Convict Lake has a colorful history |

Convict Lake has a colorful history

Jeremy Evans
Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune
Jonah M. Kessel | Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tr

Convict Lake might be one of the more picturesque and accessible lakes in the Sierra Nevada, but it has a violent past. It used to called Monte Diablo Lake until a series of killings in the late 1800s.

On Sept. 17, 1871, 29 prisoners escaped from the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. The prisoners split into two groups, one of which was led by convicted murderer Charlie Jones.

Jones previously had lived in Mono and Inyo counties and led his group south toward the Mammoth area. The group robbed several people along the way, and Jones had hoped to cross the Sierra Nevada and end up on the range’s western slope, where they would be safe from pursuit.

He was worried a Carson City posse was trailing them, which was true, but it had given up within two days and turned back. Near Bridgeport, a solitary man on a horse was catching up to them. Thinking he was part of the posse that had planned an ambush, Jones captured the man and killed him with the help of Leandor Morton.

The slain man, Billy Poor, actually was a Pony Express rider who was delivering mail for the first time. Killing a Mono County resident didn’t go over well with the local community, so the convicts then were being pursued by local vigilante groups.

By Sept. 22, a new posse of 10 men, led by Sheriff George Hightower, Indian deputy Mono Jim and local merchant Robert Morrison, had caught up to the convicts near Monte Diablo Creek.

Jones got up early and headed to Bishop on the morning of Sept. 23. Two other convicts had told the others that they were looking for food, but they really were trying to break off from the group. The four remaining convicts were approached by the new posse, resulting in Mono Jim and Robert Morrison getting gunned down.

By Nov. 1, 18 of the 29 original prisoners had been captured. Jones and the two others who went searching for food avoided the shootout but eventually met their fates.

Based on this historical event, Monte Diablo Creek was renamed Convict Creek, and Monte Diablo Lake was renamed Convict Lake. The highest peak in the area was named Mount Morrison for the slain Robert Morrison, and its smaller satellite peak was named for Mono Jim.

These days, Convict Lake is a fishing hotbed, stocked with rainbow and brown trout. The 2008 fishing season ends Nov. 15. The Convict Lake Resort has 27 cabins for rent, a fish cleaning station and manages an 88-site campground nearby.

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