JAMES HASKELL CROSSMAN
Larry M. Vredenburgh
I wrote this in 1979 with the assistance of Dennis Casebier and Arda Haenszel and the San Bernardino Valley Corral of The Westerners. They supplied considerable background material for this biography. Dennis typed my hand written draft. We had been planning to produce a tribute to James Crossman by reprinting his 1890-1891 articles on San Bernardino County. However these plans never came to fruition. I have made a few minor revisions to the original for this copy – October 1, 2005 – lmv.
As an author James Haskell Crossman left us with a vivid and detailed description of settlement and mining in San Bernardino County during the late 1880s. Naturally, our curiosity is aroused concerning this man who was an eyewitness to a time when there was more than mute, crumbling ruins, and abandoned mines scattered over the desert. Crossman was restless, vacillating between mining and stock and business ventures, yet he was more than a shrewd businessman, he also was a self-taught geologist and author. Subsequent to his arrival in the 1849 gold rush, he played a vital role in the development of the mining industry in California.
James H. Crossman was born June 3, 1822, (1) in the village of Rochester, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. His father, David P. Crossman, was a carpenter (2) when James was born, but nothing else is known about his parents. The Crossmans apparently moved to Wareham, Massachusetts sometime before James was 11, (3) for at that time he began working as a clerk in a country supply store in Wareham, while attending public school during the winter. At the age of 15 his parents arranged a job for him in “the extensive oil manufactory” of C. H. & H. Lenord in New York City, and from that time on Crossman was on his own. (4)
Crossman's six year residence in New York from 1836 until 1842 was to prove an excellent learning experience. The job as junior book keeper at C. H. & H. Lenord lasted two years, then briefly he worked as a bookkeeper and salesman at the house of Nathan C. Ely, distiller. In l839, (5) he and a Mr. I. R. Miles formed a business of their own, establishing a commission and importing house whose principal business came from the northern coast of South America. (6)
Encouraged by a Peruvian customer of the house, Crossman purchased the Valencia Silver mine in Cerro de los Paseos, Peru, and on June 4, 1842 took passage on the ship, Orpheus. Disembarking at Montevideo, Uruguay, he accompanied the Government post train, crossing the Pampas of Paraguay, a distance of 800 miles, in nine days changing horses about every 10 miles. Upon reaching Mendoza, Argentina, he rested a month, purchased seventy-five bronco horses at one dollar each, and with the assistance of his peons, drove them through a rugged, high mountain pass to Santiago, Chi1e, where he sold them at eight dollars. Proceeding through Valparaiso, Chile and Callao, Peru, he came to Lima, Peru where he purchased supplies for the journey to his mine. (7 )
After two years successfully working the mines, Crossman grew bored with life high in the mountains, sold the mine and began a large scale merchandising concern. Also during this time, in partnership with Don Juan Bailie of Santiago, Chile, he was engaged in mining copper, silver and placer gold, learning the operation and construction of the Chile Mill, the arrastra and the ground sluice. (8 )
In 1849, Crossman made a visit to Lima, Peru that would completely change the course of his life. During that visit he met an American homeward bound from the recently discovered California goldfields with a large cache of gold nuggets extracted from Sullivan's Creek, Tuolumne County. Soon Crossman was headed to the goldfields of California himself. (9)
Taking passage for Guayaquil, Ecuador he embarked for Panama. In Panama he boarded the overcrowded U. S. Mail steamer Panama. (10) Major General W. H. Emory and the Mexican Boundary Commission also was on board; headed to California to survey the boundary of the United States' newly acquired land. Emory disembarked at San Diego on June first, and on the morning of June 4, 1849, (12) seventeen days out of Panama, Crossman was among the 290 people the Alta California reported stepped ashore in San Francisco from the steamship. (13)
Crossman remained in San Francisco for about a week before he set out for Hawkins Bar on the Tuolumne River, where he placer mined until the rains began; then he moved to Maxwell's Creek where he spent the winter of 1849-50. That spring he moved to Solomon's Gulch, where he and a friend, Joe Davis, mined for a short time. During the summer he placer mined at Garrote for a couple of months, and later employed fifty men on Rattlesnake Creek. Probably most significantly he introduced several mining devices that were used in South America. Crossman introduced ground sluicing in Tuolumne County, and built a Chile mill in Mariposa County that was in use for many years.(14)
While working on Rattlesnake Creek, the men experienced hostilities from Indians. (15) The situation grew so bad that a proclamation was issued for volunteers, and the Mariposa Battalion came into existence. On March 25, 1851 the members of the Battalion, under the leadership of Major James D. Savage, became the first white men to enter Yosemite Valley. (16) Although neither Crossman or Joe Davis appear on the muster roll of the Mariposa Battalion, they seem to have accompanied it into the valley. (18)
In 1851 Crossman went to the Fresno River and established a trading post at Major Savage's camp, but tired of a miner's life, later during the year, he returned to San Francisco, where for a year he clerked in a crockery store. Then, in partnership with John T. Carter he established the auction house of Crossman and Carter. One year later Crossman sold out and headed back to the mines, establishing a trading post at Coarse Gold Gulch in Fresno County. (20)
In 1855 he sold his stock of goods at Coarse Gold gulch and moved to Downieville in Sierra County. Crossman remained there five years, building a “quartz mill,” placer mining and eventually becoming manager and owner of a major part of the Kanaka and Good Hope mine. Besides mining, he built and operated a livery stable and hotel. However, a fire burned the town to the ground, taking part of Crossman's fortune with it. After the fire he realized a large sum of money from the sale mine to New York. (21)
In 1865 Crossman traveled to New York, his first visit since l842, and returned to California with Professor Silliman, who with others purchased the Quail Hill mine in Calaveras County. Crossman was placed in charge of the mine, built a quartz mill, and the Salt Spring Valley reservoir. After one year he resigned and for eighteen months took charge as superintendent and part owner of the North Star mine in Grass Valley. (22)
Events far away in southeastern California would soon draw him away from this position as well, in 1868 a well known prospector, Johnny Moss, came to San Francisco with rich copper samples. He interested a number of San Francisco investors in his discovery (23) and on April 13, 1869 the Piute Mining Company was organized. One of the trustees of this company was William H. V. Cronise, a man who had come to California in 1849 (24) on the Panama on the same voyage as James Crossman. (25) Perhaps it was Cronise who interested Crossman in this discovery, but in any event he accompanied a party that set out from Visalia to examine the mine and explore the Clark Mountain-Ivanpah area. (26)
On May 28, 1870 the San Bernardino Guardian reported that “Mr. Crossman, a large owner in the Clark District. . . .” had left for the mines late the week before, from San Bernardino. (27) In a follow-up story on June 18, the Guardian added, “The mines are now being opened and a thorough system of mining inaugurated by a company of San Francisco capitalists represented at the mines by Mr. J. W. Crossman [sic].” (28) Crossman remained in the county through August ninth, (29) he stayed a total of nine months. (30) A much later, 1894, account of this time in San Bernardino County says that he “located the Ivanpah, Lizzie Bullock, Copper Queen and other mines of note” in the vicinity of Ivanpah. (31) However, a contemporary note by the Guardian on September 30, 1871 implied that “Messrs. Hite and Chalfield” discovered the Lizzie Bullock, one of the most important mines in the Clark Mountain District (32)
In 1872, Crossman became superintendent of the St. Patrick and Crater mines in Placer County, (33) and in 1873 contributed information on mines in that county to the U. S. Treasury Department's Sixth Annual report on Statistics of Mines and Mining. (34) By the early 1870s the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, Nevada, was thought to have been worked out, and Comstock securities were nearly worthless. However when Crossman was requested to examine and report on the discovery of bonanza ore at the Belcher and Crown Point mines, he and his friends purchased stock in the mine and realized a large fortune. With this he resigned at the St. Patrick and became a successful stock operator in San Francisco. Every week he examined the mine in Virginia City, as well as managed the business of several Boston brokerage firms. (35)
The Pacific Coast Mining Review , in 1888, reported “During one of his visits to the Comstock, while passing through the crosscut from the C. and C. Shaft to the bonanza, his attention was attracted by a well-defined vein of silver-bearing ore, lying east of the main ore-body. He made note of it, and on his return to San Francisco, in the San Francisco Stock Exchange, he ventilated his views, causing much excitement, and to Mr. Crossman was then given the cognomen of 'East Ledge Crossman.' This discovery until for the past two years has been ignored by the manager of these mines, but after the fire in Consolidated Virginia, work was resumed on this ‘East Ledge' with a result of 23 dividends, to date, with more in sight; amounting in the aggregate to $2,584,000.00; and a gross product of nearly nine million dollars, a pretty good showing for a worked-out mine.” (36)
Crossman was married at age fifty on January 17, 1873 in Ophir, California to Ramona Ayers, but this did not seem to effect his wanderlust or desire for adventure. (37) He took charge, as superintendent, at the Woodville mine in 1875, and soon found himself in the makings of a battle to the death. President General Williams and Superintendent Smith, of the adjoining Justice mine, employed a force of armed men to take possession of the Woodville mine by gaining control from a tunnel that connected the two mines, 800 feet below the surface, and from the hoist at the top of the mine; Crossman had employed an equal number of “armed desperate men,” however the death of Smith at the appointed time of attack prevented the slaughter of many men, since everyone was ready for the fight. (38)
Shortly after this, was perhaps the lowest point in his life, he lost heavily in 1878 in a Sierra Nevada Mining Stock deal. (39) Possibly as a result of this loss, in 1879, Crossman went to New York City to sell his interest in several mining properties. While there, he was employed by Rufus Hatch, President of the Panama Railroad, James R. Keene, George D. Roberts and others to examine and develop the “Lost mines of Cana” situated on the summit of the Andes in Columbia. Crossman returned to San Francisco after contracting a case of malaria that afflicted him for nearly two years. When he recovered, he opened an office for the promotion of mines and the sale of real estate, which he occupied at least through 1888. (40)
The California State Mining Bureau employed him as an assistant mineralogist from 1886 to 1889; initially he was assigned the five northern counties, (41) but in 1889, his report on San Bernardino County appeared. (42) His San Bernardino County report appears to have been the foundation for the articles published in Mining and Scientific Press during 1890 and 1891.
In 1890 he became superintendent of the gold mines owned by the San Jacinto Estate in Riverside County. This employment was likely a result of his fieldwork for the Mining and Scientific Press articles at the Cajalco Tin mine, located south of Riverside, and owned by the San Jacinto Estate. (43) Later, he incorporated a gold mining company and afterward sold his lease to Riverside investors, and with the money opened an office in San Francisco. (44)
Despondent, at he age of 73 years, Crossman committed suicide October 5, 1894 at the Baldwin Hotel, San Francisco. Described by his contemporaries, “As a thorough and accomplished mining expert, and mining superintendent, as well as a reliable and honorable business man, Mr. Crossman was for many years accepted as authority by investors... He was a man of marked energy, a firm believer in California whose progress his enterprise so largely helped to develop and forward.” (45).
An image of James Crossman from the account of his death.
1. There is little agreement as to the date of Crossman's birth:
June 3, 1822 is given in: William H. V. Cronise, George Pierson, and Samuel Tyler, “In Memorium J. H. Crossman. Member of the Society of California Pioneers.” Unpublished document. The Society of California Pioneers. Vol. 4, p. 39-44. January 7, 1895.
June 30, 1821 is given in: “Crossman James Haskell,” unpublished document. Society of California Pioneers. Vol. 1. p. 32-32. (circa 1875).
June 4, 1822 is given in “James H. Crossman” Pacific Coast Mining Review. 1888. p.34.
2. “Crossman James Haskell” p.31.
3. Ibid .
4. “James H. Crossman” p.34.
5. Cronise, et. al ., p.39.
6. “ James H. Crossman” p.34.
7. Ibid .
8. Ibid .
9. Ibid .
11. William H. Emory, Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey . U.S. Dept. of the Interior. 1857. p.3.
13. San Francisco Alta California , June 7, 1849.
14. Cronise. et. al . p.40.
16. Carl Parcher Russell, One Hundred Years in Yosemite . Stanford University, California.: Stanford University Press. 1931. p.35.
17. Ibid . p. 186-191.
18. Cronise., et. al. p.40.
20. “James H. Crossman” p.34.
22. Ibid .
23. James H. Crossman, “San Bernardino County Its Mineral and Other Resources” Mining and Scientific Press , December 6, 1890. p. 363.
24. “The Piute Company of California and Nevada” unpublished. 1870.
25. S.W.Holladay, Lecture presented January 19, 1887 in Pioneer Hall. Unpublished. Society of California Pioneers. Autobiographies and Reminiscences. vol. 8, pg. 98.
26. Crossman, December 6, 1890.
27. San Bernardino Guardian, May 28, 1870.
28. San Bernardino Guardian, June 18, 1870.
29. 1870 Census. San Bernardino County, California. National Archives. Microcopy 593 Roll 78 p.78 line 21.
30. “Crossman, James Haskell,” p.32.
31. Cronise, et. al. p.41.
32. San Bernardino Guardian September 30, 1871.
33. “James H. Crossman” p.34.
34. Rossiter W. Raymond, Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States and Territiories West of the Rocky Mountains , U.S. Treasury Dept. 1874. pp. 95, 98, 99.
35. “James H. Crossman” p. 34.
37. Cronise, et. al. p. 42.
38. “James H. Crossman” p.3)4.
42. James H. Crossman, San Bernardino County , Report of the State Mineralogist. Vol. 9, 1889, p. 214—239.
43. James I-I. Crossman, “San Bernardino County Its Mineral and Other Resources” Mining and Scientific Press. September 6, 1890.
44. Cronise, et. al. p.41.