Pictured: Buster ready for action in front of the marker for the grave of Adeline Carson Stilts/
Mono County is filled with cemeteries and burial sites, many of them tied to the its rich history. But recent research could lead to a new addition to the county’s storied past: the lost cemeteries of Monoville.
Never heard of Monoville? That’s okay, most people probably haven’t, but local historian Mark Davis and Paul Dostie have. Davis has been researching the lost mining town, the county’s oldest settlement, and earlier this week he and Dostie, along with Dostie’s trained cadaver dog Buster, went in search of Monoville’s residents’ final resting places.
Located in the northern part of the Mono Basin, according to Davis, Monoville was founded on July 4, 1859, while nearby Bodie (which many think was the first real settlement), was but an encampment. At one point, Davis said census records indicate it had a population of about 1,200, mostly miners looking for gold and other metals. Monoville’s founding predated Bodie’s by almost 20 years, and Mono County’s by two years.
Davis said Monoville’s founders spent $250,000 in 1860 dollars to bring water in from Mill, Virginia, Dog and Green creeks, some as far as 14 miles away, to placer out the gold, an expensive undertaking in its day. Monoville had 20 saloons and several general stores, but no churches or newspapers. “It was a wild, woolly mining town,” Davis said.
It also had a subtantial Chinese labor force, brought in after the mines opened up and the town was taken over by a water company to do all the heavy lifting required for supporting the town’s infrastructure.
In those days, Chinese and their white counterparts were usually buried in separate cemeteries. On Wednesday, Dostie and Davis found what they think might be the one housing some of the remains of the town’s many Chinese inhabitants.
Dostie, who has helped find many lost remains of U.S. and German soldiers in Europe and U.S. Marines in the South Pacific, as well as missing persons in several homicide cases, started working Buster’s keen nose in the area just beyond what was downtown Monoville. As bodies decompose, many of the chemicals remaining can be carried down from their point of origin. Dostie and Buster circled the general area, working their way up and eliminating negative readings until there was no other place left for the smells to come from.
In this case, a hillside above the town’s location and overlooking Mono Lake contained numerous hits on which Buster alerted. Dostie drew soil samples for analysis, and at the site some artifacts were found, including 19th century square nails used in small grave fencing, as well as pieces of pottery, they agreed could be consistent with Chinese burial practices of the era.
As Dostie put it, aside from the purely scientific, the site has a good general “feel” to it as a place you’d set a graveyard, both in terms of proximity to the town and views for laying loved ones and friends to rest.
Whether that site is the only graveyard present isn’t yet known. Davis and Dostie plan to return to Monoville with Buster soon to check out some other locations that might have made suitable graveyards.
Sheriff Dolan’s killers
Another find on Wednesday was the site Dostie thinks is the burial location of the two Mexican outlaws — Teddy Solido and Juan Francisco — who killed Mono County Sheriff Jim Dolan on July 29, 1915.
According to the account in “The Man From Mono,” by Lily Mathieu LaBraque, the two suspects shot Dolan after he confronted them.
As legend has it, Dolan’s gun jammed, not allowing him to get off a shot. Dostie, a former Mammoth Lakes Police Department officer, thinks Dolan simply wasn’t very proficient with his new gun, a .45 Colt automatic pistol. First manufactured for the Army in 1911, the .45 auto would have been practically a brand new gun to civilians and local law enforcement, many officers of which were used to revolvers and six-guns, which had very different safety mechanisms.
Sheriff Dolan died later that night, and the next day a posse of about 200 men was formed. A couple of days later, the posse caught up with Dolan’s suspected killers, who were themselves shot to death by the posse, supposedly while resisting arrest.
A miner made coffins for them and the two men were, as the book describes, buried the following morning on “a little rise between the Mattly and Farrington ranches.” With the locations of the old Mattly and Farrington ranches known, Dostie deduced the “little rise” area, almost exactly between the two, and Buster eventually alerted on a small patch of earth just off an old wagon road.
“It’s basically right where the account said it would be,” Dostie said.
For many years the graves were reportedly marked by a wooden fence, which has long since been erased by weather and decay. Dostie’s hope, should his research and chemical tests prove that the bodies there, is that a marker might be put up as a point of historical interest.
Adeline Carson Stilts
Another site that might need a bit of a historical revision is the grave of Adeline Carson Stilts. Western legend Kit Carson’s oldest daughter, who died at 21 during the winter of 1859 after childbirth. A marker within a cluster of trees just below the back side of the Mono Inn on U.S. 395 is where she’s presumed to be buried, though Davis said the monument has been stolen and re-erected a few times, and the current one isn’t the original.
Dostie’s work with Buster on the site revealed more bodies likely buried there, including members of the Wilson family, which had claim to the property at the time. Buster also alerted on another section, directly behind and slightly above the monument, which Dostie suspects might be Adeline’s actual resting place, rather than the grave outlined in rocks beneath the marker.
In additon to a return trip to Monoville, Dostie and Davis also plan to look for the lost Poor Farm cemetery, just south of Bridgeport. The Poor Farm was an early hospice of sorts, run by Mono County, where the indigent and demented were sent. Several high profile area elders were thought to been sent there to keep embarrassment far from the families. According to Davis, whiskey, for both the staff and to help sedate some of the patients, was ordered by the barrel!