The Story of Inyo

“The Story of Inyo” by W.A. Chalfant is a comprehensive history of Inyo County, California, first published in 1922. W.A. Chalfant (1865-1943) was a newspaperman and historian who spent much of his life in the Eastern Sierra region of California. His work is considered one of the seminal histories of this part of California, detailing the early exploration, settlement, and development of Inyo County.

The book covers a wide range of topics, including the area’s indigenous peoples, the impact of European settlement, mining, and economic development, and the natural history and geography of the region. Chalfant’s writing is noted for its detailed research, engaging narrative style, and commitment to telling the stories of the Native American inhabitants and the settlers who came to the area.

Inyo County is a region of great diversity and contrast, home to some of the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States, including Mount Whitney and Death Valley. This geographic and environmental diversity is reflected in the stories Chalfant tells, from tales of survival and adaptation in harsh landscapes to the boom and bust of mining towns and the ongoing challenges and conflicts over land and water use.

Mono Lake

“The Story of Inyo” remains an essential resource for historians, geographers, and anyone interested in the American West, offering insights into the complex history of human and environmental interaction in this unique part of California.

Ashford Mill


Ashford Mill in Death Valley, located in California, has a fascinating history that dates back to the early 20th century. It was named after the Ashford brothers, who were prospectors in the area.

Ashford Mill – Death Valley National Park
  1. Discovery of Gold: The story of Ashford Mill begins with the discovery of gold in the Black Mountains of Death Valley. In 1907, two brothers, Harold and Erwin Ashford, staked claims in a canyon known as Golden Canyon.
  2. Operation of the Mill: The Ashford brothers lacked the experience and resources to develop the mine, so they leased it to a businessman, B.W. McCausland. McCausland recognized the need for a mill to process ore and built the Ashford Mill in 1914. The mill was constructed to process gold ore from the Golden Treasure Mine, located about five miles away in the Black Mountains.
  3. Technological Features: The mill was a typical representation of the ore-processing technology of its time. It included structures for crushing, mixing with chemicals, and separating gold from the ore.
  4. Short-Lived Success: Despite the investment in the mill and the initial enthusiasm, the operation was short-lived. The ore from the Golden Treasure Mine was of lower quality than expected, making the operation unprofitable.
  5. Abandonment: By 1915, just a year after its construction, the mill was abandoned as the dreams of profitable gold mining faded. The harsh conditions of Death Valley and the lack of substantial gold findings made it impractical to continue.
  6. Today: The ruins of Ashford Mill stand as a reminder of the brief gold rush in Death Valley. The site is preserved within Death Valley National Park. Visitors can see the remnants of the mill’s foundation and some of the walls, offering a glimpse into the early mining history of the region.

The history of Ashford Mill is a typical example of the boom-and-bust cycle that characterized many mining ventures in the American West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It reflects the optimism, hardships, and eventual disappointment those seeking fortune face in this harsh and unforgiving landscape.



Borax Wagons

The 20-mule team borax ore wagons used in the late 1800s to transport borax from the mines in Death Valley, California, were quite large and had specific dimensions.

Here are the approximate dimensions for a typical 20-mule team borax ore wagon:

  1. Length: Approximately 30 feet (9 meters)
  2. Width: About 8 feet (2.4 meters)
  3. Height: Around 7 feet (2.1 meters)
  4. Weight: These wagons weighed approximately 7 tons when fully loaded with borax ore.

These massive wagons required a team of 18 mules and two horses to pull them across the harsh desert terrain. They were an iconic part of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century and were crucial in transporting borax to the nearest railroad for distribution.

  1. Two large ore wagons were used to transport the borax ore from the mines in Death Valley to the nearest railroad for shipment. They were massive and could carry a significant amount of borax.
  2. One water tank wagon: There was a specialized tank wagon in addition to the two ore wagons. This wagon carried water for the mules and horses that pulled the wagons. The desert environment of Death Valley was harsh, and providing water for the animals was crucial to their survival during the long and arduous journey.

So, the 20-mule team borax wagons actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses pulling two ore wagons and one water tank wagon. These wagons became an iconic symbol of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century.


20-Mule Teams


Saline Valley Salt Tram


Photo of tramway tower in Saline Valley

The Saline Valley Salt Tram, also known as the Saline Valley Tramway, is a historic tramway system used to transport salt from the Saline Valley in California, USA. The Saline Valley is located within the Death Valley National Park.

The tramway was constructed in the early 20th century to facilitate the transportation of salt from the salt flats in the Saline Valley to the Owens Valley. The system consisted of cables and tramcars that carried salt over the Inyo Mountains. The salt was then transported to market via the Owens Valley.

The operation of the Saline Valley Salt Tram ceased in the mid-20th century, and the tramway itself has since fallen into disuse and disrepair. The remnants of the tramway, including some of the infrastructure and cables, can still be found in the Saline Valley. The area attracts historians, hikers, and those interested in exploring the remnants of historical infrastructure.

Old Crump

In 1849, a wagon train bound for California split up, with many members opting for a supposed shortcut to the goldfields. The shortcut did not work out, and these intrepid wanderers found themselves stranded, lock, stock, barrel, and four children on the floor of a place called ‘Death Valley.’

Bennett’s Long Camp

Over a month of hardship and waiting had passed while two heroic young men walked to find a way out and return with supplies to bring this band of Lost 49ers to safety. This they did, returning with food, a white horse, and a one-eyed mule. Sadly enough, the white horse had to be abandoned in a dry fall in the Panamint Mountains.

With these heroes returning, they could make their escape. The children were weak, tired, and sick and would not make the trip if they had to walk, so the pioneers sewed several shirts together, making saddlebags to carry them in.

The children were uncomfortable and sick. They cried, but ‘Crump,’ the ox selected to bear this burden, seemed to sense the importance of carrying its cargo as gently as possible, never missing a step, stumbling, or even making a sudden, jarring move.

This ordeal, beginning late in 1849 and finishing up early in 1850, became a distant memory to the party members.

Years later, a much older William Manly, one of the two heroes who saved the emigrants (John Rogers being the other), was walking down a road in the Central Valley. He noticed that over in a shady pasture, there was a fat ox relishing the long, tender blades of grass. Strangely enough, the ox looked vaguely familiar. Sure enough, it was Old Crump, warm and gentle as ever.

Ox in pasture of green grass
Retired beast of burden – NPS photo

Back in 1850, when things settled after their hardship-fraught journey and arrival at their destination, the owner of the ox retired the creature as a reward for its distinguished service, and Crump never worked another day in his life.

Chapter XI – Death Valley in 49
Wm. Lewis Manly

Draft Oxen

Draft oxen are domesticated cattle trained to work as draft animals, primarily for agricultural purposes. They have been used for centuries in many parts of the world to pull plows, wagons, and other heavy loads. Oxen are typically castrated male cattle, and they are trained to respond to commands from their handlers.

NPS photo of oxen - ox tream
Oxen – NPS photo

Here are some key characteristics and advantages of using draft oxen:

  1. Strength: Oxen are strong animals, capable of pulling heavy loads, plowing fields, and performing other tasks requiring significant physical strength. They are often used for tilling soil and other agricultural activities.
  2. Endurance: Oxen are known for their endurance. They can work long hours, making them suitable for tasks requiring sustained effort, such as plowing large fields or pulling heavy loads over extended distances.
  3. Steadiness and Reliability: Oxen is generally known for its steady and reliable work. They are patient animals and can handle repetitive tasks at a consistent pace.
  4. Adaptability: Oxen are well-adapted to various climates and terrains. They can work in different conditions and are particularly useful in areas where mechanized equipment may not be practical or accessible.
  5. Low Maintenance: Oxen are often considered low-maintenance animals compared to some other draft animals. They can graze on pasture, and their dietary requirements are relatively simple. They also have sturdy hooves, which reduces the need for frequent hoof care.
  6. Draught Power: Oxen have been historically crucial for providing draught power in agriculture. They were widely used before the advent of mechanized farming equipment and are still used in some regions where traditional farming methods persist.
  7. Manure Production: Aside from their work capabilities, oxen also produce manure, which can be used as crop fertilizer. This contributes to the sustainability of agricultural practices.

While draft oxen have been widely used historically, the prevalence of mechanized agriculture has led to a decline in their use in many developed countries. However, in certain regions and for specific purposes, draft oxen continue to be valued for their strength, reliability, and suitability for sustainable and traditional farming practices. Training and working with oxen require skill and patience, as they respond well to positive reinforcement and consistent handling.

How Death Valley Got Its Name — S1E1

Gold – Silver in Them Thar’ Hills!

A lost party, the Bennett, Arcane, and Wade families had taken a different route trying to traverse the mountain ranges. The Wade family, traveling behind the others, were the only ones to find their way out of (today’s) Death Valley with their wagons intact. The Bennett and Arcane families felt they could not continue after suffering terrible hardships. Two members left on foot and returned with food and supplies to rescue the others. Actually, only one party member died from starvation and lack of water and was buried there. Legend has it that as the party crested over the rim on their way out of that forbidden valley, Juliet Brier, a woman noted the following in her diary, “Goodbye Death Valley.” (NOTE: From Irving Stones book, “Men to Match My Mountains”

Gold – Silver in Them Thar’ Hills!

The naming of Death Valley, located in Eastern California, is a topic of interest and speculation. This vast desert valley, known for its extreme heat and arid conditions, has a name that evokes a sense of foreboding and danger.

Contrary to popular belief, the name “Death Valley” was not given due to the number of deaths occurring within its borders. In fact, the valley’s name can be traced back to a group of pioneers who experienced a challenging journey through this unforgiving landscape in the mid-19th century.

In 1849, a group of gold prospectors, known as the “Lost 49ers,” ventured into what is now Death Valley in search of riches. However, their journey quickly turned into a struggle for survival. Many groups perished along the way when facing scorching temperatures, lack of water, and hostile terrain.

The survivors of this ill-fated expedition gave the valley its name. As they emerged from the treacherous landscape, they reportedly looked back and proclaimed, “Goodbye, Death Valley!” This proclamation, filled with relief and gratitude for having survived the ordeal, stuck, and the name Death Valley became etched in history.

Over time, the name Death Valley symbolizes this unique geographical feature’s harsh and inhospitable nature. The valley’s extreme temperatures, with summer highs regularly exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit, make it one of the hottest places on Earth. Its arid conditions and sparse vegetation add to its desolate and foreboding reputation.

Despite its ominous name, Death Valley is not entirely devoid of life. Various species of plants and animals have adapted to the harsh conditions, carving out a fragile existence amidst the barren landscape. The valley also boasts stunning geological formations, such as the towering Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the iconic Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

Death Valley National Park’s unique beauty and extreme environment attract visitors worldwide. The park offers opportunities for hiking, camping, and exploring the arid expanses. However, caution is always advised due to the valley’s harsh conditions and proper preparation.

In conclusion, the naming of Death Valley is rooted in the experiences of the pioneers who first traversed its challenging terrain. While the name may evoke a sense of danger and foreboding, it serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the ability to adapt to even the harshest environments.