Mr. August Hess and Mr. Jerry Andrews
Conducted at the Andrews (JA) residence on 10/29/91 by Ilene Mandelbaum (IM) and Emilie Strauss (ES) from 7 to 10 pm. No tape recorder was used. A second interview, by telephone, was conducted on 12/20/91 with Mr. Hess (AH) by Emilie Strauss.
Mr. Augie Hess was born and raised in the Mono Basin. He grew up playing on pre-diversion Rush and Lee Vining Creeks. He has hiked, fished and hunted extensively in the area.
Augies' father, Gus, came to America from Switzerland. Mr. Gus Hess worked in San Francisco in the beginning, then got gold fever and headed inland. He eventually worked at the Mono Mills tearing up the old railroad tracks, where he met and married Mr. Hess' mother, who was working as a cook. Augie was born in 1914 at Mono Mills. He has two surviving sisters (Clara and Elma, who both spend all or part of the year in Lee Vining), and two brothers, Larry and Stanley, who have both passed away. For several years, the kids lived on Rush Creek with their maternal grandparents.
After the railroad was dismantled, Gus Hess opened a garage at the Tioga Lodge, and the family all lived there near the lake. In 1922 he moved the garage into town and later started a service station next door. Since the Lee Vining High School only went for two years, Augie went to Seattle (junior high) and Bishop (senior year). He then attended Pasadena City College and the University of Nevada. In 1940, Augie joined the Army Air Force where he campaigned in North Africa and northern Italy. After the war, Augie operated the station (which was originally a Chevron station but later became an Exxon station) while his brother ran the garage. In the 1960s, he purchased the Standard station (the current Chevron station) in the north end of town and ran that too. In the middle 1960s, Stanley passed so Augie ran the garage as well. Augie sold his businesses in 1980. He continues to live in Lee Vining. His wife Harriet passed away in 1998. He has four grown children - Heidi, Vineca, Rachel, and Delbert.
Mr. William Jerry Andrews was born November 22, 1944 in Bishop, CA, the second youngest of five children and was raised in the Mono Basin. He attended Lee Vining schools from kindergarten through the twelth grade, graduating from Lee Vining High School in 1962.
He is of Paiute ancestry dating back to Captain John, one of the last Mono Basin Paiute Chiefs who passed away on June 9, 1925 at the age of seventy-five. Jerry's father was Bill Andrews who was killed in action in WWII. His mother is Dorothy D. Andrews, and he is the grandson of Minnie Mike, who along with her sister, Carrie Bethel, was a great Mono Basin basket weaver. Jerry lived with his mother at the junction of highway 120 and U.S. 395 near Lee Vining Creek.
Jerry worked at the Lee Vining Market, the Pumice Plant and also for Augie Hess at the Exxon and Chevron Stations in Lee Vining before entering the Army in 1965. He served in Viet Nam from 1966 to 1967 with the 5th Howwitzer Battalion, 27th Artillery, attached to the Republic of Korea (White Horse) Marine division and the 101 Airborn Division. He was wounded in action and received two Purple Hearts. Upon returning to Lee Vining in the fall of 1967, Jerry worked at June Mountain for a few years. He is currently a County Road Supervisor and has worked for the County Road Department for 18 years.
He and his family (mother, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, and numerous nieces and nephews) still reside in the Mono Lake area. He has always been involved in all kinds of sports and has enjoyed coaching Little League for a number of years. He is also an avid hunter and fisherman.
ES: Tell me about wildlife along Rush Creek.
AH: Deer liked the willows along Rush Creek.
Walt Dombrowski had a gun club near the mouth of Rush Creek for about ten years, which consisted of about three to four ponds. There were lots of ducks (including "spoonbills" and mallards) and geese there. There was vegetation planted for ducks (possibly wild rice) growing in the ponds. Most of the ponds were quite open (that is, they had no willows growing around the edges). The ponds were at different elevations and the water would spill from one pond to another. At the final pond, the water would percolate back into the sand.
The Clovers and the Dombrowskis lived near the bridge (the lower county road crossing). Mr. Clover built his house (the small house that still exists on the west side of the creek) when he was working on the Rush Creek Mutual Ditch. Later his daughter lived there. If you follow the road toward the creek, still on the northwest side of the creek, there was the Dombrowski's large house. The Dombrowski ponds were on the southeast side of Rush Creek near the lake. Up the creek on the south side about a mile from there was the Latherop House. Mr. Latherop built the house - he was a carpenter and lived there by himself. He did a lot of work in the area, and since he never had a car he would walk to all his jobs. (He has passed away). The Latherop house eventually fell into the creek bed. This probably happened in the latter part of the 1960s when the city of Los Angeles released a lot of water during the wet years. This torrent also washed out the Ford Bridge.
At the Camasco Ranch (Dondero Ranch) there used to be a huge spring which is now dry. (There weren't a lot of willows there.)
IM: How close was the spring to the lake?
AH: The spring was close to the (existing) buildings, on the lake side (east). At that time, the lake was much higher, about 300 to 400 yards from the house. A stream used to run from the spring to the lake, or at least when Louis Camasco wasn't using this water for irrigation.
ES: How do the Donderos (current occupants) water their livestock now?
AH: I think they have to haul in water. The spring dried up many years ago. It got lower and lower as the lake dropped.
ES: Did you ever hunt at Simon or Warm Springs?
AH: There were lots of ducks and geese there in the 1940s and early 1950s. This included millions of canvasbacks. When my father worked at Mono Mills in the early 1920s he would get sacks full of ducks. There was a big spring there at Simon's - the water flowed out through a pipe into some natural, undeveloped pools.
AH: There were some small natural pools near Warm Springs fed by springs, two or three of them. They had watercress beds or grass which the ducks and geese liked, plus the water was warm. There used to be an old rowboat near the pools which made a good hunting blind.
OLD MARINA/NAY RANCH
ES: What was it like on the west shore of Mono Lake?
AH: When I was a boy, there were willows on the south side of the Old Marina area and the lake was up to the dock. There was a large cable that went to a big rock (tufa), possibly for boats to tie to. We would swim in the lake (not in the creek) and we would get there from town by walking down the road near the new Forest Service visitor center. The Nay Ranch had meadows and a big irrigation ditch.
LEE VINING CREEK
ES: What happened during the big fire on lower Lee Vining Creek?
AH: The fire happened in the fall. It started in the dump, which at that time was located where the new Forest Service visitor center stands. It headed toward the lake, and then turned and roared up the canyon towards town, creating its own wind. Everyone turned out to fight it. They stopped it just below the Exxon station (which was next door to the old Hess garage, on the southeast side of town). I helped to fight it, and even my sister Clara held a hose.
From this fire, sparks flew over the town of Lee Vining to the hill above town causing two or three more small fires. (IM says you can still see charred stumps of mahogany near the white "LV" sign above town).
There was a tremendous change in the vegetation after the fire. No replanting was attempted. Before the fire, the vegetation, trees, etc. at lower Lee Vining Creek looked similar to what currently exists at the SCE plant below town. There were aspens, wild rose, and lots of pines that went all the way to the mouth of Mono Lake. Some of the trees are coming back now that there is water. Even with the return of the water, I don't think the trees will ever come back to the way it had been.
ES: What do you remember about agriculture? Did people have vegetable gardens? Cattle? Sheep?
AH: Louis Camasco, who owned the Dondero Ranch at the time, grew lots of vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas. Conway Ranch raised alfalfa. Other ranches included Dechambeau Ranch, Mattley's ranches. Chris Mattley's ranch is where the town of Lee Vining is.
Bob Currie's ranch was above the Mono Lake cemetery and all the sage was cleared in that area. Schell had the Thompson Ranch, and then Bob Currie got it from him. In the latter part of the thirties, they ran cattle on it.
Everyone had a dairy cow, as well as horses, chickens, and sometimes sheep. Many people grew alfalfa. Everyone had a garden.
IM: Tell me about the early days of Lee Vining.
AH: I moved there in 1922 from the Tioga Lodge. Mattly had the ranch there. The main house was near where the Schoolhouse Museum currently stands. The city of Los Angeles eventually knocked it down. There were lots of barns and corrals by the Mono Co. shed as well as a slaughterhouse. Below where the Banta hotel stands, there was a lot of alfalfa and willows. Below Harry Blaver's house, there was a big ditch which went all around the meadows. "H" ditch ran by Jerry Andrew's house.
JA: We would walk to Mono Lake from town and swim near the Nay Ranch. There was a huge spring just below the tufa house where everyone would wash off after swimming - even as recently as 1969-1970. The main road at the time in that area was below the current county road. The county built that road in the 1930's.
AH: About a quarter-mile south of the Lee Vining Creek, where there's a bend in the road, there used to be a big spring. This spring dried up as the lake dropped, and went completely dry in the 1960s. In the early days (1920s?) Chris Mattly had a sawmill there. The sawmill was between Nay Ranch and Lee Vining Creek. Then he bought out someone named Anderson and moved up to the current town of Lee Vining. There were 2-3 big buildings right by the LV Creek bridge.
ES: Who lived in the house where there is still a brick foundation and an old cottonwood near the Nay Ranch?
AH: According to The Man from Mono, George LeBraque was born in that house. It's about 200 yards left of the rock (tufa) house, towards the lake.
JA: Indians used to live in that area as well. The Jamisons, a Paiute family, had a house near the new Forest Service visitor center. They used to keep a big sack of pine nuts tied to a rope from the porch. Despite this, the mice would sometimes raid the supply.
AH: Yes, the Jamison house was about 1/2 to a mile up the creek from the bridge. Nothing is left of this house except a few trees. It was between the new Forest Service visitor center and the creek.
There was a trail down to the creek from town. It ran by a shack (the Jamison's) which was near where the sewage ponds now exist. It didn't follow too closely along the creek.
IM: When did the Jamisons abandon their place?
JA: The city cheated them out of it.
ES: Were there any other houses near the lower part of the creek?
AS: Yes, there used to be at least two buildings. One of the high school teachers lived in the biggest one. She would walk up the hill every day to school. If the weather was bad, someone would go down and pick her up.
ES: Did they farm? How did they support themselves?
AH: Before my time, they might have farmed. The people I knew didn't farm that land - they just lived there. They might have worked for the county.
IM: What was the flow like in the creek?
AH: The flow was irregular in the creek - it would come on and off. When we were kids, we would play down there. When it was at the low flow stage, we would try to catch fish by hand. Then sometimes we would hear a big roar coming down, from the water rushing down the creek from the penstock.
IM: Was this before the city put in the aqueduct?
AH: Yes, before DWP came into the area, the Power Company (South Sierra Power Company) would use the water for making electricity. The Power Co. would pipe the water to their plants and after using it, would turn it into regular streams.
IM: Where would the water go through penstocks below the Poole plant? What parts of the creek were dried up?
AH: The water was stored near the old dam where the Lee Vining water tank now sits. The penstock came from there to the old gravel mine above the Blaver's house (above the BP station on the southwest edge of town) down to the power plant in town. There was always a little flow in the stream, but not nearly as much as when they released water down the penstock. I think that pipe may still be there.
IM: Where did people get willows for making baskets?
JA: My grandmother used to get willows near the upper culvert of Rush Creek.
AH: There was no bridge there then. You had to ford the creek. It was deep enough that halfway across a Model A would stall. The roads were bad. If you tried to drive to Simon Springs you would often have to spend all day digging you car out.
JA: There was a big spring up Rush Creek.
AH: There were some big springs right below (downstream) of the Narrows. There was a big green meadow with lots of springs.
JA/AH: There was good duck hunting in this area in the latter part of the 1930s. There were a lot of ponds and watercress and beautiful grass and willows. In 1940, the water started going south. It didn't dry up right away, but soon after that the water dwindled.
JA: Yes, these were large (tree-sized) willows. There also used to be a lot of buckberry. The buckberry used to run all the way up to the state pit (near current Hwy. 395). The buckberry started close to the lake, at the old shoreline.
LOWER WALKER CREEK
IM: What was lower Walker Creek like below 395?
JA: It always had willows.
IM: Why were there no willows above Hwy. 395?
JA: That may have been due to sheep grazing, and herders cutting them down.
IRRIGATION, ROGERS RANCH, ETC.
AH: There used to be an irrigation ditch that ran behind Jerry's (current) house, and also another ditch that went to the Roger's place. Furthermore, there used to be two ponds by the pumice ditch, where there used to be a lake (the Rogers ranch, behind the existing airport).
IM: Weren't there some ponds closer to Walker Creek? The ones that Wayne McAfee referred to in his testimony?
AH: McAfee worked on the Cain Ranch. His dad worked for the power company or supervised ditches. McAfee went to school here in Lee Vining. Wayne and his brother Howard went to school at L.V. elementary school and two years of high school.
IM: How big were the ponds at the Rogers Ranch?
JA: They were about 2 to 3 acres and no greater than three feet deep. There were no fish there. They were the end product of irrigation. Today sheepherders have a water tank there.
IM: Do you remember about the school at the Farrington Ranch?
AH: His (Jerry's) mother went to school there. My mother also went there to school. I believe all the people around at that time went there to school.
IM: What do you remember about springs around the Mono Basin?
JA: There were some springs down at S. Tufa but they were about 100 to 200 yards west of where people walk around now.
IM: What kind of vegetation surrounded these springs?
AH/JA: Grass and watercress.
IM: Was there any freshwater meadow there? What kind of grass?
AH/JA: Salt grass.
JA: There were a lot of springs north of Mono Lake. There was a big spring near Nellie Reynold's old place (about a half-mile above Cemetery Road, in upper Thompson meadows, about 300 to 400 yards below her house, which was torn down March of 1992, it was near the northwest corner of Thompson meadows). A pipeline ran from that spring to the cemetery. This water was used to water the trees there. I don't know why it dried up. When they irrigate a lot, that spring gets active again.
AH: I sometimes practice my golf swings in that area. There was also Wild Horse Spring near the McPherson Grade (which the maps call Indian Spring). There used to be good dove and chukar hunting there.
JA: There were lots of artesian springs near the Bodie Hills.
AH: One time I rode around Mono Lake (on horseback). There were springs at Warm and Simon Springs which would come out of the tufa. There was also a large spring between South Tufa and Simon Springs. Along the South Tufa area in the early 1950s, I remember one large tufa sticking out of the lake about a quarter mile from shore, and fresh water was coming out of it, overflowing from the top.
JA/AH: There were some big springs on the northeast shore of Mono Lake. At the current Denny residence, I think it was the McDonald Ranch back then. There was a big artesian well. There was also a well where the Seymours lived, about half a mile east of the Denny's place. Both are dry now. Another spring was at the old limestone house that is still standing (near the lime kilns). Kirkwood Spring had enough flow to support fish and a few ducks. Jus before the current resident, Gene, got there about ten years ago, someone named Dean found a dead rainbow trout that was 42 inches long floating in there.
JA: Kirkwood Springs still flows, but not as good as it did ten years ago. There were also a lot of springs near the mouth of Wilson Creek and near the Hansen's (current) place.
AH: The mouth of Mill Creek had a lot of big cottonwood trees at the mouth. There was a ranch there in the latter part of the 1800s. I don't remember anything about that ranch in my time - the buildings were gone by the 1930s.
SULPHUR PONDS/Mono Lake
IM: What were the Sulphur Ponds like?
JA: There used to be good ice skating there in the winter. This was at ponds near the current Binderup house (on the northeast shore of Mono Lake near 10 mile road). There were also ponds where Cottonwood Creek came down. When I was in high school (1959) we used to go ice-skating there with the Seymour kids. They had four girls and one boy. We would drive down there from their house. I believe this house is gone now. The pond was about the size of the sulphur ponds. It was gone by the 1970s.
JA/AH: Hector Station had a good spring that ran all the time. There also used to be more springs in Rancheria Gulch. There used to be several springs between Barbara Moore's house and the Goat Ranch. A spring below Barbara Moore's road is now gone. Murphy Springs (in the Bodie Hills) also don't run as well as they used to. They used to overflow and plug up the culverts with soil.
There were also springs near the Scanovino's place (Goat Ranch) up Bridgeport Canyon.
IM: What kind of wildlife was around these springs?
JA: Sagehens, deer, mountain lions.
AH: Murphy's spring had trees, grass and wildflowers. The sagehens and deer and coyotes enjoyed all of this.
IM: Were there more aspens back then?
JA: It was about the same.
IM: What else do you remember about wildlife around Mono Lake?
AH: I was told that Indians used to herd jackrabbits towards the lake, and when they could not go any further the rabbits would start back. This is when they would club them and throw them in a sack. They used the meat for cooking and the fur for making blankets.
IM: Do either of you remember a small sandpiper called the snowy plover? (which she describes)
IM: Were there any sage grouse around Rush Creek?
AH: There were ponds near Rush Creek. They were manmade. Water was turned into them. Walt Dombrowski (whose ponds these were) was a coach when I was on the ski team. Dombrowski's house was east of the Clover Ranch near the creek. It was near the "dot" on the map that indicates the state fish hatchery. The last people that lived there was the Newtons. There was an old studebaker on the site that was full of bullet holes.
There were also small lagoons all along near Rush Creek.
IM: Did you ever hike up Rush Creek as a kid?
AH: I have gone up and down it many times.
In 1929, for the last Yosemite field days, I rode in a car to Yosemite, then got to ride horseback from Tenaya Lake to the Mono Basin with Minnie.
JA: My mom went there and back on horseback at age 5 or 6, around 1922.
IM: Do you remember who lived downstream of the Narrows along Rush Creek?
AH: Yes. The house started from the current gravel operations on downstream. There were the Murphys, young Charlie (my grandfather), some of the Sams, Lee Foster, Clyde Sam and my family. There was also an Indian camp on the plateau above the Narrows which had three or four buildings. Right below there, there is a nice big flat and they grew potatoes there, but I don't know how they irrigated it. (ES note: I think this is where Jesse Durant's family lived after they sold out to the Cain Power Co.).
The Harry Tom family had a ranch at the mouth of Walker Creek canyon. They had lots of horses. He finally moved to Coleville, where he would gather firewood on horseback when he was eighty years old. He used to rope deer. (ES note: Harry Tom was a famous rodeo cowboy). One time, Clyde Sam put a saddle on a steer and rode it. I am sure there were more people that lived there but I can't remember their names.
IM: When did you live on Rush Creek?
AH: My grandfather's house was one big building. It was down about two miles below the Narrows above the Ford. The meadows were cleared for horses. Sometimes Rush Creek would overflow. That's what made the ponds near the big sandy bank on the east side of the creek where the hill is scalloped. There were ponds along the creek with ducks and lots of nice little lagoons. They were there year round until the city took the water. There were springs there too. I was living on Rush Creek somewhere around 1919-20. I was staying with my grandparents while my parents worked at the Mono Mills. The Power Company bought it out, and then the city bought it from the Power Company. Then my family bought Model A's. There were only a few Indians on Indian allotment land. Some was sold to someone in Schurz, NV. Jerry has the records for this. This was sometime around 1928-30.
AH: My grandparents and many of the people that lived on Rush Creek moved to south of Jake Mattly's place. This was the Mattly Ranch located near the Farrington Ranch. Pearl Mattly's ranch was about a half-mile south of Jerry Andrew's place, and Jake Mattly's place was about another mile south of that.
There was lots of irrigation going on. The Cain Ranch had lots of alfalfa and cattle. The area along 120 east was all meadows. They got the water from Rush Creek.
IM: Did Rush Creek ever dry up?
AH: No. It never dried up until DWP came in.
IM: Did the flow ever noticeably decrease because of irrigation?
AH: Even with irrigation, there was more water in it then than now. There was no irrigation in winter. However, the irrigation ditches by Jerry's (current) house ran all year.
JA: I remember water going in the creek by my house in 1956.
IM: Was there enough water in the ditches to keep them from freezing?
AH: There was a nice flow in both ditches. One ditch went from Lee Vining Creek past Jerry Andrews' current house to the Jake Mattly ranch. One ditch went to the Roger's place. Another ditch went to the Farrington Ranch. It might have come from Walker Creek - anyways, it didn't come from Lee Vining Creek.
GRANT LAKE DAM
AH: There used to be more willow patches around lower Grant Lake before the lake was enlarged.
LOWER RUSH CREEK
AH: There were lots of sheep near the Rush Creek bottomlands. The sheep could get into the vegetation around the creek (ie. it wasn't so thick that it prevented the sheep from grazing in here). The sheep would walk here every spring all the way from Bakersfield.
IM: What do you remember about the wildlife in this area between the culvert and the ford in the bottomlands? (in reference to Aitken photo of the Rush Creek "morass").
AH: There were lots of ducks just above the bridge. The creek makes another U-turn above there. There was good fishing, and lots of rabbits.
IM: This is the hardest area to restore. The big flows made a canyon here and the creek straightened out.
JA: John Dondero used to take me duck hunting down there all the time. We used to go in from the road side. That was approximately 1953 and a few years after that.
AH: Some June Lake guys built a duck blind near there.
AH/JA: There were lots of mallards. In fall, a whole bunch of little ponds filled with ducks. Maybe 100 or more nested down there.
JA: When DWP bought the land, my grandmother let her horses go.
AH: There used to be corrals at Alameda Wells to catch wild horses. Someone named Chichester from Coleville used to catch the horses and sell them for slaughter.
JA: There are still wild horses near Deep Wells. I chased them on horseback recently.
IM: Were there lots of deer along Rush Creek?
AH: Deer were pretty scarce back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
JA: There were a lot near the dump that got water at Rush Creek.
AH: My dad and many other people around used to go to Huntoon Valley for deer in the winter. This was in the early 1920s - a little before my time. Back in those days there weren't too many deer around.
JA: Deer would go down to Rush Creek for water, then go back to feed in the sage. They didn't hang out much at Rush Creek when people lived there.
IM: Do you remember mountain beaver, or mountain lions at Rush Creek?
JA: Mountain lions passed through there.
AH: No. I am sure there were coyotes, bobcats, and maybe lions. It was a natural spot for them.
JA: I've seen a lion near Thompson Ranch, as well as bobcats.
AH: I used to swim in A-ditch above the 120 turnoff. Everybody used to go there to swim. It was a nice big pond with a diving board on it.
IM: What did Rush Creek look like near where old 395 crossed the creek? Were there trees?
AH: No, just a bridge. There were no trees that I can remember.
IM: Did you ever swim in Rush Creek?
AH: Maybe. It was very cold. In summer, it would warm up.
AH: I heard that Nellie Reynold's great great granddad used to ride a horse from Black Point to Negit Island. The horse had to swim some of it. (This might be a rumor. This is just what I was told.)
JA: Captain John used to go to Bodie with gull eggs to sell.
AH: In 1958, I used to go to the islands a lot. There was very little tufa visible then in that area. Lee Vining Tufa, however, was pretty well exposed. South Tufa was still covered with water. I had a boat and would go to the islands quite often. There were quite a few goats out on the white island then, and rabbits.
The marina had very few tufa rocks. Only two to three stuck out near the south part. You still had to be careful with a boat, though.
JA: I used to be able to swim in Mono Lake with my eyes open. It didn't sting too much.
AH: During Mark Twain days, people would throw things (coins) in the water for the boys to dive for. The water was mild enough then too that you could swim with your eyes open.
JA: I used to swim near the Nay Ranch. A cable ran between tufa rocks there. You had to splash through irrigation ditches to get there.
AH: Mr. Nay later lived in the current Peigne residence. He had a big boat.
IM: Did you ever fish at the mouth of Lee Vining Creek?
AH: There was a sheepman named Emilio Cabargo who would chase fish down LV Creek until they went belly up in Mono Lake. I was told that Indians used to do the same. They would get a gang together and chase the trout into the lake. After that, it was easy to get them.
IM: What was fishing like on Rush Creek? How big were the fish? Were they hatchery-bred?
JA: I once caught a five pounder above the Clover Ranch. I'm not sure if it was wild. It was a brown trout. When I was small, there were a lot of 15" long fish.
AH: There was a nice flow of warm water from springs for a long time, even after diversions began.
IM: How deep was the water?
JA: Near the ford, the water was 18" to 2' deep. There were some holes 3 to 5' deep in the bottomlands.
IM: What about fishing in Lee Vining Creek?
JA: The fish weren't too big. The LV water supply overflow kept the creek running a little bit. This was when I was about fifteen (thirty years ago). The bigger fish were about 1 pound.
AH: During the 1930's, I remember that the hoboes that used to hang around the garage in town would catch rainbows and brookies right below town. Quite a few hoboes used to come and live along Lee Vining Creek during the summer. Most of my fishing was done at Saddlebag and Lundy Lakes.
End of interview.
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