Category Archives: Ghost Towns & Gold Mines

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley gold mine

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley, north of Big Bear Lake, was the scene in the biggest gold rush in Southern California history. Actually there were at least three different boom periods in the valley-the early 1860s, the mid-1870s and the 1890s. There has also been considerable mining activity here in the 20th century–including a large mine still operating.

Although the area is named for the leading publicist, William F Holcomb, who found a gold vein in 1861, Mormon miners from San Bernardino worked claims in the area at least six years before that. Their activities were well reported in the Los Angeles Star of the 1850s. They did not want a large rush of people to the area, and they got their way,  until Holcomb’s loud announcements of his discovery.

The main route to the valley was by way of Cajon Pass and across future Victor Valley on what was known as the Van Dusen Road. Thus there was a close tie of the mining area to the Mojave River community. Several early Victor area settlers, including Samuel Rogers and John J Atkinson, were deeply involved in Holcomb Valley before and during their time in the high desert.

Another tie of the Victor Valley to the Holcomb Valley is that the Hitchcock range summer range was at an extensive mountain meadow ranch in Holcomb Valley and the winter range, in Apple Valley. The mountain ranch is still intact in the Boy Scout camp-reservation. They would be open to historical Society assistance preserving the facility. Holcomb Valley is one of the best artifacts in place of the regions mining history. Those who visit the area never forget it

~ Leo Lyman
The Mohahve Muse – Volume 3, Issue 7 – September 2000
Mohahve Historical Society

Cushenbury Canyon

Mining History of Cushenbury Canyon
& its Impact on the Victor Valley

Kaiser Cement, Lucerne Valley, CA.

Mitsubishi Cement Corp.

The gold discovery in Holcomb Valley in 1860 brought a rush of fortune seekers to the Victor Valley including some foreign interests.  The English  family of Del Mar’s had a significant impact on Cushenbury Canyon. Holcomb Valley miners affected California history by participating in their own Civil War actions and may have left treasure in their wake.

World War II ended the golden era and Cushenbury Canyon but initiated another mineral rush. The postwar California population boom brought about the industrial minerals revolution fueled by the construction industry.

Kaiser Cement built a cement plant and Cushenbury Canyon as an indirect result of the decision by an American General during World War II. The facility was modernized in 1982 and Mitsubishi Cement Corp. purchased the plant 1988. Today Mitsubishi Cement Corporation Cushenbury Plant is one of the leading industries in the Victor Valley.

The industrial minerals boom has a direct impact on everyone’s lives here in the US. The industrial minerals mined in the Victor Valley fuel the economy in California. San Bernardino County provides largest source mineral commodities in the US. ” If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined!”  the mining industry provides the “stuff”  to make the “things” we need to continue our lifestyle.

The Mohahve Muse – Volume 4, Issue 3 – March 2001 – Mohahve Historical Society
Leo Lyman – President

Panamint Fever

by Cliff Walker

Panamint City

Panamint City

Blond-haired, whiskered veteran prospector Richard C. Jacobs and partner Bob Stewart were grubstaked by W. L. Kennedy, a Kernville merchant. Most grubstakes failed, but these two men wandered over to Panamint Valley, then up the steep 6,000-foot climb of Surprise Canyon and found several types of silver ore exposed by erosion. They made four claims, formed Panamint Mining District, and elected Bob Stewart as recorder. Samples shown to Kennedy assayed from $125 to $3,000 per ton. By April 1873, there were 80 to 90 claims. The Panamint mining started fairly normally until the search for investors brought in wealthy and influential men: two Nevada U. S. Senators, John P. Jones and William M. Stewart, and ex-49er Trenor W. Park, a New York Wall Street investor, formerly a San Francisco lawyer and current director of Pacific Mail Steamship Company and president of the Panama Railroad that linked the two oceans. Experienced in mining and investing, these successful men encouraged others to rush for quick potential riches.

Panamint Fever had started.

Miners from 29 Palms, Ivanpah, Arizona, Nevada, and  northern California came to Panamint Valley and made the horrid trip up Surprise Canyon to the Panamint Mountains on a road that is still more of a dry waterfall than a road. Miners found a small booming city with sounds of hammering, dragging, and building all over, and sounds on higher hills of dynamite exploding. Anybody who wanted to work had a job at $4 per day, board $7 per week—not bad wages for those days. In March 1874 there were over 700 men who already staked about 150 claims and were still prospecting to find that great silver lode like at Virginia City. Men rented a room or a space on the ground at “Hotel de Bum,” a huge tent. Most slept outside in blankets looking at the stars.

Wagons unloaded supplies at the bottom of Surprise Canyon and pack mules made it up the waterfall road, unloading their gear to tent stores, potential wooden and rock buildings,  or to mines further up the hill. Jacobs hired Chinese laborers to cut down the steep grade over the Slate Range so his 10-stamp mill could be brought easily to Surprise Canyon. Owens Valley businessman Bart McGee sculptured a road up Surprise Canyon, thereby enabling wagons to use the waterfall road (where the grade was 500 feet to the mile). Seven stages a week arrived at the new city by the end of 1874.

Panamint City developed almost a mile of businesses for city amenities. According to mining historian Remi Nadeau, the city had a dozen saloons, a water company, six general stores, three bakeries and restaurants, a livery stable, boot shop, meat market, three barbershops, a newspaper called Panamint News, the Bank of Panamint, and another important town amenity: a log cabin brewery. When Martha Camp, a buxom lady from Nevada, brought her ladies to town, the night life in Panamint became livelier—it became a real city!

As usual, gamblers, criminals, gun fighters, and assuredly con-artists, climbed the hill to Panamint. The town soon needed a jail. As a result of a gambling dispute, a shootout in a saloon in which Kirby, a man from Pioche, shot Bill Norton in the leg and ran away when Norton fired back. The only official in town was town recorder W. C. Smith  who discovered Kirby planned to waylay Norton. Smith got the drop on Kirby and suggested he leave town right away. The town later elected Smith Justice of the Peace. Jim Bruce and Edward Barstow, a night watchman of the town, had an argument in Camp’s house. Barstow, drinking too much, left the business but returned later after he sobered a bit and found Bruce in Martha’s bed and shot it out with Bruce. Barstow died. The town needed a cemetery.

A few years later the boom and fever ended. But the effects on the Mojave Desert was great. San Bernardino County appointed Oro Grande’s Aaron Lane as Superintendent of desert roads, namely the Road to Panamint from the Mojave River to the Inyo County line. Desert “Stations”—ranches like gas stations and motels today—were built and profited, especially with freight from San Bernardino over the Cajon Pass. For example, lumber mills in the San Bernardino Mountains supplied much of Panamint’s lumber. Berdoo merchants out- hustled L.A. businessmen. Despite Panamint’s decline in the late ’70s, mining increased in the Mojave Desert, especially with Barstow’s Waterman Mine and the wonderful Calico Hills discoveries. The Mojave Desert became settled by the end of the 1880s.

Mojave River Valley Museum Newsletter –  October 2012

 

Rhyolite Train Station – 1931

Rhyolite Train Station — Rhyolite, Nevada — Burton Frasher – 1931

Rhyolite Ghost Town
http://digital-desert.com/death-valley-history/rhyolite.html

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This May Save Your Life!

Letters from the Editor:

Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

“I wanted you to know about my recent brush with death.  I am still shaking a bit but wanted to make sure I wrote down the events exactly as they happened so anyone else in the same situation will know how to save themselves.

I was in my mine. I live in there because the rent is free, I’m close to work, and the temperature is always the same no matter what the season is or what is going on up top.  Well, one day there was a cave-in that sealed off  my exit from the mine and I was stuck in the little room I use for reading. Not much in there, a lantern, a table, a chair, a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.

Certainly this was a dilemma that would take all of my resourcefulness to solve. First, I looked all around the room to see what I ‘saw.’  Then I took the ‘saw’ and cut the table in half.  Well, everyone knows that two halves make a hole so I put them together and crawled right out. Nothing to it–I live to tell the tale.

Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.

He always signs like that.

True story!

Trapper Andrew Sublette and Salt Springs History

Gold was discovered on December 1, 1849, by Mormons who were led by Jefferson Hunt to take gold seekers and others to southern California over the Old Spanish Trail. Most wagons left Hunt in southern Utah for a short cut to the gold country—ironically, short-cut survivors took up to two months longer to reach Los Angeles. It wasn’t much of a short cut. Those seven wagons that stayed with Hunt camped on the Old Spanish Trail at Salt Creek, near the present Hwy. 127 and Salt Creek Mountains. Some men rode up the Amargosa Spring wash and found gold. The Los Angeles Star dated May 7, 1851, reported the story.

When Hunt’s group arrived in Rancho Chino, owner Col. Isaac Williams sent out his right hand man Davis to examine the gold site. Ben Wilson, later mayor of Los Angeles and ancestor of General George Patton, fitted out another expedition to check on the Salt Springs site. Both expeditions brought back rich specimens and reported a “whole mountain” of gold bearing ore.

But as was the case of desert mining for years to come, there were obstacles to making desert mines pay off: transportation, distance, food and water, machinery to process the gold so that it would be practical to bring the ore to a smelter. Realistically, in the 1850s, miners still thought that in the Sierra Nevada gold country, gold could still be just picked up.

One explorer went to San Francisco and shared his enthusiasm for the Salt Springs gold. Investors in June, 1850, sponsored another party to investigate. When they came back in July, they formed the Los Angeles Mining Company and made plans to take possession and work the area.

Another of the Los Angeles initial prospectors. Mr. Davis, went to the Sierras to find a supposed Gold Lake. When he returned to Grass Valley, he told Col. Lamb about his trip to “Gold Mountain,” i.e., Salt Springs. Lamb fitted out another exploratory trip, this time led by Davis. Col. Lamb’s group evidently arrived before the Los Angeles company and claimed what he thought were good areas, and sold three-fourth of his interest under the name Desert Mining Company in January 1851. By that spring the two mining companies had three Mexican arrastres (animal powered rock gold crushers) in operation, two for Desert Mining Company and one for Los Angeles Company. The latter company also bought, according to the Star, “a fine engine and machinery on the Amohave (Mojave) River, a little over half way out” —where it became stuck and was temporarily left in the sands of the Mojave River. The assay samples brought into Los Angeles were too few to be conclusive, but varied from 10 cents to many dollars per pound of rock. One of the companies had dug a mine 30’ deep.

Andrew Sublette, famed trapper and mountain man family of brothers, was encouraged to invest in the Desert Mining Company, his great hope to become wealthy. He had became ill gold mining in the Sierras and went to San Jose to recuperate. In a letter to his brother Solomon, March 20, 1851, from Los Angeles, we see his dreams:

“I am concerned with a Company in a gold mine. It is in the rock and very rich. I have been there for six months and will Start out to that place tomorrow [to] take charge and Start some machinery to grind the rock… I have invested all my means (which was but little) in that mine but hope to get it out with interest.”

He was so poor that he borrowed money at 5% to invest and took the job as “chief field man,” (Superintendent). The company did not have enough resources, and President James F. Hibberd tried
to obtain additional operating money with more investors and by attaching assessments for the stock owners to pay, or they would forfeit their stocks. For example, on May 7, [1851 ?] the company set an assessment on $2.00 per share.  On June 10 it assessed another $1.00 per share. In August, 1851, the Desert Mining Company failed! Sublette declared insolvency. The partnership of B. D. Wilson and A.
Packard dissolved.

A new mining company Salt Springs Mining Company, was formed. The new President was Benjamin D. Wilson, Albert Packard was Secretary-Treasurer, also partners in a transportation company. Since Andrew Sublette had no money to invest, he continued as chief field man. The company was running again in November 1851.

Always positive it seems, Sublette praised the mine to the Star, and said that Indians had been troublesome, had stolen tools and ruined machinery, but “The workmen were taking out remarkably rich specimens of quartz: on the whole the news is encouraging.”  Sublette sold his holding in St. Louis for $6,000 to pay off bills and invest again in Salt Springs Mining. He wrote to his brother again in March 1852 that he had started mining again with new partners and that prospects were good. He hoped to go back to Missouri and visit again soon. His health has been the best it has been for the last two or three years.

Things were really going well.

But that’s not usual for mining in the Mojave Desert. In the next couple months things were typical for desert mining: Two of his men killed in the Cajon Pass, more Indian difficulties, the 220-mile supply line to Los Angeles, the dwindling supply of money, the calling for  stock assessments–all led the Salt Springs Mining Company to try to sell to foreign investors—and that failed, and so did the mining at Salt Springs—for awhile at least.

Sublette, now broke again, went back to his mountain man roots: bear hunting to make some money. He provided some meat for the Los Angeles markets. He was badly wounded, but recovered.

Because of his freight experience and his friendship with Wilson, Sublette received a contract to provide supplies to the new Indian reservation at Ft. Tejon. He went into partnership with James Thompson. They prospered and even leased the La Brea Ranch. According to his biographer, Doyce Blackman Nunis, Jr., Andrew Sublette had quite a resume of occupations: trapper, trader, guide, soldiers, hunter, peace officer, miner—and sometimes with ill-health—he found success as a California Indian Department contractor. Yet, within a few months he was dead at age 40.

Andrew Whitley Sublette’s funeral was in the parlor of the El Dorado Saloon in Los Angeles, and as Major Horace Bell said, “…every gringo in town turned out for the funeral.”

Sublette and his partner, James Thompson, hunted for grizzlies in Malibu Canyon. The two became separated, and when Thompson heard a shot he ran toward it, and found “Sublette locked in
hand to hand struggle with the ferocious animal. To one side, partly covered by a cloud of dust stirred up from the contest between man and beast, lay the huddled corpse of the attacker’s mate. Apparently Sublette had slain one of the bears with his rifle, and then before he could reload his weapon, was set upon by another. With knife flashing, his hunting dog, Old Buck, adding his bite to the fray, Andrew finally dispatched his assailant with a mortal thrust. Falling near the crumpled carcass Andrew lay bleeding and dying.”

Thompson got help and took him to the Padilla Building where Dr. Thomas Foster frantically tried to stop the bleeding. The next day Sublette’s trapping, hunting and mining days were over. He
was buried at Foothill Cemetery, a dramatic end to a short but glorious life of one of America’s great trappers, Andrew Sublette. Despite his illness, he struggled to the end to make a good living in difficult occupations. His last years added interesting facets to the history of the Mojave Desert.

Salt Springs had another 158 years of history. It continued its up’s and down’s in mining, with scandals where “miners mined the investors,” with a great glory hole, and now this important water hole on the Old Spanish Trail is marked by the BLM with a picnic area, restroom, signs and trails. It is just a hundred yards off Hwy. 127.

Thanks to Emmet for most of this information. I also sourced Andrew Sublette: Rocky Mountain Prince 1813 – 1853, by Doyce
Blackman Nunis, Jr, at the Huntington Library.

by Cliff Walker – Mojave River Valley Museum

Dolomite Ghost Town

Dolomite ghost town, Owens Valley

Downtown Dolomite

I suppose the good news is, is that I got this photo of a shack in the little ghost town of Dolomite. I suppose the bad news is that I shot it in 2001 with a low resolution camera. Then again, some good news is that I doubled the size of it and cleaned up a few rough spots on it with my fancy software. And I suppose the bad news is, is that for all my efforts, Dolomite isn’t an authentic ghost town. I’m finding out that it was built for a movie set. It is a bit of good news that the movie was Nevada Smith starring Steve McQueen, one of my favorite movies. The bad news is that I won’t e able to reshoot it because of circumstances beyond my control at the moment. That’s good because it was on private property. It could have been worse when I was caught trespassing the first time. The owner chased me down and started giving me hell for being on his property. So it was a good thing I told him I came in a few miles over and followed the base of the mountain shooting some other ruins while I went along. It was another good thing when he laughed at my little truck and said, “I wouldn’t think you could make it through there in that.” I told him I was just taking some pictures. He told me to “Have at it.”

At least I didn’t get shot.

Dolomite ghost town photos

 

Moorehouse Mine

Updated Moorehouse Talc Mine near Ibex Springs, Death Valley National Park..

http://digital-desert.com/moorehouse-mine/

Tonopah, Nevada

Tonopah is a small community with a population of about 2,600. Tonopah is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 6 and 95 approximately half-way… (click the photo for more information on Tonopah)

Tonopah, Nevada, mining town

Tonopah, Nevada

 

 

Two More Chapters

I’ve added two more chapters to the online version of R. Thompson’s excellent book, Pioneer of the Mojave:

Green Gold and Mint Juleps

In this chapter Aaron Lane sells his property at the crossing, moves downstream to land better for agriculture.

Part-time Prospector

After nearly eleven years living on the Mojave Aaron recovers his health and goes on to fulfilling his dream of striking it rich.