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General History/Geology/Oddities

The dedicated history lovers and fans of the Eastern Sierra who started collecting artifacts and object in 1928 were a diverse group, with diverse interests. That diversity is on display in a number of the Museum's permanent exhibits. And of course, as with any Museum in a small rural county, the Eastern California Museum has its share of oddities, mysteries, and amusing artifacts that have landed, one way or the other, in the Museum over the years. Starting with the beginning, the Museum boasts parts of a petrified Mammoth leg bone, dated to the last Ice Age, that was found in the Owens Dry Lake Bed in the 1920s. And there's a jawbone from a Mastodon, too. Also reaching far back in time is the unique Ancient Bristlecone Pine tree display. In the 1950 and 1960s, this unique grove of trees located west of Big Pine were identified as the oldest living things on earth, with some trees dating to 4,000 to 5,000 years old. At that time, scientists created a unique way to display the age of the trees. In the Museum there is a display case containing an actual slice of a real Bristlecone Pine that was cut down to be studied. Using tree-ring dating, pins locate the tree ring that represent, the birth of Jesus, for example, or the reign of Ramses II in Egypt (1242 BC), and finally, the last, outer ring from when the tree was cut down in 1956. The Museum's gem and mineral display really shines, and shows off the wide range of minerals found in the Owens Valley. Some are fairly common, such as gold and silver, and copper and zinc, while others a bit more exclusive to this area, such as the array of crystals, or the tungsten mined from the area, and the materials that came off the Owens Dry Lake, like boron, and even salt from the Saline Valley. Befitting any community that came of age in the late 1880s in the West, the Museum is fully loaded with guns of all shapes, sizes and calibers. Some date from the Civil War, others are more modern. Favorites include a Russian-made, chrome pistol and the "walking cane" pistol that is, like the name implies, a pistol hidden in a walking cane. The display of early 20th Century saddles, fancy chaps, spurs, branding irons, and other tools of the cowboy's trade is also a popular and realistic depiction of the area's Western heritage. The region's rich mining heritage is depicted though photos and artifacts from the famed Cerro Gordo Mine, which was a major silver producer in the 1870s and beyond. Ore bags, miner's gear and photos help tell that story. And then there's Lola. Lola Travis was at one time the richest woman in Inyo County; she paid her taxes with gold. The source of her wealth was a string of saloons and brothels in the area's mining towns, from Cerro Gordo to Bodie. Wildlife of a different sort is exhibited through the Museum 1930s vintage museum display and diorama showing, in miniature, the area's endangered Eastern Sierra Bighorn Sheep. The classic museum display has a small motor that propels a bighorn around and around the peaks shared his brethren. Also on the wild side are the famed Coyote Dentures. These rather odd items are human dentures, tops and bottoms, made out of coyote teeth which are stuck into melted wax. They were made by a man in Lone Pine in the 1930s. A hungry man, we assume. The ball and chain also gets plenty of attention. A legitimate law enforcement artifact, the ball is steel and weighs close to 20 pounds, has about 10 feet of chain attached to a manacle that fits around an ankle. On a lighter note, a large, table-top music box made in the 1890s is still filling the Museum with the sound of music - the only volume control is to step back. One of the most compelling items on display is a 3-foot long, completely chipped and shaped obsidian blade. Museum records are missing, and the best guess is that the long, sharp and heavy object was a ceremonial item used by unknown tribes somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Careful observers who spend a little time exploring the Museum's many nooks and crannies will be rewarded, whether it's with the sight of a set of "mule bells" or Huckelberry Finn Silk Fishing line or lamp and anchor of the Bessie Brady, the steamer that plied the waters of the once-full Owens Lake in the 1880s.