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Olancha Remembered
by Wilma R. Olson

Text and Photos courtesy of Wilma R. Olson unless otherwise noted

See USE NOTICE on Home Page.


Early Settlement
The townsite of Olancha was established by a miner, Minnard Farley, who came to the area with Darwin French's party in 1860 in an effort to find the Lost Gunsight Mine. This legendary mountain of silver was said to lie east of Owens Lake and west of Death Valley in the Funeral Mountains. The name is attributed to the fact that one of the Bennett party of immigrants stranded in Death Valley in the winter of 1849 had knocked his gunsight off in an effort to scale a ridge to seek help. He took some mineral from the ledge he was on and fashioned a crude sight for his gun from it. Later, when he reached civilization, he took his gun to a gunsmith to have the sight properly replaced, and it was then that he discovered that his home made sight was almost pure silver. Many people, among them Darwin French, attempted in vain to find the ledge of silver.

Minnard Farley was a member of that party, and although they did not discover the fabled ledge, they did discover promising ore in the Cosos. On his map of 1861, Farley shows a pass named for him, now known as Boundary Canyon between the Funeral and Grapevine mountain ranges. From this general area he took ore samples with him when the party returned to Visalia.

Upon having the ore assayed in Visalia, Farley returned and staked about eighty claims in the Coso Range in an area he called "Silver Mountain". In Visalia, the county seat of Tulare County, of which the area was then a part, he secured financial aid and partners, and organized the Coso Silver Mining Company. In one of his many letters to Visalia newspapers, he stated he named the mining district for the Indians living there. He returned to the area to develop his claims, and decided to build his own mill near the mines. He chose the site which he referred to as "Olanche", as it was near a stream, building stones were abundant, and it was close (about eighteen miles) to the mines. The ore was hauled about eight miles and freighted the remaining ten miles to the mill.

In his frequent correspondence with the newspapers in  Tulare and Visalia, Farley described his trail over the mountains from Visalia, through what he described as "Olanche" Pass, and the descent to his "Olanche" millsite. In one of his letters, he refers to his route as an old Indian trail, starting at Deer Creek, and exiting near the west end of Owens Lake. He stated it was a good trail and an all-year route, according to his Indian guides. He refers to two of these guides as belonging to the "Olauche" tribe, and to the trail as "Visalia to Silver Mountain via Olauche Pass." This is the only reference to the spelling "Olauche." Possible explanations for this spelling is the fact that the editor might have mistaken the written "n" for a "u", or Farley's deviant spelling of the Yaudanchi guides. All other correspondence uses the spelling, "Olanche" or "Olancha". In The Handbook of California Indians, A. L. Kroeber attributes the name to the Yaudanchi, people of the Yokut tribe who inhabited the Sierra west of the mountain crest. In his early letters, Farley stated he was going to hire "Yaudanche" guides, as they were familiar with the trails. Further, since he stated he had named his mining company for the natives in the area, it is reasonable to  assume that he also named the route for his guides.

In 1865, the rich silver mines of the Cerro Gordo mines, in the Inyo mountains east of Owens Lake opened, and the ore was freighted by mule team and wagon from the mountain to Los Angeles. William Walker established a stage stop, or way station, at Olancha for the sixteen mule teams, with corrals for the stock and meager housing and boarding facilities for the teamsters. The first house built for the way station was constructed of adobe brick made on the premises. A small store was housed in the building.

The teams would take the ore from the mines to the bottom of Cerro Gordo on the first day; thence to the southeast corner of Owens Lake the second; and to Olancha on the third. The distance covered from the bottom of the mountain to Olancha was approximately twenty miles. The trip to Los Angeles took up to twenty-one days.

Freight stations were spaced about a day's travel apart. From Olancha south, the next station was at Haiwee Meadows, now under water as a holding basin for the Los Angeles aqueduct; next was Cowan's, now called Dunmovin. Little Lake was next, where a considerable trading post was established by Hobart and Reed about 1864 to furnish mining supplies; thence to Coyote Holes, now Pearsonville, Red Rock Canyon, and Mojave. None of these freight stations evolved into a business-and-residential community and town except Olancha.

barney sears

Barney Sears


Steamers and Railroads

In 1872, a steamer, the Bessie Brady, was launched on Owens Lake and carried the ore from Swansea, on the east coast of the lake at the foot of the mountain across the lake to a landing at what is now called Cartago, a few miles north of Olancha. The Bessie Brady was the first boat launched on any western lake. It was eighty-five feet long with a sixteen foot beam.

From Cartago Landing, the ore was freighted to Los Angeles by stage. This reduced the number of days for the trip from Cerro Gordo to Cartago, but the wagons still could not keep up with all the ore. Reports were made of the bullion piled as high as a man's head, and of workers stacking it in a U-shaped configuration to use as shelters while awaiting the freight wagons. The freight wagons continued to serve the mines until the railroad era of the 1880s.

By 1883, the ore was being moved from Keeler, a townsite on the east side of Owens Lake, north on the narrow-gauge railroad to Nevada, sharply curtailing the freight wagon business through Olancha. Travel to the southern California area was still served by freight wagons and carriages, however, until 1910, when a railroad was completed from Mojave to Lone Pine to facilitate movement of materials for the construction of the aqueduct for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The aqueduct traverses the Owens Valley from Mono County through Inyo County to San Fernando, in Los Angeles County.

Freight stations were established, often in conjunction with a ranch or farm operation, to provide fresh horses and board and room for the drivers of the freight wagons which were used to transport goods to and from the Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley areas. The freight wagons were the means of transporting the ore from the mines, as well as other goods imported into the valley. The Owens River Stage Line was started in 1863. The trail was called the Three Flags Trail, or Midland Trail. Stage lines which transported passengers were established by the early 1870s.

During his residency there, W. L. Hunter learned the Shoshoni language, and befriended the Native Americans. He assisted several of them to obtain land grants to property. He was held in high regard by the Native Americans, and some families adopted his name. Some of their descendants still -live in Inyo County.

Several Native American consultants told of gathering "pinon honey" from the pine trees on Hunter mountain. This sticky liquid is formed from insects laying their eggs in the pinon trees. It hangs in strands and shines like icicles. They maintain that this is the only area, and the only kind of tree where the honey can be found. It does not occur every year. When a honey tree is found, they rush to gather the liquid in any available container, pots, baskets, even caps or other clothing articles, since it only lasts for a day. It is said to be sweeter than "regular" honey.

In his earlier years, Beveridge traveled with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show as a trick roper. After settling in Olancha, Beveridge raised his cattle on Hunter Ranch, and for a time grazed them in the Sierra meadows in the summer. Later, he grazed them on Hunter Mountain. He and his sons captured and broke wild horses in the Saline and Death Valley areas prior to the removal of the stock by the US Park Service when they were deemed a threat to the vegetation of the Death Valley National Monument. Beveridge also spoke the Shoshoni language and enjoyed a good relationship with the Native Americans.

olancha school house
First school house in Olancha, CA - circa 1917


Dirty Socks

About three miles east of the town, north of State Route 190, there is a warm artesian well, high in mineral content. The springs have formed a small pool about sixty feet in diameter and lie just south of the southern end of Owens Lake. The water maintains a degree of near 90 degrees Fahrenheit year round, and emits a strong sulfur odor. A pipe was sunk in 1917 by a company seeking fresh water, and the water bubbles from this pipe continuously.

The origin of the name is obscure but the most prevalent theory is that the name was derived from the fact that miners in the Coso mountains south of the springs traveled there regularly to bathe and wash their clothes, hanging their laundered socks on the surrounding sagebrush to dry, and sometimes forgetting to gather them. Others maintain the name derives from the odor of the water.

Another possibility derives from the fact that many old claims in the west were named the "Dirty Sock" claim, due to the practice of old-time miners, who would squeeze the amalgam through an old sock. The mercury would pass through the fabric, but the gold would not. Old maps of the area, however, do not show any mine so named. Also, little significant mining was being done at the time the pool was formed.

Some people maintain that the water and mud are beneficial to the body and skin, and have bathed in the springs and applied mudpacks to the body in an effort to cure arthritis and other ailments, and to beautify the skin. The mud turns green as it dries on the skin, and in one instance, resulted in an unexpected incident.

Two ladies had gone to the pool to swim and had smeared their faces with mud to eradicate their age lines. Upon hearing a car door slam, they paddled to the edge of the pool and raised up to see who was approaching. An elderly couple was walking toward the pool when they looked up, and with horrified expressions, turned and dashed for their car. The tires threw sand as the car spun around and roared away at top speed. The ladies turned to each other to ask what frightened the pair, and realized their appearance: slicked back hair, green faces, eyes outlined in white. When they finished laughing, they opined that a new legend had been added to the lore of Dirty Socks: two slimy green sea monsters raised up out of the water "right in front of us!" Although the springs have long been a gathering place for party goers of the area, no widespread reports of green monsters have been reported. It would be hard to dissuade one couple, however.

In the 1950s, the county briefly took over management of the springs after a private enterprise failed in an attempt to commercialize the springs as a health spa and sell packaged mud from the pool, much as the hot springs at Coso were marketed early in the century. Some buildings were erected as shelter, but they were torn down and the wood used for firewood for bonfires by party-goers. The area is now periodically cleaned of debris and broken glass by local residents.

The earthquake which occurred in 1972 caused a new vent to open south of the pipe, and the water temperature drop'ped several degrees. Water emitted through the recent vent was in greater volume than that emerging from the pipe. There was also a decided decline in the odor from the pool.

At the time the new vent opened, a smaller vent opened east of the original pool, and is now larger than the original pool. It has a strong odor, and is about the same temperature as the original pool, which has regained both its warmth and redolent odor.

dirty socks
Dirty Socks - 2013
(photo courtesy Ray DeLea)

Origin of the Name "Olancha"

Minnard H. Farley, who established a mill here in 1860 to refine ores from his Olancha Mine, in the Coso mountains southeast of the townsite, is credited with naming the community. He is also regarded as responsible for the naming of Olancha Creek, which bisects the town, and Olancha Peak, directly west of the town. Farley mentions in some of his correspondence that he secured the services of Indian guides of the "Olauche" tribe, who lived west of the crest of the Sierra Nevada. This spelling is possibly a corruption of the name "Yaudanche", a name for the people of the Yokuts Indian tribe living in that area. The name Olancha is attributed by A. L. Kroeber to be such in his Handbook of California Indians. In his earliest correspondence and maps, Farley spelled the name "Olanche", but later it was changed to "Olancha", and that has become the standard spelling.

In The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 11. the name "Olanche" is attributed to the Western Shoshoni. The meaning is loosely translated as "high plain" or "high wave". This spelling, "Olanche", was used by Farley in his earliest published communications. The area of his mine was in Shoshoni territory in the Coso mountains. Further, he stated that he had named his mines the Coso Mining District after the Native Americans living there. Advertisements and local residents refer to this derivation of the name. Present day Native American consultants stated they did not know the source of the name.

As an intriguing postscript as to the reason Farley chose Olanche as the name of the the settlement, he traveled extensively with military and mining units, and refers to his trips to Honduras in the early 1850s. Here, he was attached to a mining expedition in the province of Olanche. The location is described as a high plain. His map of 1860 describes the area around Olancha as a "High open plain". Interestingly, a port city which served the Honduran Olanche mines was named Cartago, the name given to the town just north of Olancha by the Southern Pacific Railroad when the rail was laid through the valley in 1910. The name "Cartago Landing" is referred to in local and Visalia papers during the time the Bessie Brady was hauling ore across the lake. The rich silver mine east of Keeler was named Cerro Gordo, and, again, there was a "fat mountain" in Honduras named Cerro Gordo, in close proximity to the Olanche plain. The name Cerro Gordo in Inyo County is attributed to Pedro Flores, an early discoverer of the rich ores of the area. Although there is no indication that Farley was responsible for naming these other locations, it is a remarkable coincidence. For the record, however, Farley will receive credit for only "Olancha".

The following creation myth is a Paiute version similar to several in the Great Basin Native American tribes, and is condensed here.

'When earth became habitable, the first man to be created was Hy-Nan-Nu. His mother was a winged creature, a spirit or bird, perhaps Hai-Wai, the dove. The Paiutes were created from rocks. A particular rock which is far up on the creeks west of Owens Valley and having resemblance to human form was Mother Rock. After the Paiutes had become numerous in Owens Valley, Hy-Nan-Nu came from the southeast ·to teach a better mode of living. He was not a Paiute but came from some other tribe and remained many years. Legends tell of feats of strength and daring. He went about doing good, and taught the people to be happy and not to worry about misfortunes. He was always looking for his mother. One day he walked up the creek and passed over the mountains.'

Although attributed to the Paiute lore, it can be found in other tribal mythology. The recurring theme is a person or being who performs good deeds or great feats, and is searching for mother. It usually involves a mountain peak or pile of rocks representing the mother. A bird is usually the messenger. The dove is sometimes a raven or loon. Hai-wai was also the name given to the dove by people on the western range of the Sierra. Hai-wai, the dove in Paiute language, was translated to Haiwee by the early pioneers. The name referred to springs, at a location now under water of a reservoir of the Los Angeles aqueduct, south and east of Olancha.

olancha school
Warren Ramsey's birthday party, 1918, Helen Cornell teacher
Students: Kathryn Gordon, Myrtle Carey and Warren Ramsey


The Postmaster's Pony

After the railroad was established through Inyo County, mail was brought by train, and left in a box at the Olancha siding. Outgoing mail was picked up from the box on the southbound run. One postmaster and train crew developed a system so that the train would not have to come to a full stop for the mail exchange.

When the train came to the top of Cowan's Grade, the engineer would blow his whistle. On hearing the whistle, the postmaster would just have time to grab the mailbag, mount his little black pony which was always saddled and ready, and gallop up to the railroad. As the train passed, the postmaster would throw his outgoing mailbag into the open car, and the rail clerk would toss off the incoming mailbag, which the postmaster would pick up and gallop his pony back to the postoffice.

One day, the postmaster was indulging in conversation and refreshments with some friends and did not respond quickly enough when the whistle blew. The well-trained pony did not wait for the errant postmaster and mailbag, but galloped off to the railroad siding, and as soon as the incoming mailbag alit, turned and galloped back to his station outside the postoffice. Needless to say, the outgoing mail was a day late, and another trip had to be made to retrieve the incoming mail. Descendants of Webster Walker believe this happened during his tenure as postmaster, 1891 to 1912.

This railroad, built to accommodate movement of supplies for the Los Angeles aqueduct which was being constructed in the valley, also hauled passengers and freight. The trains consisted of one mail car, two passenger cars and three freight cars. The railroad was affording faster and more comfortable travel for people. It could haul the ore from the mines, which had decreased production, and accommodate freight and goods. Since there were no stations or depots in small towns, the stage was still the connecting transport to final destinations. The automobile had not yet made an impact on the area, because of lack of good roads and scarcity of gasoline, or "filling" stations. Tom Lacey related how he drove the first Ford automobile from Los Angeles to Bishop, breaking down numerous times, and using a full second set of tires. The trip took seven days, and was fraught with mishaps. This was prior to 1920, the exact date  unavailable.

The Olancha station served travelers until the railroad provided faster and more comfortable travel. Thereafter, this form of travel diminished but regular schedules of freight teams and passenger travel existed until 1908, when the Nevada and California Railroad began construction of a standard gauge line from Mojave into Owens Valley to accommodate the movement of materials for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. By 1910, when the line was completed, Southern Pacific Railroad had assumed operation of the line. Passenger cars were added, enabling a more comfortable ride to and from the valley. Stages were still used to transfer passengers from the railroad depot to outlying towns not having a station.

The stage trail had been realigned with the building of the power plant and reservoir at Haiwee Meadows. It was formerly called the Three Flags Trail, named by a group who operated the Owens River Stage Lines in the early 1870s. The line had both carriages and freight wagons. The latter hauled supplies into the valley towns and ore and bullion back to Southern California for processing. With the construction of the reservoir, the Haiwee Springs stage station was inundated, and the trail was routed west of the original between what is now Dunmovin and Olancha.


Post 1920 Development

Significant changes occurred in the townsite during the twenties and thirties. Roads had been improved, and in 1931 a section of the highway from about seven miles south of Olancha to Coso Junction was paved, the first paved road north of Mojave. John Storm, a long time resident of Sage Flats south of Olancha, and well known in the community, worked on the grading and paving of this section, which was referred to as the Cowan Grade, a particularly sandy hill which was difficult to traverse. The grade was so infamous for its toll on freight teams, and later, automobiles, that it was said that northbound traffic was "done moving" when it reached the foot of the grade. Early day motorists recounted how the road was only two tracks, so that when cars met, the downhill car moved out to the side so that the one coming up the grade could remain in the tracks and be less apt to get stuck.

A stage stop was established by Cowan at the foot of the grade, and later a cafe, service station and cabin complex was built at the location. It was renamed "Dunmovin" by Charles and Hilda King when they purchased it. Hilda had tired of moving from cabin to cabin as her husband followed the mining opportunities and, when they purchased the business, she stated that she, too, was "done moving".

We've moved from Yon to Hither
Now we're set and provin
In all the world, we are, perhaps
The only folks, DUNMOVIN
Olancha Journal c.1940


Mrs. Towler and students, 1920
Albert and Grace George, Bud Burkhart, Alberta Bibbey, Addie Hanson, Albert Fitzhugh and Aldy Brown.


Native Americans
Lifelong residents, Con Zuniga, a Yaqui-Mexican, and his sister, Carmen, lived with their father in Sage Flats. After selling his property to John and Claire Storm, Mr. Zuniga and Con moved to a house at the Oaks, where they resided with Otto Raske, a miner. Con worked on local ranches and was well known. Con could speak five languages, and served with distinction in World War II. His father would occasionally get angry with Con and move out, walking to the northern edge of Haiwee reservoir, where he would build a shelter. He would remain there until Con could persuade him to move back, usually in three or four weeks. This was a recurring pattern.

school bus

Olancha school bus - 1918


Lone Pine Stampede Rodeo Queen

Silas Ness, a Shoshoni, was born in Saline Valley, and was raised in Darwin by his mother, Rose Nobles. He worked in the Olancha area all his adult life. For many years, he worked for the county road department. He and his wife, Frances, and two daughters resided in a house he built on School Street. One daughter was elected Rodeo Queen of the Lone Pine Rodeo when she was a senior in high school. Shortly after, she lost her life in an automobile accident, a tragedy which affected the entire community. The other daughter married and moved to southern California. After his retirement, he and his wife moved to the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshoni reservation.

The Hanson brothers, Duggan, Ivan, Logan and Leland, resided in or near Olancha for many years. They were Shoshoni natives of Darwin, and employed on local ranches. Their mother, Addie, attended school in Olancha. Their grandfather, George Hanson, related to them how he had, as a small child, observed the Bennett party in Death Valley from Telescope Peak. He said it was the first white people they had seen, and they were frightened of them, so did not approach them to point out the springs which were close by, and which the immigrants had despaired of finding. All of the brothers moved from the area.


C.T. Fitzhugh, postmaster, wife Nellie and chidren Albert and Virginia - 1907


Other Residents

Early resident Barney Sears came from Arizona to Olancha and filed on land north of the Agustus Walker ranch in 1916. He had worked for A. W. Cline in Arizona. Cline was the father of Claire "Stormy" Storm, of Sage Flats. Barney established a pack station and transported sportsmen into the mountains and Golden Trout Camp for hunting and fishing. He had a cabin, corrals, well and a windmill on his Olancha acreage, and used Cottonwood Canyon, about seven miles north of Olancha, as his base of operations. His business endured for over fifty years. One of the legends surrounding this man concerned his considerable strength. A stubborn burro was not behaving as Barney thought he should, so he hit him in the head with his fist and knocked the burro unconscious. Thereafter, the burro behaved quite well.

A giant of a man, with a girth to match his height, he sported a ten gallon Stetson and usually had a pipe with a curved stem in his mouth. Despite his size, he was accomplished on the dance floor and popular with the ladies. His gallant and courtly manner towards the ladies extended from the dance floor to offering a helping hand, literally, to boost the ladies into the saddle if they had difficulty mounting the horse on pack trips. (And sometimes, even if they didn't need help!)

Guarantee fish - Git you a buck
(That is, of course, if you have any luck) -
Don't mind the money - I'll meet you half-way.
Can you put a price on REAL JOY by the day?

Ed. Note to THE LADIES: He's the handsomest Packer in all these here parts. Olancha Journal c. 1940

Salty Peters was a cowboy who worked for ranches and pack stations in the Olancha and Lone Pine area. He was known as an honest person, loyal to friends and disdainful of those he considered of poor character. His favorite term was "bawstard", used both as compliment and curse. Stories abound of Salty's independence and disregard of protocol.

His good character aside, Salty did not fare well in his romantic life. Once, when he came out of the mountains, and his girl friend did not meet him as arranged, he asked for a ride to town to see if she was all right. The boss said no, there was work to be done. "Then I'll walk", announced Salty, and, shouldering his saddle, off he marched the seven or so miles to town, only to find another had stolen his girl friend's affections. At another time, when Salty's dog ended up at a residence some distance away, the people offered to bring him back. "Nope," said Salty, "a dog’s just like a woman.  Once they start chasin’ they ain’t worth a damn.”  Salty’s real name was Fred Eubanks, but few people knew it.


Cover photo for the last day at Olancha School Program - 1922


Further Reading

"Olancha Remembered" by Wilma R. Olson
Although this book is out of print, copies are available through and


Owens Valley Desert News  
Life in Owens Valley  
Bob White & Tunnel Airfield
Andrew Alexander Forbes
Dear Carrie: Letters from the Eastern Sierra

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This page was last updated on 08 Jauary 2019