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Time To Celebrate:Independence
the Boys in Blue
Cecile Page Vargo
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
July 5, 1862
Sir:I have the honor to report to the colonel commanding at
that I have arrived at this Point, forty-five miles above the foot of
, 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
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 OwensValleysettlers and the
Indians that required their attention, the men of CampIndependence 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 Be
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 OwensValleywere 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 OwensLakewhere they would
then be transported by freight wagons and mules to Los Angeles. When July 4th came
around, James Brady, the superintendent of Swanseawho 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 himselfoften
enjoyed holding parties and dances with the boys at CampIndependenceand 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 Diegowith him. He ended
his letter with a reference to the much anticipated Independence Day
"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"
CampIndependenceand 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 asunrise 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
The usual orations were presented, including the Declaration of
Independence read by the Honorable James Parker. Captain MacGowan gave a
history of CampIndependence, and tribute to its
founder George S. Evans. The day was considered a fitting celebration by
all who attended.
At 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 InyoCountycelebrated
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 representedCerro 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 eloquentlyread
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 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 CampIndependence.
Fun, Firsts, &
July 4, 1875 was a big year for
celebrations in the Inyo mining towns. The faucet was turned on in Darwinon July 3rd thanks
to Victor Beaudry, and water traveled the seven miles from CrystalSpringsto the town for a
wet4th of July. Citizens
stood in the streets and enjoyeda
"remorseless sluicing down" from fire hydrants. Over in SurpriseCanyon the sound of a
whistle blowing echoed in the hills, as the big mill celebrated both its
opening day and the nations birthday.
communities of LonePine & RoundValleyargued over the Gill
Brothers & Mr. Matlack. Their musical abilities were so popular,
that two communities vied for their entertainment time. The problem was
resolved byplaying for Lone
Pine on the actualnight of
the Fourth, then moving to RoundValley for their ball on
the night of July 5th. Later they probably regretted the decision to
play in RoundValley, 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 Independencefell 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 supper. Compared to
the event at RoundValley, 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, RoundValley, PanamintCity, and Darwin, instead.
The United Statescelebrated 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 wouldnot 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 CampIndependenceand the citizens who
helped with the globe. The boys ofCampIndependence were certain that
the globe placed atop the highest mountain in the continental United Stateswould 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 InyoCountywent 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 OldPlaza south through Lone
Pine, and circled around through the town to the plaza once again. AtMexican Hall displays were set up of products that came from InyoCounty. 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 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 OwensValley 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 CampIndependence, and residents of
many of the towns in the OwensValley below, joined in the
grand celebrations which included all you could drink champagne, great
orations, the usualfireworks
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 Pinemanaged 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 CampIndependenceparticipated 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 CampIndependence. July 10, 1877CampIndependence was abandoned
forever. Many communities remain today to celebrate their small hometown
Independence Days in traditional fashion. CampIndependenceand
the men who
were so much a part of the founding, protection, and preservation of InyoCountyare gone forever.