California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west


The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Monday, June 26, 2017


Darwin Mining Camp

Professor William D. Brown, Albert B. Elder, and A.C. Hanson, three outstanding citizens of Inyo County, quietly stole a number of priceless silver claims that had been legally located and recorded by Raphael Cuervo.  The Coso Mining District records had been altered and recorded dates changed such that the three aided by attorney Pat Reddy became owners of The Defiance Silver Mine the location of which defined a new town called Darwin.

The town formed up on the west side of the northwest trending Darwin Hills at the edge of Lucky Jim Wash.  It reached its peak in 1877 with a population of between 3,000 and 4,300 - an estimate based on the 33 saloons located there at that time.

Main Street had businesses you’d find anywhere included harness makers, boarding houses, a stagecoach office, breweries, freighters & packers, bathhouses, livery & feed stores, a gunsmith, a chop house, a jail and of course saloons.  An estimated 200 framed houses neatly occupied lots along defined streets.

The miners came mostly from Panamint City - a community decimated in 1876 by a flashflood that swept away most of the town and a number of silver milling operations.  By the time they arrived, the Darwin Hills had been fully prospected and claimed.  These men, mostly of Irish and Welsh extraction, found work inside the existing mines as drillers, blasters, and sorters for the going wage of $4.00 a day ($90.00 current dollars).  

Ore from the Defiance and other mines in the district required special treatment in large furnaces -- a process called smelting.  In this process, molten silver is separated from other minerals and formed into 60 pound bars for shipping.  By the end of 1875, there were three smelters that served 20 mines in the district.

Shootings and robberies occurred here with regularity as they did in other mining camps of this period.  Of the 124 deceased buried on Boot Hill, only two died of natural causes according to one writer.   Actually, the records show that at least six of the 124 occupants of the Darwin Cemetery died of natural causes. 

Three-Fingers Jack, a member of the legendary Joaquin Murrieta Gang, arrived in Darwin during its peak.  The story goes that he followed a man to the Black Metal Saloon where, for reasons not given, he shot and killed him.  In response, the victim’s outraged brother trailed Jack to another Darwin saloon where he outgunned him. Good story – probably not true.  But if it is true, Three-Fingers
Jack occupies the most famous unmarked grave in the Darwin Cemetery.  

Shorty Harris, a prospector well known in these parts, had been involved in the discovery of a number of mining camps including Bullfrog, Nevada and Harrisburg located in the Panamint Mountains at the edge of Death Valley.  A small man standing only five feet he personified a burro prodding prospector of the period.  It was said that he made frequent visits to Darwin from his home in the Panamint Valley.

Death Valley Scotty, a character well known in Darwin, spent time in the local taverns on his way to and from Death Valley.  Remi Nadeau, owner of the Cerro Gordo Freight Company, had an office in Darwin and was considered part of the community.

 George Hearst, best known as the father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, owned a number of mines in Darwin and also the Modoc Mine near Lookout.  Being a graduate mining engineer, he well understood the geology and mining potential of the Coso District.              

Father John J. Crowley, the Padre of Death Valley, owned some mines in the Darwin Hills and in later years would stop in town on his way to Death Valley to hold services. Lake Crowley located in Mono County was named in his honor. Interestingly, no church of any denomination could be found in Darwin.   

Baby Face Nelson, Public Enemy #1, was spotted eating at a restaurant in Darwin.  Rumors circulated that Chicago gangsters on the run from federal authorities were hiding in isolated cabins near Darwin Springs located at the edge of Panamint Valley.

By 1880, the higher grade oxidized silver and lead ores had reached depletion.  This meant that deeper lower grade ore would be mined at a higher cost per ounce of silver which would, unhappily, reduce returns to shareholders.   The mining companies faced two options either closedown mining operations and wait for more favorable economic conditions or reduce expenses by cutting the miner’s daily wages from $4.00 to $3.00.  They decided to reduce wages. 

As expected, mine workers quickly formed a union and called for a strake against the mine owners.  In response, the mine owners closed most of mining operations in the Coso District with the intention of starving the men back to work.  Three months later operations started up offering $3.00 a day to miners willi
ng to cross a picket-line to work.

Some militant union members issued a threat that anyone working for $3.00 a day risked a beating or possibly hanging.  The Superintendent of the Defiance Mine called upon Deputy Sheriff Welch and Constable Fitzgerald for protection of the miners entering and leaving the mine.  Welch agreed and prepared to challenge the strikers as soon as he could roundup a posse.

As the evening shift began arriving at the Defiance Mill, they were met by a line of angry armed protesters.  At about the same time, Deputy Sheriff Welch, Constable Fitzgerald and three deputized citizens came on the scene with shotguns and pistols. 

It’s not clear what happened next.  The record shows that one of the deputies shot and killed one of the protesters. According to one witness, the shooting caused such confusion that those protesters representing the worker’s union quickly evaporated into the night.

The strike ended a few days later, the union disbanded and the men went back to work at three dollars a day.

In the mid-1920s, Darwin became the western automobile entrance to Death Valley.  A 30 mile toll road was constructed with private money. The road stretched cross desolate Panamint Valley, ascended the western face of the Panamint Mountains and ended at the Stovepipe Wells Hotel.  It became known as the Eichbaum Toll Road

 In 1936, the state acquired part of the toll road and constructed a standard two-lane highway from Olancha on Highway 395 to Death Valley -- a road that by-passed the town of Darwin.

Darwin is now a ghost town with a small population.  In fact, the population is so small (36 in the latest census) that you are not likely to meet anyone as you drive around snapping pictures of scattered ruins.  The dwellers here apparently make an effort to stay of out of sight when infrequent visitors arrive. 

As you drive into the valley on Darwin Road, you will see the buildings and tailing of the Defiance Mill representing the final days of mining activity on Darwin Hill.
Ownership of the consolidated mines passed through numerous hands until Anaconda Copper acquired the properties in 1945 and continued to produce lead, zinc and silver until 1955.  The plant is now idle.

 On a recent visit my friend and I met Helen, a middle aged, well-seasoned desert dweller, who has lived most of her life in Darwin.   She told us that folks here are self-sufficient and get on well without television and that the town has no commerce of any kind. No lodging, no gas and no shops selling the usual trinkets and no public telephone.  

 Emergency calls to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office are made by whoever they can find with a cell phone.   News from the world outside comes mostly from newspapers that arrive at the post office daily.

I asked Helen why there’s no “Darwin” sign at the turnoff from the highway.  She said that apparently the locals didn’t want it replaced.  In keeping with the desire of the 36 independent-minded, I promised Helen that I would not give directions or Google map location for Darwin in this story.

Note:  The black and white photos displayed are courtesy of County of Inyo, Eastern California Museum.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Goodbye, God! We’re Going To Bodie

According to a local newspaper, the little girl ended her prayer saying, “Good, by god!  We’re going to Bodie”.  This was in reply to the above slur published by the Nevada Tribune.  

William S. Bodie credited with being the first white man to take residency in what became know as Bodie Camp.  In July 1859, he and his partner Pat Garrity found some placer gold, marked the corners of a claim and built a cabin.

The following winter the two, when returning to their cabin after a brief absence,   became overwhelmed by a blinding snowstorm.  The snow drifts got so deep that they could hardly move.  Bodie, exhausted beyond his ability to continue, took refuge on a snow bank.  His partner wrapped him in a blanket and continued on to their cabin.  When the storm subsided attempts by a search party failed to find Bodie.

In fact, the frozen body of William S. Bodie remained covered in ice until the annual thaw arrived the following May.   His body was placed in a shallow grave marked by a wooden post.   He would remain there for the next 20 years.

Bodie Camp had more than its share of gun fighters, stage robbers and other armed drifters with short tempers – “Bad Man of Bodie”.   Fortunately, most of them were poor marksmen.   Billy Deegan and Felix Donnelly faced each other at long range on Main Street over some disagreement.  They exchanged a total of nine shots all of them went wide – even the few bystanders were missed.

It was well know, that Pat Shea and John Sloan hated each other.  One Sunday morning Pat Shea walked into Magee’s saloon and stated berating Sloan who was counting the past evening’s proceeds from the bar.  This went on until Sloan, a big man, grabbed Shea and threw him bodily through the front door out onto the boardwalk.  He then drew a gun and shot two rounds at Shea before the gun jammed.  Both shots went wide.

Shea, while lying on his side, pulled a Colt Lightning from his hip pocket and returned fire one round tore at Sloan’s coat collier the following two rounds went wide.  The next day Shea and Sloan were each fined $15 for disturbing the peace.

Jesse Pierce gambler and stagecoach robber was considered moderately intelligent when sober. On a dance night at the Miner’s Exchange Hall, Jesse lost his temper and shoved entertainer Kittie Wells causing her to tumble onto the dance floor.  When her friend Joe Black stepped forward to help her to her feet, Pierce pulled a gun and put a round in Black’s ribcage.  Pierce was arrested and taken to the local jail.    As soon as Sam Black showed signs of a complete recover, for reasons not clear, charges against Pierce were dropped.

A short time later, Jesse became involved in a highway robbery.  Two masked men stopped the stagecoach southbound for Bishop.  The coach had two sporting women as passengers Tillie Swisher and Minnie Otis.  The robbers took $500 from the Wells Fargo Express box and money and jewelry from the two women. 

Tillie Swisher recognized Pierce and yelled, “Mr. Jesse Pierce, that is all I have left and it is not fair to leave me with nothing”— Tillie Swisher’s testimony at trial sent Jesse Pierce to the State Penitentiary for six years.

Crime among the Chinese population of Bodie mostly involved the sale and use of opium.  The local Chinese, in true spirit of the West, would take whatever measures necessary to protect themselves and their property.  Some carried weapons, hidden beneath their loosely fitted garments, which they could draw and fire with amassing speed. 

Sam Chung a ranking member of the local Yung Wah Tong was a truly dangers man when upset. Chung was arrested for shooting and wounding two men at a opium den. The charges were dropped based on his claim of self-defense. 

Later more serious charges were lodged against Chung for the murder of Encino a Mexican wood hauler.  According to local authorities, Chung found Encino’s mule tramping his vegetable garden and in a state of rage grabbed a shotgun and emptied two shells at close range.  Encino died that evening as a result of numerous buckshot wounds.

 A cold-blooded and barbarous murder,” reported the Bodie Standard, echoing the outrage harbored by the Mexican community.  Highly esteemed attorney Patrick Reddy hired by Sam Chung, with his usual courtroom witness badgering, convinced a few jurors that Sam should go free.  This resulted in a hung jury.

Patrick Reddy stood well over six feet in height used his size and personal charm to win the respect of others.   The loss of his arm to a bullet wound from an unknown assailant marked the end of his mining days in Aurora and sent him in pursuit of a new career as an attorney.   He decided that he could make more money settling mining disputes than digging for gold and started studying the law that led to his admittance to the bar. 

Reddy’s court dates grew as mine owners and prospectors hired him to prosecute claim jumpers and settle other property disputes.   His success defending murders and those charged with lesser crimes mounted as the population of Bodie increased. He eventually established an office in San Francisco.  It was said that young attorneys would attend his trials to lean how to enthrall a jury.        
 The Bodie Bluff Consolidated Mining Company was established in 1863 with Leland Stanford, Governor of California, as president.  On his visit to Bodie, Stanford brought a mining expert to investigate the ore body on his behalf. 

After a brief examination the noted expert proclaimed, “There will be no color twenty feet below the surface”, meaning the ore body ran shallow.  Based on this terse assessment, Stanford sold his interest in the mine and resigned as president of the company. 

Two hungry prospectors took possession of Bodie Bluff and continued digging into an existing tunnel.  Because of scarcity and high cost of wood, the walls were not properly timbered.   This omission may have been the cause of a loud rumble and roar that shook the ground like an earthquake early one morning.  The walls had collapsed exposing a rock ledge.

Awakened by the noise, the partners rushed to the entrance and stood in amazement staring at a broad rock face sparkling with bits of gold of unimaginable wealth – they had at last found their bonanza.  It was said that, “Dame Fortune had truly embraced them with open arms”.

Bodie Bluff renamed the Standard Mining Company went on to produce gold by the wagon loads well into the 20th Century.   When Governor Stanford stepped off the Bodie stagecoach a few years later, a small group of town leaders where there to greet him -- “Boys,” he said, “I tell you what, I missed a big fortune by listing to the advice of a so-called “expert”.

Bodie Camp reached a population of over 5,500 according to the 1880 censes.  The streets held over fifty saloons to serve thirsty hard working miners and town folk.   Two banks, three newspaper and six general stores gave Bodie-ites a sense of living in a permanent community.  

Other improvements included lodges, a church, a school and a well maintained cemetery   Bodie looked fair size with picturesque buildings of all types spread out over a mountain saddle.

Of the thirteen ore bearing mines in the district, only five showed a profit.  Overall gold production began to decline as smaller operations went idle.  Interestingly, ore from the Standard mine showed color well below 20 feet and would continue, off and on, producing gold until 1940.

Members of the Pacific Coast Pioneers of Bodie decided to give the founding father a proper burial. To that end, the remains of William S. Bodie were unearthed, his scull and a few assorted bones put on public viewing at the Masonic Hall and then taken by funeral procession to the cemetery.  A length oration given by R.D. Ferguson ended with a plea to, “Let a fitting and enduring monument be reared in his memory”. 

The locals showed there gratitude by subscribing $500 for a monument.  A sculptor was commissioned to chisel out of native granite the “majestic Shaft” described by R.D. Ferguson.  When the sculpted object was readied for an inscription plate, a telegram arrived with word   that President James A. Garfield had died. 

A great sense of loss and quiet sadness fell over Bodie.  A week of morning dictated that some measure must be taken.  An inscription plate was prepared and place on the “majestic Shaft” that had been completed to honor William S. Bodie.  The inscription read: Erected to the Memory of James A. Garfield.

Remains of the departed could be found in either the Bodie Cemetery or Boot Hill.
Law abiding persons of good character were awarded a plot and marker within the fenced cemetery grounds.   Lesser beings, such as gun fighters, prostitutes and horse thieves, wound up on Boot Hill in unmarked graves.

So where is the grave of Washoe Pete?  Early visitors to the ghost town asked.   Well, Pete was a fictional character created by E.H. Clough.  The storied “Bad Man of Bodie” became a national sensation after it appeared in the June 1878, issue of Argonaut a popular magazine of the day. 

Bodie, now a state park, is open to the pubic when not snowed in.   Beware:  It is well documented that if you carry away even a sliver of wood from here you will be visited by the ghosts of Bodie who will haunt you until the object is returned.

From Highway 395 take Highway 270 to Bodie


Tuesday, November 01, 2016


Before ink dried on the 18th Amendment, saloons and brothels lined the Ransburg Railroad track on both sides of the Osdick Siding.   The law that prohibited the sale of alcohol didn’t apply to Red Mountain because that settlement was located in San Bernardino County and the sheriff had better things to do than  drive one-hundred miles on dirt-poor desert roads to enforce such matters.

Red Mountain started as a mining camp after the discovery of a rich silver ledge located below the town of Ransburg.  Wade Hampton Williams, lucky owner of the mine, wanted his employees to live near the workings.  To that purpose, he surveyed and plotted a townsite and named it Hampton

Within a few months, relocated cabins brought in from abandoned mining camps began appearing along narrow trails around the mine and commercial buildings, hotels, taverns, stores and the all important barbershops with bathing privileges could be found along the main street through town.

North a few hundred feet another settlement with two names took form. If you entered the town from the north, you were greeted by a sign, “Welcome To Inn City”.  However, if you entered from the south another sign read, “Welcome to Osdick”.   Residents could use either address. (Years later, the postmaster in Los Angeles got fed up with three names for one post office and changed the name of  Osdick, Inn City and Hampton to Red Mountain.)

Those unfortunates who put their dwellings on lots donated by a local developer found that they held only squatters rights to their land.  Inn City had not been surveyed and, unfortunately, the lots were located on mining claims and public property owned by the federal government.  It would take many years for the owners to get clear title to their property.

On weekends men came from Johannesburg, Randsburg, Fremont, Kramer Hills, Garlock, Saltdale, Searles Station, Summit Diggings and Trona.  A few hardened party types drove or took the train up from Los Angeles.  Red Mountain was known as an open town where you could spend all your money without regret.

Most would agree that the women were good looking and friendly.  You could find them at The Annex, Little Eva’s, the Red Onion, the Shamrock, the Silver Dollar and at most saloons. The better places had dance floors with live music on Saturday nights.  Drinking and gambling went on both day and night at every place in town except the post office.

Many of the permanent citizens of Red Mountain had been “pushed” out of other communities by the local deputy sheriff or constable.  Better to send them packing than keep them in jail.  In Randsburg, the justice-of-the-peace warned members of one vile and troublesome gang that if they returned to Randsburg they could become the subject of a hanging.

Crime could be expected: mostly bar fights, harmless shootings, muggings, assault with intent, and a few murders.  One story made it all the way to Bakersfield.  “The Music stopped; games and fun came to a sudden halt at the famous Monkey House as three masked men entered and efficiently relieved patrons of their valuables.  One of the bandits flashed his gun and told the clerk at the door to ‘stick em up’’.

By 1925, the law could not longer ignore the wide use of alcohol in desert communities. In response, three adjacent counties Los Angeles, Kern and San Bernardino, set traps to catch as many lawbreakers as possible.  The raiding parties gathered secretly and prepared to hit the towns of Mojave, Randsburg, Tehachapi and Red Mountain on the same Saturday night.  The parties included deputy sheriffs, federal agents, district attorneys and a judge from each county. 

Officers arrived well before midnight at three establishments in Red Mountain.   Justice Hansdbrough of the San Bernardino County Court presided while sitting at a poker table at the Owl Café.  Most of the accused pleaded guilty and were fined.  The judge listened patiently to the stories of those who pleaded innocent and charged them as well.  The fines averaged $150.00 and were paid in cash which hopefully found its way into county coffers.

The local Ku Klux Klan took exception to the number of saloons and wide use of alcohol in the community.  In protest they set fire to a cross on the side of Red Mountain directly above the town and then hosted a series of clean wholesome Saturday night dances in neighboring town of Johannesburg

The Kelly Mine also known as Rand’s Big Silver took position over a network of  underground workings which included  5,000 feet of  side drifts and crosscuts on five different levels.  These workings were accessed from four shafts over 500 feet in depth. Ore brought to the surface was taken by rail to silver processing facilities elsewhere.

The work force may have reached one hundred miners during good years.  Some of the men took part as extras in movie films that were being shot at the mine.  The Red Mountain communities provided the setting for a number of westerns made during the 1920s.   The mine closed in 1929.    

Red Mountain survived the depression years and the repeal of prohibition. And, was well position to do its patriotic duty during World War II.   Young men from military units at China Lake Navel Base and Murdoc Air Field (later renamed Edward AFB) partied on weekends at hotels and some of the better maintained taverns where the girls were still considered good looking and friendly. 

I took a picture of my friend as he searched the south side of the Silver Dollar Hotel for the entrance that he remembered from a visit he and his father made here over seventy years ago.     

Red Mountain is located on Highway 395 at Google Earth 35 21.285; 117 36.988

Saturday, March 12, 2016


When the Southwest Pacific Railroad Company came up for sale by the Missouri State Assembly, John C. Fremont, hero of Western Lore, representing a group of investors acquired the company.  This adventure would cap Fremont’s career that included pathfinder, mapmaker, politician, and soldier.

Interestingly, a few months into the year of 1866, the U.S. Congress passed a national railroad bill that had in it authorization of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (A&P) which assigned to Fremont and his associates a right-of-way from Springfield, Missouri to the Pacific Coast.

 The assigned right-of-way would generally follow the 1852 route surveyed by Lt. Amiel Whipple from Arkansas to California.  A survey that crossed Indian Territory through New Mexico and what later became Arizona.  The Colorado River would be bridged at its narrowest point near The Needles.

 The bill also authorized government bonds to help cover the cost of construction and to encourage the settlement of long barren Indian infested stretches.

A year later, even with benefits bestowed by the government, Fremont was unable to meet interest on the bonds and was forced to find a receiver for both railroads.

By 1880, through stock manipulations and mergers, the Atlantic& Pacific Railroad reemerged as a subsidiary of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe. -- a company that boasted sound financial backing.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the insightful and often ruthless Collis P. Huntington conducted the affairs of a few wealthy and powerful men referred to as the Big Four -- Huntington, Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins.  These four gentlemen dominated railroading in California during the 1870s.  In that regard, Huntington claimed boastfully that he had not yet met a politician he couldn’t bribe.

The approaching Atlantic and Pacific line posed a major problem.  The population of California wasn’t large enough to support a third transcontinental railroad.   Huntington, a man who enjoyed a good fight, decided to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad from Mojave Station across the Mojave Desert to confront the A&P before it reached the Colorado River.  His action supported a policy of the Big Four to thwart any other railroad attempting to enter California    

The Southern Pacific (SP), secretly owned by the Big Four, had completed construction of  a road down California’s Central Valley and across the Tehachapi Mountains to the town of Mojave.  From the Mojave Station, service extended south through Cajon Pass  to Los Angles and to San Diego.  

The idea of building a 242 mile railroad through barren waterless desert presented a frightening prospect to those who invest to make money.  Only those men who laid and secured the rails could see the possibility of gold locked in the unmapped mountain ranges that seemed to string endlessly on both sided of line.  Ranges that prospector’s pick and shovel had not yet touched.

By fall of 1882, seventy miles of track from the Mojave Station had been laid to Waterman Camp.  Another 131 miles of track reached Amboy Station five months later.  From Amboy watering stations spaced 10 to 15 miles apart were named alphabetically: Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Edison, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Ibex and Java.

Huntington won the race to the Colorado River arriving well ahead of the A&P still 40 miles to the east and faced with bridging the unpredictable Colorado River with its seasonal ups and downs.

With the Southern Pacific Railroad in its path, Atlantic & Pacific management faced two possibilities: continue to build a parallel line across the Mojave and on to San Francisco or workout an agreement for joint use  of  the completed SP system.
Huntington initially rejected joint use.  But, when A&P surveyors began setting surveyor’s stakes west of the river he realized that the competition would make his Mojave line worthless.

Negotiations took time as they always do with such matters.  The agreement that was hammered out stipulated that the A&P would purchase the SP railroad division from The Needles to Mojave for $30,000 a mile (242 miles) and rent use of SP’ trackage from Mojave to Oakland and San Francisco.

Through the 1890s, prospectors arrived at A&P watering stations.  Water was made available for a small fee by the company.  A few popular stations attracted settlers who served the surroundings and typically included a hotel, café, and several saloons.

Waterman Station became Barstow – a major rail center for the west end of the line. It included repair yards and a Harvey House that provided accommodations for travelers.  

Daggett –became the shipping point for mines in the Calico Hills, and the point from where mountain ranges to the south could be prospected.   

Newberry Springs – provided water for all of the stations at the west end of the line.  Tanker cars attached to scheduled trains did the transporting.

Lavic – a service center for railroad employees provided barracks and kitchen facilities.  Wagon roads extended from here north and south to small mines and prospects. 

Ludlow -- transfer junction for the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad that served the borax mines in Death Valley [see my Race For The Gold 3/1/13].  Also terminal for the Ludlow & Southern Railroad that provided service to the  Rochester and the Bagdad Chase silver mine located to the south.

Bagdad Station – became a popular passenger stopover and a supply point for prospectors.   In the 1920s and 30s it served travelers arriving by automobile on the Old Trails Highway.

Amboy Station – served distant mines in the Dale Mining District by wagon road.  Accommodations took form here in the 30s to serve highway travelers on Highway 66. 

Essex – a center of commercial activity for mines in the Providence Mountains to the north and mines in the Old Woman Mountains to the south.

Goffs – transfer junction for the Nevada Southern Railroad servicing Barnwell and Vanderbilt mines.  This line connected with another short-line to Searchlight, Nevada.

The name Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was removed from company signs and letterhead in 1902
.   In 1911, the company became a full blown division of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe.

During the 1880s, thanks to competition between the two railroads, thousands of visitors and investors rushed to Los Angeles to enjoy the warm climate and buy land.  In the ten year period between 1880 and 1890, the population of Los Angeles increased by 360 percent.

By now, Huntington had outlived his partners and most of his enemies.  He controlled a vast fortune including oil, shipping and timber.  He continued to make big deals and increase his wealth until his death in 1900.

With a few exceptions, the rails are located where they were in the 1890s. Unfortunately, the depots and stations are gone.  Frequent watering places were no longer needed by modern locomotives.   

Friday, October 16, 2015


George Lee looked the part of a burro-prodding prospector --tall and weathered.  A middle aged man who’d spent his prime poking around mountains and hills that ranged from Barstow to Old Woman Springs -- a man who became the subject of stories about a lost mine.

The pick and shovel period on the Great Mojave lasted from the late 1870s to the early 1880s.  Not much to show except prospect holes and mining claim markers scattered across the landscape.  Completion of Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, connecting east to west, had by mid-decade opened barren stretches of desert to prospecting and hard rock mining.

Lee considered himself a locator of silver mines.  He told stories about casting silver into door handles and the like.  It was believed that he discovered the silver lode that later became the mining camp of Calico -- perhaps the richest mining district in the Mojave.  He discovered the Led Pencil Mine located in the Waterman Hills north of Barstow.

His prospect holes rimmed the Waterman Hills.   For some reason, Lee failed to follow up on his discovery or register his claims thus leaving their development to others including Robert W. Waterman, a future governor of California.

Lee often took refuge at Old Woman Spring, a campsite well known to early desert travelers. It’s likely that somewhere out in this unexplored, sand strewn wilderness he discovered another silver deposit and named it the White Metal Mine.

This claim he duly recorded with the San Bernardino County Recorder’s office as:  White Metal Mine, located by G. Lee 5 miles N. of the Lone Star Mine.  Located N.E. of Bear Valley (Big Bear) April 5, 1879. San Bernardino County, California.

Lee brought some ore samples to the city of San Bernardino for inspection by a few men who recognized good ore.  They agreed that Lee had indeed stumbled on a valuable property.  Customarily, a discoverer at this point, would either look for a buyer of the claim or find a partner with money to invest in its development.    

 A man who lived in Los Angeles [so the story goes] agreed to partner with Lee provided that an associate of his be allowed to personally inspect the mine.  Lee agreed and a few days later the two, Lee and the associate, rode by buckboard to Old Woman Springs where they rested for a few hours. 

At mid-afternoon, they started again and traveled for three hours before stopping to camp for the night.  Lee left the camp site on foot returning three hours later with a sack of ore samples.  Apparently, Lee didn’t trust his companion and refused to show him the samples.   The deal with that investor fell through and nothing more is known about his search for a partner. 

Lee made his headquarters at Brown’s Ranch located near the Mojave River in the Spring Valley Lake area of Victorville.  The owner of the ranch claimed that the last time he saw him, Lee was headed east on the road to Old Woman Springs.

It’s believed that a man named Hans Hoffman met Lee at the campsite and after sharing a few drinks questioned Lee about the mine’s location.  When Lee refused to tell him anything about the mine, Hoffman became threatening and in a rage struck Lee in the head with a rock. Hoffman then quickly buried Lee’s body in a shallow grave as riders on horseback approached.  

In another version of the story, Lee was secretly followed to his mine by a few depraved individuals bent on finding the claim and eliminating its owner.  They tracked Lee to an outcrop near Emerson Lake in the Dry Lake Mining District.  Unfortunately, Lee had not taken his usually meandering trail to elude those who might try to follow.  

 Not long after this incident a number of suspicious prospects were recorded near Emerson Lake by some upstanding citizens of San Bernardino.

The San Bernardino Daily Times (April 6, 1880) reported that Lee was killed by Chemehuevi Indians when exploring country east of Old Woman Springs.  This unlikely story possibly came from those individuals involved in his death.

In yet another version, Howard D Clark, in his book Lost Mines of the Old West claims that Lee had a hired man who helped him with reducing the ore by some primitive grinding process.  And that Lee’s body was found not far from San Bernardino shot through the heart at close range.  Clark believed that Lee’s hired man was the one who shot him – a man never seen or heard from again. 

 Clark gives possible credence to rumors that the mine was located in the Bullion Mountains near Deadman Lake which is now within the Twenty-nine Palms Marine Corps Base.  That would support a location east of the Dry Lake Mining District and Emerson Lake.

Years later, in a letter to the Editor of Desert Magazine, Howard Clark stated that he had met a man who claimed to have found Lee’s Lost Lode.  But, of course, the man refused to divulge the location.

There you have three different stories about George Lee and his mine.   The fact that a silver mining claim was recorded by George Lee (located northeast of Bear Valley and five miles north of The Lone Star mine) lends some credence to the story.     

If we accept as significant Old Woman Springs camp site as the place from where Lee prospected and discovered the mine, then we have a starting point for a trip to the desert to find a lost mine. 

If the mine’s location lies to the north of the Old Woman Springs (Highway 247), it will most likely be found somewhere in the Johnson Valley -- possibly near Emerson Lake.   The Campbell party recorded discoveries in this area.  However, those discoveries were of gold not silver.   I could find no silver discoveries listed in Johnson Valley before 1902.  Better look elsewhere.

If the mine’s  location lies to the east of the Old Woman Springs in the Bullion Mountains, chances are it is within the 29 Palms Marine Base and not open to the public.

If the mine’s location is to the south of the Old Woman Springs, it most likely will be found somewhere in the uplands between Black Hawk Mountain on the west and the Bighorn Mountains on the east.  One silver mine in this area deserves consideration.  

The Akron-Silver Reef Mine is located a reasonable distance from the Old Woman Springs.  It lies northeast of Bear Valley and north of the “Lester-Dale Mine” (a property perhaps named Lone Star at an earlier time).   

 Places to visit:

The Waterman Hills are located north of Barstow at Google Earth 34  55.294; 117  2.725. 

The Old Woman Springs (aka Willow Springs) are located on the south side of Highway 247 at Google Earth 34  24.526; 116  43.463.   The site is fenced.

The Akron-Silver Reef Mine is located south of Highway 247 at Google Earth 34  22.720;  116  45.070.

The Lester-Dale Mine is located south of Highway 247 at Google Earth 34  20.311; 116  46.497.


Sunday, June 14, 2015


As the Pacific Plate moved to the northwest, it slowly unhinged the mountain chain that separated the coastal plain of Southern California from the Mojave Desert. As it happened, it created Cajon Pass, a gap between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges.  Little was known about this unusual event until the 1920s when a young geologist took an interest in the San Andreas Fault -- a rift that extends almost the length of California.

Levi Noble carried credentials of a qualified geologist with PhD and extensive field experience with the U.S. Geological Survey.  His study of rock formations in Cajon Pass led him to conclude that a “disconnect” existed across the fault zone. Terrain features and rock composition on the south side of the fault differed significantly from terrain features and rock composition on north side as if there had been lateral movement between the two sides.

In a landmark article published in 1927, Noble stated, “Scarcely anywhere in the fault zone are the rocks on the opposite sides of the master fault similar”.  He goes on, “The distribution of certain Tertiary rock masses along the master fault affords a suggestion that a horizontal shift of many miles has taken place along the rift”   

Anticipating strong disagreement from the establishment, he closed the article with, “The evidence just cited, however, is not convincing, and is certainly not definite enough to amount to proof”.

Noble makes reference to two examples of the horizontal shift in Cajon Pass:

Blue Cut -- An exposed slab of  Pelona Schist (a greenish blue crumbly mineral), located on one side of the rift faces a  very different tan colored sandstone on the other or opposite side of  the San Andreas Fault which runs through the canyon in a northwesterly direction..  (See Google Earth at: 34, 16.078; 117, 27.257.  In the 1920s, a café, gas station and campground existed at Blue Cut.  It was called Camp Cajon.)   

Hidden Lake – The second example, lies within the main strand of the fault a short distance from Blue Cut.  The shore on one side of the elongated lake is paved with pebbly Pelona Schist and the shore on the other side of the lake is a brownish, eroded sandstone. (See Google Earth at: (34, 16.399; 117, 27.952)

Dr. Robert Wallace Professor of Geology at U.C. Berkeley led a chorus denouncing Noble’s suggestion calling it “poppycock”.  The time-honored and sanctioned view held that earthquakes along fault lines cause the earth’s crust to move vertically creating mountains and valleys.  He further stressed that until science finds a physical mechanism to support sideway movement this view will stand.


Discovery of that mechanism arrived almost 40 years after the publication of Levi Noble’s landmark article.

James T. Wilson, a Canadian geologist, came up with the strange notion that continents and sea floors are not permanently fixed in place but move about the planet laterally spreading apart and bumping and scraping into one another possibly creating fault-lines where they meet. This hard-to-imagine phenomenon Wilson called “plate tectonics”.   According to this belief, the San Andreas Fault formed when a sliver of the Pacific plate began moving against the North American plate starting about four million years ago.

Plate tectonics, once accepted by those who decide such matters, opened new opportunities for PhD candidates majoring in geology and related fields. Some began analyzing organic material embedded in the fault zone; looking for evidence of past seismic events and the amount of lateral movement caused by each.

One study centered in Cajon Pass in a swampy area located at the southeast end of Lost Lake and appropriately called Lost Swamp.   A trench across the fault-trace exposed a tapestry of embedded mud, peat, pink colored sand and bits of plant and animal forms caught in crevices created by past earthquakes. 

The exposed wall of the trench is layered -- each layer representing a period of the past. Bits of charcoal and peat within or at the edge of a layer can be carbon-dated giving an approximate age which can be translated into an estimate of the event-year.

Before an earthquake or seismic event occurs, the surface of the fault-trace or zone is sandy or pebbly and relatively smooth.  During a seismic event cracks appear on this smooth surface.  In time, the cracks fill with mud and debris fed by intersecting streams and storm runoff.  Organics that can be carbon-dated also flow into the cracks and become embedded.   Size and extent of these incisions (cracks) indicate severity of the seismic event.

So what can be learned from this excavation?  The last major seismic event within the Cajon segment of the fault occurred around 1805, two-hundred and ten years ago. Prior major events occurred in 1290, 1450 AD; 5900 and 6350 BC. The earliest deposit in Cajon Pass was found in river gravel at the junction of Cleghorn Canyon and Cajon Creek dated at 23,000 BC.

The San Francisco earthquake (1906) was the last major event along the San Andreas Fault.  Estimated at between 9 and 10 on the Richter Scale, it centered on the northern segment of the fault and cause no significant seismic effect on the southern Cajon Pass sector.

Levi Noble came from a wealthy eastern family. That fact allowed him to work for the U.S. Geological Survey without compensation.  It also permitted him to pick and choose which projects he wanted to pursue.  Noble’s major contributions included the mapping and interpretation of geology in the Grand Canyon and parts of Death Valley in addition to the southern sector of the San Andreas Fault.    

The Noble’s lived on a fruit orchard near the edge of the San Andreas Fault in the San Gabriel Mountains. Levi wanted to experience an earthquake first hand.  But that never happened.  The Great Fault remained fiendishly quiet during all of the years that they lived there.

After retirement he and his wife moved back to his family’s estate in Auburn, New York.  Levi Noble died in 1965.  Hopefully, Levi became aware of Wilson’s discovery that supported his own 1927 conclusions about seismic movement along the San Andreas Fault.   

POST SCRIPT    I checked Google Earth for the location of the Pink River that flowed into Lost Lake eons ago and noted that the stream currently shows an offset of 222.09 meters (lateral movement caused by earthquakes).  According to information from the Lost Swamp excavation, the initial disconnect occurred about 9,000 years ago.  That gives an average slip rate of about 2.4 centimeters per year.

 Now, the evidence just cited, however, is not convincing, and is certainly not definite enough to amount to proof.  It may well be poppycock.