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Mining History: Desert Fever

San Bernardino County:


James Crossman indicates that mining commenced in the New York Mountains in 1861 when prospectors looking for another Comstock stumbled on a rich silver lode. During 1862, according to Crossman, a small mill was erected, but it was burned down by Indians not long after. It is curious that newspapers, which gave the nearby Rock Spring Mining District much attention, make no mention of this mine and mill. 156

The New York Mining District was organized April, 1870, with Thomas McMahan as recorder. It embraced 15 square miles on the south slope of the New York Mountains. Nevada claimed the area, perhaps accounting for the extreme silence in the San Bernardino papers regarding the area, for it was not until the spring of 1873 that any news is forthcoming from the area. In May, 1873, Bennett and Company of San Francisco were making arrangements to erect a mill at their mine during the summer. 157

At the same time, the Montezuma Mine was attracting the attention of the curious. While prospecting in 1872, Matt Palen discovered an old shaft filled with debris, near the Elgin Company mine. Upon cleaning it to the depth of 100 feet, the walls were said to glisten with crystals and were bright with silver, yet no tools of any kind were found. The mine was offered as “evidence” of Spanish occupation and certainly not the only “evidence” to be uncovered in the desert (see sections on Rock Springs, Ivanpah and Dale.) Indeed the Spanish reportedly carried out the practice of filling mine shafts with rocks when they intended to leave them unattended for long periods of time.

Further “evidence” of the antiquity of mining in the area is furnished by the published account of a “reliable French gentleman” named Eugene D'Estey who, “… while hunting mountain sheep in the Rock Spring range, struck upon an old trail, long in disuse (a few fresh signs were visible, he followed the trail some distance) in places it was worn a foot deep in the solid granite, in waves similar to the trail crossing the Isthmus of Darien. His foot struck against something that gave him intense pain, with a muttered sacra at this mishap he stooped to examine and report on the wound inflicted upon his toes (which were protruding from his old boots) when, lo, and behold! There lay a silver brick, coated with mold and mildew as though it had lain in some damp place since the building of Solomon's Temple.” 158

Though apparently never seriously worked, the location of the Montezuma was still known in 1890, when James Crossman described it as : “a strong vein, carrying an abundance of ore rich in silver, galena and carbonates of lead. Though but little developed, the camp possesses every facility for economical workings, wood (nut pine and juniper) being abundant with water sufficient for practical purposes. The water level is reached at a depth of from three hundred to four hundred feet. Elevation five thousand feet above tidewater; distance from A and P Railroad, thirty miles, over a natural highway of easy grade.” The mine had not faded from memory beyond the turn of the century, for in 1904 Ingersoll briefly summarized earlier accounts. 159

In early 1872 the Elgin Mines Company of Elgin, Illinois, dispatched a prospecting party to the New York Mountains, with a Dr. Winchester along as assayer. The party set out from their property in Eldorado Canyon, and discovered some abandoned mines in the New York Mountains that looked quite promising, lending credence to at least part of Crossman's story. About a year later, 5 tons of ore was shipped to San Francisco, and grossed $468 per ton. 160

All of this activity by the Elgin Company took place virtually without the knowledge of the residents of San Bernardino. One can imagine their surprise in August, 1873, when seven teams passed through from Los Angeles to the New York Mountains, each loaded with 9,000 pounds of freight. The cargo consisted of a 40 horsepower steam engine and a boiler to power a fifteen-stamp Stevens crusher. The San Bernardino Guardian reported on December 6, 1873, that the mill was “at work and business improving.” On January 24, 1874, the mill was going “full blast,” and the first silver bricks were brought into San Bernardino during the middle of February by Dr. Winchester.

The mill and in particular this bullion is historic. The Guardian reported these were the first silver bars produced in the county, and the mill was the “pioneer mining mill in the country [area].” This statement is in a way perplexing, for there had been reports of Matt Palen erecting a reduction works in the Macedonia District a year earlier and somewhat conflicting accounts of mills at Ivanpah as early as March, 1871. Maybe these others are more in the realm of wishful thinking than fact. In any case, this “historic mill” proved to be inadequate in treating the ore, and shortly was shut down. By May, 1874, Dr. Winchester settled in San Bernardino to practice medicine. A little later the McFarlanes acquired the mill and moved it to Ivanpah. 162

In 1880 and 1881 there was a modest revival of activity. Andy Fife, in April, 1880, arrived in Colton to get teams to haul his mill from Lone Valley, Nevada to the New York District. One month later a party composed of San Francisco men headed to the mountains to try and relocate mining claims they had abandoned several years before. In March of 1881, the San Bernardino Valley Index listed eight silver mines. The Keystone, Gladiator, Long George, Centennial, Texas, Kiestler, McBride, and Duplex, all of which had modest development work done. Also listed were the Summit, Alto Copper, Vanderbilt and Pinkey copper mines. 163

Between 1881 and March, 1885, the Centennial had a shaft sunken from 20 to 80 feet and a 230 foot tunnel to connect the bottom of the shaft. To accomplish this work, 4 men were employed, and in 1885, ore was shipped to Pueblo, Colorado via the A. and P. Railroad, 25 miles away. 164

Isaac C. Blake, a Denver mining man, saw the mineral potential of the New York Mountains and the Yellow Pine District of southern Nevada. In the early 1890s he implemented a dream that involved mining, milling, and hauling in the area. On April 22, 1892, the Needles Reduction Company, a mill built by Blake in Needles, began operations. To supply transportation from the mines to his mill, he built the Nevada Southern Railroad, from Goffs north to the New York Mountains. Construction for the railroad began in January, 1893, and was completed to Barnwell in July 1893.165

Some time in the early 1890s, Blake purchased a group of eight silver mines, probably the eight listed above, and named them the New York Mine. In March and April, 1893, eighty men, living in dugouts and tents, were busy developing his mine and making roads. The ore was being stored until the railroad reached its terminus. It was claimed large shipments of high grade ore were made, however, the panic of 1893 and the subsequent fall of silver prices silenced the operations not long after. 166

The New York Mine came back to life in 1907 after being tied up in litigation with the failure of Isaac Blake's empire. On April 13, 1907, Mr. N. P. Sloan and associates purchased the mine and formed the Sagamore Mining Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mining commenced at once, and while deepening one of the shafts, the company encountered ore that ran 200 ounces of silver a ton. By July over 100 sacks of high-grade ore had piled up. 167

In early 1908, the fifty-ton roller-concentrating mill was erected. However the property was only active about 6 weeks during that year. In 1913, tungsten was discovered here, and a small concentration mill was erected. During 1914, 15 men were working the mine, and they continued mining until 1917, when it again became dormant. 168

New York Mountains

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