Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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C. The Black Mountains

1. Introduction

As the reader is by now undoubtedly aware, the history of the entire east side of Death Valley was dominated by the great Bullfrog boom. This influence, which we have already seen in the Bullfrog Hills and the Funeral Range, was no less evident in the Black Mountains, to the south of the Funeral Range. Like the above territories, the history of mining in the Black Mountains is dominated by the story of various and sundry booms and busts, all subsidiary to the Bullfrog boom to the north. At a glance, therefore, the history of the mines and mining camps in this section is not too different than those related above. But there were two distinct phenomena which showed up in this section. Although neither of these are particularly surprising on their own rights, they both emphasize telling points concerning the success or failure of desert mining camps.

The first was the amazing stampede into Greenwater. That spectacular rush will be described in more detail later, so it suffices to point out here that in Greenwater we see the final culmination of the unbelievable boom spirit which had been prevailing in the desert mining camps since the discovery of Tonopah in 1900. Since that discovery, scores of boom towns had been added to the map in southern Nevada and southeastern California, and each seemed to proclaim to the world that the new era of mining booms was here to stay. Untold riches were buried beneath the desert floor, and all one had to do was dig almost anywhere to secure a fortune. That spirit reached its height in conjunction with the Greenwater stampede--and the subsequent Greenwater bust marked the beginning of the decline of the early twentieth-century mining booms.

Illustration 189. Map of the Black Mountains.

On a less psychological note, the mining camps of the Black Mountains also pointed out quite clearly the ever-present handicaps against which desert mining camps were forced to struggle--the search for water, fuel and transportation. At the time of the mining booms in the Black Mountains, Rhyolite was far and away the largest supply center in the entire Death Valley region, and the farther south one moved from Rhyolite, the more expensive food, fuel and supplies became. Thus the farther one moved from Rhyolite, the more expensive it was to open a mine, and the richer one's ore had to be in order to reap a profit. In addition, the fact that water sources grew fewer and farther between as one moved south multiplied the problems of expenses and even survival. Mines, in short, which would have become producers in the Bullfrog Hills were totally unprofitable in the Black Mountains. These dual problems of water and transportation are the constant factors in the determination of the success or failure of mines in this section.

On an entirely different note, it seems fitting to give the reader a word of warning at this point. This study has been based heavily upon the accounts of mines as printed in contemporary mining camp newspapers and national mining journals, neither of which sources are completely reliable, Mining camp newspapers were always wont to emphasize the positive and ignore the negative in their reporting, for the success of the paper depended upon the success of the camp. Thus, as we have seen time after time, mines which are reported to be healthy, productive and rich in one issue of a paper are suddenly closed by the time the next issue hit the street, without a word of explanation from the friendly editor. National mining journals, while more prestigious, are hardly more reliable in their weekly coverage, since the great majority of their news came from the editors of local papers, who served as stringers for the national syndicates.

But the editors and papers should not totally shoulder the blame, for they in turn relied upon the mine owners and superintendents for their information. With this in mind, the following article, which appeared in the Inyo Independent in 1882, should be enough to emphasize the dangers of relying upon such biased sources for information concerning a mine:

Recently, says an exchange, a Nevada man invented a lying machine, and went around trying to sell 'em. The machine was warranted to trot out a first-class lie on any subject, at a moment's notice. But it didn't sell well. He took it to an editor. Said the editor: "Come, you get out of this. I tell the truth in my business." The inventor presented it to a lawyer, but he also looked horror-stricken and offended. A fishing party looked hankeringly at it, but their language was to the effect that they abhorred untruth. At last the disheartened inventor tried a mining superintendent, who flew mad in a minute. "You scoundrel," he cried, "do you mean to insult me?" "No," tremblingly answered the man. "Then what in blazes do you mean by offering me that thing?" "Why I--I thought you might occasionally want to use it in your business." "You wretch, what do you take me for?" "Oh, sir, I didn't mean to insinuate that you could tell a lie." "That's it " cried the superintendent; "that's what I'm mad about. You conceited ass, you think you're able to invent a machine that I can't lie all around, and that without an effort. I never was so insulted in all my life! Get!" And he immediately set to work writing his weekly reports.

Since this type of reporting was more evident in Greenwater than in any other boom camp in Death Valley, a word to the wise should be sufficient.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003