Frank “Shorty” Harris

Frank Harris was a prospector, desert rat and perhaps the best known character in western mining history. He looked the part, often travelling the desert with his mule loaded to the ears with gear. “Shorty” Harris was named, as one would suspect, due to his limited height. Standing just a little over five feet tall, this prospector casts a long shadow over the desert southwest having discovered and started several mine sights and towns.

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Shorty Harris sought is fortune in the desert prospecting and mining for gold. In the summer of 1904 he discovered the Bullfrog Mining District near Rhyolite, with Ed Cross. It is said that Ed sold his interest in the claim for $125,000. Shorty Harris claimed to have discovered that he sold him claim during a 6 day celebration.

One night, when I was pretty well lit up, a man by the name of Bryan took me to his room and put me to bed. The next morning, when I woke up, I had a bad headache and wanted more liquor. Bryan had left several bottles of whiskey on a chair beside the bed and locked the door. I helped myself and went back to sleep. That was the start of the longest jag I ever went on; it lasted six days. When I came to, Bryan showed me a bill of sale for the Bullfrog, and the price was only $25,000. I got plenty sore, but it didn’t do any good. There was my signature on the paper and beside it, the signatures of seven witnesses and the notary’s seal. And I felt a lot worse when I found out that Ed had been paid a hundred and twenty-five thousand for his half, and had lit right out for Lone Pine, where he got married.

Frank “Shorty” Harris
Touring Topics: Magazine of the American Automobile Association of Southern California
October 1930

The discovery led the to the founding of the town Rhyolite.

Shorty Harris had the reputation as a prospector, not a miner. He discovered many mines which produced, but he never appeared to develop the mine sites he found. Perhaps like many, the thrill of the hunt and the lure of saloons and drinking appeared the be his passion. He is known to have been a friend of the women, and loved to tell tall tales and was known to be well liked.

Following his adventures in Rhyolite, Shorty found himself in Furnace Creek where he ran into Pete Aquerebuerry. The two men pared up and decided to do some prospecting in the Panamint Mountains. They arrived in the areas known as Harrisberry Flats where in, one of them found gold. Two gold strikes in two years. He was also involved in mining operations twice in Goldbelt Springs. Once in 1905 mining gold and again in 1916 was a tungsten operation which earned him $1500.00

Frank “Shorty” Harris lived 77 years and passed in Big Pine, CA. At his request, he was buried in Death Valley, and his grave is visited by many travelers each year.

“I hear that Frisco is a ghost town now—abandoned and the buildings falling to ruin. That is what happened to many of the towns where I worked in the early days, but nobody then would have thought it was possible. Even now, it’s hard for me to believe that owls are roosting over those old bars where we lined up for drinks, and sagebrush is growing in the streets.”

Frank Shorty Harris


NPS article on Shorty Harris and the Bullfrog Mining District.

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