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

San Bernardino County


James Crossman indicates that mining commenced in the New York Mountains in 1861 when prospectors looking for another Comstock stumbled on a rich silver lode. During 1862, according to Crossman, a small mill was erected, but it was burned down by Indians not long after. It is curious that newspapers, which gave the nearby Rock Spring Mining District much attention, make no mention of this mine and mill. 156

The New York Mining District was organized April, 1870, with Thomas McMahan as recorder. It embraced 15 square miles on the south slope of the New York Mountains. Nevada claimed the area, perhaps accounting for the extreme silence in the San Bernardino papers regarding the area, for it was not until the spring of 1873 that any news is forthcoming from the area. In May, 1873, Bennett and Company of San Francisco were making arrangements to erect a mill at their mine during the summer. 157

At the same time, the Montezuma Mine was attracting the attention of the curious. While prospecting in 1872, Matt Palen discovered an old shaft filled with debris, near the Elgin Company mine. Upon cleaning it to the depth of 100 feet, the walls were said to glisten with crystals and were bright with silver, yet no tools of any kind were found. The mine was offered as “evidence” of Spanish occupation and certainly not the only “evidence” to be uncovered in the desert (see sections on Rock Springs, Ivanpah and Dale.) Indeed the Spanish reportedly carried out the practice of filling mine shafts with rocks when they intended to leave them unattended for long periods of time.

Further “evidence” of the antiquity of mining in the area is furnished by the published account of a “reliable French gentleman” named Eugene D'Estey who, “… while hunting mountain sheep in the Rock Spring range, struck upon an old trail, long in disuse (a few fresh signs were visible, he followed the trail some distance) in places it was worn a foot deep in the solid granite, in waves similar to the trail crossing the Isthmus of Darien. His foot struck against something that gave him intense pain, with a muttered sacra at this mishap he stooped to examine and report on the wound inflicted upon his toes (which were protruding from his old boots) when, lo, and behold! There lay a silver brick, coated with mold and mildew as though it had lain in some damp place since the building of Solomon's Temple.” 158

Though apparently never seriously worked, the location of the Montezuma was still known in 1890, when James Crossman described it as : “a strong vein, carrying an abundance of ore rich in silver, galena and carbonates of lead. Though but little developed, the camp possesses every facility for economical workings, wood (nut pine and juniper) being abundant with water sufficient for practical purposes. The water level is reached at a depth of from three hundred to four hundred feet. Elevation five thousand feet above tidewater; distance from A and P Railroad, thirty miles, over a natural highway of easy grade.” The mine had not faded from memory beyond the turn of the century, for in 1904 Ingersoll briefly summarized earlier accounts. 159

In early 1872 the Elgin Mines Company of Elgin, Illinois, dispatched a prospecting party to the New York Mountains, with a Dr. Winchester along as assayer. The party set out from their property in Eldorado Canyon, and discovered some abandoned mines in the New York Mountains that looked quite promising, lending credence to at least part of Crossman's story. About a year later, 5 tons of ore was shipped to San Francisco, and grossed $468 per ton. 160

All of this activity by the Elgin Company took place virtually without the knowledge of the residents of San Bernardino. One can imagine their surprise in August, 1873, when seven teams passed through from Los Angeles to the New York Mountains, each loaded with 9,000 pounds of freight. The cargo consisted of a 40 horsepower steam engine and a boiler to power a fifteen-stamp Stevens crusher. The San Bernardino Guardian reported on December 6, 1873, that the mill was “at work and business improving.” On January 24, 1874, the mill was going “full blast,” and the first silver bricks were brought into San Bernardino during the middle of February by Dr. Winchester.

The mill and in particular this bullion is historic. The Guardian reported these were the first silver bars produced in the county, and the mill was the “pioneer mining mill in the country [area].” This statement is in a way perplexing, for there had been reports of Matt Palen erecting a reduction works in the Macedonia District a year earlier and somewhat conflicting accounts of mills at Ivanpah as early as March, 1871. Maybe these others are more in the realm of wishful thinking than fact. In any case, this “historic mill” proved to be inadequate in treating the ore, and shortly was shut down. By May, 1874, Dr. Winchester settled in San Bernardino to practice medicine. A little later the McFarlanes acquired the mill and moved it to Ivanpah. 162

In 1880 and 1881 there was a modest revival of activity. Andy Fife, in April, 1880, arrived in Colton to get teams to haul his mill from Lone Valley, Nevada to the New York District. One month later a party composed of San Francisco men headed to the mountains to try and relocate mining claims they had abandoned several years before. In March of 1881, the San Bernardino Valley Index listed eight silver mines. The Keystone, Gladiator, Long George, Centennial, Texas, Kiestler, McBride, and Duplex, all of which had modest development work done. Also listed were the Summit, Alto Copper, Vanderbilt and Pinkey copper mines. 163

Between 1881 and March, 1885, the Centennial had a shaft sunken from 20 to 80 feet and a 230 foot tunnel to connect the bottom of the shaft. To accomplish this work, 4 men were employed, and in 1885, ore was shipped to Pueblo, Colorado via the A. and P. Railroad, 25 miles away. 164

Isaac C. Blake, a Denver mining man, saw the mineral potential of the New York Mountains and the Yellow Pine District of southern Nevada. In the early 1890s he implemented a dream that involved mining, milling, and hauling in the area. On April 22, 1892, the Needles Reduction Company, a mill built by Blake in Needles, began operations. To supply transportation from the mines to his mill, he built the Nevada Southern Railroad, from Goffs north to the New York Mountains. Construction for the railroad began in January, 1893, and was completed to Barnwell in July 1893.165

Some time in the early 1890s, Blake purchased a group of eight silver mines, probably the eight listed above, and named them the New York Mine. In March and April, 1893, eighty men, living in dugouts and tents, were busy developing his mine and making roads. The ore was being stored until the railroad reached its terminus. It was claimed large shipments of high grade ore were made, however, the panic of 1893 and the subsequent fall of silver prices silenced the operations not long after. 166

The New York Mine came back to life in 1907 after being tied up in litigation with the failure of Isaac Blake's empire. On April 13, 1907, Mr. N. P. Sloan and associates purchased the mine and formed the Sagamore Mining Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mining commenced at once, and while deepening one of the shafts, the company encountered ore that ran 200 ounces of silver a ton. By July over 100 sacks of high-grade ore had piled up. 167

In early 1908, the fifty-ton roller-concentrating mill was erected. However the property was only active about 6 weeks during that year. In 1913, tungsten was discovered here, and a small concentration mill was erected. During 1914, 15 men were working the mine, and they continued mining until 1917, when it again became dormant. 168


At the same time that all of Blake's energy and money was being poured into the Eastern Mojave, the ephemeral but thriving town of Vanderbilt literally sprang up overnight. The gold at Vanderbilt was discovered by Bob Black, A Piute Indian, about 1890. However, he “had the usual experience of great discoverers and inventors, one wanted to go with him and see the prospect.” Eventually, he interested M. M. Beatty, who had an Indian wife, a member of the same “family group” as Bob Black, and after whom Beatty, Nevada is named. It was Beatty who staked the first claim. 169

In 1892, Beatty was joined by Mr. Allen Green Campbell of Salt Lake City in developing the Boomerang Mine, and they had a 100 foot shaft sunk by the end of the year. Joe Taggart, George Hall and James Patton owned the Chippy and the Gold Bronze. That fall Campbell, Patton and Taggart announced that both groups would erect ten-stamp mills and not long after, a rich strike by Taggart sent people flocking to Vanderbilt. On March 18, after only ninety days had elapsed, the town had swelled to 200 men, with but 18 regularly employed. The camp was recorded as being located in a narrow wash “with about a dozen tents, consisting of one lodging house, three boarding houses, two saloons, one general merchandise store and a Chinese laundry.” There was also a Chinese restaurant. One of the saloons, the only two-story building, was run by Virgil Earp, the one-armed brother of Wyatt Earp. The general store was run by William McFarlane and housed the post office after it was established on February 1, 1893.170

In March, 1893, two transactions were made, although accounts are not consistent. It appears the Gold Bronze was bonded to William S. Lyle of Los Angeles, and John W. Mackay and J. L. Flood of San Francisco for $40,000. At the same time, the Gold Bar Mine was sold, and the California Mining and Development Company was incorporated by these three men, along with G. R. Wells and J. E. Walsh, for $10,000,000 to work the mines. 170

In April, William McFarlane was elected district recorder for a year. During this time, the township of Vanderbilt was formed with a justice of the peace and a constable and a newspaper named the Vanderbilt Shaft . By June, 1893, the town had gown to include “four saloons, three restaurants, four general merchandise stores, a lumberyard, lodging house, drugstore, butcher shop, post office, two doctor shops, and a population of over 400.” Mr. Will A. Nash ran a “Justice Shop besides.” 172

In January, 1894, Mr. Campbell's mill was moved from Utah.

Great excitement was stirred up when about January 12, a blast in the new Gold Bronze Mine opened a big cave of crystallized quartz, which ran up to 60 ounces per ton in free gold. By February, another ten-stamp mill had arrived for the Gold Bronze. Campbell's mill started up March 15, 1893, and the first day yielded a neat 25 ounce bar of gold. In March the Boomerang shaft was down to 260 feet, and the Gold Bar, also known as the St. George, was down to 250 feet and had hit water. Not just the big companies were at work, but the majority of the population was opening up holes all over the place. The Vanderbilt Mining and Milling Company, working the Gold Bronze, finally had their mill running about May, 1894, and the first of June announced they would devote half of the capacity of the mill to custom milling of ore, a break for the number of men simply digging holes. 173

In the meantime, beginning in May, Pat Flynn had been working 7 men on his Queen of the Night Mine. The Queen of the Night had a 75-foot shaft and a 180-foot shaft, and ore was raised from the shaft with a horse whim, sorted and shipped to eastern reduction works. Messrs. Marrs and Congdon and Mr. Ewing, had leases on the Chippy. 174

In the beginning of June, 1894, it was announced the Boomerang had hit water at 375 feet, the Gold Bronze had hit water in April at 280 feet, thus all three major mines in the district had hit water. In September, 1894, the Gold Bronze employed 25 men, and the Boomerang was down to 500 feet, working 3 eight-hour shifts a day. However, after hitting water, the character of the ore changed and, unable to recover the gold in the ore, the Gold Bronze mill shut down in 1895. Mr. Campbell leased the Gold Bar and was hauling the ore a mile to his mill on the Boomerang. Eventually, in 1895, the Boomerang reached a depth of 550 feet, but it shut down also. 175

In August, 1896, it was reported that Mr. Campbell had ordered heavy hoisting machinery to sink the Boomerang to 1,000 feet, with great hopes of riches below the water level, but it does not appear this scheme was ever carried out. In 1899 Campbell purchased the St. George (Gold Bar) Mine, and in mining it, uncovered a 10 foot wide vein. In June, 1899, he was taking out 20 tons a day, and was offered $300,000 for the property. 176

About a year later, a cyanide plant was being built by Karns and Eckins of Manvel (Barnwell) to work the tailings of the Campbell mill, of which there were 10,000 tons supposed to carry $6 in gold per ton. These operations were all part of a quiet, but substantial, revival of mining in and near Vanderbilt. In the 1900 census, there 329 people living in the Vanderbilt Township, 96 of which were miners. In 1902 there were an estimated 150 to 200 men in the camp. In December, 1902, the St. George and Gold Bronze were leased to the Federal Mining Company which was working 30 men. Mr. Campbell died in 1902, however, his estate continued to manage the property. 177

After laying idle for about 7 years, the Gold Bar and Gold Bronze mines at Vanderbilt were leased in 1909 by A. L. White and associates of Ohio. They put the ten-stamp Gold Bronze mill into shape, and it was again running in mid-July. 178

In July, 1910, Mr. C. C. Porter had put in a big cyanide plant and began treating some 7,000 tons that were in the ore dump at the Campbell Mine. He expected to gross about $5 a ton in gold. The next year, in April, a Mr. Sharp, with five others purchased the tailings from the Campbell mill and started treating them. These operations lasted off and on for much of 1911. In the first week of January, 1912, the Pomona Mining and Milling Company began installing a three-stamp mill at Vanderbilt. This company may be the same group represented by Mr. Sharp. By April it was reported they were mining at the Vanderbilt mines, and their mill was running. 179

In March, 1924, the Vanderbilt Mining Company had built new bunk and boarding houses and a completely equipped assay office at Vanderbilt. In addition, a 75-ton ball mill sat on the ground ready to be installed, and two shifts of men were employed sinking the main shaft. 180

In 1929, the property was again leased, and this company shipped about 800 tons of ore which averaged .7 ounce of gold and 3.5 ounces of silver per ton. Another company leased the property in 1934 and 1935 and, upon installing a twenty-five ton flotation plant, began shipping concentrates to the Garfield, Utah smelter. Smaller scale operations continued until 1942. 181

In 1965, Heavy Metals Corporation began drilling the property to determine the extent of the orebodies. Satisfied at their findings, they proceeded to erect a huge mill with a capacity of 500 tons a day. In production from 1969 to 1970 and during 1974 and 1975 about 100,000 tons of ore were treated in the mill from this mine. On February 24, 1978, Transcorp Coporation leased the property and is preparing to mine it. 182

The Garvanza Mine

The Garvanza Mining and Milling Company of Michigan first worked its mine in Cliff Canyon on the north slope of the New York Mountains in 1907. In June of the following year, arrangements were being made for the installation of a twenty-five ton reduction plant to be ready in 90 days. Surprisingly, this was accomplished toward the end of August. The claims which had been bonded to Los Angeles and Eastern parties were worked for 9 months in 1908. However, the power plant for the mill proved inefficient, and it ran for only 3 months. The mine was first worked for values of silver, copper, gold, and lead, but by late 1909, the owners became aware of the presence of molybdenum and thorium. In fact, they were planning to erect a plant to produce thorium nitrate from the ore, even tough this rare element amounted to only about .05 percent. Nothing more is heard of the attempt to mine this exotic element, and the mine is primarily known for the tungsten that was produced in small quantities during the First World War. Some time before 1916, three gentlemen from South Ivanpah, J. R. Comerford, Matt McCarthy and George Carruthers, took over the property, but soon becoming dissatisfied, they were all willing to “sell this property on very reasonable terms.” 183


On December 19, 1907, Jim Hart, with Bert and Clark Hitt, discovered gold, soon transforming a corner of the eastern Mojave into the thriving town of Hart. By January there was a “stampede to Hart” with people leaving Needles and Searchlight “in automobiles, buggies, wagons and on bicycles and burros.” Many men came from Goldfield, Nevada. By the end of the month, telephone wires that connected with the Western Union at Barnwell had been strung up, and an estimated 200 men were in camp, working leases on the claims that had been staked. 184

February had seen considerable excitement in the young town, with gunplay and litigation over the townsite and some of the original mining claims. There were about 600 to 700 people in the camp. The much anticipated water line from Barnwell was completed by the beginning of March, and in April a siding was built on the Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad. The siding was named Hitt, in honor of one of the discoverers, and a freight house was constructed there. 185

Daily mail service had begun by April 1, even though a post office was not established until April 30. A businessmen's league was organized, in order to “encourage legitimate mining,” and a law-and-order committee of the league was formed “to assist in the maintenance of a quiet camp.” 186

Townspeople celebrated with a banquet and a ball the opening in April of the first class two-story Norton House hotel. In May buildings were going up all over the town, and “many substantial business blocks” were being constructed. Also in May a Little Giant mill, with a capacity of eight tons arrived from Goldfield. This mill was purchased by George Foster, owner of the Big Chief, and Hart and Hitt, owners of the Oro Belle Number One. The mill was installed, but the poorly constructed foundation literally vibrated apart by the heavy machinery, and it was not until November that, with modifications, the mill was finally running. 187

Summer was a busy time in Hart. Another two-story hotel, the Martin House, was constructed. There were two general stores, a one-story rooming house, a bookstore, real estate offices, a candy store, two lumberyards, a bakery, and eight saloons. From early 1908 until about November, 1909, Hart had a newspaper named the Enterprise . There even was a cemetery that was the final resting place for five souls. A son born to Mr. and Mrs. Emory C. Peters in May, 1908, was the first child born in Hart, and as a token of honor, they were promised a golden loving cup to be made from Hart gold. 188

It was not until July that the first major ore shipment was made from Hart. This ore was treated at the Cyrus Noble mill in Searchlight. Nearly all the ore from Hart was shipped to Searchlight for milling at a cost of $3 a ton. 189

After the excitement of the first year, things settled down to just hard work extracting gold-rich rock from the mines. The principal mines were the Oro Belle, purchased from Hart and Hill in April, 1908, the Big Chief, the Sloan lease on the Jumbo claim, the Quartette shaft on the Jumbo claim, the Oro Belle Number One and Oro Belle Number Two. The Oro Belle One and Two were worked by Hart and Hitt until November, 1908, when it was purchased by A. B. Hall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Quartette shaft was being sunk by the Quartette Mining Company of Searchlight. The Jumbo was operated by the Big Chief group who built a twenty-stamp mill, probably in 1910. Indeed, there are ruins of a substantial mill about 1 mile south of the site of Hart.   190

Sparks from a chimney ignited a fire that destroyed much of Hart during the last week of December, 1910. The fire destroyed the Martin Hotel, the townsite office, a general store and other buildings. Although these buildings were never rebuilt, Hart lived on, and the mines continued. 191

In 1913 Hart became a boom town of a different sort. Many people began taking up homesteads in that area. Two men passed through Barstow in June on their way there, for the purpose of erecting “several buildings on their business property,” probably to supply the incoming homesteaders with supplies. In 1915 the Tonopah and Belmont Company optioned the Oro Belle and worked it for awhile. The post office shut its doors December 31, 1915. 192

About 1 mile south of Hart, the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company mined clay from time to time after 1929. Another clay quarry was opened immediately adjacent and to the east of the site of Hart in 1947. In September, 1974, the mill structure at this quarry was in the process of being dismantled. A Quonset hut bunkhouse which was standing near the quarry in 1974 has since been razed. However, both clay mines remain intermittently active.

Only a chimney remains at Hart, and one collapsed stone building about 1/4 mile south. Yet there are possible signs of life. Transcorp, a Los Angeles based company, leased the patented Oro Belle Mine (owned by the Baghdad Chase Company) on February 24, 1978. They have thoroughly sampled the mine and may reactivate it. 193

Death Valley Mine

The Death Valley Mine was discovered in 1906 by J. L. Bright of Kelso. In July, 1906, the Death Valley Gold Milling and Mining Company of Denver took over the mine, and by September, 1906, the camp of Dawson had sprung into existence, named after the directors of the company, the Dawson brothers. The first shipment of ore left during that month, consisting of several wagons full of ore hauled to Cima by a team of 12 horses. From Cima the ore was hauled via the Salt Lake Railroad and California Eastern to the Needles smelter. At the same time, the Arcalvada Mine, adjoining the Death Valley to the northwest, was active. Both companies mined rich lead-silver-gold ore running up to 634 ounces of silver and .48 ounces of gold per ton. 194

In January, 1907, the Death Valley Company made its first ore shipment to the American Smelting and Refining Company in Salt Lake. During September 1907, the Death Valley and Arcalvada companies merged to form the Death Valley Arcalvada Consolidated Mining Company, and by November there were 75 men employed. The mines were quite busy until June, 1908, when the company became involved in litigation which was not cleared up until 1915, although some mining continued throughout this period. In 1915 a new owner took over the property, and these operations continued until 1921. Water was pumped from the shafts until June 11, 1927, when the plant and mill were destroyed by fire. The mine had produced about $131,000, $93,000 before 1915. In 1930, there was a camp that could accommodate 100 men, a thirty-ton concentration plant and a 6-room residence. Today the residence still stands, as do 3 other buildings. The property is presently occupied. An electric line connects the camp with Cima. 195

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