May 15, 2017

Photo Essay: The Tragedies That Befell the Pioneers of Lone Pine

For a place that's only got a couple thousand people living in it, Lone Pine has got a lot of cemeteries.

There's the Mt. Whitney Cemetery with a couple thousand internments, a population that continues to grow as more people die and are buried there.

Across the street from that, there's the mass grave of the dozens of Lone Piners who perished in the massive Lone Pine earthquake of 1872.

And then there's Lone Pine's first and oldest burial ground, now referred to as the Pioneer Cemetery.

It sits behind a wrought iron fence just outside the corner of the current boundaries of the Paiute-Shoshone Indian Reservation...

...with Mt. Whitney's snow-capped peak looming in the distance...

...and the early settlers of Lone Pine buried down below.

The first burials here date back to 1865, just a couple of years after the first white man built a cabin in Lone Pine and the white settlement was officially started (getting its own post office in 1870).

Those first bodies were those of Mrs. McGuire and her nine-year-old son Johnny, who were killed in Haiwee, in the last of the so-called Owens Valley Indian Wars (during which Owens Lake also became a massacre site of nearly 40 Paiutes).

Those buried also include members of the Diaz family, who emigrated from Chile in the 1860s and operated a successful cattle ranch—that is, until the 1872 earthquake shifted the Owens Valley by 20 feet and opened up a natural spring that filled the basin, turning the ranch into a lake.

The ranchers ended up selling their water-logged ranch to the land-thirsty officials of the LADWP.

Among the interred here are also the founders of Lone Pine, Charles Begole ("the father of Lone Pine") and Albert Johnson, who were two of the first pioneers to climb the highest peak in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney (a feat they shared with a third man, J.J. Lucas). At the time, they called it "Fisherman's Peak."

The rest were farmers...

...who'd come out West from all over the country...

...members of the Lone Pine Fire Brigade...


...and young men who hadn't gotten a chance to make their mark on the world...

...leaving behind only the markers for their graves.

The Pioneer Cemetery was the main graveyard for Lone Pine until 1884...

...and burials continued until 1914...

...but it wasn't the only place where the pioneers of the Eastern Sierras could've been buried.

Off of Narrow Gauge Road... the old Lone Pine train depot... can still find the so-called "Depot Cemetery."

This plot of land was supposed to replace the Pioneer Cemetery—but instead, it became a stopover point for those who passed away and needed to be buried during wet spring seasons, while the water table was too high at the Pioneer Cemetery.

The dead would be temporarily buried here—as a kind of holding area—until they could be exhumed and reinterred at the Pioneer Cemetery later in summer, once the water table was low enough to allow for digging and burying.

But for some reason, a handful of bodies never got moved—either to Pioneer Cemetery, or to Mt. Whitney Cemetery (which became the main burial ground when Pioneer filled up).

One of them—a woman named Ana V. deCastro—had been living in the mining community (and now ghost town) of Cerro Gordo alongside other Mexican immigrants and workers from Chile.

Another—a man born in Sarajevo—died of "unnatural causes."

Or, so says his headstone, in engraved Serbo-Croatian.

No wonder the Lone Pine area is considered "very haunted."

For more on the Lone Piners of days gone by, check out Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Death Toll of Tombstone
Photo Essay: A Fake Cemetery (with Real Headstones)
Photo Essay: Manzanar, The Wartime Japanese Prison Village

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