Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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B. The Funeral Range

1. Introduction

The canyons and hillsides of the Funeral Range, running down the east side of Death Valley, have seen a wide and varied mining history. One of the first mines in the Death Valley region, the Chloride Cliff, was discovered and worked here in the early 1870's, and one of Death Valley's most productive mines, the Keane Wonder, is also located in this area. But the real burst of activity within this region, lie so many others within Death Valley National Monument, was a result of the great Bullfrog boom.

In a sense, the Funeral Range and the Bullfrog Hills areas had a symbionic relationship. Although we cannot be sure, it is a good possibility that one of the reasons that the locators of the Keane Wonder mine chose the Funeral range to prospect in was their knowledge of the Chloride Cliff mine, which had operated briefly some thirty years before. Although the original Chloride Cliff mine was never really successful, that was due more to the difficulties and costs of transportation in the nineteenth century than to the lack of ore content at the mine, and the knowledge that there definitely was ore in the area probably drew the attention of early twentieth-century prospectors. We do know that once the Keane Wonder Mine was located, its early fame drew other prospectors to the region, two of whom went on to discover the Original Bullfrog Mine, which kicked off one of Southern Nevada's most spectacular mining booms.

The great success of the Bullfrog boom, in turn, stimulated a secondary rush to the Funeral Range, as prospectors fanned out over the adjacent territory on the theory that one good discovery would lead to another. In fact, as the Mining World wrote in January of 1906, when the rush to the Funeral range was well under way, "Death Valley is the best prospected section in the world. For many years the danger accompanying the investigation has lured men to prospect this ground, hoping that the danger had kept other men away."

Illustration 77. Map of Funeral Range Area.

Although there is no doubt that the Funeral Range was covered with a swarm of prospectors during this time, their expertise was an arguable point. Another publication, the Mining & Scientific Press later called for a more thorough investigation of the possibilities of Death Valley, on the theory that the first mad rush to the region had been made by prospectors of questionable skills. "On the side favoring further prospecting around Death Valley it should be said that the prospectors have previously been the laziest lode-hunters on the desert. Much of the alledged prospecting has been done by "desert-rats," those half-mad desert tramps who never made more than a pretense of looking for ore. Their search was generally confined to trails between water-holes." The writer had a point, for many of the prospectors of the western mining frontier were no better than out-door bums, who followed the booms from one camp to another in order to cash in on the free-spending days of boom fevers. They were a representation of the losers of society, who found it easier to wander the hills in a vague search for gold while living off someone else's grubstake, than to look for a steady job.

At any rate, whether experienced or not, dedicated or bums, the Funeral Range was thoroughly prospected in the years between 1905 and 1907, as the Bullfrog boom rose to its peak. Numerous mines and mining camps were established during that period, enough to cause the formation of two distinct mining districts subsidiary to the Bullfrog District. The South Bullfrog District was centered around the Keane Wonder and Chloride Cliff mines, in the northern half of the Funeral Range, and the Echo-Lee Mining District straddled the lower Funeral Range from Schwab on the west to Lee on the east. Between Daylight Pass on the north and Furnace Creek wash on the south, there was hardly a square mile of territory which did not contain a mine or prospect during this period. There was gold in the hills.

Unfortunately, there was not enough gold to support the number of miners who wanted some. The mines and prospects of the region were greatly exaggerated and over-publicized, due to the excesses of the boom fever. Every new location within these booming districts was hailed as the new Comstock lode, while similar discoveries in isolated regions which were not booming were totally ignored. Once that fever began to subside, however, the smaller mines were quick to fade away. Their demise was helped by two disasterous events which affected all of western mining: the San Francisco earthquake and fire in the spring of 1906 and the Panic of 1907. To a lesser extent the San Francisco disaster cut short the amount of investor funds which were available to the young mines of the two districts for exploration and development, but the real disaster was the Panic of 1907. It hit the booming districts just when the mining companies needed money the most, in order to build mills, improve roads, invest in machinery, and continue development.

These two events, coupled with the gradual demise of the Bullfrog District itself, foretold the eventual end of the South Bullfrog and the Echo-Lee districts. The smaller mines were the first to go, but they were soon followed by the larger ones, before any really had a decent chance to find out whether the ore in the ground was rich enough and extensive enough to make a real producing mine. The towns of the districts, such as Lee and Schwab, likewise died with their mines, and never were given the opportunity to develop into substantial mining camps.

By 1910, the South Bullfrog and the Echo-Lee districts were almost deserted, with the notable exception of the Keane Wonder Mine, which steadily produced gold bullion throughout the years of discovery, boom and bust. But it, too, ran out of ore in the mid-1910s, and closed down. The Funeral Range was then left much as it had been found, except that uncounted shafts, tunnels, and prospect holes now dotted the countryside. Between 1920 and today, no significant mining has taken place within this region, although brief efforts were made to revive several of the larger mines. The scene today around most of these mines is much the same as it was seventy years ago. The only access to most of the region is along the old wagon roads and burro trails blazed by the Bullfrog era miners, and as years and washouts help the desert to slowly reclaim these roads, travel to the old mines and camps becomes more and more difficult.

But the South Bullfrog and the Echo-Lee districts were more typical than not of the life and death of mines and mining camps anywhere in the American west. For every famous mine and town, such as Goldfield and Tonopah, there were always hundreds of other mines and camps which tried and failed. The Funeral Range is, by and large, the history of such. [1]

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003