Desert Fever
An Overview of Mining History of the California Desert Conservation Area

Imperial County



Imperial County, though the smallest, shortest, and youngest county in the California Desert Conservation Area, has an impressive and colorful mining history. Modern day patriots mined ore for tracer bullets here, businessmen produced ice in the desert from a gas field, a former California governor owned shares in one of its gold mines, and the county played host to “one of the most absurd engineering feats ever undertaken in the West.”1

Imperial County's miners and prospectors chose colorful names for their holes in the ground. Some spoke of beauty: the Butterfly, Dulciana, Fair Diane, Full Moon, White Christmas and White Swan Mines; others spoke of wealth: the Easy Pickins, Golden Casket, Golden Geyser, Million Dollar Gold, Rica Tierra, and Well Earned mines. Some were just downright amusing: the Caveman, Coffee Pot, Little Bucckaroo, Lost Donkey, Stoneface, Sweet Potato, Tee Wee, and the Thumbs Mine. One miner even had a colorful name for the mining company that employed him: the White Man's Slavery Company of California. Perhaps the greatest historical distinction of Imperial County, however, is that within its present boundaries is the site of the earliest recorded mining activity in the State of California.


Soldiers, settlers, and laborers, part of two mission colonies under the administration of Francisco Garces, mined placer gold in the southeastern Chocolate Mountains in 1780 and 1781. Their mining methods were simple. Placer gold was recovered by winnowing (tossing the lighter materials away by gently shaking a blanket in the wind). Dry washers may also have been used. Their mining endeavors, almost recreational in nature (as they were not mining gold for a living) ended abruptly when the Yuma Indians attacked the two missions on July 17, 1781, killing at least 50 men and taking 67 women and children captive. Mining activity was resumed in this area only after the establishment of the Mexican Republic in 1823.2

Also worked in the 1780's were the placer grounds of Jackson Gulch and the oxided ores of Padre Madre Valley in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The Padre y Madre Mine, located 13 miles northwest of Yuma and 3 miles northwest of Ogilby, was one of the most extensively developed early mines. The mine enjoyed a modest production from the 1780's until 1894 with few interruptions. 3

Even the name of the mountain range speaks of the early interest in mining in the area. Reportedly in the early 1800s two young lads playing at prospecting in imitation of their fathers came into camp with their shirts loaded with gold ore. Their antics resulted in the name of Cargo Muchacho, for the mountains where they had made their find. Although it is difficult to estimate the area's gold production during the Spanish and Mexican eras (1780-1848) it was probably not more than half a million dollars. 4

William P. Blake, a geologist with Lt. Williamson's Pacific Railroad exploration party, was the first Anglo-American to visit the southern portion of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains with an eye toward mining. In 1853 he reported seeing several quartz veins from three inches to a foot or two in thickness. His observations were recorded in official government reports, but no one acted upon this evidence of possible mineralization until the Southern Pacific Railroad between Yuma and the coast was completed in 1877. With a safe means of transporting bullion to market now at hand, prospectors and developers flooded into the area.5


One of the first deposits to be commercially developed on a large scale in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains was the Cargo Muchacho Mine. Located by Thomas Porter Neet in 1877, within 5 years 14,000 tons of ore had been mined, yielding $168,000 in gold. The ore averaged $12 per ton. The mine was surveyed for patent in 1892, but two years later it was idle. A six year renewal of activity began in 1936 when ore left on the mine dump was cyanided. Total production figures for the Cargo Muchacho Mine are estimated at more than 25,700 ounces of gold valued at $852,000.6


Peter Walters discovered the Gold Rock Mine (located 4 miles northwest of the Cargo Muchacho Mine) in 1884, and shortly thereafter sold out to developers for $75,000. The developers renamed the mine the Golden Cross in 1892. The Golden Cross Mining and Milling Company immediately embarked upon a development program, and the flourishing town that sprang up around the mines was named Hedges, in honor of the firm's vice president. 7

The company paid $3 a day wages. This was reasonable in those days, but the successful camps as a rule always paid $4. This caused one irate miner to write to the Arizona Sentinel suggesting the company's name be changed to the “White Man's Slavery Company of California.” 8

In 1910 a new company took over and the mine was renamed Tumco, (an acronym for The United Mines Company). The Tumco mine was also known as the Hedges, Gold Rock, Golden Cross, Golden Crown, Golden Queen, Good Luck, King, Sovereign, Sovereign East, and Sovereign West mines. 9

Ore from both the Cargo Muchacho and Golden Cross mines was at first treated by the Yuma Mill and Mining Company's twenty-stamp mill located at El Rio, 6 miles south of Yuma. Later, the Golden Cross Mining and Milling Company began construction of a forty-stamp mill when their ore production overloaded the twenty-stamp mill in the early 1890's. By 1896 they had increased their mulling facilities to 100 stamps, but were experiencing considerable difficulty with recovering the gold from their low grade ore.

The company discovered in the spring of 1896 that finer crushing of the ore was needed to release the free milling gold from the matrix. Finer screens were installed as well, resulting in a greater percentage of gold saved. A 12-mile pipeline from the Colorado River supplied the mill reservoir with 250,000 gallons of water at a cost of about ten cents per ton of ore crushed. Worked continually from 1892 until 1917, and again from 1937 until 1942, the Tumco mines have produced 45 percent of the total county gold production, or some $2,863,000.10

In 1896, the shaft at the Golden Queen Mine was 550 feet deep on a 40 percent incline, and the Golden Cross and Golden Crown shafts were 250 feet and 350 feet deep respectively. By 1914, the Golden Cross shaft had been extended to 1,100 feet, and at that time the Tumco mines were said to be the second largest mine in the United States producing gold from low grade ore. Its underground workings total more than 8 miles. The town of Hedges (also renamed Tumco in 1910) supported a population of several thousand in the late 1800s. By 1900 there were several dozen buildings, two cemeteries, a dance hail, a volunteer fire department, and a miner's union. The population was reduced to 30 by 1942.11


Between the discovery of Peter Walter's Gold Rock Mine in 1884 and the American Girl Mine in 1892, Thomas Grimes of Pasadena located the Pasadena Mine. Its ore ran 16 dollars to the ton in gold and was milled on the Colorado River. The Pasadena and the Guadalupe Mine (discovered in 1887) comprise with the Cargo Muchacho the easternmost mines of the Cargo Muchacho District.12


Johnson and Lohman discovered the American Girl Mine, located 2 miles north of the Cargo Muchacho Mine, in 1892. By 1900 it had produced 30,000 tons of ore that averaged $8 per ton in gold. Inactive from 1900 until 1913, during the next 3 years the mine went on to produce 20,000 tons of ore that averaged $6.50 per ton in gold. A cloudburst during the second week of November, 1914, flooded the lower workings, occasioning a 4 month delay while workers dewatered the mine and reopened the shaft. 13

Inactive for 20 years starting in 1916 the mine was again worked from July, 1936, until 1939 and during that time delivered 150,000 tons of ore valued at $900,000. Total estimated production of the American Girl Mine is 205,000 tons of ore valued at $1,285,000. Although mined primarily for gold, other minerals found at the American Girl include silver, galena and copper. Former state governor H. H. Markham owned shares in this mine). 14

Other important mines in the vicinity of the American Girl include the Blossom (known as early as 1894) the American Boy (an extension of the American Girl), Desert King, and La Colorado. The Blossom, also known as the Salamanca Consolidated, had 3 shafts 70, 240 and 280 feet deep, and several hundred feet of workings. It was in operation in the late 1890's. The La Colorado Mine, discovered in 1914, consisted of 400 feet of underground workings and has a recorded production of several hundred tons of ore. Some traces of sheelite (tungsten ore) is found at this gold mine.15


The Cargo Muchacho, Tumco, Pasadena and American Girl Mines comprise the major gold producers of the Cargo Muchacho District. This district is believed to be the northwestern extension of the famous gold belt of the Altar District of Sonora, Mexico. Although essentially a gold mining district some copper was produced as a by product of gold mining here, mainly at the American Girl Mine 16

Ore in this district contains free-milling gold or gold in disseminated pyrite. Gold alone and in association with silver and copper, and some sericite and kyanite are the only minerals extracted from the Cargo Muchachos, the latter two minerals have been produced mainly since 1930. Good samples of kyanite and quartz are to be found in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. All the mineral deposits lie on the west side of the mountain range and strike westerly. The quartz veins are up to 8 feet thick in this region and contain the highest grade of gold ore found in Imperial County.17


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© Larry M. Vredenburgh, Gary L. Shumway, Russell D. Hartill