Perhaps one of the most fantastic stories connected with Charles Manson and his "Family" is that of their attempts to locate a "bottomless pit" in Death Valley where they would ride out the Helter Skelter race war brought on by their lethal Cielo/Waverly jumpstarts.
Leslie Van Houten recalled the "Family's" attempts to locate the bottomless pit in her interview with her attorney Marvin Part on December 29, 1969 (Transcript courtesy of Cielodrive.com):
MISS VAN HOUTEN: "But we — after that, we started decide — seeing where we were in this position, because we knew that we were part of this Revolutions — of the Revelations in the Bible. We knew that we had a part in it.
"And so we read, and it talked about a hole in the desert or going to the Kingdom. We found out — we started looking into the Death Valley, what’s underneath Death Valley, and we found out there was the Armagosa River and blind fish and all kinds of things that just made us believe that there was a whole world underneath. And that some of the Montezuma’s people are already under there waiting for us.
"And that what would happen is that about a couple thousand of the chosen people — white people — would go down into the center of the earth and stay there for about fifty years. And then there would Athens or — I can’t remember all the names, but something was going to happen. And then we were going to come back up.
And this was when we — the earth would be all black.
"Because to go into the hole, you would have to be perfect in your mind and in your body."
MR. PART: "Now, how were you supposed to get down to the center of the earth?"
MISS VAN HOUTEN: "Well, we hadn’t quite figured it out yet. We were looking for the hole.
"That’s what we were doing in the desert with the dune buggies. And that’s why we needed more dune buggies.
"And we were — we had a good idea that it was in the Death Valley area, but we weren’t sure just where.
"And we weren’t quite — we weren’t quite sure of how it was going to work, where we’re going to get in there.
"But maybe it was going to be rigged up from someone who’d gone down before, that it would have water on the top and then like the water would like move away — go away somehow by some kind of mechanism.
"And if we played around the hole enough that went down there, we’d find it out.
And then we could just walk down it and then we’d have to float down a river, one of the rivers, and then it would take us down and take about — I think about two weeks, we figured it out, to get down to the center.
"And then once we got to the center we’d be tiny, and everything would be great big, magnified, like the pearls.
"It talks about the pearls. There’d be giant pearls, and we’d be just little tiny, about maybe five inches compared to everything else."
MR. PART: "You say it talks about the pearls. Who talks about the pearls?"
MISS VAN HOUTEN: "At the end of Revelations, in the very last book, almost to the last page, it says that the kingdom will have giant pearls.
"I don’t know who said it — I don’t know who wrote it — but it talks about that, and gold everywhere."
(Van Houten also discusses the Hole briefly in this interview from 1975.)
Recalling Charles Manson's alleged obsession with the pit, sometime Manson associate Brooks Poston told Inyo County deputy sheriff Don Ward during an October 3, 1969 interrogation at Barker Ranch that the pit was "a cave that he [Manson] says is underneath Death Valley and leads down to a sea of gold that the Indians know about…. [Manson said] every tuned-in tribe of people that's ever lived have escaped the destruction of their race by going underground, literally, and they're all living in a golden city where there's a river that runs through it of milk and honey, and a tree that bears twelve kinds of fruit, a different fruit each month…. and you don't need to bring candles nor any flashlights down there. [Manson] says it will be all lit up because…. the walls will glow and it won't be cold and it won't be too hot. There will be warm springs and fresh water, and people are already down there waiting for him." (Helter Skelter, page 313)
Whence sprang this weird story of paradise in an infinite hole in Death Valley?
With regard to the "Manson Family" there are several supposed sources for the belief that Manson and his associates could disappear into a bottomless pit to wait out Helter Skelter. One of these sources, as mentioned by Van Houten in her Part interview, was from Chapter Nine from the Book of Revelations in the Bible, specifically, "And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth; and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit…. and there came out of the pit locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as scorpions of the earth have power…."
Another supposed reference to the pit and "the Family's" equally supposed obsession with it comes from the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter," the alleged anthem behind the Tate-LaBianca murders, wherein Paul McCartney sings, "When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide," a lyric which, according to the prosecution at Manson's murder trial, referred to "the Family" going into the bottomless pit and then returning to the Earth's surface post-Helter Skelter.
Although Charles Manson very possibly made some note of the bottomless pit mentioned in Revelation 9, he likely did so because he had already heard of another bottomless pit, namely the one mentioned in Indian and mining lore in the area around Death Valley.
In his 1930 classic book Death Valley author Bourke Lee explained. "The Great Basin Paiute lived surrounded by weird, unearthly beings. They lived in the air above him and in the ground beneath him. They were in the trees, below the surface of the water, in caves and niches in the rock, on the plain and high in the mountains. The U-nu-pits were the commonest of this host of evil spirits. Most evils and mishaps were attributed to the activity of the U-nu-pits. They made their homes in the high cliffs and searched the desert for foolish and unwary people, whom they carried of to toss of the brink of some high canyon wall. No Paiute ever slipped off a high trail to his death solely as a result of his own carelessness or because a rotten path had crumbled beneath him. To the Paiute mind it was clear that the man who fell had been tripped by a U-nu-pits, or that a U-nu-pits had prepared the trail to trap him.
"The Yan-tups were the evil spirits of the springs. They lived in the ground around the subterranean sources of the mountain waterholes. They came out of their deep hiding places at night and say on the surface of the water singing in low, doleful voices. The often seized little children who went to the springs for water and carried them off to hidden caverns."
Besides these examples from Native American lore there are also fairly modern day stories about seemingly bottomless pits and the people who supposedly dwell therein. Here are two of them, as recounted in Mysterious California, by Mike Marinacci (and previously presented here on the MF Blog):
"Tom Wilson [was] a Charoc Indian who was a Death Valley guide in the 1920s. Wilson said that when he was a boy, his grandfather told him he had found a tunnel that extended for miles beneath the valley. Walking its length, the man ended up at an underground chamber where a race of fair-skinned people dwelt.
"Welcomed by these subterraneans, Wilson's grandfather lived with the for a while. The people spoke a strange foreign language, wore clothes made of a leatherlike substance and illuminated their home with a pale greenish-yellow light of unknown origin.
"The Indian eventually resurface and returned to his people, who were understandably skeptical about his adventure. But Tom Wilson believed that the old man hadn't lied, and he spent the rest of his life searching for the entry of this underground world, convinced until his death in 1968 that it actually existed somewhere beneath Death Valley."
[1968! - GS]
"At one point, Wilson teamed up with a prospector named White, who claimed that he too had found strange underground dwellings in Death Valley. White had been exploring an abandoned mine in Wingate Pass when he fell into a hidden tunnel that led to a series of rooms.
"The rooms were filled with leather-clad human mummies. Gold bars and other fabulous treasures were stacked in piles around them. There was a passageway leading beyond the rooms as well, lit by an eerie greenish-yellow light. But White dared not explore any further, fearful of what might lie beyond.
"White visited the rooms three more times, once with his wife and once with another miner. But he was unable to locate the cavern later when accompanied by Tom Wilson and a group of archeologists, although they did find a curious dead-end tunnel into the solid rock. The area around Wingate Pass was eventually absorbed into the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, and is now closed to the public."
If there is a bottomless pit in the Death Valley area, where might its entrance be?
One likely candidate is the Devils Hole, a water-filled opening in the earth located about a dozen miles northeast of the town of Death Valley Junction. Although explored extensively, the depth of the water in Devils Hole has never been determined, thus making it an excellent candidate as an entrance into the pit.
The entrance to the Devils Hole
In June of 1965, just a little over three years before Manson et al.'s initial arrival in the desert, three amateur scuba divers from Las Vegas ventured into the Hole for some surreptitious recreational diving. Two of them never returned to the surface, and despite a days-long search by scores of would-be rescuers from all over the western U.S., no trace of them was ever found. Manson and his companions absolutely knew about this tragedy, as Catherine "Gypsy" Share referred to it when she was interviewed for the June 25, 1970 Rolling Stone magazine article on "Charles Manson, The Most Dangerous Man Alive."
Headline From the Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 23, 1965
A scuba diver in the Devils Hole during the search for two divers who vanished there in 1965
Just a few hundred yards away from the Devils Hole to the north is another mysterious entryway into Death Valley's subterranean world, the Devils Hole Cave. The Devils Hole Cave also has no known bottom. In fact, it is not even known whether the Cave and the Hole are even connected, despite their close proximity to each other.
The entrance to the Devils Hole Cave is secured by a welded steel cover to
prevent unauthorized persons from entering.
Also in the area are several spring fed pools that likewise have no known depth or origin.
One of the pools in the Devils Hole area. Nobody knows anything about them either.
There are hundreds of vertical mine shafts in the Death Valley area that could also lead to an underground paradise. And still another entry candidate is the "blow hole" located in the southwestern side of the Striped Butte in Butte Valley, just a half dozen or so miles from the Myers and Barker ranches.
And another mysterious natural phenomenon of the Death Valley area that might figure into the story is the Amargosa River, which flows in a generally southeasterly direction in the Amargosa Valley east of Death Valley proper adjacent to California Highway 127. Certainly it is one of the strangest rivers in the world. There are portions of the Amargosa that only exist as dry river beds. In other places it flows over the desert floor just like any other substantial stream. No one knows the origins or the source of water for the Amargosa River. Its beginnings and ends are mysteries, as is what happens to it between its wet and dry segments. Still, despite all of the unknowns, it is still regarded as "the longest underground river in the world." (Death Valley and the Amargosa, by Richard E. Lingenfelter)
* * *
So, how would all of these legends from Indian lore and miners' stories wind up connected with Charles Manson and his "Family?"
Because of his background of being raised in institutions Charles Manson is an extremely paranoid-type person, and his resulting proclivity for awareness means that he has an intense interest in anything that is going on around him. He likes to talk with people and find out what they know. And there can be no doubt that during his time in the desert Manson spoke with as many of the local residents as he could and that he absorbed everything they told him. Thus there can also be no doubt that Manson was aware of every Indian legend, every miner's tall tale or hallucination, and every legitimate news story about anything that occurred in Death Valley before he got there. Further, Manson's interests can be infectious, especially since another of his characteristics is that he likes to point out the interests of the life experience to those around him and, if possible, channel those interests into positive energy. Therefore, I find it completely believable that Manson, upon learning of various stories about a bottomless pit in the Death Valley area, would not only communicate those stories to the persons around him but that he would also even channel them into some kind of activity for his friends to engage in, as in, "Hey, I heard that there's a bottomless pit somewhere around here. Let's try to find it!"
And that's where we get reminiscences of people like Leslie Van Houten who recall "the Family's" earnest search for such a hole.