Lone Pine, California has only one road with a traffic light. Whitney Portal Road heads westward across Highway 395, traversing the Alabama Hills and onto Mount Whitney which is nine miles away. It is the tallest mountain in mainland United States. Like many routes that started out as trails they are witness to human traffic and tragedy, and inevitably tales of hauntings.
The Paiute Indians lived there, and before the Civil War, settlers moved into the area. Many of them raised cattle and sheep and it was not long before conflicts developed as the Indians' food source was driven away. They resorted to eating the settlers' cattle, and in 1861 the Owens Valley Indian War ensued between the native tribe and U.S. soldiers.
Like many places who have witnessed warfare, a phantom reenactment of the battle takes place, and throughout the years many residents have heard the sound of gunfire close to their homes.
The following describes an incident reported by a woman in the 1960s.
She lived on Whitney Portal Road and she heard gunfire one evening. Looking out the window she saw a black man dressed as an Indian warrior. He glanced back at her, but didn't bother her or confront her. He was soon joined by several additional Indians. They all crouched behind a tree and began firing rifles, reloading as necessary. The firing went on for fifteen minutes with not a bullet hitting the woman's house. Then, just like that, they all disappeared. Apparently the tale is fairly common amongst those who have lived in the neighborhood. Those who have heard the woman's tale, believe the black man to have probably been an ex-slave, now living amongst the Native Americans. Old bullet holes were even discovered in the direction the ghosts had been firing in.
By 1867, rich mines were discovered and developed in the vicinity of Lone Pine. Like all boom towns, hotels, stores, saloons and fandango houses were erected.
Not all tragedies were due to battles. In that same year of 1867 a Mexican known as Indian Jesus shot a man named William Johnson in the head, but he in turn was shot in the groin, though not fatally. It all started over a card game, and both men had a notorious reputation well known in Los Angeles.
At the same time in another household, a man jealous of the attention his wife was receiving from a male friend of the family attempted to shoot her. Her mother sprang in front of her and was shot in the side. She survived, and the husband was arrested.
During those years, conflicts still existed between the natives and the settlers. In 1868, an Indian chief known as Manassas was ambushed and murdered. The chief was well known in those parts since he led a band of "renegades and cut-throats". Three years before they shot and killed a miner named Dutchy, and a year before he rolled stones down an inclined shaft at Cerro Gordo and crushed a Mexican working there. He went to the man's body, took out his brains and shot the corpse with several arrows. Manassas' murder was believed to be retaliation.
Another entrepreneur who settled in Lone Pine during those tumultuous years was Lola Travis who arrived with her brother and three children. In 1868, she brought a property on the corner of Main and Water Street and built a saloon there. She then sold half of the property to Charles Meysan who established his general store. They had become acquainted when they were both at the gold camp in Columbia, and they maintained a good business relationship until the early 1880s when she sold the saloon. It then became known as Richard's Saloon.
During the 1870s, Lone Pine provided supplies to the nearby mining camps such as Cerro Gordo, Keeler, Swansea, Darwin and Tramway. They were eventually deserted and became ghost towns. In 2019, the show Ghost Adventures filmed at Cerro Gordo.
Lola Travis sensing better opportunities than those available in Lone Pine moved on to Cerro Gordo and established a brothel named the Palace of Pleasure. She competed with another madam named Maggie Moore who owned the Waterfall. In a place where mines produced $2 million in bullion in 1874 alone, there was plenty of money to be made by entertaining lonely miners.
However loneliness, liquor and mean tempers make bad bedfellows and in 1873, in Maggie Moore's whore house alone, seven men were shot, and four killed outright. At one point there was an average of one murder per week in Cerro Gordo.
Scared for his life, the town doctor left due to the unrestrained violence, and the law was miles away. The deaths continued and its populace stumbled along until 1938 when the Union Mine closed down.
The Owens Lake Monster
Owens Lake is 90 miles in length and 14 miles wide, with a depth of 30 feet. The Owens River and other springs supply it with water, and there is no known outlet. Alkali, borax and strong element charge it so thoroughly that it can cut leather and cloth, as well as destroy grease and soap. Mount Whitney sits off its west side, with rugged mountains rising from the east. Southward lies a dry valley. Despite its inhospitable composition in the 1860s there were reports of a serpent-like creature that made its home there.
In 1868, The San Francisco Examiner reported the following:
The Owens Lake Monster has been seen once more. Some time before the sun went down, two young men were riding along on horseback, on the west side of Owens Lake. They live in the valley and had heard the story of the Mexicans who saw something strange on the lake one night, but was not generally believed. Both of these men had frequently scanned the surface of the lake, to verify the story, but neither of them had seen anything of the serpent until the night in question.
Colonel Stevens, Superintendent of a mining company at Lone Pine saw the monster in June 1868, and his description coincided with the report of these two men in regards to its length and color. The Colonel said he saw it throw water 50 feet high.
On March 26, 1872, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Lone Pine, which did not leave a building standing. Those that survived described hearing screams and groans coming from many of the populace which were buried beneath the ruins of the mud and adobe structures. The first shock was followed by three more. Strong trembling was felt for over three hours. A chasm opened up extending for 35 miles down the Owen Valley ranging from 3 inches to 40 feet in width. Twenty-six people lost their lives. A mass grave, just north of the town commemorates the site of the main fault.
Lone Pine and the nearby Alabama Hills have been the location for hundreds of films, commercials and television shows. In 1920, the films Cupid the Cowpuncher starring Will Rogers and The Last Roundup were produced there. Godzilla, Iron Man and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are only some of the ones filmed there in the 21st century.
These are some of the blog stories about paranormal experiences in Lone Pine:
Stayed at the Best Western Lone Pine California in 1996. Stayed in the ''Kirk Douglas'' room as it was named at that time. We both awoke at the same time in the early hours propped ourselves up on our elbows and both looked at a tall thin man leaning over the end of our bed. He faced us for a few seconds then turned and walked through the closed door which led outside. The black shadow of a man wore a cowboy hat. He didn't make a sound. We asked each other if we'd seen the same thing - yes we had. Neither of us were frightened by what we saw and promptly went back to sleep.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer