Panamint City California

Panamint City California - 1875
Panamint City California – 1875

Panamint City California is a ghost town and silver mine site located in Inyo County. The town site was built in Surprise canyon in the Panamint Mountain Range which is now located within Death Valley National Monument. Currently, the town is only accessible to hikers. Previously, it was possible to drive into the ghost town, however a series of flash floods washed the roads completely out.

Interest is the area was initidated in 1972, when silver was discovered by three bandits who were hiding out in Surprise Canyon. These bandits were William L. Kennedy, Robert L Stewart and Richard C. Jacobs where in Surprise Canyon doing some prospecting and looking for the Lost Gunsite Mine. The men were wanted for robing the Wells Fargo Stages. The men entered into an arrangement, and sold their claim to Nevada Senator John P Jones. The Honorable Mr. Jones arranged for amnesty for the bandits and they agreed repay the stolen $12,000 from their profits.

Senator John Percival Jones
Senator John Percival Jones

Nevada Senator John P Jones and fellow Nevada Senator William M Stewart created the Panamint Mining Company and bought up the larger mines in the canyon. The location started to boom with the involvement of the two senators.

William M. Stewart. Photo by Matthew Brady
William M. Stewart. Photo by Matthew Brady

Panamint City was founded in 1873 – 1974 and soon the town contained all of the services and stores required to support a town of 2000 people. Mines, Saloons, stores, post office, cemetery and a red light district were all built in the upper end of the canyon and arranged along a single road about one mile long. In general, most of these mining booms towns earned a reputation for lawlessness and Panamint City was no different.

Due to the towns reputation, Wells Fargo refused to open an office in Panamint City. To transport the silver from the town, the bullion was caste into 450 round balls, which were then transported in wagon to Los Angeles, CA

Panamint City Stamp Mill
Panamint City Stamp Mill

Flash floods are a constant danger, and on July 24, 1786, Panamint City experience just such a flood. This flood washed out most of the young town. Inyo county maintained a road into Surprise Canyon until 1983 when a flash flood again scoured the canyon. Currently, there is no vehicle access. Much of the Panamint City Stamp Mill is gone, however the tall brick smoke stake still stands as a sentinel in time to mark the location of the town.

Harrisburg California

Harrisburg California is a ghost town is located at 4987 feed above sea level in Inyo County and currently part of Death Valley National Park. Originally, the town was to be know as Harrisberry combining the names of Frank Harris and Pete Aguereberry after the two men discovered gold at the location in 1905.

"Shorty" Harris founder of Harrisburg Ghost Town, photographed in Ballarat.
“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat.

It is reported that “Shorty” Harris met Pete Aguereberry in Furnace Creek in July 1905. During the scorching hot summer months, the two men pared up and set off to do some prospecting in the cooler temperatures of the higher elevations of the Panamint Mountains. Upon reaching a plateau, now Harrisberg Flats, the two men began searching a rock outcropping.

A piece of rock which was chipped off the north side of a long low ledge, upon inspection by the seasoned prospector, was found to contain free gold. There is some question as to which of two men, actually found the initial claim. The two man continued on the Wildrose spring for water, and upon their return divided up the out croppings between them and each staked their claim.

The camp was named “Harrisberry”, which was a combination of their two names. Shorty Harris was emphasized to exploit his notarity and promote the camp for investors. The two men split up and headed down to Ballarat. In Ballarat, Shorty spred the news of his new find. Upon returning to their claim, the newest gold rush in Death Valley was on. Aguereberry had to reclaim his sites by persuasion and force.

Cashier Mill ruin and Pete Aguereberry, 1916. From Dane Coolidge Collection,
Cashier Mill ruin and Pete Aguereberry, 1916. From Dane Coolidge Collection,

By August 1905, Harrisberry was boasting 20 different outfits within 3 miles of the initial strike. The mining ledge found supporting the Wildrose mining district, Emigrant Springs and the the future town of Skidoo.

As was common with gold strikes, growth in Harrisberry was fast. The population of the camp was 300 strong in September and 200 claims. The cooler temperatures further expected to drain the populations of Ballarat, Darwin and nearby Rhyolite and triple the population of Harrisberry. Both Harris and Arguereberry sought outside investors and soon the Cashier Mining Company was formed with capital investment.

A prolific story teller and colorful character, Shorty Harris started referring to his new town has “Harrisburg” while on a trip to Rhyolite. Each retelling of the story further cemented the towns name as Harrisburg. Eventually the mines production faltered and the venture failed. Aguereberry continued to work the area until his death in 1945.

There are no remains of the Harrisburg California town. The site was essentially a tent city.

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 Harrisbery Flats where in, one of them found gold. Two gold strikes in two years.

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.

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.

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The Amargosa Opera House

Recently, on a whim, my wife and I loaded up the jeep and opt to just explore the desert West of our home town of Las Vegas and ended up at the Amargosa Opera House. Our original idea was to drive to the winery’s in Pahrump, Nevada. After the winery our plan was to drive up to the townsite of Johnnie, Nevada. The best laid plans were for not. We discovered that the mines of Johnnie, Nevada are located on private property.

The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.
The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.

Honoring the wishes of the Johnnie mine site property owners, we opted to do some exploring. We headed easy through the small town of Crystal, Nevada and drove past the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The AMNWR was closed, as the result of, a Government Shutdown.

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