Michael Huddleston Farley was a worker at the Silver Mountain Mining Company and decided to build a processing mill that flowed into Owens Lake. He left his job in the Coso Mountains and began exploring the Owens River Valley in Inyo County, settling and naming the Olancha Pass. “Olancha” is thought to be derived from the Yaudanche Native American tribe.
Farley’s mill was the first one completed in the Owens River Valley and began operating in 1862. The following year he had already expanded the mill site to include eight stamp mills and five amalgamating (blending) pans. Farley’s good fortune did not last long because of Indian uprising that occurred throughout the valley during the early 1860s. The conflict between the Native Americans and white settlers in his area culminated in burning down his mill and Farley did not rebuild. By this time (1867), the rich Cerro Gordo mine, a few miles away in the mountains, was fully operational.
Olancha became a stage coach stop for travelers coming north from the Los Angeles basin. The town began to grow because of its location two miles to the north of the bustling shipping port of Cartago at Owens Lake. A post office opened in September of 1870 and has remained open ever since.
Today low rise and crumbling brick and stone walls are the only remains of the former stamp mill. The Olancha of Farley’s day is represented in old and decaying hotels and restaurants.
The current population of Olancha is about 200. Travelers along Highway 395 will find a restaurant and gas stations. Water remains an important asset for the community. Crystal Springs has a bottling plant to take advantage of the flowing Sierra water through the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Anheiser-Busch is another company that uses the water from this area in their beverages.
The California Historical Landmark marker is located on Highway 395 at Fall Road, .06 mile south of the current town of Olancha.
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.