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Ghost Towns - Providence Mountains

Providence Ghost Town

Ghost Towns of the Upper Mojave Desert


IVANPAH FATHERED OTHER BOOMS. Along the steep slopes of the Providence Mountains, south of the Clark district, parties of prospectors from Ivanpah found extremely rich silver ore during the spring of 1880. Some of the rock assayed up to $5,000 a ton.

The richest claim turned out to be the Bonanza King. This property passed into the hands of J. B. Osborne, H.L. Drew, J.D. Boyer, and Charley Hassen, all veteran mining men who would figure prominently in the county's mining history.

Though a rich vein was found in early 1882, the owners of the Bonanza King sold their interests to the Bonanza King Consolidated Mining & Milling Company of New York, which pushed development. To serve the 100 to 150 men developing the mine round the clock, a post office named Providence was established that June. And while Southern Pacific crews were building a track across the desert, teams were hauling in a hoisting plant and machinery for a 10]stamp mill. By early 1883, Providence had emerged as a rough]and]tumble camp of 300 residents. Many houses were made of locally quarried white rock [volcanic tuff]. Besides the post office and several mining]company offices, the business district embraced two general stores, two hotels with livery stables, a saloon, and a contractor, blacksmith]wagonmaker, deputy sheriff, and U.S. mineral surveyor. Providence had also been declared a voting precinct.

Meanwhile, the Bonanza King was becoming an investor's dream. The mill, which started up on January 1, 1883, turned out $61,744 during its first month alone. A few Emonths later, the plant was turning out 2,000 ounces of bullion a day! Ore taken from shallow shafts yielded $573,376 in bullion by the end of 1883. Bonanza King stock was soon placed on the New York mining exchange, and regular dividends were being paid. When the output reached nearly $1 million in 18 months, superintendent Thomas Ewing explained that gthe Bonanza King is better opened up, better worked, and we have obtained better results from the ore than any other mine in this great mineral desert. ...h In fact, all the district's mines continued to flourish.

Frederick W. Smith, a representative of San Francisco's Mining & Scientific Press, was amazed from the moment he stepped off the train at Fenner station in early 1885. He took Young's stage and express]]the fare was $4 up and $3 down]]later joking that a canteen of water and a lunch were needed to endure the dreary, 24]mile trip across the desert. Worse, driver gFonth Williams enjoyed terrorizing tenderfeet with hair]raising tales of the frontier.

And what a golden harvest the Bonanza King was reaping! Through an 800foot main shaft came ore containing $100 a ton in gold and silver. Grinding away at Crow Town, a mile and a half from the mine, was a highly efficient 10]stamp mill. About 100 men worked at the mine and mill. But the $20,000 spent on wages and supplies was offset by the mill's monthly bullion output of $35,000 to $50,000. By then, the mill had produced $1,500,000 in bullion.

But the camp reminded Smith of a dull company town. Besides the post office, the businesses in early 1885 totaled only two general stores and three saloons. There were no saloons, as Smith found: g...A mattress on the floor or on a store counter is first]class accommodations.h Wood was plentiful but cost $8 a cord; water taken from the company's well cost two to five cents a gallon. Meanwhile, an attempt to organize a school district failed]]not enough children.

Working conditions, too, were nothing to brag about. Though paid promptly and in coin, the men received only $3.50 a day; board cost $8 a week. It was little wonder that the workers were considered hard working and sober: the Bonanza King would fire any man found drunk. One worker later accused the foreman and a shift boss of being gheartless task mastersh who forced employees to work more gthan their health and strength will permit.h

All this time, the price of silver continued to slip. After paying dividends through early 1885, the company suspended operations in March.

When the mine reopened a week later, the 15 men just hired had to accept only $3 a day, a cut made gwith reluctance,h in the words of a correspondent, gowing to the very low price of bullion. ... It is quite evident that it is their intention to push the working of the mines more than ever before. ... You may confidently expect to see a larger output of bullion than ever before. ...h The retrenchment worked, at least for a while. Advertising in the Calico Print, the Bonanza King company hired men as fast as they arrived: 40 men at first to work in the mine, 35 more when the mill started up a few months later. While the mill was turning out an average of $60,000 in bullion a month, the Print envisioned a glarge, substantial, and flourishing camp.h But another cloud came to darken this silver lining. Just after turning out 26 bars of bullion, the gbeautiful and thoroughly equippedh mill burned on July 31, gnot a vestige of the structure and its contents escaping destruction.h The company laid most of its workers, and the town's business was expected to suffer considerably. Though company officials started to rebuild the mill, even clearing away the debris, the Bonanza King remained closed; only a few small mines kept Providence from dying.

Finally, assured that the coinage of silver would continue, the company reopened the mine in early 1886. Assays showing exceptionally rich ore kept 20 to 25 men at work despite the July heat. At the nearby Kerr and Patton property, Godfrey Bahten, a widely traveled mining man, built a five]stamp mill. When the plant started up in January, 1887, gfrom the first stroke of the engine it was clear that everything was in place. . . .h The rebuilt mill for the Bonanza King, however, remained a dream, for it was contended that the gowners are all rich men and they are likely waiting until silver becomes a fixed standard.

That time never came. Calico and other silver camps had eclipsed Providence; prices continued to fall. The number of registered voters plummeted from 91 to 13 in only two years. Though Juan Domingo was running a stage to Fenner three times a week, all that remained in 1887 were a few residents and businesses. The Kerr and Patton property operated at least until 1890 and reportedly paid good dividends. The passage in 1890 of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, intended to give token relief to mine owners and impoverished farmers, at once pushed silver to $1.05 an ounce. But the price again slipped to its earlier levels. Providence post office closed in May, 1892.

Providence's mines experienced several revivals during the next several decades. The Trojan Mining Company built a gasoline]powered 10]stamp mill and worked the mine from 1906 through September, 1907.

Aroused by this revival, a Massachusetts firm rebuilt the mill and put the mine into production in 1915. Thirty men were soon running the operation round the clock. The presence of five families gave the camp a more charming appearance. Utilities were provided by an electric light plant and a water line. Two trucks, meanwhile, made daily trips to Fenner station. The operation was equipped with gasoline engines and the most modern hoisting and milling equipment. Within a few years, the company had reopened shafts, to 800 feet, and was taking out very rich ore. But the Armistice (1918) soon brought a decline in the price of silver, to $1.01 an ounce in 1920. The company suspended work in July. This was Providence's last hurrah.

SOURCES: The best overview can be found in Vredenburgh and others, Desert Fever (already cited). The Colton Semi-Tropic and the San Bernardino Times and the Index reported on the discoveries and pioneer years, 1880]1882. The Mining & Scientific Press, usually quoting the Calico Print, covered the operations in detail, from 1882 through late 1887, when the Print folded. The handful of surviving issues of the Print for 1885 describe working conditions. Boom-time photos of Providence are lacking. Fortunately, the camp's ruins remained well preserved for years, as shown in Aaron Dudley and Alvin Fickewirth, Ghost Town of the Mojave, Westways, November, 1941 (v. 33), pp. 22]23.

Also see:

Bonanza King Mine

Bonanza King Mill

Providence Ghost Town

History of Providence

In the spring of 1880, George Goreman and P. Dwyer, prospectors from Ivanpah, discovered rock that assayed from $640 to $5,000 a ton in silver. Their discovery, about 15 miles south of the old Macedonia District, was the birth of the Bonanza King Mine. By April the Trojan District had been ... more
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