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




Claiming with certainty that one mine was the Lost Gunsight would be an extremely difficult task, even today. The Lost Gunsight Mine became a legend at a very early stage and its location probably would have been cruelly disappointing to its discoverers and to future fortune seekers. As long as it remained undiscovered, there was hope of finding a second Comstock.

Prospectors have discovered dozens of silver mines in the Panamint and Argus ranges, yet few have claimed to find the Lost Gunsight, and fewer still believed those who so claimed. If it was found at all, the most likely candidate for being the Lost Gunsight Mine would be one of the mines on Lookout Mountain.

John Colton, one of the emigrants who heard about Turner and Martin's discovery of silver ore, wrote, “The Georgia men were old silver miners. They told us upon arrival in camp that there was immense wealth of silver in sight where we camped. One of the boys showed me a chunk of black rock he held in his hands, and he told me it was half silver, and that nearly all the rock we were walking over was very rich in silver, and if we only had provisions and water and knew where we were, that there was all the wealth in sight that we could ask.

Colton's camp, according to historian Carl Wheat, was located just a few miles west of Towne's Pass. It was here that the Georgia boys met up with Colton and informed him of their find. Float from the Lemoigne, Kerdell and Big Four mines may have provided the rock “very rich in silver” over which the emigrants walked. Scouts searching for water and a trail would have gone west to explore a way over the Argus Range. Such a search pattern would of necessity have included Lookout Mountain.


Two years after the discovery of Panamint, on April 22, 1875, rich silver-lead deposits were discovered on the east slope of the Argus Range by B. E. Ball, J. E. Boardman, E. W. Burke and J. S. Childs while “looking for the Lost Gunsight”.60

Shortly after discovery, these men sold their interest in the claims, later known as the Modoc Mine, to the Modock Consolidated Mining Company of San Francisco. Created August 9, 1875, one of the five corporate directors of this company was Senator George Hearst.61

In 1876 the Minnietta Belle Silver Mining Company was formed. Mr. James Dolan was superintendent of the Minnietta Mine. The mine's shaft was down 100 feet that year, and Dolan was calculating that the Minnietta contained at least 3,000 tons of ore worth at least $100 a ton. The silver content of the Modoc Mine ore ranged from 100 to 300 ounces of silver per ton. These ores were crushed and treated at the twenty-stamp mill in Panamint until October, 1876, when the first of two thirty-ton furnaces located at Lookout began operations. Each furnace could produce 160 bars of bullion, each weighing 80 to 85 pounds, every day. The smelting process required iron, which was obtained from the nearby Iron Cap Mine.62

By the end of November 1876, it was reported that $100,000 worth of bullion had been produced by the Lookout furnaces, which required 3,000 bushels of coal a day. This coal and other supplies were hauled in by a few hundred mules that kept a constant parade moving to and from the Argus Range.63

In early 1877, charcoal for the furnaces was being made in pits dug in the vicinity of a wood supply located on the mountain slopes adjacent to Wildrose Canyon. Nadeau's wagon road was completed by May, 1877, connecting Lookout to the newly constructed charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon. The kilns, constructed by Mr. Morrison, were operating successfully and furnishing “clean hard coal, very much superior to that made in the ordinary pits. Lookout hit its peak in 1877. The small settlement included three saloons, two general stores, a slaughterhouse, and a post office (the official name of the town was Modock). That summer 40 men were operating the charcoal kilns in Wildrose Canyon for the Lookout Coal and Transportation Company. A triweekly stage operated between Darwin and Lookout. 140 voters were registered at Lookout, and 8 Lookout children belonged to the Darwin school district. 64

Lookout's future seemed bright until, in the fall of 1877, the furnaces broke down. Modock Consolidated changed managers, the price of lead fell, and the company reduced wages. The miners struck, causing another company reorganization. Hard times were over by May, 1878, when the Coso Mining News reported that both furnaces were again in operation, each supplying 200 bars of bullion per day, weighing 85 pounds each, from 38 tons of ore. The mines were by no means worked out by 1879, but clearly the high grade ore was. Wood cutting in the Wildrose Canyon area stopped that year. The furnaces continued working for a short time thereafter, but the Modock Consolidated leased the entire property to Frank Fitzgerald (who ran the triweekly stage from Darwin to Lookout) in 1881. 65

By 1890 the Modoc Mine had produced $1,900,000. Left on the slag and mine dumps of the Modoc were 40,000 tons of ore carrying 6 to 10 percent lead and 10 to 15 1 :ounces of silver per ton. These values were not recovered due to the inefficiency of the furnaces. The Minnietta Mine had a rather low production until 1895, when Frank Fitzgerald worked the mine and recovered $65,000 in silver and $600 in gold. Also, Jack Gunn worked the mine for a time in the 1890s. Ten years later the Minnietta had produced over $350,000 in silver and $25,000 in gold. The total estimated production for the Minnietta from 1895-1955 is $600,000. 66

In the l890s a little to the south of the Minnietta, the Argus Gold Mining Company was operating their St. George gold mine. Farther to the south in 1918 the Sterling Silver Mine was developed by the Sterling Mining Company. Ore from the Sterling averaged 30 percent lead and 19 ounces of silver per ton. From 1924 to 1927, the Lead (Hughes) Mine produced ore averaging one ounce of gold, 11 ounces of silver per ton and 30 percent lead. Located north of the Minnietta, it had 600 feet of underground workings.67

The Minnietta was not worked from 1920 to 1944. After World War II, the slag and mine dumps were worked and the values that the original owners could not extract were recovered. The Modoc dumps were also worked after World War II. Wartime (1941-1944) production in the area amounted to 4,000 ounces of silver, 160,000 pounds of lead, and 20,000 pounds of zinc. Close to one-third of the lead and one-fourth of the district's silver mined during World War II came from the Defense Mine. The Minnietta Mine produced 3,000 ounces of silver and 50,000 pounds of lead in one year alone (1944). All of the zinc produced by this district came from the Big Four Mine, first located in 1907.68

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