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




The Bank panic of 1873 brought a depression to the West. In California it was first felt hard when the Bank of California closed it's doors August 26, 1875. Panamint, Darwin and Lookout lasted through this dark period, in spite of the world decline in the price of silver. The discovery of new ore bodies on the Comstock in early 1874 served to bolster these desert camps as well, each of which was considered a second Comstock.69

Gold, traditionally strong during depression periods, was being sought in Inyo County by the time the silver camps were reaching their peak production in 1877.


Probably the most inaccessible gold-producing district in Inyo County, and also its most productive, has been Beveridge. Wood was scarce, and no natural wide pathways existed to make it easy to haul the ore out and supplies in. Yet the gold was there, and miners beat a path to its door.

William L. Hunter, after having sold his lead mine in the Rose Springs (Ubehebe) district to M. W. Belshaw, prospected to the northwest and discovered the Big Horn gold mine in 1877. The Beveridge Mining District was organized on December 7, 1877, at Big Horn Spring in Hunter Canyon. Beveridge took its name from John Beveridge, noted inyo County resident. Hunter's Big Horn Mine consisted of 8 claims and one millsite. In 1878, Hunter built three arrastres in Hunter Canyon to treat his ore. That same year the Keynote Mine went into operation. Its five-stamp mill was located in Beveridge Canyon. The Big Horn Mine was worked continuously until 1893, the Keynote until 1894. The Big Horn had a total production of some $10,000 while the Keynote produced $500,000. Both mines were worked shortly during the 1930s.70

In 1878, gold was discovered in Mono County and the rush to Bodie was on. Production on the Comstock fell to $20,000,000 (half it's 1876 production) while Darwin and Cerro Gordo were also declining rapidly. In spite of the re-introduction of a silver purchasing plan (the Bland-Allison Act of 1878) Inyo County silver mines could not recover. Their high grade ore bodies having been depleted, most fell into inactivity.71

The Bland-Allison Act was joined by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890. Both required the U. S. Treasury to purchase an increasing amount of silver bullion and coin it. Most of the European nations were on the gold standard and viewed the stockpiling of silver as an indication of our inability to stay on a gold standard. This and other economic conditions culminated in a depression in 1893. People once again were soon looking for gold.72


Charles Anthony and John Lampier located the Panamint Valley Mine on July 27, 1893. This mine, also known as the Anthony, Gold Bug, and Knob Mine, is located 31/2 miles east of the Post Office Spring in Post Office (now Pleasant) Canyon. A small camp sprang up around Anthony's 5 gold mining claims. Henry Ratcliff worked in Anthony's camp and discovered in May and July, 1896,6 claims east of town which became the Ratcliff (Radcliffe) Consolidated Gold Mines, Ltd. James F. Cooper staked a claim east of the Ratcliff group in 1896, near an old stone corral thought to be built by Indians.

The 80 acre townsite of Ballarat was laid out in 1897, and the buildings from the Ratcliff Mine were hauled down the canyon to help start the town. George Riggins is credited with suggesting the name Ballarat, after the famous mining town of his native Australia. John S. Stoker, a storekeeper, was appointed postmaster of Ballarat July 21, 1897. Richard Decker, who once tried reviving Panamint in the 1880s, was appointed justice of the peace. The two-story Calloway Hotel was built in 1898. A school operated out of an adobe building at Ballarat for one year in 1899. That same year six saloons were opened for business. In 1900 the Porter brothers built a jail at Ballarat for the Inyo County Board of Supervisors at a cost of $300. The Teagle brothers opened a feed and supply yard in 1901. 73

The total production for the Ratcliff mines have been estimated from $300,000 to $1,000,000. In 1903 a 3,800-foot tram transported ore from the mines to the mill. An assay office, engine room, blacksmith shop, and various other buildings formed a small camp at the base of the mountain. In 1951, remains at the Ratcliff Mine included a twenty-stamp mill, a 4-foot by 6-foot ball mill, and 4,000 feet of underground workings.

The World Beater, discovered by Shorty Harris, began real production shortly after the Ratcliff mines gave out in 1903. According to D. H. Claire, it produced $185,000 prior to 1930 and another $75,000 from 1936-1942. The Buster Brown, adjoining the World Beater, had a small five-stamp mill and its 1927-1942 production amounted to $250,000. The Lotus, and the Monte Cristo mines, 15 miles south of Ballarat, were developed probably after 1900 by two aerial trains and a 2,800 foot inclined rail tram. A 1,750 foot aerial tramway that serviced the Anthony, Gold Bug, and Knob mines was rebuilt in l940. 74

The Ballarat Post Office was closed on September 29, 1917. Since then Ballarat has been a favorite gathering place for many of the colorful prospectors and desert residents. Charles Ferge, better known as “Seldom Seen Slim” was one such character to permanently inhabit Ballarat, and there are other residents today. 75

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