Letter of Intent for Walking Water Pilgrimage

As I have said I am fourth generation Owens Valley. I grew up with the mantra from my mother that, “we were always supposed to live in Bishop.” But we couldn’t because there was no work for my father there any longer in the mining industry. So we moved to Victorville CA when I was five and I graduated high school there and left for Spokane, Berkeley, and eventually here, Corvallis OR.

The Owens Valley is the only place I can really call home, although I did intentionally move to Berkeley, where I graduated from Cal.

My parents travelled up to Bishop one weekend every month that I lived in Victorville to visit their parents and other relatives. I always went to the Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church, where all the kids would ask me if I were named after the streets? (There is a Yaney Street and a MacIver Lane in Bishop at the north end off of Main St.). So these monthly visitations kept us involved in the community. So much so now that many I know now in the Owens Valley that are my age will ask me when I graduated from Bishop High School!

I have raised my kids here in Corvallis and now the oldest is turning 34 and the youngest will be 30. It is time that I can leave. And I am working on ending my sojourn in Corvallis, the job I have been doing is changing, partly because I am trying to return to the Owens Valley.

I recently returned for the first time in seventeen years over Labor Day of 2013 and have visited a good couple of times since for the Owens Valley Committee’s major fundraiser in 2014 and for the 45th Manzanar Pilgrimage last year. As well I flew down and back to LA for the centenary of the Aqueduct to join other Owens Valley activists in protesting at the DWP headquarters. It was the most wonderful thing to join with other’s in the cause that is the most dear to me and has shaped my life so tremendously.

I have long been a Mono Lake Committee member (Guardian of the Lake and monthly sustainer) and had thought as many do that the Owens’ Valley struggle was over, as one activist here in Corvallis put it, “it’s done, over with, forget it.” And I am forever grateful to Jenna Cavelle for Paya, because it is she who first showed me through her work that the struggle is far from over and now there is so much being done through other’s work: yours, Lauren’s 100 Mules, the various Bristlecone Media projects, the Owens Valley Growers’ Cooperative, etc. that the Owens Valley lives and will continue to do so and it will thrive. It is time.

My intent now is to return home, help with whatever I can in peacefully, but assertively, in reclaiming the Owens Valley from the DWP. It is a new century and things can not continue, even LA knows this (even the DWP knows it). Should you accept my walking with you, I will be walking for those that grieve their diaspora from the Owens Valley, to atone for my ancestor’s (McGee especially), for the return of this a last Eden, and to learn. . . .

I believe my experience on Bike4Peace 2010 helps me with understanding the requirements of such a walk, both physically and from an organizational perspective. And with every fiber of my being I’m looking forward to not being sedentary any longer.

Also, I think it will be safer to walk the stretch than the last time I drove the valley, I was in tears most of the time over the beauty and the loss of it.

Here’s a bit of my history:

My pioneer/settler ancestors on my father’s side are the McGees, Skinners, MacIvers, and Yaneys. My grandparent’s Brooks (mother’s side) came to the Owens Valley sometime around the end of or after WWII. Grandpa Brooks worked at the Borax mine and eventually they bought 362 N Fowler in Bishop and ran a floor covering business out of the house, it is right across from the high school and had a wonderful view of Mt. Tom from the living room window. I still dream of the house and grieve it, for me it was a most magical place.

Sadly my ancestor’s McGee were particularly involved in the Indian Wars and in the the initial destruction of the Owens Valley agriculture and way of life that had been honed over 10,000 years. My great-great grandfather, Alney L. McGee was on the wrong side of the lake that fateful day over 150 years ago that Kathy Jefferson Bancroft discovered. The whole thing about the McGees makes me extremely angry. My Cousin George Garrigues documented the day at the lake, etc. in his publication, Alney Lee McGee: Pioneer, Indian Fighter, Cattleman. I had not read that part of the publication until after the story came out in the LA Times. However, when Cousin George gave my family the publication (I was in high school at the time, I think), I asked him why he’d said “Indian Fighter” and not “Indian Killer”. His response was something about the “times”. There are many other bad things that the McGee brothers did.

My great grandparents MacIver had to sell their land south of Independence to the LADWP. This land is right across the highway from Manzanar where my Uncle Dennis (my mother’s sister’s former husband) was interned as a young orphan because he was part Japanese. And this is the same land on which the LADWP wanted to build the solar ranch. Thankfully that proposition seems to have been withdrawn.

However, the sale of that land ended my great grandparent’s marriage. I never knew my great grandfather Finle(a)y. And it seems that all of his children were quite upset with him. But no one knows why in my parents generation. He died a year after the sale of the land and my great grandmother (Gram) Jessie MacIver’s Skinner relatives bought her a house on my ancestor’s Yaney’s property which was at the corner of MacIver Ln. and Main Street in Bishop before it was torn down to build the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the office building behind it. My elderly cousin Jessie Turner still runs the Mt. View Trailer Park and lives in the only house left on the Yaney land. Gram used to sell worms to fisherman and I remember playing in the nightcrawler pile. I loved it.

My grandparent’s MacIver (Joseph and Frances Eva Yaney) bought the property to the north of Gram’s and built their house and four rentals. This property is now where the Denny’s and the Vagabond Inn are. The house and the rentals were all moved to other places in Bishop.

My ancestor’s Yaney came over into the valley from Sonora via Sonora Pass where my great-great grandfather, Israel Putnam Yaney and his brother, John had been merchants during the gold rush. They were well off because of that and donated property to Tuolumne County for the courthouse where the other Yaney Street is. John and Israel were indentured by their parents and ended up in New Orleans where Israel met my great-great grandmother, Hannah Parker. When I visited Sonora a good couple of decades ago we went to a museum across the street from the Courthouse and found snippet of history about Hannah. Seems that there were some refugees from a hurricane in New Orleans that Hannah opened their house to. The mother told the children in French to not ask for anything accept only what they were given. Hannah countered in French that the children should ask for anything they needed or wanted.

The Yaney’s originally set out for Los Angeles when they left Sonora, but when they saw the beautiful Round Valley coming down off Sherwin Grade they decided to settle in the Owens Valley.

William Parker Yaney was one of Hannah and Israel’s children. Alney’s daughter Eva married him. I can only imagine this being a kinder and gentler family than the McGee’s. William was also an Inyo County Supervisor, but I don’t know what decisions he made and if I’d agree with them.

I don’t know much about my ancestor’s Skinner, my great Uncle was William Skinner, he and his wife Charlotte were artists (Charlotte more famous). I have Skinner cousins who live in Lone Pine, some I have never met, like the sisters who run the Dow Villa and Kathy New who is the head of the LP Chamber of Commerce. I did get to meet cousin Paul Skinner, his wife, and his sister when I was down for the pilgrimage. And did talk to one of the sisters over the phone and her voice sounded just the same as my Aunt Maggie’s! I look forward to meeting them all again and for the first time.

Anyway I leave you with this, I have a painting that Uncle Bill did called Oregon Wheatfield. They lived in Eugene for awhile but I think it was painted just down the hill a quarter of a mile from where I live. It was a gift to my grandparent’s MacIver and I really liked it because on the back it says, “If you don’t like this one, throw it away, and I will send another.” But I have come to realize that it might be like the picture of Dorian Gray and I think it needs to be re-hung somewhere in the Owens Valley maybe I should gift/loan it to the new Coop in Independence.


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