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

Riverside County



The area encompassing the Palen, McCoy and Maria Mountains, partially including the Ironwood Mining District, may have been mined as early as 1862. A portion of this area lies in the old Chemehuevi district which extended north from the present city of Blythe, opposite the mouth of the Bill Williams River, and back about 20 miles from the Colorado. Although the main activity in the Chemehuevi District seems to have been confined to the Copper Basin area in the Whipple Mountains, mining during this same time (1862.1865) is known to have taken place in Mule Mountain, and in the Turtle Mountains (in San Bernardino County) and some also may have taken place here. During the early 1880s, Matt Palen and William McCoy prospected in the area and opened mines. 49

Palen Mountains

Matt Palen and H. Connor discovered copper in the west central part of the Palen Mountains about 1880. This discovery interested others in the remote mountain range, and more mines were developed. The San Bernardino Valley Index of May 13, 1881, reported that mines owned by “E. S. Short, Van Slyke, Sommers, McCoy, Cox, and others, have been bonded by R. J. Whitton and associates. . . Their mines are situated about 24 miles northwest of Ehrenberg, on the California side of the Colorado River. These mines are now being worked and are looking splendidly. The mines are valuable for copper, but contain both gold and silver. . . In this same district, the Moore Mine and what is known as the Palen mines . . . have been bonded by the same parties.” Less than a year later, in February, 1882, some “nearly pure copper averaging 80 percent” was brought into San Bernardino from the Cox mine, but nothing further is heard from these mines until the turn of the century. 50

Around the turn of the century, 3 small copper mines were developed in the Palen Mountains: The Homestake, also referred to as the Lightfoot, about midway down the range on the east side, the Orphan Boy, 2 miles south of Packard's Well, and the Palen Copper mines. The Homestake and Orphan Boy are never again referred to as being active, although Harwood Robbins, owner of the Crescent Copper Mine in the McCoy Mountains, relocated the Homestake in 1914. In 1914 the Orphan Boy is listed as abandoned. The Palen Copper Mine consisted of 2 claims: the Copper-Silver Glance and the Ophir. The Palen Mine was rediscovered by a prospector in 1969 and the Independence and Jackson group of claims were located. Tests reveal rich copper-silver-gold ore at this mine. In addition there is a stone structure, possibly Matt Palen's dwelling. 51

In September, 1913, Tom Furgeson and Will Cummings of Mecca discovered iron in the extreme south end of the range. In 1945 several open cuts were on the property, but there has been no major development of this deposit. 52

Copper in the McCoy Mountains

By 1902 the Badger State group of claims on the northeastern side of the McCoy Mountains had over 300 feet of shafts and cuts, and could no longer be termed a prospect. Mr. S. P. Cressinger, owner of the Red Cloud Mine in the Chuckwalla Mountains, also owned this mine and several other copper mines in the McCoys. About 1907 the property was reportedly sold to E. E. Schellenger and his associates. It was probably this same property which was operated by the Riverside Copper Company perhaps on a lease. 53

On December 27, 1908, a party of men headed to the mine for 5 months of labor. In March the mine closed for the summer, having taken out a “car load of fine ore for shipment” via Glamis. Altogether, until the property was sold in late 1909, five shipments were made to the El Paso, Texas, smelter by the owners.54

The mine was then sold to Harwood Robbins of Riverside. In 1911 Robbins, president of the Continental Mining Company, operated the property now known as the Crescent Mine. Initial work “with a big bunch of men” that November in part consisted of building reservoirs and other maintenance at the camp. The mine shut down for the summer of 191 2 and was again reopened in September. At least 4 men were employed there during the winter of 1913. In April, 1914, Fred Goldsberry, one of the miners, came to Blythe for supplies and commented that “development work in charge of A. M. Hickley is going forward rapidly.” In January, 1917, ten men were working the mine. This schedule of mining during the winter months continued until summer of 1917 when the mine was closed. 55

The Palisade Mine

In. March,1918, Mr. A. Villman, a Blythe undertaker and barber, sold his barber shop and became a real miner. Villman had prospected the area north of Blythe with Wiley A. Hanson, better known as “Zinc” Hanson, a wealthy “quiet retiring elderly man” known in several states as a pioneer and successful mining man. Together they discovered a deposit rich in zinc and other minerals such as lead, copper, silver, bismuth, and gold. The mine, known as the Palisade, lay “high on the side of a rugged mountain in the Santa Marias,” 20 to 24 miles north of Blythe and 3 miles from English siding. Work began on the mine in late February, 1918, and progressed until April 20, when a tenthouse with many supplies were destroyed in a fire which did about $200 in damage. The fire, which destroyed the camp, took place while the workers were in Blythe and was caused by a stove. 56

It was decided to wait until fall to begin operations again. In mid-September, 1918, Villman and Hanson returned and made an important announcement: The mine was to eventually employ from 200 to 300 men or more and “the mineral is present in quantities that seem likely to transform this region to another Joplin, Missouri.” In September there was a 100 foot shaft on the property and before long 15 men were to begin active work. By November, when the Palisade Mining Company was incorporated with Hanson, Villman and C. E. Yost as the primary stockholders, 4 or 5 carloads of ore were on the dump waiting for shipment. However, a road to connect with the railroad was not begun until March, 1919, and the first shipment of ore still had not been made. The mine probably maintained a low level of activity until January, 1920, when it was reported that the owners of the mine had contracted M. M. Davis to sink the existing 60 foot shaft another 60 feet. However, the price of silver, zinc, and copper fell significantly after this. Although the claims were owned in 1929 by a Mr. Neal of Kingman, Arizona and renamed the Neal group, they were idle until 1950. Dan Figueroa, a resident of Blythe renamed the property the Bald Eagle Mine, and operated it for two years. During that time he shipped 237 tons of ore which yielded lead, silver, zinc and copper.57


Along with tungsten and other metals, manganese is used in the manufacture of certain hardened steels. During World War I, the demand for these minerals was high and as many as 10 mines were active in the vicinity of the McCoy Mountains north of Blythe. From 225 to 300 men were reported to have been mining these properties at one time in 1918. In all, 5,000 tons of ore, averaging 42 percent manganese were shipped during the war years from these deposits, via Brown Siding on the California Southern. In 1915 the Doran manganese claims, 6 miles south of Packard's Well, were located on the top of a ridge. While high-grade ore is present, the deposits are virtually inaccessible, and because of this, they have never been developed. Also during World War I, the property later known as the Langdon Deposit, 3 miles west of Cox siding, was active.58

With the fall in price of manganese, these mines were dormant until World War II. Beginning in February of 1942 the Arlington Mine, one of the mines in the McCoy Mountains developed during World War II, shipped about 8,500 tons of ore via Inca (Cox) Siding. Twelve to fifteen men were working at the time. The camp in 1945 consisted of 5 houses. During early 1944 the Langdon deposit was leased to J. Figueroa who made several small shipments of ore to the Metals Reserve Company's stockpile at Parker, Arizona. The mines in this area were quite active until early 1945 when production practically ceased due to specifications of the government-created Metals Reserve Company's board, which none of the deposits could meet. 59


About 1910 Jack Gray discovered an unusual mineral 3 miles from the summit of the California Pacific Railroad. Taking some samples to J. H. Lightfoot, local prospector and mine owner, he identified the mineral as fluorite.

The market for fluorite at that time was not very good, so nothing further was done. However, by 1917 the price had risen enough to make the deposit marketable. In July the property was leased by the Riverside Portland Cement Company. Floyd Brown and Lightfoot received the contract for mining and hauling the ore. By September, five men were working at the mine, and it was hoped that 200 tons a month could be shipped. The property was relocated as the Red Bluff Fluorspar Deposit, owned by Tom Ashby of Rice and others. During 1944, 130 tons were mined and shipped from the property. 60

Palen Mountains Gypsum

In 1904, just north of the Palo Verde Valley, Montague Mascot located 4 claims in the northwest end of the Palen Mountains for gypsum. This activity did not go unnoticed, and between January, 1905, and May, 1906, at least 13 claims were filed in the north end of the Palen Mountains, 2 miles south of Packard's Well, by H. R. Adams and others. The Palen Gypsum Deposit was purchased sometime before November, 1920, by Bob Montgomery of Rhyolite, Nevada fame, who organized the Standard Gypsum Company. On November 18, 1920, the Blythe Herald announced plans for the deposit that included a railroad from Packard's Well to a point on the Santa Fe west of what was then known as Rice Junction. In May, 1921, Montgomery himself was in the area inspecting his property, but there was no production from this remote deposit. Some of the gypsum in the Palen Mountains was claimed in the late 1930s by John Webb, and several former residents indicate that U. S. Gypsum purchased the Palen Mountain gypsum property in the late 1940s. 61


The events surrounding the discovery of Gypsum at Midland have become clouded with a great deal of local folklore, and even early accounts disagree. However, all of the accounts have one person in common--Floyd Brown.

In a March 12, 1911, Los Angeles Times article the discovery is recorded as follows::

It Is said that Brown discovered his gypsum deposits in the most peculiar fashion. On one of his stage journeys two years ago, he was forced to camp out, owing to the swollen condition of a mountain stream. In the night one of his horses strayed away and, shortly after daybreak after following it several miles, he found the animal in a gulch.

The horse had injured its leg and was unable to rise. Brown sat down on a stone some distance away wondering what he would do, when of a sudden, looking toward the top of the opposite gulch wall, he saw the gypsum. He marked the place and later, when time was more auspicious, located the claims which are bringing him a fortune. 61

In another version of the discovery, Camiel Dekens, a close friend and former employee of Brown, remembers that Henry Hartman, a prospector and a fellow responsible for the sinking of several desert wells “discovered the gypsum deposit at the place now called Midway on Brown's grubstake.” The fact that Hartman's signature appears on the January, 1907, claim notice with those of Floyd Brown, his father and wife tends to confirm Dekens' story. 63

After the initial discovery of gypsum in the Maria Mountains by Hartrnan and Brown, several additional claims were located by others. Jack Gray located a claim he named “Gray Gypsum” a few miles east of Brown's discovery. L. L. Schellenger, a mining man who had located gypsum in the Ironwood Mountains in 1906, located the Gypsum Mammoth claim just south of Brown's in January, 1908. These claims, as well as some located by P. A. English of the United States Gypsum Company in March, 1910, were the object of an extensive prospecting effort by the United States Gypsum Company in 1910 to determine the value of the property. 64

Once the United States Gypsum Company proved the quantity and quality of the deposit, they purchased the claims from Brown, Gray, and Schellenger. In March, 1911, Brown came to Los Angeles for final negotiations with the company and for payment. The Los Angeles Times reported that the selling price “was said to be $100,000.” However, Dekens' account seems somewhat more believable. He states that Hartman and Brown split the $7,000 that U.S. Gypsum paid, because Hartman found the deposit on Brown's grubstake. When his company bought the claims, English stated that he had spent over 3 years in California, Arizona, Nevada, and other western states looking for and testing gypsum deposits, and except for one other deposit, located in Nevada, the Maria Mountain deposits were the only ones which filled the bill for profitable gypsum operations. Over the next few years until June, 1913, the company continued to put down drill holes and prospect its property. However, this site lacked two important things: good transportation and water. 65

After many years of waiting, on April 1, 1915, work finally began on a railroad to the Palo Verde Valley from Blythe Junction. By June, 1916, the railroad had reached Mineral Station, 5 miles southeast of the gypsum deposit, and the line was complete to Blythe on August 9, 1916. 66

On June 1, 1916, as the railroad was being laid past the deposit, large scale plans were announced for the gypsum property. A railroad line 2 miles long was to be constructed at the cost of $35,000 connecting the mines with the yet-to-be constructed plant. The plant was to employ 200 people. At the same time as this announcement, 2 carloads of pipe arrived which were to be laid from the United States Gypsum Company's well to the mines. The company's well, drilled in the summer of 1914, was located 3 miles north of the deposit. Prior to this water was hauled from a well near present Blythe at enormous cost by mule teams.67

From late 1916 until the spring of 1917, a force of about 25 men were at the mine shipping gypsum. On May 26, 1917, the Palo Verde Valley Review announced, “Bids are now being submitted for a three-mile railroad grade from Santa Maria station of the California Southern to the mine, work to be completed by September 1.” The U. S. became involved in World War I in the spring of 1917 and these plans were shelved until 1925.68

In 1925 about a dozen men were employed in construction at the Maria Mountain gypsum deposit. The first thing constructed was the base for the 2,000 horsepower engine, and then the foundation for the crusher. The company hired an engineer to survey a line for a narrow-gauge railroad to the Brown Mine, but the company employees seem to have been responsible for its construction. 69

The first shipment of crushed gypsum left Midland October 2, 1925. During that year, 4,742 tons were sold. The capacity of the plant at Midland continued to grow as did the population with each new addition. In 1928 a calcining plant was added, expanding the product list to include plaster. In 1933 the first wallboard plant was added and many new employees were hired. There was a critical housing shortage at the plant, and many people lived in tents until new housing could be built. In 1935 Midland finally got a permanent Santa Fe Railroad station, replacing the boxcar which had been serving that purpose. About this same time tennis courts were built which served as a gathering place for the whole town. The town also had a softball team, with the Blythe team being its arch-rivals. A fourth board plant (the last of the significant additions to the property) was added in 1937. During the construction of the plant, the company built a huge building for housing the construction people, which later was converted to a community center. 70

In 1936, the Victor Mine opened on the site of the claims purchased from Schellenger. This mine was wholly underground. For many years, the rock was hauled out of the mine by 2 mules. Later, 2 battery-operated locomotives did this job. Rock from this mine was hauled to the plant in trucks. 71

During the Second World War, the need for quick construction of armed forces installations boosted the employment to an all-time peak of over 400. However, the attrition rate was huge; during one year more than 5,000 men passed through the plant. 72

The war was quite real to the people of Midland. On more than one occasion, the army of General Patton invaded the town. Tanks rumbled through the town as snipers hid under the buildings. One morning the workers woke up to find the main haulage road to the Victor Mine blocked by a raised mound of dirt, which tanks were using for crossing. The army refused to remove it, so the workers sat on the roof of the plant and watched the war games in the valley for a few days. 73

In 1946 the Brown Mine shut down and the narrow-gauge was torn up, with some of the rails being used as clothesline poles. The Victor also shut down (to be converted into a civil defense shelter in 1962), and an open pit was developed. A serious slump in building during the early 1950s forced the layoff of many employees, but things were looking better by the late 1950s. 74

During the period of 1956 to about 1960, many improvements were made in the living conditions at Midland. Television was cabled down from a neighboring hill, natural gas, and electricity was brought in from lines running through Blythe, and telephones were installed in each house. However, these improvements were enjoyed for only a short time, as the Midland plant was closed in December, 1966. 75

There were several factors influencing the closure of the Midland plant. Among them were poor quality of rock, high cost of transportation to and from this remote location, high cost of water (which was hauled in from Blythe), and a downturn in construction. Besides, U.S. Gypsum had a new plant at Plaster City which didn't suffer from some of these problems. 76

A Dallas company was awarded the contract for demolition of the plant and Paul Alewine, a resident of Parker, was going to move the houses and sell them. However, the city of Blythe, perhaps fearful of a sudden influx of substandard housing, put severe restrictions on moving any houses there. Many houses were moved to Parker where they sit derelict today. In 1973 the remaining 22 houses at Midland were burned down in a training exercise for Arizona and California firefighters. Today about all that is left is the chimney of the school, the pad for the tennis court and some of the foundations of the mill. 77

From the rubble a new industry has been established. “Palo Verde stone” is removed from the hills for use as decorative rock for building fronts, and is shipped from the site of former Midland.


The first rumors of uranium in the Maria Mountains began about September, 1954, and in November the word was out. The Palo Verde Mining Company had staked 241 claims for uranium between Midland and the Colorado River at the weir northeast of Blythe. By February, 1955, plans were announced to drill the main ore bed to find out how much there was. Although this uranium fever did not subside for a couple of years, nothing more was printed concerning this deposit in the local newspapers at that time. 78


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