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.

See USE NOTICE on Home Page.

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

Willie A. Chalfant  

Manzanar Town  

Norman Clyde  

More Fr. John J. Crowley


Lone Pine-to-Porterville High Sierra Road 


 Slim Randal's "Night Ride"



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This page was last updated on 18 June 2015