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An Overview of Mining in the California Desert

Another Try

Fueled by the Lost Gunsight Mine story, prospectors began to scour the Death Valley region. Dr. Darwin French decided to give the search another try. In 1860, following the Comstock discovery, he led a group of about a dozen prospectors from Oroville and Sacramento in a search for the lost ledge of silver. While the expedition failed to find the source of the gun sight silver, they did find rich silver ore in the Coso Range. One member of the French party was Dennis Searles. He returned with his brother John not long later. Together the brothers found gold and silver mineralization in the Slate Range. By the fall of 1860 there were hundreds of prospectors in the area. By early 1861 the Telescope Mining District had been established in the Panamint Mountains, and the Washington District in the Amargosa Range on the east side of Death Valley. In the early 1860s mineral discoveries in the desert of southeastern California came in quick succession. At the base of the mountains at the eastern edge of the Owens Valley several gold discoveries were made in the 1860s. From south to north these were Bend City (1863), San Carlos (1862), and Owensville. In 1863 the Kersarge Mine was discovered high on the crest of the Sierra Nevada west of Independence. To the south, gold and silver was also found in the El Paso Mountains.

In the East Mojave silver ore was found in 1863 essentially right beside the route of the Government Road in Macedonia Canyon in the northern Providence Mountains. Located just 15 miles inside Nevada, the Potosi lead-silver mines in 1861 were attracting considerable attention. At the same time the gold placers of El Dorado Canyon (east of present-day Searchlight, Nevada) and La Paz, Arizona (seven miles north of Ehrenberg) were also active. These discoveries drew men either overland from the coastal regions of California or up the Colorado River. During the Civil War the relatively easy transportation along Colorado River, rich copper deposits adjacent to the river, and growing demand and the high price of copper combined to yield small tonnages of high-grade ore. During this time copper was mined in the Dead Mountains, Whipple Mountains, Turtle Mountains, and in Riverside County in the Ironwood Mining District. What little ore that was mined was shipped around the globe to Swansea, Wales for smelting.

In the late 1850s, just prior to the outbreak of “Washoe fever,” miners were successfully recovering placer gold north of Mono Lake at the camps of Dogtown and Monoville. Then, in July 1859, Waterman “Bill” Body found placer gold some 20 miles east of Dogtown at the location that bears the name Bodie. A year later gold was discovered some 16 miles farther to the east, just inside Nevada, at Aurora. In 1861, lode gold was discovered at Bodie and shared the limelight with nearby Aurora. Aurora grew rapidly into a town. Many of the houses and stores were built of fine brick. Samuel Clemens worked here briefly in 1862. It was even the seat of Mono County for a short time until a boundary survey proved it to be in Nevada. It boasted two newspapers and a population of several thousand. But more importantly, the inflated value of the mining stock, extreme speculation in mining property, and costly mills that largely stood idle led to a collapse in the price of mining stock. It began in January 1864 with Aurora’s Wide West Mine, but soon spread to all the mining stock associated with Aurora and ultimately the Comstock mines as well. At the time the mines of the Comstock were themselves struggling, and would until the discovery of bonanza ore in 1871.

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