What Mineral King Means to Dorthy Barboni
Recounted by Dorothy Barboni in 1980
My first trip to Mineral King came when Frank’s aunt, Nettie Howard, drove us up there at night, because she thought I might get carsick and scared from seeing the winding road and the deep canyon. I had been a San Francisco girl. This was in May or June, 1925. You could see the car lights ahead from above coming toward you, and keep well over on the right side, plus tooting your horn around corners, as the road was narrow. Many places the car coming down had to back up into a corner to allow the other one to pass. I was in love with Mineral King from then on.
Nettie and husband, Jim Howard knew ole Jeff Davis and his wife, who had been a Pogue, and they had purchased the old cabin, built in the late 1800's. During the mining days, it had been the butcher shop, with living quarters above. Our road was the main street then, and our cabin is located where there was a hotel and saloon and there were two roads going east and west to the north of us. We found the foundations there when we added on our sleeping porch. Jeff and his wife asked Nettie and Jim to come up to their place and camp next to their cabin, and they did that for several years.
Then Nettie and Jim got permission to take the lot west to build a cabin. It was one room, our main room now, with no windows, a front and a back door. It was built in 1905 or 1906 with wood from the Atwell Mill. We used to get our stove wood from Phil Alles who worked at the mill for years, until he passed on. He, and his lovely wife who is still alive in a convalescent hospital, were just two of the greatest people. And they loved my Frank.
My husband, Frank C. Barboni, lived in San Jose but spent summers as a boy with Jim and Nettie on their ranch east of Visalia. In 1910, when he was 12, he made his first trip up. It took three days with horses and mules. Frank rode a mule, First stop for the night was Three Rivers, next at Oak Grove or Gruniguns cabin. They stayed at Oak Grove where Frank slept on a blanket and discovered he'd had a good night’s sleep on a manure pile. Finally, from Oak Grove into Mineral King, all this along the old road, which the miners had used. Some of the old road was located through a ranch Nettie had, on the way. It is called Bear Ranch. The road started from off the Three Rivers highway, and at the top of the hill, the old road went down the hill and crossed over to the north and then stayed on the south of the river all the way to Mineral King.
By 1925, they had built on the present kitchen, and the east side porch where we all spent a lot of time just looking at the heavenly place in front of us. The water line for the Davis Cabin and ours was already in, and we had the outdoor faucet outside (not inside yet). We took off from above Harry's Bend where there was a bridge until a few years ago. Nettie always called the falls Black Wolf Falls, and so did we and we do yet. But, the Forest Service changed it. The two cabins across from us belonged to Phil Davis, across from us, and west Tom Davis built. They were the brothers of Jeff Davis. They were built just before I started going up in 1925.
We have always kept the water running to keep it cool and free from rocks, and it is rather shallow in the ground. Thousands and more have stopped by to get a cool drink, and some directions, and for me to answer questions by the thousands. In the old days we kept a large washtub on the ground under the water faucet and we kept our fruit, vegetables and milk in it, and usually a watermelon or two. Our refrigerator was a screened safe, hung in the Lodgepole pine tree below the cabin, which was raised up into the tree at night.
There was always lots of traffic on the dirt road, especially on mail days, which were three times a week, and we spent most of the day with the hose, trying to settle the road. The store was open until eight or nine o’clock every night and everybody walked over to visit at the store and to buy a thing or two, at least.
Several people operated the pack station and ran the store. When Frank led a pack train of several men from my family, his family and friends over the years, he ordered all the grub, packed it in the kayaks, and did most of the cooking. He took a trip almost every year. And, if, when he returned to the cabin and had not played poker and read a book he had taken, he figured he'd had a perfect vacation.
My son, Dick, and I gathered rocks and plants to put around our cabin, but had lots of trouble with the heavy rains coming down. Gerry, my daughter, also is a rock gatherer and she has found some beauties, but I think people take some when we are not there.
Now, I am a Redwood tree planter and have many around our cabin, and have given so many away. Van and Mary Dixon, who have a lovely cabin, come by often, and he showed me how to plant the seeds, bless him. Marge and Earl Whitendale have a gorgeous one on their ranch out of Visalia, and they have several small ones at their new home which they built in Fish Camp. All of them seem to be happy. I gather my seeds at Atwell Mill when I go down in August.
We have always used Coleman lamps and still do. Years ago, we had two lovely table lamps. There was an old coal oil lamp there when I first went up. We did buy an old refrigerator, kept it on the porch and everyone who came up brought ice and we ordered ice in between from the store. Poor insulation didn’t help in keeping things very long, but the ice helped. When my husband came home from six months in the hospital, we got a new electric refrigerator and kept the 28-year old refrigerator, had it converted to propane and it is still doing a fine job at the cabin. We also had Aunt Nettie’s Servel taken up and we kept it very cold and could keep fish and meat all summer. But, several years ago, a bear broke into it, and we have had to keep a board across the front but it is still working.
A sleeping porch on the west end was built in 1934, and later we fixed a homemade shower next to the cabin on the south side. Until then, we had had our baths in the washtub in the kitchen, and it was fun. We would turn the water supply off outside in the midday warmth for 20-30 minutes and there was warm water to rinse, soap and rinse. In a little while another person could shower.
Frank, and his brother, Louis, from Hanford, laid new wall-to-wall linoleum years ago and what a time and what a job, but it is still down. Essentially, we are about the same as we have been for many decades, in the dear old cabin.
When Nettie passed away, about twenty years ago, Frank and I got a pack horse and hiked up to the old Empire Mine, and he finally found one good ore bucket and a wheel which we gave to the Tulare County Museum in Mooney's Grove, in Nettie's memory.
Later we put in water pipes in the old stove. Dad bought a Sears metal shower and he built a dressing room, and my-my, again we figured that we were the luckiest people on earth. The stove in the kitchen looks just like it did 55 years ago. It works fine, too. It was made by Cribben and Sexton Co., Chicago, and is called a Surprise Universal. It has always been there.
When the children were small we had lots of friends and their children up for most of the summer. From the time that they could walk, we started with picnics (as we called them) and then lengthened to trips to hikes. He have gone all over the inside walls of Mineral King. On the way up on the road years ago, the cars would get very hot on the dusty road, so we would stop at two, three or four water holes, drain the radiator, let the kids get out and walk around, then get back into the car and start singing again.
Frank's favorite one-day horse trip was over Timber Gap and down into Cliff Creek. He always got the limit of cold, beautiful rainbow trout. Years ago though, during a very heavy winter, most of them were killed. Frank packed back over Franklin Pass many a time for a week or two. He loved the hot springs and the whole Kern River area.
My good friend, Marie Frame, whose mother was a daughter of Judge Atwell, and her father, Hugh McPhaill, took Sis and her brother, Alva, up to Mineral King on the old stage coach when she was a very little girl and they stayed in our cabin, and she has been up there with me many times. A three day trip!
Uncle Jeff Davis taught me how to light the Coleman lamps many years ago, and I was afraid of fire so I took them out on the porch. I sure wasted matches because the flame would blowout over and over again.
We did our laundry almost every day, including sheets in the old wash tubs which we are still using, with running water below to rinse in the rinse tub, and also with the help of our trouncer, we called it, but it is known as a Rapid Washer. Plus, we used the washboard. I had always lived in San Francisco and really enjoyed acting like a pioneer.
Jim Howard and Frank Barboni (left) on laundry day—ca. 1912-1914
A few years ago, my wirehaired Terrier, Mazie, and I were alone at the cabin, sleeping on the sleeping porch, and she woke me up barking, but I always kept a large pan lid and a big spoon to bang if I wanted to scare a bear, and I quieted her down and we both went back to sleep. However, in the morning when we got up and tried to open the door to go out, we found the small refrigerator door was wide open, the handle broken and the entire contents gone. Not even a piece of paper left. I had chickens, a leg of lamb, one cornish game hen, bacon and all sorts of other meats. A large, muddy footprint was on the front of the large refrigerator, so I knew who the culprit was.
That black bear came on the hour, every hour, all night for twelve days, after sleeping off his meat for two days. I called Margie Whitendale to please come up with meat as soon as she could, which she did. I called friends and told them to please stay home because we were up many times every night. One night, he was standing right outside the back porch and Mazie was on the ground and being very persistent in keeping him from getting any closer. I was inside with my bang-bang and screaming loud. But, he just stood there for long minutes, but would not move. At long last, with Mazie barking so that she was hoarse, he very, very slowly lowered his tall, black body and ambled off into the brush. Mazie took off after him and I could hear her muffled bark down in the willows.
I mentioned this to a Fish and Game man who stopped by to visit a few times. He and another man were setting up traps to catch a deer, then early in the morning they would go out, tag the deer and put a bell on a few and then release them.
In the meantime, I set up traps all over the porch and near the refrigerator every night. Then one day, Game man was looking through his binoculars and saw a deer in the trap and a black bear was eating it. For several years he was known as the Barboni Bear.
Mazie finally lost her voice, poor old gal. The bear was gone at last and we could sleep. They shot it about ten or eleven times, starting on the rump, then up in back of the ears and then between the eyes. The man who worked for the Fish and Game said they were there to check up on where they migrated to in the winter, and they were surprised that they went down to Three Rivers and crossed the river.
I have spent most of the summers in Mineral King since I first went up in 1925. All but the year Frank was in the hospital. But the children and friends still went to the cabin. One year I spent ten weeks at the cabin without going home. My son, Dick, and daughter, Gerry, both live in San Francisco but come down every summer, bringing friends galore. Our slogan is: "If you bring your sleeping bag, we can always put you up".
Years ago, one of the few times we were up there alone, we awoke from sleep with a jerk. We turned the radio on and discovered it was an earthquake from Tehachapi or Bakersfield. I had often wondered how we would get out if ever the road was ripped up.
I recall Grandma Davis telling me of the fall, years ago, that it suddenly froze and so the whole family had to get out. She had her baby on the horse with her and they rode up and over Farewell Gap and down and around to get to their home in Woodlake.
I recall several Augusts when we had to get out water from the river, 'because we had had a dry winter before, and a few years to the other extreme when the road wouldn’t even be open until June. The packers couldn’t get horses out over the passes and many people were unhappy. Many times, the road has been severely damaged by the winter. I am told that many fish are killed by big boulders during the heavy storms.
We have had bears break into the cabin several times in the winter and they just wreck everything. Twice people have broken in. Once we discovered lots of holes in the cabin and someone suggested that someone must have just taken shots for the fun of it. But on one occasion an antique straight chair was ruined by the shells.
Over the years we have had lots of company. Many times we have put up seventeen people for three or so days. And everything is cooked on our old stove, unless we barbecue steak or chicken.
When Disney was hard set to take Mineral King from the American people, I was just as anxious to help us all keep it. I got between 3000-4000 signatures to "Keep Mineral King Natural" for the Sierra Club. I doubt if anyone got more. After the store went down with a heavy snow storm and there was only one ranger available, I answered millions of questions for people from everywhere about Mineral King. I don't know it all of course but I certainly have been able to keep informed and to help people. Countless times we put up total strangers during heavy rain storms. We have dried them, fed them, and bedded them, all in good faith, and have made many friends.
Several times men gathered at our cabin at night, had coffee and then took off up the mountain with flash lights to try to find, and bring back an injured person. Once, when the children were young, we had walked over to the store after dinner, which lots of us did. Just as we were ready to come home, a boy came running in to say that three of them had gone up to White Chief and when it started getting dark, they began to hurry down. While jumping across some rocks, one boy fell and didn't make a sound. One boy stayed while the other ran all the way down the hill. Help was found, the ranger went up with a horse and they found the boy's body wedged down between some rocks. Believe me, it taught many people a lesson. Over the years, we have seen many helicopters picking up injured visitors.
Once we were surprised to see a huge Greyhound bus going by the cabin. In a few minutes it came back after turning around at the old store property. 'We were told that the bus was chartered. They bad been to Sequoia and when they passed the sign on the highway that said Mineral King a woman suggested they drive up and see it and so they did. But once they got on the road, they had to go all the way to the end of the road before the bus could turn around.
Last year, a pick-up arrived with two men and a beautiful young llama which had been raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains, trained by his master to gradually carry his own pack up to fifty pounds. They took off for a week and came back in good shape. The animal was beautiful. The man raising them claims that they are clean, healthy and make wonderful pets. His name was "Sunny". I have a picture of him and me.
Ed “Pappy" Hart was a dear friend of Frank's and mine and over the years he has told me many tales of the early days when he helped his father and others to make the trails out of Mineral King which we all know so well. He and his lovely wife, Belle have two daughters who have spent many summers at their cabin. One day he took me to Ed Hester's cabin to show me the following letter which Ed had hanging over the mantel. I copied it down since I found it interesting.
W.L. Rourke, Practical Hat Maker
December 15, 1931
Mr. Smith the packer is still alive. I wish you and Mr. Hart would call to his mind the following incident in relation to the snow slide at Mineral King. In taking out the two injured men, Flaherty and Brown, we tied them up in blankets and outside of the blankets, a rawhide, so that it slid in the snow. I, being the lightweight, went ahead and broke the trail so as my heavier companion Smith could step into my footsteps. By that means, we were able to drag Flaherty down the hill to the mill where the pack train was waiting. I was certainly glad to hear that Mr. Smith is still in the land of the living. You might find an account of the slide in the Visalia Delta as I remember reading it after we got to Visalia. If you can find a copy of that date, you will see my name mentioned therein as the cook of the outfit, but that was an error at which my friends and I had many a laugh. I think you could get further data by looking up some people in Jackson, Amador Co., that is, if any are still alive.
Yours truly, W.L. Rourke
Hat Manufacturer, Established in 1898
238 N. Fresno St., Fresno, California
These are additional notes that Pappy gave me. There was a blacksmith shop near the Empire Mine and you could get matches there. Eighteen men working in the mine; nine at night and nine in the daytime. A roof caved in on a man and when they found him his toes were frozen. Some men were huddled in the snow with blankets and did not freeze. Burt Smith and Jake Baer were from Woodlake. Burt had a pack station above the “old gate". It was on the south side of the river.
The remnants of the old gate were visible when I first came to Mineral King. The gate went up against the huge rock on the road just below the ranger station on the right side, going down. We always referred to the cabins in that area as being down at the gate. That was before so many teachers built cabins and it is now “Faculty Flat".
Pappy also told me about Harry O'Farrell, who was on parole from prison. Everyone called him Harry Parole, and the bend just above our cabin is called Harry's Bend after him. He was the first white man to come into the Mineral King area. He came in over Farewell Gap in 1870 [note: it was actually in 1863]. The government hired him to keep the trail crew in meat (deer).
In the back of the old Jeff Davis cabin there is a rather large rock where the Indians used to ground their acorns and corn. Coastal Indians brought salt, valley people brought acorns, etc. to those east of the Great Divide, who brought obsidian. And our Mineral King was a place where they exchanged their products.