Friday, May 15, 2009

It was a Dog's Life in this Mining Camp

With a name like Dogtown, it’s no wonder this Eastern California mining camp didn’t ever amount to much.

The unflattering moniker derived from the miners’ term for a primitive camp with few amenities—in other words, where you lived like a dog.

Dogtown is considered the first settlement or camp founded by prospectors working in the Eastern Sierra region. Established in about 1857, the camp’s initial residents were placer miners who began working a nearby creek (now known as Dogtown Creek).

According to historians, either Cord Norst or Leroy Vining was the first miner to find gold in the area and construct a basic rock hovel above the creek.

The discovery generated a bit of buzz among local miners and by 1858 more than 100 had settled in the camp and were scouring the region for little specs of gold color. Because of a lack of building materials in the area, most of their dwellings were little more than stone shacks.

Dogtown’s dog days came quickly. In July 1859, Cord Norst—who may or may not have founded Dogtown—was wandering a wash about 5 miles to the east and make a more substantial gold discovery.

Initial reports were that gold was just lying around on the ground for the taking. While this was no doubt an exaggeration, within a short time nearly everyone in Dogtown packed up and relocated to the more promising site, which was named Monoville because it overlooked Mono Lake.

Additionally, some miners began searching for the source of the gold that was being washed into Dogtown Creek and found that it was coming from Dunderberg Mountain, located to the west. Many moved onto the slopes of Dunderberg, where several mines soon developed.

Chinese miners moved into Dogtown after most of the previous inhabitants had moved to more productive mining districts. For the next ten years, the Chinese successfully reworked the large tailing piles left over from the earlier boom.

Meanwhile in Monoville, residents found that water was only available on a season basis, and built an 14-mile ditch to transport water from the East Walker River for hydraulic mining.

By late 1860, Monoville boasted more than three-dozen wooden houses, hotels, a post office, all those saloons and a population estimated at between 500 and 2,000 people. There was even talk of locating the Mono County seat in Monoville.

Monoville began to decline in 1861 with the discovery of significant silver and gold deposits in nearby Aurora and Bodie. The Monoville post office closed in April 1862 and within a short time nearly all the businesses had closed.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, the diggings at both Dogtown and Monoville were reworked.

Today not much remains at either Dogtown or Monoville. The former site of Dogtown can be seen from U.S. 395 at a point six-tenths of-a-miles south of the turn-off to the ghost town of Bodie. A California Historic Marker indicates the site and provides a brief history of the community.

Exploring the Dogtown site, you can still find a handful of stone walls and depressions, which were part of the old dugout homes. The best ruins are along the cliff that is above Dogtown Creek.

At Monoville, which is one mile east of Conway Summit in Rattlesnake Gulch, the most prominent reminders of the area’s past are traces of the old water ditches and the deep scars of the hydraulic mining that once used to wash away the gold.

The easiest way to reach Monoville is to head east on a dirt road located about one mile north of the junction of U.S. 395 and State Route 167.

For more information about Dogtown or Monoville, check out “Death Valley to Yosemite: Frontier Mining Camps and Ghost Towns,” by L. Burr Belden and Mary DeDecker and George Williams III’s “Guide to Bodie and Eastern Sierra Historic Sites.”

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