With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I
delved into my history books to find out about the men of the past who
devoted their lives teaching us about the good book and how to reach to the
heavens and be thankful to God.
and yet to be discovered mineral wealth drew the pioneers to the Owens Valley
and the towering mountains that flanked it, often after failed attempts in the
Gold Country in the Western Sierra foothills. In the isolated desert and
mountain mining camps, primarily masculine populations would set up a
tent, build a wood cabin, or dig holes in mountainsides to set up some form of
housekeeping and overnight accommodations.
reenactor recites scripture to visitors in the Methodist
church at Bodie during Friends of Bodie Days, 2005.
enterprising man who refused to get his hands dirty soon cashed in on the real
wealth to be had as he set up a crude bar consisting of two barrels and a slab
of wood, providing liquid libation for parched throats. A deck of cards, a pair
of dice, maybe a roulette or faro table, and a gambling hall was born for idle
hands and minds. Behind bar and gambling hall a single wrought iron bed and
mattress in a dinghy crib, complete with a couple of barely clad women, and
the tired and lonely Argonaut, could quench all of his thirsts for the price
of a hard earned nugget or coin. An assay office, a general store or two,
hotel, boarding room, chop house or restaurant, several more saloons and full
fledged dance halls and whore houses scattered about e and what more could one
|Saloon ads in
Inyo Independent newspaper, Sept., 1871.
A prosperous camp was
soon to find itself on the brink of becoming down right civilized as a few men
dared to bring wife and family and others soon found they needed more than the
likes of painted women nicknamed "Mud Hen", "Horned Toad", or "Featherlegs" to
provide companionship. Butcher shop, bakery, and haberdashery were destined to
appear along often board walked streets for the wives and the children that
would inevitably follow. Fraternal organizations and meeting hall were the next
inexorable step towards citificatation, not to mention some form of law and
order, and perhaps a newspaper to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly for
Sin and lawlessness
seemed to be the order of the day, in spite of attempts to turn transient mining
camps into full fledged municipalities. The mind and the soul of more than a few
good citizens hankered for feeding. At the very least mothers would set up home
schooling for "Readin', ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic" with hopes of a full fledged
one room schoolhouse for variable aged children complete with unattached
schoolmarm sometime in the future. Prayer meetings and Bible study groups would
be held behind private doors to tide the faithful over between calls from
ministers of various denominations who roamed from one populace to another
preaching their particular brand of fire and brimstone, and holy sanctification.
On October 3, 1867
Rev. Andrew Clark and his family arrived in Owensville, the site of present day
Laws, near Bishop. As a licensed and ordained Baptist minister he was quick to
saddle up his horse and travel from Bishop to Cerro Gordo on the south, and to
Lida, Nevada, on the North. As he traveled several hundred miles, he carried the
mail from community to community and spread the word of God. His services also
included weddings, baptisms and funerals.
His services were
held in homes, until 1869 when Rev. Clark organized the First Church Society in
California, east of the Sierra. The first charter members of this Baptist
Convention began with seven Clark family members who held services in a school
house. The thirst for religion was great, and by the second Sunday, Rev. Clark’s
congregation had doubled to fourteen.
In addition to
preaching, Rev. Clark began purchasing property in and around Bishop. He gave
some of his land away to form the Bishop School district, and for church
property. After establishing his own Baptist Church he gave plots to the
Methodist and Holiness churches as well, earning him the title “Founding Father
During the early days
in Owens Valley, Rev. Andrew Clark was joined by lay preachers the likes of J.
Tamblyn who was also the superintendent of the Eclipse Mine, and S. W. Blasdell
who was the teacher of the George Creek school. In 1866 or 1867 a schoolhouse
was formed and Sunday school was started, with R.M. Shuey as superintendent.
Shuey reported that Mr. Tamblyn “read a chapter from the Bible and talked about
it so beautifully that even a small boy listened and remembered.
Old time residents of
Independence talk of circuit riders, “mostly Methodists,” who came on horseback,
making their way to far-flung charges. When no minister was present, families
such as the Blaneys of Independence, held Sunday school in the hotel they
owned with the eldest sister presiding over informal services. In 1871 when the
Methodist Episcopal Church sent Rev. E. H. Orne to Independence, the Blaneys and
others like them, had a real preacher at least once in a great while. Orne’s
parish consisted of areas from the mountain top of Cerro Gordo to Benton, as
well as a few of the outlying mining camps.
The circuit minister
worked with self-sacrifice and devotion in the name of God,. Little was received
for their efforts, except the satisfaction they were doing the Lord’s work as
they were called to. Local farmers saw to it that the traveling minister and his
steed were both well fed, while the money in the community was mostly reserved
for saloon keepers. When the minister was ready to set up a more permanent shop,
he would roll up his sleeves and work as hard as anyone whenever and wherever he
could for lumber, canvas, nails, and whatever other building supplies he needed.
With few ministers
and churches covering such a large area, it was not uncommon for Christians of
all faiths to gather in one place for worship. The Catholic population of Big
Pine sent their children to Sunday school with the Protestants. The priest spent
most of his time traveling from San Bernardino, through Death Valley to the
Owens Valley and only had one or two days a year to allow to each community on
his list. Mr. Louis Joseph, a well educated Jewish merchant, also of Big Pine,
knew the Old Testament of the Bible inside and out, so taught Old Testament
history and customs classes to the Methodist adults. Regardless of denomination,
believers managed to set aside their differences at least one day a week, to
praise the Lord together.
The more isolated
mining camps such as Cerro Gordo, relied totally on the circuit riders for their
religious needs, but the booming town of Bodie, much further to the north,
eventually collected enough funds for Catholic and Methodist churches and a
Chinese Joss Temple to be built. By the late 1920’s, Bodie’s population dwindled
down from a thriving 10,000 to a meager 30 or so. E. J. Clinton came to town in
1928 and re-worked the tailings at the Standard mine's dump. The Clinton-West
Company brought in another 300-400 residents whose church needs were provided by
Clinton and his wife. In addition to turning the old railroad office on the
bluff into an indoor plumbed mansion for his wife and three children, Clinton
completely renovated the Methodist church and took it upon himself to stand
behind the pulpit each Sunday to do the sermon.
In the twentieth
century, as mining played out, the thriving towns once dubbed the tempests of
lust and passion of the Eastern Sierras and Inyo Mountains, turned to ghosts
with little need for the Holy Spirit. The ranching and farming communities in
the Owens Valley thrived in comparison. Today, with tourism as the main
industry, the modern traveler can pick and choose from an abundance of churches
and faiths to celebrate and give thanks to the heavenly maker of their choice.
Thank you to Pastor Paige of Crescenta
Valley United Methodist Church for renewing my interest in the churches old and
new, and their history.
by Warren Loose
Exposition Press New York
by Martuerite Sprague
University of Nevada Press
East Of The High Sierra-The Ghost Town of Bodie
A California State Park
by Russ and Anne Johnson
Chalfant Press, Inc.
Seeking Pleasure In The Old West
by David Dary
University Press of Kansas
Saga of Inyo County-Southern Inyo
by American Association of Retired Persons
Bodie “The Mines Are Looking Well…”
by Michael H. Piatt
North Bay books