What Happened Here?

By Richard Elliott • on October 16, 2011 • Filed under: Desert News, Mojave Desert

McKellips Grave--Photo Richard Elliott

East of Keeler, CA, along State Route 190, 6.8 miles from the junction of SR 136/190, stands a tall, white cross and two graves.  A long wooden head board is engraved with “McKellips 1874,” at the center.  The left side reads, “Lorenza, Died In Infancy,” and the right side, “Larkin, 4-Years-Old.”  Visitors have placed items on the graves, such as stuffed animals, a blanket, coins, and more.  In viewing this desert burial site, visitors may ponder the questions, “Who were these children?” Or, ”Who maintains this old burial site.”  Or, “What happened here?”

The REAL Desert News, delved into the same questions and more, finding even more history behind this desert mystery.

In 1875, Alonzo and Nancy McKellips operated a stage route, stop-over here called, Orne’s Station.  Nancy ran the boarding house, with help from their children, while Alonzo cared for the horses and made repairs to the stagecoaches.  Life must have felt good to the McKellips, with their successful stage stop, the joy of children in their home, and the satisfaction of helping travelers on their journey.  Then came the horror of 1876–a plague.

Inyo County was hard hit with Scarlet fever or diphtheria.  Almost everyone was severely ill, or dying.  The plague’s death grip claimed the lives of young Lorenza and Larkin, in January 1876.  Alonzo and Nancy buried their children near Oren’s Station.  For the McKellips, life must have now felt incredibly cruel.  They continued operating their roadside stage stop for a brief time, then moved away.  Oren’s Station soon was no more, and the two graves remained neglected and nearly forgotten, until 1947.

Bill James, a local talc miner, came across the degraded graves.  The faded wooden markers were barely legible.  James asked many locals if they knew anything about his “discovery.”  Once he pieced together the story behind the graves, James carved a new wooden marker for Lorenza and Larkin.  James and the Wallace Campbell family of Darwin maintained the McKellips graves, into the 1950s.  James passed away in 1957.  Still, locals from Keeler and Darwin served as guardians to the graves.

In the 1950s, Route 190 was scheduled for realignment.  Locals requested that the Division of Highways, District 9, not disturb the graves.  Road crew foreman Les Gagan and Matt Perez “noticed the flat wooden markers on the graves sometime between 1948 and 1950,” according to a memorandum sent to the Public Information Officer, in April 1972.  According to the memo, “They (Gagan and Perez) decided to erect a cross over the graves.  Rocks were collected and placed around the graves, and a new large wooden cross was erected…We have painted these crosses, rocks and markers…since about 1950.” 

That seems to be the story behind what happened at Orne’s Station and who these children are.  So it seems, but there is more mystery to the history and discrepancies!  First, the graveside head board says “1874.”  Many documents record that the children died in 1876.  In regard to “Lorenza,” many sources say “Lorenzo, male.”  Larkin is said to be “4-Years-Old.”  Yet, several records have him born in 1875, making him 1-year old, more or less at death.  Although the facts do not seem to jibe, it is assured that two children died at Orne’s Station, in 1876.

Alonzo and Nancy McKellips (nee Akers) were married in 1870.  Most sources state they had seven children.  Their first born was Alonzo Inyo McKellips, male, the first white child born in Big Pine, CA, July 4, 1871.

Perhaps, one day a historical plaque will join the McKellips grave site, so visitors will clearly know who the McKellips were and what happened at Orne’s Station.

Special thanks to: Eastern California Museum of Independence, CA (Donna Stanger), and Lauren Issel.

Sources: Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra, by Gena Philibert-Ortega, Arcaadi Books, page 96.

http://www.brizzeerockwell.com/index_files/page84.htm (see photos of Alonzo & Nancy McKellips)




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