Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
NPS Logo


C. Cottonwood Mountains (continued)

3. Skookum Mining District

a) Death Valley Gold Mining Company Working Property Near Sand Spring

in the mid-1920s a new and, short-lived mining district was organized in the northwestern corner of Death Valley that this writer has not heretofore found mentioned in any of the historical accounts on the area. The scanty amount of information obtained, which concerns only the year between January 1927 and February 1928, does not permit of much detail and only arouses more questions than it answers.

Sand Spring, about eight miles north of the extreme northwest corner of Death Valley National Monument, was an important watering hole on the mining route to Lida, Nevada. Once briefly homesteaded by a daring soul whose only accomplishment in the area was encasing the water supply in a few lengths of iron pipe, the site was mainly utilized over the years as an overnight camping spot. In March 1909 some ore specimens extremely rich in gold were discovered in the vicinity of this spring and were later determined by prospectors from Goldfield who rushed to the area to be part' of a large porphyry dyke that cut through the ground here. No further word on development was found. Two months later an important placer strike covering about 1,200 acres was made seventeen miles south of Tule and six miles from Eureka Valley, high in the Last Chance Range. Surface material was assaying $9 a ton and $53 after dry washing. Although it was anticipated that capital would be acquired to finance operations here, no further word of activity emerged for the next eighteen years. [111]

In January 1927 the Lucky Boy Divide Mining Company, an organization based in Tonopah, Nevada, and presided over by one Harry McNamara, was working some property owned by the Death Valley Gold Mining Company "about 100 miles south of Tonopah, and not far from Death Valley Scotty's ranch in the Grapevine canyon," from which samples were returning gold values of $22 per ton. [112] According to the Goldfield Daily Tribune the new strike area could be reached by auto road leading west from Death Valley Scotty's Grapevine Canyon ranch five miles to a wash, then seven miles further to the Desert Gold (a mine?), and then finally, after another seven miles, ending at the mine camp. Water had to be hauled to the spot from either Hot Springs or Sand Spring, both about an equal twelve miles distant. The article states that this new strike zone located in the Last Chance Range would be called the Skookum Mining District. [113]

Sol Camp, who it will be remembered was associated with development work on the Ubehebe lead Mine in the early 1920s and later in the 1930s, was at this time managing the operations of the Death Valley Gold Mining Company, Inc., based out of Leadfield. A Skookum mining camp of four houses was already up, and new machinery, such as an air compressor and drills, and necessary foodstuffs and other supplies were being shipped in from Bonnie Claire. Development work at this point consisted of 2,000 feet of trenching and the driving of a tunnel and various shallow exploratory holes. Assays were now yielding $34 to $276 per ton. [114]

By March 1927 a carload of ore from the new district was ready for shipment to the smelter in Mason Valley. The charge by rail from Bonnie Claire was not expected to total more than $4 per ton, and the smelter charge was estimated at around $8. This would ensure a handsome profit from the ore, thought to be worth approximately $100 a ton. In May 1927 word spread that large deposits of high-grade sulphur had been found on the high west slope of the Last Chance Mountains, just over the range from the north arm of Death Valley. The area could be reached by road from Goldfield via Lida, Pigeon Springs, and Cucamonga, while a good wagon road led up Oriental Wash to Sand Spring on the east slope. It is probable that this was in the general vicinity of the Skookum Mining District. [115]

b) World Exploration Company Enters Area

In the summer of 1927 the World Exploration Company of Fort Worth, Texas, purchased the assets of the Death Valley Gold Mines (Mining?) Company in this new district on the west side of Death Valley, for a reported consideration of $100,000. It was stated in the newspaper articles announcing the transaction that the property was located in the Chuckwalla Mountains (?) region, where a sixty-six-foot tunnel had already been excavated. Full water rights to Sand Spring, fifteen miles away, ensured a good water supply. A new organization, the World Mining Company of Nevada, was charged with development of the mine, and the parent company's optimism toward the newly purchased property was unhesitatingly voiced by its president, Chester R. Bunker, who emphasized that

We are after good prospects anywhere we can find them, and we think this Death Valley Gold property is one of the best prospects that we have ever investigated. Our entire resources will be thrown behind this project, and the property will be developed to fullest extent and with all the energy that our organization is known to possess. [116]

Later, that month the county surveyor of Esmeralda County, Nevada, filed a plat of the town of "Snookum" (undoubtedly a misspelling), approximately ten miles south of Sand Spring and the focal point for mining activity in the new district. [117] Meanwhile, the World Mining Company was proceeding with its development work now and had just established a camp and was busy driving two shafts or the Skookum Mine vein. [118] Sol Camp, retained as superintendent of the Skookum property, replaced the company's jackhammer drills, which were operated by an air compressor that required twenty-five gallons of water a day, with a coal auger ordered from Denver, and proceeded to push work on the mine's main tunnel throughout the summer. A subsidiary tunnel higher on the same mountain was started to intersect an ore shoot from which surface assays had reportedly been taken yielding $20 to $500 a ton in gold. [119] Another property being worked by the World Mining group was the Mother Lode Claim, which was probably the Gold Mother Lode of Death Valley Group ten miles southwest of Sand Spring that had earlier been deeded to the Death Valley Mines Company, Inc., by Al Barcherding, James Traynor, Harry McNamara, William F. Logan, and Frank M. Maloney. [120] Samples from this mine were assaying from $12 to $95 a ton. [121]

By the fall of 1927 the primary development objective of the World Exploration Company was attained when the main quartz dyke at the Skookum Mine was intersected by the lower tunnel at a distance of 500 feet from the portal. A fair grade of milling ore was now being tapped, with higher values expected as the tunnel was extended deeper into the mountainside. [122] As this work crosscutting the dyke to encounter the downward extension of the rich surface showings progressed, a new engine was installed to speed up the development. At the same time the World Exploration Company was purchasing and installing new equipment for use at the Skookum Mine, they were also acquiring property in the Hannapah District northeast of Tonopah. [123]

c) Demise of Mining Operations

Just when it was beginning to appear that the Skookum Mine might be put on a paying basis, a shroud of silence falls over the entire mining operation. The October 1927 article contains the last detailed information found by these writers concerning mining activity in the Skookum Mining District in northwest Death Valley. At the end of 1927 Bev Hunter and his wife deeded to Albert M. Johnson of Chicago, Death Valley Scotty's patron, the following segment of land:

bounded on the westerly side by the Ubehebe and Last Chance range of mountains, on the north by an east and west line drawn through Sand Springs, on the south by an east and west line drawn through Surveyor's Wells, and on the east by the State of Nevada. [124]

The reason for selling this incredibly large chunk of real estate is not known, but its purchase was probably part of Johnson's land acquisition program that began in 1915 when he started buying up old homesteads and mining claims in the northern part of Death Valley. Over a dozen years or so he took title to more than 1,500 acres in the Grapevine Canyon vicinity, in addition to several springs. [125] It would seem by the general description given that this property might have included, or at least bordered on, the Skookum Mining District, but no mention of a working mine is made in the transfer deed notice.

In 1928 notice was found of the transfer of the Dan D Nos. 1-4 placer mining claims, situated in the Skookum Mining District, from their Los Angeles and San Francisco owners to Continental Sulphur Corporation. [126] Another deed notice concerning these properties two months later described them as "6 miles in a southerly direction from Last Chance Mountain," which would place them about directly west of Sand Spring and outside (north) of the national monument boundary. 127 It is unclear what happened to the mining operations or companies involved in this area, although it could well be that the rich gold vein simply petered out. From the scarcity of data available on the Skookum Mining District, it appears to be simply another Death Valley gold dream that never came true.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003