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John Dondero

This interview was conducted on April 3, 1992, at Jerry Andrew's residence in Lee Vining, California. It was conducted by Ilene Mandelbaum - IM, with Bryan Flaig - BF taking notes. Also present were Dorothy Andrews - DA (Jerry's mother), Jerry Andrews - JA, and Terry - T (?). A tape recorder was not used.

IM: Could you tell me about your childhood?

DA: I was born in 1916 in Bishop, California, that's where my father was from. I had one brother and two sisters, and they are all passed away. Then, we moved up to Rush Creek in the Mono Basin with my mother. We stayed with Minnie Mike (McGowan) at her place. Susie McGowan was my real grandmother, but we called Jennie Sam grandmother. She was Frank Sam's mother. We stayed with her on Rush Creek on the knoll until I was 9 or 10. Then we stayed at the Farrington Ranch. I went to the school there, on Farrington Ranch until I was 12 or 13, and then I went to the Stewart School with my sister. They wouldn't let us speak Indian at the school, and we would get punished if we did.

Later, we lived on Lula's father's property, near where Augie (Hess) stayed, in the Rush Creek meadow. The ranch had cattle. Hank Clowett lived more toward the creek from the cemetery that's on the hill above Rush Creek. He would walk with us near the Narrows and collect buckberries. Red ones, yellow ones, and green ones. He would get a handful and dip them in the lake water to salt them.

I lived on the white island, Paoha, when I was just a little girl. My aunt worked for the McPhersons. I remember gathering gull eggs from Paoha.

IM: Why did you move from Rush Creek?

DA: I think the power company bought up the property.

JD: A lot of people wouldn't have wanted sell to DWP, but they sold to the power company, then the power company sold it to DWP.

IM: What about Indian Allotment Lands?

JD: Many of the Indians just squatted before 1931. They would move all over. That was the way they always lived. If a place got too hot, they moved to a place that was cool. If the water was down on one place, they'd move to another that had water. There were only 6 or 7 patented lands that I can think of, and I've got papers on them. The Indians didn't buy land. When the city (Los Angeles) came in here, they just pushed the Indians out.

IM: Weren't the Indians getting pushed around before then, too?

JD: Yeh. The ranchers would push them off property. Nevada-Cal Electric Security Company came in here way back in the 1920s and Nellie Reynolds sold her place to them, the place on the north side above County Park. Then DWP bought the property from Nevada-Cal.

IM: John, can you tell me about growing up in the Mono Basin?

JD: My birth certificate says that I was born at Mono Lake in 1929. I think I was probably born on the Comasco (later called Dondero) Ranch because that's where my father was working. My mother, Lena Tom, died when I was two. My uncle, Harry Tom, had a place on Walker Creek, and my mother is buried near there. I moved from the Walker Creek house over to the Thompson Ranch area. We had a five room house there, but it burnt down accidentally. My dad sold the property to DWP, and we moved back to Walker Creek around 1940.

IM: What was it like on the north shore of Mono Lake?

JD: We had free roam of the area. We went to school in the old school building, the one that they brought to town. It's the museum, now.

IM: Did you spend time on Mill Creek?

JD: Mill Creek is the one we called Lundy Creek. It comes right out of Lundy Lake. It was real high back in the 1940s, even though they put a dam on it. Mono Lake was really high, too. There was good fishing on Lundy Creek, up until 1950 or so. Even Wilson Creek, which we called Mill Creek, had lots of vegetation.

IM: When did things begin to change on the north shore?

JD: In the 1960s they stopped irrigating over at Dechambeau Ranch, where the cattle used to be. They had the water rights to the creek, Wilson Creek, up until then. My grandfather, Nicholas Dondero, owned Dechambeau Ranch before the Dechambeau's. He sold it so that he could move to Alaska.

IM: How was the hunting?

JD: The north side of the lake was great for duck hunting, and goose hunting. From Dandburg Beach all the way to Tioga Lodge was great waterfowl hunting. Below highway 395 and Lundy Creek, we would jump hunt ducks. Mallards mostly, in the fall when they would be passing through. There would be a handful here, and a handful there.

IM: Are there more ducks, or fewer, now?

JD: There are definitely fewer ducks today. They used to fly in by the thousands to Mono Lake. The last time I remember seeing anything like that around Lee Vining was probably the 1960s.

IM: Do you remember any of the particular spots where hunting was especially good?

JD: There were lot's of ponds just above the lake shore on the east side of Mono Lake. They were filled with lake water. Near Black Point, there were some springs (below the Ford's current residence) that created ponds. Ducks used to hang out in there. There used to be fish in the Dandburg Spring flow. From Dandburg Beach over to Tioga Lodge you'd get mostly spoonies. Teal and geese were good below where the County Park is now. The springs in that area had good watercress beds. The ducks would eat flies along the shore, too.

IM: Some people have said that you could taste the flies or the shrimp in the ducks when you ate them.

JD: Yeh. In the spoonies, you could definitely taste the flies if the birds had been at Mono Lake for a while.

IM: Some folks talk about driving along Mono Lake and seeing ducks moving out.

JD: Yeh. You could see lots of ducks. Mallards sometimes would stay year round. Over by the Seymour Ponds (Sulphur Ponds) where we would go ice skating, there was good hunting. The Warm Springs side of the lake was better, though. Warm Spring, Simon Springs, and Rush Creek were good spots. Not much hunting between the South Tufa Area and Rush Creek, though. Walt Dombrowski had several ponds. Rush Creek fed the ponds, there weren't really springs down that low.

IM: When did things change?

JD: DWP didn't pull a lot of water out at first. The earliest I was on Rush Creek after diversions started would have been 1945, and there was a lot of water.

IM: Did you fish on Rush Creek?

JD: The Rush Creek meadows area was my favorite for fishing, and we used to fish there alot. I remember taking fish into that test station booth to have them weighed and measured. We caught the 25 fish limit most of the time, and they were all wild browns. Twleve, fifteen, and sixteen inches. One time a guy pulled an eight pounder out of Rush Creek above the lower bridge in the meadows. I fly fished, and I'd work my way from the upper end of the meadow on down.

IM: Do you remember ponds, lagoons, or springs around the Rush Creek meadows?

JD: The springs were along the hillside. You can still see the bowl carved out on the east side of the canyon. The springs were about a half mile upstream of the lower culvert. There were a couple of big cottonwoods near there.

DA: There were lots of springs along the Rush Creek meadows when I was living there, too. And you'd see ducks along the creek.

JD: The creek stayed along the west side of the canyon back then. The springs used to make big holes, and then the water would flow down into Rush Creek.

DA: There were watercress beds in the springs along that part of Rush Creek.

IM: Do you remember how deep, or how wide Rush Creek was back then?

JD: I can't remember exactly, but it was rough enough that you couldn't cross it very easily. I mean, you had to look for a safe spot to cross.

IM: How about the creek that ran out toward Mono Mills area, do you remember that?

JD: Yeh. That was an irrigation ditch. It would dry up when they weren't using it. I don't remember any springs feeding into it. Speaking of irrigation, the meadow near the dump, along highway 120 where Augie Hess practices his golfing, they irrigated that area up until 1928 for cattle.

IM: What other spring activity do you remember?

JD: There were springs up Bohler Canyon, feeding Bohler Creek. Gibbs Creek water used to flow down Horse Meadow, all the way down to highway 395. There were good springs in Horse Meadow. But when they started diverting water, they took the water from those creeks, too.

IM: Did you swim in the area?

JD: We used to swim in "A" ditch. There was a big old tree over that spot. That was in the 1940s.

IM: What do you remember about the bridges across the creeks?

JD: They took the old wooden bridges out that went across Rush Creek. Then, probably in 1969, a big flood wiped out the culverts because they were too small. There used to be a bridge across Walker Creek, below highway 395. People used to fish in Walker Creek. When we were kids, we would open the irrigation ditches along the creek, and try to catch fish with our hands. Parker Creek had good fish, too, near the intake for the aqueduct. Good size brookies. Both Parker and Walker creeks had brookies.

IM: What do you remember about Lee Vining Creek? Do you remember after the fire? I think it was in 1954?

JD: I just got out of the Army in 1954, the Korean War. After the fire, I remember people clearing out the trees. Most of them were small pines, 14 inches in diameter. There were a lot more trees along the creek before the fire.

Lee Vining Creek had good fishing near the diversion dam. There used to be a big turn that cut more into the hill above the dam. I think they've reworked that area alot since then. The water was pretty deep, and you could see the big fish in there. We tried everything to catch those fish. Guns, fishing poles, bows and arrows. You could usually get one that was 18 inches long, and 3 to 4 pounds. There were big fish just below the diversion dam, too, where the trees were thick around some deep holes. It was hard to get to. There was an opening day record caught on Lee Vining Creek, within the last ten years or so. The fish was a 10 or 12 pounder.

End of interview.

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