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Mining History: Desert Fever

Inyo County:


After the Ballarat boom, no new gold discoveries in Inyo County occurred until the worldwide depression of the 1930s and devaluation of the dollar brought back interest in gold. Unlike other counties, Inyo's gold producing areas did not experience a huge influx of prospectors during these years. New gold mines were developed, but they were small mining operations in isolated parts of the county far from any towns.

The Little Mack Mine in the Lookout District and the Marble Canyon placer mines in northern Inyo County were two such depression era mining activities.

Little Mack Mine

In Thompson Canyon, 400 feet east of the Minnietta Mine, lies the Little Mack Mine. Otto Siedentopf of Trona, California operated this gold mine from 1930 to 1937, producing $15,000. A 250 foot long tunnel develops a four foot wide vein of quartz which averaged $1 5 to $20 in gold per ton. Ore was transported by an aerial tram 325 feet long to a 20 ton ore bin. From there it was next crushed by one 800-pound stamp powered by a gasoline engine, and the gold was recovered with an amalgamation plate. A Rix air compressor powered his drills and the mine also had a small blacksmith shop on site.

In the midst of the rich silver and lead mines of the Lookout district, the Little Mack Mine operation stands out for two reasons. It was entirely a one-man operation, and the only mine producing gold as the primary metal in the entire district.

Marble Canyon

In 1934, a small mining rush occurred when J. C. Lewis discovered coarse gold in gulches in Marble Canyon. By 1938, approximately twenty men were working placer gold mines, recovering gold by dry washing. One gold nugget worth $300 was found at the Bedell group of mines, and all of the mines reported recovering nuggets ranoin9 in value from $3 to $20. The gold fineness averaged about 920 for the whole area.

The source of the placer gold values in this area is an old stream channel some 200 feet wide and 9 miles long. The miners dug down through this channel until they hit bedrock, usually 70 to 115 feet down. The gold itself was probably washed down from the Magpie or Blue Bell veins located in the Inyo National Forest, three miles south.


The last new metallic ore discovery in Inyo County, like the first, was silver. The Big Four Mine (known also as the War Eagle) is a lead-silver-zinc mine located seven miles northeast of Panamint Springs. Although possibly first discovered in 1907, it was never more than a prospect until William Reid restaked three claims in 1940. Development work began in 1942 and 370 tons of ore was extracted between 1944 and 1945. Leased from 1946 through 1949 by various persons, the ore averaged 16.6 percent lead, 12.5 percent zinc and 2.6 ounces of silver per ton. In 1952, production amounted to 136 tons of ore.

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