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



By 1900 the Pacific Coast Borax Company realized that their mine in Borate would soon be exhausted, and started looking f or new ore bodies in the Death Valley region. In 1903 they began development of the Lila C. Mine, where they discovered three beds of colemanite 6 to 18 feet wide and at least 2500 feet long. Steam traction engines hauled ore to Manvel, 100 miles away, until 1907, when the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad reached the borax area. A spur from the railroad connected the Lila C. Mine to the main line, allowing ore to be shipped that year over the Tonopah and Tidewater. The opening of the Lila C. Mine caused the price of borax to drop 2 cents a pound to between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 cents, causing a shutdown of the mine at Borate, and mines in Saline Valley and on Frazier Mountain. The Lila C. was worked until January 1915. The town of Ryan (Old Ryan) grew up around the Lila C. It had a small post office and 200 or so inhabitants.

With the discovery in 1914 of bigger ore bodies northwest of the Lila C., a new $400,000 concentration mill was constructed at Death Valley Junction. In January, 1915, the Pacific Coast Borax Company switched operations to the Biddy McCarthy, Lower Biddy, and Grand View mines. Old Ryan was torn down and hauled to the Biddy McCarthy to become New Ryan. Ore was hauled from the various workings of the several mines by a twenty-four inch gauge railroad to ore bins in New Ryan, then over the narrow gauge Death Valley Railroad to Death Valley Junction. When the Kramer borax mines were discovered and developed in 1927, the Pacific Coast Borax Company transferred all operations to the new area, closing down New Ryan in June, 1927. At the time of the closure the ore was averaging 26 percent borax. 77


Early in 1904, Aurthur Kunze reportedly found copper float, and in December, 1904, Fred Birney and Phil Creasor discovered more of it, in a location southwest of Death Valley Junction. When Kunze sold his claims to Charles Schwab at Goldfield, Nevada in July, 1906, it triggered a rush. The stampede to Greenwater was on!

Greenwater was the name of the townsite Kunze established near his claims. It takes it's name from Greenwater Spring south of town. Harry Ramsey laid out the townsite of Copperfield two miles to the east of Greenwater townsite. A third townsite (Furnace) was laid out near Patsy Clark's Furnace Creek copper mine. In September, 1906, the Tonopah Lumber Company reported it had sold 150,000 feet of lumber to the Greenwater camps and mines, and a hundred men were in the area.78

Kunze moved his townsite into Copperfield and the two became known as Greenwater by December, 1906. In early 1907, the population reached 700. By April the telephone line from Rhyolite reached Greenwater. Water sold for high prices, $15 a barrel, or one dollar a gallon. In May 1907 Kunze traveled to Los Angeles to order a printing press and supplies for the Death Valley Chuck-Walla and the Green water Miner. In June, 1907, the press building at Greenwater burned to the ground. The new press was never shipped in. The Ash Meadows Water Company started laying a 27 mile, 6 inch pipeline from Ash Meadows Spring. After spending $200,000 the line was 10 miles long. It was never completed.79

Upwards of 30 companies were formed, with capitalizations from one to five million dollars each, allegedly to tap Greenwater's riches. The Furnace Creek Copper Company, capitalized with a million shares offered originally at 25 cents each, was soon selling at over $5 a share. The public, encouraged by the big names promoting Greenwater, bought any stock with Greenwater in its name. New stock promotions were sure to include the name Greenwater somewhere in their corporate title. The South Greenwater Copper Company was typical of the many companies that solicited public support. Their advertising copy read, “We are reasonably sure that we have a mine at South Greenwater. We would not spend money there if we were not.” Charles Schwab, Augustus Heinze, T. L. Oddie and F. M. (Borax) Smith were all “reasonably sure” they had a mine, too, for they were spending money on Greenwater. But no one had a paying mine at Greenwater. Over 2,500 claims blanketed the acreage. Greenwater had a telegraph and a telephone line, two newspapers, a $100,000 bank, a drug store, boardinghouse, and several saloons. But not for long.80

Pope Yeatman, a mining engineer hired by the Guggenheim interests, came to Greenwater to investigate the Furnace Creek copper mine, Greenwater's biggest. By then it was some 200 feet deep. The mine had opened up on a body of copper oxides, and some 20 tons had been shipped in early 1906 that yielded 20 percent copper. Yeatman took one look and immediately left camp. Making a long distance phone call to New York, his observations that day marked the beginning of the end for Greenwater. The ore body in the Furnace Creek copper mine went nowhere, and the shaft had hit what appeared to be volcanic ash. With this news the Greenwater copper market collapsed.81

On September 7, 1907, the Beatty Bullfrog Miner reported that the Green water Miner had stopped publication and that a hundred people were still at Greenwater. Buildings were brought down one by one, many of them being hauled to Zabriskie or Shoshone. The Greenwater Copper Company hung around until January 8, 1910, when it gave up on Greenwater after sinking a 1,400-foot shaft and finding only low grade ore.82

It is interesting to note that the Amalgamated Copper Company, in control of over 50 percent of the nation's copper production in the l900s, began stockpiling copper in April 1907. This was when Greenwater was at its height. In September, when the myth of Greenwater was exposed, the copper was unloaded on the market, knocking down the price of copper and copper mining shares.. Augustus Heinze, who allegedly bought claims in Greenwater for $200,000, tried to keep the price of copper up by using funds from several banks he controlled. His efforts resulted in the bank panic of 1907. George Graham Rice estimated that $30,000,000 was invested in Greenwater in four short months.83


Due in part to the interest generated by Greenwater, the Tonopah and Tidewater had been pushing their railroad through the Amargosa River Canyon in an attempt to pick up on the developing copper camp's business. Although arriving in Tecopa just in time to see Greenwater's collapse, the railroad providently provided the Noonday and Gunsight Mines (owned by the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company) an outlet for their silver ores. The company quickly shipped a 30-car train of ore worth $40 a ton. By 1910 a standard gauge railroad (The Tecopa Railroad) was hauling ore from the mines to Tecopa station, where high grade values were shipped over the Tonopah and Tidewater and on to smelters at Murray, Utah.84

From 1912 to 1928 the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company produced $3,000,000 worth of silver and lead. After World War II these mines, inactive during the Depression, were purchased by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, who operated them with a crew of 45 men until March, 1953, when the mine closed down. No high grade ore reserves were found after exploration by the Anaconda company.85

|Previous|HOME|Next|End Notes|

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