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One Hundred Years in Yosemite (1947) by Carl P. Russell




Woodcut from the first edition (1931)
Woodcut from the first edition (1931)

Frequently each summer, those who climb to the Sierra crest within the Yosemite National Park come upon the remains of little “cities” near the mountaintops. Because the story of these deserted towns, now within the boundaries of the park is so interwoven with the story of Mono mining affairs in general, this chapter will of necessity take some account of the events of the Mono Basin, immediately east of Yosemite.

The first white men to visit the Mono country were undoubtedly the American trappers, followed shortly afterward by the explorers and immigrants. The first records of mineral finds in this region, however, are those that pertain to Lieutenant Tredwell Moore’s Indian-fighting expedition to the Yosemite in June, 1852 (see p. 46), which crossed the Sierra at the northern Mono Pass and brought back samples of gold ore. The miners who soon followed and, with a few others, continued to work in the Mono region, were apparently unthought-of by their former associates west of the Sierra.

John B. Trask, in his report on mines and mining in California, made to the legislature of California in 1855, says: “In my report of last year, it was stated that the placer ranges were at that time known to extend nearly to the summit ridge of the mountains; but this year it has been ascertained that they pass beyond the ridge and are now found on the eastern declivity, having nearly the same altitude as those occurring on the opposite side. Within the past season, many of these deposits have been examined, and thus far are found to be equally productive with those of similar ranges to the west, and, with a favorable season ensuing, they will be largely occupied.” It is probable that Trask’s statements were based on reports of the work done by Lee Vining’s party.

At any rate, in 1857 it became known among the miners of the Mother Lode that rich deposits had been found at “Dogtown” and Monoville, and a rush from the Tuolumne mines resulted. The Mono Trail from Big Oak Flat, through Tamarack Flat, Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and Bloody Canyon, following in general an old Indian route, was blazed at this time and came into great use. The Sonora Pass route was used also, and it was over this trail that the discoverer of the famous Bodie district, later to become the center of all Mono mining, made his way.

It is not my purpose, however, to write the history of Mono County, or even to make this a lengthy story of Mono mining camps. Rather would I present a concise account of the origin of the relics found by Sierra enthusiasts, and, incidentally, tell something about the astonishing town of Bodie.

The name Tioga and the beautiful region which its mention suggests are now familiar to thousands who annually drive over the route that bisects Yosemite National Park. The original location of the mineral deposit now known as the Tioga Mine was made in 1860. Consequently, it is here that our present chronicle of Yosemite summit events should begin. In 1874, William Brusky, a prospector, came upon a prospect hole, shovel, pick, and an obliterated notice at this place. The notice indicated that the mine had been located as “The Sheepherder” in 1860. It was presumed by Brusky that the original locators were returning to Mariposa or Tuolumne from Mono Diggings, Bodie, or Aurora when they made the find. He flattered the claim by supposing that “the original locators probably perished, as it is not likely that they would abandon so promising a claim”; he relocated it as the “Sheepherder.”

In 1878, E. B. Burdick, Samuel Baker, and W J. Bevan organized the Tioga District. Most of the mines were owned by men of Sonora, although some Eastern capital was interested. The district extended from King’s Ranch, at the foot of Bloody Canyon, over the summit of the Sierra and down the Tuolumne River to Lembert’s Soda Springs. It was eight miles in extent from north to south. At one time there were 850 locations in the district. Bennetville (now called Tioga) was headquarters for the Great Sierra Mining Company offices, which concern was operating the old Sheepherder as the “Tioga Mine.”

The company apparently suffered from no lack of funds, and operations were launched on a grand scale. Great quantities of supplies and equipment were packed into the camp at enormous expenditure of labor and money. At first the place was accessible only via the Bloody Canyon trail, and Mexican packers contracted to keep their pack animals active on this spectacular mountain highway. A trail was then built from the busy camp of Lundy, and that new route to Tioga proved most valuable. The Homer Mining Index of March 4, 1882, describes the packing of heavy machinery up 4,000 feet of mountainside to Tioga in winter:

The transportation of 16,000 pounds of machinery across one of the highest and most rugged branches of the Sierra Nevada mountains in mid-winter, where no roads exist, over vast fields and huge embankments of yielding snow and in the face of furious wind-storms laden with drifting snow, and the mercury dancing attendance on zero, is a task calculated to appall the sturdiest mountaineer; and yet J. C. Kemp, manager of the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company of Tioga, is now engaged in such an undertaking, and with every prospect of perfect success at an early day—so complete has been the arrangement of details and so intelligently directed is every movement. The first ascent, from Mill Creek to the mouth of Lake Canyon, is 990 feet, almost perpendicular. From that point to the south end of Lake Oneida, a distance of about two miles, is a rise of 845 feet, most of it in two hills aggregating half a mile in distance. The machinery will probably be hoisted straight up to the summit of Mount Warren ridge from the southwest shore of Lake Oneida, an almost vertical rise of 2,160 feet. From the summit the descent will be made to Saddlebags Lake, thence down to and along Lee Vining Creek to the gap or pass in the dividing ridge between Lee Vining and Slate creeks, and from that point to Tunnel, a distance of about one mile, is a rise of about 800 feet—most of it in the first quarter of a mile. The machinery consists of an engine, boiler, air-compressor, Ingersoll drills, iron pipe, etc., for use in driving the Great Sierra tunnel. It is being transported on six heavy sleds admirably constructed of hardwood. Another, or rather, a pair of bobsleds, accompanies the expedition, the latter being laden with bedding, provisions, cooking utensils, etc. The heaviest load is 4,200 pounds. Ten or twelve men, two mules, 4,500 feet of one-inch Manila rope, heavy double block and tackle, and all the available trees along the route are employed in “snaking” the machinery up the mountain—the whole being under the immediate supervision of Mr. Kemp, who remains at the front and personally directs every movement. It is expected that all the sleds will be got up into Lake Canyon today, and then the work will be pushed day and night, with two shifts of men. Meantime, the tunnel is being driven day and night, with three shifts of men under Jeff McClelland.

Such difficulties prompted the Great Sierra Mining Company to construct the Tioga Road, that they might bring their machinery in from the west side of the Sierra. The road was completed in 1883 at a cost of $64,000.

In 1884, one of those “financial disasters” which always seem to play a part in mining-camp history overtook the Great Sierra Mining Company, and all work was dropped. Records show that $300,000 was expended at Tioga, and there is no evidence that their ore was ever milled.

Persons who have climbed into that interesting summit region above Gaylor Lakes have no doubt pondered over the origin of the picturesque village of long deserted rock cabins clustered about a deep mine shaft. This is the Mount Dana Summit Mine, one of the important locations of the Tioga District. Its owners were determined to operate in winter, as well as in summer. In the Homer Mining Index, Lundy, of October 30, 1880, we are told that the superintendent of this mine visited Lundy and employed skilled miners to spend the winter there. In December of the same year one of them descended to Bodie to obtain money with which to pay those miners. “He got tripped up on Bodie whisky and was drunk for weeks. Some of the miners returned to Lundy from the Summit Mine. The distance is but seven miles, but they were two days making the trip and suffered many hardships.” Later F. W. Pike took charge of the Summit Mine, but no record appears to have been handed down of the final demise of the camp.

Another camp of the main range of the Sierra that received much notice and actually produced great wealth was Lundy, situated but a few miles north of Tioga. Prior to 1879, W. J. Lundy was operating a sawmill at the head of Lundy Lake. His product helped to supply Bodie’s enormous demand for timber. In the spring of 1879, William D. Wasson took his family to Mill Canyon, near Lundy Lake, and engaged in prospecting. He was followed by C. H. Nye and L. L. Homer, who located rich veins of ore. J. G. McClinton, of Bodie, investigated and was persuaded by what he found to bring capital to the new camp at once. Homer District was organized at Wasson’s residence at Emigrant Flat, in Mill Creek Canyon, September 15, 1879. Prior to this time the region was included in the Tioga District, but because the books of the Tioga recorder were kept at an inconvenient point, a new district was formed. L. L. Homer, for whom the district was named, bowed down by “financial troubles,” committed suicide in San Francisco a few months later.

It is worthy of mention that in 1881 the Sierra Telegraph Company extended its line from Lundy to Yosemite Valley, where it made connection with Street’s line to Sonora.

A trail was built from Tioga over the divide from Leevining Canyon into Lake Canyon, thence down Mill Creek Canyon to Lundy. In 1881 Archie Leonard, renowned as a Yosemite guide and ranger, put on a ten-horse saddle train between Lundy and Yosemite. The trip was made in a day and a half, and the fare was $8.00 one way.

Reports of the State Mining Bureau indicate that something like $3,000,000 was taken from the May Lundy Mine. The town of Lundy proved to be substantial for many years, and the Homer Mining Index, printed there, is the best of all the newspapers that were produced in the ephemeral camps of Mono. Something of the spirit of mining-camp journalism may be gathered from the following note taken from a December, 1850, number of the Index:

The Index wears a cadaverous aspect this week. It is the unavoidable result of a concatenation of congruous circumstances. The boss has gone to Bodie on special business. The devil has been taking medicine, so that his work at the case has been spasmodic and jerky. The printing office is open on all sides, and the snow flies in wherever it pleases. In the morning everything is frozen solid. Then we thaw things out, and the whole concern is deluged with drippings. It is hard to set type under such conditions. When the office is dry, it is too cold to work. When it is warm, the printer needs gum boots and oilskins. In fact, it has been a hell of a job to get this paper out.

Like the other camps, Lundy is now defunct. The May Lundy Mine has not operated for some years, and the building of a dam has raised Lundy Lake so that a part of the townsite is submerged.

Another old camp that many Yosemite fishermen and hikers come upon is the aggregation of dwellings about the “Golden Crown.” At the very head of Bloody Canyon, within Mono Pass, are to be found sturdily built log cabins in various stages of decay. From the Homer Mining Index it has been possible to glean occasional bits of information regarding this old camp. It is stated in an 1880 number of the Index that Fuller and Hayt (or Hoyt) discovered large ledges of antimonial silver there in 1879. The Mammoth City Herald of September 3, 1879, contains a glowing account of the wealth to be obtained from the “Golden Crown.” as the mine was christened, and predicts that thousands of men will be working at the head of Bloody Canyon within one year. The Mammoth City Herald of August 27, 1879, under the heading, “Something Besides Pleasure in Store for Yosemite Tourists.” contains an enthusiastic letter regarding these prospects.

When one observes the great number of mining claims staked out throughout the summit region about White Mountain, Mount Dana, Mount Gibbs, and Kuna Peak, it is not surprising to learn that some Yosemite Valley businessmen ventured to engage in the gamble. Albert Snow, proprietor of the famous La Casa Nevada between Vernal and Nevada falls, owned a mine in Parker Canyon; and A. G. Black, of Black’s Hotel, owned the Mary Bee Mine on Mount Dana.

Some twenty miles south of the Tioga District, in a high situation quite as spectacular in scenic grandeur as any of the camps of the main range of the Sierra, was Lake District, in which Mammoth and Pine City flourished for a time—a very brief time.

In June of 1877, J. A. Parker, B. N. Lowe, B. S. Martin, and N. D. Smith located mineral deposits on Mineral Hill at an altitude of 11,000 feet. Lake District was organized here that same summer. Activity was not great until 1879, when great riches seemed inevitable, and a rush of miners swelled the population of Mammoth and Pine City. A mill was built for the reduction of ores that were not in sight, and two printing establishments cut each other’s throats, the Mammoth City Herald, first on the ground, and the Mammoth City Times.

For a time hope was high. J. S. French built a toll trail from Fresno to Mammoth City. French’s saddle trains met the Yosemite stages at Fresno Flats, and traveled to Basaw (or Beasore) Meadows, Little Jackass Meadows, Sheep Crossing, Cargyle Meadow, Reds Meadow, through Mammoth Pass, and then to Mammoth City, a distance of fifty-four miles. Livestock to supply the Mammoth markets was driven from Fresno Flats over this trail, also.

The first winter after propaganda had inveigled capital to take a chance on Mammoth, all activities persisted through the winter. Like those hardy men who suffered the hardships of winter on Mount Dana, the inhabitants of Mammoth contended with great difficulties.

After the winter of 1879-80, it became apparent that the Mammoth enterprise was unwarranted. The mill, constructed with such optimism, was poorly built. Had it been mechanically perfect, the fate of the camp would have been no better, for the expected ore was not forthcoming. Mammoth was another of those camps which engulfed capital and produced little or nothing. In the winter of 1880-81 the place closed.

Benton, Bodie, and Aurora are quite removed from the area likely to be reached by Sierra travelers, yet to close this account without some mention of their birth, growth, and death would be to omit some of the most important affairs of Mono mining. The first settlement in the region immediately south of Mono was made by George W. Parker, who located the Adobe Meadows in 1860. In 1861 E. C. Kelty sent “Black” Taylor, a partner of the discoverer of Bodie District, to winter some cattle in Hot Springs Valley, where he was killed by Indians. William McBride entered the region in 1853 and engaged in ranching. Float rock was found in October, 1863, by Robinson and Stuart in the foothills of the White Mountains, east of Benton. In February, 1864, these men organized the Montgomery District and succeeded in attracting some attention to their find. The region flourished for a season, but soon declined and became deserted. A few very rich deposits existed, but there seem to have been no continuous veins.

[ Inserted here was a “Sketch Map of Yosemite Region.” ]

“Cherokee Joe” found lead ore in a long, low granite hill, which rises abruptly out of the valley west of the White Range, and it was here that Benton started in 1865. James Larne built the first house, and soon the camp became quite populous. Like the others, it attracted a printer, and for a time the Mono Weekly Messenger flaunted taunts at neighboring camps and exploited the virtues and possibilities of Benton. Like the others, too, the camp failed, and the printer moved, this time to Mammoth, where he founded the short-lived Mammoth City Herald.

When, in the late ’seventies, the turbulent town of Bodie was attaining its reputation as a tough place, a newspaper of Truckee, California, quoted the small daughter in a Bodie-bound family as having offered the following prayer: “Good-by, God! I’m going to Bodie.” An editor of one of the several Bodie papers rejoined that the little girl had been misquoted. What she really said was, “Good, by God! I’m going to Bodie.”

According to accounts printed when excitement at Bodie was high, the discoverer of the Bodie wealth, W. S. Body, came to California on the sloop Matthew Vassar in 1878. He had lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, and there left a wife and six children. In November, 1859, Body, Garraty, Doyle, Taylor, and Brodigan crossed Sonora Pass to test the Mono possibilities. On their way back to the west side of the mountains, they dug into placer ground in a gulch on the east side of Silver Hill, one of those now pock-marked hills just above Bodie.

The partners apparently remained on the ground and equipped themselves to work their claims. In March, 1860, Body and “Black” Taylor went to Monoville for supplies, and en route were overtaken by a severe snow-storm. Body became exhausted, and Taylor attempted to carry him but was forced to wrap a blanket around him and leave him. Taylor returned to their cabin, obtained food, and then wandered about all night in a vain search for his companion. It was not until May that Body’s body was found, when it was buried on the west side of the black ridge southwest of the present town. Taylor’s fate has already been mentioned.

Other miners came into the vicinity, and at a meeting, with E. Green presiding, “Body Mining District” was organized. Subsequent usage changed “Body” to “Bodie.” In the summer of 1860, prospectors located lodes a few miles north of Bodie that were destined to put the Bodie find “in the shade” for some years to come. This was the Aurora discovery, upon which the Esmeralda District, organized in 1860, centered. Aurora forged ahead and became a wildly excited camp, but its bloody career was little more than a drunken orgy. The rich ores which had induced extravagance and wild speculation disappeared when shafts had been sunk about one hundred feet, and the “excitement” came to a sudden end.

It is worthy of note that the first board of county supervisors of the county of Mono met in Aurora, June 13, 1861. By 1864 it was discovered that the camp was some miles within the state of Nevada; so Bridgeport was named the county seat. Just before the move was made, a substantial courthouse had been built in Aurora, and the old building still stands. E. A. Silerman, first editor of the Esmeralda Star of Aurora, journeyed to the Eastern States prior to 1863-64, and took with him a fifty-pound specimen of rich Aurora ore. This chunk of rock had been sold and resold at mining-camp auctions to swell the Sanitary Fund, the Civil War “Red Cross.” Thousands of dollars were added to the fund by this one specimen, just as had been done through repeated sale of the celebrated Austin (Nevada) sack of flour.

Mr. Sherman met Mr. Davis of the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and exchanged the Aurora ore for a piece of Plymouth Rock. This fragment of Plymouth Rock was brought back to Aurora, and when the Mono County courthouse was built there, the Plymouth Rock fragment was placed in the cornerstone. The fifty-pound chunk of Aurora ore still may be seen in the Plymouth Society’s venerable museum.

Mark Twain at one time resided in Aurora and engaged in his humorous exaggerations. His cabin there, which even in 1878, when Wasson wrote his Bodie and Esmeralda, had become somewhat mythical, was recently located and moved to Reno, Nevada, where it is now exhibited. At any rate, an Aurora cabin was found which might have been occupied by Mark Twain. One part of the original Mark Twain cabin certainly did not reach Reno, according to the Mammoth Times of December 6, 1879. Bob Howland, who had lived with Mark Twain in Aurora, returned to their old domicile in 1879 and took down the flagpole. He had it made into canes, which he distributed among his friends.

The truly important activity in the Esmeralda region prompted the building of the Sonora Pass wagon road. The Mono County supervisors ordered that road bonds on the “Sonora and Mono road” be issued on November 5, 1863. The road was projected in 1864 and opened to travel in 18681 [ 1A road of sorts crossed Sonora Pass prior to this construction work. Hittell [Editor’s note: The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of Californiadea] (1911, p. 218) tells of Grizzly Adams’s trip through the pass with a wagon in the spring of 1851. ]

Bodie, in the meantime, had not given up the ghost, although only a comparatively few miners occupied the camp. From its discovery until 1877 an average of twenty votes were polled each year. In 1878, however, the Bodie Mining Company made a phenomenally rich strike of gold and silver ore, and the entire mining world was startled. Stock jumped from fifty cents to fifty-four dollars a share. The news swept all Western camps like wildfire, and by 1879 Bodie’s crowd and reputation were such that the little girl’s prayer of “Good-by, God! I’m going to Bodie” was representative of the opinion held by contemporaries.

Even W. S. Body, whose body had moldered in a rocky grave for nearly twenty years, was not undisturbed by the activity. In 1871 J. G. McClinton had discovered the forgotten Body grave while searching for a horse. He made no move to change the burial site, however, until some one of Bodie’s several newspapers launched erroneous reports of the whereabouts of Body’s remains. In the fall of 1879 McClinton and Joseph Wasson exhumed the skeleton, exhibited it to Bodie’s motley populace, and then gave it an elaborate burial, not excluding an eloquent address by Hon. R. D. Ferguson. Now these honored bones occupy a grave that is quite as neglected as the sage-grown niche in which they originally rested, but at least they share a place with the other several hundred dead disposed of in Bodie’s forgotten cemetery.

To make Bodie’s story short, let it suffice to say that for four years the camp maintained the same high-pressure activity. Men mined, milled, played, fought, and hundreds died. Some fifty companies tunneled into Bodie Bluff and all but turned it inside out. Probably twenty-five millions in bullion were conveyed in Bodie stage coaches to the railroad at Carson City, Nevada. Perhaps an amount almost as great was sunk into the hills by the numerous companies that carried on frenzied activity but produced no wealth. Only the Standard and the Bodie had proved to be immensely profitable, and in 1881 the stock market went to pieces. Bodie’s mines, one after another, closed down. In 1887 the Standard and the Bodie consolidated and operated sanely and profitably for some twenty years longer. But the camp’s mad days of wild speculation and excessive living were done. Gradually activities ceased, and a few years ago the picturesque blocks of frame buildings were consumed by flames. To meet the opportunities of 1941 some several hundred people occupied Bodie to salvage minerals from her old mine dumps. But there was little progress in rebuilding the town. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bodie Miners’ Union Hall of the ’seventies still stands. Within it Mr. and Mrs. D. V. Cain have exhibited the relics of Bodie’s boom days.

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