Friday, December 13, 2013

How do you express civic pride when your namesake shot himself in his private parts?

I loved to ski, and my favorite mountain is Mammoth, California. When a friend owned a condo, I also skied the perfectly groomed slopes at Deer Valley. Deer Valley is skiing as life style, while Mammoth Mountain is skiing as sport. As I get older, my preference seems to be sliding toward lifestyle.

When I was talking about our winter ski plans with my brother-in-law, we got to talking about Lee Vining, a tiny village of about 200 hardy residents just north of Mammoth. The town is named after a miner who founded the encampment in 1852. By 1857, Vining was the town’s leading citizen, owning the sole sawmill that provided crucial timber for shafts and buildings.

Perhaps Mr. Wayne had not heard this story.
The town wasn’t named after Vining because of his pioneering spirit or philanthropic Last Will and Testament; it was named after him because he shot himself to death in nearby Aurora, Nevada. The story I heard was that he was drunk in a saloon and somehow the pistol tucked in his waistband went off. Everybody jumped because no one knew where the shot had come from or where it went. Vining just stood there a minute and then stumbled outside. There, he fell into the street and bled-out from a fatal wound to his most private parts.

Granted, this is a wretched story with a sad ending, but the silver lining is that in 1953, the town honored their fallen champion by naming the town after him. Actually, Lee Vining Creek and Lee Vining Canyon have served as the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park for nearly a century.

I’d love to be remembered down through the ages with my name plastered on a town, mountain or post office, but Vining’s price seems steep. Maybe I’ll just try to win the lottery so a grateful UCLA will name a building after me. 

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