The Historical Mining Towns of the Eastern Mojave Desert
What a disappointment. A newspaper publisher in San Bernardino had just received the annual report of the United States Mint, yet it was full of errors and incomplete. Not a word had been written about “our most productive mines,” near Ivanpah.
Lured by the rush to the White Pine Mining District, in northeastern Nevada, a prospecting expedition found promising copper and silver veins in the Clark Mountains, in the eastern Mojave Desert, in early 1869. This was about 200 miles from San Bernardino. The party named the district after Albert H. Clark, a businessman in Visalia, who was one of the supporters of the expedition. The group also organized the Yellow Pine Mining District, adjacent to the Clark district, in Nevada. The Piute Company of California and Nevada was organized in June of 1870 to develop the veins.
The company had an impressive pedigree. One of the trustees was John Moss, the leader of the expedition; a noted mountain man, he maintained friendly relations with Indians along the Colorado River. The secretary was Titus F. Cronise, who had recently written an encyclopedia on the state’s resources. The superintendent was J. W. Crossman, who was becoming an important writer on mining.
The Piute Company planned four towns. Two of them, Cave City and Pachocha (variously spelled), were never built. The third site was Good Spring, in the Yellow Pine district. Ivanpah, a 160-acre townsite, was laid out at a spring on the southeast slope of Clark Mountain, eight or nine miles southeast of the mines.
Despite the isolation and heat, 300 men were in the district by the summer of 1870. The first ore was shipped out in September, to San Francisco. Freighting cost about $70 a ton, but the ore was yielding as much as $2,000 a ton, mainly in silver. By August of 1871, Ivanpah contained 15 buildings, including a hotel, two stores, the office and headquarters of the Piute Company, and small houses, all of them built of adobe, covered with good shake roofs. Three of the buildings measured 40x60 feet, including the hotel, the largest structure in town. (These might have been tents.)
The mines were on Mineral Hill (also called Alaska Hill), eight or nine miles northwest of the town. The most promising properties were the Hite & Chatfield claim (later renamed the Lizzie Bullock) and the Monitor and Beatrice, owned by the McFarlane brothers—Tom, Andrew, John, and William. The work force included Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos; among them were several pioneers of the Kern River mines: Dennis Searles, William A. Marsh, and the McFarlane brothers. (Six miles southwest of Ivanpah was the Copper World claim, which would remain unworked for three decades.)
The original operations were primitive. The Beatrice Mine No. 2, owned by the McFarlanes, was equipped with only a hand windlass, in 1871. John McFarlane’s house, office, and sleeping quarters, which contained several berths, consisted of a very large tent, where he had several mineral cabinets, which held more than 200 specimens. Since the mines were dry, Indians were employed to haul it by pack train from Ivanpah Spring. Mexicans were employed to work the ore in arrastres, or circular stone mills. They received $125 a ton, which meant that lower grades of ore, worth at least $150 a ton, had to be left on the dump. Even so, the firm of Hite & Chatfield earned a $20,000 profit in 1872. Teamsters arrived from San Bernardino with supplies and returned with heavy loads of ore. During six months in 1873, the mercantile firm of Brunn & Roe forwarded $57,000 worth of ore to San Francisco.
With returns like those, the mine owners could afford to develop their properties. In November, 1873, the McFarlane brothers put up a small smelting furnace and a comfortable house. About early 1875, they moved a five-stamp mill from the New York Mountains to a hill above Ivanpah, where water was available. By then, their main mine, the Beatrice, was nearly 300 feet deep. The brothers also incorporated the Ivanpah Consolidated Mill and Mining Company, which was often called the “Ivanpah Con.” By mid-1875, the district had produced $300,000. J. A. Bidwell and a partner, who had bought the Lizzie Bullock Mine, built a 10-stamp mill near the Ivanpah Consolidated in 1876. It started up in June.
Regional and national depressions, which had begun in 1875, finally affected the Clark district in 1876. Both the Bidwell and Ivanpah Consolidated mills had difficulty getting enough ore to run full time. About $40,000 in attachments were filed against the Ivanpah Consolidated. Apparently, the property was sold and operated only intermittently through 1877, although the McFarlanes were kept on as managers. One writer charged that the mines never had been properly developed, having been “gouged too much by incompetent miners.”
It’s likely that Bidwell’s operation became the main producer then. In late 1877, he overhauled his mill and increased his force at the Lizzie Bullock Mine, to 20 in August, 1878. Both mills ran steadily, but well into 1879, Bidwell continued to send out heavy loads of bullion, including one shipment worth $8,000.
The camp reached its peak about then. A post office was established in June of 1878. By April of 1879, when more than 100 hands were working on Alaska Hill, the business district comprised two saloons, stores, blacksmith shops, shoemakers’ shops, hotels, and hay yards, besides one butcher shop and “neat and comfortable” houses. By early 1880, about 65 people were living in town and about the same number at the mines. In May, two printers, James B. Cook Wilmonte (Will) Frazee, started a weekly newspaper, the Green-Eyed Monster, but they had to suspend it after a few issues.
Though the Ivanpah Consolidated had produced a reported $500,000 in bullion by the end of 1879, it continued to sink into debt. The owners, a San Francisco company, resorted to issuing scrip, for which it neglected to pay a 10% tax to the federal government. After failing to pay its employees for several months, the company suspended work. The government won a judgment for $1,480 and sent out E. F. Bean, a deputy collector for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, to attach the property. Upon his arrival, in mid-May of 1881, a dispute arose; two days later, John McFarlane tried to shoot Bean, who managed to get off a shot first. McFarlane died instantly. A judge in San Bernardino ruled that the killing was “a clear case of justifiable homicide.”
The district shipped out at least $162,000 in treasure in 1881, but a decline soon followed. Most of the population departed during the early 1880s. Only 11 residents remained in early 1890. About the only businesses left in December of 1892 were a store and boardinghouse and the post office, which Bidwell and his wife ran. Soon after collecting mineral specimens for San Bernardino County’s exhibit at the World Columbian Exposition, in Chicago, Bidwell died. His widow received $75 from the county. A depression followed, in June of 1893, and the price of silver fell to 58¢ an ounce, its lowest level, in 1898. The store closed about then. The post office was moved in April of 1899.
For nearly three decades, the Copper World discovery remained neglected. In August of 1878, James Boyd, who owned the property, built an experimental smelting furnace in San Bernardino, but nothing materialized.
But that changed in 1898, when new owners began developing the property; it would become the largest copper producer in Southern California. A large smelter was built at Valley Wells (also called Rosalie Wells), several miles below the mine, in early 1899; the Ivanpah post office was moved to Valley Wells in April, and its name was changed to Rosalie. Eighty-five men worked at the mine and smelter. Every four days, long mule teams would haul 20 tons of copper concentrate, or matte, to Manvel, 30 miles away, and would return with coal and supplies. The operation produced 11,000 tons of matte until litigation forced the mine, smelter, and post office to close in July, 1900, but the Copper World was soon revived.
This time, the California Eastern Railway built a 16-mile extension from Manvel into the Ivanpah Valley, in early 1902, and established a shipping point. Known as Ivanpah, the station contained an agency and telegraph office (housed in a box car), several stores, and other buildings. From 25 to 30 persons lived there. A post office, also called Ivanpah, was established there in August, 1903. But costly, wasteful operations forced the Copper World to shut down after a year or two. When the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad was completed, in early 1905, the line passed within a few miles of Ivanpah station. The post office was moved to nearby Leastalk, a station at the junction of the Salt Lake line and California Eastern. The Copper World reopened in 1906; it produced 487,000 pounds of matte in 1907 alone. But the matte was shipped through Cima, another station on the Salt Lake line. The operation was large enough to warrant the formation of a local of the Western Federation of Miners. When the Copper World shut down again, the California Eastern abandoned its station at Ivanpah. Four or five buildings, all of them vacant, were burned in April, 1908, supposedly by tramps—the usual suspects.
World War I drove up the price of copper (and other metals). The Copper World was reopened in 1916, a large blast furnace was later built, and the work force rose from six to 60. A tractor hauled the matte to Cima. But when the war ended, in November, 1918, metal prices declined, and the Copper World was shut down for the last time. The California Eastern tore up its tracks in 1921. Several years later, Leastalk was renamed South Ivanpah, which was soon shortened to Ivanpah. The post office remained open until 1966.
Index to "The Historical Mining Towns of the Eastern Mojave Desert"