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

4. Johnnie Cyty and the Big Bell Mine

a. History

1. Big Bell Mine

One of the more colorful participants in the South Bullfrog District mining boom of the early nineteen hundreds was a man named Johnnie Cyty, also known as "Johnnie-Behind-the-Gat," for his fondness of resorting to his machine pistol to solve various difficulties. Cyty had been prospecting and mining for several years before his arrival in the Funeral range, and had lived for a time at the raw mining camp of Bodie, California. Following his stay there, Cyty found and developed a small mine in Snow Canyon, west of Death Valley, and for a few months produced bullion at a small mill which he built. But in the summer of 1904, the lure of the new strike at the Keane Wonder caused Cyty to abandon his Snow Canyon mine and to join the wave of prospectors combing the hills around the Keane Wonder.

With a partner named Mike Sullivan, Cyty left Ballarat, California on June 1st and headed towards the Keane Wonder country. Within two weeks the two men had located ten claims on the west slope of the Funeral Mountains, approximately half-way between the Keane Wonder and the old Chloride Cliff mines. Before another, month was out, Sullivan and Cyty had optioned their brand new strikes to a Mr. Gaylord for a down payment of $25,000 and an option to purchase for $250,000. Although the details of the arrangement were not recorded, it seems apparent that Gaylord had one year to develop the mine, before his option to purchase it expired. [28]

Illustration 109. Map of Norhtwest Portion of Chloride Cliff Area.

Gaylord never did much work on the Big Bell Mine, as it came to be called. During the year of his option, no mention of either the man or the mine can be found. For whatever reasons, Gaylord was either unable or undesirous of exercising his purchase option, and the original locators regained control of the Big Bell in September of 1905. But Sullivan and Cyty did not work the prospect either, for in early November the mine was again bonded, this time to Walter O'Brien of Goldfield. O'Brien, said the Rhyolite Herald "was one of the lucky fellows at Goldfield, where many snug fortunes have been and are being made, and he is now turning his attention to the more remote [regions] with the hopes of opening another bonanza."

Under O'Brien, the Big Belt Mine finally began to undergo development. By mid-November, O'Brien had organized and incorporated the Death Valley Big Bell Mining Company, and had sold several thousand dollars worth of stock in San Francisco, at 25¢ each. The stock sales were obviously made on the basis of the Big Bell's proximity to the Keane Wonder Mine, for the southern most claim of the former came to with 330 feet of the northern end line of the Keane Wonder property. O'Brien announced plans to put six men to work immediately, and talked of building a mill in the near future, complete with a 1-1/2 mile tramway to carry ore from the. mine to the proposed mill site. "The consumation of the . . . deal is believed to mean a fortune for Mr. O'Brien," reported the Herald.

During the remainder of 1905, O'Brien started hauling supplies to the mine site, and work began. Tunnels were started, and a camp was established. By the end of the year, O'Brien estimated that the company had 30,000 tons of ore beneath the ground, and with water only two miles away, prospects looked good. [29]

During the first half-of 1906, work on the Big Bell proceeded smoothly, as O'Brien energetically exercised his option rights to develop the mine. Rich specimens of ore were brought into Rhyolite, some assaying as high as $60 to the ton, most of which came from the ground located nearest to the Keane Wonder property. Playing upon the proximity of the two mines, the Rhyolite Herald ran headlines such as "BIG BELLE IS A WONDER," and reported that O'Brien had left for the east coast, in order to arrange for additional financing for the erection of a mill.

In the meantime, Johnnie Cyty, in partnership with L. D. Porter of Rhyolite, began work on some claims north, of the Big Bell, which they inevitably called the Big Bell Extension. Two men were employed on this property, and a shaft was sunk in hopes of catching the Big Bell ore leads. During the spring and summer months, the efforts were successful, and Cyty in turn brought in ore specimens for display in Rhyolite.

But as September approached, and O'Brien's option year on the Big Bell mine drew to a close, he and Cyty were unable to reach an agreement regarding the eventual purchase of the mine. Cyty, who was nobody's fool, obtained the legal assistance of Senator William Stewart to look after his interests, and after several months of negotiations, a new company was formed. O'Brien was essentially frozen out of the new Big Bell Company, as two prominent Rhyolite merchants, L. D. Porter and J. R. McCormick, were the leading officers, with Johnnie Cyty listed as a director. Under the new management, work was resumed. A force of miners was put to work under the supervision of Cyty, who retained the controlling interest in the company. As 1906 drew to a close, more men were added, encouraging progress was made in the mine, and shares in the new Death Valley Big Bell Mining Company were advertised for sale, at 25¢ each. [30]

Illustration 110. Advertisement from the Rhyolite Herald, December 14, 1906.

In January of 1907, the Big Bell Company expanded its operations to a five man crew, and hired T. J. Kelly as the mine superintendent, in order to give the development of the property a more professional guidance than was possible under the direction of Cyty, who was basically a prospector. The miners began sacking ore for future shipment, and company officials confidently told the press that sufficient treasury stock had been sold to furnish funds for an extensive development campaign. "There are many who consider the Big Bell one of the biggest propositions in the country," wrote the Rhyolite Herald "and under the new and able management it should come into even greater prominence as the work progresses."

In February, with the mine beginning to look permanent, the Big Bell Company started to build several stone boarding and bunk houses on the property, and applied for a patent on three of its five claims. By March 1st, over 100 sacks of high grade ore had been filled at the mine, and before work was interrupted by the heat of summer, good progress was made in the company's tunnels.

Work was resumed on the mine in November, somewhat later than usual for that part of the country. By the end of 1907, the Rhyolite Herald was able to report that the company had considerable amounts of ore sacked and ready for a future shipment, and great quantities of milling grade ore in sight. It was evident, however, that the Big Bell was not being worked very energetically during the latter part of 1907, a possible result of the Panic which hit Nevada's mining frontier that fall.

In the meantime, although Johnnie Cyty was still the principle stockholder in the Big Bell Mine, he became less and less identified with the running of the operation. After his replacement as superintendent of the mine, Cyty took his money into Rhyolite and invested in the Unique Dance Hall, where lonely miners could pay to dance with Cyty's girls, one of Rhyolite's more innocent forms of entertainment. The dance hall, however, was not particularly successful, partly because Cyty employed non-union girls, at a time when the aggressive western mining unions were attempting to unionize every facet of every mining town. Cyty's use of non-union girls resulted in a boycott of his hail, called for by the union girls of other dance halls and supported by the majority of the unionized labor forces of Rhyolite's mines.

Consequently, Cyty was unable to pay his rent, and was expelled from the building which he had leased. He refused to leave,, however, and broke back into the building, which resulted in his arrest and a fine of $25, after he paid court costs and promised to be good. The affair was an indication of Cyty's temper, which he always found rather hard to control. By the end of 1907, as a result of these problems and a fondness for the gaming tables of Rhyoiite, Cyty had evidently squandered most or all of the money received from past Big Bell transactions, for he was unable to pay $6.68 in property taxes to the Nye County treasurer. [31]

Illustration 111. A broadside, calling for a boycott of Rhyolite's non-union dance halls, sponsored by the unionized girls of the Concert Dance Hall, ca. 1907. Courtesy Nevada Historical Society Manuscript Collection.

As 1908 began, the Big Bell Mine was not having much better luck than was Cyty. Evidently the new company had run out of development funds, for very little work was done on the property. The mine, however, had very good prospects, which were realized by outside sources, and several times the Rhyolite newspapers printed rumors about the imminent purchase of the mine. But with the mining depression caused by the Panic of 1907 still effecting the region, investment money was extremely difficult to find.

Then, in April, Cyty lost control of his mine, in a manner made traditional by western movies. In a twelve hour roulette game lasting through a Saturday night and into Sunday morning, Cyty lost all his stock in the Big Bell Mine to C. E. Jones, proprietor of Rhyolite's Stock Exchange gaming rooms. It is indicative of Cyty's lack of common sense that he played against the owner of the gambling house himself. Cyty lost a total of 250,000 shares to Jones, valued at 4¢ each, or a total of $10,000. No one seemed particularly sorry for Cyty, another evidence of his standing with the local community. In fact, most of Rhyolite seemed downright glad to see Cyty out of the picture, as witnessed by this editorial in the Bullfrog Miner

Local mining men generally are exulting over Cyty's loss, since they believe that it means the sale of the property to people who have the means to go ahead with its development . . . . In times past there have been numerous attempts made to acquire control of the property, but invariably Cyty had checkmated every transaction proposed. He had acted as a dog in the manger, neither making any effort to develop the mine himself, or allowing others to take the control of the stock at an equitable figure.

Just to rub salt into the wound, the Inyo Independent reported that the 250,000 shares which Cyty had gambled away at the value of 4 each, he could have sold only a few months earlier for 30 each, or $75,000.

Within a week, the papers reported negotiations pending for the sale of the Big Bell property, and surveyors finally began surveying the property for a patent. But even with Cyty out of the way, a quick sale was not possible. In August, rumors were still floating concerning the sale of the mine, although the Big Bell Company was still considering developing it on their own. An agent of the Leschen & Sons Rope Company of St. Louis, which had built the Keane Wonder aerial tramway, inspected the property and submitted plans for an aerial tramway for the Big Bell Mine, which was virtually inaccessible to anything larger than a mule. At the time, the property was described as having a thirty-foot tunnel, which indicates that little if any work had been done since early in 1907.

During the fall of 1908, rumors about the sale of the Big Bell property continued, as representatives of an English concern arrived to inspect the mine. But nothing happened, and in October the property was analyzed by a local stock broker. "This splendid property," he reported, "with proper equipment will yield as big returns as the Keane Wonder. Some little of this stock can be purchased at a low figure, and as a speculative buy it has few equals." Speculative was the key word. [32]

As 1909 opened, it was evident that the Big Bell Mining Company was in trouble. The annual statement of the company showed that total revenue for stock sales and other sources during the previous year had been a mere $1,097.17. Expenditures during 1908 had been $1,074, including $525 spent for a patent survey, leaving the company with a balance of $23 to start the new year. On January 16th, the stockholders of the Big Bell Company met to approve the sale of the property. No mention was made as to whom they approved the sale to, but perhaps they were ready to sell to anyone who offered to buy.

Another big flurry of interest came about in February, when the Rhyolite Herald reported that the English syndicate was seriously considering buying the mine. Their representative had examined it the previous year and rendered a favorable report, and was now back on the ground for a more thorough examination. The Englishman reported that he felt that the Big Bell could be developed into a large and profitable mine, since its ore averaged around $20 per ton. He had recommended purchase of the property, as well as the construction of a water pipe line and a mill. "The successful investment of foreign capital in the Bullfrog country," wrote the Herald "is of such great importance that everyone will gladly welcome it."

But again, nothing happened. In March another mining engineer, from an unknown company, inspected the property and said he was impressed, and the papers reported again that a deal was likely. In the meantime, the Big Bell Company was doing little more than the necessary assessment work required to retain title to its claims. In March of 1909 the Rhyolite Herald reported a mere 500 feet of total work done on the property, an insignificant amount for a mine which had been discovered almost four years previous.

In June of 1909, the Herald reported that the London syndicate was again negotiating to purchase the Big Bell, and the paper hoped for a successful conclusion. In a bit of honesty, the editor also admitted some of the problems involved in the Big Bell negotiations. "That the Death Valley country is a rich mineral zone is well known, but lacking milling facilities, transportation and water, have been the drawbacks which have kept this section in the background."

Through the rest of 1909, the situation at, the Big Bell changed little. The mining engineer from the English syndicate was back for yet another look t the property in August, but that company was exceedingly loathe to make up its mind. The Big Bell Company, in the meantime, did put some of its best ore on display at the American Mining Congress convention in Goldfield, and in late October finally filed the application papers for a patent on its property. The company applied for patents on three mining claims called the Big Bell, the Frisco and the Rainbow, and also for the Big Bell mill site, a total of 52.32 acres. The three mining claims were all located mid-way between the Keane Wonder and the Chloride Cliff mines, but the mill site was located about one mile northwest of the Keane Wonder Mill, on the edge of the Death Valley floor, nestled just at the foot of the Funeral Mountains. [33]

The Big Bell's fortunes did not improve much in 1910. The papers reported that a deal was pending on the mine in January, "which may put it into operation very soon," and in February word was received that the Big Bell's patent was approved. The Rhyolite Herald listed the property as one of the area's many "promising prospects" and in April even reported that it was being operated. The work continued for two months, and in June another deal was reported for the sale of the mine. Engineers for the purchasers said that the Big Bell had 25,000 tons of $12 ore in sight and 15,000 tons of "loose" ore. The ore was of such a grade that a milling plant close by would be required to admit of a reasonable profit. Again, in June an July, papers reported deals "on" for the sale of the mine, but again nothing came of the negotiations. The mine shut down operations in June of 1910, and no further work was done that year.

Finally, in 1911, the fortunes of the Big Bell Mining Company, which had been sputtering for the last several years, completely died out. On April 29th, the receiver of the First National Bank of Rhyolite, which had closed its doors, offered 300,000 shares of Big Bell stock for sale at auction, in order to satisfy an outstanding debt of $2,638. The following month, the optimistic Rhyolite Herald reported that there were "some indications of a decided change in the conditions of the Big Bell property." The Herald was more correct than it supposed, for in September the entire Big Bell estate was advertised for sale at auction by the sheriff of Inyo County, California, to satisfy back taxes due on the property.

As noted above, the Big Bell property was purchased for $1,600 by Homer Wilson of the Keane Wonder Mine, who was hoping to use the Big Bell claims to alleviate the shortage of ore in the Keane Wonder Mine, and during 1912 the Keane Wonder Company did exploration work on the Big Bell claims for a few months. But by June of that year, the Keane Wonder had become discouraged over the prospects of the Big Bell claims, for the company failed to pay taxes upon the property, and it reverted to the control of the Inyo County treasurer. [34]

The Big Bell mine lay idle from 1912 to 1935, when the Coen Company acquired mining rights to the property. After a preliminary testing period, the Coen Company opened operations in earnest on the Big Bell site, and established a camp. Eight men were put to work in March of 1936. A ball mill was erected at the property, as well as cyanide tanks, and a pipe line was constructed from Keane Springs down to the mine, via Chloride Cliff. Due to the virtual inaccessibility of the mine, access was primarily down from Chloride Cliff, via an "improved" motorcycle trail, which was little more than a crude inclined cable road. A Mack truck chassis was modified and used to slowly winch supplies and men up and down the steep ridge. Keane Springs was improved and a pump house and pumping machinery installed. Operations at the mine, however, proved that overhead was too high or the ore content too low for profitable operation, and by the fall of 1937, the Coen Company had abandoned its efforts. Due to the extreme efforts required to haul its machinery back out of the mine site, everything was left in place. The Coen Company probably produced a small amount of gold bullion during its period of operation, but no production statistics are available.

The Big Bell Mine lay idle between 1937 and 1940, when it was acquired by K. M. Woods of Beatty, who operated it for a very short period. In March of that year, the mine was reported on the producing list, and plans were made to increase its milling capacity from 20 to 40 tons daily. Woods' effort, however, was short-lived, and the mine shut down again in 1941. In 1952 the California Journal of Mines & Geology reported that the Big Bell was owned by H. D. Porter, the old Rhyolite merchant, and Marie MacPherson, a descendent of another Rhyolite pioneer. The mine was idle in 1952, but was reported to have produced some lead, silver and gold during the period of 1939 to 1941. The last year of operation was 1941, and from then until today the mine has been idle. The property is still held by the Porter family. [35]

2. Cyty's Mill

In the meantime, Johnnie Cyty's luck had not been much better than that of the mine he had discovered. In 1908, after Cyty lost control of the Big Bell, he returned to the prospecting life, centering his attention around the Big Bell Extension claims. Unfortunately, there was some question as to whether or not he had properly performed and filed the annual assessment work on those claims, and some of the ground was also claimed by C. Kyle Smith, the popular recorder of the South Bullfrog Mining District. Smith and Senator William Stewart had formed the Lee Gold Crest Mining Company to develop a group of claims in the Funeral Range, and also another group south of there, in the vicinity of the Lee-Echo mining district.

For several months, as the dispute over the ownership of the ground flared, both men uttered threats against the other, and the matter came to a head in late November, when Smith found Cyty working on the disputed claim. Arguments lead to gunfire, and Cyty killed Smith. The matter immediately became the number one topic of conversation throughout the region, and Cyty did not have a chance in the local press. Smith had been a well liked and successful miner, as compared to the more taciturn and moody Cyty, who seemed not to have a friend for miles around. The coroner's jury returned a verdict of guilty against Cyty, and he was bound over for trial in Inyo County. Feelings ran high, and talk was heard around Rhyolite of lynching the prisoner. The Bullfrog Miner, for one, felt no responsibility for unprejudiced reporting, and in a blazing editorial on November 28th, announced that local sentiment "CONVICTS JOHN CYTY OF COLD-BLOODED MURDER." Past mis-deeds and quarrels of Cyty were re-run through the press, and his long held sobriquet of "Johnnie-Behind-the-Gat" was made much of.

Pretrial hearings, depositions, and other legal maneuvers lasted. from the fall of 1908 into the spring of 1909, and the trial began in March of that year. In early April, the jury convicted Cyty of manslaughter, a verdict which caused the Inyo Register to complain that "Jury Treats Cyty with Distinguished Consideration." Most local folk felt that Cyty had unjustly escaped the hangman, and the verdict caused much grumbling. Only the Inyo Independent maintained its composure, and aptly summed up the conflicting testimony delivered at the trial: "One peculiar fact in the case is that both men were shot from the rear and both men were shot twice."

Sentencing was set for May and then delayed until June. Under current California law, Cyty could receive one to ten years in jail. On June 25th, he was sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, but notice of appeal was at once filed, and a stay of execution pending the appeal was granted. The appeal was heard the following November, and was successful. The California Appellate court reversed the judgement and order of conviction and said that Cyty must be given a new trial, due to technical errors. In March of 1910, Cyty's retrial began, and he was soon acquited. It appears, from the confusing and contradictory evidence, that the jury had finally decided that Cyty was defending his ground, and there was some evidence that Smith had fired the first shot. Cyty, who was finally set free after a year and a half in jail, left for southern Inyo County where he said he had some valuable mining claims. [36]

After his acquittal, Cyty disappeared for about a year, and then returned to the Funeral Range. In February of 1911, he resumed work on the property which had been in dispute with Smith, and made good progress. Since he had little money for development, Cyty entered into an agreement with some Keane Wonder miners, whereby they would work his property for a percentage of the returns. Several men accepted the deal and began sacking ore, which Cyty hoped to have treated at the Keane Wonder Mill.

But by March, indications on Cyty's property were so promising that he changed his mind, and on March 11th, Cyty purchased his own small mill. His luck had changed, for Cyty seized the opportunity to buy a 3-stamp mill at a sheriff's auction for a mere $500. The mill, which had belonged to the Hayseed Mining Company of Lee, California, was situated at the Leeland Station on the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and Cyty was soon busy supervising the move of the mill to his property.

By mid-April, horses and teams were busy moving the mill to the site which Cyty had selected. Due to the lack of water and the inaccessibility of his mine, the mill was installed about one mile northwest of the Keane Wonder Mill, on the Death Valley slope of the Funeral Mountains, where a series of three springs provided an adequate water flow for the mill. Cyty's mill site appears to be the same mill site formerly claimed by the Big Bell Mining Company, an ironic twist. Evidently there were some delays in setting up the little mill, for the Rhyolite Herald promised first in April and again in August that the mill would start crushing ore soon. On September 16th, the same promise was made, and the Herald added that much good ore was on the site waiting for the mill to start.

Finally, on October 14th, 1911, Cyty got his mill operating. The Rhyolite Herald reported that the mill had been running for a few days, but no cleanup had yet been made. The mill consisted of three Nissen stamps, with a twelve to fifteen tonnage capacity per day, and the mine was said to have ore running from $20 to $30 per ton. By now feelings against Cyty had subsided. considerably, and the Herald gave him due credit: "Cyty certainly deserves credit for his persistency and triumph over many difficulties and lack of funds. He is entitled to success, and his pluck and industry may win it for him." On November 25th, Cyty made his first shipment of bullion from the small mill, but the amount of the shipment is unknown. Sadly, for some reason, the mill did not prove profitable, for no more shipments were made, and no further mention of either the mine or mill can be found. [37]

After Cyty left his mine in 1911, little further mention of him is found for ten years, and one can only assume that he spent much of the interim in prospecting. Cyty reappears on the Nye County tax rolls in 1921, as the owner of three burros, a cabin and a house in Rhyolite. In 1922, Edna Perkins encountered Cyty, as described above, working as the watchman for the Keane Wonder Mill, which he kept under lock and key. Cyty told Perkins that he had a gold mine in the vicinity, which although it was not being worked, "was. richer than the Keane Wonder ever dreamed of being. Once some one had offered him $300,000, but his partner would not look at it. His tone implied that it was a paltry sum anyway." When Perkins asked him if he still hoped to sell his magnificent mine, "He seemed not to know what he intended to do. Plainly he was another victim of the "terrible fascination." . . . whether he sold the mine or not, he would hang around Death Valley the rest of his life."

From 1922 until 1926 Cyty continued to split his time between his caretaker duties at the Keane Wonder Mill and his home in the ghost town of Rhyolite. In 1926, he again found himself in trouble, when the "lone hermit of Death Valley" was bound over to the district court of Inyo County for shooting George Dalton. Cyty, it seems, had moved to Beatty at the beginning of the Leadfield boom in 1925, and had built a small hotel with lumber salvaged from several Rhyolite buildings. Dalton, who was new to the region, got into some kind of argument with Cyty, and Johnnie once again resorted to his pistol to settle the dispute. Although Cyty gave his age as fifty-three at the pretrial hearings, the Inyo Independent was sure that he was seventy-five or older at the time. Cyty was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in December of 1926, and was sentenced to one to five years in the penitentiary. His lawyer immediately appealed the decision, and although the record is unclear, the appeal was apparently successful, for Cyty continued to live in Rhyolite.

From 1926 to 1929, Cyty lived in Rhyolite, an in 1930 he moved to Beatty. From then until 1944, Cyty's name can only be found on the Nye County tax rolls, when he paid his yearly taxes on a house and a lot in Beatty. In 1944, the property was transferred to another owner, and once can only assume that Johnny-Behind-the-Gat had died [38]

b. Present Status, Evaluation and Recommendations

1. Big Bell Mine

The numerous structures remaining at the Big Bell site are fairly well preserved, and are very interesting. The high degree of preservation, as well as the amount of unsalvaged material at the site, are due solely to the mine's geographic location. Access to the Big Bell may be had from only two trails, neither of which is easy to negotiate. From below, one may hike up to the Big Bell site, using the Keane Wonder trail from the mill to the mine, and then following the Big Bell trail on up from the Keane Wonder mine to the Big Bell site. Total distance along this route is about two and a half miles, and demands a constant climb, from an elevation of 1,260 feet to 3,200 feet.

The other means of access is from Chloride Cliff above, wherein the hiker must walk down the old cable road from an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet at Chloride Cliff. Obviously, unless one hikes straight down from Chloride Cliff through the Big Bell site to the Keane Wonder Mill, a visit to the Big Bell Mine will occasion considerable effort. For this reason, few if any souvenir hunters have been able to carry off any momentos from the mine. For the same reason, when the Coen Company ceased operations in 1937, it evidently felt that the effort and expenses of salvaging its machinery was not worth while. As a result, the Big Bell site presents a fine picture of life and work in a mining camp in the late 1930s.

The access road from the Chloride Cliff area, which was the one used by the Coen Company, is unique in itself. A very steep trail follows the edge of a ridge from Chloride Cliff down almost 2,000 feet to the Big Bell site. This trail was improved by the Coen Company and converted into an inclined cable road. Large iron stakes were driven into the rock at several points along the trail, and a converted Mack truck bed, with a winching engine attached, was used to negotiate the climb. The truck hooked onto the lowest cable, and winched its way up to that cable's anchor point, where the first cable was cast off, and the next one hooked on. In this method, the truck slowly and laboriously' inched its way up to Chloride Cliff, where a regular truck took the load and departed for civilization.

The mine itself is divided into three distinct areas. The extensive remnants of a ball mill dominate the first. This section includes a small ball mill, manufactured by the Wheeling Mold and Foundry Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, and includes an ore bin, water tank, fuel tank, mixing tank, two work sheds, a conveyor belt, tailings ponds, and much other miscellaneous equipment. A short aerial tramway, connects the mining area, on the far side of a small but deep ravine, to the ore bin beside the ball mill. Two large settling tanks, each approximately ten feet high and twenty-five feet in diameter, dominate the cyanidation portion of the mill plant. These tanks are set upon a level platform held up by a rock retaining wall, and ore from the mine and from the ball mill was transported to the tanks via a conveyor belt, which fed into another short aerial tramway, which dumped into the tanks. All the mill buildings were constructed of wood and tin, and most still stand. The ball mill, however, was an open-air operation, so there are no buildings of any significant size upon the property.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 112. View of the Big Bell Mine complex from Chloride Cliff, showing its general geographic location. The mine complex can barely be seen in the middle right of the photo where severl black spots are found. The cable road is partly visible in the left middle of the picture, crossing the top of a ridge. The Keane Wonder mine and mill are out of sight, beyond the farthest ridge. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 113. Detail of one of the anchor points on the cable road. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

On the opposite side of the ravine from the mill is the major mine area. The mine was developed almost totally by means of short tunnels and adits. Half a dozen of these tunnel entries can easily be seen, most connected by a tramway. The tram cars dumped their loads into an ore bin, after which the ore was carried across the ravine on a short aerial tramway to the ore bin feeding the ball mill. As an example of the kinds of artifacts left behind when mining ceased, a twelve, foot high rock drill stands beside one of the adits with its drill point driven into the rock.

Across the top of a ridge from the mine are the living quarters. Some of these may be the same buildings constructed by the Big Bell Mining Company in 1907, for they roughly match the descriptions printed in the Rhyolite newspapers. A rock wall, approximately fourteen feet deep and thirty-five feet long, surrounds three wood and tin shacks. Two of the shacks are still standing, but one has collapsed. The rock wall was evidently used as a wind break, a precaution which seems justified, for another wooden shack built outside the walls has been completely demolished. In addition, the living area includes a tent platform site, and the inevitable wood and tin outhouse.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 114. A closer view of the Big Bell Mine. The mill complex is located in the middle left of the photo, and the dumps of the mining area are visible above the mill. In the top center is the living area, marked by the stone wall surrounding the shacks. 1978 photos by John Latschar.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 115. A more detailed view of the mill complex. The two large tanks dominating the photo are cyanidation tanks, and their tailings may be seen below. The small square structure with a pointed roof in the right center of the photo is the ore bin of the mill, which also acted as the tramway terminal for ore coming from the mine over the short aerial tramway. The small ball mill is located beneath and to the left of the ore bin. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

mill structures
Illustration 116. Another view of the mill structures. The ball mill is seen at the extreme right of the photo, and just in front of it is the Mack truck chassis, used to negotiate the cable road. The two shacks were used for storage and as a repair shop. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

mining artifacts
Illustration 117. One of the artifacts left at the mine complex, an eight-foot machine drill. The long bit of the drill is still attached and has been quite solidly driven into the rock. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 118. View of the mine complex, from above the mill. Most mining was done through short tunnels and stoping, and the ore was carried to the bin at the right via a short tramway. From this bin, a short aerial tramway carried the ore across the ravine to the mill complex. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Big Bell Mine complex
Illustration 119. View of the mine and mill complex from near the living area, showing the relationship between the two. The cables are still stretched between the mine and mill, and may be seen in this photo. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

living area
Illustration 120. View of the living area, showing the rock wind break, which protected two of the three shacks built inside. The roof of another shack may be seen to the left, which has been completely demolished by the winds. Just to the left of it is the typical wood and tin outhouse. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Illustration 121. One of the shacks, from above. The mill may be seen in the distance below the shack, and the cable road leads up from the mill towards Chloride Cliff. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

In summary, the Big Bell Mill site is extremely interesting, for it presents a vivid picture of a small-time mining operation of the late 1930s. There is little evidence remaining that can be traced directly to the early 1900s, but that is not surprising, since very little mining actually took place during that time. Because of the mine's inaccessibility, it can best be interpreted by some simple signs onsite. However, since the display of mining machinery is extensive, and perfectly exhibits the nature of a depression-era mining effort. The Big Bell mine and mill site will be included as part of the Chloride Cliff Historic District, for nomination to the National Register. Perhaps the best use for the structures and artifacts at the Big Bell would be recording onsite, followed by removal and display elsewhere, on a limited scale. The site itself should be protected, but this probably will not be a major problem, since few if any will want to carry off souvenirs considering the distance and effort involved.

2. Cyty's Mill

Cyty's Mill site contains the remnants of the small three-stamp mill which he imported to the spot in 1911, and a wooden shack. The mill itself consists of a wooden ore chute and ore bin, which fed into the mill. Only the heavy framing timbers remain of the mill, as all the machinery was dismantled and salvaged sometime in the past. Two steel tanks stand next to the mill frame, evidently the water storage facilities, and a short distance away is another tank close to a small spring, with a small tailings pile next to the tank. This latter was probably the spot of a small cyanidation process. The limited amount of tailings indicate that the mill ran for only a short time, and produced a very limited amount of bullion.

Cyty's shack still stands below his mill, and is in relatively good condition. The shack is built upon an elevated and leveled rock platform, and is of wooden construction, measuring about fourteen by twenty-four feet. Unlike most desert shacks, this one had the unusual comfort of finished wooden floors and walls. Finally, across the way from the shack, on the side of a little knoll, are the remains of two rock shelters, used either for living or storage purposes. The walls of the larger shelter are about three feet high, and measure twelve by twenty feet.

In summary, Cyty's Mill is a very interesting site, especially when compared to the much larger Keane Wonder complex less than a mile away. It offers a unique interpretive opportunity, for it represents one of the most prevalent practices of desert mining--the removal of equipment from one site to another as old mines died and new ones were born. The mill at Cyty's site was originally built for the American Mine near Columbia, Nevada. In March of 1910, the mill was purchased by a lessee of the Hayseed Mining Company of Lee, California, and moved to a spot west of Lee, near the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad. Then, as described above, Cyty purchased the little mill after the Hayseed operation failed, and moved it to its present location. Such transactions involving mining and milling equipment were quite common in the early days of desert mining, and Cyty's mill presents us with an unusual opportunity to document and interpret this practice.

For a combination of the above, along with Cyty's employment for several years as a watchman at the Keane Wonder Mill site, and the opportunity to compare and contrast one of Death Valley's largest and smallest mining efforts, the Cyty Mill site will be included in the National Register nomination for the Keane Wonder Mine and Mill.

Finally, Cyty's Mill is especially interesting due to his personal history as one of the desert's truly eccentric characters, and his story should be told either at the visitor's center or on the site. Perhaps onsite interpretation would be best, for it would give the visitor a chance to see and appreciate the pile of barren rock for which a man was killed.

stamp mill
Illustration 122. Johnnie Cyty's three-stamp mill, showing the small ore bin above the mill, and his shack below. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

stamp mill
Illustration 123. A closer view of the stamp mill, from the front. The water tank can be seen at the left, and the small concrete engine mounts are visible below and to the right of the mill. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Illustration 124. A view of Cyty's shack, seen from the north. The stamp mill is up the hill to the left, out of the picture.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003