August 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts
 

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CAN THIS MINE BE SAVED?

CERRO GORDO


 

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.

A Parade of Nations

           While all of Inyo County celebrated Independence Day 1874 in some form or the other, the community of Lone Pine did it in the grandest style. Six nationalities proudly displayed their native flags, as they marched in the grand parade. Music was enjoyed by a brass band from Los Angeles. A wagon with a miniature smoking furnace represented Cerro Gordo, and residents of the mining town came down off the mountain to join in the celebrations. The streets of Lone Pine were decorated with not only the Stars and Stripes, but the flags of France, Mexico, Germany, Chile, and Switzerland. The Orleans Hotel dance hall was decked with flags from the various nationalities as well.

        Throughout the day many activities took place. Honorable James. E. Parker eloquently  read the Declaration of Independence once again. Spike driving, horse racing, bear and bull fighting, were amongst the contests enjoyed. A dance and supper was held at the end of the day. Each man who attended the dance carried a small sack of gold dust, which he poured over his lady love at the last dance, just before the midnight supper hour. This signified that his lady was "spoken for", and that wedding bells would soon be heard. During the supper, the ladies with gold glittering in their hair were congratulated by all.

         It was not uncommon for fights to break out at dances, and the Fourth of July dances were no exception. The jail was filled with men who were released the following morning. The Mexican and Chilean dances seemed to be controlled "through methods that seldom had to be repeated on the same person twice." The other nationalities were noted for fist fights and hot blood, and six-guns often were the only way to put an end to the ruckus. Ten of Captain MacGowan's men supporting black eyes and shamed faces filled two wagons that followed his from the Lone Pine jail back to Camp Independence .

Fun, Firsts, & Fear

          July 4, 1875 was a big year for celebrations in the Inyo mining towns. The faucet was turned on in Darwin on July 3rd thanks to Victor Beaudry, and water traveled the seven miles from Crystal Springs to the town for a wet  4th of July. Citizens stood in the streets and enjoyed a "remorseless sluicing down" from fire hydrants. Over in Surprise Canyon the sound of a whistle blowing echoed in the hills, as the big mill celebrated both its opening day and the nations birthday.

          Meanwhile, the communities of Lone Pine & Round Valley argued over the Gill Brothers & Mr. Matlack. Their musical abilities were so popular, that two communities vied for their entertainment time. The problem was resolved by  playing for Lone Pine on the actual  night of the Fourth, then moving to Round Valley for their ball on the night of July 5th. Later they probably regretted the decision to play in Round Valley, when they were served tainted lemonade instead of hard liquor, between their musical sets, and fell into a deep stupor. Havoc broke loose in the ball room when the musicians and a popular young gal, Kay Schalten, from Independence fell into a stupor after being served. Upon the doctors arrival and medical aid administered, the conclusion was made that someone had slipped chloroform into the lemonade. All four victims of the prank came to three days later, but were sick for quite a few days afterwards. Needless to say, all dance attendees were interrogated, as well as anyone who might have had anything to do with the making of the lemonade. There was some thought it had to do with the musicians and rivalries over the local towns that wanted them to play for them, but investigations were inconclusive and remain so to this day.

        The town of Independence, of course, celebrated its 1875 Fourth of July in the usual tradition with picnic, orations, dance, and midnight supper. Compared to the event at Round Valley, and to other years celebrations the event was tame. Part of the reason for this was because the towns young people and the boys in blue had decided to celebrate their holidays in Cerro Gordo, Round Valley, Panamint City, and Darwin, instead.

Shining Centennial Celebrations

         The United States celebrated its Centennial in 1876, and while mining activities were slowing down in the county of Inyo, Captain MacGowan and his men were determined to make it a glowing one, that would  not be forgotten. Company D of the 12th Infantry, and ordinary citizens from the Inyo communities began a fundraiser for $500 to be used to place a shining silver globe atop the highest pinnacle of Mount Whitney. The silver globe would be inscribed with the name of the occasion it was honoring, as well as the names of the president of the United States, the General of the Army, the department Commander, officers and men at Camp Independence and the citizens who helped with the globe. The boys of Camp Independence were certain that the globe placed atop the highest mountain in the continental United States would serve as beacon for travelers at least a hundred miles in all directions. The citizens of Inyo county weren't as certain, and the boys found that they were hard pressed to collect funding for their shining efforts.

          The rest of Inyo County went about preparing for the big centennial celebration which would be held in Lone Pine. Surrounding communities chose officers for the various committees and tasks that would need to be done. The little town of Lone Pine burst at the seams with visitors. When hotel accommodations filled up, covered wagons were brought in to sleep in. Captain MacGowan and soldiers returned from a scouting trip just in time to participate in the great day, which would include a grand parade of not only the soldiers themselves in their finest dress, but the various nationalities that the communities of Inyo county were made up of, in their colorful native traditions as well. Carriages and floats were decked out in red white and blue, as they traversed from the Old Plaza south through Lone Pine, and circled around through the town to the plaza once again. At  Mexican Hall displays were set up of products that came from Inyo County. Specimens of minerals from the mining camps were prominent, of course. Honorable James Parker gave a great historical and patriotic oration as he had in other years, and of course the evening fireworks, grand ball and midnight supper concluded the day.  Although the boys in blue had not succeeded in placing a shining star atop Mount Whitney, the communities in and around Owens Valley still managed to celebrate a shining Centennial.

The End of an Era

          Although the mining camps were waning, and difficult and changing times were forcing the closure of the great forts in the United States, the Fourth of July, 1877 would still go on. A recent resurgence of mining activity,  prompted Cerro Gordo mine owners to host the activities of the day. The soldiers from Camp Independence, and residents of many of the towns in the Owens Valley below, joined in the grand celebrations which included all you could drink champagne, great orations, the usual  fireworks and a masquerade ball. The sounds of the Cerro Gordo Brass Band accompanied several of the days events. One young couple at the ball, managed to secure Judge Hannah's services long enough for him to marry them quietly in the hall, the partying crowd oblivious to the blessed event until it was over.

          The town of Lone Pine managed a meager celebration "seeing as many of our best citizens were absent at Cerro Gordo Independence." The Inyo Independent reported that Mrs. Josiah Dodge held a picnic with 75 guests in attendance. The food was described as a "most sumptuous dinner" as opposed to a picnic spread, and was followed by a choir of locals with lovely voices. Master Al Viel read the Declaration of Independence in the most "creditable manner", and Rev. Mr. Nosler delivered an "eloquent oration." The day opened and closed with 13 gun salutes, and also included 38 guns at high noon under the fine direction of Major Geo. Burkhardt. A social hop at Van Briesen's hall went on through the wee hours of the morning.

          While many of the soldiers were gallivanting in Cerro Gordo , those who remained at Camp Independence participated in a rather somber military style holiday. Thirty seven volleys were fired as the sun rose, and roaring cannons were heard on & off throughout the day. A dance was held at the Honor Military Lodge for soldiers and citizens of the town Independence. Six days later the Captain Alexander B. MacGowan held in his hands the verification that this was indeed the last Fourth of July the boys in blue would celebrate at Camp Independence. July 10, 1877 Camp Independence was abandoned forever. Many communities remain today to celebrate their small hometown Independence Days in traditional fashion. Camp Independence and the men who were so much a part of the founding, protection, and preservation of Inyo County are gone forever.

 

Bibliography

 

Inyo Independent Newspaper

July 7, 1877

"Celebration At Cerro Gordo "

"The Fourth of July at Lone Pine"

 

The Boys In The Sky - Blue Pants

by Dorothy Clora Cragen

Pioneer Publishing Company

Fresno , California


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