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.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

TECOPA




   
Tecopa


AT SOMETIME BETWEEN  one hundred and two hundred million years ago super-heated liquids streamed upward  from deep in the earth, hissing and gurgling  the way into cracks and cavities in the volcanic crust of the Nopah Mountain Range.   This emerging broth enveloped bits of lead, silver, zinc and other minerals of minor value.  As the broth cooled these minerals became part of a hard limestone called dolomite.

The Nopah Range, located at the southeastern edge of Inyo County was so far from centers of commerce that costs of transporting and processing ore from the mines kept profits low.    

Jonas Osborne, a man experienced in the arts of mining, arrived at the settlement of Brownsville in 1875.  It was a time of frenetic enterprise marked by:  pick and shovel prospect pits and claim markers scattered about –-construction of primitive living quarters where lots were being sold --- mule drawn wagons hauling ore to places where it could be processed --- a few open mine shafts and tunnels attacking a continuous seam of dolomite that appeared striking to the northwest.

Osborne pictured rightly that the only way this assembly could find prosperity would be to reduce or eliminate the cost of transporting untreated ore to Utah or Los Angeles for processing.  A smelter located near the mines would be the answer. However, a smelter and attending machinery would require a sizable investment. 

To that end, Osborne acquired a number of promising mines in the district and formed a corporation backed by the acquired mines.  Osborne would be principal owner and president of the Los Angeles Mining and Smelter Company.

He also bought the settlement of Brownsville from the Brown brothers and renamed it Tecopa after Chief Tecopa, a native Paiute who frequently visited the camp wearing a tall silk hat, white long sleeve shirt and a dark vest.

Over time, three places in the district would be named Tecopa. The initial settlement of Brownsville located at the south end of the Nopah Range became Tecopa #1.     

The Los Angeles Mining and Smelting Company attracted a number of Los Angeles investors who eagerly purchased enough stock at $1.00 a share to finance construction of a smelter that soon took form near Tecopa #1 at the edge of Willow Creek.

A smelter is designed to direct intense heat at a brace or pile of ore such as dolomite.  The heat releases metals and turns the parent rock into an ash called slag.  The released minerals   usually require further reduction elsewhere.   

 For a number of reasons the new furnace failed to effectively extract lead and other metals from the dolomite as intended.  Besides, the high cost of manpower and fuel pretty well doomed any economic reward from the venture.

Failure of the smelter caused some head shaking in camp and dismay among those holding stock in the Los Angeles Mining and Smelter Company.  Though shaken, Osborne showed how a true mining man reacted to adversity by convincing members of his board to approve purchase of a Davis Pulverizer -- a new invention, with rotary grinders, which reportedly would turn dolomite into a fine power.

The new mill required a dependable source of water that could only be provided at Resting Springs located six miles northwest of Tecopa #1.  As construction of platforms and buildings proceeded, Osborne moved the center of his operations to the spring and began selling building lots to those merchants and town folk who wanted to be near the action.   The resulting settlement became Tacopa #2.


Another failure and a fraud!  Osborne refused to make payments on the pulverizer claiming that it had not functioned as advertised.   In due course, the Davis Company won a settlement resulting in attachments of mining properties owned by the company. 

Eventually, payment was made and the attachments were released.  But, the dire financial situation that the company faced brought to an end the Los Angles Mining and Smelting Company.

Mines in the district would remain idle for the next 25 years.

In 1905, rumors circulated that a railroad from Death Valley to the Santa Fe at Ludlow would pass through the Amargosa Valley near the abandoned Nopah mines.

James H. Lester a former mine manager constructed a road from the mines to a proposed station on the Tonapah & Tidewater Railroad.

Lester, found new investors and organized the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company.   The company opened the two major producers in the district (the Noonday and Gunsight mines) and began hauling ore to the Tocopa Station (Tecopa #3) for shipment.

Handsome returns proved that Nopah mines could make money befitting Osborne’s earlier predictions.  Even the 1907 financial panic had little effect on production as both mines were expanded.  



Nelson Z. Graves, a wealthy Eastern manufacturer of house paint, bought controlling interest in the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company in order to secure a ready supply of cheap lead, a prime ingredient in white paint.  After touring the mines and operations, he decided to make some major changes

For starters, Graves hired Dr. Lincoln D. Goodshell an experienced metallurgist under whose guidance the company made money and would continue to make money for the next twelve years.  The company would become the largest producer of lead in
California.

During prosperous years, mine workers’ living quarters could be found scattered from Resting Springs, Tecopa #2, down the western side of Nopah Mountain to Tecopa #1 and in the small community of Tecopa Station where entertainment could be found at the Snake Room.

The Noonday and Gunsight mines spilled a sizable fortune in lead and zinc over the years.  But, by the mid 20s production declined foretelling that the end was near. 

During the good years, Graves shipped tons of silver to his paint factories in Philadelphia. This was done without knowledge or consent of the other stockholders who had received no dividends during Graves tenure as president of the Tecopa Consolidated  Mining Company.  A court determined that Graves was guilty of both malfeasance of office and of expropriation of company assets for private use.


By the time word of the great rip-off became public, Graves had returned to the East Coast and would not be held to answer for his misdeeds.  The Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company soon filed for   bankruptcy and eventually all company assets and mining property within the Nopah Mining District  fell subject to an auctioneer’s gavel.

Activity in the district again became idle and would remain idle from 1928 until 1947.

When!  

An unsuspected mineral deposit was discovered deep in the War Eagle Mine by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.  The company working the new find would take out tons of lead and zinc over the next ten years.  


The final act to this seemingly endless saga came about when the federal government stopped stockpiling lead and zinc and prices for these metals plummeted.    


 Tecopa #1 at Google Earth   35 48.434; 116 8.606                            

Tecopa #2 (Resting Springs) at Google Earth  35 53.309; 116 9.396    The property and spring are fenced and not open to the public.

Tecopa #3 (Tacopa Station) at Google Earth 35 50.891; 116 13.582                    




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