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

3. Keane Wonder Mine

a. History

in December of 1903, two prospectors wandered into the Funeral Mountains on the east side of Death Valley. Like so many others, these two men were among the horde of prospectors scanning the deserts and mountain ranges of southern Nevada for gold, spurred on by the. fabulous riches discovered shortly before at Tonopah and Goldfield. What brought them to this particular area is unrecorded, but perhaps they had heard about the old Chloride Cliff Mine, which had operated briefly in the Funeral Range in the 1870s.

At any rate, the two prospectors, named Domingo Etcharren and Jack Keane, found an outcropping of silver ore in the northern Funeral Range in December of 1903. The two men worked their discovery for several months, attempting to trace the outcropping to a silver lode, but they were unsuccessful. Then, quite by accident, Jack Keane discovered an immense ledge of free milling gold ore a short distance from the original silver location. The discovery was aptly named the Keane Wonder, and represented Keane's first major strike after eight years of desert prospecting.

Like the 1870 operators of the Chloride Cliff Mine, which was located only two miles above the new Keane Wonder, Etcharren and Keane were dependent upon Ballarat for supplies. But unlike 1871, eastern California and southern Nevada were prepared for a gold rush in 1904, and when the two men came into Ballarat in May of that year for a rest and re-equipment, news of their strike touched off a genuine gold rush. Other prospectors rushed to the Funeral Mountains to get in on the strike, and promoters began to negotiate with Keane and Etcharren for the purchase of their locations. By late May, the strike was "confirmed--that is, other prospectors and experts in the employ of mining promoters had examined the site--and Keane and Etcharren began to receive offers to sell their eighteen claims.

Illustration 89. Map of Northwest Portion of Chloride Cliff Area.

The two men, however, knew that they had something big, and decided to wait until the right offer came along. It did not take long, for within a few weeks the Keane Wonder was bonded to a well-known California mining operator, Captain J. R. Delamar. The terms of the bond called for Delamar to pay the locators $10,000 in cash immediately, for which Delamar obtained the rights to develop the locations for one year, with an option to purchase the mine at the end of that time for $150,000. The bond agreement was signed, sealed, and placed in the Inyo County Recorder's office on June 24, 1904, even though no one seemed to know for sure whether the mine was located in California or Nevada--a telling indication of the great lack of knowledge about the Death Valley region.

Delamar at once went to work, and shipped machinery and supplies to the mine. By the end of July he had thirty men working on the property. In the meantime, a decided rush was on to the Funeral Mountains, several other important discoveries had been made, and the Inyo newspapers reported that there "is a rush for the field from Ballarat and vicinity and pack jacks and canteens are in demand." By the end of July, one paper estimated that there were five hundred prospectors in the general vicinity of the new discovery. Two of these were "Shorty" Harris and Ed Cross, who were soon to discover the Original Bullfrog Mine. [9]

During the rest of 1904, Delamar's men feverishly worked the Keane Wonder Mine, racing against the one-year deadline to determine if it was worth the purchase price of $150,000. An assay office and a general office building were built at the site, and a wagon road was cut across the desert to within a mile of the mine, which was situated mid-way up the steep Funeral Range above Death Valley. By early 1905, their efforts to develop the mine were frustrated by the beginnings of the great rush to Bullfrog, which made horses and wagons almost impossible to obtain, and development work of necessity was slowed down. Nevertheless, enough teams were found to make the sixty mile haul from Ballarat, and fifteen men were still employed in driving two exploratory tunnels in March of 1905. The results of this work made the Keane Wonder look like a truly great prospect. "There is," reported the papers, "enough quartz in this mountain, and float, if it carries sufficient value, to run a 100 ton-a-day plant for twenty years."

By this time strikes were popping up all around the Keane Wonder. Stimulated both by it and the even greater Bullfrog strikes, literally hundreds of prospectors were swarming through the Funeral Mountains. In an effort to maintain some order and to record the numerous locations being made, the South Bullfrog District was soon created, encompassing within its boundaries and Keane Wonder Mine. Just to its north, the Chloride Cliff Mine had been reopened, the Big Bell had been discovered between the Keane Wonder and the Chloride Cliff, and numerous other mines began operations. Inevitably, these peripheral mines included one incorporated as the Keane Wonder Extension Mining Company.

As May 15th approached, when Delamar's bond on the Keane Wonder would expire, he started negotiations with Keane and Etcharren. In late April, he offered to buy the mine, but at less than the $150,000 stated in the bond agreement. Unfortunately for him, Keane and Etcharren had closely watched the development work done by his men during the past year, and they fully realized that they had a real mine on their hands. Such a thing happens only once in a lifetime, and they refused to accept a penny less than $150,000. Delamar either could not or did not want to pay that sum, and his option expired.

After Delamar's men left the property, Keane and Etcharren performed only sporadic work during the excessive heat of Death Valley's summer, while awaiting a new purchaser. They knew that their mine was too big for them to develop properly on their own, but all available investment money was being poured into the booming Bullfrog mines, and the Keane Wonder became almost forgotten. The two men, however, were patient and bided their time.

With the advent of cooler weather in September, Keane and Etcharren resumed work on their own. A small shipment of high-grade ore was sent to the smelter, and with the $28,000 which they received for it (which amounted to $1,867 a ton), they were able to employ a half dozen miners. Costs were comparatively low, since the mine could be worked through tunnels, thus avoiding the expenses of sinking and timbering shafts and hoisting the ore. With a bit of good luck, the shipment of occasional high-grade batches of ore would thus pay for the development of the mine on a small scale. With this plan in mind, the two men continued to work on their own through the remainder of 1905, employing five or six men, and waiting for the dust to settle around the Bullfrog boom, after which men with money would be able to see that their mine also had great potential. [10]

In early 1906, the prospectors' patience won out, as offers for the purchase of the mine were again made. L. L. Patrick obtained a bond for the property, similar to Delamar's of the previous year, with an option to purchase. Patrick immediately announced grand plans for the mine, including the erection of a 20-stamp mill at the foot of the Funeral Range, a mile from the mine and two thousand feet below it. Patrick and his men worked the mine for several months, while his engineers prepared surveys for an ore tram from the mine down to the mill site. But for an unknown reason Patrick decided not to exercise his option to purchase, and his bond expired in early March.

But by now promoters were standing in line for a chance at the mine, as soon as Patrick's bond expired, John F. Campbell and his associates jumped in. Campbell and his backers bought the Keane Wonder Mine outright, for a reported price of $250,000, $50,000 of which was paid to Etcharren and Keane in cash, and the rest given in form of stock in a company to be organized to develop the mine. The new company was incorporated in late March, with a capitalization of 1,500,000 shares. Jack Keane, who held a controlling stock interest, was elected president of the new company, with Campbell serving as vice president and Domingo Etcharren as secretary. The new company claimed to have forty to eighty thousand tons of gold ore on its twenty claims, and within a week, full page ads began to appear in the Rhyolite newspapers, offering stock for sale to the general public. The initial response was quite favorable, with Keane Wonder stock selling for 42¢ on May 4th, and 50¢ a week later.

Illustration 90. Rhyolite Herald, April 6, 1906.

The new owners immediately resumed development on the property, and new ore strikes were soon made. Prospects looked extremely favorable for the company, for both wood and water were available within a reasonable distance from the mine, and the ease of tunnel mining indicated that development and extraction costs at the Keane Wonder would be relatively low. Within a short time the company had two mining camps established, one at the mine high on the side of the Funeral mountains, and the other located on the floor of Death Valley below. [11]

The Keane Wonder was by now receiving attention from papers as far away as Denver, Colorado. The mine had grown to twenty-two claims, comprising 240 acres of land, but even with the expenditure of $35,000 over the past year in development work, still only five of those twenty-two claims had been explored at all. But just when things looked brightest, disaster struck. The great San Francisco fire and earthquake of April 1906 effectively wiped out Campbell's fortune, which had an immediate effect upon the finances of the Keane Wonder Company. Development abruptly slowed down, and within a month reports were printed that Campbell was meeting in California with parties interested in buying the mine.

Campbell and his associates had no difficulty in finding a buyer. In late June, Homer Wilson, president of the Sildman Consolidated Mines Company of San Francisco, was in the Bullfrog District looking at various investment possibilities. On August 10th it was announced that Wilson and his associates had purchased the Keane Wonder Mine. The sale was heartily approved of by the local newspapers, which by this time had realized the financial distress caused Campbell by the San Francisco disaster. Wilson, who owned a string of mines in the Mother Lode country of California, was extolled as "one of the boldest and most successful operators" in California. The sale price was not released to the newspapers.

After several disappointments arising from previous sales, Jack Keane and Domingo Etcharren were now ready to sell out all their interests in the Keane Wonder, and this time they accepted full payment in cash, thus terminating their interests in the Keane Wonder Mine which they had discovered. Etcharren dropped completely out of sight and was never heard from again, but Keane's subsequent career can be sketchily traced. With the money from the sale of the Keane Wonder, Keane "who recently joined the ranks of those living on Easy street," invested in almost fifty claims in the Skidoo District on the west side of Death Valley. Within a few month's, however, Keane's luck turned sour. In September he was involved in a shooting affair in Ballarat, California, where after a night of drinking he wounded two local peace officers. Shortly after that he disappeared, to surface in Ireland in the fall of 1907, where it was reported that he was sentenced to seventeen years in jail for killing a man. The Rhyolite papers sadly commented upon this tragic end for one of the region's few lucky prospectors, but noted that when "drinking he usually resorted to his gun on very slight provacation." [12]

In the meantime, Homer Wilson and his associates went to work. The Homer Wilson Trust Company was incorporated, as a holding company for the Keane Wonder and other Wilson interests, and the new Keane Wonder stock was offered to the public. Advertisements in December of 1906 claimed that the first allotments of stock offered for sale at 50 per share had been oversubscribed in forty-eight hours, and that stock was now for sale from the company at 65¢ per share. Work was resumed at the mine in early November, and the company immediately ordered a 20-stamp mill and auxiliary equipment. The milling plant, announced Wilson, would consist of crushing by stamps, with amalgamation, concentration and cyanidation, and was expected to cost between $75,000 and $100,000. Wilson promised the press that his mill would be the first one in the Bullfrog region to begin operations.

Ten men started preliminary grading work for the mill buildings in early December, and plans were drawn for a gravity tram to bring the ore down from the mine on the mountain to the mill site in the valley below. By late December, mill machinery began to arrive over the new railroad, including an 85-horsepower Coreless oil burning steam engine, which would be used to power the mill. The aerial tramway from the mine to the mill was surveyed, and the company decided to install a Riblet gravity tram, 4,700 feet long, wherein the loaded ore buckets coming down the mountain would pull the empty ore buckets and supplies back up to the mine. By the end of December, construction on both mill and tramway was under way, and in addition twenty men were still employed in the mine. The company announced that it had $650,000 worth of ore blocked out, which would suffice to feed the mill for several years. [13]

As 1907 began, luck stayed with the Keane Wonder Mine, sometimes in almost unbelievable proportions. The mine continued to look well, for as more tunnels were driven, more ore was found. Then, when some men began sinking a well near the mill site below the mine, they struck another gold ledge instead of water. The well was immediately turned into another working shaft. Twenty-five men were employed by the company in early January, and the foundations for the mill buildings were excavated.

During February, more mill machinery and equipment arrived over the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad. The machinery contract had been let to the Risdon Iron Works of San Francisco, and Walter Lyons, formerly employed by the rival Union Iron Works of the same city was hired as construction superintendent. The Porter brothers of Rhyolite, after intense competition, won the contract to haul some 255 tons of machinery, timbers and supplies from Rhyolite over Daylight Pass to the mill site, twenty-six miles away. As February and March progressed, machinery and supplies continued to arrive with regularity, and the Keane Wonder Mill began to take shape. As the framework for the main mill building began to rise above the desert in early April, the price of Keane Wonder stock rose with it, for investors were impressed by the final resources and energetic management of Homer Wilson. Keane Wonder stock was sold for 75¢ in early April, and 80¢ late in that month.

As equipment arrived, mill construction took priority over development of the mine, and all available labor was put to work at the mill site. The framework for the mill building was finished in April, the ore bins were built and the mortar blocks set. More men were added to the payroll, which reached $3,000 per month. Final costs for the mill were estimated at $85,000. At the same time, a group of men were put to work on the water supply for the mill, which was being developed in several different spots. As a hedge, the Keane Wonder Company purchased Keane Springs, about seven miles away towards the top of the Funeral Range, as well as the young townsite at the springs. The company also bought up several claims adjoining its own, in order to obtain a right of way for its aerial tramway between the mine and the mill, bringing its total holdings to twenty-six claims, comprising some 450 acres. Arrangements were made to extend a telephone to the mill site, from the Rhyolite-Skidoo line. As construction proceeded, stock demand rose, but few shares were offered for sale. "The holders of this stock are evidently willing to wait for the dividends which seem sure to come within a few months," surmised the Rhyolite Herald.

By mid-May, all the mill equipment and machinery had arrived, and most had been installed. In addition, the company had finished the construction of a new boarding house at the mill site, to accommodate the construction crew and the. future mill crew. Then, in July, with the mill essentially completed, the construction crews were shifted to the building of the aerial tramway. This would prove to be a long and laborious task, especially with the intense heat of summer, but the Keane Wonder Company pressed on, for it was in a decided race with the Montgomery Shoshone Company of Rhyolite to see who would have the first running mill in the Bullfrog region. The Keane Wonder was at a disadvantage in the race, for in addition to building a mill, it was also required to complete a tramway and many other auxiliary features. For example, in mid-July, a huge 25,000 gallon galvanized iron tank was built beside the railroad tracks in Rhyolite, to be used as a storage tank for the crude oil which would be hauled to the mill site to fuel the plant. According to the Bullfrog Miner, "This is the largest tank of the kind in the country."

But the construction proceeded well. By late July, the tramway towers were beginning to arise along the ridgeside, and the company predicted that the mill and tramway would be completed by September 1st. In the meantime, some miners had been put back below ground, and another strike of ore almost immediately resulted. Delays on the delivery of the huge tramway timbers slowed construction for a while in July and August, but other construction continued. The water and crude oil tanks at the mill were completed in early August, and the timbers for the tramway were laboriously dragged up the mountainside. Twenty-one thousand board feet of lumber were required for the upper tramway terminal, 28,000 for the lower, and 25,000 for the intermediate towers. The tramway had thirteen towers, with the longest span between them being 1,200 feet, and the vertical fall from top to bottom was 1,500 feet. During the height of tramway construction, the Keane Wonder Company employed no less than five mill wrights for framing the timbers for the terminals and tramway towers. Each tower rested upon a foundation measuring twenty-four feet square, in many cases blasted out of solid rock.

Despite the 105 degree temperature at the construction site in mid-August, the workers toiled on, with most work being accomplished during early morning and late evening hours. Finally, on September 14th, the last load of equipment for the towers was hauled out to the mill site, making a total of 1,500,000 pounds of freight which had been hauled from Rhyolite during the course of construction at a cost of $11,000.

Work was delayed somewhat in mid-September, when several men quit, stating that the food served at the Keane Wonder boarding house was "absolutely the worst ever put before a crew of working men on the desert." Mrs. Hull, the company cook, took exception to the accusation, and replied that "the provender is good and the parties making complaints are soreheads." Nevertheless, new men were found, and construction continued. In early October the tramway cable was stretched, and only the hanging of the buckets remained for the tramway to be completed. Homer Wilson arrived in town to witness the first days of the mill tests, and also to award a contract to the Porter brothers of Rhyolite for the transport of crude oil from the storage tank in Rhyolite to the mill site. Two tank wagons, holding twenty-one and twenty-seven barrels respectively, would make nine trips each per month, in order to satisfy the demands of the big steam engine. The tank wagons, which were owned by the Keane Wonder Company, were special heavy duty Studebaker models.

Finally, in late October, everything was ready for the machinery to be turned on for the first time. Homer Wilson, in an understandably pleased mood, told reporters that he hoped the 80-ton capacity mill would turn out $1,000 worth of gold per day when running at full speed. All mill tailings, he said, would be impounded, for the company expected to add cyanide tanks within a year in order to rework the tailings and thus extract the utmost in gold savings. In the meantime, the miners had 2,000 tons of ore broken down in the mine, ready to feed the mill. But due to the Panic of 1907, which had just hit the Nevada mining fields, Wilson was forced to make an emergency trip to Goldfield on October 27th, the day that the Keane Wonder Mill began to operate.

For the next month, everyone involved held their breath, waiting to see if the huge investment in labor and equipment would pay off. The equipment was turned slowly at first, as constant checks were made for defects in the machinery, and only forty tons were treated per day. But all the equipment worked well, and soon the tonnage was increased. On November 11th, the first bars of gold bullion were brought into Rhyolite, the result of the first three weeks run, and were estimated by one local paper to be worth $40,000. That figure was undoubtedly exaggerated, however, for the Keane Wonder Company did not announce its production figures, and another paper estimated the total output for all of November at only $25,000. But regardless of figures, the tramway and mill were evidently working well, and the company formally invited reporters and interested miners to visit the site and take a ride in its tramway.

In early December, a Rhyolite Herald reporter made such a visit. The mill was now running twenty-four hours a day, he reported, and was treating seventy to seventy-five tons per day. The ore being treated at the mill averaged $18 to $20 per ton, and the present mill equipment was saving 65% of the gold content. The tailings, which were being saved for later cyanidation, assayed at $3.95 per ton. Homer Wilson estimated the known ore reserves at 100,000 tons, and development work in the mine was increasing that figure faster than the mill could reduce it.

The ore bin at the upper tramway had a capacity of 100 tons, and an especially unique feature. Power from the gravity pull on the tramway was used to operate a preliminary ore crusher at the upper terminal, through which the rock passed before descending to the mill. In addition, a supplementary 13-horsepower gas engine was installed on the upper tramway terminal, so that the ore crusher could be operated when the tramway was idle. The tramway was supported by twelve towers and one breakover station. The highest tower was thirty feet, the lowest eighteen. The longest span between towers was 1,280 feet and was 500 feet above the floor of the canyon below. Each ore bucket on the tramway carried 600 pounds, and was loaded automatically. The material for the tramway included 95,000 board feet of timber and fifty tons of wire rope and terminal material, and the tramway rose on a grade of 1,000 feet per mile.

The ore buckets dumped automatically into the mill bin at the lower tramway terminal, which had a capacity of 200 tons. From there the ore passed onto suspended Risdon feeds, and under the Golconda pattern batteries, whose twenty stamps weighed 1,000 pounds each and dropped 100 times per minute. Inside amalgamation was by back plate and chock block with the ore passing from the screens onto a lip plate, and then falling into distributing pots and onto the apron plates. From the plates the pulp passed into the amalgam trap, and the sands went to the original classifier, with the coarse sands sent to two Wilfleys vanners and the fine sands to four Johnson vanners. Tailings were pumped into four Callow tanks, each eight feet in diameter, where 75% of the water was secured and pumped back into the tanks for use in the stamps. The tailings were impounded in dams and allowed to settle, with remaining water again recycled back through the mill. The amalgam was retorted and melted at the mill and finally converted into gold bullion.

Water for the mill was drawn from a well shaft 285 feet from the mill, and was pumped into a tank above the mill by an artesian pump. The mill itself was driven by a Corliss steam engine, with steam generated in a 126-horsepower Sterling boiler. The exhaust from the engine was used to heat a 100-horsepower Cochrane feed water heater, which heated the water to 210 degrees, thereby driving off the soda and other minerals which would have clogged the boiler. Crude oil was used to fire the boilers, and the works were lighted by electricity generated at the mill site.

The mill building was framed, and covered with galvanized iron. All the floors were concrete, with concrete foundations, mortar blocks and retaining walls. The tramway materials were from the Leschen Brothers & Company, a St. Louis outfit specializing in aerial tramways. Over forty different designs and combinations, said Wilson, were studied before the company finally decided upon this arrangement. Finally, the reporter concluded, the Keane Wonder Company had a fine camp established at the mill site, where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson lived. Other families included those of Vice-president and Mrs. Rogers, and mill superintendent and Mrs. Lyons. The Kimball brothers had established a twice-a-week stage line between Rhyolite and the mill, to satisfy transportation demands. [14]

Keane Wonder Mill complex
Illustration 91. The left half of the Keane Wonder Mill complex, which should be matched with the opposite photo. Note the piles of lumber and other materials, which would soon be used for the support buildings of the mine complex, the two small tent structures, and the large storage building. The cyanide plant, which would be built several years later, would stand on the slightly higher ground behind the large storage building. Photo from the Rhyolite Herald, 6 December 1907.

Keane Wonder Mill
Illustration 92. The new Keane Wonder Mill, as photographed for the Rhyolite Herald in December of 1907. Although it is not a very good picture, it is one of the few remaining. The basic mill buildings have just been completed, but none of the support buildings, such as the building which later covered the lower tramway terminal (which is located behind the mill), have yet been erected. The tent houses in the foreground were boarding and bunk houses.

But despite the excellent success of the Keane Wonder Mill, all was not well with the company. The Panic of 1907 hit the Nevada mining industry quite hard, and one of the earliest casualties was the State Bank and Trust Company of Goldfield, and its president, Thomas B. Rickey. When the State Bank and Trust failed and went into receivership in November of 1907, the effects upon the future of the Keane Wonder Company were made evident when the newspapers reported that the bank had loaned the company $200,000 for the construction of its mill and tramway. President Rickey promised that the loan would be made good, but as the Inyo Register pointed out, "The Keane Wonder is now practically owned by the State Bank and Trust Company," and the future of the company's finances was much in doubt.

But while waiting for the financial picture to become clearer, the Keane Wonder Mill continued to produce. It is difficult to give a reasonable estimate of mill output, since Homer Wilson was not in the practice of announcing bullion figures, but we do know that the mill was working steadily. Wilson brought in a bar of gold bullion to Rhyolite on December 7th, the result of twelve days' run, and the papers estimated its worth at around $16,000. Another gold brick was brought in on December 21st, estimated at $6,000. As a unique feature of the Keane Wonder operation, the gold bullion was shipped to the mint, which processed it and shipped back gold coins to the company, which were used to pay the Keane Wonder employees. The mill was still not running at full capacity by the end of 1907, due to difficulties in obtaining enough of a water flow to satisfy the mill demands. Average daily runs through the latter part of 1907 averaged seventy-five tons per day. But still, based upon a compilation of the more conservative newspaper estimates, the Keane Wonder Mill produced around $36,000 in gold bullion in 1907. [15]

As 1908 opened, the Keane Wonder Mill continued to produce, although the lack of an adequate water supply kept the mill from running at full capacity. Bullion estimated at $15,000 was brought in or January 9th, and another shipment estimated at $8,000 was sent to Rhyolite on February 5th. Even without being able to run full time, the mine and mill seemed to be operating most efficiently, for the entire costs of mining, traming and milling the ore was put at a mere $3 per ton. This efficiency, of course, was greatly helped by, the fact that the soft rock being mined at the Keane Wonder was being pulled out of horizontal tunnels and stopes, which alleviated the costly necessity of sinking and timbering shafts and of installing and operating hoisting machinery.

Keane Wonder Mine
Illustration 93. View of one of the working faces of the Keane Wonder Mine, showing the ease of mining. The ore at this point could be stripped directly off the face of the cliff, which saved the company thousands of dollars over the costs of tunneling, shafting, and timbering. From a booklet, "Bullfrong Mining District," published by the Rhyolite Chamber of Commerce, 1909.

As could be expected, the troubles of the State Bank and Trust Company, which received wide publicity, caused a number of rumors to circulate concerning the Keane Wonder Company. The Inyo Register reported on February 13th that the mine and mill would close, due to those complications, but Homer Wilson hotly denied the rumor, stating that the mine had ore reserves sufficient to supply the mill for two more years. Two days later, as if to prove his point, Wilson brought in another gold brick estimated at $4,000.

By late February, the newspapers were able to begin untangling the affairs of the Keane Wonder Company and the State Bank and Trust. The Rhyolite Daily Bulletin reported that T. B. Rickey, the former president of the bank, had personally taken over the debt of the Keane Wonder Company to the bank, which amounted to $195,000. Since Rickey was also a heavy stockholder in the Keane Wonder Company, this seemed to bolster the future of the mine, for such a move would enable the Keane Wonder to avoid the long drawn out receivership settlement affecting the bank and all those connected with it. Further good news followed, for the discovery of an additional water source enabled the mill to begin running around the clock in late February. It immediately began to treat almost 80 tons per day, near full capacity, and Homer Wilson brought in another gold brick on March 5th, estimated at $7,500, bringing February's production to an estimated $15,000.

Further bullion shipments were made later in March, as an estimated $5,000 was brought in on March 19th, and another $1,700 on March 28th. A short time was lost for minor repairs, but the mill continued to function well. In late March, Homer Wilson, realizing that the continued rumors connecting the State Bank and Trust Company with his mine were having a detrimental effect, granted a long interview to a reporter from the Rhyolite Daily Bulletin.

The Keane Wonder, he said, had two years of ore supplies already blocked out, and further development work would undoubtedly increase those known ore reserves. The average ore in the mine, like that which had already been run through the mill, was around $16 per ton. The company would soon begin the construction of a cyanide plant to treat the mill tailings. At present the mill, without cyanidation, was saving about 62 percent of the ore content, and the addition of a cyanide plant would increase that savings ratio to 92 percent. When the plant was completed, Wilson hoped for a monthly production of $25,000 from the combined works.

Water shortages, however, were continuing to plague the company. Even with the addition of a new water supply, and with the unusual recycling arrangements built into the mill, full time operation was impossible. Thus the mill had settled into a schedule of twenty-four hour operation for four days, followed by sixteen hours for the next three, while the water supply was built back up.

Concerning the rumors connecting the mine and the bank, Wilson was most specific. The finances of the Keane Wonder Company, in his opinion, were in good shape. With the output of the property the last three months the company had paid off every cent of its indebtedness, and would be able to begin paying dividends the next month--unless, of course, such profits were put back into the expansion of the facilities, such as a new cyanide plant. The Keane Wonder Company, said Wilson, had absolutely no connections or entanglements with the State Bank and Trust Company. The mine did not owe the bank a penny, and whatever troubles Mr. Rickey was having involved only his personal stock in the Keane Wonder, and not the company itself. Rickey and Wilson together owned 875,000 of the 1,500,000 shares in the Keane Wonder, and whatever happened to Rickey's portion of those shares would have no effect upon the mine itself. In addition, the company still had 350,000 shares of treasury stock. These shares, which the company had never put on the market, could be sold at any time when the company faced financial difficulties. In summary, Mr. Wilson quite candidly put his mine into perspective. "We have not got what may be called a big mine or a high grade mine," he said, "but a nice little proposition that will clear good and dependable money every month in the year, and from the looks of things, for many years hence." [16]

April proved to be another good month for the Keane Wonder. Homer Wilson brought in three gold bricks estimated as being worth $30,000. The output for future months looked even better, for during April yet another source of water was located, which the company said was sufficient to supply a 60-stamp mill. Pipe line and pumping machinery were ordered, for the new water supply was 3,500 feet from the mine and 100 feet below it. Work on the cyanide plant, the company announced, would begin after the new pipe line was laid.

In addition, new ore bodies were discovered in the mine, which increased the company's ore reserves. Some of the new ore was high grade, and was called the best discovery in the history of the mine. Homer Wilson essentially agreed with that assessment, and stated that there "is perhaps enough ore in sight to wear out the 20-stamp mill that we now have in operation on the property." Even the announcement that a disgruntled stockholder named E. H. Widdekind had filed suit in the Esmeralda county district court, asking for a receiver to be appointed to the Keane Wonder Company, failed to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the mine. Widdekind alledged "all kinds of crooked work," chiefly that Wilson had appropriated large amounts of the company funds to himself, but no one seemed inclined to believe the accusations.

During May, the mine and mill continued to produce, with an estimated total of $21,600. The decrease in bullion was due to continuing water difficulties, as the heat of summer cut down on the available water supply. Material for the new pipe line, however, was delivered in late May, and the company hoped to solve that problem shortly. But delays began to plague the. company in June. Leaks in the new pipe line delayed its utilization, although pumps and even a windmill was installed at different water sources. Still the twenty-five employees of the mine and mill managed to produce an estimated $15,200 during the month, with the mill running only about half the time. The long awaited cyanide plant was not yet started, due to the water problems.

In July, the extreme heat of Death Valley's summer began to take its toll. At the end of that month, the company announced that temperature had not been below 90 degrees for weeks, and was often above 124 even at midnight. Daily temperatures were usually up to 112 by breakfast and 124 by noon. Most men slept out of doors, and even eating was difficult, since the silverware was often too hot to handle. The boarding house cook flatly refused to allow a thermometer near his kitchen. The hot weather kept the water at near boiling temperatures, which made mill operation difficult. Still, over $11,000 was produced that month, and the ore reserves were enlarged. In addition, three new buildings were added to the camp, including a sixteen by forty-two foot residence for Homer Wilson and his family, a two-room office building and a new cook house. [17]

In August, a peculiar side-effect of the labor struggles currently running through Nevada hit the Keane Wonder. Early that month, the Rhyolite Miners Union adopted the Tonopah scale of wages, designed by the Nevada miners unions to set standard pay scales across the state. The Keane Wonder Company soon announced that it would honor the new scale. Unfortunately for its employees, the Keane Wonder had formerly been paying higher wages than the scale called for, and the move meant that the average miners' wages were cut from $5.00 to $4.50 per day. When the company announced the new rates, along with only a 25¢ reduction in the daily room and board charges, twenty men quit the mine. Wilson, however, had no trouble in hiring additional men, and even the former foreman of the Keane Wonder Mine, who quit on principle, told the papers that the Keane Wonder was "unquestionably one of the greatest mines in this section of the country."

Thus production and development went on, and in late August Wilson announced that the "biggest strike in the history of the Keane Wonder has just been made," when over eighteen feet of high grade gold ore was uncovered. In addition, some of the water problems were resolved, and in spite of the continued heat, average mill days of twenty hours were possible. Partly to alleviate the heat and discontent of his miners, Wilson made arrangements to put in a small ice plant at the mill.

Production in August was estimated at $14,000 worth of gold bullion.

In late August, the Mining & Scientific Press, the esteemed San Francisco mining journal, printed a quite reasonable assessment of Keane Wonder mine, although it was not one designed to endear that paper with local boosters. "Death Valley has one actual mine," wrote the paper. "It is the Keane Wonder, a wonder if for no other reason than that it is the only producing property of the region. While not a bonanza, it is paying. Forty miners are busy supplying $20 ore for a 20-stamp mill. Now and then a gold bar finds its way to Rhyolite, and figures in the press dispatches . . . ."

A week later, the Keane Wonder found itself in yet another national magazine, when the Engineering & Mining Journal printed an assessment of the suit of Edward Widdekind against Homer Wilson. In essence, Widdekind claimed that he had once held an option on the mine, and that Wilson had illegally manuevered him out of the deal. In addition, he charged that through complicated and shady stock transactions, Wilson had pocketed some $100,000 of the mine's money. He asked that a receiver be appointed while the case was heard, and also asked for half of Wilson's stock which he claimed was due according to their original agreement.

Wilson ignored the allegations and continued to supervise the work at the mine and mill. The easing of the summer's heat helped with the water problems, although they were still not completely solved, and the Rhyolite Herald estimated September's production at $13,000. In the meantime, the stockholders of the company met in Phoenix and ratified several actions of the board of directors, among which were the election of two members of the Thomas Rickey family to positions on the board. [18]

In October, the full extent of the financial troubles of the Keane Wonder Mining Company in relation to Thomas Rickey and his defunct bank became apparent. The Rhyolite newspapers had attempted to stay clear of the turmoil, but the much more aggressive Goldfield papers gave them full coverage. According to one, the Goldfield Chronicle Rickey was a financial manipulator of the first order. Even today, sifting through the accusations of the papers and the statements of the individuals involved, it is difficult to piece together the financial puzzle. Someone, it is evident, had borrowed money for the Keane Wonder to use from the State Bank and Trust Company, and had pledged several hundred thousand shares of Keane Wonder stock against the note. When the bank failed, Rickey had personally taken over the responsibility for that debt, which indicates either that he had borrowed the money from his own bank in the first place, or that he was trying to protect the Keane Wonder Company, of which he was a heavy stockholder, from the results of his bank's failure. Along with the debt, Rickey had also taken from the bank vaults the Keane Wonder stock which the bank had held as a lien against the debt.

But other interests felt that they had first call on the stock of the Keane Wonder. One such was D. Mackenzie, president of the Francis Mohawk Company of Goldfield. His company had lost a large amount of its deposits when the State Bank folded, and Mackenzie claimed to have exchanged his company's claims against the defunct bank for the bank's claims against the Keane Wonder. Thus Mackenzie felt that the Francis Mohawk Company had first rights to the stock which the Keane Wonder had left in the State Bank as security for its loan. Mackenzie wanted to hold that stock, which would force the Keane Wonder to either repay its debts to the Francis Mohawk, or to come under the control of the latter company.

But according to the Goldfield Chronicle Rickey had played yet another trick.

Rickey and his ubiquitous and perpatetic attorney, J. F. Peck, put their heads together. They conceived the idea of having the company make a short time note for some of its indebtedness and mortgage the company's mines and mill as security for its payment. So they called the stockholders together at Phoenix, Ariz., on August 22 last. A note for $43,000 was made to the Rickey Land and Cattle company, and to secure it a trust deed conveying all of the company's magnificent holdings to Peck was delivered to that individual. This note will fall due on Sunday, the 25th day of this month, and on that day Peck can, under the terms of a trust deed, for the comparatively paltry sum of $43,000, sell the mine, the aerial tram, the mill, Keane Springs--in a word, gut the Keane Wonder Mining company to its last farthing.

Homer Wilson denied the "sensational story from Goldfield," but did little to clear up the confusion, since he refused to comment upon the details of the Keane Wonder's financial picture. He did, however, intimate that a reorganization of the company was imminent, and he pledged to protect the interests of everyone concerned. "You can say for me," he told the Rhyolite Herald that if I don't get killed in this matter, every stockholder in the Keane Wonder Mining Company will be fully protected." Wilson also stated that he knew for sure that Rickey had no intention of foreclosing on the company and with that, left for San Francisco to try and straighten out the mess.

In the meantime, the Keane Wonder mine and mill continued to hum along, and October's production was estimated at $15,000. Although the company was continuing to try to find a solution to the water problem, the mill was still unable to run full time. But even with good production figures, the uneasiness about the various court suits involving the company had a disasterous effect upon its stock, which plummeted all the way to 8¢ per share by mid-October. Stockbrokers, even when taking into account the various rumors concerning the mine's future, could not understand this climatic fall. How, asked one, can stock in a mine which is producing an average of almost $20,000 per month fall to such a ridiculously low figure?

Despite these financial questions, Homer Wilson seemed to be sure that his property would survive intact, and work proceeded normally. Gold bullion was regularly brought into Rhyolite during November, and production for that month was estimated between $16,000 and $25,000 by the Rhyolite newspapers. In the meantime, the Nevada-California Power Company began negotiations with the Keane Wonder to extend a branch line to its property, and the company finally began preliminary grading work for the future cyanide plant. The payroll was increased to fifty miners and millmen. A well respected mining engineer made a thorough examination of the mine for Wilson and reported that the Keane Wonder was "one of the greatest mines in the state, and one capable of much better results than even the great showing it has already made."

But at the same time, the various lawsuits surrounding the Keane Wonder and the State Bank and Trust grew more complicated. Early in November, D. Mackenzie was granted a temporary injunction preventing Rickey from foreclosing on the Keane Wonder for his $43,000 trust deed. A week later, Mackenzie and F. L. Wildes brought joint suit against Rickey and Homer Wilson, charging that they were using the mine to further their personal interests. The suit asked for a restraining order, and that the company be put in the hands of a receiver, in order to protect the stockholders of the Keane Wonder as well as the stockholders and creditors of the State Bank and Trust Company. Wildes, who was the bank examiner for the state of Nevada and also the appointed receiver of the State Bank and Trust, claimed that the large stock holdings of Rickey in reality belonged to the assets of the bank, and thus should be returned to it, for division among the banks creditors and stockholders.

But in mid-November, when the case was heard, the decision was decidedly in favor of Wilson and Rickey. The complaints were ruled out of order, and the judge remarked that he "failed to see wherein a receivership would be justifiable, when the Keane Wonder company is doing business, meeting its bills and making a profit upon its operations." In reporting this decision, the Rhyolite Herald continued to extend its sympathy towards Homer Wilson, and printed his version of the complications. The Keane Wonder Company, according to Wilson, was not indebted to the State Bank and Trust company. Its only indebtedness was to Rickey, in the form of the trust deed for $43,000, which had been extended to help cover the costs of mill construction. The complications surrounding the 975,000 shares of stock held by Rickey and Wilson were merely personal matters between Rickey and D. Mackenzie, and Wilson hoped that Ricky would resolve these soon, in order to enable those treasury shares to be returned to the control of the company. Other people, however, were not so trusting of Rickey as was Wilson, especially after the Inyo Register printed a rumor that Rickey was selling out his real estate interests in the Reno area, and transferring his funds to Germany. [19]

Whatever the case, the legal complexities settled down for several months, and Wilson was able to return his attention towards production and the construction of the new cyanide plant. In early December, Wilson announced that the machinery for that plant had been assembled at Los Angeles and was being shipped. Construction, with good luck, would be completed by February 1st. The plant would have eleven tanks, including six 25-foot diameter leaching tanks, each five feet tall, two 18-by-10 foot solution tanks, two 12-by-10 foot settling tanks, and one wash water tank. Zinc boxes would also be installed, with the equivalent capacity of another tank. When completed, the plant would be able to process a minimum of 100 tons of tailings per day, although the company hoped that the capacity would reach 200 tons. With a capacity of at least 100 tons at the cyanide plant, compared with the maximum 80-ton daily capacity of the mill, the cyanide plant would spend the rest of its time processing the 20,000 tons of tailings impounded from the mill during the previous years of mill operation. Thus it would be several years before the cyanide plant ran out of work.

In the meantime, development in the mine continued apace. Although Homer Wilson rarely gave out ore reserve figures, one of his shift foreman told the Bullfrog Miner in early December that the Keane Wonder mine now had a three years ore reserve in sight. Production at the mill proceeded fairly smoothly during December, despite a rare snowfall in the middle of the month, accompanied by a drop of. the thermometer to 36 degrees, the lowest anyone could remember. Final production figures for that month were $12,000, an estimate for once agreed upon between the Rhyolite Herald and the Bullfrog Miner. Total 1908 production, according to figures released by Wilson, amounted to $140,092.37. Average monthly production, based upon Wilson's calculations, was $11,674, which indicates that both Rhyolite newspapers had been overestimating production figures throughout the year. $140,000 was enough, however, to mark the Keane Wonder Mine as the largest producer of gold in the county of Inyo, California, during 1908, which emphasizes its relative importance to the local economy. The Engineering & Mining Journal ironically noted that "judging by the complicated litigation over the stock of the Keane Wonder Mining Company, it out to be a good property."

With the law suits thrust to the background through the early months of 1909, the Keane Wonder mine and mill continued to grind out ore and bullion. January's production was estimated at between $13,400 and $15,000, and February's at $13,000. No production estimates are available for March, but Homer Wilson announced on the 24th of that month that the mill had produced $35,000 during the first three months of 1909. Mine development continued apace, and "though nothing of a sensational nature has been uncovered, yet the steady and consistent advancement made in the showing of mineral wealth justifies the official statement that the property never looked so good."

During this period, construction of the cyanide mill finally began. The first carload of machinery for the mill arrived in early January, and more supplies and equipment followed. By the end of February, the mill was virtually completed, and test runs began. Delays in the delivery of some items of equipment, however, kept the new mill from entering full production runs until March 18th. Although Wilson admitted that it would take several months to determine the full capacity of the plant, which depended upon the always unreliable water supply, he hoped that the addition of cyanide treatment would increase the company's production by 80 percent, to around $20,000 worth of bullion per month. With the cyanide mill in operation and the stamp mill and mine looking good, Wilson again extended open invitations to reporters and miners to visit and inspect his complex. The visitors were also invited to take a ride over the aerial tramway, "provided they assert that they are not afflicted with heart disease." [20]

Keane Wonder Mill
Illustration 94. The Keane Wonder Mill, at the height of its activity, in March of 1909. Note the new buildings erected since 1907, especially the lower tramway terminal building, with its two distinctive horseshoe openings, above the mill. When the mill was salvaged in 1937, the tramway building was left, and today its framing timbers are the dominant feature of the Keane Wonder mill ruins. Photo courtesy of Stanley Paher collection, copy from Death Valley National Monument Library.

But in April, the complicated financial affairs of the Keane Wonder Company again spilled into the courts. Sometime during the early part of 1909, T. B. Rickey and D. Mackenzie, the former antagonists, had made a deal, whereby Mackenzie dropped his claims against the 975,000 shares of Keane Wonder stock. In return Mackenzie received a new joint trust deed with Rickey for nearly $195,000. The new trust deed also replaced Rickey's older trust deed of $43,000. The deal enabled Homer Wilson to regain control of the commanding block of Keane Wonder stock, if he could meet the interest obligations of the new trust deed.

But due to financial demands for the construction of the cyanide mill, Wilson failed to meet the interest payments, and Rickey and Mackenzie advertized the entire property of the Keane Wonder Company for sale in order to satisfy their demands. Earl Clemens, the publisher of the Rhyolite Herald then entered the fray on behalf of minority stockholders of the Keane Wonder Company, asking for a restraining order on the sale of the Keane Wonder property, and also for a thorough accounting of the finances of the company. Clemens' motive was to protect the minority stockholders, who would be left holding worthless stock if the mine were sold to satisfy the trust deeds, and also to help clear up the tangled affairs of the Keane Wonder, since the continued active production of the mine was important to the prosperity of Rhyolite and the Bullfrog mining area.

Clemens' first moves were successful, for an injunction was granted by the Superior Court at San Francisco, forbidding the sale of the mine under the terms of the new trust deed until a full accounting could be produced before the court. Apparently, the judge tended to agree with Clemens that the personal indebtedness of Homer Wilson and the Homer Wilson Trust Company, which had originally promoted the Keane Wonder Mine, should be entirely separated from the legal debts of the Keane Wonder Mining Company itself. Clemens claimed that although the personal debts of Homer Wilson and his Trust Company could amount to as much as $150,000, that the only legal debt of the Keane Wonder Company itself was the $43,000 owed to T. B. Rickey. The picture was extremely complicated, for it was very difficult to sort out the personal and the public debts of Homer Wilson vis a vis the Homer Wilson Trust Company and the Keane: Wonder Mining Company. Likewise, it was just as difficult to delineate between Thomas Rickey's personal and public debts, since he was a major stockholder of the Keane Wonder and also the former president and major stockholder of the State Bank and Trust Company. The key to the puzzle was whether the trading between Wilson, Rickey and Mackenzie for the famous 975,000 shares of Keane Wonder stock was done by private individuals or by company officials. Clemens, at least, was certain that all the dealing had been done by the three men acting as private individuals and if the court accepted his interpretation, then the Keane Wonder Mining Company itself would emerge from the entire affair virtually debt free.

Later in April, another favorable aspect came into the picture when F. L. Wildes, receiver of the State Bank and Trust Company, entered the suit with a motion to force both Rickey and Mackenzie to return their stock to the assets of the bank, from which he said it was illegally obtained. This suit, if successful, would mean that Homer Wilson would have to return the 975,000 shares of treasury stock to Mackenzie and Rickey, which would void the new trust deed held by those men. Mackenzie and Rickey would then in turn be forced to return all that Keane Wonder stock to the bank, which would parcel it out among all the former shareholders and deposits of the failed bank. This would leave Rickey and Mackenzie with no claims upon the Keane Wonder Mine.

Although the rest of the story is not quite clear, since much of the private maneuverings and court proceedings did not reach the ears of newspaper reporters, final settlements were made in late May. Apparently the accounting requested by Earl Clemens resulted in a favorable decision for the Keane Wonder Company, and the court found that all the dealings involving the 975,000 shares of treasury stock were private contracts between individuals, for which the Keane Wonder Company could not be held responsible. As a result, bank receiver Wildes dropped his suit to obtain those shares of stock, and Homer Wilson retained them in trust for the company. Mackenzie, as a result of this suit, lost all his claims towards the Keane Wonder stock, and Thomas Rickey's original trust deed, which was reinstated by this court decision, was paid in full by an affluent Keane Wonder stockholder. Thus it appeared that the Keane Wonder Company was free and clear of any outstanding debts. As the Rhyolite Herald happily wrote, the "honesty of Homer Wilson" had been upheld, since he had made good on his promise to protect the company's stockholders.

In the meantime, the mine and mill had kept on producing. On April 19th, Homer Wilson brought in bullion worth $25,000, the result of one month's cleanup at the mill and new cyanide plant. The production was the largest ever in the Bullfrog region for one month, with the exception of the Montgomery-Shoshone Mill at Rhyolite. On May 19th, Wilson brought in more bullion estimated at $18,000, the result of twenty-one days' work, as the mill pushed towards the magic figure of producing $1,000 per day.

Other developments kept pace. A new body of ore was found in the mine on May 22d, and the long awaited ice plant was completed ate that month. All the miners and millmen now had resource to free ice supplies to help alleviate the heat of summer. A new hoisting plant was ordered and when received was put to work on another shaft. The Keane Wonder Company now had a total of twelve power plants ranging in size from the 150-horsepower steam boiler and the 126-hp steam engine down to a 25-horsepower gas engine, two 13-horsepower, two 10-horsepower, two 5-horsepower, and three 2-1/2-horsepower gas engines. [21]

As the summer progressed, it seemed that the Keane Wonder had only been awaiting the settlement of all its financial difficulties before making great surges forward. May's production continued to push towards the $1,000 per day mark, as bullion worth $22,000 was brought in, the result of a mill run of twenty-five days. The continuing water shortages had caused the mill to lay idle the remainder of the month. The payroll of the mine reflected its prosperity, as it was estimated by the Bullfrog Miner to be $7,800 per month.

The demands for supplying the men and the mill machinery began to exceed the capabilities of the Porter brothers, who held the hauling contract, especially as the heat of summer began to take its toll on the horses. To solve this problem, one enterprising individual named J. R. Lane bought an old traction engine from the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad and brought it up to Rhyolite. The engine was a Best Traction Engine, with 110 horsepower, and it burned crude oil. The engine was slow but powerful, and after improving the road to the mine, Lane hoped to be able to make one trip per week, carrying out up to fifty tons of supplies and equipment per trip. The Keane Wonder Company was interested and promised to buy the engine from Lane if he could demonstrate its practicality through several demonstration runs.

Then, on June 3rd, more good news came from the mine. "IMMENSE WEALTH DEVELOPED IN KEANE WONDER MINE," blared the headlines of the Rhyolite Herald. "NEW ORE BODY OF SUCH IMMENSITY THAT BIG PRODUCTION IS ASSURED FOR YEARS TO COME. MAKES THIS PROPERTY TAKE RANK AS ONE OF NEVADA'S GREATEST MINES." The mill immediately shifted over to begin milling ore from the big new discovery, which was located 150 feet below ground in a new shaft. On July 7th, Homer Wilson brought in the bullion returns from the new ore body, which totaled $10,000 as the product of eleven days' run. A second shipment brought July's production to $22,000, but August's dropped slightly to $18,000, as more and more time was lost due to water shortages intensified by the extreme heat of summer. July's payroll amounted to $8,000, paid to forty-five men. Lane's traction engine completed its first test run on July 31st, despite the poor shape of the road, and hauled in a cargo of twelve tons. Impressed, the Keane Wonder Company began to negotiate a two-year hauling contract with Lane.

By mid-September, the traction engine had completed several more successful test runs, and the Keane Wonder Company ordered an oil storage tank for emplacement at the mill site as a refueling source for the big traction engine. The storage tank was a necessity, for when loaded the engine required over fifty gallons of fuel to make one trip to the mine. Mill returns for August were estimated at $17,000, and the company announced that its ore reserves were still sufficient for two more years of production at the least. All of the company's property, Wilson pointed out, was still not explored.

As the fall progressed, Lane's traction engine continued to demonstrate its worth. After more test runs, the first true trip to the mill was made in late October, with four trailers hauling twenty tons of freight. The engine made the twenty-six-mile trip to the mill in 7 hours, and returned to Rhyolite the next day. Two trips per week were planned, which would be sufficient to satisfy the demands of the mine and mill, and also would make the enterprise profitable from Mr. Lane. Lane, in turn, was so satisfied with the prospects that he began to organize the Keane Wonder Traction Company in order to sell shares of his business. But on November 13th, the business ground to a halt, when the boiler of the engine burst while climbing over Daylight Pass.

steam traction engine
Illustration 95. "Old Dinah," the steam tractin engine purchased by J. R. Lane in 1909 to haul supplies in to the Keane Wonder complex. The engine is here pictured ca. 1898, hauling borax. Photo courtesy Western Regional Office, NPS.

steam traction engine
Illustration 96. "Old Dinah," as she appears today, resting outside Furnace Creek Ranch, minus her boiler. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Lane blamed the accident on the age of the machinery and the poor quality of water which he was forced to use, and left for California to purchase a new gasoline engine to install in the tractor. But apparently his resources were not adequate to the task, and the traction engine was not again used. The engine stood idle on Daylight Pass for many years, until two employees of the Pacific Coast Borax Company hauled it from Daylight Pass to Furnace Creek Ranch in 1932.

In the meantime, the mine and mill continued to produce. October's gold production reached $20,000, and ten more miners were added to the work force in early November. New strikes, although not as big as the summer's discovery, were found in the mine, which maintained the company's ore reserves. Minor accidents shut down the cyanide plant for a week, but such interruptions were not unusual for a desert mining operation, and production continued. November's output was estimated at between $24,000 and $25,000, the second largest amount produced in a month since the mill had begun operations in 1907. December's yield was somewhat smaller, being $20,000, due to water pipes which froze and broke. The Keane Wonder's total production for 1909 was announced by Wilson to be $220,000, nearly double the previous year, and the average monthly output was $18,333.

The success of the mine and mill was largely due to the very efficient methods used to extract and process the ore. The costs of mining were only two dollars per ton, mostly due to the ease of stoping directly from the side of the mountain. Milling costs, for both the stamp mill and the cyanide plant, were calculated at $3.10 per ton. When the costs of fuel, transportation and supplies were added up, total production costs at the Keane Wonder mine and mill were about $10 per ton, indicating that the company could make a profit upon any ore assaying above $10 to the ton. On November 27, 1909, Homer Wilson reported that since the mill had opened in 1907, it had treated 25,000 tons of ore, with an average value of $12 per ton, and that the mill and cyanide plant had extracted 94 percent of the ore content. Based upon Wilson's figures, the total net profit for over two years of production at the Keane Wonder was about $47,000.

With the mine and mill looking very successful, and with the financial complications finally resolved, investors once. again began to buy the limited amounts of Keane Wonder stock which found their way to the trading boards. Stock which had fallen as low as 9¢ per share when it appeared that the mine would be sold to satisfy the trust deeds had risen to 25 by the middle of December and to 30 by the end of 1909. [22]

As the Keane Wonder Mill began its third year of operation in 1910, conditions remained optimistic. In early February the company applied for United States' patents for twenty-seven of its claims, totaling over 413 acres of land. February bullion returns were $20,000, and for the first time the mill reached the magical figure of $1,000 production per day, as only twenty days' run was possible that month, due to water freeze-ups. March's production was even better, as the mill turned out $25,000, and April's was again over $20,000. After Homer Wilson made several trips to Los Angeles, the Rhyolite Herald discovered more about the financial settlements which had been made the previous year. As the dust settled, it appeared that the Keane Wonder Company did indeed owe money to the receiver of the State Bank and Trust Company. But the debt was being paid off steadily, and the Herald concluded that the Keane Wonder would soon be out of debt.

May's production figures were somewhat less than $20,000, and no figures were given out for June. The mine and mill, though, continued to operate through the hot summer months. The Tadich brothers of Rhyolite, who had established a general store at the mine and another one at the mill site, reported continued good business. The high number of miners employed by the company resulted in one of their number being chosen as a delegate to the Inyo County Democratic convention in August, and the Keane Wonder boarding house was listed as a polling place for Inyo County during the general elections the following fall. On September 1st, 1910, seventy-five men were employed at the mine and mill.

In September, the company announced that the water supply had finally been improved enough to support the mill full time. This was due to the clearing out of several stoping areas, which enabled the company to pump more underground water than before. In addition, Homer Wilson purchased and installed a 75-horsepower steam engine and compressor to drive a new set of machine drills. This soon resulted in a short-lived labor dispute, as twenty-four miners quit in a protest against the cut-back in jobs brought about by automation. The Keane Wonder Company, however, had no trouble in replacing the striking miners, especially since the majority of mines around the Rhyolite area were dead or dying by the fall of 1910, and unemployed miners were easy to find.

In the meantime the bullion shipments continued. By now the arrival of bullion from the Keane Wonder was no longer a striking news item, and the Rhyolite papers printed bullion estimates only sporadically. August's returns were reported to be "about usual," and Octobers was merely assessed as "large." November's shipment was estimated at $20,000, which was said to be close to the average monthly yield throughout 1910. Although no accurate production estimates are available for 1910--one paper reported $350,000 for the year, which is obviously much too high--the Keane Wonder mine once again was listed as the largest producing gold mine in Inyo County, California. [23]

The Keane Wonder entered 1911 as one of the only two surviving and producing mines of the Bullfrog region, and ended the year as the only one, for the big Montgomery-Shoshone Mill shut down in May. Thus the Keane Wonder, which had preceeded the great Bullfrog rush, had succeeded in outliving the rise and fall of Rhyolite and the Bullfrog boom. As the sole surviving paper in the Bullfrog District in 1911, the Rhyolite Herald continued to cover the Keane Wonder Mine, but as the paper shrank from the twelve-page spread of balmier days to four pages, half filled with canned material, coverage of the Keane Wonder grew sparser.

Still, we do know that Homer Wilson reported average bullion yields of $18,000 to $20,000 during January, February and March of 1911, and that on April 15th he stated that "General conditions at the Keane Wonder mine are the best in the history of the property." The mill processed about 75 tons per day during that time, near its peak capacity of 80 tons, but profits were not large, since the overhead was high. The air compressor and other equipment installed late in 1910 had cost the company $20,000, and the expense of hauling fuel oil and distillate was the company's heaviest fixed expense. Still, said Wilson, the "Keane Wonder will be a notable little producer for many years to come."

For a few months during the summer of 1911, George Wingfield, the famous Goldfield mining promoter and politician, held an option to purchase the Keane Wonder property, but the option was allowed to expire. Although no one knew for sure, the Rhyolite Herald speculated that Wingfield had been discouraged due to the manner in which the stock in the company was dispersed. He probably was not discouraged, by the output of the mine, for production figures soared during that summer. April's cleanup netted the company $25,000 and May's totalled an estimated $22,600. Then, during the first two weeks of June, the Keane Wonder broke all its previous records, producing nearly $30,000 during a 15 day run, or almost $2,000 per day. Total production for June was estimated at almost $50,000.

The mill was disabled for a week in July when a cylinder head was blown, but it was soon fixed and running again, and on August 5th the Rhyolite Herald quite properly called the property the "King of the Desert." Privately and quietly, the paper reported, "Keane Wonder stock is increasing in demand and value." Production figures were not listed for the fall months of 1911, although the papers inferred that the monthly averages were around $30,000. The force of miners was maintained, and the Porter brothers found themselves unable to satisfy the supply demands of the company, so another hauling contract was let. Once again, the number of miners employed at the property was sufficient for the Keane Wonder office building to be designated as a polling place for the Inyo County general election.

In October of 1911, the estate of the Keane Wonder was greatly increased by the purchase of the Big Bell property, situated to the north, between the Keane Wonder and Chloride Cliff. The Big Bell Mine, which had fallen into bankruptcy, was sold at auction by the receiver of the First National Bank at Rhyolite, for the bank had also closed, and Homer Wilson purchased its claims for a mere $1,600. A force of miners was soon dispatched to the property for exploration work.

October's production run was estimated at $30,000, which was said to be slightly less than September's, and November's was estimated again at $30,000. No final production estimates for 1911 were listed by the Rhyolite newspaper, although the averages mentioned throughout that year by the Herald would total to about $326,000 for the year, if valid. The Herald's natural tendency to exaggerate is emphasized by a 1938 report in the California Journal of Mines and Geology, wherein 1911s production was conservatively estimated at $161,000. The true figures are probably somewhere in between those two estimates, and only Homer Wilson knew what they were. The totals were enough, however, for the Keane Wonder to tie with the Skidoo Mine, on the west side of Death Valley, as the leading gold producers of Inyo County in 1911, the fourth year in a row wherein the Keane Wonder had appeared at the top of the list. [24]

The mine and mill continued production in 1912, but the end was beginning to come into sight. The Rhyolite Herald reported in January that the mine had only three months of ore reserves in sight, and development work was being pushed on the unworked claims of the company, some of which had never been explored since the early days of 1905. Ore was discovered on one claim, the Whipsaw, and the company began to shift operations around the ridge towards it. Surface tramway tracks were laid to take the Whipsaw ore to the upper aerial tramway terminal. In addition, development work was continued on the Big Bell claims, purchased by Wilson the previous year.

In late January the cyanide plant was temporarily shut down, as it had finally finished processing all the accumulated tailings which had been collected before the construction of the plant. The cyanide works would be idle, said Wilson, until another such accumulation had been gathered, since it was not economical to run it on a part time basis. In the meantime, the 20-stamp mill kept on crushing ore, at such a rate that another freight team was started between Rhyolite and the mill to supply the engines with oil. January's production once again reached an estimated $30,000 worth of bullion, and February's almost reached that figure. Fifteen thousand dollars of that sum was reported to be pure profit for the company.

Then, on February 24th, disaster struck. The mile-long cable of the aerial tramway snapped and several ore buckets fell into the ravines below. All work on the mine and mill had to be stopped while the old cable was taken down and a new one restrung and the ore buckets placed back on line. The new cable weighed 26,000 pounds, and cost $7,280. Railroad freight to get the cable to Rhyolite amounted to $780, with additional wagon freight charges of $350 just to haul it from Rhyolite to the mine. Total costs and delays set back the Keane Wonder Company almost $10,000 before the tramway was again operating in late March.

In the meantime, the Keane Wonder Company received its patent for twenty-eight claims, which constituted "the largest territory comprised in one title that has been issued by the land department for many years." With the new patent on hand and the cable restrung, the mine and mill began running again at full capacity, and the Rhyolite Herald was fulsome in its praise for Homer Wilson, who had operated the Keane Wonder for so long. "Mr. Homer Wilson is entitled to all the credit, and for having struggled against adverse conditions for several years, never losing faith in the property, but steadily forging ahead and overcoming difficulties, and now his efforts are being crowned with deserved success." The accolades seemed warranted. As an example of Wilson's economical management, he had used the down time caused by the cable misfortune to rework and retool all the machinery in both mine and mill.

With the mine and mill running at full capacity again, but with the ore reserves dropping rapidly, the Keane Wonder Company began to think of selling its property. T. B. Rickey, who still held a large interest in the company, negotiated with a group of Philadelphia capitalists in early April, and the sale was made towards the end of that month. The purchase price was reported to be $600,000. Half the payment was made immediately, and all the company's stock, together with the resignations of all its officers and directors, were placed in escrow until the second half of the payment was made on or before May 5, 1912. According to the agreement, Homer Wilson would stay on the property as supervisor while the new owners investigated the feasibility of several capital improvements, such as the addition of twenty more stamps to the mill and the conversion from oil to electric power. Once these improvements were made, Wilson was to turn over the property and end his long association with the Keane Wonder. As the news of the sale and the anticipated infusion of new capital into the mine was spread, a corresponding rise in the price of Keane Wonder stock was recorded on the trading boards, rising from 16¢ to 35 in a few days.

As May turned into June, no improvements were made, although the mine and mill continued to operate. Homer Wilson was forced to leave the mine for a month, to attend his sick daughter in San Francisco, thus delaying the expansion plans. But upon his return in late June he assured the Rhyolite Herald that plans were being perfected, and that the improvements at the Keane Wonder would soon take place. In the meantime, production continued. May's bullion returns were said to be satisfactory, although no figures were given, and June's was reported as slightly smaller than May's.

Then, on August 22d, the end came. As the Inyo Register blazed in its headlines, "NOTED MINE'S DAYS OVER. KEANE WONDER HAS WORKED OUT ITS ORE BODIES." The Keane Wonder mine and mill, after running successfully since November of 1907, had finally shut down. The paper reported that the operations had been closed for an indefinite period, "and doubt is expressed whether t will ever resume production. It is said that for some time past the operations of the company have failed to yield a profit, and that development of the Whipsaw claim have not been successful." The final cleanup had been made, which netted $10,000, and the ore pillars had been broken down, to save their contents. This was a sad sign, for with the removal of the ore pillars from areas which had been stoped so long, large portions of: the underground workings of the mine complex would soon collapse: The Keane Wonder, said the paper, had exhausted all the ore in sight, and had no prospects of finding any more.

Four men were retained from the large work force to treat the remaining tailings in the cyanide plant, and Wilson said that when cooler weather returned in the fall that development and exploration work would be done under contract, in the hopes of finding new deposits. "The news of the suspension of operations comes as a great surprise to mining men here," wrote the Inyo Register, "as reports from the property have been highly encouraging for a long time past." Remembering the past dealings of Rickey, the paper went on to accuse him of dumping a gutted mine upon a group of poor dimwitted Philadelphia capitalists. "Persons who have taken an interest in the matter declare that some one has been "handed a lemon" and that Thomas B. Rickey is not that individual but more probably the one who disposed of the fruit." It is doubtful, however, if the paper's suspicions were true. The Rhyolite Herald had stated several months earlier that the known ore reserves of the mine consisted only of three months' supply. Such a published report would have been impossible to keep from the eyes of any businessman who knew what he was doing. In addition, the subsequent actions of the new Philadelphia owners, who retained the services of Homer Wilson, quite decidedly indicate that they did not feel deceived when their new mine shut down. [25]

The first segment of the Keane Wonder's history had ended. The mine, which had first been located in 1904, had been consistently worked for over eight years, and the mill had steadily produced gold bullion from November of 1907 to August of 1912, longer than any other mill in the surrounding Bullfrog territory, or any mill on the east side of Death Valley. Final production figures for these years are necessarily unreliable, but can be estimated. The mill probably produced about $75,000 in 1912, which when coupled with the California Journal of Mines and Geology's conservative estimate of $682,000 for the years 1907-1911, would bring total production to at least $750,000.

But although the major period of production at the Keane Wonder was over, the mine and mill were not yet finished. Unfortunately, the subsequent history of the property is much less recorded, for the death of Rhyolite and its newspapers leaves us without the weekly coverage of the early years. In addition, as the Keane Wonder became less important to the economy of Inyo County, its newspapers concerned themselves less and less with the several subsequent attempts to revive the mine. Thus our information becomes rather sketchy.

We do know, however, that the first attempt to revive the mine came less than a year after it had closed down, in June of 1913. At that time, the new owners of the Keane Wonder held a meeting in Philadelphia, and a new board of directors was elected. Reports released to the Inyo newspapers indicated that the new company was in relatively good financial condition, and that the company had some new ore blocked out in the mine. In a rather confusing statement, Homer Wilson, who had been elected president of the Philadelphia company, stated that the mine had over 3,000 tons of ore blocked out, and that ten stamps and cyanide equipment would be added to the mill.

In July of 1913, another mining journal stated that the new management had perfected a plan to put in ten additional stamps and other equipment. Foundations were in place and installation of the machinery was about to start. In addition, a new shaft was being sunk on the property. We then hear nothing of the mine until January of 1914, when Homer Wilson told the Inyo Register that a new water supply had been developed. The capacity of the stamp mill was still given as 80 tons per day, however, which indicates that no new stamps had been added. But the mill was evidently active, from the tenor of Wilson's statements, for he claimed that the Keane Wonder had produced over $1,000,000 through the end of 1913. Then, the case of the State Bank and Trust Company reared its head, as the newspapers reported in February of 1914 that the Keane Wonder was still paying off its debt to the receiver of the bank. Evidently the mill was running, in order to produce the bullion to make those payments.

If it was operating, profits evidently were not very large, for the Keane Wonder Company failed to pay $503.23 in taxes to the Inyo County Treasurer in June of 1914. Then, evidently the mill again shut down, for the company was forced to quit making payments to the State bank. As a result, the Keane Wonder mine and mill was sold at a sheriff's auction in about November of 1914, in order to satisfy the debt due to the bank. The purchaser of the property was the Francis Mohawk Mining Company, whose president, D. Mackenzie, had been one of the original litigants in the 1908-1909 suits revolving around the ownership of Keane Wonder stock. Homer Wilson, as usual, landed on his feet, and was named as superintendent of the mine and mill by its new owners, and the Francis Mohawk Company began to operate the complex once again. The new owners had a distinct advantage over their predecessors, for they were operating without any debts hanging over the company. To a mining concern operating on the fringe of profitability, as the Keane Wonder now was, this was important. The new owners, this time, made improvements to the property, chiefly an addition to the cyanide plant, which brought its capacity up to 300 tons per day.

Production runs at the Keane Wonder began again in earnest in the fall of 1915, as well as development work on some of the unexplored claims of the company. A new superintendent was appointed at that time, as Homer Wilson finally ended his long, identification with the Keane Wonder mine. The new ore bodies lasted only about six months, however, for the mill was again closed in May of 1916. The cyanide plant continued to run through July of that year before exhausting the tailings piles, after which the entire Keane Wonder complex lay quiet. The Francis Mohawk Company announced in July that a new reorganization was under way, and that endeavors would soon be made to open a large tonnage of ore which they believed to lie beneath the present workings. But the new plans were never carried through, and in 1917 the mine was still reported to be idle, and the company was still reported to be considering reorganization plans. The California State Mineralogist, in 1917, reported that all the known ore bodies were worked out, and estimated that the mine and mill had produced a total of $1,100,000 in gold bullion through the end of 1916. If his figures are accurate, total production between 1912 and 1916, when the mill was operated sporadically, amounted to about $87,500 per year. [26]

After the revival efforts at the Keane Wonder failed in 1916, the mine and mill lay idle for many years. Edna Perkins, one of the very few writers of western lore who can be trusted, visited the complex in 1922. She described the mill site as a mass of deteriorating buildings, half blown down, with broken water pipes and other debris scattered around the area. The superintendent's house, she wrote, was obviously a fine residence at one time, but she and-her companions preferred to sleep outside.

The large boarding house was almost completely ruined. The mill building, however, was still in relatively good shape, as it was locked and guarded. The watchman was John Cyty, who had been identified with the Funeral Range area ever since the Bullfrog boom, and he kindly unlocked the mill building for them and showed them an extensive array of machinery still intact inside.

The Keane Wonder mine and mill lay idle through the rest of the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s. W. R. McCrea of Beatty, who owned the Chloride Cliff Mine, tested the old tailings of the Keane Wonder mill in 1930, but he decided that their contents were not valuable enough to reprocess. Then, in 1935, the Keane Wonder complex underwent another attempt at revival.

During 1935 and 1936 the Coen Company bought and leased mining rights to the Keane Wonder and Big Bell mines, and carried out several testing programs. Most of the work was done on the Big Bell claims, but the company did employ eight men for some time in reworking the old mill tailings of the Keane Wonder by cyanide. Since the old Keane Wonder tramway was described as being deteriorated beyond repair, the company established its camp at the Big Bell site, which was its center of operations. The operations at the Big Bell were successful for several years, but no attempt was made to reopen the Keane Wonder Mine, beyond the reprocessing of the mill tailings. By November of 1937 the Coen Company had ceased operations, and the Keane Wonder mill and its contents were sold to George Ishmael, who dismantled the old stamps and hauled them to Los Angeles. Thus ended the proud history of the Keane Wonder Mill, for with the exception of the heavy foundation timbers of the tramway terminals, almost all the mill complex was salvaged.

Keane Wonder Mill area
Illustration 97. View of the Keane Wonder Mill area, circa 1938. The lower tramway terminal building is standing in the upper left of the picture, just behind the smokestack, but the mill building itself has been torn down and salvaged. In the foreground are several buildings and tanks of the cyanide plant, showing the deterioration of two decades of neglect. Photo courtesy of Death Valley National Monument Library, #8633, with credit to Stovepipe Wells Hotel, which misdated the photo as circa 1908.

In 1938, the Keane Wonder Mine was sold to E. L. Cord, the automobile manufacturer, who in turn leased it to two Denver miners, W. D. Leonard and George Schriber. In April of 1940, the Mining Journal reported that five men were employed at the mine in reconditioning the machinery and repairing the camp buildings in preparation for active development work. The aerial tramway was refurbished that fall, and preparations were made by ten employees to put in a new mill on the site of the old one. Camps were erected at both the mine and the mill site. By June of 1941 a new 150-ton mill was under construction and it was nearly completed by July. But the new mining effort was short-lived, for the operation was closed down in March of 1942, when all the machinery, with the exception of the new aerial tramway, was hauled away to another site.

From 1942 to the present, the Keane Wonder Mine has been idle. E. L. Cord held title to the estate until 1969, when it was sold to the Title Insurance and Trust Company of Los Angeles for $25,000. The Title Insurance Company, in turn, sold the property to the National Park Service in the early 1970s.

Total production at the Keane Wonder mine and mill has been estimated by several different sources at $1,100,000. Of this figure, most agree that between $625,000 and $682,000 was produced in the years between 1907 and 1911, during the greatest years of prosperity for the Keane Wonder Mining Company. [27]

b. Present Status, Evaluation and Recommendations

There can be no doubt that the Keane Wonder mine and mill complex should be put on the National Register. The Keane Wonder Mine represents one of the two largest producing gold mines within the vicinity of Death Valley National Monument (the other being the Skidoo), and in addition represents the longest running gold mine of the entire Bullfrog boom region. In a sense, the Keane Wonder can be given part of the credit for starting the great Bullfrog boom, since it was Domingo Etcharren's and Jack Keane's discovery that drew "Shorty" Harris and. Ed Cross to that particular area. With a production of over $1,000,000, the Keane Wonder was vitally important to the local economy of both Nye County, Nevada, and Inyo County, California, during the gold boom days of the early nineteen hundreds. In addition, the Keane Wonder mine and mill had several unique features, rarely found elsewhere, such as its mile-long aerial tramway. Although the mill itself is no longer standing, the Keane Wonder complex includes numerous structures and ruins which should be preserved and interpreted.

At the mine itself, located high up the slope of the Funeral Mountains above the mill site, extensive structures remain. It is not hard to look at the mine complex and realize that the entire area was continuously mined for a number of years. The side of the mountain is completely pitted with adits and stoped areas, and in places an entire section of the mountain has collapsed into the underground workings below. Several tent platforms dot the area, as well as a couple of rock-walled living quarters, and a collapsed wooden building. A water tank is perched high on the hillside, and two concrete hoisting foundations are below, one of which still has an engine, a cable spool, and hoisting mechanisms attached.

Illustration 98. Map of Keane Wonder Complex.

The upper tramway terminal is quite impressive. The structure is approximately thirty by sixty feet in size, and is composed of very heavy timbers, which were originally the foundation and framing timbers for the terminal. Although most of the covering material is gone, it is still quite easy to see how the terminal operated. Wire cables run in and out of the terminal, upon which the ore buckets rode. When the buckets entered the terminal, they were guided by an iron track, which carried them in and around to the ore bin, where they were automatically loaded. The ore buckets then continued around on the cable, back out the terminal and down the mountain. The gearing and other mechanisms are still visible, as well as a small electric motor, added in later years. An ore chute leads down into the ore bin, which stands just next to and above the upper terminal.

The tramway line is in fairly good shape, and as best can be determined, the 1940 reconstruction of it did not greatly alter its original configuration. Twelve of the towers are still standing, although the one nearest the upper terminal has collapsed. (It has collapsed since 1975 and should be restored immediately.) All the terminal towers have a base measuring twelve feet to a side, and some rise to thirty feet in the air. The heavy framing timbers of the towers are bolted directly into the rock, or into concrete foundations laid on the rock. The two main support cables of the tramway are still strung from the upper to the lower terminal, but the bucket cables have fallen to the ground between most of the towers. On the few sections where the bucket cables are still in place, ore buckets can still be seen hanging from the line.

upper tramway terminal and ore bin
Illustration 99. Upper tramway terminal and ore bin, from below. Note strings of bucket cables and support cables lying below the terminal. The pipeline leading above the terminal towards the dumps in the upper left corner is also visible. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

upper terminal and ore bin
Illustration 100. The upper terminal and ore bin from above. The main support cables can be traced fom the terminal down to a tramway tower on the edge of a ridge. Halfway between is the platform for the first cable tower, which has collapsed. The main trail from the mine to the mill is in the upper right corner of the picture. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

ore bin and upper tramway terminal
Illustration 101. Close up of the ore bin (right) and the upper tramway terminal (center). Close examination will reveal the path of the ore buckets, which entered at the left front and traveled around to the ore bin and back out of the right front. Much of the gearing mechanism which operated the automatic loading facility is still visible. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

hoisting plant remains
Illustration 102. Remnants of one of the hoisting plants at the mine area, showing a cable spool at the right, the cable reel in front, and the engine in the rear. The pipeline leading up towards the top of a dump is clearly visible. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

The trail from the mine to the mill, cut during the construction of the tramway in 1907, is in very good condition. The main trail is clearly evident and easily walked, and branch trails can be seen leading to each of the tramway towers. Sections of a two-inch pipe line can be seen along much of the trail, including periodic expansion joints.

The lower tramway terminal, on the edge of the Death Valley wash, is equally impressive. This structure is about twenty-five by seventy feet in dimension, and like the upper is built of heavy and solid timbers. All the supporting mechanisms at the lower terminal have been salvaged since it was much easier to do so here than at the upper. The area below the terminal, where the original mill stood, has nothing left beyond a series of concrete foundations, water and fuel tanks, the ruins of several wooden structures and a series of leveled areas, upon which the original floors of the mill stood. Close to the mill site is the ruins of a twenty-five by forty foot frame building, which has completely collapsed. After viewing the mine and upper terminal area, the lower complex is a disappointment, for the upper looks relatively intact, but the lower bears the marks of years of salvage and souvenir hunters.

The cyanide plant is almost totally destroyed. The only remnants of this sprawling structure are the ruins or outlines of half a dozen tanks scattered over a wide area of heavily eroded mill tailings. Several level tent or building sites mark the area, and the ruins of another pipe line can be followed northwest towards a spring.

In summary, the remnants at the Keane Wonder mine and mill site are extensive, and offer the Monument an unusual opportunity to interpret the story of desert gold mining in the early twentieth century. At present, this story is not being told.

terminal tower
Illustration 103. Close up of a terminal tower, showing details of construction. The main support cables, upon which the buckets rode, are still in place, but the bucket cables, which pulled the buckets along, can be seen dangling from the tower. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

terminal tower
Illustration 104. View from the same tower, looking up the mountainside, showing the relative distance between towers. The Keane Wonder Mine is located below the farthest distant rounded mountaintop, above the towers barely visible in the distance. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

#1 tower
Illustration 105. View of the #1 tower, looking down upon the lower tramway terminal, with Death Valley in the background. Again, note the bucket cables lying on the ground, next to the pipe line, with one of its expansion joints. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

lower terminal and mill complex
Illustration 106. View of the lower terminal and mill complex from above. The step-like graded levels to the left of the lower terminal were the floors of the original mill, which no longer exists. Some of the foundations, and a fuel tank, may still be seen. At the top right of the picture, beyond the water tank and telephone pole, is the area of the former cyanide plant, now marked only by eroded tailings and tank remnants. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

lower tramway terminal
Illustration 107. A closer view of the lower tramway terminal, from below. Some of the foundations, walls, and other remnants of the mill complex can be more clearly seen. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

cyanide mill
Illustration 108. A typical view of a portion of the former cyanide mill complex, showing tailings and the ruins of several tanks. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

The mill complex is easily reached from the Monument headquarters via a passenger car road, and the mine can be reached by an energetic hike up the excellent trail. Unfortunately, few park visitors realize that the mine and mill exist, and fewer still know anything about it. With the expenditure of a relatively small sum, this complex can become a major tourist attraction, and also a major point of historic education.

In the meantime, the mine and mill sites need protection. Stabilization of the tramway should be undertaken immediately, and the area should be protected and patrolled to protect it against vandalism and theft. Extreme care should be shown by the Monument when the mine and mill sites are readied for visitor use, particularly when the site is cleaned up. Although there is a degree of modern trash around the Keane Wonder site, most of the debris on the ground is of a decidedly historic nature, and only a trained professional, on the ground, should be allowed to make the key decisions regarding the dispositions of the Keane Wonder mine, mill, and tramway complexes.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003