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Did Marshal South plan to raise his children as real-life Mowglis, free from the greed and tumult of the outside world? Mrs. Lindsay thinks it was the case, although Marshal South had never publicly acknowledged the intention.

“He left an unpublished manuscript after his death in 1948, in which he describes the life of a little boy growing up in the wild,” she explains.

His three children — Rider, Rudyard and Victoria — were born after the family had settled here, among the agave plants, rattlesnakes and coyotes of Ghost Mountain.

All three grew up without wearing any clothes, not even when winter snow blanketed the desert. They tended to a goat and two burros the family took with them to help haul supplies and firewood.

They helped collect rainwater, hunt tiny desert jack rabbits, cut mescal stalks for burning in a stove and take care of a small vegetable garden their parents were trying to grow under the scorching sun.

Believers in home-schooling way before it became a trend, the Souths taught them reading, writing, arithmetic and pottery, but in all other respects, the children were left to their own devices — and the whims of nature.

“Our lives were very different from those of other kids,” Rider South now recalls with a laugh. “But I don’t regret it. It taught me independence.”

For 17 years, the family braved heat and cold, privation and loneliness to build a world away from the world, until in 1947 Tanya had had enough and left for San Diego, taking the children with her.

The great experiment had collapsed in divorce and acrimony, and Marshal South, brooding and heartbroken, died the following year.

Ironically, one year before it all went bust, he penned in his diary a few self-congratulatory lines: “I have broken the mold. For myself absolutely. For my children almost definitely.”

He allowed the possibility that later in life, his children could choose to “associate” themselves with civilization, but invested his greatest hope in Rider, asserting that civilization “will have no power over his free thought.”

Rider South first chuckles when he hears this forecast and then begins to speak.

“All the technological advances have been wonderful,” he says after a respectful pause. “Civilization has done marvelous things for a lot of people. My father just wasn’t that keen on that.”

His sister Victoria, a mother of four, hastens to say she does not think it is good to bring up children in complete isolation from the outside world. “When you isolate yourself from the bad, you also isolate yourself from the good,” she says.

Their brother Rudyard, named after the creator of Mowgli, has so far flatly refused to discuss his childhood experiences with reporters. But in a way, he gave his answer a long time ago. He has a doctoral degree in environmental engineering, his siblings say, and “a very successful career” in Washington state.

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