August 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts





Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.



Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.








The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo to request  subscription information.

A Time To Celebrate:  Independence Day

with the Boys in Blue

by Cecile Page Vargo

Part II

     On July 4th 1862 , Lieutenant Colonel George S. Evans of the Second California Cavalry successfully completed his mission to find a site for a much needed military outpost in the Owens River Valley, East of the great Sierra Nevada mountains. Three days later the following report traveled by messenger to Camp Latham:

"Camp Independence, Oak Creek ,

  Owens River Valley

  July 5, 1862

       Sir:  I have the honor to report to the colonel commanding at Camp Latham that I have arrived at this Point, forty-five miles above the foot of  Owen's Big Lake, on Yesterday, July 4, 1862 . Immediately upon my arrival I caused a flag-staff to be erected and the old flag with all the stars upon it hoisted to the breeze, with three times three given most heartily by the men and a salute fired with small arms, upon which occasion I named this camp, Camp Independence."

        Over the next 15 years & six days, the "Boys in Blue" would serve and protect the people who lived in & around the areas now known as Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, and Bishop. While there were the occasional skirmishes between the Owens Valley settlers and the Indians that required their attention, the men of Camp Independence became caught up in day to day life with them as well. In addition to surveying the land surrounding them, and surviving and recovering from the tragedies of the Great 1872 Earthquake, the men traded supplies and services with the locals, joined in the frenzy of the isolated mining camps of the day, and patrolled for the elusive "Buffalo Gnats" that plagued the area. They also intermingled with the families, became friends with, often times courted and married their daughters. They joined in the celebrations that marked life's milestones, and provided relief from the tediousness and boredom.

All Aboard The Bessie Brady

         It's only natural that a Camp formed on the Fourth of July, and named after the day the nation they were a part of declared it's independence, would set aside some time to observe the holiday. In 1872, when many mines in the area were booming, and populations in the Owens Valley were swelling, in addition to the usual revelry heralding the day, there was much excitement. The steamboat Bessie Brady had launched it's maiden voyage only a few days before on June 27th, as it hauled 700 Cerro Gordo silver bullion bars to the southern end of Owens Lake where they would then be transported by freight wagons and mules to Los Angeles. When July 4th came around, James Brady, the superintendent of Swansea who had built the boat, invited anyone who was interested to join in a excursions across the lake and a picnic at one of the landings. Brady's daughter christened the boat that was named after her that day, as the crowds watched. James Brady himself  often enjoyed holding parties and dances with the boys at Camp Independence and sharing wine and ale from his own cellars. No doubt a few of the men helped to celebrate the christening and lake crossings on this Fourth of July.

The Finest Girls & The Finest Fourth

         A few days before the 4th of July, 1873, the Inyo Independent newspaper received a letter from one of Major Egbert's men who had gone to San Diego with him. He ended his letter with a reference to the much anticipated Independence Day celebrations.

        "Give my regards to all the girls, and tell them to get themselves in good dancing trim by the time I come back; for Lord, won't I swing them"

          Camp Independence and the communities that had grown up around it, had much to look forward to this nations holiday. Captain Alexander B. MacGowan had arrived only a few days before and he was determined to celebrate the 11th year of the camps existence in fine style. The town of Independence was particularly excited about the building of their new court house, and would dedicate it on the holiday as well. Captain MacGowan ushered in the day with a  sunrise gun salute for each of the 37 United States of America. Throughout the day, salutes were fired at various intervals, as well. Many distinguished guests, as well as officers and ladies from the military post, were greeted by a special welcoming committee, and special seats were arranged for them during the days festivities and supper. Miners from Cerro Gordo were invited to perform music for the evenings dance. 

          The usual orations were presented, including the Declaration of Independence read by the Honorable James Parker. Captain MacGowan gave a history of Camp Independence, and tribute to its founder George S. Evans. The day was considered a fitting celebration by all who attended.

          At 6:00 p.m. 140 guests were seated in the hall and lower rooms of the new Court House. A three course meal was served, under the direction of Thomas Kehoe. Following the meal, which received rave reviews by those who attended, the rooms of the Court House were prepared for the dances. Although the rooms were filled to the brim, the music was good and a great time was had by all.  By the end of the day, this 1873 celebration was considered a fine Fourth of July.

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2005 Tour Information

We're back in the picture! 

We expect to offer our first tour in October.

Please contact us at for tentative dates or to be put on our interest list.

Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at:

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

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