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