Children of the Mind Ranch

The following story originally appeared at


In January of 1970, a commune of self professed hippies were raided by police and charged with child abuse, drug use, and tax evasion. A quick trial found them guilty as charged but 30 years later the question still remains, Was the group common criminals or into something deeper?

The story starts in December of 1968 when 25 year old Mark Andrews used the last of his inheritance to buy an abandoned chicken farm in near the town of Chowchilla, California. Mark had spent the year before living in San Francisco, enjoying the freedoms and lifestyle of the summer of love. Living in a house on Ashbury he had become part of a large extended hippie family and one member of this group was Delmont Scroghin, 41. Scroghin, was a former philosophy professor at Cambridge University who had been fired for exposing beliefs that large amounts of LSD could raise the consciousness of its user. Delmont had drifted to the center of the alternative lifestyle cult of America and since he was twice as old as his other compatriots he became a sort of “father figure” to the rest of the family. Preaching his gospel of drug use became a type of mantra and it’s believed that he was the one that convinced Andrews to buy the old chicken farm for the group to use as a “center of peaceful living and mind alteration.”

By February of 1969 the group was encamped at the farm, now dubbed the “Mind Ranch” and home to some 20 plus persons including 8 children under the age of 16.. Two recruits to the Mind Ranch was the infamous pair of San Francisco drug dealers, Paul and Mary Sawyer, who started producing new and untested variations of mind altering drugs in the main house’s basement.

Delmont at the mind ranch in between experiments.
Delmont and Mark were the elder figures of this commune and quickly instituted a nightly, “consciousness raising” in which members of the group took a variety of different potions cooked up by the Sawyers and then tested themselves using standard (and not so standard) ESP and other psychic power tests. Delmont kept notes on the “experiments” in a lab diary but his judgment was most certainly clouded since he was taking the drugs as well. For several months nothing too out of the ordinary occurred but the Sawyers kept at their experiments, and stumbled across something in November. Scroghin’s most interesting entry, dated November 23rd, 1969 reads:
” 10 PM . . .Set the group up in a double blind test. Group #1 being given what the Sawyers are calling, ‘mind blower’ and the other half, group 2, being given plain LSD”
“Midnight . . .. .Group 2 is moving into a standard LSD trip, heightened awareness at mundane objects, laughter, . .etc. Group #2 seems envious (myself included) since as of yet nothing has occurred. Could Paul and Mary have failed us?”

“2 am. . .Glory! Like Ezikial seeing the wheel, we have turned a corner, now it is the other group’s turn to be envious, I feel as if the proverbial scales have been lifted from my eyes! The movement of a common man or woman, even one under the influence of LSD can not hope to know what is truly occurring around them. I feel as if my mind is on fire, racing faster than my pen to make new connections, to solve the problems of the ego and id. I am free for the first time, free to see the power of myself. The possibilities of what I can accomplish, the possibilities of what I can understand!”

“3 am . . We moved out under the stars, away from the others, not because they are not on the same trip as us but because we have felt the beginnings of a group mind, a higher level of being. I know more about these people than I know of myself and they in turn know of me. What power we can have!”

“4?65?ampm??? Time means nothing . .There, it took us an hour to write that, another for this. To write down what is going on is worthless for it will be with us forever, . . . .and has been with us forever. With the group mind comes the power and with the power comes understanding, perfection. We can do more now than anyone has ever dreamed, Example: We looked into the sky and made the clouds dance above us, whirling in a ballet of mind power and control. The other group is with us now and we shall administer the blessing to them.”

The lab entries after this point get harder to decipher, being written under continuous use of the drug but there is evidence that the group went so far as to administer it to the children. Scroghin’s entry for December 20th reads:
“To have a mind as fresh as those of these children accelerates the effects and we find ourselves in awe of the development of their new found abilities. Do we have a responsibility to share this with the rest of our fellow man? We believe so and know that our children are the key to bringing this about.”

Proof of a child’s newborn psychic power or child abuse? A picture from Scroghin’s personal lab entries.

It was about this time that the group retreated further from mainstream society, severing all links with the outside world. Most concerning to officials were the fact that the children had stopped going to the schools they had been initially enrolled in. On January 5th, 1969 State Human Services worker Sherry McDaniels, was sent to investigate the welfare of these children and it was her report that prompted the raid on the Mind Ranch.
“Upon knocking on the door of the residence I received no answer, but I heard sounds which made me think that the occupants were inside. I decided to go around the side of the house to try the back door and it was then that I saw that someone was inside a shed. Going closer I saw what appeared to be a man, sitting cross-legged on the floor, humming. I attempted to talk to him but he said nothing back to me and instead began humming louder. At this point I got a migraine headache, (which I take prescription medication for) and left the shed since the humming seemed to make it hurt more.
I reached the back door, got no answer and decided to go inside without invitation. The kitchen area was clean but an odor of spoilt food or meat was in the air and got stronger as I approached the cellar door. I decided against investigating further and instead went into the front living room. It was here that I came upon 3 of the children who I believe to be Thomas and Sarah Colben, age 12 and 8 and Michael Andrews, age 5. The 3 children were sitting around a train set, intent on watching it go around. I attempted to talk to them but they seemed indifferent and almost drugged. When asked where the others were all they would say was that they were, “Around.” At this point the hum from outside became louder and my nose started to bleed (as it does in extreme migraines) I decided to leave the house and contact my superiors.”

(It is interesting to note at this point that the local electric company turned off the power to the “Mind Ranch” in the previous month due to nonpayment. Was the humming sound that McDaniels heard an electrical generator that allowed the children to run the train set? If so it wasn’t found when police raided the house the next day.)

The raid itself had some interesting things happen to it. As the 4 vehicles from health and human services and the Madera County Sheriffs office approached the house the lead vehicle suffered an engine failure. Once at the ranch the officers served a search warrant by breaking down the door when no one answered. The front room and the rest of the house was empty and appeared deserted. Deputies sent into the putrid smelling basement found the Sawyers laying on the floor dead, apparently from a drug overdose. .(a later autopsy showed they had been deceased for at least 2 weeks) The haphazard laboratory appeared to have been looted with chemical containers opened and spilt. One officer that accidentally kicked a container inhaled mold or chemical spores and was rushed to the hospital suffering from what was later diagnosed as an epileptic fit.

The “family” was finally found in a wooded area behind the house, completely nude and sitting in a circle. Despite the fact that the outside temperature was near freezing none of the residents were treated for frostbite or any cold related illness that I can find in the records. I did find another hospital report that said that 3 deputies were treated at the scene by emergency workers suffering from severe nosebleeds. Other than that, the arrest were without incident. Mark Andrews was not found and an arrest warrant for him is still on record in Orange County to this day.

A quick court trial convicted Scroghin, and several other family members and they were sentenced to various jail terms. Reporters at the trial stated that the “family” members seemed disinterested in the proceedings and rarely showed any awareness at all. Scroghlin’s lab book entries and various pictures of the experiments carried out by him on the group and children were used as evidence against him without comment from Scroghlin. Sentenced to 10 years, Scroghlin died in prison in 1971 at the hands of another inmate who claimed that Scroghlin was the Antichrist. .The children of the Mind Ranch were sent to separate state facilities. Since adoption agencies have sealed records, their whereabouts are unknown.


Madera County Court Transcripts, session 4, 5 8 and 10; 1-15-70 thru 1-23-70

The personal diaries of Delmont Scroghin, Madera County court evidence transcripts

Oakhurst Hospital Emergency Room Admissions Report 1-6-70

photos courtesy of the Madera County Clerk of the Court, photographic transcripts division

~ by gorightly on August 24, 2007.

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