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Burro Schmidt

Burro Schmidt Memorial

IN MEMORY Burro Schmidt

. . . A man who set a purpose in life and did not rest until he had reached his goal.

By A. B. CHRISTMAN - Desert Magazine April 1964

ONE OF THE most unusual memorial services on the Mojave Desert was held January 31, 1964, for one of its most unusual residents, William Henry "Burro" Schmidt.

"Burro" Schmidt in front of cabin - Mike Lee photo

Schmidt was a strong-willed man who had but two major goals in life: to dig a tunnel through a mountain and to live to be 84 years old. He accomplished his first goal after 32 years of hard labor. The second he missed by one year and three days when he died last January 27.

Schmidt started his tunnel through Black Mountain near Randsburg, California, when he was 36 years old. Working with only the crudest mining tools, he holed through the half-mile bore in 1938, at the age of 68. From the time he conceived the idea of a tunnel, he had no other purpose in life. His persistence was considered foolhardy by many; nevertheless, it was admired. Here was a man who had set a goal and who had accomplished it.

Schmidt came to the Mojave's El Paso Mountain country around 1900 to seek a cure from the tuberculosis which had claimed the lives of his three brothers and sisters at their home in Rhode Island. He had some claims on the northern slopes of the El Pasos. The road to the smelter was on the south side. Rather than build a 12- mile access road over Black Mountain, he elected to tunnel through.

He worked at odd jobs during the summer months to make enough money to spend his winters on the tunnel. By selling one of his claims in 1932 he was able to afford six years of full-time work on his project.

After the tunnel was finished, Burro is said to have taken out about 20 tons of ore through it. At $60 a ton, he therefore carried about $ 1200 worth of mineral through the mountain to the smelter on the south side. It is a conservative estimate that he put in $40,000 worth of work on the tunnel during 32 years of labor. No ore was taken out of the tunnel itself.

The memorial service was held at the tunnel entrance. Following the hearse up the winding road of Last Chance Canyon, old friends and fellow prospectors gathered at the foot of Black Mountain to pay their last respects to strong-willed Burro Schmidt, a man who set a purpose and didn't rest until he had accomplished it.

Johannesburg Justice of the Peace James B. Nosser, directly behind casket, presided over memorial services for Burro Schmidt, held January 31 at the entrance to the tunnel he built through Black Mountain. On Nasser's left are Mike Lee, Schmidt's partner for the past two years, and Walter Bickel, who cared for him during his last illness. Photo by author.

"Burro" Schmidt Cabin

"Burro" Schmidt Tunnel

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