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The History Mystery #17

Written by Roger Mitchell

Gold and silver were found on the southeastern flank of Mammoth Mountain in 1878. News of the discovery immediately sparked a “Gold Rush.” A young man by the name of John French, knowing that Mammoth Mountain is in a very remote part of the state and difficult to reach, scouted a route for a horse trail across the Sierra Nevada from Fresno Flats to Mammoth Mountain. His intentions were to provide men and supplies to the gold boom area, such as the stamp mill in the photograph.

He bragged that for $35 he could transport a man from San Francisco to Mammoth Mountain in only three days! Customers began to line up. French bought them a railroad ticket to Brenda Station in Fresno County, where they boarded a stagecoach to Fresno Flats, where they mounted French’s horses. The passengers spent a second night in a cabin at Beasore Meadow. During the predawn darkness of the third day, the passengers were given a hearty breakfast by French’s Chinese cook before their all day ride to Mammoth. Of the total $35 fare about $10 went to French for his work.

In the spring of 1879 French changed the route to increase his profit. This new route had his customers going through Millerton, up the San Joaquin River Gorge via the Houge Ranch to join the 1878 trail on the north side of Granite Creek.

As fate would have it, there would be no 1880 summer season in the High Sierra for entrepreneur John French. The cycle of birth, boom and bust was over at Mammoth by the time the winter snows had melted in the spring of 1880.

The last we heard, John French spent the summer of 1880 working as an irrigator on a ranch in Tulare County. Whatever happened to this man of imagination and innovative ideas? If anyone out there has any knowledge of John French after 1880 please let us know.

Results from History Mystery #16

We received several photographs of Judge Putney. Thanks to all who helped in our search, and to those who spent time enhancing the photos to the max. Unfortunately, the photos were small snapshots and were apparently not capable of enlargement to the size wanted by the Court. It should be noted that there will be two or three photos from the North Fork History Group that will be on permanent display at the new courthouse.

For more History Mysteries, click here.


  1. Sandye GilpinBlack

    I just started looking for John French, do I may have more. If he was John Alexander French, and could have been 67 in 1900, he could have been the John French listed in this link.

    More later-/


  2. We know very little about Mr. French. Where did he come from, and where did he go after 1880?

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