Greenwater Valley Mining History

Today, Greenwater Valley looks like a plain and empty expanse dotted with creosote bushes, cactus, and the occasional wildflower. However, this valley was once home to the town of Greenwater, a bustling mining camp called the "Greatest Copper Camp on Earth."

historic photo of tents and old auto and miners
Greenwater's post office in 1906.

Photo by John A. Latschar

Copper was first discovered in Greenwater Valley around 1904 or 1905. Who found the original vein is unknown, but many people tried to take credit for it, especially after it was called "the world's greatest copper deposit." Among these are well-known prospectors Arthur Kunze, Shorty Harris, Phil Creasor, and Fred Birney.

Soon, thousands of people traveled to the area to try and strike it rich in the mines. Three mining towns quickly sprung up: Arthur Kunze laid out Greenwater as the first town, Patsy Clark set up Furnace as a second town, and Frank McAllister set up Copperfield (which would later become part of Greenwater) as a rival town.

black and white image of white tents and a horse team
The town of Greenwater, 1907.

Photo by John A. Latschar

Life in Greenwater

Greenwater was home to 2,000 people. Most lived in tents. The twenty buildings in town included restaurants, saloons, general stores, lodging houses, a bank, barbershops, and even a shoe repair shop.

Due to scarcity of resources in the desert, everything was brought in by freight teams. Jackrabbit was one of the only types of fresh meat available, but there was little else to hunt or gather. Greenwater had a spring (the source of its name) but it hardly produced enough water to support a mining town. Water had to be hauled in from a spring eighteen miles away, by teams pulling 500-gallon wagon tanks. Barrels of water sold for $15 each (hundreds of dollars in today's money).Gasoline, another important commodity, was sold at $1 per gallon (which would be $30.76 today).

magazine with heading: would you enjoy a trip to Hell?
An advertisement in the Chuck-Walla (April 1, 1907).

Greenwater had two newspapers and a magazine. The Greenwater Times was started by James Brown and Frank L. Reber (who had started Las Vegas' first newspaper), and the Greenwater Miner was started by Major John F. A. Strong, who would later become the governor of Alaska.

C.E. Kunze (the brother of Arthur Kunze who founded Greenwater) created the Death Valley Chuck-Walla was a magazine that lightheartedly narrated the everyday life in Death Valley.

Newspapers were published weekly, and the Chuck-Walla released editions semi-monthly.


The Final Days of Greenwater

During its peak, Greenwater attracted all kinds of people who wanted to buy stock in the mines, including the steel giant Charles Schwab. However, Greenwater was not as rich in copper as it was made out to be. Stock prices went from $5.25 a share to below 50 cents a share in a manner of months. Those who held stock in Greenwater lost tens of millions of dollars. Because of all the money lost, Greenwater was known as “the monumental mining-stock swindle of the century.” By 1909, the last few mines at Greenwater closed.

desert shrubs with a low distant hill
Greenwater today

Courtesy of Autumn Smith

Greenwater Today

With only two ruins of buildings left, it is hard to picture the once bustling mining town. But we can still tell where people lived and were the main towns were located due to old photographs and by looking at artifacts left behind.

Archaeologists can tell where people lived based on what is on the ground. For example, broken glass, nails, and tin cans are associated with residences. The location and kind of artifacts can tell us a more complete story of Greenwater's population, such as where they lived, what they ate, and how they made do in the hard desert climate.

a pile of rusty metal artifacts like cans
Disturbed artifacts, illegally collected and piled.

Courtesy of Autumn Smith

Some visitors to the site and similar historic areas might not understand the importance of artifacts and may just see them as pieces of trash. Therefore, they might take artifacts or move them to create “trash” sculptures, as pictured here. Since the location of artifacts is as important as the artifacts themselves, removing an artifact from its original location, even if it is just moving a few feet, can destroy the potential information that the artifact can convey.

a crumbling rock house and primitive fire ring
Illegal fire and dismantled roof

Courtesy of Autumn Smith

Greenwater has recently been the victim of vandalism by visitors. At the original Greenwater Site there were two standing buildings. After more than one hundred years of wind and storms, one building still had an intact roof. In September 2021, it was discovered that a visitor tore the roof off of the building and burned it as firewood in an illegal campfire, destroying this piece of history.

As you visit sites like these, leave artifacts where they are and help preserve the history of this amazing historical site. By helping protect this area, future generations of visitors will be able to also marvel at the history of Greenwater. For more information on laws and policies that protect these sites, visit our Laws and Policies page.

This page written by Autumn Smith, as a National Honors Society service project.

Last updated: June 5, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328


760 786-3200

Contact Us