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

San Bernardino County



The northwest portion of San Bernardino County has been one of the most prolific sources of silver in the state, and has produced less important quantities of gold and copper. The rich mines near Calico produced tens of millions of dollars worth of silver prior to 1890, and hold potential for millions more. Dry placer mining for gold was successfully carried out at least as early as 1900 at Coolgardie and also at Williams Well, Murphys Well and Goldstone. Hardrock gold mining was carried out at Goldstone, Fremont Peak, Kramer, and the Olympus Mine. Copper was mined at Copper City and at the Camp Vera Group just before and immediately after the turn of the century, and sometime later at Slocum,'s Mine. The area is the site of the only commercial opal mine in the California Desert.


Five years before the famous silver discoveries at Calico, George G. Lee discovered what he thought was a cinnabar mine, 4 miles north of the present site at Barstow. Lee prospected the property, and then died mysteriously on the desert in the fall of 1879. In June, 1880, Robert W. Waterman and John L. Porter visited Lee's property and took samples for assay. In December, they learned that Lee's mine contained silver, and had staked their own claims. 260

Full scale operations began in 1881. A ten-stamp mill erected beside the Mojave River, was powered by the river. Trees which grew along the river supplied fuel for the furnace, with ore teamed downhill to the mill, and water back up for the steam hoisting works at the mine. 261

Between May 1, 1881, and March 15, 1887, $1,611,429 in silver was produced. Near the mill the town of Waterman thrived until the price of silver dropped and the mine was shut down. Prior to 1890 the tailings were worked profitably, and the mine was worked on a small scale until 1909. There was an attempt to recover barite from the tailings in 1931, but the last serious mining took place in 1887. 262


News of the silver discovery made by Waterman and Porter at George Lee's old mine spread quickly and soon hundreds of new locations were made. On April 6, 1881, S. C. Wardan, Hues Thomas and John C. King located claims on Calico Mountain. They named their discovery the Silver King Mine. 263

Below the Silver King Mine the town of Calico grew slowly. In the spring of 1882 there were only 100 people living there. In July, 1882, the Silver King Mine was sold to San Francisco interests for $300,000. This, along with the consolidation of many individual claims led to more efficient mining. There were no less than 46 mines of note near Calico with the most important being the Waterloo, Bismarck, Oriental, Garfield and Burning Moscow. 264

At first the ore from the Silver King Mine was hauled to Oro Grande, 40 miles away, but in 1882 a ten-stamp mill was erected beside the Mojave River at Daggett. There were numerous other mills in the area. Hawley's mill at Camp Cady ran on ore from the Cuba Mine, located west of Calico, and from the mines of the Silver Odessa Mining Company. The ore from the Garfield mines were worked between 1883 and 1885 at Barber's mill, northwest of the mouth of Mule Canyon. The Odessa, Oriental and Occidental mines' ore was processed at the mill owned by the Silver King Mining Company of London, England, and located between the mouth of Wall Street and Odessa Canyons. 265

In 1887 the Oro Grande Company began building a mill next to their mill at Daggett (which had been enlarged in 1884 to fifteen stamps). Just before completion, the mill burned to the ground, but work was resumed at once. To reduce transportation costs, as narrow gauge railroad was constructed in 1888 to bring ore from the Waterloo and Silver King mines to the mill. The falling price of silver shut down these mines in 1892. By 1896, the Silver King Mining Company also shut down. The mines of Calico produced between $13,000,000 and $20,000,000 worth of silver. 266

Around 1917 cyanide was used to recover silver from the Silver King mine dumps, and during the early 1930s there was a small operation, the Zenda Gold Mining Company, which mined silver. Gold was mined from the Total Wreck (Burcham) Mine from the 1930s until 1941. There is a strong possibility that the enormous quantities of low grade silver ore present at Calico will one day   be mined. 267

As a town, Calico, with its one street perched on an inclined mesa, had a turbulent existence. It burned to the ground in the fall of 1883, and was rebuilt. After it was vacated in the 1930s, the remains of Calico sat derelict until 1950, when Walter Knott, owner of Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, converted the ghost town into a tourist attraction. 268

Three miles east of Calico, the town of Borate was formed near borax deposits mine since 1884 by “Borax” Smith. A railroad named the Borate & Daggett was laid into Mule Canyon in 1898. The borax mines were abandoned in 1907 after yielding nine million dollars worth of borax minerals. 269

Alvord Mine

The Alvord Consolidated Quartz Mining Company, in February, 1881, agreed to issue 75,000 shares of stock to raise money to develop their newly found mine, located about 20 miles east of Calico. Alex Del Mar, writing for the San Bernardino Valley Index in March, 1881, cynically remarked:

“Here the gold is found in a quarry of very hard chocolate colored slaty looking rock, called ‘quartz agate' by the miners. This is said to go from $100 to $120 a ton; but if so I think the owners ought to be willing to take back something about the reported amplitude of the deposit. No excavation.” 270

However, by April, 1885 work had begun. Ore was being hauled daily to Camp Cady where the existing Huntington Centrifugal Mill had recently been augmented with the addition of the Huntington five-stamp mill. Later reports indicate an arrastre was used to mill the ore at the very beginning. Ore was treated at Hawley's, in addition to Camp Cady in the late 1880s. 271

In the early 1890s, a mill was built, probably at Alvord Well, at the mouth of the canyon below the mine, which ran until it burned in September, 1891. Alvord Mine figures for July and August, 1891, showed an assay of between $6 and $18 a ton in gold. During the last 10 days before the mill burned, $1,430 in bullion was produced. Total production of gold from the Alvord Mine up to that time was placed at $50,000. 272

The mine changed owners several times before a group of Pasadena businessmen, incorporated as the Carter Gold Mining Company, gained control of the property and operated it from 1885 until late 1891. This company owned the water rights for Paradise Springs, 9 miles north of the mine, and for Mule Spring 1 mile east. The water at Mule Spring is weakly saline and was used only for camp purposes. In 1895, considerable prospecting was done on the property and in order to test the ore, the Alvord Mining Company of Pasadena erected a five-stamp mill 2 miles from the mine, probably at the site of the burned mill. 273

From 1906 to 1910, the Alvord Mining Company of San Diego operated the mine and installed as six-stamp Nisson mill near the mine. The Tintic Bonanza Mining Company of Salt Lake City operated the mine from 1916 to 1920. Mr. McCormick, a resident of Yermo, was the owner in 1923 and planned to open the mine. In 1925, the Dell ‘Osso Gold Mining Company acquired the property and 6 claims were patented in 1931. The property was active for several months during 1932 and 1933, and was under lease to Roy Waughtel of Manix from December, 1950, to January, 1952. Since 1952, the property has been idle. The mill has been removed and one of the wooden buildings and a small bridge were burned in the early 1970s. Two stone buildings remained in the early 1970s. 274

In February 2011, I updated the section on the Alvord mine CLICK HERE.


In July 1884, the Kramer Siding on the Santa Fe Railroad had but one inhabitant, the depot agent. However, with the discovery of copper 3 miles to the south, Kramer was the jumping off spot for the prospectors. Discouraged by the low price of copper and the lack of water, soon all but a few prospectors left. J. R. Maxey was one of these hardy few, and his discovery of gold sent people flocking to Kramer. A district was organized on November 20, 1884. By February, 1885, the camp was still so crude that it wad advised “As yet there are no hotel accommodations here, and the visitors will do well to come prepared with blankets.” The camp was still alive in July, 1885, but the high cost of milling and transportation discouraged miners, and they gave up. 275

In May, 1899, three men named Duncan, Clark and Goldsberry discovered a rich ledge, and a “new” camp was again springing up, but this boom was even shorter lived.

The most substantial camp, known as Kramer Hills, was born in April, 1926, with the discoveries made by the Herkelrath brothers. This town was located a short distance downslope from the previous one and it boasted at least one store, owned by J. B. Ross, and a newspaper, printed in Barstow. Thousands of people from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and vicinity visited, and hundreds of claims were located. Many shallow shafts were sunk but none of this work resulted in the development of a mine. Only the Herkelrath property amounted to much of anything. 276


About May, 1900, placer gold was discovered in shallow gravel 20 miles north of Barstow by Dick Duncan. Duncan was one of the co-discoverers of gold at Kramer about this same time. He named his discovery the Black Nugget after a famous mine in South Africa. Another claim, the Coolgardie, was named after a famous Australian gold camp. In August, 1900, ten men were operating 2 dry-placer machines at Black Nugget Camp, and the Engineering and Mining Journal reported that, “The whole country is said to be located from Coolgardie to Lane's mill, both west and south of Camp Vera.” 277

Dry-placer machines do not work with wet sand, thus during the winter of 1900-1901, the camp was shut down. In June, 1901, they began again. Northing more is heard from the placers at Coolgardie until 1908. In October, the Coolgardie Mining Company, which had devised a dry washer capable of treating 100 tons of gravel a day, was working here. In 1909, Coolgardie was described as “a small mining settlement, the cabins of the miners scattered over several square miles of dry-placer workings.” In 1911, it was stated $100,000 in gold had been taken from the rich placers at Coolgardie. 278

Reference was made above to Lane's Mill, and Camp Vera. Lane's Mill, located at Lane's Well (now known as Noble Well), is at best vaguely described. In 1909 Lane's Mill was still standing, and a photo shows several structures. A description of the well in 1917 fails to mention the mill. It is not known what mines supported this mill. 279

The Camp Vera group of claims were 6 mines northeast of Lane's Mill. At this copper mine, owned by W. J. Rodgers, there were 20 shafts from 10 to 60 feet deep. There is no record of mining at this mine since 1902. 280

Just 3 miles north of Lane's Well (and one and a half miles north of William's Well), M. J. Smith (see Old Woman Mountains section) discovered the First Chance Mine in 1906. This mine, also known as the Golden Eagle, was worked by Smith through 1911, and in November, 1913, there was a 12 by 24 foot building, arrastre and blacksmith shop on the property. Reportedly, $3,000 in gold was taken from here. 281

William's Well, not far from Coolgardie, was the site of a placer operation that had probably been going on since the excitement in 1900. In 1910, four men were working the gravel there and making good wages. This well probably was dug in late 1909 by M. W. H. Williams, a resident of Redlands since about 1898. He and his associates spent a number of months in 1909 examining mining property north of Barstow. By digging the well, they enabled many new prospectors to work near there, since water was scarce. The dry placer operations are still worked from time to time. 282

Slocum Camp-Opal Camp

Slocum Camp, near Copper City, derives its name from Dr. Samuel Slocum. Dr. Slocum and his wife lived at the mine during the winter of 1910, and they employed 5 miners. He was the general manager of the Desert Chief Mining and Milling Company which had done 2,000 feet of development work, sunk a 300 foot shaft, developed water and constructed 8 buildings which formed the camp. In June, 1911, the company began drilling the mine to determine how extensive the ore body was. Drilling continued through December, 1911. In November, 1916, the Barstow Printer indicated the mine was being worked for copper and molybdenum. However, the report continued, “During cessation of work for a short period, a blood-sucking low-lived vandal broker into the mine buildings and carried away at least one thousand dollars worth of equipment.”283

While the setback may have retarded activity at the mines, it didn't destroy the Slocum's interest in that area. As late as June, 1927, the Barstow Printer reported the Slocums came back to “do assessment at their opal mines." Doctor and Mrs. Slocum returned by auto to their home in Pasadena.” 284

These “opal mines” were not the same mines as those being mined for copper and molybdenum in 1916. As early as 1910, opal mines in the vicinity were owned and worked by the American Opal Company. Three men were working there in September of 1910, and a shipment had recently been made to Pasadena where the stones were dressed. Mr. Archibald Ferguson of Pasadena came onto the mine from time to time to supervise operations. Work continued at a steady clip at least through the spring of 1912. 285

In August, 1911, F. M. “Shady” Myrick, a resident of Johannesburg (and no relationship to David F. Myrick), discovered agate with bright red inclusions. This stone, dubbed “myrickite,” was found near Myrick Springs, now inside Fort Irwin. 286

Copper City

Copper City reportedly was first discovered in the 1880s. In 1898, Copper City was alive and the Juanita Mine was active. During December, 1898, a ‘large force of men' was employed here by a “New York syndicate.” The main shaft was nearing 90 feet deep at that time. In 1902, the main shaft at the Juanita was 212 feet deep, indicating a fair amount of work had been done. Also, there were numerous other developments on the various claims in the area. 287

By 1916, the Juanita Mine was described as having been idle for many years, and the next year, the camp was reported to be desolate and in ruins. 288 [Note erroneous information was removed from this paragraph - lmv]

In February 2011, I updated the section on Copper City CLICK HERE.


Gold was reportedly discovered at Goldstone as early as the 1880s. During the late summer of 1910, a well was being sunk by G. W. Toennies and a Mr. Goodrich for San Bernardino County at Goldstone. The well was sunk to 260 feet, when it bottomed in granite, with finding water. Several people were involved in mining during this same time, including John Harper and Goodrich. 289

One of the most active mines before the 1916 gold rush here was the Big Drumm Mine discovered by J. L. Drumm on March 17, 1910. In November, 1910, it was planned that a 50 foot shaft would be sunk on this property, and by December, a ton of rich ore was brought into Barstow. In February, 1911, John S. Cook, a former Goldfield banker, bonded the mine, had 2 men working the mine for a week, then dropped the bond. At the Drumm Mine, in November, 1913, there was a small stamp mill. 290

Things did not really begin to stir in Goldstone until October, 1915. About October 15, 1915, gold was discovered on the Redfield claim that ran from $1,400 to $3,000 per ton in gold. Soon, this young camp was attracting many prospectors. By March, 1916, the camp had grown to over 150 men. Ain addition, there was a lodging house, daily delivery of mail and supplies, and for $5, one could obtain a round trip ticket from Barstow to the nearby camp. Mr. Belander, of Los Angeles, began construction of a custom mill at Seeber Well (the source of water for the camp) 3 miles to the south. In May, it was reported: “There are now nine buildings and ten houses at the site. The rooming house has been fitted up with 25 new sanitary spring beds and the restaurant, a separate building, is fully equipped to care for one hundred or more daily guests.” 291

Work continued full blast at the camp that fall and winter at Goldstone Mining Company mines, the Redbridge as well as others, although the Big Drumm did not get under way again until January, 1917. Almost all of the mining was done by leasing portions of the claims, a practice that had been carried out with success at Goldfield, Nevada. By February, 1917, there was a mill operating, probably at the Goldstone Mining Company. On March 15, 1917, a post office named Goldbridge had finally been established, and there was talk of connecting the camp with Barstow by telephone. The reason for Goldstone's sudden decline in late summer or early fall of 1917 may never be known (for one thing, the Barstow newspapers are missing for this period), but by November, 1917, there were only 3 or 4 miners left in town. Goldstone was one of the last of a series of boomtown gold rushes that began about 1906 with the discovery of Goldfield, Nevada. The post office of Goldbridge officially closed August 15, 1918. 292

In 1934, some dry placering was going on at Goldstone. Then, during the late 1930s, the Belmont Mine began operations again on a large scale and installed a mill. Mining never really ceased altogether. In 1924, the Goldstone Mine had a blacksmith shop, assay office and one other building. A bunk house stood in 1973, but by November 1978, this had collapsed. In November there was a maintained cabin not far from the ruins of the bunk house. Two unoccupied structures have survived and the seemingly occupied Goldstone Mine and Belmont Camp looked well maintained. A handful of other structures still stand within a radius of about 3 miles of Goldstone. 293


About the time Goldstone sprang into prominence, another dot appeared on the map a few miles southwest, named Crutts. There never was a town of Crutts, although a post office with that name was established in April, 1916. Mr. D. K. Crutts settled in the Superior Valley at least by 1915, built a ranch, drilled a well, and took up farming, and as a sideline, well-drilling. Soon there were settlers' cabins scattered throughout the valley, with ambitious farmers trying to make a living, trucking their produce to market via the bumpy dirt road to Barstow. Most of the wells in the valley for these farmers were drilled by Mr. Crutts. In April, 1917, the Barstow Printer reported “Three years ago there was hardly a house in the valley, now it is dotted with homes . . . Superior Valley is on the map to stay.”294

It is not known why they left, perhaps there never was quite enough water, but by January, 1920, almost all the wells were pulled up, or were not working. Only Crutt's well was still working , but even he was not home. Two years later, on August 31, 1922, the post office, which was housed in one of the ranch houses, closed and the mail henceforth only came as far as Barstow. 296

Paradise Mine

In 1888, large deposits of gold ore were known to exist at Paradise. The ore was reported to pay $10 per ton even though it had not been developed to any extent. By 1920, the Olympus Mine was well established. Paradise Springs, 2 1/2 miles away, supplied water for the mine. There was a gasoline driven ten-stamp mill at the mine. In 1922, a fifty ton capacity Victory ball mill was in the process of being installed. The hoist for the incline shaft was driven by a gasoline engine as there was an Ingersoll-Rand compressor on the property. 296



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