Father John J. Crowley (1891-1940)

Text and picture excerpts from the
"Desert Padre: The Life and Writings of Father John J. Crowley"
by Joan Brooks, unless otherwise indicated.

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The Crowley Family
The Crowley family at Father Fred Crowley's ordination in 1934.
L to R: (seated) Sister Petra, Sister Josephine, Sister Paula, Mrs. Nora Hansen.
L to R: (standing) Rev. John J. Crowley, Rev. Fred Crowley, Rev. Thomas Lyne (uncle from Ireland), Rev. George Crowley, S.J. and Frank M. Crowley.
(Lou Pracchia photo)

Tales of the Desert Padre [pdf]
by William Webster

Desert Padre

Some men long for the cities crowds, and some for the pagan land,
And some would toil in the wilderness where the heart is allied with the hand.
One such man came to the choice of roads, and he chose a forbidding field.
His only arms was a friendly heart, and the love of God was his shield.
He dwells where the far-flung Sierra looks down on a land of death,
He knows the chill of the lofty peaks and the heat of the desert's breath.
To mankind in pain, though storm winds howl intrepid he goes to their side.
Though weary and worn will he bring them hope 'In whose breasts all hope has died.
Men call him the Desert Padre, as he carries his message of love;
And he seems to have learned from the silences and the vast star-decked heavens above.
In his presence men feel only reverence though he speaks with a common touch;
His praises are free as his reprimands and he never demands too much.
His mountains have taught him a steadiness, his desert has drilled him in peace;
Sunrises have pictured glories of God and the sunsets, divine surcease.
And we who stand on the outer edge of his all-enveloping love;
May learn just a bit from this desert priest of the strength he draws from above.
And we'll point to him as the years roll by, when we write with a failing pen;
As one who walked in the steps of Christ, and loved all of his fellow men.
And his life shall stand as a monument by the trails that his feet have trod,
For we know that this padre of desert wastes shall sit close to the throne of God.

David Bromley, Bishop, California, 1939.

crowley1John J. Crowley as a Holy Cross College graduate. 1915 yearbook photo.
(Holy Cross College archive photo)

Father Crowley wrote under the pen name of "Inyokel" in the more than 200 "Sage and Tumbleweed" columns which he published from August of 1934 through March of 1940.

Father Crowley and William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) depositing water gourd at the Bank of America, Lone Pine during the "Wedding of the Waters."
(Maturango Museum photo)


The Story Behind Sage and Tumbleweed [pdf]
by Inyokel

Father Crowley at the Movies
These images represent just a handful of the many celebrities to which Fr. Crowley extended his warm hearted kindness to, and a few of the pictures they starred in which were filmed in Owens Valley during the time Fr. Crowley spent in Lone Pine.

"The Cowboy and the Lady"
Gary Cooper
[photo courtesy of the Ravin' Maven]

 lost horizon

"Charge of the Light Brigade"
Errol Flynn


Perhaps Father Crowley's talents as a producer and showman explain why he related so well to the personnel of the movie industry when they came to Lone Pine to shot films in the nearby Alabama Hills. During the years that Father Crowley was in Lone Pine, such famous movies as Gunga Din, Lives of the Bengal Lancers, Oil for the Lamps of China, Charge of the Light Brigade, Rhythm on the Range, and numerous westerns featuring Ken Maynard, John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and William Boyd *(Hopalong Cassidy) were filmed. The song "Donkey Serenade" from the movie Firefly was first practiced on the piano in the Santa Rosa parish hall.
(Joan Books)

Still shots from the filming of Gunga Din in the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine.

Gunga Din

Gunga Din

Gunga Din

Cary Grant
"Gunga Din"
Cary Grant

W. Boyd
William Boyd - aka. "Hopalong Cassidy"

D. Fairbanks
"Gunga Din"
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Thoughts on Movie Production in Lone Pine [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley

 cowboy & lady
[photo courtesy of the Ravin' Maven]

light brigade

Making Tamales [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley


Father Crowley at the pump in Swansea, California on the shores of Owens Lake.
(Lou Pracchia photo)


Father Crowley saying Mass at the Smithsonian hut on the summit of Mt. Whitney with Harry Clinch in September of 1934.
(Charles Shelton photo)

Father Crowley's dog, Tray, who was with Father Crowley when he died.
(Lou Pracchia photo)

Father Crowley, Leo Carillo (actor), and Captain Cadwell (commander of the CCC) at a CCC entertainment event in Death Valley.
(Maturango Museum photo)

Father Crowley meeting Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in Fresno in 1927.
(Claude C. Laval photo)


father crowley point
Father Crowley Point, Death Valley, CA.
Photo courtsey of Brandon Riza PHOTOGRAPHY


Mass on the Summit of Mt. Whitney [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley
On September 12, 1934 Father Crowley was the first priest to celebrate Mass on the top of Mt. Whitney on a portable altar outside the Smithsonian hut on the 14,495-foot peak. He was assisted by Harry Clinch, the seminarian from Fresno who was on summer leave. The two had packed the Mass vestments, portable altar, altar stone, prayer cards, the chalice and camping necessities on a mule and hiked as far as Chrysler and Cook's Outpost Camp at 10,300 feet. Here they rested for the night and added water and wood to their pack. Arriving at the summit before noon, Father Crowley said Mass to celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of the Virgin Mary. A young hiker, Charles Shelton, (later to become publisher of Desert magazine) passed by and caught the moment on his camera. The photo was printed in the Los Angeles Times of Nov. 13, 1938 as a photo contest entry and later circulated throughout the United States. After Mass they broke their fast with some hot coffee over a campfire and admired the view from the top. It was a far cry from the ailing Padre who arrived in Lone Pine a few short months before! As mentioned above, the CCC were beginning their project of road building to Hunter's Flat. The New Deal had begun with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and on March 31, 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps was founded. This program, commonly known as the CCC, had two goals: 1) to provide work for the unemployed young people and 2) to restore the nation's depleted natural resources. The program took impoverished unemployed, unmarried young men from 17 to 25 from the urban streets and poverty-stricken rural farms and put them under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Army for their camp discipline and housing. A group of trained engineers and other experts were with them out in the field where they worked throughout the United States for the National Park Service and the National Forest Service in the construction of aqueducts, bridges, roads, trails, campgrounds and ranger stations. They were paid $30 a month, kept $5.00 for the "Captain's table" and the rest was sent home to their families.

One of these camps was established in Lone Pine in the spring of 1933 about eight miles west of Lone Pine in what was then called Hunter's Flat. They worked under the Inyo National Forest Service rangers to build a major camp and from there went out to smaller "spike" camps to help build roads, trails and campground facilities in the forest. About 200 young men were stationed at the Lone Pine Campground. It took them about three months to build the ten mile road to Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mt. Whitney. Most of the material-sand, rock and timber-came from the area. This group also improved the trail to the top of 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney. Both Whitney Portal and the CCC boys were close to Father Crowley's heart. At this time he was paid as a part-time chaplain at $35 a month, a sum which helped a little in the poor parish budget. In 1936 he had a stone cabin built with the help of the stone mason, Steve Esteves, and his helper, Dobe Gunnarson, at Whitney Portal. It served as a cool refuge from the summer desert heat and a place of peaceful retreat for an overworked Padre. He had wanted it to be a place where his fellow priests could also get away to a "quiet place."

The Central California Register's editor mourned when Father Crowley left Fresno since it meant the delightful yet instructive column "Frater Con" would no longer grace its pages. Father Crowley, too, missed the writing he so enjoyed. On August 12, 1934 his new column began in the Register, with the logo showing an old prospector sitting under a lone pine, with Mt. Whitney in the distance. The title read "Sage and Tumbleweed by Inyokel, some facts about the top of the United States and the bottom, Death Valley-and what lies in between!" In the lower left corner was: "Box 74-A Lone Pine, Inyo County, California." The design of the logo is believed to have been done by Father Crowley himself. These columns were to continue until the last published on March 22, 1940. Eventually the Inyo Independent got wind of these articles, until then only read by the Catholic subscribers, so they obtained permission to reprint them as of May 12, 1939.

Thoughts on Mary Austin [pdf]
two articles by Fr. John J. Crowley



 Desert Mountains [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley

Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy
"The Girl of the Golden West"
winter sunrise
"Winter Sunrise" by Ansel Adams

golden west

Fr. Crowley's Thoughts on the Burro

[photo by John Gurzinski]

Sage and Tumbleweed
September 22, 1935
by Inyokel

On a trip to the high country, the Padre's horses thrice tried to rid himself of his rider by rolling on him. But the Padre rolled his own and escaped. Al Lackey of the old Barton cow camp on Roaring River remarked, "That horse must have some hatred for the Catholic clergy. Perhaps he belongs to another Church." "Yes," agreed the Padre, "he seems to be a wholly roller."

Concerning Praise for the Burro [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley

The Origin of the Burro [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley

Managing a Recalcitrant Burro [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley



Burro photo
by John Bond


Sierra and Tumbleweed
by Greg Fisch

 Concerning Owens Valley Wind, Tumbleweeds, and Sagebrush [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley



lone pine
The Dow Hotel and Santa Rosa Church (to the right) as it looked in the early thirties.
(Lynne Bunn photo)

The Old Santa Rosa Church, Lone Pine, California. The church was dedicated in 1919 shortly before Father Crowley's arrival in Lone Pine.
(Eastern California Museum photo)

Father Crowley with Dr. and Mrs. Howard Dueker and Mr. and Mrs. Jack Hopkins planning the "Wedding of the Waters" in 1937.
(Eastern California Museum photo)

Father Crowley
(Fall 2000 Holy Cross Magazine photo)

Father Crowley planning the "Wedding of the Waters" in 1937.
(Fall 2000 Holy Cross Magazine photo - cover of the Saturday Evening Post)

The Wedding of the Waters [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley

The Story Behind the Wedding of the Waters [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley


Further Reading on Father Crowley 
Desert Padre: The Life and Writings of Father John J. Crowley by Joan Brooks (1997)
book ABE Books, making "out of print" books easier to find. book


Willie A. Chalfant  

Manzanar Town  

Norman Clyde  

Lone Pine-to-Porterville High Sierra Road 


 Slim Randal's "Night Ride"



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This page was last updated on 17 September 2019