Goldbelt Springs

A discovery by the famous prospector “Shorty Harris“, led to the founding on the Goldbelt Springs mining district off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, California. The earliest known occupants of this area were a seven member family Saline Valley Panamint Indians who, despite the higher elevation, would winter in the area.

A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California
A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California

Gold was discovered in the area, just a few miles away by Frank “Shorty” Harris in the later half of 1904. Following “Shorty”, miners migrated into the area utilizing a route from Ubehebe via Willow Springs. Soon, small claims were staked out on the northwest slope of Hunter Mountain. Harris, L.P. McGarry, E.G. Padgett (Pegot or Paggett), Joseph Simpson, and W.D. Frey were among the first credited with strikes. In January, 1902 the Gold Belt Mining District was established and recorded.

A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine
A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine

Initially the site looked good for mining development. There was a water source and fuel to facilitate mining operations. High grade gold ore with small silver veins was discovered on four foot ledges prompted optimism in the sight. The ore was assayed at $8 – $176 or $38 to $240 in gold depending upon the source. On this news, plans for a town were starting to be developed.

A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California
A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California

In February of 1905, enough capital was available from investors from San Francisco to allowed expanded exploration of the area. Not much is available of this exploration, however by the fall of 1905 and exploration was abandoned. It could be inferred that the ore quantity and quality was not sufficient to justify the expense to those investors.

Regardless, smaller operations continued in the area of Goldbelt Sprints, from 1905 to 1910 including operations by Annetta Rittenhouse of Los Angeles, H.W. Eichbaum of Venice, L.P. McGarry of Pioneer, and W.S. Ball of Rhyolite.

More Ruins near the old mining camp
More Ruins near the old mining camp

In 1916, “Shorty” Harris again road into the area near Hunter Mountain. World War I had increased the price of tungsten. Harris pulling from his previous exploration probably knew of the mineral, and soon found a tungsten mine. By March, he had produce several hundred pounds of tungsten ore worth some $1500.00.

An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.
An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.

Throughout the 1940s and 1960’s various small operations were mining the area. This would include mines called Calmet and also nearby Quackenbush. The site today has smaller ruins. A truck and mine are still visible and an ore sorting platform is standing at the Calmet location. The wooden structures are completely flattened by time and the elements.

An old mine tunnel
An old mine tunnel

Mine Summary

NameGoldbelt Springs
LocationHunter Mountain, Death Valley National Park, California
Latitude, Longitude
ProductionGold, Silver, Copper, Tungsten, Talc
Year Productive1904 –
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Keane Wonder Mine

The Keane Wonder Mine is perhaps the most visited gold mining facility in Death Valley National Park in eastern California. Mining operations began in December 0f 1903 by Jack Keane. Keane and his partner Domingo Etcharren while Keane was prospecting in the Chloride Cliffs of the Funeral mountains. The names was originally called “Keane’s Wonder” when gold and silver were found.

Keane Wonder Mine - 1916 - Quartz mill. Mine said to have produced $1,000,000. Closed May 1916 as the developed ore bodies were worked out.
Keane Wonder Mine – 1916 – Quartz mill. Mine said to have produced $1,000,000. Closed May 1916 as the developed ore bodies were worked out.

Trying to raise capital, Keane and Etharren sold options to Joseph DeLamar from New York. Despite modest gold production, DeLamar quite his claims. It was not until 1906 when Homer Wilson and John Campbell bought into the mine that operations really starting producing. Homer Wilson was also involved in founding nearby Chloride City.

1907 saw the full operations in place. Operationally, the mine build a tramway up into the mountains, which was used to haul 70 tons of gold rich ore each day. The tramway climbed into the mountains over 1500 feet in elevation and was over one mile long.

The Keane Wonder mine survived the Panic of 1907. Operationally, the lack of water and high desert heat caused the mine to operated in the cooler air of the desert night. The mine continued until 1912, when it was sold and subsequently closed.

The Keane Wonder Mine was included in the founding of Death Valley National Monument. The popular site was closed to visitors by the NPS in 2008 over fears of collapse of underground tunnels, toxins and the structural stability of the cables used in the tramway. The location was opened to the public again in 2017.

Today, the aerial tramway, stamp mill, storage containers and assorted artifacts litter the grounds.

Resources

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Chemung Mine

Located off the Masonic Road between Bridgeport, CA and the Masonic town site, are the remains of the Chemung gold mine.  The Chemung gold mine operated from from 1909 to 1938 and produced over one million dollars in gold.  In the 1920s, the Chemung mine was producing low grade and high grade ore.  The ore was processed onsite, and then shipped to near by Bodie for smelting.

The Chemung Mine located just outside of Bridgeport, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung Mine located just outside of Bridgeport, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Along with the increase cost of mining supplies which reduced growth, a poor gold market and the cost of hauling the ore to Bodie over the poor roads for smelting and little mine was doomed and closed its doors in 1938.

The Chemung mine history is not a mining failure, but a failure of management and litigation.  During its time of production, the mine built and tore down three mills.  During the last year of operation in 1938, 20 men worked the site and less than one year later the mine was closed.  The mine itself produced well, however endless litigation for various reasons doomed the mine.

The Chemung gold mine over looking the Bridgeport Valley.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung gold mine over looking the Bridgeport Valley.. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s new life was found in the mine with the efforts of Elton “Heinie” Heinemeyer.  Heinemeyer mined for years but never struck it big.  Well liked by the town of Bridgeport, CA Heinemeters well being was the source of concern for the people of Bridgeport and it is reported that he would always find time to visit and entertain those who traveled to check up on him.

Currently, the mill building structure is intact but the years of harsh weather have taken its toll.  A mild wind will cause some of the walls to shake or shudder, and the lower outer wall is leaning outward.  In June 2016, bars restricted access to the mines themselves although the mines do offer a cold breeze on a warm day to cool you down.

The Chemung mine still maintains and impressive structure. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung mine still maintains and impressive structure. Photograph by James L Rathbun

There are stories that the site is haunted by a spirit or ghost, but only on Saturday nights, which seems a bit odd to me.

The Chemung Mine working still seem ready to go. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung Mine working still seem ready to go. Photograph by James L Rathbun

On a personal note, the Chemung mine surprised me.  I have been to Aurora three times, Masonic at least three times, and Bodie… at least ten.  My last visit to Bodie was in 2013. Afterwards this last trip, I was looking in Google Earth when I “discovered” the Chemung gold mine.  How had this mine, such an impressive structure, evaded my radar for so many years?  It took me three years from that day to make my first visit to Chemung, and this place is definately on my list for a repeat visit.

Time, weather and gravity have taken its toll on the structure of the Chemung Mine.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Time, weather and gravity have taken its toll on the structure of the Chemung Mine.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
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Silver Star Mine

The Silver Star Mine is a small mine site located off of the Zinc Mountain Road in San Bernardino County, California. The site rests at 4931 feet above sea level in the Ivanpah montains. The lonely site features a small humble cabin the miners used to survive and beat the heat. There is also a wrecked automobile near at the site, which has long since given up the battle against rust.

Silver Star Mine Cabin
Silver Star Mine Cabin

There is not much information available for this location on the Internet and hopefully I will be able to find some eventually. The mine site is also know as the Lucky Lode deposits. The route into the area is reasonably passable and should be suitable for most cars, provided the driver is used to operating on the back roads of the desert.

Silver Star Mine
Silver Star Mine rusted out auto

Some places claim that this mine produced lead, copper and zinc. The fact that this mine is found just off of Zinc Mountain Road offers some credence to a zinc mine. Other online sources claim this is a tungsten mine. A shallow mine shaft is located near the cabin. The shaft contains an old wooden ladder used by the miners and appears to be filled in, collapsed, or suspended after about 20 feet of workings.

Silver Star Mine Shaft
Silver Star Mine Shaft with ladder.

This stark hole in the ground reminds us what a challenges the life of a miner must endure. Hot, dry deserts, narrow, dark tunnels in a hostile landscape.

Silver Star Mine Trail Map

Resources

Leadfield California

Leadfield California is a ghost town located in Inyo County and Death Valley National Park and found on the Titus Canyon Trail. The town boom in 1925 and 1926, however, Leadfield is a town that was started on fraud and deceit.

Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California
Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California

According to Legend and an article in Desert Magazine, and shameless promoter C. C. Julian wandered into Titus Canyon and started blasting tunnels. He then discovered lead ore which he purchased and brought down from Tonopah, Nevada. Julian then produced maps and other promotional materials and found investors from the East coast. The town of Leadfield was born and died on the imagination of this one man.

On first sight of Leadfield, my son yelled "Dad, get the tool box.  We need to fix this town!"
On first sight of Leadfield, my son yelled “Dad, get the tool box. We need to fix this town!”

The truth of the tale is not quite as interesting or spectacular. According the the National Park Service, Leadfield ore was first worked in 1905. During the Bullfrog boom, which took place outside of Beatty, prospectors worked the land looking for the next big hit. In the fall of 1905, nine mine sights were identified and claimed by W. H. Seaman and Curtis Durnford. The ore from these sites was assayed in Rhyolite at $40 per ton. The men bought out a local consortium and the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company was incorporated which released promotional material and sold shares for 2.5 cents each.

The mine and its ore did produce, however the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company soon discovered that the expense of hauling the ore to Rhyolite and then the frieght costs to ship the material to smelters further off caused the ore to be not profitable. After six months of operation the Death Valley Colisidated Mining Company disappeared.

Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California
Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California

Despite early failures, in March of 1924 three prospectors wandered into the canyon and staked several claims. Ben Chambers, L. Christensen and Frank Metts worked their claims of lead ore for over one year before selling the claims to John Salsberry. Mr. Salsberry saw enough promise to form the Western Lead Mines Company and started to raise capital via stock sales at $0.10 per share. By the end of 1925, the Western Lead Mines Company was working 50 claims in the valley and soon began in invest in infastructure in the form of a compressor plant. A long steep road was constructed for LeadField to the Beatty Highway.

In early 1926, the Western Lead Mines Company build a boarding house and piped in water from a nearby spring. The town of Leadfield was named officially January 30th, 1926. Stock from the Western Lead Mines Company went on sale in January and within a 24 hour period, 40,000 share of stock were sold at $1.57 per share.

C. C. Julian
C. C. Julian

In February 1926 it became known to the public that C. C. Julian purchase shares and was now President of Western Lead Mines Company. Almost immediately the California State Corporation Commission began an investigation into the stock sale because a permit was not granted for the stock sale. The promoter went to work, along with several other mine operations, raise interest and money for the town. City plans were filed with Inyo County, however the spectre of investigation loomed.

Despite the arrival of a post office, investment into the location, and hundreds of feet of tunnel, C. C. Julian was ordered to cease sale of stock by the California State Corporation Commission. Around the same time, the primary tunnel of the Western Lead Mines Company penetrated to the ledge which experts predicted the highest quality ore. This ore was assayed at 2% and far too low for profit considered freight costs.

"The Last Days of C. C. Julian," Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 1935
“The Last Days of C. C. Julian,” Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 1935

Leadfield and the surrounding mines where gone months later. Mr. Julian was blamed despite the facts that he did not start the venture, there was ore at the location, and he invested money and time towards the venture. Once his Leadfield venture faltered, he moved onto to Oklahoma and was caught up in yet another scam. Julian later fled the country for Shanghai in March of 1933 m where he committed suicide in 1923 after several more failed schemes. Julian was buried in a beggers coffin and his funeral was attended by nine people.

Mr. Julian is responsible for the road through Titus Canyon, which many is a favorite route of visitors every year.

Leadfield Sign, Death Valley, California
Leadfield Sign, Death Valley, California

For a detailed history, the NPS offers a great article.

Further Reading

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