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

Kern County


Coming in a close second to the Yellow Aster, the Golden Queen Mine Group on Soledad Mountain is the Mojave Mining District's brightest star. With an overall gold production of $10,000,000, the Golden Queen Mine Group (with the Yellow Aster) are jointly responsible for almost half the gold output for the entire county since 1880.

This district, although discovered a year before Randsburg, never really received much attention in it's early years. It wasn't until the depression years of the 1930s that the Mojave District was finally able to wrestle the spotlight away from Randsburg by producing more than $12,000,000 in gold and silver from 1932-1 942. Limitation Order L-208 severely affected this district, shutting its mines down almost overnight. Never able to recover from the rapid closures, The Mojave District's post war production was less than one-tenth that of it's pre-war days.

Standard Hill

Five hills or mountains lie within the Mojave District, four of which contain a quantity of mineral wealth. The first of these is Standard Hill, where George Bowers made the first discovery of rich gold float in 1894, developing his find into the Yellow Rover Mine. He shipped two carloads of ore worth $1,600 in gold and silver, triggering a rush into the area. Soon the Exposed Treasure and Desert Queen mines were located and developed near the Yellow Rover. 55

In 1900 the Yellow Rover and Exposed Treasure were consolidated into the Exposed Treasure Gold Mining Company and a year later a twenty-stamp mill and sixty-ton cyanide plant were constructed. In 1921, the mines became known as the Standard group and were mined by the Standard Mining and Milling Company. Various owners worked the mine until 1942, when it was shut down by L-208. It was intermittently mined after the war. Estimated total production is $3,500,000. The Whitmore Mine, a mile west of the Standard group, was being operated in 1912 and perhaps earlier by the St. Mary Mining Company. Its most productive period, however, was from 1936 to 1942 when 4,500 tons of ore were shipped, worth a little under $100,000. The Yellow Dog Mine, north of the Whitmore, originally was located around 1902, but no real development was undertaken until 1922 when Percy Wegman discovered high grade ore. That year the Yellow Dog Mining Company was organized to develop the claim, and it was worked until the early 1930s. Total production from the Yellow Dog amounts to approximately a quarter of a million dollars. 56

Soledad Mountain

On Soledad Mountain, richest of the four mineral-bearing mountains, the Queen Esther and Echo mines were originally located during the excitement created by George Bowers in 1894. The Queen Esther ore was treated at a 75 ton cyanide plant built in 1903. The next year the plant was enlarged to twice its capacity. The mine closed in 1910 after having produced $1,000,000 worth of ore. In 1933 both the Queen Esther and Echo mines were idle. George Holmes, along with Bruce Minard, discovered the Silver Queen Mine in December of that year which revived mining activity throughout the district. In the first 11 months of 1934 Holmes shipped 300 carloads of ore to the American Smelting and Refining Company smelter at Selby. The carloads yielded $600,000. The Los Angles Times reported a “huge gold strike” in the Mojave and a rush was on. Holmes sold out on January 11, 1935, to the Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa, for $3,170,000 plus royalties. The Golden Queen Mining Company was organized in 1935 to consolidate and mine the Queen Esther, Silver Queen, Echo and Golden Queen mines. Two years later the company was producing 300 tons of ore each day.

The Golden Queen Mining Company produced over $6,000,000 in gold and silver from 1936 until it shut down in 1942. The mines from 1894 to 1942 produced more than $10,000,000, making the Golden Queen Mine Group second only to the Yellow Aster in Kern County gold production. This mine more than any other brought the Mojave Mining District to new heights. For 10 solid years between 1932-1942, all 4 hills southwest of Mojave were humming with activity. The Golden Queen, and the entire district were dealt a fatal blow when Limitation Order L-208 shut down mining operations. High costs after the war prevented a renewal of activity. 57

The Wegman Mine, originally the Karma, is located just east of the Golden Queen Mine and was discovered in 1896. A twenty-stamp mill constructed in 1904 was shut down in 1909 along with the mine, due to poor recovery. Ore mined between 1896 and .1909 contained 50 ounces per ton of silver. In 1917, when reopened, the average ore value was from 5 to 9 ounces of silver per ton. By 1933, the Wegman Mine had 200 by 50 foot glory hole, an assay office, shops, dwellings, and a twenty-stamp mill. 58

The Bobtail Mine, west of the Golden Queen and between the Elephant and Excelsior mines, was discovered about 1900. About $80,000 worth of ore was produced during its most productive period, 1923-1942. The Elephant Mine was discovered in 1896 by E. T. Baker. By 1916, he had driven a 100-foot shaft and a few hundred feet of horizontal workings. An exceptionally rich part of the mine averaged $2,000 in gold and silver per ton. In 1930, a twenty-five ton ball mill was installed on the site, and ore was no longer sent to the American Smelting and Refining Company at Selby. Ore was hauled to the mill by way of a 2,500-foot tramway. The mine produced 3,000 tons of ore worth $60,000 from 1931 through 1942. The total production is estimated at a quarter of a million dollars. 59

Middle Butte

Besides Standard Hill and Soledad Mountain, gold and silver production also came from Middle Butte. The Middle Butte Mine was worked by Walter Trent in 1935 after the Burton brothers found rich outcroppings the previous year on a nearby claim. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of ore was quickly mined by Trent from surface cuts, with the ore being sent directly to the Selby smelter. The ore shoot was 200 feet long, 10 to 15 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The mine, consisting of over 2,500 feet of workings continued operation until 1942, when shut down by the War Production Board. The Cactus Queen Mine was discovered in the fall of 1934, at Middle Butte. For eight years the mine was operated at full steam, producing more than $4,000,000 worth of ore. It too, was closed by Limitation Order L-208. Mine workings total 12,000 feet with a 1,000-foot shaft providing access. 60

Tropico Hill

The fourth area of production in the Mojave District was Tropico Hill. In the late 1870s, a Dr. L. A. Crandall noticed a red coloration on a hill near Willow Springs. Taking some samples, he found it to be suitable as fire clay. The hill became known as Crandall Hill. Dr. Crandall sent samples to various potential buyers of the clay, including Ezra Hamilton, whose Los Angeles Pottery Company was a growing business. Hamilton ordered a carload of the clay shipped by rail from Rosamond. In 1882, Hamilton bought the clay pit. 61

In 1894, business was going through a depression. Many men turn to mining during hard times because of the potential of sudden wealth, and the possibility of at least equaling current wages at a time when few jobs are available. Perhaps Hamilton was not thinking of riches, but when he decided to pan some of the clay that came from his hill, he noticed specks of gold. After two years of occasional prospecting with his son, Hamilton traced the gold float to an outcropping on his hill that assayed $35 per ton.

Charles Graves had come from Kentucky in 1882, and owned a ranch on the south side of Hamilton Hill. Graves invited the Hamiltons to stay at his ranch while they worked. When Graves got curious, Hamilton told him of his discovery and suggested to Graves that he stake some claims. His Home No. 1 and No. 2 were so named because they lay close to Graves' ranch.

Hamilton's first ore shipment yielded him $46,000. With some of this money, he built a two-stamp mill in 1898. In 1900, Hamilton had sold one of his claims for $100,000. In 1902 a five-stamp mill was built a mile south of the claims. During this period, Hamilton purchased 160 acres of Willow Springs from the Beale estate for $3,500. With his riches, Hamilton built attractive stone houses at Willow Springs, which he attempted to develop as a health resort. He dabbled in the silkworm industry, grew fruit and shade trees, grapes, and constructed an ice plant in Willow Springs. Hamilton even built a hotel in Rosamond for the travelers coming into the area his mine made popular.

After an ill-fated stock promotion attempt in 1907 by the Tiger Head Mining Company, the Antelope Mining Company acquired most of the claims in 1908, selling them to the Tropico Mining and Milling Company in 1909. The Tropico Company was so named because several stockholders were from Tropico, California (located near Forest Lawn Memorial Park). V. V. Cochran was president of this company, which consolidated and patented many of the mines. 62

H. Clifford Burton began working for the Tropico Mining and Milling Company in 1912. By June, 1914, he was promoted to superintendent due to his previous studies at an assaying school, which helped him to solve problems in the milling process. The Tropico Mine had a ten-stamp mill and a thirty-ton cyanide plant. The Tropico Mine was inactive during the First World War, and Clifford Burton returned from the war with his brother Cecil to work again at Tropico. During the inflationary 1920s, the company was not operating at a profit and assessments were levied on Tropico stock. The only ones who wanted to buy Tropico shares were the Burton brothers. By 1934, they had acquired alt outstanding stock.

From 1933 to 1942, after having successfully predicted the location of orebodies, the Burton brothers' Tropico Gold Mines prospered at its highest level ever. The custom ore mill reached a peak production in 1939 with 400 miners shipping their ore for treating. Burton Company trucks would haul much of the ore to the mill. The Burtons paid for this ore as it was assayed. The Burton brothers owned the Ruth Mine near Trona in 1942 when Limitation Order L-208 shut it down. The shutdown was so rapid and improperly carried out that the Ruth Mine, and many others throughout the desert were never reopened.

Tropico was closed by the same order, but rock from Tropico Hill was used in the Construction of airstrips in the Antelope Valley, and for this reason the Burton brothers could keep a small crew on site that helped keep the mine dewatered and timbering intact. Cecil and Clifford Burton died in the late 1940s. Tropico is now a popular tourist attraction, with guided tours being conducted of both the mine and mill. 63

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