Notes on Joseph Smeaton Chase

Joseph Smeaton Chase
Biographical Information

Editors' Note: Information in the following section is derived from an article by Shannon Starr in the Inland Southern California newspaper the Press-Enterprise, published 6/15/2002. As of this writing (October 2005) the article is available online at:
The article itself is based on documents in the archives of the Palm Springs Library.

Further data (including Chase's correct birthdate and date of death) are derived from the burial records of Welwood Murray Cemetery, available online as of this writing at

Other data is derived from a genealogy of the Pier family, which includes Isabel White Chase, which as of this writing is online at

Joseph Smeaton Chase was born in London on April 8, 1864, to the publisher Samuel C. Chase and Jane (Evans) Chase. He was educated at the London Elementary School and Haverstock Hill, North London. In 1890, at the age of 25, he moved to the United States and settled in California. Upon his arrival, Chase deposited the inheritance he had received from his father into a bank which unfortunately failed almost immediately. Without any finacial resources, he lived a frugal life for the next few years in the mountains near San Diego.

Subsequently Chase held a variety of jobs - among them tutoring a rich rancher's children in the San Gabriel Valley and working in a Los Angeles camera shop. Records indicate that for many years he was employed as a social welfare worker at the Bethlehem Institutional Church in Los Angeles. Chase was listed in Los Angeles directories beginning in 1893.

Chase's first book, Yosemite Trails, was published in 1911, and in the same year he published Cone-Bearing Trees of the California Mountains, with photographs by Chase and line drawings by noted desert artist Carl Eytel. Chase's next volume, California Coast Trails, was published in 1913.

His first visit to Palm Springs was in 1912, when he came to experience the healing powers of the local hot springs. Chase moved to the area in 1915, and there he married Isabel White, then forty years old, on April 17th, 1917. Isabel's sisters Cornelia White and Dr. Florilla White had purchased Dr. Welwood Murray's hotel (now the "Little House" in the Village Green Heritage Center in Palm Springs) after Murray's death in 1914.

During the period 1915-1919, Chase published four more books: The California Padres and Their Missions, written with well-known California author and naturalist Charles Francis Saunders; The Penance of Magdalena and Other Tales of the California Missions; California Desert Trails; and Our Araby: Palm Springs and the Garden of the Sun.

After several years of poor health Chase died in Banning on March 29, 1923. Isabel Chase continued to live in their house on Tahquitz Drive in Palm Springs, and survived him by almost 40 years, passing away on September 30, 1962. The couple had no children.

At Chase's request, his name was engraved on the gravestone of his parents in Bexley Churchyard in Kent, England, but he is buried with Isabel in Welwood Murray Cemetery in Palm Springs, at the foot of Mt. San Jacinto.

In an article in the Palm Springs Villager dated March 1952, Edmund C. Jaeger writes: "I found him to be a thorough son of the open, a delightful conversationalist, full of good humor and the best sort of subtle English wit."

Joseph Smeaton Chase Bibliography