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Historical Mining Towns of the Eastern Mojave Desert


During the 1890s, as the price of silver was allowed to decline, gold became the preferred metal. In January, 1891, an Indian named Robert Black struck gold ore in the New York Mountains, about 40 miles north of Goffs, on the Santa Fé Railway. An assay made at Providence yielded considerable gold. To protect his interests, Black brought in a trusted rancher, M. M. Beatty, the namesake of the town near Death Valley, to file a claim. Two mining men from Providence, Richard C. Hall and Samuel King, then hurried in and located several veins, which became the Gold Bronze Mine. Two other miners from Providence, Joseph P. Taggart and James H. Patton, joined Hall and King in June of 1891. The four men sank several shafts and took out a few tons of rich gold and silver ore. A camp soon arose at Vanderbilt Spring, in a cove-like gully in the side of a hill. Within a short walk were copious springs and abundant piñons, which made excellent fuel.

A strike made by Taggart in the fall of 1892 finally set off a rush. Allan G. Campbell, a Salt Lake City investor, joined Beatty in developing the Boomerang property; they even sank a 100-foot shaft. Two former lords of the Comstock lode, John L. Mackay and J. L. Flood, studied other nearby properties. By January of 1893, 150 people were living at Vanderbilt camp, which contained 50 tents, two stores, one saloon (unlicensed), three restaurants, a lodging house, a blacksmith shop, and a stable. A stage arrived three times a week from Goffs. A post office was established in February, 1893, although at first, all the businesses except one were housed in tents. In May, the county supervisors appointed W. A. Nash justice of the peace, which also made him a deputy coroner, and granted four liquor licenses. When rail service to Manvel began about August, a stage brought passengers the remaining five miles to Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Nash established a weekly newspaper, the Nugget, although it lasted only two or three issues. Then, in early December, Ben C. Jordan, a young correspondent for the Los Angeles Evening Express, began issuing a weekly newspaper, the Shaft. The county supervisors established a voting precinct in January of 1894 and belatedly organized a school district in April.

With an estimated population of 400, Vanderbilt probably reached its peak in 1894. The business district contained three saloons, including one owned by Virgil Earp; two barbers; a Chinese restaurant and two other eating houses; two meat markets; a stationery and fruit store; one lodging house; two blacksmiths; and three well-stocked general stores. William McFarlane, one of the pioneers of Ivanpah, owned an interest in one of them, in which he ran the post office, and owned a drugstore, which Dr. E. A. Tuttle managed.

Ten-stamp mills started up at the Gold Bronze and Boomerang mines in March of 1894. The mills used a design from Gilpin County, Colorado, where 1,850-pound stamps would laboriously drop from 25 to 30 times a minute to crush the typically undecomposed granite of the Rocky Mountains. The owners, after all, owned properties in Colorado and Utah. The typical mills in California, however, were designed to crush decomposed rock, using 850-pound stamps, which rose and fell 60 times a minute. (At Ibex Tank, 20 miles west of Needles, a well was sunk and a 10-stamp mill started up in May, 1894. It had a short-lived post office, named Klinefelter.)

As the mines were pushed deeper, accidents became a problem. The first death occurred when a young miner was blown up by a powder explosion in the Boomerang, in May, 1894. He was buried that afternoon. The next month, a miner fell down a shaft in the Gold Bronze after his candle was blown out. All of the mines and businesses closed during the afternoon of the funeral.

The end of 1894, when about 100 men were working at the mines, marked the end of the boom. The Gold Bronze produced $47,000 during its first two years. Its shaft eventually reached 260 feet. The shaft of the Boomerang, which reached nearly 500 feet, once employed 50 men. The St. George group employed only 14 hands.

Even then, shortages of water, parts, or ore forced the mills to shut down often. Finally, in May, 1895, one mill was converted to the California-style batteries. Even so, the Gold Bronze company was placed in receivership in June. Allen Campbell still employed a large force at the St. George group of mines, from which he laid a pipeline to the Boomerang’s mill. But the line failed to provide enough water.

All of the mining companies except the Boomerang began to lease their properties to small, independent miners, such as Frank Williams, a young man from Kansas. The mill of the Gold Bronze lost so much gold—perhaps as much as 20%—that Williams and other small-time miners considered suing. Williams considered the operators of the Klinefelter Mill “mere robbers,” who paid him just enough to cover the costs of milling and freighting. When Williams sent a load of ore to the Boomerang mill, it lost at least $9 a ton in gold. Even after Allen Campbell managed to obtain enough water to mill custom ore, his plant remained in such poor condition that Williams barely made a profit. Finally, in the summer of 1895, a milling there brought Williams and his brother $600, enough to pay off all his debts and enable him to visit his parents.

Signs of decline in the town had appeared early. One merchant closed his store in July of 1894 and moved his stock to Needles. Jordan suspended the Shaft a month later. Several months later, another store closed, and Virgil Earp sold out. The Nevada Southern, which had been placed in receivership, stopped work on its grade to Vanderbilt in 1895. Businesses continued to close throughout the year. The school lost most of its students in 1898, when the district was abolished. The post office was discontinued in March, 1900.

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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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