An Overview of Mining History of the California Desert Conservation Area
The silver-lead ore bodies at Darwin (named after Dr. E. Darwin French) were discovered in late October or November, 1874, supposedly by a wandering prospector trying to find a lost mule. By December there were 200 men in the district, and Abner B. Elder, Belshaw's earlier partner, became recorder of the “New Coso Mining District.”48
Another of Belshaw's partners was in on the ground floor of the development of this camp. Victor Beaudry's Darwin Water Works was a $45,000 venture to pipe water from springs located 7 miles south of Darwin near the old Josephine mill at Coso. Iron pipes 4 inches in diameter brought water to the summit, then 2 inch pipes were used in the 412 foot fall into Darwin. Tanks north of town holding 28,000 gallons were enclosed by a large public building. Fire hydrants and rubber hoses were at strategic points throughout town and used to either fight fires or to control the street dust. The water sold in 1875 at one cent a gallon for domestic purposes and a half-cent for mining. In 1937 Darwin still got its water from the spring at Coso, at one cent a gallon!
In May, 1875, the New Coso Mining Company, under the management of L. L. Robinson, bought the Christmas Gift and Lucky Jim prospects. The Cuervo Mining Company (J. D. Fry, president) was organized June 6, 1875, with ten million dollars capital stock. This company held a controlling interest in the Grand and Promentorio mines.50
Mr. L. L. Robinson on December 15, 1875, reported that his Lucky Jim Mine reached a depth of 137 feet, and the Christmas Gift 97 feet. He complained that Darwin was located in a section of the country where everything was extremely expensive. Running steadily, his mill spent $40,000 a year on water alone. In 1875, the New Coso Mining Company was operating their mines without horsepower, meaning four men were stationed on a windlass at each of the companies 5 mining shafts. When paid $4 a day, 20 miners required an expenditure of almost $2,500 a month. It was fully one third of the New Coso Mining Company's labor costs. Eight to ten ore Sorters were busy separating the high grade ore from the low grade, ensuring the efficient transport of only the good ore to the furnace. One sorter worked at the furnace double checking shipments, as it was so costly to send valueless material through the furnace. 23 men worked at the New Coso furnace with a payroll of over $3,000 a month. The company spent another $3,000 monthly on coal and wood for the furnace.
By 1875 L. L. Robinson had produced some 6,000 bullion bars worth $100,000, from mines less than 100 feet deep. Each day the furnace could be fed 20 tons of ore, along with 11/2 tons of iron ore, 4% tons of slag and 3 tons of lime. This 29-ton mixture, if things went well and the ore was of high enough grade, would reduce to 6 or 7 tons of bullion (150 to 175 bars) worth $2,000 in silver alone.51
In August, 1875, the New Coso Mining Company's 60 ton furnace was fired up for the first time, followed that December by Pat Reddy's Defiance furnace of 100 tons. A third furnace, the Cuervo, with a capacity of 25 tons a day, was located at the north end of Main Street. It was under construction in the winter of 1875.
By year's end, Darwin had 3 smelters, 20 mines, 200 frame houses, 700 citizens, 9 general stores, a brewery, 2 hotels, and a Wells Fargo express office. Three more furnaces were built in 1876, and the population reached 1,000. In August, Darwin held its breath as Pat Reddy's Defiance mill temporarily shut down. It was quickly reopened, but its closure made people wonder about Darwin's future.52
In 1877 Colonel Sherman Stevens built 2 adobe kilns in a wash just north of Cottonwood Creek to produce charcoal for the Darwin furnaces. That summer, the Cuervo Mine produced $45,000 from 13 tons of exceptionally high grade ore. Nevertheless, the boom days were over for Darwin. On September 15, editor T. S. Harris offered the office of the Coso Mining News for sale, due to “impaired eyesight and poor health”53
While a business directory in the same issue listed some twenty businesses, including an attorney, doctor, brewery, stables, two saloons, a lumberyard, and butcher shop in Darwin, most of these would be gone in a few months. The 1878 gold rush to Bodie lured away many of Darwin's citizens, including Pat Reddy and I. S. Harris. Excessive freight costs and the depletion of high grade ores were two reasons for the smelters shutting down before completion of the Carson and Colorado railroad station at Keeler. Mining at Darwin during the l880s and 1890s was “sporadic and at times practically dormant due to poor transportation, lack of modern facilities, and some litigation.”54
The entire district became nearly dormant by 1888. The easily mined ore had given out, and until World War I the area was operated sporadically by lessees. Consolidation of the Lucky Jim, Columbia, Promontory and Lane mines was undertaken in 1915 by the Darwin Development Company. After several mergers, the Darwin Silver Corporation in 1917 consolidated these mines with the Defiance and Independence mines. Equipment, roads, and camps were built in hope of reestablishing Darwin as a silver producer. E. W. Wagner financed this development until his death by suicide (due to financial reverses) in 1921.
In 1925, after clearing legal entanglements with the Wagner estate, the American Metals Company leased the Darwin mines and shipped a considerable amount of ore for a one-year period. When lead prices hit a new low in 1927, the camp was again shut down. A fire in 1928 burned the shaft and mine timbering of the Lucky Jim Mine, making the largest mine in the district inaccessible for twenty years. In 1948, the damage was repaired but no ore was mined from it then.55
In 1938, Vincent C. Kelley reported that Darwin had experienced two separate periods of production and was ready to be revived again. The early l870s production was halted by depletion of high grade surface ore combined with high transportation costs. The World War I boom was only halted by an industry depression and was not due to any lack of ore.56
In 1940, Mr. Sam Mosher operated the property under a corporation known as Imperial Metals. In March, 1943, Darwin mines took over operations. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company bought the Darwin properties in August, 1945. Total production from the Darwin district mines between 1875 and 1952 has been twenty-nine million dollars. Over 80 percent of the total production occurred between 1940 and 1952. 57