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

San Bernardino County



During its early history, the southeastern part of San Bernardino County was inseparably linked with the Colorado River. The early mines in the area were seldom more than a two days walk from this important transportation route. Soldiers stationed on the river are credited with the first discoveries in the Dead and Whipple Mountains, although it seems that they were not responsible for any serious mining.

There were flurries of activity in the 1860s and 1880s for copper and silver, but with the exception of the Ibex Gold Mine in the early 1890s, the most serious mining activity was for copper and gold early in this century. The centers of activity were the Whipple, North Sacramento and Turtle Mountains. There has been mining for manganese during both world wars. With the high price of gold, the Savahia Mining Company of Las Vegas in 1979 reopened the Savahia Mine in the Whipple Mountains, while ten million tons of copper ore, blocked out in the Copper Basin area, sit unmined.

Whipple Mountains

Within the Whipple Mountains area, the Chemehuevi District extended from opposite the Bill Williams River to the La Paz ferry and “from twenty to fifty miles” back from the Colorado River. Immediately north of it is a “river bottom of about six miles in length and three miles in width.” John Jennings, a miner in Copper Basin in the early part of this century, related that Pete McGuire told him the area was “located and worked by soldiers as far back as 1862.” Copper Basin is within the Chemehuevi District and is probably where the majority of mining took place. In May, 1863, the district was said to contain “rich copper ores with a small percentage of silver. There are a few men there prospecting but there is no regular working.” In November it was claimed the ore was “so rich in copper that it can be pared off with a pen knife.” In that month the “Chimawave Consolidated Mining Company” was working on two claims or lodes known as the Union and the Colorado. A bar of metal weighing almost 6 pounds was sent to San Francisco, smelted from 14 pounds of ore. In March, 1864, two companies, the Monte Cristo Copper Mining Company and the Black Mining Company were incorporated for nearly a million dollars each. However, nothing more is heard until the 1870s. 35

In 1875, John S. Jennings came west and visited Copper Basin. He found one white man, Pete McGuire, on the California side of the Lower Colorado, holding property that later was owned by the Copper Basin Mining Company. McGuire came to San Francisco in the “early days,” probably meaning the rush of 1849, then went to Signal and the Rawhide mines on the Bill Williams River when they blossomed, before drowning in 1904 in the Colorado. 36

The Black Metal Silver Mine probably was first discovered by a Chemehuevi Indian in 1879, and sold to McGuire and the Levi brothers of Signal, although another story claims McGuire found the mine. Thousands of dollars worth of high grade ore, grossing $200 to $400 per ton was shipped from the Black Metal Landing, where it was loaded onto the river steamboat, eventually bound for Swansea, Wales. Charles Battye recalls that “During his brief season of prosperity, Pete declared his intentions to equip his faithful burro with silver shoes, but whether or not he did so is not now remembered. At that time he had some financial dealings with an established mercantile firm over in Signal, Mojave County, Arizona, and perhaps they dissuaded him from carrying out his high-flown idea.” 37

In 1881, there was a store and a saloon at Black Metal Landing as well as a thriving little mining camp. Also, around that time the Grand Central Mine was located in the Copper Basin and a five-stamp mill was installed, but the ore proved too refractory for amalgamation and the mill was later moved to the Blossom Mine near Yuma. 38

About 1886, Charley Monaghan, Frank Murphy, Pete Murphy and Pete McGuire owned the Black Metal and did a small amount of work in it until 1890. During January, 1889, ore from the mine had assayed a fabulous 2,442 ounces of silver and 41 percent copper per ton. 39

About 1887 Colonel I. R. Dunkelberger had a “large stamp mill” installed at his Rincon Copper Mine, by Mr. J. C. Hoy of Needles. The Rincon was on the river about 5 miles north of the Black Metal Landing. The ill-fated ten-stamp mill only ran a short time. 40

In 1889 there was renewed interest in the area. In April, it was noted that Arizona miners had drifted into the Whipple Mountains and were chloriding ore. Several parties held claims in the vicinity, and the whole area began to be known, at least in some circles, as Rincon. The owners of property near the Rincon Mine were reportedly “making arrangements to have a smelter erected in that vicinity” at a time when clamor for a smelter was coming from the owners of the newly discovered mines in the Old Woman Mountains. 41

An agent for a “powerful English Syndicate” was based in Needles to keep the company posted on California mining news. Probably three mining experts from this syndicate were the individuals who accompanied Isaac Polhamus of the Colorado River Steam Navigation Company on a tour of the mines from Yuma to Needles in January, 1890. One of the mines of interest was the Black Metal. 42

The early part of the 1890s was very quiet, probably due in part to the fall in the price of silver. However, the Manning property directly across from Empire Landing was located in 1893, and John S. Jennings located the Klondike about 3 miles up the river from Rincon Flat in 1897. The Klondike was extensively worked prior to 1911 and produced hundreds of tons of gold ore running more than $100 per ton. A mill was at the property around the turn of the century, and was mapped in 1927. 43

Adjoining the Klondike, the Golden State Mining Company in February, 1911, had a “fine showing of free milling ore.” More importantly, it was the center of a rush to the area a year later. In late January, 1912, Col. Kit Carson of the company brought an $8 nugget into Parker, and numerous smaller nuggets were found by employees of the Golden State Company. This generated considerable excitement and numerous parties of prospectors went out from Parker to stake claims.   44

Overall, there was a high level of activity during this time in the vicinity, and this only added to the interest. Ewing and Sutter, owners of the Klondike, were sacking ore and had 10 tons ready to ship. In the vicinity of the Black Metal, Superintendent Clyde Stewart had a force of men at work on the Eaton property. Miles Garrett, who was developing property in Whipple Wash, had a well installed near his camp in February, 1911. There was so much activity that soon a townsite named Whipple had been located and lots laid off. 45

To publicize the district, O. T. James and F. A. Rendant, two Nevada prospectors who had claims in Whipple Wash, left for a trip to Los Angeles with two burros packed with 150 pounds of high grade ore taken from the February, 1912, strike in Whipple Wash. They intended to walk along the Santa Fe and stop at the principal points, advertising the new gold camp by panning the ore. After arriving in Los Angeles they planned to exhibit the rich ore in the window of the ticket office. 46

The Humboldt Mining and Milling Company, of Humboldt, Kansas, purchased a second-hand Huntington mill which was delivered to Needles. D. T. Jackson went to Needles to attend the loading of the mill on the steamer Iola about May 30, 1912. The mill was piloted down the river by Captain Williams, unloaded at Drennan Landing near Rincon Landing, then installed in Whipple Wash. Things just did not work out, for no sooner was the mill installed than the employees levied claims against the property for unpaid wages.   47

June was a busy month for Captain Williams, for as soon as he had shipped the Humboldt Company's mill, another mill arrived in Needles destined for the Whipple Wash area. In March, H. B. Hull examined the area for his company, and without delay they decided to install a ten-ton mill, manufactured by the Histed Company and working much like an arrastre. During late June, the mill was moved to a site near Rincon Landing, and the work of assembling the machinery and erecting camp buildings began at once. The mill was erected at Billy Smith Landing and in October, 1912, it was, after a considerable number of small delays, finally ready for a test run, with full operation expected to begin after November 1. What happened after this is unclear, but nothing more is heard from the Whipple Wash area during this decade, except a note on October 2, 1913, stating that the mines were “laying dormant waiting for a large up-to-date plant to treat the large tonnage of ore.” 48

At the Rincon Mine in 1922, there was a small twenty-five ton experimental sulphuric acid leaching plant on the banks of the river, where the crushed ore (implying a means to crush the ore) was leached and the copper precipitated on scrap iron. About 80 tons of ore was shipped to the Humboldt smelter, yielding 5 percent copper and $22 per ton in gold. The Black Metal Mine was reactivated shortly before World War II, but little was done. 49

Copper Basin

Mining in Copper Basin is what sparked interest in the Whipple Mountains during this century. As was mentioned above, Pete McGuire is credited with some of the first locations here. However, about 1899, Joseph L. Curtis relocated the Copper Basin Mine. During the years he owned it, he expended thousands of dollars in development work. In November or December of 1904, the Copper Basin Mining Company was organized with $200,000 in stock to raise more capital for development, with Curtis as one of the principal stockholders. T. M. Drennan also was a principal stockholder. The company held the Copper Basin and the Black Metal mines. The Copper Bain Mining Company in October, 1906, had a 65 foot shaft on its property, and was reportedly opening the Black Metal Mine. 50

At least two other companies were working nearby during 1904: the Mount Whipple Gold Mining Company, adjoining the Copper Basin Mine, and the Colorado River Gold and Copper Company. These three companies, along with the White Eagle Mining Company, consolidated their interests and formed a company to build a seventy-five-ton smelter on the Colorado. It is not known if this smelter was in fact constructed, but a 1927 map shows a structure labeled the California Gold and Copper Mining Company on he river just south of Copper Basin. 51

One stimulus for mining in Copper Basin was the anticipated arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, then working its way across Arizona. But the Santa Fe did not show up in 1904.   In fact, it was nearly 6 years later that it reached Parker. This delay took much momentum out of mining activity in the Copper Basin area, but with the arrival of the railroad, things picked up nicely. 52

In March, 1911, a new road was nearly complete into the Basin. The road was put in by Harvey Hon to connect to the mine he and A. W. Martin owned. A month, earlier, the Bowman brothers were erecting an ore bin and were preparing to make shipments dependent on the completion of the road. On March 8, the road was complete, but nearly a year later, in December, 1912, the Bowman brothers were “taking out an initial shipment of ore.” Mr. Hon, with the Hon Mining Company of Los Angeles, was ambitiously spending money with the hope of a return. He left Parker in May for his mine with a load of lumber and supplies, planning to continue work all summer sinking the 100-foot shaft another 200 feet. 53

In June the Grand Central Mine, which as already mentioned was located in the early 1880s, shipped eight tons of high grade gold ore to the Humboldt smelter via the Iola . 54

Although some small scale mining continued throughout 1912, the highlight of that year was in December when Wesley Martin, a retired cattleman from Mohave County, Arizona, jumped the claims of the Copper Basin Mining Company. Apparently things were cleared up, for a little more than a year later about 22 tons of ore were shipped from the mine. 55

Just west of Monument Peak, in the Copper Basin area there was considerable mining activity of another kind during World War I. The Hidden Treasure and Hidden Cross mines, and adjoining them to the southeast, the Red Cloud, were developed for manganese. These 3 mines produced a total of 160 tons of ore. With the renewed demands of World War II, they were again active. On the Red Cross, renamed the Moulton, a tramway was installed and 5 men were employed in the early 1940s. 56

Savahia Peak Area

West of Copper Basin, probably one of the first mines to be developed was the American Eagle. A somewhat confusing account in 1905 linked McGuire to the discovery of the claims, perhaps as early as 1875. At that time a large quantity of high grade gold and copper ore was shipped to Swansea, Wales. In 1902, five men were employed at the mine, and by 1905, the American Eagle boasted a 110 foot deep shaft with 200 feet of additional underground workings. In 1908, they were completing arrangements to begin work again, and it appears they did, sinking the shaft to 300 feet and making a small shipment, with which they failed to break even. In 1912, the property was leased to James S.   Douglas, and it was last operated in the winter of 1918-1919. 57

The town of Vidal was founded as a trading post in 1907, and soon after, Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman, and his wife settled there. He had a small mine in the Whipples on which the deepest shaft on the property was 100 feet. Earp operated his mine intermittently until he died in 1929 at the age of 80. In 1971, his house still stood “in the shifting sands and tumbleweeds east of the highway.” 58

Other mines worthy of mention in the vicinity are the Tuscarora, the Savahia, and the D&W. The D&W, named after the locators Dayton and Wilbur, was by far the biggest. The D&W was incorporated in 1906 and work then began in earnest. The main shaft probably reached about 300 feet during 1907. In November, 1909, good ore was showing up at considerable depth, and by 1911, the shaft had reached 700 feet. While cutting a drift on the 700 foot level, a vein of free milling gold ore, running $10 to $14 a ton was discovered. Additional work on the other levels also discovered this vein. Up to that point, work had concentrated on a vein carrying mostly copper values. In October, two shifts were at work, after being closed down from June to September because of the heat. 59

There was some talk of installing a mill as early as January, 1912, and after a busy season of mining, when the mine closed for the summer of 1912 the D&W Company felt enough ore had been developed to warrant a mill. Water was to be obtained from the third level of the mine. 60

Grading began that November for the mill, which was to arrive in “Vidal most any day,” but in January of 1913 the machinery for the mill still had not arrived. That did not dampen spirits much, as plans were announced for a real celebration party when the mill began on March 1, 1913. Two Pullman coaches were to be run from Los Angeles with the stockholders and friends, an estimated 200 people. This bash was going to last two days “and everyone is assured the time of their lives. There will be plenty to eat, and plenty to drink... Besides a barbecue, there will be dancing.” March came and went, and it was not until November 6, 1913, that the mill began operation. While three shifts worked for awhile, the operation soon slowed. The mill was idle from the beginning of 1914 until April, 1916, when work resumed on a small scale. 61

The G. A. M. Mines Company, with G. A. Marsh and R. C. Sanfley of Parker as principal stockholders, at least during 1911 and 1912, owned the Savahia Mine. In February, 1911, the Cedar Rapids Claim was leased to Bert Hitt, mentioned elsewhere as a co-discoverer of gold at Hart in 1907. He soon was sacking gold ore that ran better than $100 a ton from the bottom of a 30 foot shaft. His brother, Clark Hitt, who was still living in Hart, was going to join Bert and help out. This ore was shipped in the fall to the El Paso smelter, and returned a good profit to the G. A. M. Mines as well as to the Hitts. In November, 1912, work resumed at the mine for another year. 62

After tracing stringers of ore for two years, in early 1912, John Jarvis of the Tuscarora Mining and Milling Company discovered a huge fissure vein 7 feet wide. He sank a 30 foot shaft at one promising point, and 2,000 feet away, dug a prospect pit at another outcropping of the vein. The announcement of this stirred interest among stockholders, and funds were obtained to continue development. By December, the shaft had been sunk to 100 feet and the company was going to open the ledge at several places. By July, 1913, they made some shipments of ore to the Douglas smelter. Five men were employed at the property when geologists from the California State Mining Bureau visited the property in 1916. 63

Freeman District

North of the Whipple Mountains and south of the Irataba District was the Freeman Mining District. In October, 1863, it was described as “quite a large one (district) containing many leads, but at present not an inhabitant, all its miners have skedaddled to the new placers about one hundred and twenty miles east of here. No work has been done in this district.” The district would have included the Chemehuevi Mountains, and it is possible that it went as far west as the Old Woman Mountains. The above is the only description found of early mining here, and there has been little subsequent activity. 64

Marengo District

In the same year of 1863 the Marengo District, to the south of the Freeman District, was described as follows: “This like the Freeman its neighbor, is without an occupant, save its native Indians. I think it has no recorded leads.” Except for some prospecting for niter just after the turn of the century, nothing further developed in the area. 65

The Irataba Mining District, heralded as the “richest copper district on the Colorado,” was probably discovered early in 1863 by soldiers from Fort Mojave. Named after the chief of the Mojave Indians at the time, the district extended from Fort Mojave to the Needles and about 25 miles west of the river. Discovery of the district is also attributed to the Colorado Prospecting and Mining Company, a group of men who spent three months examining country along the Colorado River. In an advertisement, the company listed 12 mines that were located. It is likely that discoveries made by the soldiers from nearby Fort Mojave lead the Colorado prospectors out of Fort Mojave to look for and find good copper ore in mid-August. In November, the Pocahontas Copper and Silver Mining Company was incorporated for $200,000, with most of the same people as directors that headed the Colorado Prospecting and Mining Company. 66

The majority of the mines in the district lay from 2 1/2 to 6 miles from the river, in sight of Fort Mojave. Steamboats ran regularly to the fort and a good road connected the mines with the river. Before the end of the year, Irataba City was established 2 miles below the fort, high on a gravel bluff safe from the river, but where boats could land at all stages of the river. 67

Despite the encouraging developments, only 3 shallow shafts had been sunk at the mines by January, 1864. Within the next year, however, the district was transformed from a drowsing interest to wide-awake excitement, though the center of activity seems to have moved as well. William R. Stiles arrived in Wilmington from the mines and wrote a letter to the Wilmington Journal on May 17, 1865. In his letter he indicated the Irataba District was 20 miles from Fort Mojave, and 6 to 9 miles from the river, a great deal farther than was reported two years earlier. 68

Work began on the Evening Star Mine on November 19, 1864, and by January, five mining companies were at work. On a couple of lodes, workers intended to go to a depth of 50 or 75 feet. Although water was a real problem, as it had to be packed 6 miles from Sacramento Springs. By April the Evening Star, and Long Island companies each had 20 or 30 tons of ore ready to ship, and the Brother Jonathan Company had a 40 foot shaft. 69

In May, the number of active lodes or mines had swelled to 12. The Evening Star now boasted a 60 foot shaft which yielded 12 tons of 50 percent copper ore. This was shipped down the river and to San Francisco. The Long Island had a 25-foot shaft, and its operators too, had shipped 12 tons of ore. Mr. C. C. Nason was the recorder, and lived in the district. There may have been excellent copper ore here, but shipping costs ate up the profits. Operators could not make money on anything that ran less than 30 percent copper. In January, 1866, a few men were still in the district, shipping small, very high grade quantities of ore to a firm on the Bill Williams River. 70

The only other activity in the area took place during World War I in the Dead Mountains, 2 miles west of Fort Mojave. At that time, one of the copper prospects that carried some manganese was mined. In the spring of 1918, a severe rainstorm uncovered several discontinuous bunches of manganese ore, and T. E. Gallagher and J. W. Arrington of Needles removed several hundred pounds of ore. 71

North Sacramento Mountains

In another part of the district, the Ibex Mine, 3 miles southwest of Ibex (Ibis) Siding, attracted a great deal of attention in the late 1880s. The quartz ore was reported to be so rich that gold literally shook out when handled carelessly. In April, 1893, the new Needles Reduction Works started up on ore from the Ibex. By May, 1894, the Ibex had its own ten-stamp mill, situated near the mine, and a well was sunk to supply water for the new mill. In September, a six-day run of the mill yielded $8,400 in gold. The property was idle in 1895, but some mining resumed in 1896. 72

In 1906, an attempt was made to recover placer gold from Klinefelter Wash just east of the Ibex. Operators even shipped in engines and pumps, but their efforts did not prove rewarding. 73

Northeast of Goldbend (see the next section) while that camp was drawing attention late in 1909, the Kane Copper Company”‘resumed” operations at the Josie K. Mine. Even though they boasted of an 87-foot shaft, little work was done subsequently. However, gold found near this mine early in 1908 by Mr. C. E. Kane did attract some attention. 74


With the discovery in early 1906 of gold southwest of Needles by C. H. McClure, numerous prospectors began to flock to the area. In January or February, McClure bonded the Gold Dollar Claim to the California Mining Company. During the summer, they made a shipment to the Needles smelter which yielded an amazing 13 ounces of gold a ton. By December, 1906, plans were being drawn up for the townsite of Goldbend by the California Hills Company. In conjunction with these plans, they were to immediately begin work on a boarding house, company office, other buildings, and a deep well for a water supply. Nothing more is heard in 1907, but in November, 1908, it was reported that Goldbend was attracting much attention. There were 6 shafts on the California Hills property, the deepest being 112 feet. Fifteen miners were employed.   75

Turtle Mountains-Sunrise District

Perhaps as early as 1862, rich gold and copper deposits were being worked in the Turtle Mountains. While little is known about this early activity and the precise date of its beginning these mines were located when the nearby Planet and Rawhide mines in Arizona were in operation which suggests a period from 1862 to 1884. 76

About 1900, some of the old mines were reactivated. Also, a number of new prospects were developed and several mining camps were established. In the northern part of the range, the Sunrise District was located, suggesting that the old mines were located in the southern part of the Turtle Mountains. 77

Sunrise Camp was established in 1906, in a remote spot on the west central part of the Stepladder Mountains (then known as the Sheep Mountains). In January, 1898, J. C. Clennel, metallurgist for the Charles Butters Company of Johannesburg, South Africa, took some 2,000 pounds of rock for testing. He was pleased at his findings, and offered the owners, the Monumental Gold Mining and Milling Company of St. Louis, Missouri, a liberal offer to begin developing the mines. Some work was accomplished, including the sinking of a 120 foot shaft in which water was struck. This was the source of water for the camp that sprang up here in April, 1906. 78

Carson's Well on the north end of the range used to be known as Mesquite Springs, until a man named Kit Carson, who claimed to be the grandson of the original Kit Carson named the spring after himself. In 1912, this Kit Carson was involved with the mining in the Whipple Wash area. Tom Schofield had a mine named the Mountain King 4 miles   from this well in the 1930s. 79

In 1908, the Horn Copper Mine on the southeastern side of the range, was active. In 1951 and 1952, about 200 tons of ore was mined from this property, and it was active again in 1958. 80


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