Perched on a desert hillside with a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley sits one of the most unusual and fascinating cultural and historical sites in Southern California. Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, on the eastern edge of the city of Desert Hot Springs, is a 5,000-square-foot, 35-room monument to one man’s vision of how life should be lived in harmony with nature.
Cabot Yerxa, a native Midwesterner, was an entrepreneur, artist, writer, philosopher and advocate for Native Americans. After a series of far-flung adventures that took him back and forth between Alaska, Cuba, Europe and California, he settled in a barren, uninhabited section of desert north of Palm Springs. There he started building his pueblo in 1941.
Yerxa built the pueblo himself, almost entirely with recycled materials that he scavenged from the surrounding desert, including pieces of wood, glass and metal from abandoned buildings and former construction sites. Over many years, it grew from a small shack into an enormous, Hopi Indian-inspired structure that served as a museum for desert and Native American artifacts, which continues to this day.
Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison (SCE), has been a financial supporter of Cabot’s Pueblo Museum for the last three years. A recent $5,000 grant enabled the development of an updated visitor's guide and two large wayfinding maps installed on the grounds.
The grants to the museum fit in with two of the company’s key philanthropic missions: supporting underserved communities and promoting environmental stewardship, said Nena McCullough, regional manager of Local Public Affairs in SCE’s Palm Springs office.
“We want to be a good community partner with the city of Desert Hot Springs, which owns the museum,” McCullough said. “This is one of the few places where young people in this area can learn about its history, and about Cabot Yerxa’s dedication to the environment of this place and its people.”
As a nonprofit, Cabot's Museum is completely supported by individual donations and purchases from museum guests, memberships, artisan weekend events, donations from local philanthropic groups and grants from companies such as Edison International and other foundations.
"Without grants and our generous supporters, we would not be able to give visitors the unique experience and showcase the collection of artifacts currently featured at the museum," said John Mahoney, president of the Cabot's Museum Foundation Board of Directors. "We are very grateful to Southern California Edison, our other community partners, and donors for their support of our education programs."
On a recent sun-drenched, 111-degree day in Desert Hot Springs, Cabot’s pueblo loomed high above the desert floor, its sharp angles, protruding wood beams and rough surfaces casting dramatic shadows. With its commanding view of the landscape below and the eccentric, hand-made feel of its construction, the pueblo brings to mind a more famous monument to the north: Hearst Castle.
Like William Randolph Hearst, Cabot Yerxa was an insatiable world traveler, adventurer and collector, albeit it on a more modest scale. Unlike Hearst, Yerxa dedicated his later years to environmental awareness, promoting healthy, pristine desert living and the rights of Native Americans. He was instrumental in the creation of Desert Hot Springs in the 1940s as a haven for health seekers, with its clean air and aquifer-fed hot water spas.
Yerxa’s life story is a remarkable tour de force of not only Southern California history, but of American history. As a teenager he sold cigars to miners in Nome, Alaska, during the Gold Rush, and lived among the native Inupiat people. He later served under Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War I, studied art in Paris as part of the 1920s ex-patriot scene, and with his parents tried to make a go of it as developers and ranchers first in Cuba and then in Sierra Madre, Calif.
After Yerxa’s death in 1965, his pueblo was abandoned, then nearly demolished, before being saved and donated to the city of Desert Hot Springs. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.