Monday, May 18, 2009

Salt Spring Hills: Retracing an 1849 Journey

In retracing the 1849 journey of George Q. Cannon, I previously blogged on the Rich company's journey down the Amargosa River. On November 30, 1849, after camping next to the Amargosa River, below the present-day town of Tecopa, the Rich company followed the Amargosa for 10 miles to the vicinity of the Dumont Dunes. There the Amargosa turned west and the Rich company kept going south.

Off to their left (to the east), were the Dumont Dunes, now an 8,150 acre off -highway vehicle area.

George Q. Cannon noted in his journal that they "travelled some distance in very heavy sand making it toilsome for both man and beast." This was through an area today known as the Little Dumont Dunes, just east of the Salt Spring Hills.
Some desert flowers that grow in the sand of the Little Dumont Dunes.
More desert flowers that thrive in the sand.
While traveling, determined to find an easier route, they left the Old Spanish Trail and followed a small trail to their left into the Salt Spring Hills. Addison Pratt [the next day] noted that they passed through a "narrow, rocky little canyon through a notch of the mountain" which they also found "very tough traveling." In the canyon, they found "a weak brackish spring not fit for use." Below, Sam at the small spring.

Henry Bigler, who had been a member of the Mormon Battalion, and who originally discovered the gold at Sutter's Mill that started the California Gold Rush, noted signs of gold near the spring. However, they didn't stop. They traveled another one-half mile to a mile and "stopped at Salt Spring to rest" their horses and let them "eat a little." Charles Rich noted that there were 45 miles before they reached more water. Cannon's journal stated that the "very strong salt springs [were] not fit for use."

The southern end of the Salt Spring Hills, also known as the Salt Creek Hills, are now an area of critical environmental concern.

Salt Spring is flanked by the orange looking plants below.

A closer look at Salt Spring.

From the vicinity of Salt Spring, looking back north toward the Amargosa, the way they had just come.

Some members of the Rich company found water "a little to the left standing in holes." Henry Bigler "felt to rejoice and praise the Lord in giving water" to them. They "took a good rest," ate some food and "filled up" their canteens with fresh water. Below, some water "standing in holes" near the Salt Spring Hills.

At 3:00 p.m., they started off again across the desert on a "good smooth road." They had already done about 15 miles, 10 miles down the Amargosa and an additional 5 miles to Salt Spring. They traveled east along the dry salt creek.

Below, a view of the Salt Spring Hills from the south. It is a stitch of several pictures.

As they traveled further east, the Dumont Dunes were clearly visible to them 5 miles to their left (another stitch of pictures).

As it got dark, they had "a beautiful moon to travel by the light of." Nine miles from Salt Spring, they reached Silurian Lake, a dry lake about two and a half miles long. See below.

From Silurian Lake, they continued south along Salt Creek and then began to swing to the southwest in a gradual uphill ascent, north of Silver Dry Lake. About midnight, they camped at the west end of Red Pass, having traveled about 42 miles during the day.

The next day, December 1, 1849, the Hunt company of wagons was in the Little Dumont Dunes and several members of that company, including Addison Pratt, Jefferson Hunt and James Brown followed the tracks of the Rich company into the Salt Spring Hills. James Brown, who was also at Sutter's Mill when gold was found, wrote later that one of them cried out, "Here is gold," apparently seeing the gold Henry Bigler had seen the day before. There was gold "in a stratum of quartz about four inches wide running through a ledge of granite. It was a collection of small particles[,] the largest about the size of a pea." After a little more searching, they left to catch the teams that had journeyed on to Salt Spring. However, "several of [them] journeyed back to look further" James Brown had a "cold chisel and hammer and chipped out some" gold.

Development of Gold Mine

It is interesting to note that Henry Bigler and James Brown, who discovered the gold that started the California Gold Rush were also among the first individuals to find gold in Southern California. When the Rich and Hunt companies arrived at Isaac William's Rancho del Chino in the San Bernardino Valley, they mentioned their gold discovery and started a gold rush in the Southern California desert. Even Isaac Williams sponsored a group of prospectors. On February 23, 1850, the Rancho del Chino record book notes, the "Salt Spring or Margose Mining Co. left this day in fine spirits with a complete outfit for operating in those mines..." Some San Franciso residents formed the Desert Mining Company and some Southern California residents formed the Los Angeles Mining Company and all laid out claims in the Salt Spring Hills area.

In December 1850, David Cheesman, traveling along the Old Spanish Trail noted in his journal, "We passed a point or spur of a low range of mountains to our left when we saw 2 or 3 men at work at a quartz ledge a short distance from the road, perhaps 1/8 of a mile. Several of our company went up to the mine and got some specimens of the quartz showing gold. We learned that this was owned by a Company from California, San Jose...They were sinking a shaft in a sag of the bench which was only a few feet in depth."

On November 18, 1851, the Los Angeles Star newspaper reported that the Deseret Gold Mining Co. was fully organized and would start work at the Salt Springs mine. On February 21, 1852, the Star reported tht rich specimans of quartz were being take from the mine, but that Indians had stolen all of the shovels and other tools and destroyed the machinery. On August 31, 1852, the Star reported that the mine had suspended operations.

On August 15, 1853, Gwinn Harris Heap of the Beale Survey, noted: "We discovered the remains of houses, rastres (arrastras: Mexican quartz crushers), and all the appliances of gold mining. These, we subsequently ascertained, were the Salt Spring Gold Mines, where a fortune had been sunk by men who were sufficiently deluded or sanguine to abandon the rich mines of California, travel across one hundred and fifty miles of desert, and live upwards of twelve months in a spot so desolate and forlorn that there is actually not sufficient vegetation to keep a goat from starvation."

The Los Angeles Star reported on September 29, 1860, that three arrastres were operating at Salt Springs and that the ore was yielding $2,500 per ton. On February 7, 1863, the Star reported that the Armagosa Mining Co. was incorporated. On June 4, 1863, the Star reported that a five stamp Goddard Crushing Mill, a 12 horsepower engine and a flue boiler were brought to the mine and that the mine now had the capability of processing 10 or 12 tons of ore per day. On October 18, 1864, the Star reported that three men were murdered by Indians at the Aramagosa Mine and the Indians had burned everything. Eleven days later, on October 29, 1864, the Star repored that only one of the men had been killed by Indians, the other two had fled and committed suicide. Their bodies were found 20 miles from the mine.

In 1867, James Brown, who was with the Hunt company (and an ancestor of Jeff Brice), returned and tried to mine the ore, but had to leave for lack of water.

Sam, Andrew and I discovered remnants of the gold mine, including a partial rock building, rusted mining equipment and mine shafts, closed over with wire or boards, going staight down or into the sides of the hills.

We also found a partial rock building near Salt Spring which we assume was also used in connection with the mining.

The mine can be found by going 30.7 miles north of Baker (from the intersection of SR 127 and Baker Blvd) on SR 127 to a dirt road (it is 1.9 miles south of where the Amargosa River crosses under SR 127). 1 mile east down the dirt road is a parking area near the Salt Spring Hills and the mine.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you and Sam and Andrew didn't decide to explore the DEPTHS of that old mine.