cement

During the gold rush years, in 1857, to be exact, two German men who had been traveling with a wagon train headed to California, decided to leave the rest of the group and headed out on their own. They wound up in the Mono Lake region of northern California. One of the men would later describe the area as “the burnt country.” While crossing the Sierra Nevada near the headwaters of the Owens River, they sat down to rest near a stream. Looking around, they noticed a curious looking rock ledge of red lava filled with what appeared to be pure lumps of gold “cemented” together. That was how their “mine” got its name.

The ledge of that hillside was literally loaded with the ore. The excited men couldn’t believe their eyes. One of the men was laughing at the other as he pounded away about ten pounds of the ore to take with him…because he did not believe it was really gold. The man who believe that it was gold drew a map to the location and the two men continued their journey. Along the way, the disbeliever died and since he was laden with so much ore, the believer tossed the majority of the samples. Then, after crossing the mountains, he followed the San Joaquin River to the mining camp of Millerton, California. After a long, weary journey, the German had become ill and soon went to San Francisco for treatment. He was diagnosed and cared for by a Doctor Randall who told the man he was terminally ill with consumption (tuberculosis). With no money to pay the doctor and too ill to return to the treasure, he paid his caretaker with the ore, the map he had drawn, and provided him with a detailed description.

Doctor Randall shared this knowledge with a few of his friends and together they decided to go for the gold. They arrived at old Monoville in the spring of 1861. After enlisting additional men to help, Randall’s group began to prospect on a quarter-section of land called Pumice Flat. Their claim is thought to have been some eight miles north of Mammoth Canyon…the 120 acres were near what became known as Whiteman’s Camp. Word of possibly a huge cache of gold spread quickly and before long miners flooded the area hunting for the gold laden red “cement.” One story tells that two of Doctor Randall’s party had in fact found the “Cement Mine,” taking several thousand dollars from the ledge. Unfortunately, for those two men, the area was filled with the Owens Valley Indian War which began in 1861. The Paiute Indians, who had heretofore been generally peaceful, were angered at the large numbers of prospectors who had invaded their lands. The two miners who had allegedly found the lost ledge were killed by the Indians before they were able to tell of its location.

Though the “cement” outcropping was never found again, the many prospectors who flooded the eastern Sierra region did find gold. Apparently there was a huge cache there after all. This resulted in the mining camps of Dogtown, Mammoth City, Lundy Canyon, Bodie, and many others. The lost lode is said to lie somewhere in the dense woods near the Sierra Mountain headwaters of the San Joaquin River’s middle fork. If it really exists, it must be very well hidden.

For a number of years the home of my niece, Machelle Moore, and her husband, Steve had no sidewalks or patios. While it looked nice because of the grass, it was really problematic in the winter…when they had to shovel the grass to have any kind of a walkway from the street to the door. For the last four years, they have been talking about adding cement to the south side of their property. Last winter finally pushed that idea from an option to a necessity. I’ve shoveled grass, and I can totally understand why they decided that cement was no longer optional. Having no sidewalks means that all that dirt is dragged right into the house. Steve and Machelle were determined not to spend another winter that way.

In April, Machelle asked Steve to come and look at what she had in mind. Steve was a little concerned, until she showed him her plan. This was not going to be a short term project. In fact, it would take almost the entire summer. Steve and Machelle normally like to do a lot of hiking in the hills looking for Indian arrowheads and other artifacts or camping with their family, so there were going to be some sacrifices, although they did indulge in their favorite pastimes too, but this would be a working summer. The yard had 16 sprinklers that had to be dug up, and capped off or moved to a different spot. That was the longest part of the project, and it all had to be done by hand. To me that part of the project would be the most daunting. I would have no idea how to go about that, and I don’t think Steve and Machelle had ever done anything like that either, so it was a big challenge for both of them. Nevertheless, I think they did a great job.

One thing that Steve and Machelle found out about this project was that there was a lot of digging. They hand dug out the front part of the new sidewalk to their fence themselves, and then Machelle’s dad, Lynn Cook and brother-in-law, Josh Griffith helped with the back. In the end, they decided to contract the cement work out, and they were not sorry that they did, because it turned out great…right down to their sons’ handprints in the cement. They were so glad that they worked together on the project, because they saved $5000 by making part of it a do it yourself project. Machelle is so proud of Steve’s ability to do anything he sets his mind to. They had never done sprinklers before…or a jack hammer to get rid of the old stuff, or a cement cutter. Still, it was fun working on their own project and it all turned out so great, that they have to pinch themselves to believe that it is their yard, but the greatest thing, especially with winter approaching…they can shovel the snow like normal people now!! Today is Steve’s birthday. Happy birthday Steve!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Uncle Bill near Whitefish, MTDuring the Depression years, many people were looking for work…any kind of work, because jobs were scarce, and money even more so. Many men were forced to leave their wives and young children to run the farms, so they could go out, sometimes several states away to look for work. It wasn’t just the husbands either. Many times, as in the case of my dad and my Uncle Bill, it was the sons who had to go find jobs too, because the family was simply not going to make ends meet if they didn’t. So it was that Dad and Uncle Bill set out for the Whitefish, Montana area to look for work. This trip would be quite an experience for the two brothers, who were in their teens at the time. It is my guess that my dad would have been around 15 years and Uncle Bill 17 years old at this time, but I could be off by a year or two. It doesn’t matter, because they were, nevertheless young.

They got to Fosston, Minnesota that first night…taking it easy on Uncle Bill’s old Plymouth, and arriving about 8:30pm. They tried to find a room to rent for the night, but there were Dad near Whitefish, MTnone, and then someone said they could sleep at the jail, so they went to check it out. They were allowed to spend the night there, after showing identification, being searched, and leaving all their belongings except their clothes in the office. I’m sure they were really wondering if they would turn them loose the next morning, after such an ordeal, but while the beds were not the most comfortable, they had a place to sleep. Needless to say, they left Fosston the next morning, and headed to Osnabruck, North Dakota the next day, where they found work unloading bags of cement from a rail road box car. By the end of the day, they were exhausted and pretty certain that they couldn’t have lifted one more bag…no matter how much money was offered. They found a man and his son who had a threshing machine and several farms lined out to do threshing for, but not enough help, so they worked for him until continued rain ended the threshing for the year.

Then, they decided to get out of North Dakota, and headed for Whitefish, Montana where they worked in the lumber business for a company called Kinshella Lumber, in the Near Whitefish, MTbeautiful mountains outside Whitefish. That area was one that they found to be a great place for adventure, and they spent a lot of time driving in the mountains when they were working. It was a time they would remember fondly, until October arrived, bringing with it some very cold weather. By this time, both boys were pretty much done with this trip, so they set out for home, with enough money to make another payment on the farm. They had an interesting adventure, to say the least, but I’m sure that grandma’s good cooking and their own beds were calling their names, and as Uncle Bill said, there was wood to be cut up for the stove.

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