Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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A. Coso, Russ Telescope Peak and Argus Mining Districts

1. Darwin French Expedition

The experiences of the '49ers in Death Valley, though made even more horrifying in the retelling, nonetheless served to stimulate the interest of prospectors and miners in Death Valley, the Panamint and Owens valleys, and the Argus and Slate ranges. The tantalizing possibility of relocating the fabulous "Gunsight Lead" not only attracted the ever-inquisitive desert prospector, but also prompted some noteworthy early exploration by organized expeditions.

In the early summer of 1860 Dr. Darwin French and companions, entering from the west, initiated exploration of the Coso Springs and Darwin Wash areas, ultimately penetrating as far east in Death Valley as Furnace Creek Wash, which they are credited with naming. Among the other accomplishments of this group was the discovery of ore near Coso, the creation in the spring of 1860 of the Coso Mining District, and the formation by some of the French party of the Coso Gold and Silver Mining Company. [1]

2. S. G. George and New World Mining and Exploration Company Expeditions

In this same year a group of men led by Dr. S. G. George met and united with the New World Mining and Exploration Company expedition headed by Colonel H. P. Russ, and the two detachments entered the Owens Valley region together. The Union lode was discovered at this time, incorporating the Union, Eclipse, and Ida claims, arid while Russ undertook to organize the Russ Mining District (hailed by one writer as "the first semblance of any form of civil government in the territory now included in Inyo County") [2] and name the Inyo Mountain Range, a subdivision of the George party traveled further east from the Owens Lake area to explore the Panamints.

In the course of their trek they discovered and named Telescope Peak and Wildrose Canyon and explored in the Slate Range. The Christmas Gift antimony mine was discovered in the Wildrose Canyon area, and the Telescope Mining District was also organized at this time. Little actual mining work was done, however. The year 1860 also saw the formation of the Argus District by unknown parties.

3. Indian Depredations and Crude Mining Methods Hinder Development

The further development of any of the mines found during these early forays was hindered by the constant threat of attacks by hostile Piutes who were resentful of the encroachment upon their lands by miners arid settlers in the Owens and Panamint valleys. The frequency and ferocity of their attacks led to the establishment of Camp Independence in the Owens River Valley on 4 July 1862. This action did not deter the Indians, however, who continued to raid and prey on small groups of settlers and miners. Severe retaliation by soldiers and citizens alike culminated in 1865 in the slaughter and drowning of about 100 Indians at the mouth of Owens River. This act broke the resistance of the Piutes, and the way into these fertile and mineral-rich lands was opened for settlers, farmers, and miners. [3]

Before long, however, it was clear that other factors would impose even more detrimental effects on the rapid development of the region: crude mining methods and/or lack of adequate facilities forced the miners to attempt working their ore without roasting it first, and the resulting poor production levels led to the conclusion that the ores in the area were too base to be profitably worked. This, coupled with the isolation, lack of a nearby supply depot, exorbitant transportation charges, and the need for expensive machinery whose acquisition was impossible because of a lack of capital, precipitated an exodus of miners from Inyo County, which lasted until the fabulously-productive Cerro Gordo Mine provided a hint of the vast mineral wealth of the area that was obtainable by more refined and systematic mining methods.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003