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Murder in the Mountains – Convict Lake, CA Quadrangle

Latitude: 37.588737
Longitude: -118.858819

Monte Diablo Lake, located on the eastern slope of the Sierras, used to be a beautiful 140-feet deep, clear, sapphire blue alpine gem ringed by towering peaks. Today, it is still all of these things, however, it has since been given a new name as a result of a violent event that happened on September 23, 1871.

Convict Lake, California
Courtesy of kjaliye (flikr CC 2.0)

The transcontinental railroad had been robbed for the first time out west, the amateur crooks quickly captured, then jailed in Carson City, Nevada. Next, came a riot, followed by a brazen jail escape, with 29 convicts breaking out and fleeing. Six of those men traveled together, heading south towards the rugged, imposing mountains hoping to slip into California undetected.

Thinking they were being followed by a lawman on horseback, the gang of six circled around and brutally murdered Billy Poor, a young man who was making his first mail run as a new Pony Express rider.  This inflamed the local community who immediately formed a posse intent on capturing and hanging the killers.

Several members of the posse eventually caught up with three convicts in Monte Diablo Canyon (the other convicts had slipped away earlier) and a gun fight erupted near the head of Monte Diablo Creek.  During the fight, posse members Robert Morrison and Mono Jim were shot and killed, another was wounded, and the convicts escaped towards Bishop.

Four days later, a separate posse finally captured the three convicts, and local vigilantes hanged two, with the third being returned to jail.

To honor the fallen, Monte Diablo Peak was renamed Mount Morrison (12,277′), and an adjacent summit was named Mono Jim Peak (10,896′).  Monte Diablo Creek and Lake were renamed Convict Creek and Convict Lake, respectively.

Today, Convict Lake is an extremely popular destination for anglers, and it also provides access to the unrivaled John Muir Wilderness for equestrians and hikers seeking solitude on the numerous trails and high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Nowadays, Convict Lake offers up tranquil waters, serene skies and magnificent vistas to those looking to escape everyday stresses.

Convict Lake also has some very interesting non-violent history, and has even been featured in various movies, TV shows, and books. You can read more about that on Wikipedia.

Convict Lake Map
7.5 Minute Topographic Map of Convict Lake, California