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

San Bernardino County


Author's Note:

I have done considerable revision of this section of Desert Fever. For a more accurate and through history follow the following links.

silurian-shadow-mts-halloran-sprs .html


The north central portion of San Bernardino County has been mined longer than any other portion of the county. Turquoise located north of Halloran Springs was first mined by Indians, and after its rediscovery around the turn of the century was mined again. The rumored discovery of gold at Salt Springs in the 1820s and an authenticated discovery in 1849 establishes this as the oldest gold mine in the county.   Gold discovered at numerous locations resulted in rushes into the area and camps springing up; the most important discoveries were in the Halloran Springs-Old Dad Mountain area. Silver was first discovered in the Avawatz Mountains in 1870 and has been mined intermittently since. However, the silver mines near Riggs seem to have been more productive. Talc, iron and manganese are intermittent products from the area.

Stone Hammer Mine

The Baker area is not only the site of the oldest mine worked by Anglos in the California Desert, it may be the site of the oldest mine worked in the desert by anyone. With the exception of quarries used by Indians to obtain obsidian or other materials for tools and weapons, the turquoise mines north of Halloran Springs are among the few, and may be the only confirmed California Desert mines worked in prehistoric times. These mines were rediscovered in 1897, and ‘two aboriginal stone hammers were met with, as is usual at all the turquoise localities in the southwest and from this circumstance the location was named Stone Hammer Mine. 1  

Two companies, known as the Himalaya Mining Company and the Toltec Mining Company set to work on the property. The Himalaya Company sank a well and erected bunkhouses, working until March 1903. In the beginning of that year, 6 men were working. The Toltec Company operations were spread across 6 miles of desert and centered at 3 camps known as East Camp, Middle Camp and West Camp. They found it necessary to haul water a mile to the nearest camp. Stone hammers were found at a depth of 18 feet in their operations. Most of the turquoise from the operations was sent to New York. In 1900, it was estimated $28,000 worth of turquoise was shipped. Both companies' operations have been idle since 1903, and today this is a favorite collecting locality for rock hounds. 2

Salt Spring

The earliest recorded gold discovery in San Bernardino County occurred at Salt Springs, at a point on the Santa Fe-Salt Lake Trail. Persistent rumors have it that gold was panned in the gravel near here by the Mexicans that passed through in the lucrative trade between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles from 1826 until it ceased in 1848. In December, 1849, a Mr. Rowan and other members of a party of Mormons led by Jefferson Hunt discovered a quartz vein in a small canyon near the spring, in which they found nuggets, the largest about the size of a pea. In 1850, Frank Soule, later a state senator, relocated the gold deposit and took some samples back to San Francisco, where he organized a company that never developed. A Mormon party headed to San Bernardino in December, 1850 met William T. B. Stanford (Phineas Banning's brother-in-law) near the present site of Daggett, as he was hauling a mill to Salt Springs. Reportedly Ben Sublette, a “noted mountaineer” worked the mines from 1850 to 1852 with great success. However, after several men were killed by Indians, he abandoned the enterprise. 3

The mines were deserted from 1853 through 1859, but in September 1860, a Los Angeles company employed 30 men and had 3 arrastres running. Shortly before this, Charles Crismen acquired the engine and boiler from the mill and hauled it into the San Bernardino Mountains, for use at a lumber mill. Also in 1860, placer ground was discovered about 2 miles away and the gravel was hauled in wagons to the springs, indeed an expensive way to placer mine.

In 1863, the Amargosa Gold and Silver Mining Company of San Francisco acquired the mines at Salt Spring and in the fall of 1863, they installed a new mill that “met with good success for over a year.” The company, however, went broke and the mill was sold in a sheriff's auction to Augustus Spear. On October 29, 1864, news broke in Los Angeles concerning the death of three men who were caretakers at the property. One of the men, had been killed by Indians, and the mill had been burned. The other two men were found 20 miles away, having committed suicide by putting bullets through their skulls. Two months later on December 4, 1864, Dr. J. A. Rousseau's party passed the mine and saw the destroyed mill. There were 4 buildings standing at that time. 4

In the middle of the 1860s, a new company took over the mine and operated it successfully for a couple of months. Yet, even though they later were reported to have grossed $11,000 from one ore blast of two tons of ore, and during a period of one month, the five-stamp mill produced $58,000 in gold, in 1870 the property was idle again. 5

In September 1881, J. M. Seymore sold the mine at Salt Spring to the South Pacific Mining Company of New York. Rumor was that they intended to erect a twenty-stamp mill. In 1902, J. B. Osborne worked the mine. In a week's run of his five-stamp mill, $60,000 of gold was produced. A few years later, in 1909, Walter C. Mendenhall described the site as follows: “At the old mine there is a little canyon that descends sharply to the north, in which are the ruins of a twenty-stamp mill. Near the mill are two wells, protected by curbing and covered...” About 1920 another company attempted to reopen the mine, but after spending a great deal of money they abandoned the venture and sold the mill in 1939. 6


Avawatz, also spelled Ava Watts, Ivawatz, Iva Watch, and Ivanatz is probably derived from the Mohave word Avi-Ahwat meaning red boulder. Silver in the Avawatz Mining District was discovered about 1870 by John Moss, discoverer of the first mines in the Ivanpah district. Between then and September, 1872, the district proved to be rich in gold and silver, with the San Francisco Mine yielding values of $300 per ton. That next January (1873), Samuel Strong, a man with a large number of claims located there, came into San Bernardino with ore he expected to yield $3,000 per ton. He then left for Truckee for machinery he had there, which he intended “at once to forward to his mine.” 7

In August, the San Bernardino Argus described Avawatz in glowing terms: “Besides the New York, we have the Clark and Ivawatts Districts, yielding the richest ores on the coast.” In spite of these hyperboles regarding Avawatz, nothing more is heard from them during the 1870s, except a notice in January, 1877, where H. H. Cook was trying to collect money due him for assessment work performed from 1872 on the Ada Mine, owned by Frank Chase and E. F. Way. 8

Although there were no Ivanpahs or Bonanza Kings in the Soda Lake region south of the Amargosa River, there were numerous mines worked off and on by one or two people from the 1880s until the 1910s. In 1885 the Calico Print printed two letters that capture a glimpse of mining on the west side of Soda Lake and Silver Lake. Colonel Alonzo W. W. Smith at this time was living at Shenandoah Camp or Soda Springs. He had driven a 12- foot drift into a hill just southwest of the springs. The Iron King Mine, west of Silver Lake, at this time was owned by William Robinson and others of Daggett. There were numerous other mines and claims mentioned, but their locations are uncertain, and the operations appear to have been small. In fact, in 1885 it was reported that “there are only a few prospectors in the district.” 9

In 1887, seven mines or claims imaginatively named Numbers One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven, located on the highest part of the Avawatz Range, were active. The Number Three Mine shipped three tons of ore to Barber's Mill at Calico, yielding 66 ounces of silver per ton. Ore from the Number Five Mine was shipped to smelting works in Reno, Nevada. During this same year, about 8 miles north of Soda Spring and west of the present site of Baker, several mines were located on “Joe Dandy Hill.” The Gambetta Mine, consisting of a 12 foot shaft, was on the east side of the hill. On the north side of the hill was a 500 foot tunnel, and on the west was the Grant or Gift Claim and the Lydia Hetzel. These silver mines were inactive until 1890 and were probably relocated years later. 10

Frank Riggs, born in November of 1845 in Michigan, may have come to the Silver Lake area as early as 1880. The Alta Silver Mine established by Riggs was incredibly rich. Invariably he made all of his shipments by express, which, in 1903, cost him $135 per ton. In the early 1890s, before the construction of the California Eastern, he brought his ore to Daggett and then shipped it by express. In 1914, it was reported that no ore less than $500 per ton was shipped. Some of the shipments were an incredible $4,000 per ton. Riggs jealously guarded his rich mine with a heavy massive door that gave his mine the resemblance of a safe deposit vault. Riggs, with occasional employees, worked the mine fairly consistently until April, 1914. In April, 1914, Sarah Riggs, Frank's wife, died. Shortly after, in June, 1914, William Polland of the Riggs Mining Company leased the mine and almost immediately shipped seven sacks of ore by express and seven tons via the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.   Before 1914, $100,000 worth of silver was said to have been taken from the Alta, and by 1920, another $100,000. In 1920, Christopher Baker of Silver Lake leased the mine, employing 4 men. The mine was reported idle in 1931, but in 1939 a 1,700 foot tunnel was driven to intersect the vein. Also at that time a 1,500-foot tram connected the upper workings with the ore bin near camp. In 1943, three men were employed there.   11

The Five Points, or Five Point Mountain, lies about six miles southwest of Silver Lake, and has been the center of a great deal of mining activity. In 1885 mines named the Highland Mary, Sara Belle, Five Points, Clifton and James Blaine were active there. In February, 1911, the Garrison Investment Company was active in this locality and shipped 20 tons of ore. The T and T Mine “at Riggs” had a shaft down 125 feet in January, 1912. This lead-silver mine was doing so well the owners made substantial investments, to bring in more employees to develop the mine. By February they were building a bunkhouse and cookhouse, with plans for a boarding house as well.

Some of the other mines near Riggs that were busy were the Uncle Tom and the Blondie. The Uncle Tom, with a 1,200-foot tunnel, at that time employed 3 men. The Blondie Mine was being worked by Tom Cunningham and Joe V. Robinson. Robinson was one of the “pioneers” of the camp, having located claims in the 1880s. The Blondie, in June of 1911, had shipped a carload of ore, which netted $67 per ton. 12

One other property that was being mined in 1911 was the Jumbo claim of the Wonder (or Wanderer) Mine group 5 miles northwest of Halloran Springs. James S. Hyten with a Mr. Dunwoody worked this mine near Washington Wells. In 1931, rich gold was discovered northeast of Halloran Springs at the Telegraph Mine and re-awakened the whole area. At that time, Mr. Hyten leased his mine to a company which employed 4 men. Today, Washington Wells has been renamed Hyten Well after the man who spent so much time there. 13

The Halloran Springs-Old Dad Mountain area was the site of gold discoveries around 1900, with interest lasting until about 1914. With no doubt, the biggest name during this period was the Paymaster or Whitney Mine in the northern part of Old Dad Mountain. The point at which the Mojave Road rounded this northern tip of Old Dad Mountain was called Point of Mountain. Odometer surveys in 1866 and 1867 determined Point of Mountain was nearly midway between Soda Lake and Marl Springs, roughly 17 miles away from them both. When gold was discovered near there about 1900, the camp that was established was known as Seventeen Mile Point, a name that has survived until today on the topographic sheet and a sign near the site. 14

In April, 1909, the Precious Metals Development Company was formed by some Los Angeles men to develop the Eaton group of claims (later known as the Whitney Mine) south of Seventeen Mile Point. It was reported they then were making arrangements for a water line from Indian Springs and the installation of a mill. By February, 1911, the mill was running. In January, 1912, J. T. Keough, manager of the mine, came into Silver Lake with a gold brick weighing 32 ounces, the result of a 72 hour run of the mill. The mine continued until 1914, when it was closed on account of litigation after having produced from $50,000 to $100,000. In 1930, another company attempted to reopen the mine, installing a two-inch pipeline to a well on the east shore of Soda Lake. In 1952, three men were working this mine. 15

Gold was discovered by 1905 at what was later known as the Brannigan Mine but real interest did not develop until March, 1930, when M. A. Sisley and John Herrod found some high grade gold ore and relocated the claims. The Brannigan was worked until 1935, and yielded several railroad cars of ore averaging as much as $110 per ton. The Oro Fino, discovered in the 1890s, was reactivated, and from 1930 to 1943 produced about $50,000 in gold. 16

The largest non-metallic mine in the area is the Silver Lake Talc Mine just east of Riggs Siding. The original claims were located in 1911 and 1912. In 1918, the Pacific Coast Talc Company acquired two of the claims, and erected a mill in Los Angeles. They operated the mine until 1941. Between 1942 and 1953, the Pacific Coast Talc and Clay Company operated the property. Sierra Camp, in 1953, consisted of about four buildings. 17

In October, 1906, a gold rush began to the nearby camp of Crackerjack (or Day Break as shown on one 1906 map), located about 2 miles southwest of Cave Springs. Soon, as one observer reported, men were coming from “Goldfield, Bullfrog, Rhyolite, and other southern Nevada camps.” The new miners discovered they were not the first ones to the area, finding “many scattered arrastres,” proof, at least in their estimation, that “Spanish miners worked the surface nearly a century ago.” To lend support to claims that were being made about the importance of this new location, in November, a gold brick worth $1,200 was produced from Crackerjack ore. On February 26, 1907 a post office was established for the town composed of “tent saloons and tent stores.” O. J. Fisk, an enterprising merchant at the railroad supply town of Silver Lake, operated a stage line to the camp, and in June, 1907, the Crackerjack-Bonanza Company was readying a shipment of 450 sacks of high grade ore for the smelters. 18

In October, 1907, 2 miles northwest of Crackerjack at Dry Camp, a “new” camp was founded. Avawatz or Avawatz City grew out of the ill feelings over the firing of a Chinese cook at Crackerjack. With the formation of the new “city,” the Turner Mercantile Establishment building was moved, as was the post office, although the latter was not officially moved until August, 1908, upon the demise of Crackerjack. Mail continued to be delivered to Avawatz until December, 1910. 19

News about Crackerjack is quite scarce in 1908, in part due to new discoveries at Hart, just west of Searchlight, Nevada. However, some work was continuing at Crackerjack, for in July, 1909, the main shaft was down to 200 feet with a level being driven. 20

In 1909, there were two other camps in the Avawatz Range known as Harper's North Camp and Harper's South Camp. North Camp was in Arrastre Gulch, at a spring almost due west of Riggs, and may have been the camp for the Crown Mine. The Crown silver mine was worked in 1908 and made a small shipment of ore. The property was dormant until the end of 1917 when there was an attempt to re-open the mine. A telegram to Goldfield announced a new strike, and a rush to Avawatz was started, but ended abruptly when it was discovered the Avawatz Crown Company had staked all of the area. 21

In April, 1907, a camp was being built north of Cave Spring at Denning Spring, named for Frank Denning, a resident prospector. Over 60 prospectors and miners were in the vicinity and there was talk of beginning an automobile stage service from the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad at China Ranch. The ore at the prospects showed gold, lead, silver and copper. In February, 1911, Harry Wallace employed 4 men at his mine near there. 22

Quail Spring, west of Denning Spring, was the scene of new discoveries in 1907. In July, high grade silver-bearing copper ore was under development, but it was high grade gold 1 1/2 miles northeast of the springs that created the biggest excitement. The strike was made by Milt Armstrong, who discovered ore that ran a reported $8 a pound. By October, a “grand rush” had begun that lasted at least until December. Armstrong had a camp here through 1912, and during 1911 and 1912, there were several miners working small mines nearby. 23

Armstrong's discovery was not the first mining at Quail Spring. In March, 1895, Tom and William McFarlane, and Gus Yager discovered rich rock showing free gold on a lone butte near the springs. They named their mine the Lone Star, and the Lone Star Mining District encompassed the whole region. 24

Within a short time, another metal attracted some attention to the area. At Owl Hole Spring, the Owls Head Mine was the source of somewhat more than 15,000 tons of manganese ore. About one-fifth of this, averaging 45 percent manganese, was mined from 1914 to 1918. During this time, ore was hauled to Riggs Siding on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad by a Yuba Ball Tread Tractor. The remaining four-fifths was mined between 1941 and 1946, and averaged 20 percent manganese. Additional tonnage resulted from operations that continued until the fall of 1950. 25

Cave Spring was long a favorite camping spot for travelers and prospectors that operated small mines nearby. In 1925, Adrian Egbert erected a house here, where he sold groceries, gas and oil for the needs of travelers.   Egbert stayed here providing this service until at least 1939.   26


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