the mid to late 1800’s, Cerro Gordo was a lively silver boom town,
controlled by a savvy French
Canadian merchant named Victor Beaudry, &
Mortimer Belshaw, a well educated son of Irish emigrants who just
happened to have a background in both engineering and silver mining.
Evidence of their reign over the old Fat Hill which sits in the
shadow of Cerro Gordo Peak, is apparent everywhere you go when you visit
the privately owned ghost town today. As
you come up the Yellow Grade Road, the stone chimney remains of Beaudry’s smelter, the restored 1871 American Hotel, the tin
general store/museum, the red wood painted
Mortimer Belshaw House and worn
wooden remnants of the assayer’s office next to Lola’s Palace of Pleasure, as well as assorted other tin and wooden buildings, stand as
testament to these two bullion kings.
Set back from the main street, but prominent nonetheless, the
large two story wooden shingled house lovingly restored by the late Jody
Stewart & her husband Mike Patterson, stands. At first glance, this home, looks out of place, until one
realizes that it was the
home of Louis D. Gordon, who was primarily responsible for the zinc boom
in the early 1900’s. The
broken down “tramway to nowhere” that stands in the distance amongst
the piles of rock tailings, also serves to remind us of this resurgence
of mining in Cerro Gordo. Above
the tailings, hidden from the main view of town, the Union
Mine hoist house shows evidence of both eras.
Western Ore & Reduction Company
The Great Western
and Reduction Company took over the mines as the silver on the hill
played out. In 1906, local teamsters were contracted to freight low grade silver
ore from the dumps to the smelter which was being built at Keeler. Sixty head of animals came up and down the Yellow Grade Road from
Keeler to Cerro Gordo regularly. Pat
Clinton was in charge of the mines.
A steam traction engine was built in
the spring of 1906,
making it’s first successful trip to
in June of that same year. A
month later the three-wheeled engine was hauling four wagons of ore a
day down from the old Fat Hill. Unfortunately,
the ore wagons pulled by the engine could not carry the heavy loads at
the increased speeds, and the steam traction engine was soon put out of
Throughout the summer, wagons of ore continued to be delivered to
the smelter in Keeler. By
September 22, 1906, the Inyo Independent announced, “The Great Western
Ore and Reduction Company blew in their smelter last Tuesday and
everything is working smoothly and bids fair to be a great success.
This will mean a great deal to the mining industry of Cerro Gordo
district. Owners of small
mines can now get out their ore…This community will rejoice in the
abundant success of this smelter company.”
Transporting ore from
to the smelter in Keeler proved to be costly and ineffective, however.
A good team took four hours to make the round trip up and down
the mountain. When the steam
traction engine was operating, the time was cut down to two hours, but
the flow of ore was not sufficient to support the smelter operation.
As more teams and
wagons were added to increase the volume, costs increased as well.
Profits were marginal. By
the summer of 1907 the Great Western Ore and Reduction Company was
In August of 1907, the manager of the Great Western Company, with
the help of a German Scientist, found high grade zinc ore in the old
underground workings of the Union Mine, and in new areas as well.
Attempts to market the zinc failed when the company lost $800 shipping
small amounts by rail to Salt Lake City.
Metals Company Smelter & Tramway
By the fall of 1907, the Four Metals Company acquired the Great
and Reduction Company’s holdings in
and Keeler. A 200 ton
smelter was erected east of Keeler.
The first aerial tramway to Cerro Gordo was built as well,
connecting the smelter to the mines with a capacity of 50 tons a day.
Although the tramway had many breakdowns, it was a great
improvement over both the wagons and the steam traction engine for ore
Surveying for the tramway actually began in 1908.
That June four railroad cars arrived at Keeler with lumber for
the tramway. One hundred men
were employed to build the tram, which actually began service in the
spring of 1909. The Four
Metals Company Smelter had already been put into operation a few months
before in December of 1908.
Three work shifts took place each day to operate the Four Metals
Company Smelter, with 20 men working each shift.
One hundred and twenty tons of silver ore was processed every 24
hours. This ore was
extracted from new discoveries made by the previous mine owners below
the 900 foot level of the Union Mine.
Below the 1000 foot level of the Union Mine,
the Four Metals Company general manager,
, reported uncovering high grade ore
in 1909. By September, all ore bins at the smelter were full, and
250 tons of ore had to be dumped on the ground.
One thousand tons of high grade ore from the Union dump was
transported by the aerial tramway from Cerro Gordo.
By October 15, 1909, the Inyo Independent reported that the Four
Metals Company shipped 12 carloads of bullion and expected to have 6
more carloads ready to ship before closing.
In 1910, as new deposits of ore continued to be worked, the Four
Metals Company reached the 1,100 foot level in the spring.
The ore body was not as great as they had earlier believed, and
the company began experiencing financial problems.
D. Gordon & the Great Zinc Era
That same year of 1910, carbonate zinc ores at
proved to have a commercial value. Louis
D. Gordon and Associates obtained the Four Metals Company lease at this
time, and they began extracting zinc in the Union Mine by 1911.
Title to the property went to Louis D. Gordon in 1914 when the
Four Metals Company went under. At
this time, the mines were reorganized and the Cerro Gordo Mines Company
incorporated on July 14, 1914. Capital
stock amounted to $1,000,000. With
Louis D. Gordon as both vice president and general manager, Cerro
Gordo’s great zinc era was under way.
The old tramway was replaced by a Leschen aerial tramway.
At 29,560 feet, this tramway was capable of moving 16-20 tons per
hour. Twenty tons of zinc
ore shipped daily from the tramway terminus at the railroad in Keeler to
the United States Smelting and Refining Company in Utah where it was
processed. Net earnings for
the company from September 1915 to February
1916 were $40,260.
Around 1915, large shipments of slag from old smelter dumps
began. Between 1916 and 1919
nearly 33,000 tons of smelter slag was recovered.
The slag dumps of the Belshaw, Beaudry and Owens Lake Company
smelters were almost entirely removed during this time.
At the 900 foot level of the
chimney and dike of the Union Mine, new deposits of silver ore were
discovered. 8,022 tons of
lead and 750,844 ounces of silver was produced between 1911 and 1919.
Electricity came to
in January of 1916, replacing the steam power that operated the hoist in
the Belshaw shaft and the tramway machinery.
A Joshua Hendy 100 horse power electric hoist, an Imperial Type
10 Ingersoll-Rand compressor, and a
150 horse power constant speed motor were put in.
In case of power failure, the old steam plant was still
was booming once again, the success was not as great as it was during
the days when Mortimer Belshaw and Victor Beaudry reigned in the
1870’s. The Cerro Gordo
Mines Company, and others constantly searched for new ore locations.
Last Of The Silver
In 1905 the Troeger Brothers purchased the most southern mine on
the mountain, The Morning Star Claim.
Silver prices were at its worst during this time, and the Morning
Star was acquired for all of $50.
The Estelle Mining Company bought the Morning Star two years
later. It was active on and off but had no record of production until
1920. Two tunnels, one 200
feet above the other, exposed silver ore 4,600 feet south of Cerro
Gordo. The upper tunnel
extended 1,670 feet into the mountain.
Three fissures of ore were developed, one of which contained
higher gold content than expected. Ore
shipments were valued at $107,145.
, 1 1 /2 miles southwest of
and 1,078 feet below the 1,100 level Belshaw shaft, was the lowest level
of mining. The Estelle
tunnel was driven 8,100 feet here, through nearly half of the upper Inyo
Mountain Range. This was
done to explore the continuation of the Morning Star Vein and to look
for the downward extension of the Jefferson Chimney, as well as other
union Mine channels of ore. The
Estelle was started in 1908, and reached its present length in 1923.
7,676 feet from the portal, the Esetelle tunnel cut through a
vein of silver. Drifts were
driven over 300 feet to follow the vein.
Upper level workings connected to the Estelle by a 800 foot
raise. At 600 feet above the
Estelle, another 2, 200 foot tunnel was driven northwest toward the
Union Mine. Apparently, the
tunnel never found the ore bodies, nor did it reach the Union Mine
workings. Following 15 years
of digging through 10,300 feet of rock, the Estelle produced 2,700 tons
of silver ore at a value of $80,000.
The railroad rates restricted shipping low-grade silver ore from
. Several areas of small
quartz fissures could supply ore for milling, and the old mine dumps
& the fills of the old stopes of the bonanza period
contained large quantities of second class ore.
Floatation tests on these ores suggested that recovery could be
made by treating the lead carbonate ore with a sulphidizing treatment
before flotation. Therefore
a small mill was constructed with a capacity of 50 tons of ore per day.
This was placed adjacent to the ore bins of the lower terminal of
the tramway. By August of
1921 the mill was producing 590 tons of “shipping ore” and
273 tons of concentrate by 1922.
As 1922 came to a close, the Cerro Gordo Mines had a deficit of
$414,448, and by January of 1923 the mill was closed.
In February, the mine property and
mill were leased to the Natural Soda Products Company in Keeler
and reported treating silver ore on through 1924.
1920’s limestone was mined through the Union tunnel.
80 tons of limestone a day went from the tramway to bunkers at
Keeler where it was then loaded on railroad cars and sent to the Natural
Soda Products Plant just a few miles south.
The limestone helped to pay the bills, but it was the silver lead
ore of the La Despreciada claim of 1925 kept Cerro Gordo from completely
going under during this time.
In June 1929, when the Cerro Gordo Mines was under lease to the
American Smelting and Refining Company, new silver deposits were being
produced. Between 1929 and
1933 10,000 tons of ore was shipped to the Selby Smelting and Lead
Company. This ore averaged
41 percent lead and 29 ounces of silver ton, and had a gross value of
$305,630. This was the last
of the important silver ore discoveries at Cerro Gordo.
From 1933 on various companies leased from the Cerro Gordo Mines,
mine. No important ore
shipments were made, except for 1,432 tons of zinc ore by the Estelle
Mines Corporation between 1933 & 1936. In 1944, the Goldfields of South Africa leased the property, to
find small fissures of galena at the 900 foot level, but large ore
deposits were not located and the search was discontinued.
In 1949, W. C. Riggs and Associates bought the Cerro Gordo Mines.
They had leased the mines the three previous years.
44 patented claims that covered an area of 550 acres, including
the ruins of the abandoned town of Cerro Gordo, and an estimating
underground workings of 30 miles, were included in the sale.
Drillings of 1,
170 feet of core between the 200 and 550 foot levels of the Union mine
proved to be unsuccessful, and the mines closed one last time.
At the bottom of the
Yellow Grade Road
, just to the east, the
remains of the Four Metals Company Smelter still stand today.
One can climb over the rock and brick walls, stand in arches, and
peer through openings of the furnaces to view
the town of
, and the Sierra Nevadas in the distance, while pondering the great
processes, that it took to smelt the ore.
This Mountain--Cerro Gordo
C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
Printing and Publishing
to Cerro Gordo Page