On July 4, 1862, Camp Independence was established to protect the interests of settlers from Native Americans who were engaged in Native American Wars that took place between 1861 and 1865 in various sites throughout the Owens Valley. The camp was named Independence to recognize the founding on America’s Independence Day – and never formally considered a military fort.
Captain Moses A. McLaughlin was well known as a man who seriously opposed the Native Americans. Local lore suggests his behavior was often colored by alcohol and a bad temper.
He was no friend to soldiers or Native Americans. When the Army diverted water and grew crops to support the soldiers and settlers, the Native Americans were forced to live close to camp so they had a source for water and to grow food. As living conditions grew increasingly more difficult, the Native Americans began working for the settlers in order to provide basic necessities for their families.
A year after the camp opened on July 10, 1863, McLaughlin directed all 1,000 Native Americans to leave the Valley and walk 200 miles to the recently closed Fort Tejon. Only 850 of them were still alive when they arrived at Fort Tejon. Within months, many had returned to the Owens Valley. Those that remained suffered continued hardship. Native Americans continued to leave the fort and those that remained died there. Once the Native Americans were gone, the army closed the fort once again.
In the early years of Camp Independence, soldiers lived in nearby caves, deprived of decent shelter. Their living conditions at any time were so poor that many soldiers soon abandoned the fort without clothes, food or payment for several months work. The Army refused to leave the Camp Independence unguarded as conflicts with the Native Americans continued. Volunteer soldiers from Nevada were commissioned to serve at Camp Independence and it remained open until 1877.
After the Camp closed, members of the Native American tribes had land allotted to them. Executive Orders in 1915 and 1916 established the camp as an Indian Reservation. These orders provided 360 acres of land at Oak Creek for the Indian tribes to occupy without disturbance.
The California Historical Marker for Camp Independence is located at the intersection of US 6 and Silver Canyon Road about four miles northeast of Bishop.
Bishop Creek Battleground, San Francis Ranch, and Mayfield Canyon Battleground are other California Historical Landmarks located in Inyo County that mark the sites involved in the Owens Valley Indian War.
Inyo means “dwelling place of great spirit” in Paiute Native American language. Inyo County has many “greats.” Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States and Death Valley, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, are both within Inyo’s boundaries. Great earthquakes have left their mark in recent history, changing the course of the Owens River and exposing ancient sedimentary rock.