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For their cabin, Jim brought boards from Escondido. Davis: The “sisters, totally unused to manual labor, packed these boards on their backs, one at a time, over a crooked, rocky trail.” The work was arduous, but, Davis adds, “they asked no help or favors and received no assistance during all their life on ­Palomar.”

The cabin slowly took shape, but needed a roof. Halfway up the slope, Mariah found a grove of cedars. She and Lizzie made the climb every day until they had split enough three-foot shake shingles to cover their ­home.

Those who saw the property wondered why the sisters chose it. Ravines and hillocks afforded little arable land. The cabin was over a mile from Jim, their nearest neighbor, and at night coyotes howled ­nearby.

The sisters lived there for ten years. Mariah sold eggs and butter to neighbors and hotels. The Mendenhall children swore that Lizzie made the best biscuits around. In the beginning, writes Catherine Wood, the sisters “sometimes joined their neighbors in picnics.” Mariah had the first Kodak camera on Palomar and loved taking pictures. Many of them, now long gone, were of a man who proposed marriage. But when Lizzie, whose health began to fail, objected, Mariah said ­no.

Arthritis wracked ­Lizzie’s legs. Her stiffening hands made her specialty, lacework, impossible. In time, she could barely ­sew.

In 1898, to generate income Mariah began working for the post office. In those days Palomar had two: Jessee and Nellie, named for their first postmasters, Harriet L. Jessee and Nellie McQueen. Three times a week, regardless of the weather, Mariah rode the steep, serpentine Trujillo Trail down the south slope and back to ­Jessee.

Mariah wore a bonnet and divided skirts. She refused to ride side-saddle, as was the fashion for women. Before she reached Jessee, ­she’d dismount and walk because, writes Davis, she was “too modest to be seen riding ­astride.”

During this period, ­Jim’s wife left him. So the sisters moved in: summers at the Mendenhall cabin; winters, ten miles southwest, at Frazier Point. ­Lizzie’s arthritis became so severe, she needed a rocking chair to move about. In time, her legs became ­paralyzed.

One spring morning, as Jim prepared to drive Lizzie to the summer cabin, he passed out in the wagon. Lizzie checked his pulse. Jim was ­dead.

“After that,” writes Wood, “the two sisters, who were well thought of by all their neighbors, carried on ­alone.”

Mariah did all the work: building fences and corrals, plowing, sewing, reaping. She carried every drop of water they used and tended their 60 head of cattle. She still delivered the mail, this time from Nellie to Jessee. Since ­she’d often return late at night, before she left, Mariah spread canvas across the windows and locked Lizzie in the cabin. If a man came near, Lizzie must not budge. To assure her ­sister’s safety, Mariah jammed slivers of wood into the keyhole. Two dogs — some say “half-starved” — kept watch ­outside.

Mrs. Hodgie Salmons saw the sisters from afar for five years before they ever spoke to her. She became one of their few friends. One day, Hodgie wanted to pay Lizzie a call at the point. When she neared the cabin, she saw no sign of life. She shouted hellos and knocked several times. Rude hands fumbled with the lock. Lizzie opened the door a crack, smiled, and invited Hodgie into a “dark and gloomy” ­room.

“I thought no one was home,” said ­Hodgie.

“When Mariah goes off,” said Lizzie, “she locks everything up, including me. ­She’s afraid some man will come and kill ­me.”

Whenever a man came to the cabin, writes Davis, Mariah opened the door holding a knife in her calloused hand. “She was never known to shoot anybody or even threaten, but she was always ­ready.”

One evening, as the sisters prepared dinner at Frazier Point, the stovepipe overheated. The ceiling of their four-room cabin caught fire. They had no water. The spring was a good 100 yards away. Mariah thought fast. Milk! She filled a pan, stood on a box, and doused the ­flames.

Somehow Lizzie made it outside. Davis: “No one, even Miss Lizzie herself, could explain how she accomplished the ­feat.”

Twice in the spring of 1918, when Mariah harrowed fields at the East Mendenhall property, she tripped and ­couldn’t move. As she clung to the reins, mules dragged her back to the ­cabin.

On a Sunday in November, 1918, Mariah spent most of the morning chasing down stray calves. After stowing the last one back in the corral, she entered the cabin, ringing wet and glassy-eyed, and slumped on the ­bed.

Noticing that Mariah had become strangely quiet, Lizzie went to her side. To ­Lizzie’s horror, her beloved sister — and life support system for the past 15 years — was ­dead.

A shocked Lizzie straightened ­Mariah’s hair, crossed her hands on her chest, and prepared her to receive ­mourners.

For a touch of culture amid the wild, the sisters had a little bell, with a white handkerchief attached. Lizzie always rang it at dinnertime. To attract attention, Lizzie opened the door, propped herself against her chair, and began ringing the bell. The sounds echoed through the cabin, but the nearest neighbors, the Mendenhalls, were a good two miles away. Lizzie shook and shook the bell. Every ring shot pain through her crooked ­fingers.

No one heard. ­Mariah’s body began to decompose. Lizzie needed to go outside. Inch by inch, dragging a pail of water behind, she lugged herself up to their apple orchard on a small rise. Lizzie rang the little bell for two cold days and ­nights.

On Wednesday, Retha Mae Mendenhall ­hadn’t seen Mariah ride past their house for quite some time. She and Marion Davis decided to check up on the sisters. As their wagon approached the orchard, they noticed something white waving among the trees. Then they heard a slow, soft ­tinkling.

They found Lizzie, staring straight ahead, ringing and ringing the ­bell.

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