First Permanent White Habitat in Owens Valley (No. 230 California Historical Landmark)
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800’s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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The original settlers in the Owens Valley were cattlemen as they made their way across California driving hundreds of heads of cattle and 50 horses to the booming mining town of Aurora. At the time, Aurora was the Mono County seat. One of its residents was a young Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who was just beginning his writing career.
Allan A. Van Fleet, Charles Putnam and Samuel Bishop were among the first to arrive in the Owens Valley in 1861. The Valley was originally intended to be a stopover during their 300 mile journey from the San Joaquin Valley. However, when the cattlemen reached the Owens Valley they soon realized that the wide open spaces surrounding them were ideal for raising livestock.
When some cattlemen moved on, the first settlers built a small cabin for shelter. Prospectors who followed the cattlemen named the site Owensville. Samuel Bishop stayed back and established the San Francis Ranch (Historical Landmark No. 208). He became the namesake for the City of Bishop and Bishop Creek. Charles Putnam also built one of the first settler’s cabins. The Van Fleet family lived in the Owens Valley for several generations until the water wars had ended. When Los Angeles diverted water from the valley to satisfy the thirst of metropolitan residents, the Van Fleets moved away.
Owensville itself had a short life. The miners arrived in 1861. By 1864, the town was deserted when the gold deposits ran out. Prospectors sought areas where the mines were still rich with gold.
From the earliest days of Owensville, the Pauites were in conflict with both the ranchers and the prospectors, believing their land had been invaded and taken without their consent. The Owens Valley Indian Wars begin within the first few months after the first white settlers arrived. Even though the Indian chiefs had agreed to a treaty, some were still renegades and chose not to abide by it. The conflict did not officially end until 1865.
The California Historical Landmark is located at the site of the first cabin, built at the bend of the Owens River at the northern end of the Owens Valley. Look for the marker at the intersection of State Highway 6 (P.M. 3.9) and silver Canyon Road, 4 miles northeast of Bishop.
Inyo means “dwelling place of great spirit” in Paiute Native American language. Inyo County has many “greats.” Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States and Death Valley, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, are both within Inyo’s boundaries. Great earthquakes have left their mark in recent history, changing the course of the Owens River and exposing ancient sedimentary rock.
Time Period Represented