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June 5 meeting UNDER WESTERN STARS a Roy Rogers movie

Under Western Stars, a Roy Rogers Movie at June 5 Meeting

May 20, 2017

On Monday, June 5, Rich Foye will introduce and show the film UNDER WESTERN STARS, a 1938 movie made in the Eastern Sierra that was Roy Rogers' first starring role. Rich summarizes this 53 minute movie as “Owens Valley water wars” meets “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” meets “The Grand Ole Opry!” In other words, Roy saves ranchers threatened with water loss to a big, distant city with his six-gun and his election to Congress, singing songs throughout. A Hollywood adaptation of some familiar themes, 1938-singing-cowboy style.

Join us for this free event (donations welcomed) at the Lee Vining Community Center on Mattly Avenue in Lee Vining. Potluck dinner and business meeting at 6 PM; program begins at 7. Call 760 647-6461 or email

David Carle/

Outdoor exhibit area work

May 20, 2017

Tom Paranick, RIck Noles, Robin Mathieu, and Tim Banta worked on removing sod and weeds along sidewalk and under outdoor equipment, preparing for final surface. Two years ago we relocated sprinklers so they wouldn't spray on equipment. Now these final touches. Thanks, Tom, and your helpers and for the volunteer labor and use of the equipment.

David Carle/

Tales of El Camino Sierra book talk at April 3 2017 Meeting

March 15, 2017

David and Gayle Woodruff, the authors of the new book, Tales Along El Camino Sierra will present the history that occurred along what would become Highway 395 at the Monday, April 3 meeting of the Mono Basin Historical Society. "El Camino Sierra" was the name given to the predecessor of the highway5 by the Inyo Good Roads Club, as part of a marketing campaign designed to help the Eastern Sierra region get a share of a new State highway road construction bond. The authors have lived and traveled along the local highway since their childhoods, with a love of history, a deep fondness for their natural surroundings, and a passion for all things 395. Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

A potluck dinner and short business meeting begin at 6 PM at the Lee Vining Community Center on Hess Drive, with the Woodruff's program at 7 PM. All are welcome to attend. Free!

David Carle/

Horsepower for Beans

March 07, 2017

                    HORSEPOWER FOR BEANS

                                                           ByKirke C Jorgensen


Author’s note:   At the Ghost of the Sagebrush event in August of 2016, my wife Venita Jean McPherson Jorgensen and I were pleased to attend, along with Barry McPherson, my brother-in-law. (Barry and Venita are the grandchildren of Mono Inn’s original owner, Venita Reche McPherson.)  He brought to my attention there were several inquiries, as to the whereabouts and fate of the small “donkey” engine that used to be at Mono Inn.  In the early 1960’s when the Inn was sold by Mrs. McPherson’s son Wallis, he saved the engine, and later gave it to me, his son-in-law Kirke C Jorgensen.  I am pleased to announce the engine has been completely restored to as-new running condition, and is often displayed at Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association (EDGE&TA) events in northern California, usually running a buzz saw cutting wood. The following tale of Mono Lake lore was related to me over several years, and certainly second and third hand by now, so enjoy it, but you may take it with a few grains of Mono Lake salt.

No one knew at the time, but in the spring of 1935 the country was only half way through the Great Depression.  The citizens of Mono County had not been spared the hard times, although self-reliance, neighborly cooperation, and the hardy determination of ranchers, miners, and shopkeepers had faired them better than those in the old, big cities.  So, when 4 strangers knocked on the door of Mono Inn and asked for lodging, they were welcomed in as paying customers.  Mono Inn, just north of Lee Vining and the old Tioga Road to Yosemite, was a natural stop-over spot between Los Angeles and Reno on state Highway 395.  The moneyed Los Angeles crowd still made their summer pilgrimages to Yosemite, Bridgeport, Virginia Lakes, and Mammoth Lakes, so the Inn had stayed afloat as a convenient tourist stop.  Having one of the few liquor licenses in Mono County also helped!  The Inn’s owner, Mrs. Venita Reche McPherson, was proud of her establishment and enjoyed being a gracious hostess to all visitors.

After the evening meal in the dining room overlooking Mono Lake, the men explained they had not just stopped by accident.  They produced documents identifying themselves as stockholders and owners of “THE COLLOIDAL GOLD EXTRACTION ASSOCIATION”, and wanted to set up their experimental mining operation on the Mono Lake shore belonging to Mrs. McPherson.  They would offer $50 per month to use a bit of land for living quarters and equipment set up, and all the lake water they could pump.  They produced cash in hand to seal the deal.  Mrs. McPherson was a skilled businesswoman, and could see no harm, and only gain, so she readily agreed. 

A few days later, three more men arrived in a new 1935 Ford stake-bed with dual rear tires, loaded down with what appeared to be 5 tons of equipment on a 2 ½ ton truck.  However, the driver bragged that with his 8 speeds forward and 85 horsepower V-8 under the hood, he had made the torturous Sherwin Grade north of Bishop in 3rd underdrive at 10 mph, and had passed by similarly laden trucks, a Dodge 4 and a Diamond T 6, “like they was standin’ still.”  And, nestled among the pipe, flumes, tools, tents, and equipment was a small factory wooden crate with a brand new Fairbanks Morse “Z” style “C” 3 horsepower engine inside.

Work progressed rapidly, and within a week a series of flumes, pipes, settling basins, and drain ditches were set up.  A centrifugal water pump was hooked by a long belt to the Z engine.  The process these men were using is not clearly understood, but chemicals were added to the settling basin water and were supposed to capture any gold suspended in the Mono Lake water, which then passed through finer and finer mesh filters. 

For three months the little engine wheezed and coughed as the strain of the pump caused the governor system to alternately engage then release.   It was stopped at least once, over Easter weekend, in respect for the day, but on Monday morning workers discovered a varmint had eaten a substantial portion of the leather flat belt.  Repairs were made and the pumping operation was soon back in business.

While Mrs. McPherson had been getting the monthly $50 for land use regularly, the operation had begun to sign for groceries at her General Store.  During the fourth month of “mining” she felt some settlement was due, and the promotors assured her success was just around the corner, their colloidal extraction process was near perfection, and payment would be made just as soon as the first gold sale was made.  At the same time, she noticed the quality of groceries purchased changed from a variety of items, to almost exclusively the cheapest item in the store, Heinz beans.

Needless to say, as with so many mining dreams, schemes, and hopes, this one did not “pan out.”  After 5 months of pumping thousands of gallons of lake water and trying numerous chemical and filtering schemes, the men could show less than a thimble full of some yellowish substance that might or might not have been gold.  Mrs. McPherson demanded immediate settlement of the grocery bill, as at least a dozen cases of beans had been given on account and eaten by this time.  As the weary men packed up the Ford truck, they offered her the only item of real value, the Z engine.  The Inn needed an engine, so the swap was made of beans for horsepower, Mrs. McPherson coming out at the better end of the deal. 

For nearly three decades the little Fairbanks performed ranch chores faithfully, still mounted on the original hardwood skids, and attached to a concrete slab below the Inn.  It ran a buzz saw that cut cords of firewood each season, to fuel the huge wood cook stove in the kitchen.   It pumped fresh water from an irrigation ditch to water the lawns below the Inn.  Still later, it turned a concrete mixer for building repairs.  It produced a lot of work over its many years, but not, as far as we know, any ore but fool’s gold. 

David Carle/

A Log of a Snow Survey, author program March 6 2017

February 20, 2017

Author Patrick Armstrong will share stories from his book, The Log of a Snow Survey, Skiing and Working in a Mountain Winter World, at the Monday, March 6 meeting of the Mono Basin Historical Society, at the Lee Vining Community Center.  A short business meeting and potluck dinner begins at 6 PM and the program at 7 PM.

Patrick Armstrong, a resident of Bishop, has been on the California snow survey team for the last 43 winters.  Snow surveyors ski two out of every four weeks during the winter months measuring the water content of the Sierra Nevada’s snow pack. From those measurements the State Department of Water Resources determines how much water will be available for California’s hydro power generation, agriculture, and domestic use.

This book takes the reader skiing into the mountains with Pat.  Subjects covered include ski equipment, practical avalanche prediction, safe winter travel, cabin life, the use and care of wood burning cook stoves, building cabins, wildlife and birdlife found high in the mountains in winter, supplying cabins in the fall, the use of aircraft, the importance of good snow survey partners, a brief history of the snow surveys and the actual work of snow surveying.  It also includes many humorous incidents and some deadly incidents.

Patrick and his wife Merry live in Bishop California during the winters and McCall Idaho during the summers.  They have three grown children. The author trained on the 1972 U.S. Biathlon team, has been a chemistry and electronics instructor at the College of Idaho, a wilderness supervisor for the Forest Service, a trail building contractor, an Alaskan commercial fisherman and presently he and his wife have a ranch in Idaho.  He began doing snow surveys in 1972 and has continued this wintertime occupation throughout his careers.

The Mono Basin Historical Society meets monthly.  All our welcome to attend this free program and potluck dinner.

David Carle/

New officers for the Mono Basin Historical Society

November 23, 2016

A mostly new set of officers for the Mono Basin Historical Society has been elected by the MBHS Trustees: President David Carle; Vice-President Ellen King; Secretary Nora Livingston; Historian Linda LaPierre. Chris Lizza continues as Treasurer. Museum Manager position (not an officer but critical to operating museum) is now in Vineca Hess's capable hands. Thanks, everyone, for your dedication to our work.
Meanwhile, this month (November 2016) we accept nominations for 3 positions (of 7) on our Board of Trustees. Board elects our officers and provides overall guidance on policy. Membership will receive ballots in early December.

David Carle/

2016 Ghosts of the Sagebrush Tour: Mono Lake Cemetery, Voices from the Past

August 28, 2016

95 people attende dthe Mono Inn dinner on Friday August 19 and 70 came on Saturday, the next day, to hear speakers at the Mono Lake Cemetery.  Thanks to all who volunteered and spoke.  This year we shared intriguing historical information and/or stories about just a few of the people and families in the Mono Lake Cemetery, particularly their connections to the Mono Lake Basin.


Friday, August 19, dinner at the Mono Inn

Lundy and Jordan cemeteries, by Linda LaPierre; Kit Carson’s daughter’s grave by Barry

McPherson.  Plus, a very special guest from the past, Frank Cassidy, Sr., portrayed by his son, Nick Cassidy.

 Saturday, August 20 at the Mono Lake Cemetery

TRIBUTE TO NORM DECHAMBEAU – by Linda LaPierre and Cole Hawkins

Family History talks: DeChambeau by NOEL DECHAMBEAU; Banta by RITA BANTA; Gus Hess by ALAN BLAVER; Lou Williams, Harriet Blackmer, Harriett Hess, by VINECA HESS, HEIDI HESS; Veterans Memorial, LILY MATHIEU Filosena and LaBraque, by, ROBIN MATHIEU; Adair, by TOM PARANICK; Calhoun and Murphey, by JOHN MURPHEY; Carrington, by MIKE CARRINGTON

At the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center theater, historic video filmed by Jack Preston of Mono County, presented by BARRY MCPHERSON

David Carle/

Norm DeChambeau and the DeChambeau Ranch

May 30, 2016


Norm De Chambeau was a veteran of the United States Navy and the Korean War. He worked for the United States Forest Service, Nevada State forestry, and the National Park Service in wildland fire suppression, then for the Boy Scouts of America. After retiring he returned to live in the Mono Basin where he had spent part of his childhood. He served as the president and curator of the Mono Basin Historical Society. His ancestors homesteaded in the Mono Basin in the 19th century at this ranch and others. In 2014, Norm gave this talk that fascinated the crowd visiting DeChambeau Ranch during the historical society's annual Ghosts of the Sagebrush Tour.  Norm passed away in May 2016.

Thank you. Y’all wonder what I am doing in this outfit. Well eleven years ago we decided we needed to do something for the Historical Society, so we formed the Ghosts Tour and right here I was sitting on this porch, and I gave a little talk about the history of this area. But I want to take you back for a few minutes because we spoke of ghosts and spirits. I want to take you back over 75 years ago. I want to say that my grandfather - he’s over there behind the barn [gestures to the left]; he’s negotiating with Conway. My grandfather had bought a team of horses from Conway, but he hadn’t paid for it all the way. So Conway came down here and he said I tell you what, we’ll settle our debt if you will build me a hay-builder, a hay-stacker. Well my grandfather always had a pet pig, and the pet pig kept trying to get in the middle to stop them from having a fistfight, but they got it settled, or at least I think they did. They are over there [by the barn].

My grandmother, she’s here in the kitchen [gestures to the left]. Any time that you came here on the ranch or came by on the county road [gestures to the road out front], she’d see you, she’d wave you in, and she would have a little bowl of Canadian pea soup for ya and a cup of coffee. Well, I have to excuse her, but she’s in there cooking a pot of Canadian pea soup, so she’s pretty busy.

My step-mother, she’s over there in that wash house [ gestures to the far left] with a little bucket, and she’s trying to wash these clothes with a scrub board [gestures up and down] back and forth, and she’s having a tough job over there.

But I shouldn’t be standing here, I should be gathering the stack of wood thats over here [gestures forward], carrying the wood over to her wood stove to keep her water hot, should be carrying wood over here to my grandmother’s cooking stove so that she can cook that pea soup, but I am busy here right now.

Her oldest daughter Annie, Annie Mackenzie, is living up there in Bodie, and I wish I could show you pictures of her and Merv Mackenzie in their old costumes during the Fourth of July Parade; it must have been quite a sight.

And their son Arthur, if you look up there on the top of Black Point, the tallest little rock up there, he’s up there with a horse, watching a whole bunch of sheep we have up there, but he’s actually hiding behind or underneath the sagebrush because he’s studying to be a lawyer. And he got his Law degree, he passed it by a correspondence course. He was going to drop it, but the folks said, no, you’re doing real well, keep it up. He took the State Bar exam, and he was number two or three in the whole State Bar exam! He ended up in Bridgeport, where he was the Justice of the Peace, a District Attorney, and a Judge; if you got a speeding ticket, you might have gone before him.

And then Dewey, well Dewy just got married, and he and his brand new wife, Alma McRose, are over there on the eastern side of the lake [gestures straight out]. They are cutting firewood to haul up to Bodie. Well, Alma did not like that kind of living over there, so they ended up running the Bridgeport newspaper for over 30 years.

Violet, well she is somewhere around here taking pictures, and you better watch out; maybe she’s taking pictures of you. Most of these pictures here [gestures behind] were from her camera, and she took pictures all over.

Dad, my dad Darius, he’s down there in the lower field trying to catch Topsy so my sister and I can ride her to school the next day. Out there on 395, we’d ride back and forth to get to the school there, and one winter we spent at Thompson Ranch.

Well, I already talked about my stepmother, and so here I am, 75 years later, trying to tell you what the history of this place is. If you looked about as you came in here, and you turned to come down this lane here, the old County Road, just as you turned in and came through the wire fence, that was the Gardelia place. They were the first to settle here, Mr. Gardelia who came from Genoa, NV. He came here in 1871 and he homesteaded that area. Well, actually he squatted on it and ten years later he finally got a homestead on it. So he lived there, and he had a fellow named, Nicholas Dondero, and this is where the Dondero family comes in.

Nicholas was living up in Genoa, and he heard about Gardelia needing help, so Nicholas came down here and went to work for Gardelia. That lasted about three years, and then they got into a debate, so Nicholas came down and squatted right here, and ten years later he got the homestead rights to it.

And for of you who do not know, you had to have water on your property and you had to build a house with quarters and everything, and produce livestock and a garden or something. I always have a big debate with certain people here in Mono Basin about when Wilson Creek got its name. Wilson Creek ran through Conway Ranch, and the Wilson brothers, who were nephews of the Curry family came out and settled the Conway Ranch, the first of the five ranches there. They settled there, and their water supply came through there, and that was named the Wilson Creek. And the Wilson Creek then came on down by this road on the other side of where those tall trees are [gestures to the NW] and went on out to the lake. Well there is a debate going on that the Wilson Creek was not named until after the Jordan Power Plant was built, and that is absolutely not true. I have signed papers showing that this [gestures to where the creek flowed] was named the Wilson Creek much earlier. In 1914 they released a lot of water and sent it down the creek, and it flooded this area [gestures around De Chambeau Ranch], rook out a lot of irrigation ditches, and so they made an agreement with the Water Department and the County, and they built the little Black Point dam at Black Point where you cut off from Cemetery Road to come down here. And they decided that in the future, if there is a lot of run off, they’ll send it the NW side of Black Point and down to the lake. And so that is now supposedly Wilson Creek, and this here is named the De Chambeau irrigation ditch, and it appears on maps this way. But this is not true, this is the Wilson Creek over here. So that is a little political issue.

Now Nicholas settled here, and he received the title to this place on May 16, 1893. Eight children were born to Nicholas, but only two were born and raised here on the Dondero Ranch: Mike Dondero (1881) and John Dondero twelve years later (1893). A frame house was built here, six rooms.

How many rooms are in this ranch house today? Anyone want to make a guess? I have already heard eight rooms and seven rooms. Well there are fourteen rooms in this house! Some of them are only about this big [gestures in a small circular motion], just to put a bed in. Well, the Donderos only had six rooms, and then my grandfather added the rest on.

There was a horse barn, not that one there [gestures to existing barn] which was added on later, a cow building, 20 acres of alfalfa, and this one I question - 40 acres of a truck garden. That one I have to question; I am not sure on that. On August 22, 1891 Nick Dondero got itchy feet. Something happened up in Dawson in the Yukon Territory - they had found gold up there, and Nicholas said I getting out of here, and he headed to Dawson leaving his two sons in charge of this place here. I do not know what happened to Nicholas’s wife nor the other six children, but the two stayed here.

In 1905 Nicholas sold the ranch to his sons Steve and George, and then in December 1905 Steve sold his share to his brother John Dondero. Then on October 24, 1906, John Dondero and Nate Miller sold the ranch to Louis De Chambeau. I do not know how Nate Miller got in on the deal. Now if you look as you come up the road [out front] an interpretive sign says there was another owner of the ranch, but I have never been able to find out who that person was and when he bought it. I believe the sign refers to somewhere else, but anyway it is listed that this one fellow was an owner of the ranch at one time before my grandfather bought it.

[My grandfather] bought it for $2,000, recorded on November 2, 1906, and 9:05 AM. It included all the cows, all the chickens, all the pigs, and the water rights, the buildings, and the farm equipment. He had moved out here in 1906, but his family - my dad, his brothers, and my grandmother - all lived up on the Deacus place, which if you look on the map displayed here shows the DeChambeau and Deacus ranches up against the foothill near Lundy or rather the road going up to Lundy. My grandfather had bought that place; he was working as a mill-rite up in Lundy, and he bought that place. He brought out my dad (his son) and his two daughters, and he started ranching there, but it was in the shadow of the mountain, so he said we have to find someplace else. So in 1906 he found this place and bought it for $2,000. When his last daughter was born, Violet, in 1907, at that they all moved down and lived here.

On October 2, 1933, Louis passed away, right in this room behind me. My great grandmother who had a boarding house up in Bodie, the brick building up there, she had it for 21 years, and she ran it until 1917 when she got dropsy of the foot and the legs; she came down here and she died in the same room. So there are two spirits running around in that room.

Then my grandmother Mary Curry DeChambeau tried to run the place with her sons, and she too was getting up in age, so she and her daughter Violet moved to Los Angeles, and that was when my dad and his brothers took over the ranch. From 1938 to 1940 a lease was signed to permit sheep herders to use the area outside the immediate grounds of the ranch house.

What was the size of the ranch? It ran all the way from the foothill [gestures to the hill to the NW], to the bottom of Black Point, all the way down to the lake, and if you go out on Cemetery Road you see the fence, it included that area too, and from there down to the lake.

What did they raise here? They raised cattle and big bands of sheep. My grandfather was one of those fellas who said Hey, sheep and cattle can get along! So we raised a lot of sheep, a lot of cattle, a lot of horses, and a LOT of chickens - there were chickens everywhere. And he raised pigs.

We had a big truck garden out there [gestures over by the barn]. How many of you know what a truck garden is? Well I can see quite a few of you today do know, but often when I mention a truck garden people say what is that? Well it was a garden that you raised, and you loaded the produce on the truck and you took it around on the truck to sell. In 1918 my grandfather bought a brand new Dodge stake truck, and it made the front page of the local newspaper - “De Chambeau buys this brand new truck.” Well that truck was used to haul his meat and the vegetables that he raised.

There is always a term that really throws me. What is the difference between a ranch and a farm? Well, we always used to say that a farm was where you raised produce and maybe chickens, and a ranch was where you raised livestock. But I would say that 92% of the farms or ranches here in the Mono Basin, whatever you care to call them, raised a combination of livestock and produce to sell to Bodie, Lundy, and whatever.

In 1951 a partnership was formed with Mr. and Mrs. Will Bannon, Bill Bannon’s father, and Claude Woebarn and his wife, my dad and my step mother, Dewey and his wife, and I know Arthur had to be in on it also. They formed a hunting club for geese and ducks. I do not know how long it lasted, but I was told that the pipeline that brought water down here from Conway Ranch, bypassing Wilson Creek, was put in at around the same time as the formation of the duck hunting club to supply water down to the duck ponds. There are five ponds now, but only three were built by my grandfather and his sons. They drilled for oil down there as well as out a Black Point, and my grandmother cooked three meals a day for as many as 26 people while they were drilling for oil, but they never hit oil. They went down 400 feet and hit a hot water geyser, and they directed the water for those three ponds because my grandfather thought he might raise fish, but he hadn’t taken into consideration the mineral content of the water. The geese and the ducks, however, loved it. And they also put in a little tub down there for a sort of sauna bath, and the Native Americans would come to bathe and wash their clothes. Other people would come down and swim in it, and it was popular.

Well, when the ranch ended up being sold to Dave McCoy and the Mammoth Mountain Company - I say Dave McCoy because he was part of the Company - Dave McCoy wanted more land for June Lake and Mammoth Mountain. This land came on the market to be sold and he bought it and the Log Cabin Mine to use for a land-swap to get more land for June Lake and Mammoth. This is why the Forest Service owns this land here today.




Mono Basin Historical Society/ David Carle/

2015 Ghosts of the Sagebrush Event a Hit!

April 06, 2016

We had very successful 12th Annual Ghosts of the Sagebrush event on Friday evening, August 28 and Saturday, August 29, 2015, with good attendance, excellent history talks, and another good year of fundraising, despite last minute changes due to high winds and smoky skies. We served 67 dinners catered by Linda Dore on Friday and had 50 people inside the museum on Saturday to hear old timers speak about their school memories and enjoy a very special visit from Nellie Bly O'Bryan (Terri Geissinger). Many thanks to our volunteers who decorated, checked ticket-holders in, served food, and sold raffle tickets...they made it happen. We thank the National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center for allowing use of their theater on Saturday afternoon to show video. And are grateful for our very generous supporters who bought hundreds of raffle tickets and bid on auction items (one item went for $100 and another for $300!). We have video of the speakers and of our Friday visitor from the past, teacher Nora Archer (Shanda Duro). The two performances by Shanda and Terri were exceptional; they delved deep into the history of their characters and are amazing actors.

Keri Davis/


Opens May 27 for 2017 season; Wednesday through Monday, 10 AM to 4 PM



129 Mattly Avenue., Lee Vining, in Hess Park, one block east of Highway 395.  From the south, turn right onto Mattly Avenue in front of the