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Mining History: Desert Fever

San Bernardino County:


In the 1870s an old German named Erick Vontrigger made some mineral locations, and camped at what is known as Vontrigger Spring, about 9 miles north of Goffs. The story of his mine reads like that of the Lost Dutchman Mine of Arizona. The location Vonntrigger's mine was a jealously guarded secret from which he “periodically brought forth rich pouches of gold.” He died in San Francisco in 1880 after an accident, and with him died the location of the source of his gold. Of course, the story of Vontrigger and his mine was hardly downplayed after his death, as one person, intending to capitalize on the allure of the legend in his own way wrote: “Around many a campfire was the tale repeated, undoubtedly with many additions and exaggerations.” By the late 1880s, the Exchequer District was organized, encompassing Hackberry Mountain and the southern part of the Piute Range, the territory in which the lost Vontrigger Mine was supposed to be. 196

In fact in 1890, nine miles north of Goffs, the “Vontrigger Mines,” as they were fancifully named by their owners, were active and at least one small shipment of copper-gold ore was made to San Francisco. Evidently few at the time were convinced this was the old German's gold, for in May, 1895, a party of 7 men, looking for the mine, became lost near Vontrigger Springs and almost lost their lives because of dehydration. The conclusion was “the mine is still lost and the seekers have returned to Los Angeles.” 197

In the meantime, Cashier Camp, probably at the site of the Leiser Ray Mine, was a small but active place. In 1890 the Exchequer Mine, the Drednaught, and the Cashier mines were yielding silver and gold. All of the mines were worked by shafts, and the Cashier had one 150 feet deep. Development was slowed by a lack of water, yet by 1895 some new people showed interest. William McFarlane owned a gold mine here, and Albert H. Cram owned the Old Dominion and Nonpareil gold mines, which were located in January, 1895. 198

Cram had other interests in the area as well. Supposedly, in 1892 he located the Vontrigger Mine. People were still looking for the real mine in 1895, however, and the location of Cram's discovery matches closely with the property mentioned above as the “Vontrigger Mines” active in 1890, thus the authenticity of his “Vontrigger Mine” is equally dubious. By 1902, Cram, with C. W. Page, had located numerous claims, with the most extensive work consisting of a 70-foot shaft. In September, 1904, Cram purchased 4 claims that adjoined his from Sarah Weeks, a widow whose husband may have been mining there in 1890. Sometime later that year, the California Gold and Copper Company was organized and soon set to work, not at the mines, but to raise capital to develop the property. After sufficient money was raised, the company began sinking 3 shafts, and in December, 1905, two shifts of men were busy. In August, 1906, 25 men were employed. Water was appropriated February, 1907, at a spring on the north side of Hackberry Mountain, and immediately a pipeline was begun to the mine which was completed in July at a cost of $20,000. Also, that February, the claims were surveyed as one of the requirements for obtaining a patent. By May, 1907, a substantial camp had grown up to include a general store, blacksmith shop, boarding house, rooming house, bunkhouse, about 7 cottages for the men, a large barn and an engine house. Altogether there were about 20 buildings. 199

In July, 1909, a leaching plant was “near completion” yet in November it still was not in operation. In February, 1911, machinery for a new mill arrived, consisting of a crusher, an electro-chemical reduction plant and a cyanide plant capable of handling 100 tons of ore a day. By July it was operating 24 hours a day. A year later, in July, 1912, the plant was “running day and night, working ore from a large vein.” However, operations were suspended prior to 1915. A year later the mine was leased, but the leasers do not appear to have put the mine into operation. 200

From 1926 to 1928, 3,917 tons of ore, mostly from the dumps, were shipped from the property of the California Gold and Copper Company. In 1941 there was an attempt to precipitate copper on tin cans, which was unsuccessful. Then, from 1944 to 1945, the property was leased to the Dutch Oven Mining Company, which shipped about 1,175 tons of ore from the mine. 201

In 1907 when the mines of the California Gold and Copper Company were going strong, other property was active in the Exchequer Mining District. In fact, a new district named the Crazy Basin District was established in the Vontrigger country. E. L. Lanfair and his partners were sinking a shaft 4 miles northwest of the Cram property, but others were working this mine too. A half-mile southeast of the Cram property was a mine operated in the fall of 1906 by the Dessie-Boyer Copper-Gold Mines, Ltd. 202

As a further indication that many did not believe that the lost “Vontrigger Mine” had been found earlier, in February, 1911, the “Mining and Milling Company” started development at a gold mine “near where the lost Vontrigger was supposed to have been located.” 203

In 1925 another “Vontrigger” camp sprang up. This mine, also known as the Getchell, was discovered about January, 1925, by J. L. Workman and was kept secret until Senator Getchell of Nevada, apparently Workman's partner, could arrive. The mine was purchased by Al Meyers in May for $50,000, upon learning that the ore assayed as high as $23,000 per ton in gold and silver. A small camp consisting of 30 tents had sprung up, with new ones going up “every other day.” As a contemporary account described the camp, “There is a store, a restaurant, and a cold drink resort. Work has begun on a 30 room hotel.” Little else is known about this mine except it was reported to have been worked from 1930 to 1931 and in 1938, 1939 and 1941. In 1953 this mine was named the Denver Mine. 204

The Exchequer Mine in 1909 was going full blast. Between 1905 and 1915, a 900 foot mine shaft with 6,000 feet of underground workings was dug in the rock, and west of that shaft was a 200 foot shaft. In 1908 the property was sold to the Leiser Ray Company, then in 1911 it was taken over by the Louisiana-California Mining Company. A large mill was installed here about 1914 to mill the ore from this mine and to custom mill from nearby mines. In 1920 the Vanadium Gold Company purchased the property (the Exchequer was one of the few mines in the California Desert in which vanadium was found) and in 1922 that company was busy getting ready for operation. Between 1936 and 1937, about 30 men were employed here by the California Comstock Gold Mines, Ltd. 205

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