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

Riverside County



The first recorded mining in this mountain range, which was also called the Hathaway Mountains, occurred in 1877. In January, 1877, Mr. Hathaway, in San Bernardino “from his mines back of Indian Wells (lndio)”, had some ore assayed which ran $1,112 in silver. Another old mine in the range was known in 1888 as the Opulent (later the Red Cloud). This mine was described as “an old mine worked many years ago with good results, then abandoned.” 23

In the late 1880s, gold was rediscovered, a number of men rushed out to locate claims and in 1887, the Pacific Mining District was established. As organized, the district was some 12 by 30 miles in extent. By the end of October, 1887, 60 claims had been located, with ore assaying from $14,000 to $36,000 a ton in gold and silver! “Quite a little settlement” was reported to have grown up.” 24

The report of the State Mineralogist in 1888 briefly commented that “two five-stamp mills are running on gold ore.” But James Orcutt, writing in 1890 of an 1888 visit to the area said, “Only one mill has yet been brought into the district and that has proved totally inadequate for the work, being but little better than a ‘coffee mill' as it has been nicknamed.” Eastern investors visited the area to select a site for a ten-stamp mill and a ten-ton smelter. At this time Frank Coffee laid the stone work at the Red Cloud Mine for a smelter, although it is doubtful that the machinery was ever installed. This impressive stone work still remains. The boom of 1887 fizzled, according Orcutt, because the owners never had enough capital to work them properly.25

Two mines known as the Granite and the San Diego, were developed about 1894, near the northwest extremity of the mountain range south of Granite Well. John S. Brown observed in the winter of 1917-1918 that several buildings and a mill stood at the well. In 1924, the Chuckwalla Mining and Milling Corporation apparently reactivated this property. At that time, the property was equipped with a gasoline hoisting plant, compressor, aerial tram, pumps, tanks, pipelines and surface buildings. The mill was soon to be overhauled and re-equipped. After this work was completed, a small tonnage of ore, averaging $8 per ton in gold, was mined until 1929.

Southeast of the Granite Mine, on the south side of the ridge, the Lane Mine was operated in 1896 by Lane and Son, of Salton, who crushed the ore in an arrastre. Also, in 1912, the “Chuckwalla Express”, made up of E. L. Blake and his 2 burros, operated weekly from Mecca to the Chuckwalla Mountains, a distance of 50 miles. 26

In 1896, the Sterling Mine, operated by the Sterling Mining Company of Los Angeles, was the object of “considerable superficial work,” and a ten-stamp mill was being constructed. About 1898, some 40 claims in the area were taken up by the Red Cloud Mining Company, of which S. P. Crissinger was president. Three of the claims were the Red Cloud, Great Western and the Sterling. In February, 1901, the Redlands Citrograph reported the Red Cloud Mine consisted of 53 “heavily mineralized claims.” A force of 50 men had been maintained for many months with a monthly payroll of more than $2,000, about $2 a day per employee. The company had installed a new hoist and a thirty-ton mill which was expected to be running in about a month. For 50 cents a share they were offering stock to raise money for the completion of a pipeline from Corn Spring to the mill, and construction of a tram from the mine to the mill.27

Some time before 1915, the property changed hands, being under the control of J. M. Huston of Los Angeles, who renamed the property the Red Head Group. His operation soon folded, and the stamp mill was moved to the Lost Horse Mine, now in Joshua Tree National Monument. George Blackburn of the Palo Verde Valley originally freighted this mill to the Red Cloud from Salton Station and Dos Palmas. In 1916, the mill was dismantled, and the 125 horsepower Corliss engine, 2 boilers, and seven-ton flywheel were hauled by Blackburn to Blythe for use in the Globe Cotton Gin. This monumental task took 36 mules 17 days to complete. In 1918, the Red Cloud was deserted, yet there were 2 tents in a side gully, and an occasional prospector would make camp here. 28

The Red Cloud was idle until November, 1931, when it was leased and a small amalgamation plant was installed. The concentrates from the mill were shipped via Blythe to the U. S. Smelting and Refining Company at Midvale, Utah. In January, 1933, a shipment of about 20,000 pounds of concentrates was made which had an average value of $100 per ton in gold. In 1934, the S.&W. Mining Company secured an option on the property, and was active until December, 1936. In October, 1935, there were 12 men working on the property, and the County of Riverside was preparing to build a 10% mile road to the mine from the state highway. The mine was leased by various parties from 1936 until 1940. By 1945, all equipment was removed from the property. Over $100,000 in gold was mined from this property. 29

J. M. Huston, brief owner of the Red Cloud, also gained control of the Bryan Mine located 2 miles south of Corn Springs. This property was operated from 1898 to 1900 by two men named Adams and Pickering, who treated their ore in a two-stamp mill at Corn Springs. Some of the ore from the Red Cloud operation during 1898 to 1900 also may have been treated in this mill. 30

Corn Springs seems to always have been an important place for local prospectors to camp. In the teens, a house at the springs was graced with a sign above the fireplace “Hotel de Corn Springs.” A wall served as a register showing 20 to 40 visits a year. Tommy Jones, a prospector, lived at the spring until his death in 1923. Gus Lerder, sole resident and “Mayor of Corn Springs” lived in the cabin and occasionally prospected nearby until his death in 1932. Jones was a poet of sorts, while in his spare time Lerder painted. Gus Lerder kept up the springs, and after his death “the resort became badly run down.” In 1935, with money from Riverside County, the spring was cleaned out and the underbrush cleared. The Blythe newspaper also reported “Corn Springs already has been set aside as a national monument, because of the great number of ancient Indian hierogryphics [sic], according to Talbot [county supervisor]….“ The BLM has established a campsite at Corn Springs. 31


On March 28, 1912, the Palo Verde Valley Herald reported that a murder had taken place at the Chuckwalla placer diggings, thus for the first time thrusting the Chuckwalla placer diggings at Chuckwalla Spring into the news. For about 15 years following the turn of the century, there were always 2, 3, or as many as a half-dozen prospectors camped here, placer mining or prospecting the nearby mountains. 32

Martin Augustin began prospecting in this area in 1917, eventually building a cabin 2 or 3 miles from Chuckwalla Spring. In May, 1924, Augustin discovered a vein that carried 46 percent lead, 8 1/2 ounces of silver and $1.50 in gold per ton. He dug a shallow shaft at the site. J. H. Williams, another prospector and a friend of Augustin came to Calexico to try and interest investors in this new mine, but all is quiet as to the result of his trip. A map of mineral deposits in Riverside County published by the California Division of Mines and Geology shows Augustin's mine in Sections 8 and 17, Township 8 South, Range 17 East. 33

The most recent mining in this area has taken place at the Cap Hunter Mine northwest of the spring. In 1951, a small shipment of ore was made from the property. This may be the same mine which was active in the beginning of 1912, owned by Captain Hunter. 34


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