Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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The following is a very brief summary of the development of the mining industry in the Owens and Panamint valley areas west of Death Valley. Although this region is outside the boundaries of the national monument, the districts and camps that once thrived here were precursors of the mining ventures in Death Valley and involved many of the same individuals, both prospectors and investors, who moved freely throughout southern Inyo County. Through the years the growth of these districts were reflections of the same market trends that determined and guided the fortunes of the Death Valley camps. A fuller discussion of Panamint, the first Death Valley-vicinity bonanza town, and of the Panamint Mining District that evolved from it and embraced the first large-scale mining activity within Death Valley proper will follow. This synopsis by no means includes all the early mining districts in the Owens and Panamint valley areas, but deals with the major ones that were contemporaneous, or nearly so, with prospecting efforts in the Panamint and Amargosa ranges.

The first strikes in the Owens and Panamint valleys were made in the early to mid-1860s and centered mostly around the extraction of silver, although lead and gold also appeared in promising amounts. High transportation costs, low yields, expensive machinery unsuited for the job at hand, and falling lead and silver prices soon contributed to the demise of these enterprises. By the late 1870s the earliest southern Inyo camps were already collapsing. Even the arrival of the narrow-gauge Carson and Colorado Railroad at Keeler in 1883, enabling tower freight rates for the Inyo County mines, could not stave off oblivion. In the early 1900s, however, a revival of the mining industry occurred, and old mines were reopened and new prospects were further developed. By 1908 districts in the region all the way from Mazourka Canyon, east of Independence, south were showing explosive activity. The development of electric power in the Sierras, the extension of the standard-gauge Southern Pacific Railroad north from Mojave, and the dawning realization of Inyo County's varied wealth in metals and nonmetals, including gold, silver, lead, copper, zinc, sulphur, graphite, borax, soda, salt, soapstone, talc, magnesium, tungsten, molybdenum, and marble, were all contributing to a growing optimism within the mining community. In the postwar years these valuable commodities could be mined even more profitably by improved processing equipment, which has added stability and certain success to this facet of Inyo County industry.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003