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Independence honors John and Tansy Smith as grand marshals

July 2, 2014

This year’s Independence Fourth of July grand marshals are John K. and Tansy Smith, long-time Independence community members.
Tansy moved to Independence with her mother and stepfather in the 1930s. She and John met in college. The two married during World War II, while John was in the Navy on the East Coast. They returned together, as soon as they could, to the Owens Valley, where they operated the Independence Dairy and ranched.
John’s career with Inyo County government spanned 1948-81, and included holding the offices of Inyo County Road Commissioner and Inyo County Administrator. Tansy was home to care for their household and children. The Smiths were also part of establishing lasting traditions for celebrating the Fourth of July in Independence.
Below are a few of their reflections, recorded in oral history interviews conducted by the Eastern California Museum and Manzanar National Historic Site.

Tansy on Fourth of July in Independence:
“The first one I remember, Anna Kelly was in charge of the meal, and my mother set up the parade. And then later on, why, we had the horse show out here and had everybody come. All the children arrived from Independence that were in the 4-H Light Horse group. They made all their own blankets for their horses, and they made collars for their horses, and they drilled and rode as a group. I always really enjoyed seeing them in the parade.”

John on Fourth of July in Independence
“I was pretty active in the Lions Club, and I was always down there for that morning breakfast, and I served up all the eggs! Johnny Johnson was the other person who helped, and he taught me how to do a good job without getting them too well done and yet well enough so you could eat them. I cooked eggs there for two or three hours. Keith Bright was the one who went around and served coffee to everybody. That was the Fourth of July as far as I was concerned – the big breakfast deal and the parade, and the kids playing games.”

Tansy on Her Love of Animals
“I showed horses when I was younger. When I came up here, I had a very nice Quarter stallion that I showed. You could ride him, drive him, cut cattle on him, jump … Anything you wanted to do, that horse would do. He was a real ham.
“I had a little baby coyote that I took care of, and I had sparrow hawks. The nastiest thing I ever had was a possum! I had a fox. I’ve just always liked animals and taking care of them. For 28 years, we had a bobcat right here in the house! Oh, he was a sweetheart.”

John on His Work
for Inyo County
“I oiled every road and every street in every community the first three years I was road commissioner. I went out and oiled all the Death Valley and Panamint Valley roads. I had built that road that goes all the way from Trona up through where it intersects that highway that goes from Death Valley.
You can take a guy that comes up here from L.A. that’s 20 or 30 years old and has never been in the valley before, and they say: ‘Hey, this is really a dry valley but there are some beautiful mountains on both sides. So how come it is so dry on the valley floor? Is that the way it has always been?’ But if you take somebody that has lived here in the ’30s and ’40s and ’20s, they will tell you a whole different story. Look, water to me is life. I don’t care who has the water or where it is or anything else. I have a concern for water. I carried that philosophy into every meeting that I had with the Department of Water and Power.
“If I didn’t do anything else I made darn sure the public knew what I was doing. I had that real close relationship with everybody in the county.”

John on the Owens Valley
“We took a trip over to Europe with our family years ago and I saw the Alps and all the mountains and the beautiful area they have. I didn’t think any of them came to measure up to these high Sierras. When I got home, I was happy to get home! Because, to me, the Owens Valley was the most beautiful place I had been in. So from then on, we pretty much made up our minds we were going to be here the rest of our lives, right here in this Owens Valley. It is a beautiful valley with beautiful mountains. Everything about it is outstanding.”

Tansy on the Owens Valley
“I was born in Ventura, in the same hospital that my mother was born in. I’m a third-generation Californian. I didn’t think there was any place in the world like Ventura, and the coast, and the missions, until I came to Owens Valley. It’s just breathtaking. We came and took a trip in to the mountains with our own stock and our own horses and went clear through the mountains and back out again. I always knew that if I had a chance, this was where I’d want to be.”

Catch both Tansy and John riding in the Independence July 4 parade tomorrow, beginning at 10 a.m.

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