Desert Fever
An Overview of Mining History of the California Desert Conservation Area

San Bernardino County


Author's Note: There is more information for this area available at this LINK.


On April 25, 1872, the McKinzie Mining District was organized, encompassing everything from about the modern site of Hesperia north to about Barstow and east to the Rodman Mountains. A. G. Lane, a captain during the Mexican War, had a ranch on the Mojave River, near the present site of Oro Grande. Lane's as it was known, was a supply point for travelers. In January, 1873, the San Bernardino Guardian reported that near Lane's Ranch, ore that ran $160 in gold and $18 in silver per ton had been discovered. Lane christened the discovery site the Silver Mountain and thus was born mining in what was to be known as the Silver Mountain Mining District.250

May, 1880, A. J. Spencer brought a rock into San Bernardino that assayed $2,000 a ton in silver: nearly pure metal! Nearby gold had been discovered that assayed $18,000 per ton in gold! By July, 1880, the Red Mountain Gold and Silver Mining District had been formed, encompassing 6 square miles, whose western border was about 6 miles east of Lane's Ranch. Activity in late 1880 and early 1881 was nothing less than feverish. A post office opened on January 3, 1881, and a ten-stamp mill was being erected on the Mojave River by Dr. G. H. Conger. The mill was operational by April 15 on ore from the Oro Grande and Oro Fino gold mines located in the Silver Mountain District. The mill, “probably one of the finest mills of the kind ever put up in the state,” was powered by water. In April, it was predicted that 1,000 to 1,500 men would be engaged in mining, a long way from the 90 to 100 men there then. The mill continued to run through the summer. In September, a $600 gold bar was turned out from the mill. In October, 1881, the mine favorably impressed some Milwaukee capitalists, who purchased the mine and formed the Oro Grande Mining Company. In late October, another $1,000 in old left the mill. The Oro Grande Company built a new office at Oro Grande in November at a time when work was being concentrated on the Oro Grande Mine, where a new hoist was being installed. 251

Sometime during the 1880s, operations at the Oro Grande Mine were suspended due to the lack of water and the high cost of transportation. However, even as the Oro Grande Mine was closing, another enterprise of the Oro Grande Company, the Silver King Mine at Calico, began supplying the newly built mill with ore. 252

In the late 1880s the Carbonate Mine was discovered by a man named Collins who was employed at a nearby limestone quarry. He discovered outcrops that carried silver, and worked it to some extent before the claims were sold to as Los Angeles company. In 1889, gold was discovered here and at the Embody Mine to the south. The Carbonate Mine was “in the course of active development with a full force of miners” when at a depth of 180 feet a discovery was made that caused the entire camp to buzz with excitement. At first a small wedge of quartz with flakes of gold appeared, then just below, the wedge of quartz widened to several inches, and the rock was a mass of glittering sheets and shotlike pieces of gold. Assays gave fabulous returns. The ore was broken up on canvas and every ounce of it was sacked on the spot. The mine was worked intermittently until 1942, producing no less than $50,000 worth of gold. 253

Silver mining caught on in a big way west of Oro Grande. By 1890, almost every hill or group of mines was being referred to as a mining district, but nearly all of them actually were not organized. These camps were known as East Camp (also known as the Oro Grande District), located due east of Oro Grande; Galena Camp, including all of Silver Mountain; Central Camp, in a distinct hill midway between Galena and another group known as West Camp; and a group north of Central Camp known as North Camp. 254

None of the mines in these areas were very significant. However, someone thought the Clinker, in West Camp, was worth $60,000, at least that was the sale price. Ore from these silver mines proved impossible to reduce in the Oro Grande Company's mill, and as a result, a fifty-ton smelter was built, starting operations in 1890. However, the drastic fall in silver prices soon put an end to silver mining in the area. 255

Late in the 1880s, the Sidewinder Mine, about 12 miles northeast of Victorville began operations, and in 1887, a ten-stamp mill, driver by water power, was erected to handle ore from this mine. The Sidewinder Mine was worked until about 1895 by a small force of men, and in 1899, mining resumed until 1909. In 1927, the Sidewinder was again reactivated and a mill and cyanide plant were built. War Production Limitation Order L-208 closed this mine in 1942. In 1967, the mine was cleaned up and turned into a fallout shelter, complete with a 72 bed first aid station, library, and a communications post. By 1973, the shelter was badly vandalized. 256

About 1906, the Ozark Mine was discovered by V. E. Jones and sold to a man named Garrison. The claims were jumped in 1914, and the new owner renamed the mine the Midas Group. The Ozark Mining and Milling Company of Los Angeles was incorporated, with one million shares selling for five cents apiece. The company built a ten-stamp mill and made two test runs on ore from shafts sunk on the property. In December 1918, the mine was idle and the mill had been dismantled. Today a structure and headframe for the mine remain intact. 257

The Yankee Maid Mine, just south of the Oro Grande Mine, was discovered about 1881. Not much is heard about this property, but in 1914, the owner had a five-stamp mill and fifty ton cyanide plant on the river, and employed four men. In the 1920s, the Western States Mining Company owned this mine and worked it until about 1925, when the company was sued by an employee who had a forge blow up in his face. In the early 1950s, Tim Allen relocated the mine, and installed a small mill. Since then he has done a modest amount of mining. A small camp is situated just below the mine, and the remains of a concrete arrastre used during this century are on the property. 258

Mining resumed at the Oro Grande Mine in the 1920s and continued intermittently until 1941. Today, a mining camp, which the owner occupies, remains near the mine. 259



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© Larry M. Vredenburgh, Gary L. Shumway, Russell D. Hartill