Father John J. Crowley (1891-1940)
Text and picture excerpts
"Desert Padre: The Life and Writings of Father John J.
by Joan Brooks, unless otherwise indicated.
by Fr. John
at the pump in Swansea, California on the shores of Owens Lake.
saying Mass at the Smithsonian hut on the summit of Mt. Whitney
with Harry Clinch in September of 1934.
dog, Tray, who was with Father Crowley when he died.
Leo Carillo (actor), and Captain Cadwell (commander of the CCC)
at a CCC entertainment event in Death Valley.
meeting Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in Fresno in 1927.
C. Laval photo)
on the Summit of Mt. Whitney [pdf]
by Fr. John
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
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
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.
on Mary Austin [pdf]
by Fr. John J. Crowley
by Fr. John
Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy
"The Girl of the Golden West"
"Winter Sunrise" by Ansel Adams