Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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D. South Death Valley and the Ibex Hills (continued)

2. The Ibex Springs Region

a) Ibex Hills Gold and Silver Mining

1. History

Early references to mining activities in the Ibex Hills area are somewhat questionable, due to vague and contradictory geographic references in the contemporary newspapers and journals. The first serious mining to take place in this region apparently began in December of 1882, with the incorporation of the hex Mining Company--a Chicago based group. The exact location of the original Ibex Mine is undetermined, but it is probably safe to put if within a mile of the Ibex Mine located on the 1951 Shoshone quadrangle.

The Ibex Company had good luck initially, as evidenced by its decision to build a five stamp dry roasting mill in 1883. Following the completion of the mill, several loads of silver-lead ore were shipped out, but production was never extensive. This early mine soon experienced all the problems which would plague later mining efforts in the Ibex region--intense heat, water shortages, exorbitant freight costs--thus preventing the profitable extraction of any but the highest grade of ore. As a result, the original Ibex Mine was never very successful. In 1889 the mine was operated only sporadically due to fuel problems, and by 1892 the mine and mill were idle. [1]

Illustration 245. Southwest Portion of Shoshone Area.

For the next several years, the Ibex district was deserted, with the sole exception of Frank Barbour, who relocated the Ibex Mine and performed the necessary assessment labor year after year. Then, after fifteen years of isolation, Barbour was suddenly crowded with company--a result of the prospecting wave set off by the Bullfrog boom.

In June of 1906, a party of three prospectors on their way north towards the Greenwater District discovered the Orient Group of claims approximately two miles north of the Ibex Mine, and the rush was on. Within a year, three major claims, as well as many minor ones, had been staked. The Busch brothers, prominent mining promoters from Rhyolite, purchased two of these, the Orient and the Rusty Pick Groups. The third, the Evening Star Mine, one mile from the Rusty Pick, was owned and operated by the Heckey brothers, who moved their wives and families to the site. Meanwhile, Frank Barbour continued to push development on the old Ibex Mine. [2]

Attempts to develop these mines continued throughout 1907 and 1908. By December of 1907, the Orient had forty sacks of ore ready for shipment, and the Evening Star, which boasted a sixty-five foot shaft, had taken out almost twenty tens of ore for eventual shipment. The problems encountered by the mines were emphasized by the cost of $20 per ton freightage, merely to get the ore from the mines to the railroad, twenty miles away. Nevertheless, prospects were bright enough to warrant a Christmas dinner hosted by the Heckey women, and attended by the miners of the region.

Developments continued during the early months of 1908. In February, the Busch brothers bonded the Orient and Rusty Pick claims to a Goldfield operator, and the Heckey brothers readied their first carload of ore for shipment, claimed to be worth $85 to the ton. By May, the Rusty Pick shaft was down to eighty feet. Then, due to a combination of summer heat, lack of development funds and the failure of promising ore leads, this portion of the Ibex District suddenly slowed down. [3]

By May of 1909, a year later, the Rusty Pick Mine, which had been sporadically active, still had only 200 total feet of development work, and had made only one shipment of ore, worth $50 a ton Nevertheless, the Busch brothers managed to bond the mine again, to Chicago and Goldfield operators. The new owners promised immediate and extensive developments, but the promise went unfulfilled.

The following years saw occasional activity, but little real mining. In 1910 the Busch brothers managed to bond the Orient and Rusty Pick once more, but no work was done on the property. Funds were so low on the Evening Star property that the former partners were suing one another to recover the costs of assessment work. Although several men were at work on the Rusty Pick again in 1911, by the end of the year Pete Busch, the mining promoter, was reduced to performing his own assessment work. By this time, the Evening Star group had been abandoned, as John and Melvin Heckey left with their families, to join their brother Ross in Alaska. [4]

In the meantime, a few miles southeast of the "old hex Mine, the area in the vicinity of Ibex Springs had undergone a very similar experience. Like the "old' hex Mine, the Ibex Springs region pre-dated the Bullfrog boom, but did not undergo any serious developments until the effects of that boom had spread southward. The first known miner in this area was Judge L. Bethune, who located three claims at Ibex Springs in April of 1901. When Judge Bethune got drunk and died in the desert in 1905, his mine immediately became lost and subject to all the folk tales peculiar to lost mines. In this case, however, it was not lost for long, for the mine was relocated in January of 1906. [5]

The new locators, primarily Rhyolite men, incorporated themselves as the Lost Bethune Mining Company in October of 1906, and with a capitalization of $1,250,000 began development work. Bunk houses and a boarding house were erected at Ibex Springs during 1907 and by March of 1908 the mine's eight employees had sunk a shaft 200 feet deep, had fifty tons of ore on the dump and had shipped over 300 tons, which averaged $43.30 per ton. Despite this encouraging start, however, the demise of Rhyolite, which curtailed the flow of development funds and increased freighting and supply expenses, had its effect upon the Lost Bethune. Although monthly shipments of high grade ore were still reported in May of 1909, the mine was abandoned the next year. [6]

Five years later the Ibex District experienced a revival of sorts. Leading the way was the old Ibex Mine, still owned and operated by Frank Barbour. The mine employed twenty men in 1915, and was termed a regular shipper. Across the wash to the east, the Wonder Mine had been developed, and plans were announced to erect a mill. In 1916, by which time Barbour had sold out, the Ibex had fifteen men at work, and the new owners were planning to construct a 2,800-foot aerial tramway from the mire on the side of the mountain down to the wagon road below. In 1917, although the Wonder had already become idle, the Ibex was still active. Nineteen men were employed, paid at $4 per shift, and seven or eight tons of ore were being trucked out daily--the tramway had not been built. By 1921, however, the mine was again idle, and this time it had breathed its last. [7]

One other mine bloomed briefly in the Ibex region. The Rob Roy, about one mile north of Ibex Springs, was located in 1914, and by 1915 was described as well developed and shipping ore of good quality. This mine was periodically active as late as 1924, when the owners, the Ibex Springs Mining Company, received a patent for four lode claims and one mill site. As quietly as it had appeared, however, the Rob Roy sank back into obscurity, and with the exception of lonely prospectors who still roamed the desert dreaming of riches, the Ibex region lay quiet. [8]

2. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendation

Very little remains to mark the sites of all this activity. Ground explorations have failed to specifically mark the site of the '19th-century mine and mill of the Ibex Mining Company. Given the extensive activities of following years and the prevalent practice of cannibalization, however, this lack of physical evidence is not surprising.

The 20th-century remains are hardly more promising. The main efforts in the Ibex Hills area were centered around the Rusty Pick, Orient, and Evening Star Groups, all of which were north of the Monument boundary, and thus were not examined. At the Ibex itself, sporadic prospecting and development work, which was carried on even into the 1970s, has succeeded in erasing all signs of earlier activities. Examination of these sites reveals unnumbered holes in the ground, but little else.

A similar tale is told at the Ibex Springs area. Here, all trace of early 20th-century mining has been completely obliterated by the talc mining carried on in later years. Thus, with the exception of the buildings at Ibex Springs (discussed below)., there are no remains worthy of preservation consideration in the Ibex Hills area. There is potential for historical archaeology, particularly around the "old" Ibex Mine.

Ibex Mine
Illustration 246. General view of the Ibex Mine area in 1978. Note numerous dumps, pits, and cuts in vicinity. 1978 photo by Linda Greene.

b) Ibex Springs Area Talc Mines

1. History

The last stage of mining activities in south Death Valley opened in the mid-1930s, when John Moorehouse located 16 talc claims a short distance northwest of Ibex Springs. By 1941, Moorehouse had managed to extract 1100 tons of talc. After a short period of idleness, Moorehouse then leased his claims to the Sierra Talc Company in the mind-1940s. Sierra Talc developed the ore bodies extensively, and produced almost 62,000 tons of ore by 1959. By then the talc seams were largely depleted, and the mine was operated only sporadically until about 1968. Site examination leads to the conclusion that no more than assessment work, and very little of that, has been done since the latter date.

Two other talc mines were also operating during this same general time period. Ralph Morris and associates located the Monarch group of four claims in 1938, and operated it until 1945, when it was also leased to the Sierra Talc Company. Sierra Talc operated the mine until 1950, with a total production between 1938 and 1950 amounting to 46,000 tons. The mine was then idle for six years, until it was leased to the Southern California Minerals Company in 1956.

Just to the south of the Monarch is the Pleasanton group of two talc claims, first opened in 1942. The Sierra Talc Company acquired the lease to this group also in 1946, and total production for the mine reached 16,000 tons by 1947. The Pleasanton was then idle for several years, until the Southern California Minerals Company acquired its lease in 1956, and connected the underground workings with those of the Monarch. Operated together, the Monarch and Pleasanton yielded another 7,500 tons between 1956 and 1959, for a total combined production of 69,500 tons. Between 1959 and 1968, intermittent operations were continued, but site examination indicates that little serious production was undertaken during that time. Both the Monarch and Pleasanton mines are now idle, and have been for several years. [9]

2. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendations

Due to the recent nature of these mining activities, extensive structural remains are present in the area. At the Moorehouse, which consists of three distinct levels, the progressions of mining activities can clearly be seen through the development of mining structures. The lower and middle levels, reflecting the lode mining activities of the earlier years, contain extensive complexes of adits, ore bins, ore chutes and tramway networks. These wooden structures are rather picturesque, are in relatively good condition, but are not of historic significance due to their lack of age. A policy of benign neglect can best be suggested for this complex, for the lack of historic significance does not warrant any preservation funds being spent at this time. Conversely, the mine structures certainly should not be destroyed or carted away, as the value of the complex will obviously grow with age.

The upper level of the Moorehouse reflects the latest period of development and assessment work, being nothing more than an extremely unsightly complex of scars, pits, and heaps left over from stripping operations.

Both the Monarch and Pleasanton also have extensive structural remains. At the Monarch, these consist mainly of a small living compound, containing three 1940s era living shacks, a cookhouse, and various support buildings. These shacks are all of poor construction, although they are still in reasonable shape. They warrant no preservation or concern. The Monarch Mine workings consist of a small complex of adits, tramways and ore bins, all in very poor shape. Again, the best policy should be to let them rest in peace.

At the Pleasanton, more extensive mining structures remain. Like the Moorehouse, the Pleasanton was worked on several levels, with a (collapsed) connecting shaft in between. On the lower level is a large loading dock and tramway network, used for loading both Monarch and Pleasanton ores during the latter years of combined operations. On the upper workings are several shafts and adits, complete with a partial tramway and a wooden headframe. Although interesting, these structures are not nearly as complete as those of the Moorehouse, and benign neglect is again recommended.

Viewed as a whole, the best extant representation of recent talc mining operations in southern Death Valley is contained in the structures of the Moorehouse Mine. The remaining structures at that site are the most extensive, of the best condition, and reflect several different periods of mining activity. As stated before, however, even this complex does not warrant preservation efforts at the moment. The Moorehouse structures should remain relatively intact for a period of time, however, since the only access road to the area brings the visitor (who would have to be a four-wheeler) directly into the front of the Monarch -Pleasanton areas, with the Moorehouse tucked behind a low ridge out of sight. As Such, the Moorehouse will probably remain relatively untouched for some time, and should be kept in consideration far potential future preservation efforts.

Illustration 247. Homestead of Tom Wilson, a former employee of Southern California Minerals Company, who built this complex to avoid paying rent in the company town of Ibex Springs. Photo by Park Ranger Hill, 1962, courtesy Death Valley National Monument library, #2670. This site, adjacent to the workings of the Monarch Talc Mine, had changed very little by 1978, with the exception of natural deterioration of the structures.

Pleasanton Talc Mine
Illustration 248. View of the lower workings of the Pleasanton Talc Mine in 1962, when the mine was still sporadically active. Note the white talc dumps of the Monarch Mine to the upper right. Photo by Park Ranger Hill, courtesy Death Valley National Monument Library, #2674.

Pleasanton Talc Mine
Illustration 249. View from above, of lower level workings of Pleasanton Talc Mine. 1978 photo by Linda Greene.

Pleasanton Talc Mine
Illustration 250. View of upper level workings of Pleasanton Talc Mine. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

Moorehouse Talc Mine
Illustration 251. Lower, and older, level of workings at Moorehouse Talc Mine in 1962. The scene has changed little in succeeding years, with the exception of normal deterioration of the structures. Photo by Park Ranger Hill, courtesy Death Valley National Monument Library, #2673.

strip mining at Moorehouse Mine
Illustration 252. View of more recent strip mining activities on upper level of Moorehouse Mine. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

c) Ibex Springs

1. History

Desert watering holes are difficult places to interpret, and Ibex Springs is no exception. Although we know from the data that certain activities took place at Ibex Springs during certain periods of time, constant use of the watering hole by prospectors, travelers and miners for almost one hundred years has slowly erased all but the most recent signs of the past. Nevertheless, certain of the remaining structures can be identified and dated.

The first specific references to Ibex Springs were in connection with the "old" Ibex Mine of the 1880s. Unfortunately, both the mine and the spring moved around constantly in the vague geographic descriptions given in the early accounts, making it impossible to pinpoint any specific activities. Ibex Springs, however, was undoubtedly the water source for the old Ibex Mine and Mill.

During the Bullfrog boom years of the early twentieth century, references become more specific. The locators of the Lost Bethune Mine, which was in the immediate vicinity of the springs, described the area as having old arrowheads and stone cooking pots laying around, and told of the "remains of old buildings that no modern Indian could or no Mormon would build." One of these buildings, a three-sided stone structure, was converted into a bunkhouse by the miners. Subsequent descriptions of the locale in 1907 described it as a fine camp of bunk houses, boarding house, etc. Whether these buildings were constructed of stone, wood, or canvas is unknown. [10]

With the demise of the Bullfrog era mines, the small camp at Ibex Springs was deserted, and became fair play for the needs of wandering prospectors and travelers. Although we can not be certain, it is probably safe to surmise that little remained of the camp by the time the Ibex talc mines opened in the mid-1930s. Throughout the active operations of the Moorehouse, the Monarch and the Pleasanton from the 1930s to the 1950s, and the intermittent mining of the 1960s, Ibex Springs was exploited as a water source for mining and living needs, and a fairly substantial camp appeared. Since the talc mines have remained in private hands until recent years, the remains of this camp have escaped large-scale destruction, and dominate the present scene.

2. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendations

The talc mining camp at its height consisted of a dozen wooden buildings, including a bathhouse with plumbing, several sheds and storehouses, and several living quarters. Most of the buildings were constructed of boards and plasterboard, and had electric lights and propane appliances. The spring was improved by the talc miners by means of a concrete spring house and collecting tank, from which water was pumped or flowed to the shacks. The area is spread with numerous artifacts of very recent vintage, such as car hoods, Pepsodent toothbrushes, and a plastic Zenith radio casing. Although the buildings themselves remain in a fairly good state of repair, the proliferation of junk throughout the site makes it an eyesore.

Interspersed among the modern ruins are signs of the more removed past, such as remnants of stone walls, dugouts, and storage caves. Most of these are located in the northern part of the complex, nestled against the slope of the hills. The most important are two stone dugout/shelter ruins, consisting of three to four foot high wails, constructed of unmortered rock. Bottles in a small dump near the dugouts date the ruins to the Bullfrog era boom, and the dugout shelters were undoubtedly used as temporary shelters before the erection of the "fine camp" of the Lost Bethune Mining Company. No other surviving structures can be positively dated from the Bullfrog era.

Ibex Springs townsite
Illustration 253. Ibex Springs townsite in 1962, during last years of use. Photo by Park Ranger Hill, courtesy of Death Valley National Monument Library, #2690.

Ibex Springs townsite

stone cabins
Illustrations 254-255. Top: View of typical structure of Ibex Springs townsite, showing deteriorated condition in 1978. Bottom: One of two small stone cabins on hillside to the north of Ibex Springs townsite. 1978 photos by John Latschar.

Due to the great predominance of the scene by the modern talc mining camp, there is very little historic integrity left at Ibex Springs. The modern camp is certainly not of historic significance. The early 20th-century stone ruins have more interest, but due to a great proliferation of such type ruins throughout the Monument, and the fact that the more modern structures negate the integrity of these remains, preservation efforts are not warranted on this site. Since the older stone ruins are small, difficult to locate, and are tucked away out of sight of the rest of the camp, a policy of benign neglect should lead to no more than natural deterioration of the site.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003