“A Toast to Inyo”

The House at Laws Railroad Museum Where I Found the Poem Framed on the Wall

Hitherto, whenever I have presented a poem, it had a certain literary quality which justified the effort to puzzle it out. This time, I am reprinting a poem which I saw framed on a wall in one of the houses at the Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, California. So at one and the same time, it is a poem and an artifact of a particular time and place which are increasingly remote to us.

Toast to Inyo

Here’s to Inyo, well beloved,
With her smiling skies so fair,
Here’s to her Sierras tall,
With their grand and stately air.

Here’s to the pioneers, old and gray,
Many of whom have passed away,
And solved the mystery, which all
Of us must solve some day.

Few there are who now remain
To remind us of the past;
Foremost in our hearts are they,
And as our “nobles” they are classed.

Here’s to the wives and mothers true
Who did their very best
To make this lovely vale of ours
A home of peace and rest.

Here’s to the noble sons and brave
Who hallow the colors three;
Smiling at the foeman’s frown,
Ready to fight for liberty.

Here’s to the daughters, fair and good;
With laughing eyes so sparkling bright,
With rosy cheeks and golden hair,
The world they hold within their might.

Remember then, whe’er you go,
There’s no place like “home sweet home;”
And think of dear old Inyo,
As o’er the wide world you roam.

I rather suspect that the poem was written around the time of the First World War based on the “foeman” in the fifth stanza.

Indian Baskets and Coyote Dentures

Panamint Shoshone Indian Baskets

Inyo County’s county seat is the small town of Independence, CA. To me, it will always be associated with the Eastern California Museum and the writings of Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934). Curiously, the museum and Mary Austin’s house are just across the street from one another. I have always thought that Austins The Land of Little Rain and The Basket Woman are two of the best books written about life in the Eastern Sierras over a century ago. The Austin house is not open to visitors, but you can always cross the street to the museum to buy her books and learn about this incredible writer.

In fact, there is little about the Eastern Sierras that you can’t learn about from the museum. If the Owens Valley and its continuation northward to the Nevada state line is of any interest to you, you owe it to yourself to spend at least half a day at the museum. There you will learn about the miners, the Indians, the Japanese interned at Manzanar, the pioneer men and women, the mountain climbers, the water wars, the geology, the railroads, and the farmers.

One of the most incredible displays is a set of dentures using coyote teeth for a dentally distressed resident by the name of George Washington Hancock. While we visited the museum, we heard two visitors walk in the door and immediately ask about the “coyote teeth.”

The Coyote Dentures and the Story Behind Them

The collection of Paiute and Shoshone Indian basketry is world class. I particularly liked the Panamint Shoshone designs on their baskets. I was disappointed to learn that these baskets were made for early tourists to the area, as the Indians were much too pragmatic to bother about designs for something so utilitarian as a food container. Yet the designs came from somewhere and are visually striking.

In many ways, it is recommended to visit the museum at or near the beginning of your trip along Highway 395. Wherever you are going, whatever you are planning to do, you will find answers here in this museum which is owned and run by Inyo County. There are no admission fees, but I strongly recommend you make a donation so that this outstanding institution can continue to highlight one of the most interesting corners of our country.