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Death Valley History - Keane Wonder Mine

History of Keane Wonder Mine

In Dec. 1903, two men from Ballarat--one an out of work Irish miner named Jack Keane and his partner, a one-eyed Basque butcher named Domingo Etcharren were prospecting for silver. They had been working on a particular ledge for several months, but were unsuccessful. Jack Keane, quite by accident discovered an immense ledge of free milling gold by the work site and named the claim the Keane Wonder Mine. Since this was Keaneís first strike in 8 years of desert prospecting, it is not surprising that he named it the "Wonder" mine.

By May of 1904, the news of their strike started a gold rush to the area. The partners filed 18 claims and were immediately deluged with offers to buy the mine. Estimates at the time indicated that there were 500 prospectors working in the general area of the strike. The first man to bond the mine was Capt. J.R. Delmar. He agreed to pay the partners $10,000 in cash, and in exchange he had an option to purchase the mine for $150,000 at the end of a year and during that year he had the rights to develop the location. He brought 30 men to the property and built an Assay office, general office building, and a wagon road across the desert to within a mile of the mine. At the end of his year, he didnít have the money to purchase the mine, so the partners took it back.

In 1906, L.L. Patrick got the bond for the mine, and he announced plans to erect a 20 stamp mill at the foot of the Funeral Range. When his bond expired, John Campbell purchased the mine for $250,000. Keane was president of the new company, Campbell was vice president and Domingo Etcharren was the secretary. Stocks were offered to the public, and the public was eager to buy. New strikes were made and the mine grew to 22 claims (240 acres of land). Only 5 of the claims had actually been explored at this point.

Campbellís fortune was wiped out in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and within a month the mine was sold again. Homer Wilson bought the mine in June of 1906 and began an association with the mine that would last until 1916. This time the partners sold out their interest in the mine permanently. Wilson ordered a 20 stamp mill, which would crush the ore to a sand with the action of several heavy stamps. An 85 horsepower Coreless oil burning steam engine was brought in to power the mill. Surveyors also planned an aerial tramway system 4700 ft. long and operated by gravity. Loaded ore buckets would come down the mountain from the shaft and thereby pull the empty buckets back up.

The final costs for the mill were estimated at $85,000. More claims were purchased to cover the distance from the mill to the tramway, which increased the area to 450 acres or 26 claims. A boarding house was built to house the workers and by Oct. 27, 1907 the mill, with completed tram, began to operate. Twenty-one thousand board feet of lumber were required for the upper tramway terminal, 28,000 for the lower, and 25,000 were used for the intermediate towers. There were 13 towers in the tram and the longest span between them was 1200 feet. The vertical fall from top to bottom was 1500 feet. The mill produced well but not at full capacity because of an inadequate supply of water. In the summer temperatures reached 124 by noon, and even eating was difficult as silverware was too hot to handle. The water was near boiling due to the temperature, which also made mill operations difficult.

In 1908, 3 new buildings were added to the camp: a family home for the Wilsons, an office building and a cookhouse, and plans were made to put in an ice house. By 1909, 50 men were working at the mill and the mine and work had begun on a cyanide mill.

By 1911, the Keane Wonder Mine was the only mine still producing in the Bullfrog region. Although it had been plagued by financial problems since the Wall Street Panic of 1907, it continued to operate.

In August of 1912 the mine closed down and the Inyo paper announced that it had worked out its ore bodies. In 1914, after being sold, the mine was operating again, but it closed in 1916. In 1935 another attempt at revival came with a new company who reworked the old mill tailings by cyanide. In 1937 it was sold, and the old stamps were dismantled and removed. The tramway had deteriorated beyond repair. In 1938 it was sold again, and in 1940 the aerial tramway was refurbished, machinery was being repaired and plans were announced to put a new mill in. The mill was almost completed by July, but in 1942 everything but the new tramway was hauled to another site. It has been idle since that time and in the 1970s it was purchased by the National Park Service.

The total production of the mine during its operation was estimated at $1,100,000. Of that amount, $625,000-$682,000 worth of gold was taken from the mine between 1907-1911 alone. The Keane Wonder mine was one of the two largest producing gold mines in the Death Valley area (Skidoo was the other). The scope of the operation, the duration of production and the story of two incredibly lucky miners all add up to a mine that ultimately surpassed even the grandeur of the name "Keane Wonder Mine."

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Jack Keane was an Irish Miner out of Ballarat. He'd been prospecting for over 8 years finding pretty much nothing. One day in 1903 he discovered a ledge ...

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