Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Virginia Pass & Mono Diggings - October 2016 - Part Two

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

The wind came in hard gusts throughout the night. We heard it rushing down slope and the tree tops around us rolled and twisted with the blasts. The big rock effectively funneled the wind around and over our camper with us inside. We instinctively braced for the wind but the camper never moved. It was a bit unnerving.

We both wiggled awake around six am. I quietly said to the Lady. "Well this is something I've never done before in my life."

"And what is that?" the Lady asked although she knew well what was coming.

"Waking up in bed with a sixty year old woman!"

"Yup," she replied. "And you get do it for a whole year!"

We walked down the road with our coffee in the predawn quiet. The wind was taking a break.

"Let's go out to breakfast this morning. Want to do that?" the Lady asked.

"You got it birthday girl!"

The Virginia Creek Settlement was laid back and unhurried. Breakfast was good.

In a 'roundabout way Sunday's adventure was started by the Barking Spiders. We could hardly ask for better friends; always adding a measure of excitement and fun and adventure. A couple weekends before they had stopped at this marker sitting above Mono Lake.

The grave is on private property and off limits to the inquiring public. Barking's natural charm and infectious enthusiasm got him nowhere. Next up was, "Where is this 'Mono Diggins'? " It turned out the site of Mono Diggings was right where they were camped. We had suggested and given them directions to one of our favorite sites overlooking Mono Lake. We were unaware of the rich history of this place and so were equally excited to dig into the stories. The Spiders had done some exploring and had found a tunnel through a granite outcropping. Next they found notches cut in granite that appeared to be for flash boards to hold water. They had pictures.

Barking Spider and I dug in on the first step - research. Nearby Dogtown and Mono Diggings (the townsite was called Monoville) were the first gold discoveries on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. News of rich placer gold deposits brought hardy souls over the mountains from the Mother Lode. This included Charles Stilts and his wife Adeline, Kit Carson's daughter.

When possible I like to find contemporary accounts; voices from the past. I found this in the 18 May 1860 edition of the Sacramento Daily Union -

"Late from the Mono Diggings.— The Mariposa Star learns that about one hundred men have wintered in the Mono diggings, and have had a severe time. Two Chinamen died, and a white man named Bodie, was frozen to death. There were probably about 1,200 men in and about there. A few were prospecting for diggings ; a very few, perhaps from ten to twenty men, were working with rockers in claims that paid well last year, and making from ten to twenty dollars a day, but a large majority of them were trying to make themselves comfortable on the sunny sides of big granite boulders burning sage brush. Claims sell well, some of the old settlers having been offered as high as $5,000 for an interest, and shares in unprospected claims have been disposed of at two and three hundred dollars. A great many are there from Washoe."

Many notable east side historic figures got their start at Dogtown and Mono Diggings such as W.S. Bodey and Leroy Vining.

As you can tell, I was getting into this story. And what about that tunnel through the granite the Spiders had found?

"One end is filled in," Barking told me. "I crawled in but we didn't have our headlamps." I knew this was going to be a story. "I told Mom Spider to grab me by the legs and start pulling if I got to hollering and twitching . Who knows what was down in there. I couldn't see a thing!"

"How far in did you go?" I asked.

"Not far. Do you think I'm stupid?" he came right back.

"Well, we went around the big granite outcrop and forgot about the tunnel and then we found another tunnel on the other side that you could walk into."

"Did you go in?" I asked.

Barking just looked at me.

"What did you see when you went in?"

"Nothing. It was dark. But I kept going."


"The tunnel went around a corner and I could see light ahead. I saw light at the end of the tunnel!"

"Amazing!" I said.

We were on a mission. Why was this tunnel through the granite? What had Barking found? The gold here was in placer deposits. Working ancient stream beds takes water. There is very little water at Mono Diggings. We found this information on wikipedia -

"A conduit was constructed to divert water from Virginia Creek to aid hydraulic mining.  This canal, termed the Mono Canal, was at its time the only such project in the county, and cost $75,000 to build."

Here's a link to information on Monoville -  High Desert Drifters

I would sure like to know the source for the pencil drawing of Town of Mono used on the webpage.

So after the birthday breakfast we headed to the site of Mono Diggings. Would we feel the presence of Kit Carson's daughter, Prairie Flower? Would we find light at the end of the tunnel?

We parked at the old cabin we have visited many times.

Our search began. While climbing a hillside along a weathered fin of granite we found this.

The Lady had a flashlight. "What do you see?" I asked.

"You look," she countered.

It was faint, hard to see, but there is an old ditch that leads to this tunnel.

If you study the above photo, just below the snow covered Dunderburg Peak are two parallel lines across the hillside. Perhaps the remains of the Mono Canal, a conduit that brought water from Virginia Creek? This historic area is rich for further exploration.

We needed to move around this huge outcrop of granite. The Lady thought climbing up and over would be more fun.

The "down the other side" was a bit of a challenge we'd leave for another day so we continued around and looked down into the basin that may have served as a reservoir.

The way granite cracks open and weathers continues to fascinate us.

We had to go to the very top before we could start down. That's what the Lady told me.

The Lady marked our position.

This is a wonderful place to wander through and explore.

The Lady found a direct route down into the basin, although it was a bit of a squeeze.

"I found it!" she yelled, out ahead.

Inside, around the corner, we found Barking's light at the end of the tunnel.

The tunnel opening is on the lower left. Is there a water stain around the basin?

How about evidence of damming this basin to hold water?

Below the dam placement are additional notches in the rock that could be evidence of a flume or water delivery system. It is much fun to try and figure out the clues from the past and put the story together.

And what an incredible area to explore!

Did this area need a look out position? Someone went to a lot of work to make this easy to climb.

Down below all this, in Rattlesnake Gulch are piles of worked over tailings from placer mining.

We know we have just scratched the surface of all the stories this place can tell.

What about Prairie Flower? She and her husband Charles did come here. They had an association with the Wilson family and stayed on their ranch were Adeline died in the winter of 1859/1860 at the age of 21, probably from an infection after child birth. Charles Stilts shows up in the 1870 US Census in Idaho with a ten year old son.

Adeline's story is complicated and confusing. Many people believe the marker along 395 to be in error because an Adeline Carson shows up in the historical record until as late as 1864. A Mono County researcher has put together evidence that suggests that a prostitute, a "soiled dove", took on Adeline's identity after her death (Adeline "Kit" Carson). The story gets better and includes an account of her stabbing a man in Monoville in the summer of 1860 that was reported in the Sacramento newspaper (No, I haven't yet found that article. I'll keep looking). Mono County records include a land transfer of a  city lot in Aurora where the woman used an "x" as a signature. The real Adeline Carson was well educated.

Kit Carson is a central figure in western American History. My favorite reference is his autobiography, although he does not mention his first two wives. Carson's first wife was an Arapaho woman called Grass Singing. She was Adeline's mother. Grass Singing died, possibly, again from complications from giving birth to another child. That second child died when only a toddler. Kit Carson's second wife was a Cheyenne woman who soon divorced him in the traditional way - moving all of his possessions outside the teepee. These possessions included young Adeline. Carson made a decision. He took his daughter east to Saint Louis and put her in school and possibly in the care of family. Kit returned to Bents Fort in Colorado where he met and was hired by John Fremont and thus began their long association. Kit traveled to Saint Louis around 1851 and brought his daughter West. Around 1853 and  15 years old, she married an associate of Carson. It's important to remember that in these times marriage meant a way to survive in the world. The three of them came to California and it is said that Kit bought the couple a ranch as a dowry. It is unknown where this was. In 1857 the husband returned to Taos without a wife and in 1858 Adeline and a new husband traveled over the Sierra to Mono Diggings.

One historian claims that Kit Carson never called his daughter Prairie Flower. If there is truth to this, we will disregard it. We'll continue to call her Prairie Flower. The name fits and we'll think of Prairie Flower now each time we camp at that favorite spot of ours overlooking Mono Lake.

This was our weekend milestone birthday celebration. The Lady got her long hike and we both were further drawn into the rich history of this land.


  1. Interesting history! Wonderful photography! Tell Pop Spider to be carefull in those tunnels!

  2. Excellent way to spend a birthday! Many more great adventures to come, for both of you.

  3. Excellent sleuthing and right under our noses! I've been eyeballing a certain granite outcrop below camp and wondered if there were secrets there.

  4. Still the benchmark for Trip Reports. Thanks for posting.