In 1872, prospectors James Matteson and Frank Heck discovered gold three miles west of what is now Great Basin National Park. Over the next six years, some 100 claims were staked in the quartz veins of the new Osceola mining district. The production of lodes, however, was not enough to operate the mines at a profit.
In 1877, placer gold was discovered by John Versan. The placers were located between Wet Gulch and Dry Gulch. Three hundred claims were placed and mining began to flourish. By 1882, the town of Osceola grew to a population of more than 1,500 people. The community included several stores, a butcher and blacksmith shop, a Chinese restaurant, and two stages running regularly to Ward, Nevada. Uncovered here was almost two million dollars worth of gold, including a nugget weighing 24 pounds, which would be worth almost a quarter of a million dollars at today's prices. Though unimaginable wealth lay buried in the gravel of Dry Gulch, too little water made large scale operations impossible.
The Osceola Gravel Mining Company began surveys in 1885 for a second waterway on the east side to be called the East Ditch. In September 1889, construction began on this 18 mile ditch to collect water from Lehman Creek and its tributaries on the east side of the range. Water rights were purchased from Absalom Lehman, who had recently discovered Lehman Cave. Several hundred men, using hand tools, wagons, horses, and mules, worked for ten months to complete the ditch. Local sawmills produced lumber for 2.2 miles of wooden flumes and the support beams for the 633 foot long tunnel, which was blasted through a ridge near Strawberry Creek.
The Osceola Ditch was completed on July 4, 1890 at a cost of $108,223, an expensive gamble in a business where profitable yields were not guaranteed. In 1891, both ditches were being used in operations, and by June 17, the mine was running 24 hours a day. The early success of the ditches did not last long, however, and gold production did not meet expectations. The gross yield of the Osceola Mining Company in 1890 was only $16,191, and in 1891 only $20,223. Beginning in 1892, placer mining was further hampered by water shortages caused by mild, dry winters. Water theft, leaky wood flumes, and the legal battles over water rights reduced the water supply even more. Over the next few years, mining activity fluctuated and finally, by 1905, mining activity at Osceola came to a virtual standstill.
Mining continued sporadically at Osceola over the next several decades. Production was renewed from 1936 to 1942, and again following World War II. Even today, numerous claims remain at the site, many of them re-working the tailings left by prior mining efforts. All told, Osceola has produced three and a half million dollars worth of gold.
Last updated: January 5, 2021