Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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A. The Bullfrog Hills (continued)

2. Original Bullfrog Mine

a. History

In the late summer of 1904, two wandering prospectors happened to meet at the Keane Wonder Mine, on the east slope of Death Valley. Ed Cross, the first, was an occasional prospector who had participated in mining rushes from time to time. Cross, however, was an "amateur" prospector, since he had a home and farm in Long Pine, California, to which he would return between forays. Attracted by the Goldfield boom, Cross was on his way towards that region, and had stopped off at the Keane Wonder to look over the country surrounding that recent discovery.

The other prospector, Frank "Shorty" Harris, was a veteran desert rat. Shorty bragged that he had attended every mining rush in the country since the 1880s, including those of Leadville, Coeur d'Alene, Tombstone, Butte, British Columbia, and others. Like most prospectors, Shorty had, as yet, nothing to show for his efforts. He had already been through the initial Tonopah and Goldfield booms, but had gotten there too late to locate any close-in ground. Now, like Cross, Shorty Harris was determined to give the Goldfield territory another look, and the two men teamed up.

Like countless other prospectors who were scurrying around the deserts, Cross and Harris dreamed of finding another bonanza like those of Goldfield and Tonopah. As the two men trugged across the Amargosa Valley, that dream loomed large before them, for they were about to make the discovery which would initiate the great Bullfrog boom, and which would change forever the history and territory of southwest Nevada.

Accounts of the next few days vary wildly, as romantic tales of big discoveries are wont to do. Both Cross and Harris repeated their versions in later years many times over, and it is difficult to find any two versions which agree. Apparently Shorty persuaded Ed to make a detour on the way to Goldfield, in order to examine some rock outcroppings which he had noticed on an earlier trip. There, on the east side of the Amargosa Valley, the discovery was made. Both men knew at first glance that they had found something big, but how big would have to be determined by the Goldfield assayer's report. Quickly locating a claim, staking the ground, and naming the mine the Bullfrog, for the distinctive mottled green ore, the two men set out north for Goldfield, to record their claim, have their samples assayed, and to celebrate.

The rock samples indicated that the mine had ore worth over $700 to the ton--truly bonanza stuff. News of the discovery soon spread through Goldfield, and by morning the rush to the newly named Bullfrog District was on. In the meantime, Ed Cross went north to Tonopah to record the claim there in addition to Goldfield, since no one knew whether the mine was located in Esmeralda or Nye county. By the time Ed got back, Shorty was half-way through a six day drunk, sometime during which he sold his share of the Bullfrog mine. Cross later claimed several times that Shorty got no more for his share than $500 and a mule, although Shorty once claimed to have received $1,000, and thirty years later said he got $25,000. At any rate, Shorty Harris was out of the picture. Like most old-time prospectors, he had spent most of his life looking for a gold mine, and had sold it for a pittance when he found it.

Ed Cross was more business-like, as he reported to his wife. After several deals feel through, Ed sold his share to a group of mining promoters for cash and a share of the stock in a company formed to exploit the mine. Ed later claimed to have received $125,000 for his share of the mine, but that figure is probably inflated. But whatever the exact amounts, both Cross and Harris had sold out--one for drink and the other for stock certificates. Which would prove to be the better deal was yet to be seen. It is certain, however, that neither of the two prospectors who started the great Bullfrog boom made much profit from their discovery--but that is nothing new in the history of mining. [13]

By early fall, the Bullfrog boom was in full bloom. Tents, towns and prospectors surrounded the area of the Bullfrog Mine, as prospectors and promoters rushed to get in on the ground floor. In short succession, mine after mine was discovered in the vicinity, and the Bullfrog District became the talk of the west coast. In the meantime, the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate, organized to operate the original discoveries, was incorporated by the Goldfield promoters dealing with Ed Cross, and actual mining was started. The company advertised a capital stock of 1,000,000 shares, with a par value of $1 each, but they did not say how much actual cash was placed in the treasury to finance the development efforts. As events proved, it wasn't enough. Ed Cross was given a seat on the board of directors of the company, as befitted the owner of one sixth of the mine.

Initial development through the fall and winter of 1904 were promising. The company reported ore assaying as high as $818 to the ton, and began sacking high-grade ore for shipment to Goldfield smelters. On March 23, 1905, the original Bullfrog Mine made the first big shipment out of the new district. Ore estimated to be worth $10,000 was escorted through Rhyolite by five armed guards and the Rhyolite band. The Original Bullfrog Mine, symbol of the entire Bullfrog district, was now a shipper and a producer. More good strikes were made in the shafts and tunnels through May and June; sixteen men were employed at the mine; a 15 horsepower gasoline hoist was ordered to enable deeper sinking; and the mine superintendent expressed the hope that shipments of high-grade ore would pay for all development costs, thus saving a strain upon the company's treasury. By August of 1905, the superintendent estimated that the company had between $750,000 and $1,500,000 worth of ore in sight in the mine. [14]

stock certificate
Illustration 13. Certificate for 1,000 shares in the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate. Courtesy Dr. Richard Lingenfelter.

The Original Bullfrog Mine continued to reflect the optimism of the entire district throughout the fall and winter of 1905. As shafts and tunnels went deeper, ore veins continued to show profitable values in gold, even though no rich shoots were found, such as the early surface discoveries. The Bullfrog District became so famous on a national level, that the United States Geologic Survey decided that it was worth examining. Frederick L. Ransome, an eminent western mining expert, made a study of the district's geologic formations and mines during the fall of 1905. Since Ransome was the first detached, outside observer of the district, his conclusions are of interest. The district, he wrote, was predominantly a low-grade proposition, and would have trouble making a profit, due, to problems of transportation and water supply. After the first publicized shipments, such as that from the Original Bullfrog Mine, none of the mines planned to make further shipments, due to excessive costs, until the railroads arrived. In essence, he concluded, the Bullfrog District was not the bonanza it liked to believe it was, but the mines could be made to pay on a large-scale basis, given careful and economical management. Nor was Ransome more impressed with the Original Bullfrog Mine than with others. "Some bunches of rich ore have been found," he wrote, "but the mass as a whole is of very low grade." [15]

Original Bullfrog mine
Illustration 14. The Original Bullfrog Mine in the summer of 1905. The short-lived tent city of Amargosa may be seen in the distance. Photo from Sunset Magazine, August 1905, p. 321, courtesy Nevada Historical Society.

Original Bullfrog Mine
Illustration 15. Original Bullfrog Mine, November 1905. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

Happily for the Bullfroggers, however, Ransome's report was not printed for another two years, and the district hummed along merrily in the meantime. The Original Bullfrog Company continued to get encouraging results from its development works, and applied for a U.S. patent to their claims in January of 1906. A distinguished mine superintendent was hired away from the famous Gilpin County district of Colorado in the late spring, and the company installed a gas hoist and gallows frame on its property, in order to facilitate deeper mining. Even the brief financial panic brought about by the San Francisco earthquake and fire failed to slow development work, and William Ress celebrated his first anniversary as proprietor of the Original Bullfrog boarding house in May.

After examining the mine and its future prospects, Samuel Newell, the new superintendent from Colorado, decided that he would be there long enough to settle down, and set home for a bride. Mrs. Newell arrived in August and moved out to the mine site to live with her husband. Unfortunately, the summer climate of the Nevada desert did not agree with her, and she died in late September of "desert fever." [16]

Original Bullfrog Mine
Illustration 16. Original Bullfrog Mine near its peak, June 1906. The new large gallows frame, with its bucket hoist, dominates the picture. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

The tragic loss of his two-month bride failed to diminish the energy of superintendent Newell. With the arrival of cooler weather in October, development was increased at the mine. The main shaft was now 250 feet deep, the mine was employing two shifts, of miners, and landlord Ress was feeding 30 miners, most from the Original Bullfrog. By November the shaft was down to 300 feet, and although no rich ore had been found since, the shaft had left the surface, the newspapers reported "encouraging values," a vague description at best. By the end of the year, improvements on the property included the main shaft, two working shafts, and a long crosscut tunnel. Physical property included the gasoline hoist, gallows frame, a small orehouse, ore cars and miscellaneous tools.

In the meanwhile, another development had taken place. On October 26th, Ed Cross had taken a lease from the company to work a 200 by 300 foot tract of the Original Bullfrog claim. Leasing at this stage of the mine's development could only mean that the company directors no longer felt that it was financially feasible to maintain a monopoly on development rights to its own property--a sure indication that things were not looking good. Cross, in a typical lease, was given one year to work the property and take out ore, while paying the company a royalty on any profits he was able to make. Cross had good luck initially, and by the end of 1906 was employing twelve men on his lease and had built an office. [17]

As 1907 began, the Original Bullfrog Mine had already seen its best days. Even though the railroad had now arrived, making possible the shipment of lower grade ore, the mine was not able to gain a profitable status. Development work continued throughout the year, by both the company itself and by Ed Cross on its. lease, but time was running out. The initial treasury fund was almost depleted, and the advent of bigger and more promising mines in the district discouraged stock sales. Shares in the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate, which had sold for 25¢ in November of 1906, had fallen to 74¢ by July of 1907. Desperately, the company continued, hoping to find that elusive high-grade vein which would make the mine a boomer once more, but hopes were doomed.

Ed Cross, despite his limited success on his lease, saw the handwriting on the wall, and decided not to renew the lease when it expired. Finally, the Panic of 1907 dealt the death-blow to the Original Bullfrog mine. With the treasury stock depleted, and with several of the leading owners facing extreme financial difficulties brought on by the panic, there were no more funds for-development work in the mine. On August 26th, the mine was closed and the employees laid off. The company's president issued a statement claiming that the closure had nothing to do with the financial crisis, but no one held their breath while waiting for the mine to reopen. For the rest of the year, the mine was not worked, and when tax time rolled around in December, the company let its property go on the delinquent roll, rather than pay $46.20 in taxes. Shares of Original Bullfrog stock were now selling for 3¢ each. [18]

In the spring of 1908, the mine was reactivated, but on a small scale. No longer did the superintendent announce grand plans for future development works, or the building of mills. Rather, the mine limped along on a very small scale, attempting to extract enough ore to cover operating costs. Leasing arrangements were sought, in order to bring more money into the treasury, and several individuals were lured by the magic of the Bullfrog name. Superintendent Newell managed to make several shipments of ore, but in small quantities--total April production, for example, reached the grand sum of $350, while lease-holders managed to ship $790 worth of ore in May.

Even these low figures did not reflect profits. One shipper, who had ore worth $160 a ton from a Bullfrog lease, paid over $20 to the railroad for shipping charges and over $37 to the Goldfield smelter for reduction charges, leaving him with a profit of $103 for his labor, before he paid the Original Bullfrog Company its royalty. By now it was clearly evident, as Ransome had pointed out several years before, that the Original Bullfrog Mine was a very low grade proposition, which could not be profitably exploited under present conditions. By the end of 1908, both stockholders and the company had come to agree with that assessment. Stock sales had slumped to 1¢ per share, and the company again could not find the money to pay its $34.65 in county taxes. Still, hoping against hope, several tease-holders hung on. [19]

In March of 1909, the Rhyolite Herald in its grand pictorial supplement, gave a long history of the discovery and developments of the Original Bullfrog mine, sadly concluding that The work has not proceeded . . . to the point of placing the property in the regular producing list." This was as far as a Rhyolite newspaper was willing to go towards admitting that the mine was dead. The Nye county treasurer, however, was willing to go farther, and in August of 1909 seized the movable property of the company in consideration for two years of unpaid taxes. Still, some hardy and hopeful individuals were willing to risk a few months' labor in the hope of finding the elusive green ore, and the property was working sporadically on a leasing basis.

By 1910, when it was becoming apparent that the entire Bullfrog District was dying, the Rhyolite Herald indulged in that favorite speculation of what-might-have-been. After discussing the early glory days of the district and the Original Bullfrog Mine, when high-grade ore was being shipped under armed guard, the Herald lamented: "If that kind of stuff, which ran up into the many hundreds of dollars per ton, had stayed in the Original instead of pinching out, the story of Bullfrog would be "another tale than what it is." True, but, Although the boom days were now definitely over, hope still persisted, as it can only do in a mining camp. In 1912, the success of a neighboring mine provoked rumors that the Original Bullfrog would be reorganized and reopened, but nothing happened. Small time operators continued to work the ground in 1913 and 1914, through leases. The patented claims of the mine lay on the delinquent list of the county tax roll, for want of anyone to pay, back taxes and reclaim the land. In 1917 a group of promoters incorporated the Re-Organized Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate, but again nothing came of that effort. [20]

Nothing is harder to kill than the mystique of a name, especially a name such as the Original Bullfrog, with its intimate connections with the glorious boom and bust of the Bullfrog district. Time and again, throughout the following years, miners, prospectors, promoters and even movie stars were attracted by the prevailing mystique of the Original Bullfrog Mine. Surely, they thought, there must be something there, if this was the mine which started the whole thing. Their efforts were met with various degrees of middling success.

In the late 1920's the New Original Bullfrog Mines Company was organized and fitful shipments were made for several years before the enterprise folded. In 1930, Roy Pomeroy, a Hollywood executive, put together an organization with the backing of contemporary movie stars, and bought the Original Bullfrog as well as several other mines in the district. The Nye County treasurer, however, was soon listing all those properties once again on the delinquent tax roll.

In 1937 the Original Bullfrog, along with other mines, was purchased by the Burm-Ball Mining Company, which operated for several years, extracting small-scale shipments, before leasing them to other operators. These lease-holders operated intermittently through the 1940s and into the 1950s, but without any significant success. In 1955, one E.J. Kingsinger bought the mine, and like the Burm-Ball, continued to pay taxes on it, without deriving much benefit. In 1961, Kingsinger sold the mine to the H.H. Heislers, an old-time couple who moved back to Rhyolite and settled into the old Las Vegas and Tonopah passenger station. The Heislers in turn sold out to the Nevada Minerals Exploration Company in 1974, and the claims were again sold in 1976, to Boyce Cook and Lenard Cruson. [21]

So lived and died the Original Bullfrog mine. Considering its history, which saw only insignificant production and small-scale mining efforts, the mine itself would hardly be worth remembering. It was, however, much more Than just a mine--it was and is the symbol of the entire Bullfrog mining district, and all that that entails. The Original Bullfrog Mine was the spark which lit the Bullfrog boom, and that boom was in turn responsible for several other booms, the building of two towns, Rhyolite and Beatty, and the transformation of the entire history and economy of a large portion of the southwestern Nevada region.

And what of the two lonely prospectors who made the discovery? Shorty Harris went on, as most old-time prospectors did, to hunt again for gold in the desert. Amazingly, Shorty found gold a second time, at Harrisburg, on the western rim of Death Valley. Again, however, Shorty was unable to capitalize upon his discovery, and he died in 1934, alone on the desert, still looking for gold, and with little but his burro and his blanket to his name. Ed Cross, after giving up on his lease at the Original Bullfrog, returned to his home and farm in California and died at his daughter's house in 1958. [22]

b. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendations

Due to the close proximity of the Original Bullfrog Mine to the workings of the Bullfrog West Extension Mine, the physical remnants of the two mines have been confused more often than not by recent studies. Since the mines were owned and operated, in recent years, by identical parties, the discussion of the historic structures, together with conclusions and recommendations, will be found at the end of the West Extension section.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003