DESERT EXPLORER

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

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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, February 17, 2014

GOLDFIELD

Long ago, Nevada’s Columbia Mountains hosted a stream of gold infested super-heated mineral that arrived from far below the ancient volcanic rock that gave form to the range.  A few prospectors who arrived soon after the discovery became very wealthy. They named it Goldfield.

Crude buildings appeared along bladed streets that defined the town, while mounds of gold bearing ore peaked at mine entrances awaiting mule-drawn wagons to haul it to mills in Tonopah.   

Unfortunately, some dwellings were built on existing placer claims that made it difficult for owners to prove what they owned and made it possible for those, so disposed, to camp on the property claiming squatter-rights.  The end of a gun barrel often settled such disputes.  

Tex Richards, a man of good business sense, opened one of the largest saloons in town investing money that he had made in the Alaskan Gold Rush.  The sixty foot bar required twelve bartenders who served six barrels of whiskey a day.  It was named The Northern featuring faro, blackjack, poker and roulette in what some considered “pretentious” surroundings. 

Billy Murray worked the racetracks before setting out for Goldfield.  Tex hired him to handle the cashier’s wicket at the Northern.  The wicket manager was responsible for holding and dispensing money for the dealers -- keeping their money in a safe behind the cage. 

Billy kept track of the money by writing the name of the dealer and the amount deposited in a notebook.  When the dealer needed cash Billy would simply subtract that amount from the amount deposited

 Customers eventually got in the habit of leaving some of their money at the wicket for safe keeping   All Billy needed was their name and the amount.  




The financial panic of 1907 paralyzed the country causing banks to fail as depositors lined up to withdraw their savings. Those who knew Billy brought their retrieved savings to the wicket for safe keeping.

 In fact, there was so much customer money stacked around behind the cashier’s cage that one of the dealers agreed to haul it down the alley late at night and deposit it in the John J Cook Bank.   Billy claimed that these night deposits made that bank solvent so that the doors could open for business the next day.  The run on the John J Cook Bank soon ended thanks to Billy.  Old timers claimed that some of that money made at least three trips down that alley.

Goldfield eventually became the richest and longest producing mining town in the state of Nevada.   And, the Goldfield Consolidate Mining Company became the most successful operator.  By 1910, the population of Goldfield had reach 20,000 making it the largest city in Nevada at that time.  





Those who worked below ground could walk out of the mine with their pockets and jacket linings filled with high-grade ore that found its way to certain back-street assayer’s.   The mine owners looked the other way as long as profits were high.  That changed however; when the mines went deeper and the cost of recovery went higher. 

Confrontation broke out between owners and miners when dressing rooms were introduced near the mine entrance and miners were required to change their clothes before their tour under ground.  No more easy money. Wages at that time ranged around four dollars a day.   
The confrontation brought union organizers who had succeeded in organizing miners at Cripple Creek and other camps in Colorado.   The American Labor Union had made some inroads organizing miners in Goldfield.  But the real threat to management came from the communist-inspired International Workers of the World who used strong-arm tactics to enforce their will.



After some back and forth negotiations between labor and management, a strike took effect and the mines went idle.  The economic conditions were such that the mine owners could afford the time to renegotiated wages to their benefit.  But, the threat that strikers might resort to the destruction of property led to a call by the governor for United States Army troops stationed at the federal garrison at San Francisco.

Soon after the troops arrived, the strike ended.  The miners went back to work and the soldiers went back to San Francisco. 

Nevada was one of the few states that allowed professional prizefights.   The most famous fight occurred in 1897 -- a fourteen-round fest between James Corbett and Jim Fitzsimons for the World’s heavyweight title. That fight took place in Reno.

The sports pages of eastern newspapers clamored for a showdown between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson for the world’s lightweight title.  Tex Richards kept his eyes open for ways to make money without digging holes in the ground.   “Why don’t we host the fight here in Goldfield?” he asked a few of his associates. “Let’s get some of the leading citizens together to sponsor the fight.”

The Goldfield Athletic Club resulted from Richards’ effort.   The club made the necessary contact with eastern fight promoters, raised the guaranteed prize money for the fighters and built a ring with bleachers to accommodate the anticipated large number of fight fans that would attend.

The two fighters arrived in town in the latest automobiles giving rise to celebrations along Main Street.  Trains from all directions brought fight fans including celebrities and wealthy industrialist, some arriving in their private Pullman cars hungry to be seen and reported.

As a result of all the hoopla, Goldfield received front page coverage in most newspapers throughout the country.  As Tex Richards predicted, Goldfield had made the big time. [2]

With the temperature nearing one-hundred degrees, the longest fight in the history of boxing took place on Labor Day 1906.  The two fighters traded blows for 43 rounds with Gans receiving the lightweight title from the referee after Nelson delivered a low punch.

A movie camera followed the fight round-by-round until the cameraman ran out of film.  The production was shown in theaters around the world and can now be seen on YouTube. 

Tex Richards went on to promote a number of famous heavyweight fights during the 1920s and 30s.  He, along with John Ringling, founded Madison Square Garden in New York City dedicated to showcasing prizefights and other sporting events.

Goldfield proved more stubborn than most towns that depended on digging for gold.  After 1910, interest in new discoveries began to draw prospectors and others to nearby camps such as Gold Reed, Silver Arrow, Blake’s Camp and Bonnie Clark.   Profits decreased as the quality of gold baring ore declined. The major companies, however, continued operations until the end of World War I.



In 1913 a major flood swept away large section of the town. Ten years later fire destroyed Main Street and the adjacent twenty-five block business district.  It was believed that the fire got started by a whisky still that exploded in a garage located on Main Street.

A few significant buildings managed to survive flood, fire and the passage of time.

We visited the town a few years ago and took photographs of some of the buildings.  For those interested, Goldfield is an easy drive from Las Vegas up Highway 95.