FURNACE CREEK, CALIF. — In most respects, legendary "Death Valley Scotty" was a big bag of wind. "I play him pretty much that way," says park ranger Bill Ostermann with a crooked grin. "He'd lie and tell you anything."
Under a broad-brimmed cowboy hat, Mr. Ostermann becomes historical figure Death Valley Scotty for several months each winter. He is part of the US National Park Service's "living history" interpretive program offered at Death Valley and other national parks.
Walter Scott or "Scotty" was one of the last gold-seeking adventurers with a flair for publicity who came along just as the Industrial Revolution began to smother lone adventurers.
After a childhood in Kentucky, he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a trick rider and roper. Here he learned how to be a showman, and mixed these skills with his gift of gab. Nearly everyone liked him.
Wearing a red tie, dark coat, and baggy pants, just the way Scotty dressed, mostly from the 1930s on, Ostermann approximates Scotty's pudgy shape and genial bluster. "Scotty's first grubstake [money to prospect for a gold mine] came when he had two Colorado gold nuggets and convinced a New York businessman they were from his mine in Death Valley," Ostermann says.
Over the years Scotty hatched a hundred schemes, like selling shares in this nonexistent gold mine again and again. He flashed wads of money and occasionally spent it freely. The news media loved him. His exploits, both true and false, were turned into headlines across the US from 1904 until 1954 when he died in Death Valley.
Tours of Scotty's Castle, where the legendary hustler once lived, are offered daily.
On Feb. 23 and 24, and all the weekends in March l996, the park will offer a special three-hour program, dinner, and tour of the castle located an hour north of Stovepipe Wells.
The program, featuring Scotty portrayed by Ostermann, costs $35 a person. Reservations are required. For information, call (619) 786-2331.