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Exploring Bass Lake Historical Graves

I joined the Sierra Hiking Seniors on an adventure to hike below Bass Lake and visit the old bunker-type graves of four men. We also got a bit of exercise in and had a few surprises along the trail.

Where: Sierra National Forest, Pacific Gas & Electric
Distance: 5.09 miles (but you can go more or less if you want to)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 3,204′ – 3,515′
Date: February 16, 2018
Topographic Quad Map: Ahwahnee Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Maybe

We met up at the large parking area off of Mallum Ridge Road, across from Central Camp Road. Linda Shepler led our hike and after we had all signed in, she briefed us on our route, which she had pre-marked with ribbon and arrows in the dirt to make it easy for us to follow in case we got separated. An amazingly diverse group of interesting people were part of this hiking experience. Authors, an archeologist, retired USFS folks from the area, history buffs and photographers were members of this adventure. We all headed down the road at our own pace, chatting and getting to know each other.

Photo by Debra Sutherland








We headed back up the way we had come to the road and crossed the Bass Lake dam. The lake was just like a mirror, full of reflections that kept on changing as I walked across the dam.

From the other side of the dam,we headed down.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

We then followed the middle road about a half of a mile to the Bunker-type graves. There are two of these concrete covered graves right along the dirt road. On the left side of the road is a grave that contains Theophilus Belmontes, Alex Carso and Agapito Mora. On the right side of the road is the marker for George Pell.







Thanks to a Sierra News Online article on History Mystery #31 and a response from Mary Baloian, Senior Archaeologist with Applied EarthWorks, Inc. who was part of a research team piecing together the history of the Crane Valley (Bass Lake) Dam during its recent seismic upgrade, I was able to easily locate the San Francisco Call article that she referenced, reporting the accident that killed 3 of these men.

San Francisco Call, March 6, 1910

I wanted to try and find out as much as I could about the lives and deaths of these men. I located the California Death Index for 3 of the men, although some of the spellings of their names differ. I was unable to locate any additional information about them.

  • Theophilus Belmontes (California Death Index lists his date of death as March 5, 1910, born about 1885)
  • Alex Carsa (California Death Index lists his date of death as March 5, 1910, born about 1885)
  • Agapito Mora (California Death Index lists his date of death as March 5, 1910, born about 1885)

Searching local Madera newspapers, I located a couple of additional articles about the accident. If you click on the picture, it will magically get larger.

Madera Mercury (Number 47 March 12,1910)

Madera Mercury (March 12, 1910)




































Now, to locate George Pell.

The California Death Index lists a date of death for a George Pell as December 8, 1908, born about 1883. But is this the correct person? There is a George Fred Pell that died that same day and is listed as buried in Washington Colony Cemetery in Fresno and was born 1883. I believe this could be Frederick G. Pell listed in the 1900 census, living with his parents in Township 4, Fresno County. The census shows that he was born January 1883 in Illinois to George A. Pell, who married Minnie Gille in 1900. His father continues to be shown on census in the same area, a farmer who died in 1932 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Fresno, Fresno County. Minnie died 1928 in Fresno County and is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery. I located an article in the Fresno Bee dated December 9, 1908 that supports that the George F. Pell in the Washington Colony Cemetery is the son of this George A. Pell.

Fresno Bee1908December 9, 1908page 16

Fresno Bee (December 9, 1908 page 16)

Fresno Morning Republican1908December 10, 1908page 5

Fresno Morning Republican (December 10, 1908 page 5)











If these are the same George Pell, why are there two graves, one in Fresno and one below the Bass Lake dam?

I went back to searching the newspapers, wondering if there might be any follow-up articles on it. Sure enough! I located articles in the Madera Mercury that shared information on how George D. Pell, powderman at Crane Valley was killed in an accident on July 17, 1909. He was loading a hole with dynamite and tamped the last stick in with his scraper, also injuring his helper. He was born about 1877 in New York. You can read the articles below for more detail.

Madera Mercury (July 24, 1909)

Madera Mercury (July 24, 1909)





















To get a little more exercise in and to see the country, we continued walking down, following the flume.

We then turned around, came back up, then took a side trip to check out the Crane Valley Powerhouse.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

Headed up alongside the south side of the dam, I was really surprised to see some lupine blooming. I think it might be a little early.

You just never know what surprise you will have on a hike. Once we topped out at the dam, one of the hikers spotted a bald eagle and even though it was out there a ways, I had to take my chance at capturing a picture.

Once I got home, I learned that others had been photographing this eagle from the other side. One of our local professional photographers, Thomas L. Gibson, also captured this eagle.

Photo by Thomas L. Gibson

In case you decide to head out for this hike, wanted to let you know that the ribbons that were set out for our hike have been removed, but now that I have visited the graves, they are not that difficult to locate.

I have gone with the Sierra Hiking Seniors on a few hikes over the years and they are a fun group of hikers of all speeds. They hike on Monday and Friday, putting out a calendar and weekly emails on their hikes. If you are interested in joining, you can check out their Facebook Page or contact Fran Goss at

If you are wondering how I located these old local newspaper articles, there is a wonderful site that is tied to our Madera County Library. Madera County Library Newspapers has many of our old newspapers available online.

Dog Hike? Maybe

I didn’t bring Sally on this hike because this was a group hike with a different purpose, but she could have walked this route, except we did cross the flume and a cattle guard. I am sure she could have found her own way around them but you may opt to carry your dog across these spots. Here are the Sierra National Forest rules for pets from their website:

Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.

We ask the public to remember these rules when taking pets into the wilderness.

  • Bury feces.
  • Do not tie up dogs and leave them unattended.
  • Do not allow dogs to chase wildlife.
  • Leave unfriendly or loud dogs at home.

For additional information from Sierra National Forest regarding pets, please click the following link: Canine Camper

Map and Profile:

Bass Lake Historic Graves Topographic Map

Bass Lake Historic Graves Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Brown’s Ditch Hike December 29, 2016

Hiking up Central Camp Road December 22, 2016


The History Mystery #31 August 10, 2015

San Francisco Call, Volume 107, Number 96, 6 March 1910

Thomas L. Gibson Photography


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