INVENTORY OF HISTORIC RESOURCES--THE EAST SIDE
A. The Bullfrog Hills (continued)
The ghost town of Leadfield has become identified in western mining lore as an example of fraud, deception and deceit at its worst. Located in the middle of Titus Canyon about twenty-two miles west of. Beatty, Leadfield boomed briefly in 1925 and 1926. The extensive promotion which surrounded the camp, the unsavory character of its chief promoter, and the swift and sudden demise of the boom has led to unkind treatment at the hands of popular writers of western history. Betty J. Tucker, writing in a 1971 issue of Desert Magazine is a good example:
So goes, the usual, tale, which is fairly well duplicated by most writers of popular lore over the past forty-odd years. The true story, however, is somewhat different. Although Leadfield did set a record of sorts for being one of the shortest-lived towns in western mining history, there was more to it than merely an out-and-out stock swindle. Nor can C. C. Julian be blamed solely for the life and death of Leadfield.
Leadfield, in fact, had ore from the beginning, which was in 1905, not in 1925. During the early days of the Bullfrog boom, Titus Canyon, like most of the territory surrounding the Bullfrog District, was examined by hopeful prospectors. In the fall of that year, W. H. Seaman and Curtis Durnford staked out nine lead and copper claims in the canyon,. and came into Rhyolite with ore samples that assayed as high as $40 to the ton. The prospectors were soon bought out by a consortium headed by Clay Tailman, a local attorney and promoter, and the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company was incorporated. The company immediately began a development and promotional campaign, and shares of its stock were sold for 2-1/2¢ each.
As usual, the news of the strike stimulated other prospectors and companies to get in on the potential bonanza, and claims were filed for miles around the Death Valley Consolidated property. The Bullfrog Apex Mining & Milling Company, for example, which we have already seen trying to exploit ground near the Original Bullfrog, purchased a group of four claims next to the Death Valley Consolidated. The former company, in the meantime, went to work, and as initial prospects looked encouraging, the price of the stock rose to on the local exchanges.
By May of 1906, the Death Valley Consolidated had progressed far enough to start, taking out its better ore for shipment to the smelters. The company soon realized,, however, that the long and arduous trip between its mine and Rhyolite and the high freight rates prevalent between Rhyolite and the far-off smelters, made the shipment of its ore absolutely unprofitable. As a result, the company ceased operations, and after a brief six-month long life span, the Death Valley Consolidated Mining company disappeared. 
So matters stood for almost twenty years. Then, in March of 1924, three prospectors named Ben Chambers, L. Christensen and Frank Metts wandered into the canyon and began to stake out numerous claims on some lead deposits which they found. The three men 'worked their claims for over a year, before selling out to a local promoter named John Salsberry. Salsberry had been involved in Death Valley mining since the Bullfrog days, and was a former promoter of several mines on the west side of the valley, including some in the Ubehebe Mining District in the early 1900s, and the Carbonate Mine in the 1910s. Salsberry purchased twelve claims from the three prospectors and a few weeks later formed the Western Lead Mines Company, with 1,500,000 shares of stock worth 10¢ each. Salsberry extended the prospecting work in the district and by the end of 1925 the Western Lead Company had accumulated over fifty claims in Titus Canyon and had started to work. A compressor plant was installed to power the company's air drills, and eighteen men and six trucks began to build a long and steep auto road out of Titus Canyon towards the Beatty highway.
In January of 1926, the company built a boarding house, and began to lay a pipe line from Kiare Spring, two miles down the canyon, to the mine site. The young camp was entering the boom stage. Following an enthusiastic Associated -Press report on the new camp, the Inyo County Recorder reported that location notices were pouring into his offices. By January 30th, the town had been officially named Leadfield, and half a dozen mining companies were in operation. Sales of the stock of Western Lead Mines Company were opened on the San Francisco exchange in late January, and within twenty-four hours 40,000 shares had been sold, with the price soaring to $1.57 per share.
Eastern California, and especially Inyo County, was long overdue for a mining boom, and it seemed that the entire county jumped on the bandwagon. Hard times had begun to depress the county's economy, and this new boom was just the shot in the arm which the local merchants had been waiting for. Likewise, Beatty, on the other side of the state line, began to experience a' revival in its economy, and the small railroad town, which had barely eked out an existence since the collapse of the Bullfrog boom, found itself as the new supply metropolis for the miners and companies swarming into Leadfield. No one was willing to look this gift horse in the mouth, and no one questioned the reality of the new boom--to do so would mean a swift ride out of town on a pole as a "knocker."
Then, in early February, came the announcement which seemed to assure the future of Leadfield. C. C. Julian, the "well known oil promoter of Southern California, who had been much in the limelight of late years on account of his spectacular oil operations," had bought into the Western Lead Mines Company, and was its new president. With the backing of such a successful and skilled promoter, Leadfield seemed assured of obtaining the necessary financial support to take it from a prospecting boom camp into a producing mine town. The Inyo Independent greeted the arrival of Julian with a glowing description of his character and abilities. "Julian is recognized as one of the greatest promoters of the country and it is a certainty that with his enthusiastic backing that something will come of Leadfield if there is anything there. Quite a different endorsement would be printed in later years, after the mines had folded and everyone was looking for a scapegoat. 
The boom was now on in earnest. During February, the Western Lead Company was reported to have a hundred men working in its mines and on the Titus Canyon road, and talk of building a 500-ton mill was heard. When the road was completed in late February, a steady stream of trucks began entering the canyon, carrying timber, machinery and supplies. The Western Lead Company expanded its payroll to 140 men, and at least six other companies were engaged in serious mining. Average values in the tunnels of the Western Lead Mine were 8% to 30% lead, with seven ounces of silver to the ton, more than enough to make the mine a paying proposition if the ore held out as exploration continued.
The California State Corporation Commission, however, was not so impressed with the company, which had failed to secure a permit before it began selling shares of stock. Rumors of investigations by the Commission raised the righteous indignation of local folk, who refused to allow anyone to try to prick their balloon. The local attitude of Inyo County was well summed up by the Owens Valley Herald
After all, the paper pointed out, Julian was not trying to swindle anyone. He had started a promotional campaign with full-page advertisements in the Los Angeles papers, but he clearly underlined the risks involved. "In the advertisements that he has recently been running in Los Angeles papers he has told in plain words just what he thought of the proposition and has advised people who could not afford to take a gamble not to buy any stock in it--for, as is well known, all mining development is a gamble." In addition, Julian had publicly invited any reputable mining engineer in the world to make a visit to the Leadfield District. If he did not find conditions as stated by Julian, then all expenses of his trip would be paid. In spite of the interference by the Corporation Commission, the paper concluded, "the future of Leadfield seems very bright, and it would not be at all surprising if the mines there did not turn out to [be] the biggest lead producers that the world has ever known." This Inyo County newspaper, obviously, reflected the attitude of the citizens--they desperately wanted and needed a mining boom, and the last thing they wanted was the over-zealous interference of the State of California.
As the paper could well have pointed out, Julian was far from being the only promoter singing the praises of the Leadfield District, for numerous other companies were also trying to cash in on the boom. Such companies, by March of 1926, included the Leadfield New Roads outfit, presided over by Walter J. Frick, who announced that his company had good shipping ore in its tunnels, and would begin regular ore shipments soon. This company had just built a mine office on its property, and was bringing in additional machinery in order to rush the development work. Other companies in business included the Burr-Welch, the Leadfield Carbonate, the Joplin and the Joplin Extension companies, the South Dip mine, the Leadfield Metals, the Last Hope, the Cerusite, the Sand Carbonate and several others. There was, of course, a company called the Western Lead Extension, in the best traditions of mining booms.
But the Western Lead Mines Company, Julian's pet, was leading the pack. It was forging ahead with its development work, with one of its tunnels six hundred feet inside the mountain. The company purchased a 180-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in March, as well as a second air compressor to power its machine drills. The town of Leadfield was also trying to keep pace with the boom, which was attracting miners from all over the country, and announced that a large hotel would soon be built. The cosmopolitan nature of the boom was emphasized in early March, when eighteen former Alaskan miners sat down in Leadfield for a reunion dinner. 
Then on March 15th, came the day which put Leadfield on the map, when the first of Julian's promotional excursions pulled into Beatty. A specially-chartered train pulled into the sleepy town on Sunday morning and disgorged 340 passengers, who had been chosen from among the 1,500 who applied for the trip. Together with another 840 visitors from Tonopah and Goldfield, the entourage overwhelmed Beatty until loaded into ninety-four automobiles for the trip through Titus Canyon into Leadfield.
After bumping over the spectacular new road and down into Leadfield, the visitors were served a sumptuous outdoor feast by the proprietor of the local Ole's Inn, who reported that he dished up 1,120 meals. The dinner was served to music provided by a six-piece band imported from Los Angeles. Lieutenant-Governor Gover of Nevada gave the key-note speech, ridiculing the persecution of Julian by the California Corporation Commission, and praising Julian for overcoming the numerous obstacles which modern governmental bureaucracies put in a man's path. Several other speeches followed, including one by Julian, voicing much the same opinion. During the afternoon the Tonopah orchestra played for those who wished to listen or dance (twenty-four women had come on the train), and the more serious visitors were conducted on a tour of the Western Lead Mine by John Salsberry. The mine, said Salsberry, was still in the early stages of development, but more serious work would get under way with the arrival of over $55,000 worth of machinery which the company had recently ordered. The visitors were then driven back to Beatty for another night of partying, before going home. The trip, obviously, was a big success, and Western Lead stock advanced 25¢ on the San Francisco market the next day.
The Leadfield boom was now in its height. Plans were announced to build a forty-room hotel, and a week after the grand excursion the town had its own newspaper, the Leadfield Chronicle By the end of the month of March, Western Lead stock had soared to $3.30 a share, and over 300,000 shares in the company had been sold. In addition to the general public, ore buying and smelting concerns were becoming interested in the camp, and several sent representatives to the district to discuss reduction and smelting rates. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, eager for more business, also sent representatives to Leadfield, in order to estimate the amount of ore which the mines might be sending over its tracks. 
In the months following the great train excursion, Leadfield continued to develop. More companies, including the Western Lead Extension, were given permission to sell their stocks on the exchanges of various states, and several, including the New Roads Mining Company, began to sort their high-grade ore for shipment. Salsberry, manager of the Western Lead Company, announced plans to build a 400-ton concentration plant at Leadfield, and new'" mining companies, such as the Western Lead Mines Number Two, opened for business. Since it cost $18 per ton to haul ore from Leadfield to the railroad terminal at Beatty--which prohibited the shipment of most of the ore--local operators began to call for an extension of the railroad to Leadfield. The Tonopah & Tidewater, however, coldly replied that definite "plans for building a railroad spur into Leadfield have not been made, as present business does not warrant its construction."
During April, the town continued to grow. The new 180-horsepower diesel engine for the Western Lead Mine arrived and was placed on its concrete foundation near the portal of the main tunnel, next to the twelve-drill air compressor. The machines, unfortunately, were not put into immediate use, due to delays in the shipment of fuel oil. The New Roads Company, Western Lead's greatest competitor, continued to sack its high grade ore for shipment, and its new air compressor and air drills arrived. Then, on April 30th, the townsite of Leadfield was officially surveyed, and the town's plat was submitted to Inyo County officials for approval. The ambitious plat showed 1749 lots, arranged into 93 blocks. The central street was aptly named Salsberry street, while the least desirable lots, which sided upon a small ravine, were also aptly named Poverty Gulch. Significantly, all the land upon which the town was platted was upon the claims of the Western Lead Company, which donated that land to the townsite company. Although their names do not appear, it thus is obvious that the directors of the Western Lead Company were working closely with the directors of the townsite organization. The plat was approved by Inyo County officials the following month.
But in the meantime, the State of California was breathing hard upon Julian's neck. The Corporation Commission hauled a brokerage company into court for selling Western Lead stock without a state permit. The company argued that the stock which it had sold was not treasury stock of the Western Lead Mines, but was Julian's personal stock in the company. The former required a state permit, but the latter did not. Expert witnesses were called to testify, and according to the Tonopah Mining Reporter, fifteen to twenty qualified mining engineers and geologists testified that the Western Lead Mine was a quite legitimate proposition. "No testimony, except that of two engineers for the commission, was unfavorable." if the sale of stock was found to be illegal in California, the paper said, sales would merely shift to Western Lead's offices at Reno, from which California buyers could telegraph their orders.
But the continued investigations by the state of California began to hurt the sales of Western Lead stock, and another factor began to take a toll. Shortly before Julian had become involved in Leadfield, he had sold his controlling share in the Julian Petroleum Company to a former partner. His former partner shortly thereafter had engaged in a fraudulent overissue of Julian Petroleum stock, which soon caused that company to collapse. Although it appears that Julian had nothing to do with that affair, his name was firmly linked to the petroleum company in the public mind, and his credibility began to shrink. In one two-day period, the price of Western Lead dropped 175 points on the west coast trading boards, and the company never recovered from the panic which set in. 
Nevertheless, Julian, the Western Lead Mine, and the numerous other mining companies involved in the Leadfield boom continued to pursue their exploration and development works. Late in May, the sixteen men working in the New Roads Mining Company opened a good strike of lead ore. At about the same time, Julian bought into that company, which gave him control of the two largest mines of Leadfield. With both the New Roads and the Western Lead companies showing steady improvement, Julian announced definite plans to construct a large milling plant at Leadfield.
As summer approached, the Leadfield boom showed no signs of peaking. More companies came into the district and began operations, including the Boundary Cone Mining Company, the Pacific Lead Mining Company, and several others. The new companies found favorable public response on the west coast stock markets at first, for the continued boom in Leadfield made it appear that the California Corporation Commission was indeed playing a sour grapes role. The district even showed signs of becoming a producer, as the New Roads Company announced that its first shipment, consisting of two or three carloads of $50 to $90 ore, would soon be ready.
The Corporation Commission, however, had other ideas, and in late June of 1926, ordered that sales of Julian's personal stock in the Western Lead mines must immediately cease on the Los Angeles stock exchange. The decision was made due to "the evidence introduced at the hearing. . . that the sale of shares of the capital stock of the Western Lead Mines Company, a Nevada corporation, in the State of California, would be unfair, unjust, and inequitable to the purchasers thereof." It is interesting to note, in light of the heavy criticism which Julian has received in later years, that the commission was careful to omit any reference to any fraudulent or illegal activities on the part of Julian.
But despite this heavy blow to the financial fortunes of Julian, developments at Leadfield proceeded. The Mining Journal a respected Arizona publication, printed a long detailed report on the Leadfield District in July, which helped to restore public confidence. "Indications are that the lead deposition in the Grapevine Mountains along the edge of Death Valley is one of the large deposits of the west and one that can be made commercially a factor in the lead production of the country." Once again, private and uninterested geologists and engineers seemed to be indirectly accusing the Corporation Commission of persecuting Julian. The mines agreed with the independent experts and continued to work. The Burr Welch Mine reported the location of new ore deposits, and the Boundary Cone Mining Company ordered and installed a new 25-horsepower hoist and headframe. The new plant had a lifting capacity of 500 tons per day, and the company increased its work force to twelve miners. The New Roads Company let a contract for the driving of another 100 feet in its main tunnel, and announced plans for early ore shipments.
At the same time, during late July, the Western Lead Mining Company and its president, C. C. Julian, brought a $350,000 damage suit against the Los Angeles Times and the California Corporation Commission, saying that the paper and the Commission had slandered Julian and the company without due cause and without sufficient evidence. The suit, however, was quickly thrown out of court for insufficient cause, "it being the duty of the corporation commission to investigate stocks and securities offered for sale in California."
During August, another new mining company, the Pacific Lead Mines No. 2, was incorporated and began work. The California Corporation Commission gave this company permission to sell its stock, 1,000,000 shares of which were offered to the public at 254 each. This decision was important, for it indicated that the Commission had finally been persuaded that Leadfield itself was a legitimate mining boom. The Commission would allow the sale of stock in Leadfield companies which were not controlled by Julian. In the meantime, the U.S. Postal Service had also decided that Leadfield was a family permanent mining camp, and on August 25th a post office was. opened in the young town.
During September and October, drilling and tunneling continued in Leadfield's mines. The incline shaft of the Boundary Cone Mine reached a depth of 200 feet, and the Pacific Lead Mines, Inc., reported lead assays of 8 percent in its ore. But in late October, two events took place which spelled the end of Leadfield. The main tunnel of the Western Lead Mine finally penetrated the ledge which the company had been tunneling towards, where its geologists had felt the best lead deposits would be. Instead of finding high-grade lead ore, the company found almost nothing. The ore assayed only 2 percent lead, far too small a percentage to mine profitably, considering the high freight costs.
This would not have been the killing blow, however, if the company had been able to regroup and look elsewhere for the elusive lead ore But at almost the same time, the California Corporation Commission dealt Julian another blow when it halted sales of stock in the Julian Merger Mines, Inc. This holding company, which Julian apparently intended to use as backup financial support for the troubled Western Lead Mine Company, had been his last financial resort. When sales of Julian Merger Mines were forbidden, Julian's hopes were crushed, and his empire fell apart. One writer later declared that Julian expended nearly $3,000,000 buying up stock after the decision was announced, desperately attempting to keep the system from collapsing. But even if this were true, which seems rather unlikely, the effort was futile. Julian was now broke, which meant that the Western Lead, the New Roads and the Leadfield Townsite companies were also broke. With the leading mining companies and the leading promoter of Leadfield out of the picture, investors in other companies quickly lost heart, and the collapse of Julian's companies had a domino effect. The other mines slowly closed, one after another, and Leadfield became a ghost town in a matter of several months. The Post Office, opened only few months before, closed in January of 1927. 
As usual, the failure of a mining district lead to a flurry of law suits. Several individuals sued the New Roads Company for back wages arid debts, and for their efforts won the dubious title to the mine. Julian appealed the decision to halt sales of Julian Merger stock to the Second District Court of Appeals of California, but lost his appeal in February of 1927. Early in the summer of that year, the Western Lead Company, with no further hope of developing its property, removed its heavy machinery and the pipe line to a mine which the company owned in Arizona. By July of 1927, the Mining Journal reported that the only work in the district was being done by seven lonely miners who were still sinking in the Burr Welch Mine, using hand tools.
Between 1927 and today, little activity has taken place in Leadfield. The National Park Service reported that sporadic prospect work was done in Titus Canyon as late as 1959, but no actual mining has been done. Julian, in the meantime, went on to the Oklahoma oil boom, where he organized the Julian Oil and Royalties Company. After several years of operation, he was indicted for using the mails to defraud investors, but he jumped bail and fled to Shanghai, China in 1933. A year later he committed suicide at the age of forty. 
Miners, prospectors, promoters and newspapers usually look for a scapegoat after the failure of a mine or a mining district, and in the case of Leadfield they had a ready-made villain at hand. After Julian was indicted in Oklahoma in 1933, everyone conveniently forgot that he had never been indicted or even considered for indictment for any of his activities in Leadfield, and the story of that ghost town gradually grew into what it has become today--the story of an out-right fraud from the very beginning, instigated solely by C. C. Julian. Such an opinion was quoted at the beginning of this section.
In fairness, that interpretation of Leadfield must be revised. In the first place, it is quite obvious that there was ore at Leadfield, and that it was not put there by Julian. He in no way salted the mines, for the existence of lead ore in the district had been known as far back as the Bullfrog boom days of 1905. As pointed out above, the concensus opinion of mining engineers and geologists during the boom days was that there was lead ore in the district, and that opinion was shared by the California Corporation Commission, which allowed companies other than Julian's to sell their stock. Finally, in another conveniently forgotten report, the California Bureau of Mines and Geology reported in 1938 that the main ore-bearing ledges of Leadfield carried lead ore of five to seven percent per ton, in add to five ounces of silver per ton--enough ore to support a mining operation.
A second major point to keep in mind in that Julian did not start the Leadfield boom, and that he had plenty of help in supporting the boom once it had started. Julian was not even involved in the Western Lead Mine until several months after the boom had begun. Then, like so many other mining promoters, he hurried to get in on the ground floor. And the boom, once started, had the whole-hearted support of the citizens of Inyo County, California and Nye County, Nevada. The economies of both counties needed all the help they could set, and no one promoted the mines and attacked the interference of the California Corporation Commission with more fervor than the local newspapers. These things are quickly forgotten, however, once a boom has died. But it should be more than evident that Julian neither started the Leadfield boom nor was solely responsible for promoting it.
Finally, as a side note, it should be emphasized that the collapse of Julian's financial structure came at the worst possible time for Leadfield. When sales of Julian's various stocks were halted, his mines and others had spent thousands of dollars on the preliminary development work necessary to produce a paying mine. Miners had been hired, tunnels and shafts had been driven, machinery had been ordered, and the Titus Canyon road had been built. Then, just before the mines were ready to begin shipping ore and turning into producing companies, the collapse of Julian's finances brought about the desertion of the district. Although it seems doubtful that Leadfield had enough ore to support more than a small mining company or two, indications are that without the sudden panic of the fall of 1926, that mine or two could have survived. Harold Weight, one of the few writers who has not jumped on the blame-Julian bandwagon, gives the only satisfactory assessment of Leadfield. " . . . we will never know whether the camp, honestly financed and developed, would have made that big mine. We'll never know whether that once, Julian, as he protested, was making an honest effort to develop it."
We cannot close this section without acknowledging the one very real thing which Julian did--which was to build the Titus Canyon road. This effort, which cost an estimated $60,000, was no mean feat. The road winds up through the mountain passes for over fifteen miles from Leadfield to the Beatty highway, and climbs from an elevation of 3,400 feet at the highway to 5,200 feet through the passes and back down to 4,000 feet at Leadfield. The road was rightly considered an engineering marvel at the time, and today presents the visitor with one of the most spectacular routes in Death Valley National Monument. Without Julian, that road would not have been finished, a point which awed visitors fail to realize when reading the popular literature which castigates Julian for promoting the ghost town of Leadfield. 
b. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendations
The road into Leadfield is dotted with mines, dumps, tunnels and prospect holes, which may be seen from almost two miles east of the town site to two miles west of it. The townsite itself is covered with wood and tin debris and faint scars of numerous tent and wooden building sites. Extant remains include four wood and tin buildings, three of which were connected with the mines, and one which appears to be an old store building. Other structures include a well-preserved dugout, complete with square-set timbering on the inside, and the cement foundations of the mill, which represent the only part of the mill which was ever built.
Leadfield is on the National Register of Historic Places, but for all the wrong reasons. The historian who prepared the nomination form relied upon the popular writers for his evidence, and as a result, his statement of significance reiterates the popular myths: "Located in Titus Canyon, this mining town began in 1925 as a promotion scheme based on spurious claims. C. C. Julian advertised the town, making exaggerated claims . . .
The significance of the site lies in the fact it was an example of one of the get-rich-quick schemes of the wild 1920s. This statement should be revised, for Leadfield not only belongs on the National Register, but it belongs there for the right reasons.
Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003