Marshal and Tanya South: A Not-So Love Story (Part Two)

If I wanted, if I had the time, I could get off this chair, put on my trail shoes, check the water supply in the back of my mid-high clearance SUV, and head up the 67 to the desert.

I’d need a willing companion, too, but that’s another story. The desert is dangerous and I never go alone. For now, let’s say there’s a sentient decoy with aviator sunglasses in the passenger seat, wrangling the iPod and smiling with a mouthful of healthy teeth. He would never, ever “rock out” to Sheryl Crow. He gets my passion for the detritus of indigenous peoples. He, too, is turned on by  stagecoach ruts in desert varnish, pegmatites and xenoliths, empty vast places lined with purple badlands.

Lest you think I crave a Tea Partier towing a trailer stuffed with gas-guzzling, geoglyph-erasing dune buggies and dirt bikes, I will just say: No.

Welcome to Anza-Borrego. If you’re approaching via the 8, you’ll see a plaque near the Border Patrol traffic stop: This is the Desert. There’s nothing out here. Nothing. 

Not entirely true.

This is the largest state park in the country. You need a Desert Boyfriend to do it justice. And the right Desert Boyfriend at that.

Marshal was Tanya’s Desert Boyfriend.

There’s something so romantic about traversing California Highway S-2, otherwise known as the Great Overland Stage Route, former track of Butterfield stagecoaches. It is very you-and-me-against-the-world. It is bonding. Marshal and Tanya knew this fact.

Despite all the eventual crap between them, their desert trips were real.

Together, in 1925, they’d taken road trips to the desert, to camp along the then-unpaved S-2. He was still married to Margaret when he and Tanya “wed” in 1923. They eventually married legally. For all his nonconformity, even he sought that piece of paper.

Say “Marshal South” to people who name-drop Edward Abbey and Everett Ruess, and what will you hear?

Desert Prophet. Proto-hippie. Nudist. Nonconformist.

For Tanya, I suspect Marshal mandated nonconformity.

He was one of those guys who knew everything.

Tried to change Tanya’s mind about many, many things, I bet.

I didn’t know the man. He died in 1948, divorced from Tanya, Tanya who wouldn’t speak publicly of him for 50 more years of her long-lived life. But if I were to tease one thread of his identity from the many-stranded skein of Marshal South, I would add another adjective starting with “N.”


Marshal South at his desert homestead

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