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Mining History: Desert Fever

San Bernardino County:

Whipple Mountains

Within the Whipple Mountains area, the Chemehuevi District extended from opposite the Bill Williams River to the La Paz ferry and “from twenty to fifty miles” back from the Colorado River. Immediately north of it is a “river bottom of about six miles in length and three miles in width.” John Jennings, a miner in Copper Basin in the early part of this century, related that Pete McGuire told him the area was “located and worked by soldiers as far back as 1862.” Copper Basin is within the Chemehuevi District and is probably where the majority of mining took place. In May, 1863, the district was said to contain “rich copper ores with a small percentage of silver. There are a few men there prospecting but there is no regular working.” In November it was claimed the ore was “so rich in copper that it can be pared off with a pen knife.” In that month the “Chimawave Consolidated Mining Company” was working on two claims or lodes known as the Union and the Colorado. A bar of metal weighing almost 6 pounds was sent to San Francisco, smelted from 14 pounds of ore. In March, 1864, two companies, the Monte Cristo Copper Mining Company and the Black Mining Company were incorporated for nearly a million dollars each. However, nothing more is heard until the 1870s. 35

In 1875, John S. Jennings came west and visited Copper Basin. He found one white man, Pete McGuire, on the California side of the Lower Colorado, holding property that later was owned by the Copper Basin Mining Company. McGuire came to San Francisco in the “early days,” probably meaning the rush of 1849, then went to Signal and the Rawhide mines on the Bill Williams River when they blossomed, before drowning in 1904 in the Colorado. 36

The Black Metal Silver Mine probably was first discovered by a Chemehuevi Indian in 1879, and sold to McGuire and the Levi brothers of Signal, although another story claims McGuire found the mine. Thousands of dollars worth of high grade ore, grossing $200 to $400 per ton was shipped from the Black Metal Landing, where it was loaded onto the river steamboat, eventually bound for Swansea, Wales. Charles Battye recalls that “During his brief season of prosperity, Pete declared his intentions to equip his faithful burro with silver shoes, but whether or not he did so is not now remembered. At that time he had some financial dealings with an established mercantile firm over in Signal, Mojave County, Arizona, and perhaps they dissuaded him from carrying out his high-flown idea.” 37

In 1881, there was a store and a saloon at Black Metal Landing as well as a thriving little mining camp. Also, around that time the Grand Central Mine was located in the Copper Basin and a five-stamp mill was installed, but the ore proved too refractory for amalgamation and the mill was later moved to the Blossom Mine near Yuma. 38

About 1886, Charley Monaghan, Frank Murphy, Pete Murphy and Pete McGuire owned the Black Metal and did a small amount of work in it until 1890. During January, 1889, ore from the mine had assayed a fabulous 2,442 ounces of silver and 41 percent copper per ton. 39

About 1887 Colonel I. R. Dunkelberger had a “large stamp mill” installed at his Rincon Copper Mine, by Mr. J. C. Hoy of Needles. The Rincon was on the river about 5 miles north of the Black Metal Landing. The ill-fated ten-stamp mill only ran a short time. 40

In 1889 there was renewed interest in the area. In April, it was noted that Arizona miners had drifted into the Whipple Mountains and were chloriding ore. Several parties held claims in the vicinity, and the whole area began to be known, at least in some circles, as Rincon. The owners of property near the Rincon Mine were reportedly “making arrangements to have a smelter erected in that vicinity” at a time when clamor for a smelter was coming from the owners of the newly discovered mines in the Old Woman Mountains. 41

An agent for a “powerful English Syndicate” was based in Needles to keep the company posted on California mining news. Probably three mining experts from this syndicate were the individuals who accompanied Isaac Polhamus of the Colorado River Steam Navigation Company on a tour of the mines from Yuma to Needles in January, 1890. One of the mines of interest was the Black Metal. 42

The early part of the 1890s was very quiet, probably due in part to the fall in the price of silver. However, the Manning property directly across from Empire Landing was located in 1893, and John S. Jennings located the Klondike about 3 miles up the river from Rincon Flat in 1897. The Klondike was extensively worked prior to 1911 and produced hundreds of tons of gold ore running more than $100 per ton. A mill was at the property around the turn of the century, and was mapped in 1927. 43

Adjoining the Klondike, the Golden State Mining Company in February, 1911, had a “fine showing of free milling ore.” More importantly, it was the center of a rush to the area a year later. In late January, 1912, Col. Kit Carson of the company brought an $8 nugget into Parker, and numerous smaller nuggets were found by employees of the Golden State Company. This generated considerable excitement and numerous parties of prospectors went out from Parker to stake claims. 44

Overall, there was a high level of activity during this time in the vicinity, and this only added to the interest. Ewing and Sutter, owners of the Klondike, were sacking ore and had 10 tons ready to ship. In the vicinity of the Black Metal, Superintendent Clyde Stewart had a force of men at work on the Eaton property. Miles Garrett, who was developing property in Whipple Wash, had a well installed near his camp in February, 1911. There was so much activity that soon a townsite named Whipple had been located and lots laid off. 45

To publicize the district, O. T. James and F. A. Rendant, two Nevada prospectors who had claims in Whipple Wash, left for a trip to Los Angeles with two burros packed with 150 pounds of high grade ore taken from the February, 1912, strike in Whipple Wash. They intended to walk along the Santa Fe and stop at the principal points, advertising the new gold camp by panning the ore. After arriving in Los Angeles they planned to exhibit the rich ore in the window of the ticket office. 46

The Humboldt Mining and Milling Company, of Humboldt, Kansas, purchased a second-hand Huntington mill which was delivered to Needles. D. T. Jackson went to Needles to attend the loading of the mill on the steamer Iola about May 30, 1912. The mill was piloted down the river by Captain Williams, unloaded at Drennan Landing near Rincon Landing, then installed in Whipple Wash. Things just did not work out, for no sooner was the mill installed than the employees levied claims against the property for unpaid wages. 47

June was a busy month for Captain Williams, for as soon as he had shipped the Humboldt Company's mill, another mill arrived in Needles destined for the Whipple Wash area. In March, H. B. Hull examined the area for his company, and without delay they decided to install a ten-ton mill, manufactured by the Histed Company and working much like an arrastre. During late June, the mill was moved to a site near Rincon Landing, and the work of assembling the machinery and erecting camp buildings began at once. The mill was erected at Billy Smith Landing and in October, 1912, it was, after a considerable number of small delays, finally ready for a test run, with full operation expected to begin after November 1. What happened after this is unclear, but nothing more is heard from the Whipple Wash area during this decade, except a note on October 2, 1913, stating that the mines were “laying dormant waiting for a large up-to-date plant to treat the large tonnage of ore.” 48

At the Rincon Mine in 1922, there was a small twenty-five ton experimental sulphuric acid leaching plant on the banks of the river, where the crushed ore (implying a means to crush the ore) was leached and the copper precipitated on scrap iron. About 80 tons of ore was shipped to the Humboldt smelter, yielding 5 percent copper and $22 per ton in gold. The Black Metal Mine was reactivated shortly before World War II, but little was done. 49

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Whipple Mountains Wilderness

The Whipple Mountains lie east to west across this wilderness. The western half of the range is created from pale green formations. A low angle fault separates the formation on the west from ...
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