Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Olancha Mill Site

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Minnard Farley was looking for ‘The Lost Gunsite Lode’ when he came here in 1860 and ended up building a mill here several years later. Back then, any old tall story was enough to send prospectors scattering into any geological nook and cranny. In this case the story was that an emigrant crossing Death Valley lost his gunsite and repaired it with local silver ore. Yeah, right. It was good enough for Farley and many others, and sure ‘nuff, there was silver in these parts. Along with the rock crushing eight stamp mill be built a blacksmith shop and sawmill at this crossroads to Death Valley (Hwy 193) or parts north (US 395), and Olancha remains a popular place to stop for gas or a meal. The Southern Pacific even ran a railroad here, called ‘The Jawbone’, it served as the supply line for building the LA aqueduct.

Today, Olancha is host to a huge Crystal Geyser bottling plant, Anheiser-Busch pumps and then trucks the pure mountain water from here as well to its bottling plant in LA.

It was in the middle of a rainy August night in 1983 and about 200 yards from the landmark that a truck had jackknifed at speed as it came northbound around the slow bend with the back end catching up to the cab. All they saw from the Jeep CJ were taillights and to assume they were coming up on a slower vehicle and not the compounded speed of truck in the opposite direction, and my two close Sierra friends had no chance and perished tragically in the grizzliest of wrecks. For this writer it marked an abrupt end to what had seemed like an almost to good to be true life in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, the party was over and you can’t go back. Driving 395 these days and passing Mammoth Mountain still brings an indescribable feeling that is most closely stated with the German word, ‘weltschmerz’- the knowing, but world-weary sadness of reality.

These Southern Pacific narrow guage tracks were removed in 1999

The rock used to make this marker’s wall-like shape is from a wall of the original mill.

Plaque inscription: NO. 796 FARLEY'S OLANCHA MILL SITE - In 1860, while working for the Silver Mountain Mining Company in the Coso Mountains, M. H. Farley conceived the idea of building a processing mill on a creek that flowed into Owens Lake. He explored and named Olancha Pass that year, and by December of 1862 had completed the first mill and furnace in the Owens River Valley, on Olancha Creek about one mile west of this marker.
Location: On State Hwy 395 (P.M. 34.1), at Fall Rd, 0.6 mi S of Olancha
Google: 36.275106,-118.00269


Monday, June 27, 2011

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

Noehill photo

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Driving this section of 395 south of Lone Pine, it's hard to imagine these days that there was a large lake just off the road to the east, and what that might have looked like with trees and foliage poised against Mt. Whitney, with steamers crossing Owens Lake befor the water was diverted to Los Angeles, making this area the caustic dust bowl it has become.

Noehill photo

Looking into and researching this subject prompted the following song today:

BESSIE BRADY                   © Radio Flier Music

From the stand of cottonwoods, head west along cottonwood creek
The steamer’s bow beyond the rise, shines of polished brass and teak

(chorus) Roll on, roll on, across the lake so wide
The Bessie Brady’s silver run to the Cero Gordo side
Old adobes standing still, the lake has up and dried
The water goes somewhere else, and everything around here died

Burned and sank in Owens Lake, Bessie Brady won’t reveal
Silver somewhere buried there, ‘neath the desert steamer’s wheel

Sherman Stevens

This 2009 article by Kathy Weiser is a great read:

‘In Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Range, Desert Steamers once served the silver mining boom of the 1870’s. This curious maritime history began in 1872 when the first steamboat was christened on the saline waters of Owens Lake. The pioneer steamer, the Bessie Brady, proudly proclaimed to be "The Pioneer inland steamer of the Pacific Coast.” Though this was untrue, as steamers had already been used in Lake Tahoe in 1864 and in Meadow Lake in 1866 and Donner Lake a few years later, the sight of a steamboat in the midst of Death Valley must have been a strange site.

 The idea was conceived by James Brady, superintendent of the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Company's smelting furnaces on the eastern shore of the lake. Its purpose was to haul the silver bullion from the furnaces to waiting wagon teams at the foot of the lake.

A unique pioneer, the Bessie Brady was followed by a handful of other steamers over the next several years, discontinuing the need for the many teams that once plodded through the deep sand around the lake.

 Though the steamers effectively hauled the ore, ironically they caused another problem, as the bullion shipped across the lake began to pile up at the foot of the lake because the teamsters hauling it away couldn’t keep up. At times during these years, the surplus of ore became so great; it forced the mines to cut back production and the steamers to be docked.

Finally, a new freighting company bought out the smaller ones in the area and placed fifty-six teams on the road south, dramatically improving the bullion shipments. Highly successful, the new freighting company continued to operate until 1876, when the Southern Pacific Railroad was completed through to Mojave, becoming the southern terminus of the freight lines and the reducing the freighting distance by over one hundred miles.

 Another enterprising man, Colonel Sherman Vanderventer Stevens, owned a sawmill which supplied the mines and smelters around the lake. Stevens soon built his own steamer to handle his thriving lumber business. The craft, though smaller than the Bessie Brady, had a more powerful engine and was launched in May, 1877. However, within just a few days of her maiden voyage a heavy wind storm swamped the new steamer, sinking her to the bottom of the lake. But Steven’s steamer was not lost as he immediately called for help and with the aid of the Bessie Brady, the boat was raised. Refitted, the steamer was christened the Mollie Stevens, in honor of the Colonel’s daughter and she made her first voyage across the lake in early June.

 However, about this time mining activity around the lake was beginning to decline and the Mollie Stevens utility was short lived. Within a year, she was making only occasional trips across the lake by the end of 1878; the boat spent most its time idly moored. The Bessie Brady continued on about a year longer, before she too was hauled ashore at Ferguson's Landing and her machinery removed. The success of the steamers appeared to be ending until, in the winter of 1879, a man named Captain Julius M. Keeler arrived in Owens Valley. As an agent for several eastern capitalists, Keeler began the

Owens Lake Mining and Milling Company, who laid out a town and mill sites in March, 1880 near the Cerro Gordo Landing at the foot of the "yellow grade."

 To obtain construction materials more economically, the company purchased Stevens' sawmill property, including the Mollie Stevens, and put her back to work. The mill was completed in the spring of 1881, producing a much higher refined ore than was previously seen making it much easier to transport. The mill was soon producing about $6,000 bullion a week, with the Mollie Stevens hauling the silver across the lake. However, the Stevens steamer was not as efficient as hoped for and in the spring of 1882 the Bessie Brady refitted with the engines from the smaller steamer. As the work was nearly complete on May 11, 1882, the oakum, oil, paint and tar spontaneously ignited and the Bessie Bradywas instantly a blazing inferno. The steamer was quickly consumed before the fire could be extinguished, spelling the end of the steamboat era on Owens Lake. Later that year, the railroad tracks entered the north end of the valley.

 Though the steamers were gone, a treasure legend began to circulate almost immediately telling of some $200,000 in gold bullion that had been lost on either the Mollie Stevens on her maiden voyage or the Bessie Brady when she “died” in the blaze.

Though it seems unlikely that the Mollie Stevens would have been carrying cargo on her maiden voyage or that the Bessie Brady was laden with gold before she was entirely refitted, the legend persists.

 Today, Owens Lake is nothing more than a sterile sandy basin nestled in Owens Valley between Death Valley National Park and Sequoia National Park. The lake, lying at the end of the Owens River for eons, was about 23-50 feet deep and covered over 100 square miles during the late 1800’s. However during the early 20th century, the City of Los Angeles began diverting water from the Owens River and runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed, dramatically draining the blue salt lake. By 1926, Owens Lake was completely dry and today the 110 square mile lake bed is one of the nation’s dustiest places. Owens Lake is located in Inyo County, California.

Though it is debated whether there is gold hidden beneath the sandy depths of Owens Lake, there is no doubt that other treasures may very well lie in waiting. Such was the case when a 300 pound ship propeller was found and a 400 pound hand wrought iron anchor’.

Noehill photo

Plaque inscription: NO. 537 COTTONWOOD CHARCOAL KILNS - In June 1873, on Cottonwood Creek directly west of this spot, Colonel Sherman Stevens built a sawmill and a flume that connected with the Los Angeles bullion road. The lumber was used for timbering in the mine and for buildings - the wood turned into charcoal in the kilns was hauled to Steven's Wharf on Owens Lake, where it was put on the steamer The Bessie Brady, and hauled across the lake. From there wagons took it up to Cerro Gordo Mine. Since all the wood available around the Cerro Gordo had been burned, this charcoal was necessary to continue production.
Location: 1.0 mi E of State Hwy 395 (P.M. 44.5), 70 mi N of Cartago
Google: 36.415196,-118.011913

Sunday, June 26, 2011

1872 Lone Pine Earthquake

1872 Lone Pine Earthquake

For those of us who’ve commuted the ‘Three Flags Highway’ over the Cajon Pass to Mammoth and parts north on any kind of a regular basis, this is a familiar, though subliminal spot along the way as the driver has long settled in for a multi-hour nonstop stretch at the wheel.  Near the state landmark sign point to the location of the 1872 earthquake marker there’s a sign noting the cross street of Pangborne Ln., and the mind of the northbound traveler asks ‘didn’t we cross this road back in the Cajon Pass?’ ‘No, wait, it was Cleghorn Rd;’ ‘Cleghorn, Pangborne, Pangborne, Cleghorn……maybe we should take a break in Independence’. Ironically, Cleghorn Rd. is the off ramp from I-15 that is the route to what became to this contributor the most difficult to find of 911 landmarks visited, the Stoddard - Waite Monument.

Richter scale estimates for this earthquake range from between 7.4 to 9.5 depending on who’s talking, but whatever its intensity, they felt it in Salt Lake City, and it was enough to knock down most stone and adobe structures in the sparsely inhabited area. It came early on a cold March morning with everyone inside. Reconstruction was with wood.

The photo shows the remains of the general store and home of Charles and Madeline Meysan. The quake claimed the life of Alice, one of their ten children.

Plaque inscription: NO. 507 Disaster in 1872
On the date of March 26, 1872, an earthquake of major proportions shook Owens Valley and nearly destroyed the town of Lone Pine. Twenty seven persons were killed. In addition to single burials, 16 of the victims were interred in a common grave enclosed by this fence.
200 ft W of Hwy 395 (PM 58.7), 0.9 mi N of Lone Pine.
Google: 36.618352,-118.068738

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Just about midway between Independence and Lone Pine stands the stone guardhouse facing US 395, where countless skiers and outdoor enthusiasts have driven by, often oblivious to its sordid past.  

B & W photos from OAC - online archives of California

By unofficial count, there are twelve landmarks throughout the state that deal the relocation of those of Japanese ancestry during World War II. All but this one were detention and transfer centers that collected and sent innocent and patriotic people to this desolate concentration camp known as Manzanar and nine others further inland throughout the country. Manzanar too was originally a temporary facility, and thus also has the ‘#934’ landmark designation of the other temporary detention centers in California. It is also a national historic landmark and national historic site. Manzanar had been a township but the town and surrounding lands were purchased by the city of Los Angeles and dried up and abandoned after water was diverted out of Owens Valley, and the federal government saw it as an easy conversion to a permanent facility and leased the land from LA’s department of water & power. Meanwhile, speculators made fortunes buying up property from those being rounded up and only had days to sell.  

In those dark days following the attack on Pearl Harbor the pretzel logic thinking of the powers that be felt that a few in the US Japanese population could act in similar fashion to what was recent experience with gang elements of Japanese living in Brazil and develop or already have ties to their homeland and Germany for the purpose of spying and espionage. But that’s a faint excuse to the core of an act that was simply racism, giving little or no thought to the detention of those of German ancestry. The injustice of this on a personal level was realized years ago in the mid 1970’s living in Belmont Shore and a great place we liked to hang out and eat, Carl’s Little Bavaria. Except for April 20th, when the shades were drawn early in the morning and the ‘Closed’ sign stayed in the door as old coots would filter in throughout the day and night as the singing favorites got progressively louder till 2am. It was Hitler’s birthday. Me and my Jewish girlfriend would wonder if the authentic restaurants our Japanese American friend took us to in Gardena could ever pull off such a thing without making the news or being firebombed. Yet, after a few days, we’d be back at Carl’s for table shuffleboard, beer, and sausages.

Most people imprisoned here said the hardest thing to endure was lack of privacy. Entire families confined to a 20’ x 25’ tent, and common latrines and showers. When the war ended they were given $25 and a one-way bus or rail ticket and told to leave, yet many had lost everything and had no place to go.  

Plaque inscription: No. 850 Manzanar
In the early part of World War II, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by executive order no. 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.
Manzanar, the first of ten such concentration camps, was rounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 10,000 persons, the majority being American citizens.
May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation never emerge again
200 ft W of Hwy 395 (PM 67.3), 9.6 mi N of Lone Pine.
Google: 36.727637,-118.147917

Photo - national historic site marker

(no plaque) Plaque Inscription: No. 934 Manzanar
The temporary detention camps (also known as 'assembly centers') represent the first phase of the mass incarceration of 97,785 Californians of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Pursuant to Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, thirteen makeshift detention facilities were constructed at various California racetracks, fairgrounds, and labor camps. These facilities were intended to confine Japanese Americans until more permanent concentration camps, such as those at Manzanar and Tule Lake in California, could be built in isolated areas of the country. Beginning on March 30, 1942, all native-born Americans and long-time legal residents of Japanese ancestry living in California were ordered to surrender themselves for detention.
Google: 36.727465,-118.147402

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bend City

Inyo County – July 29, 1998

This is another one of those state landmarks that if you go to it, will leave anyone you’re with that’s not particularly interested in the endeavor scratching their heads and wondering if you’ve lost sense of reason. A nine mile detour from 395 on Mazourka Road, stopping halfway to take pictures of an unchanged landscape from any other point along the way, may not be your companion’s recipe for braking the fun meter. But it’s Bend City and you’re the chairman of the ‘find it’ committee.

They had built a bridge over the Owens River they were quite proud of and it was going to be the county seat for proposed Coso County but it didn’t happen. Today, Bend City is just another member of the ghost town committee.

On Thursday, July 28, 1864, William H. Brewer, working for the State Geologist Josiah Whitney, reached Bend City on part of a state tour that lasted over four years. He had this to say about his visit in his journal:

"The Inyo Mountains skirt this valley on the east. They, too, are desert. A little rain falls on them in winter, but too little to support much vegetation or to give birth to springs or streams. They look utterly bare and desolate, but they are covered with scattered trees of the little scrubby nut pine, Pinus fremontiana [actually Pinus monophylla, or the single leaf piƱon pine], and some other desert shrubs, but no timber, nor meadows, nor green herbage. There are a few springs, however. These mountains were the strongholds of the Indians during hostilities a year ago. They are destitute of feed, and the water is so scarce and in such obscure places that the soldiers could not penetrate them without suffering for want of water. Camp Independence was located in the valley, and for a year fighting went on, when at last the Indians were conquered -- more were starved out than killed. they came in, made treaties, and became peaceful. One chief, however, Joaquin Jim, never gave up. He retreated into the Sierra with a small band, but he has attempted no hostilities since last fall. These Indians are in a region where we are now, and it was against them that we took the escort of soldiers as a guard. There are a number yet, however, in the valley, living as they can -- a miserable, cruel, and treacherous set.
"Mines of silver and gold were discovered in the Inyo Mountains some two or three years ago. They made some excitement, a few mills were erected, and three villages started -- Owensville, San Carlos, and Bend City. The last two are rivals, being only 2½ miles apart; the first is 50 miles up the river. We camped on the river near Bend City and went into town for fresh meat and to get the horses shod. It is a miserable hole, of perhaps twenty or twenty-five adobe houses, built on the sand in the midst of the sagebrush, but there is a large city laid out -- on paper. It was intensely hot, there appeared to be nothing done, times dull, and everybody talking about the probable uprising of the Indians -- some though that mischief was brewing, others not."

Bend City was totally deserted when the terrible earthquake of 1872 tore asunder Owens Valley and was felt as far away as Salt Lake City, Utah. It is estimated to be near a magnitude 9.5 quake by today's standards. Due to Owens Valley's sparse population, deaths were kept to a minimum. But the Owens River course was changed to the point that the bridge still straddling Bend City was no longer necessary, for the river course changed to a half mile to the west. The quake helped to bury the bleached bones of Bend City. – Ghost Towns USA

A June '66 shot of Owens Valley on a trip in the '58 Renault Dauphine (on road). Hmmm, this might be closer to Olancha.

If there was a plaque, it would read: NO. 209 SITE OF BEND CITY - Bend City, a population center in the middle 1860s, was designated as the seat of Coso County, but the county was never formed. It was here that the first county bridge across Owens River was constructed. The 1872 earthquake changed the course of Owens River, so the site of Bend City was near an empty ravine instead of on a river bank.
Location: On Mazourka Canyon Rd, 4.6 mi W of Independence
Google: 37.360897,-118.454665

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mary Austin's Home

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

After graduating from Blackburn College in 1891, Mary Hunter married Wallace Austin and they eventually moved to Independence before going their separate ways; Mary, to the coast and eventually New Mexico, and Wallace to Death Valley.

“Acknowledged during her lifetime as an important American nature-writer in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, as a leading feminist theorist, and as an expert on Native American cultures, but largely forgotten after her death in 1934, Mary Austin has received renewed interest over the past few decades due to a unique literary blending of feminism, environmental ethics, social critique, and interpretations and adaptations of Native American, Hispanic-American, and Euro-American mythological traditions.” – Mark Hoyer  - UC Davis

In other words, Mary was ahead of her time.

Photo - The 'A' listers from left: George Sterling, Mary Austin, Jack London, and James Hopper, on the beach in Carmel.

‘The Land of Little Rain’, probably her best known work has some editions going for high prices on eBay but the text is available for free online through the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE.

It appears Tom and Tina Bowman are living in the house now, and doing a fine job keeping things up and the white picket fence painted.

Plaque inscription:  229 Mary Austin's Home 1868 - 1934
"But if ever you come beyond the borders as far as the town that lies in a hill dimple at the foot of Kearsarge, never leave it until you have knocked at the door of the brown house under the willow-tree at the end of the village street, and there you shall have such news of the land, of its trails and what is astir in them, as one lover of it can give to another..."
The Land of Little Rain
253 Market St, Independence.
Google: 36.801674,-118.20184

You know what? Stafford Wallace Austin deserves better than being a side note in Mary's life, and though he was no literary whiz, this 1926 account from is alma mater at Cal shows he had an interesting go around:

Born May 16, 1862, at Hilo, Hawaii, Sandwich Islands. Attended Punahoe Missionary School at Honolulu, 1874 to 1880. Came to Oakland, California, in 1880 and prepared for University in Oakland and San Francisco high schools. Attended University of California 1882 to 1886 and graduated with degree of Ph.B.
After leaving college, 1886, sold encyclopedias in San Luis Obispo County and succeeded in placing one in nearly every school district library. Taught school in the same County 1887 to 1888. Then went to current canning, where with many others he squatted on land claimed by Haggin & Carr interests. Lost out after legal battle and continue teaching in Kern County.
Moved to Inyo County, California, in 1891 to promote a new canal and land settlement project. Resume teaching in Inyo County and was elected County Superintendent of Schools in 1894, serving until 1898, when he was appointed by President McKinley to the position of Register of the United States Land Office at Independence, California. Reappointed by President Roosevelt in 1902 and served until 1906, when he resigned to accept nomination as assemblyman. Defeated at the general election that year. Moved to Oakland, and in 1907 was admitted to the California bar; also admitted to practice before the Federal Departments at Washington, D.C.
From 1907 to 1909 lived in Oakland and engaged in searching records, real estate, and practicing law. December, 1909, appointed by United States District Court of California as Receiver for the California Trona Company, a mining and manufacturing corporation. Moved to Searles Lake, San Bernardino County, California, and took charge of the company's property. After close of receivership and president and legal adviser of the company until 1918, when he was appointed manager of the Los Angeles office of American Trona Corporation, which position he is now holding.
Was married in Bakersfield, California, to Mary Hunter, May 23, 1890, and divorced in San Bernardino 1915. One child, Ruth, born October 31, 1891, is dead.
The subject of this sketch is in good health at the present date and takes an active interest in his work and in his public affairs.
819 Standard Oil Building, Los Angeles.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Putnam's Cabin

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Not much of a challenge with this landmark, it’s right across the street from the poster child of county courthouses on US 395 in downtown Independence.

Charles Putnam’s stone cabin was the first permanent structure in what is now Inyo County and was used from 1861 till 1876 when it was torn down. About the same time Putnam put up his place, Samuel Bishop was doing the same thing to the north and they became the go-to guys for refuge, rescue, and trade.

NO. 223 SITE OF PUTNAM'S CABIN - In August 1861, Charles Putnam built the first cabin for permanent habitation in what is now Inyo County. The building, located 130 feet west of this site, served as a home, trading post, hospital, and 'fort' for early settlers, as well as a survival point for travelers. It became the center of the settlement of 'Putnam's' which five years later took the name 'Independence.'
Location: 139 Edwards St (Hwy 395), Independence
Google: 36.803435,-118.200649

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Camp Independence

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Heading south on 395 past Bishop and Big Pine to the next stop at Camp Independence, named so because it was dedicated on July 4th as a military base camp for the Owens Valley and the disputes between whites and Paiutes. We should remember that the war between the states was well underway and that most competent officers and trained enlisted had left for the conflict to the east.

The parade grounds (mid 1870's) CSMM photo

As is often the case, war may bear little influence on an inevitable outcome, over time. In this instance of battles between Paiutes and settlers, the Paiutes had retaken control of the Owens Valley by the spring of 1862 and this encampment was intended to be the base of operations to change the situation. The darkest days for Paiutes came a year later with the arrival of Captain Moses McLaughlin, an Indian fighter with a reputation of brutality, abuse of troops, and alcoholism. He rounded up 1000 Paiute men, women, and children, and force marched them from their native lands south to Fort Tejon in summer heat with inadequate provisions. 850 survived. The plan to relocate the Indians failed miserably and most had returned to the Owens Valley within a few months, and all had done so within a year. On other matters, McLaughlin was relieved of his command and faced a court martial.

CSMM photo

Living conditions at the outset of Camp Independence were primitive, with some troops living in hollowed out caves.

The officer’s quarters building was relocated to town and still exists today.

Plaque inscription: No. 349 Camp Independence
At the request of settlers, Colonel George Evans led a military expedition to this site on July 4, 1862. Hence its name "Independence." Indian hostilities ceased and the camp closed. War again broke out in 1865 and the camp was reoccupied as Fort Independence until its abandonment in 1877. This fort made possible the early settlements in the Owens Valley.
E of intersection of W Oak Creek Rd and Schabbell Ln, 3 mi NE of Independence.
Google: 36.833453,-118.218448

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bishop Creek Battleground

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

From the Owensville landmark we head 16 miles to the west on lonely highway 168 to the Bishop Creek Battleground. From here this fairly straight road starts gaining serious altitude as it dead ends near Lake Sabrina after passing through the summer getaway of Aspendell (alt. 8400’).


There is a website called The California Military Museum that is a great place to fact check these military related landmarks for accuracy, and this particular one seems to have more holes in it than a loaf of sheepherder’s bread from Schott’s Bakery in Bishop. In reading their article, ‘The Owens Valley Indian War 1861-1865’ the well sourced account of events shows this landmark to be off on a few points; like location, dates, and the rest of the text. In the canyons up the road a skirmish took place a few days later and that could possibly be what they’re talking about, or it could be a skirmish to the south at Big Pine Creek a few days earlier. As to ‘Paiute and Shoshone’ Indians, the military museum offer this:

“The Owens River valley had been the home of the Paiute Indians for many years; Linguistically, these Indians spoke the Shoshone language and. are sometimes referred to as the Paiute Shoshones. They were primarily rood gatherers and farmers. They lived on Pinyon Pine nuts, wild hyacinth tubers and yellow nutgrass tubers as well as the larva or a fly that laid its eggs upon the surface of saline Owens Lake. They also lived on deer, Desert big horn sheep, fish and small game. They had built an extensive ditch irrigation system for irrigating the wild hyacinth and yellow nutgrass.”

With this in mind, you can imagine how Paiutes felt when an initial 650 head of cattle are brought on your land and subsistence and allowed to roam free and stomp on and/or eat your food. Combining this with the winter of 1861-2 being one of the worst in history, conflict was inevitable.

Meanwhile, with the Civil War taking most regular troops, the Army was composed chiefly by unpaid California volunteers….the miners, cattlemen and settlers of the region.  

Early Owens Valley - OAC photo

Noehill photo

Plaque inscription: NO. 811 BISHOP CREEK BATTLEGROUND - On April 6, 1862, a battle took place around this site between newly arrived citizens of the Owens River Valley and the original inhabitants of the land, the Paiute and Shoshone Indians. The reason for this battle is lost but brave men on both sides died here for a cause which they held inviolate.
Location: SE corner of the intersection of State Hwy 168 (P.M. 13.0) and Bishop Creek Rd, 5.2 mi SW of Bishop
Google: 37.30007,-118.537567

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Inyo County, August 30, 1993

Note to the powers that be in California Office of Historic Preservation: Instead of ‘First Permanent White Habitation in Owens Valley’ how ‘bout ‘Owensville’, like it says on the plaque in the first place. The Slim Princess chapter of E Clampus Vitus took this matter into their own hands and placed a different plaque in 1977, the inscription is below, along with the original.

Allen Ebenezer Van Fleet (2nd from left, top row), the reason for the landmark and the person who built the first permanent structure here is seen in this 1907 Thanksgiving photo taken in the town of Laws. Interestingly, he shot in the chest with an arrow during the Indian War in 1863 and the arrowhead remained in him for the rest of his life. When the water was later diverted to Los Angeles, the Van Fleet family picked up stakes and moved to Mason Valley, Nevada. Today, there is an annual get-together held on the banks of the Walker River for the Van Fleets and the other families that relocated to Nevada called the ‘Owens Valley Picnic’.

Noehill photo

Before the ranchers and settlers came to the Owens Valley, there were the explorers, and first was mountain man Jedediah Smith in 1826. Later, Joseph Walker (Walker Lake, Walker River, Walker Pass) came along in 1834. Though this was mapped Mexican territory by then, they hadn’t bothered to check it out, nor had the Spanish in prior years. A decade later, in John Fremont’s exploration party were Kit Carson (Carson City), the artist Edward Kern (Kern County, Kernville), and Richard Owens (Owens River, Owens Lake, Owens Valley, Owensville). 

Yours truly (2nd from left - top row) as the Old Glory band heads heads up the 6 into Nevada in the spring of '77...the same time the E Clampus Vitus people were putting together the new plaque.

Official plaque inscription: NO. 230 FIRST PERMANENT WHITE HABITATION IN OWENS VALLEY - In August of 1861, A. Van Fleet and three other men drove their cattle into Owens Valley and prepared to stay. A cabin of sod and stone was built at the big bend of the Owens River at the northern end of the valley.
Location: At intersection of State Hwy 6 (P.M. 3.9) and Silver Canyon Rd, 4 mi NE of Bishop
Google: 37.39979,-118.35210

Current plaque inscription: OWENSVILLE – The first white man’s settlement in northern Owens Valley was built here in 1861 and two years later, prospectors named it ownsville. It Thrived for some time but in 1864 as minig in the White Mts. petered out, the miners moved on to better diggings leaving the town deserted.
Dedicated June 11, 1977 Slim Princess Chapter e Clampus Vitus

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Laws Narrow Guage Railroad

Inyo County, August 30, 1993

A short four mile drive out of Bishop on Highway 6 brings the Caddy to the old station and a great site to visit and get an idea of what a village built around a train station would have been like a hundred years ago. Hats off to the Slim Princess chapter of E Clampus Vitus and the people of Bishop to jump on the preservation of these buildings and equipment and maintain it for the fifty plus years since the railroad went under. As far as can be surmised, ‘slim princess’ refers to the narrow gauge locomotive, in this case, engine No. 9, which is still there. During this particular trip this author came away with a handful of old regional postcards from the reception center.

There is one nagging question about this railroad’s existence, why run a train up and down 300 miles of track and not go anywhere? No offense to Mound House, Nevada and Keeler, California but they don’t sit high on the destination list. The situation was a little different when the railroad was built and the Comstock rush was still on, and at Mound House you could transfer to the Virginia and Truckee east-west line, and southbound they intended to make it run to the Colorado River, though it never did. Also, when this railroad came into existence, Keeler was more of a happening place. It sat on Owens Lake, had a wharf where the ‘Bessie Brady’ steamship would haul ore and people, and a silver boom was on. The mines dried up, the lake dried up due to water diversion to Los Angeles, and trucking dried up the freight business and the last thing the little railroad could do. Today, Mound House is home to a brothel known as ‘Bunny Ranch’, where one would likely find a current day ‘slim princess’.  .

Soda works at Keeler

Train station at Keeler

NO. 953 LAWS NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD STATION AND YARD - In 1883, the Carson & Colorado Railroad was built between Mound House (near Carson City, Nevada) through Laws to Keeler, California, a distance of 300 miles. Laws Station was named in honor of Mr. R. J. Laws, Assistant Superintendent of the railroad. Between 1883 and about 1915, this railroad provided the only dependable means of transportation in and out of Owens Valley. Train service was stopped on April 30, 1960.
Location: On Silver Canyon Rd (Inyo County Rd), on old town of Laws, 4 mi NE of Bishop
Google maps: 37.400506,-118.346164