Site of Putnam’s Cabin
Site of Putnam’s Cabin
In August 1861, Charles Putnam built the first cabin for permanent habitation in what is now Inyo County. The building, located 130 feet west of this site, served as a home, trading post, hospital, and ‘fort’ for early settlers, as well as a survival point for travelers. It became the center of the settlement of ‘Putnam’s’ which five years later took the name ‘Independence.’
Location: 139 Edwards St (Hwy 395), Independence
The Indians and Independence
Charles Putnam built a stone cabin along Little Pine Creek. The trading post he established there is acknowledged as the beginning of what would become the town of Independence. But where did the name “Independence” come from? That story, too, has a natural progression.
As other homesteaders came into the growing settlement, the first name change took place. The growing settlement they’d called merely Putnam’s became Little Pine (after the creek). Then during that very hard winter of 1861-1862, fights with the Paiutes began.
Hungry Indians butchered some cows, the settlers retaliated and a war was on, a war that would last a year and a half (but even as late as 1865, one pioneer family’s diary recorded that “a horseman came rushing up and said that Indians had killed a woman and her son about 50 miles south of Lone Pine and were coming up the Valley.”)
To Protect the settlers, the Army established a garrison near Little Pine in the summer of 1862. The soldiers arrived on the 4th of July and made camp along Oak Creek; you can still see the caves where they lived while putting up their buildings. And as you have probably guessed, it was to commemorate their arrival on Independence Day that the new post was called … Camp Independence.
It was in 1866 that Little Pine changed its name to Independence on the occasion of the town becoming the county seat – which it still is.
But before the Army got there, that fight in the Alabama Hills took place.
The plan didn’t work but the settlers were hoping that the Indians’ cattle rustling could be nipped in the bud if a swift and decisive blow were struck at a main camp. In February of 1862, some two dozen settlers made a night march from Putnam’s and at sunrise, attacked the Paiutes at a winter camp in the Alabama Hills, destroying much of their food reserves (more than a ton of dried meat).
The attack was probably out in the valley rocks (rather than in the rounded hills) because in describing the fight, pioneer Bart McGee wrote that when the Indians ran for shelter, they ducked into “cavities where they were out of sight in less than 30 seconds. (We shot) into the mouths of their dens while (they shot arrows at us) in showers …. They did not have guns or they would have made a hard fight for us.”
Think about that when you’re out hiking in those same rocks. And the sheriff getting shot through the door and those stagecoach hold-ups and the saloon shootings when next you’re watching a Hopalong Cassidy film.
The movie-makers maybe didn’t know it, but what they were doing had all happened before. For real. Right here.