Working with Flatirons

Wash day was a consuming task in frontier days when the only machines were a woman’s hands and arms and washtubs were filled with hand-drawn buckets of well water, instead of flowing through a network of pipes. White laundry such as bedding, shirts, and petticoats were boiled in soap-filled kettles over a fire. Continue reading Working with Flatirons

Meals on the Trail West

Most people in the 19th century called their mid-day meal “dinner,” and their lighter evening meal “supper.”  While it was not unusual for any given repast to take hours of preparation time at home, the members of westering wagon trains had no such luxury. They couldn’t afford to waste travel time waiting for bread Continue reading Meals on the Trail West

Boom Times, 1887

For 20 years southern California had poured money, and millions of printed words, into a publicity campaign to attract settlers from the eastern United States. Now in 1887 the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads, locked in a fierce price war, reduced their fares so low that thousands of people who had been intrigued by the idea Continue reading Boom Times, 1887

Durst Ranch Riot

During the 20th century California was a major producer of hops, that natural ingredient so essential to brewing beer. Before hop-picking machinery was invented in 1909 the mature, 18-foot-tall vines were harvested by hand during a six week period in the late summer, drawing hundreds of seasonal workers because it paid Continue reading Durst Ranch Riot

Whitney Conquered August 1873

Because Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States, scores of mountaineers have made it their goal to reach its 14,505-foot summit since its official discovery in 1864. But who was the first to stand on its lofty heights? It gets complicated. Geologist Clarence King thought he was the first, in June 1871. Two years later—to his shock and embarrassment—King learned that his ascent had not been on Mt. Whitney at all, but on another peak entirely. King at last stood on the summit of the true Mt. Whitney on September 19, 1873, where, to his further chagrin, he found a monument and documents left by two preceding parties. Months of claims, counterclaims, and accusations by contenders for first place scorched the pages of the local newspaper, the Inyo Independent. When at last the controversy was sorted out, the honor went to Charley Begole, Johnny Lucas, and Al Johnson (three men on a fishing and recreational excursion)  who attained the summit of Mt. Whitney at noon on August 18, 1873, having climbed the wrong mountain themselves the day before. In October 1873, the famous environmentalist John Muir ascended the peak, his first of several climbs. The first woman to succeed in climbing Mt. Whitney was Anna Mills, in 1878. The first recorded death on Whitney was that of Byrd Surby, a United States Bureau of Fisheries employee who was struck by lightning while eating lunch on the summit in July 1904. Named for Josiah Dwight Whitney, California’s first appointed State Geologist, Mount Whitney lies on the boundary between Inyo and Tulare Counties.