.
“In the late 1940s, we used to go from Goodsprings to the Wilson Ranch to pick cherries in the autumn,” he said. “One time, there was this man sitting on a stool in the orchard, painting. Mother struck up a conversation with him and purchased a painting. Later she told us it was Buster Wilson and recounted his story. What I find most remarkable about the painting is how skillfully he captured the colors of the sky and the mountains.”
Two of Buster’s paintings are on display at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, on loan from UNLV to the Friends of Red Rock. They are in a corner, near an exhibit of petroglyphs thought to be made by Native Americans about 1,000 years ago. David Quitt, visiting from Southern California, viewed the paintings and the accompanying information on Wilson.
“It helps (a person understand) the history of the area,” he said.
Kirsten Cannon, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the exhibit, which includes a photo of Buster, was provided by the UNLV Libraries’ Special Collections and was up indefinitely.
“Of course, eventually, they’ll come down,” she said, “but even when the photo contest comes in, which is usually mid-May, they’ll stay up after that.”
Diane Eugster, an accomplished painter, said Wilson’s work showed a knack for color and form.
“I’ve painted Wilson’s Cliff,” she said. “He has that sense of the place, that sense of standing there and that dry look.”
Buster was also an expert tracker and hunter and was known to be a marksman with a rifle. In 1943, Buster enlisted in the Army, serving in North Africa with an American Indian Company under Gen. George Patton, where he received several medals, including the Purple Heart.
He died in a car accident in 1972.
Three generations of the Wilson family, including Buster, are buried at the ranch, and their gravesites are maintained by the Paiute tribe.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 702-387-2949.