Twentynine Palms Historical Society
29 Palms, California

Old Timers Gathering

Prudie Underhill
Prudie Underhill 1915-2007

Each year during Pioneer Days the Society hosts a reception to honor the 'Old Timers' of Twentynine Palms. This event got its start on the 19th of October 1968, when Prudie and Bill Underhill hosted a gathering in their home. The invitation, published in the 16 October edition of the Desert Trail, read in part: “Commemorating the occasion of Pioneer Days in Twentynine Palms, in this issue of the Desert Trail, Bill and Prudie Underhill are extending an invitation to pioneers and oldtimers to come to their home…” "This is just an old-fashioned hand-shaking, back-slapping get-together to reminisce about homesteading and road-building days," says Bill, who took up his homestead over 40 years ago.

The event was obviously a great success as the following week's Desert Trail reported “William J. Underhill celebrated his 40th year in Twentynine Palms by greeting some 100 guests who attended the open house on Saturday afternoon, many of them friends since his homestead days which started in 1928.” Many of the guests wore “old-fashioned” attire and the menu included such desert delights as 1928 homebrew, diluted oasis spring water, coyote eyeballs, and rattlesnake meat and pellets.

Bill and Prudie Underhill continued to host the “Old Timers Reunion” until about 1980 when Bill suffered a stroke and the event fell by the wayside.

In 1982 the Historical Society was organized and began hosting an “Old Timers Picnic” at the 29 Palms Inn. The picnic was “…for anyone interested in the history of Twentynine Palms who wants to meet some of the early residents, many of whom come back for Pioneer Days.”

Beginning in 1995 following the dedication and opening for public use of the newly refurbished old school building as a museum, the Historical Society began hosting the traditional Old Timer's Gathering there. Gene Ludwig, the then President, enlisted the help of others to prepare cookies, tea and punch. "It just seemed the logical place to have what had become a traditional gathering," said Genevieve Salisbury, a member of the Historical Society Board in those years.

The early residents of Twentynine Palms and their descendants would come to town to view the Pioneer Days Parade and then wander over to see the Old Schoolhouse. It was a source of pride to all. The opportunity to visit with old acquaintances and reminisce made for a pleasant afternoon. At that time many of the old timers were still living and the event was well attended.

The Board of Directors has continued the tradition and added the custom of honoring the Grand Marshalls at the gathering. A large trophy with names of the honorees by years is displayed at the museum following the Grand Marshall's luncheon.

Today, as in 1982, the Old Timers Gathering is for anyone interested in the history of Twentynine Palms who wants to meet some of the earlier residents and share their memories and stories of Twentynine Palms with others. Remember, the youngsters of today are the old timers of tomorrow. No one is too old or too young to participate!

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