The following is an excerpt from "Louis D.
Gordon--The Man Behind Cerro Gordo's Zinc Era," presented at the Eighth Death
Valley History Conference, January 31-February 2, 2008.
Sometime in the 1970’s a tape
recorder was handed to the first Mrs. Louis D. Gordon. With the help of a nurse
on duty at the retirement home Cornelia now called her place of residence, she
managed to “tame” the thing, and began to speak into it, giving us insight to a
more personal side of the man and the life he and his family lived:
“In 1906, I was married in
Plainfield, New Jersey, to a man who was born in Austin, Nevada, and very
interested in mining and geology.”
(Photo L.D. Gordon
“He went to school in San
Francisco, and then had two years at the Annapolis Naval Academy, but left
before graduation, as he was anxious to get back to the West.
We met in Point Pleasant, New
Jersey, and became engaged. I had to wait two years to be married, because he
had staked a claim and he had to get back out west. However, we finally got
married, and bought a house in Salt Lake and after about a year and a half we
went to the first mining camp which was Gold Circle in Midas, Nevada.”
“The camp was really just a
camp; there were no houses except two stores down in the village which had false
fronts where they sold meat and groceries and some yard goods and then there was
a hotel with a false front and the back of it, I imagine, was a tent because you
could hear everything so clearly that was being said in the room next to you.”
“The first night we went to
Gold Circle there were two drunks in the room next to us and they were using
obscene language and my husband spoke to them and said,
you don’t stop talking like that, I have my wife here, I will throw you
Well, they didn’t stop and so
he threw them downstairs. That was my first dramatic experience.”
(Photo L.D. Gordon
From Gold Circle, the Gordons
settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their first trip together from Salt Lake was to
Mexico, “as there was a mine to be unwatered” and “L” was requested to come and
look at it.
Cornelia was not allowed to go
to the mine; she had to stay in a little hotel in Agua Caliente, since there
were no feminine accommodations up in the mountains.
This was during rainy season,
the room was cold and the sheets on the bed were damp. Hotel staff would build a
fire for her and pull the sheets off so they could dry before she slept on them,
without worry of getting pneumonia.
Toilet facilities were
discovered by way of flashlight down the hall, and described as a “3-holer,
Chic Sale”* with resident cockroaches.
After five or six days alone,
Louis had completed his tasks at the mine and Cornelia was finally rescued.
From Agua Caliente, the
Gordons headed by train to Mexico City. Following a mishap with a hand car, four
workmen and an overturned rail car complete with pandemonium, but no wounded,
they settled in a comfortable hotel. Each afternoon around 5 o’clock they
watched open carriages on the very narrow streets passing others going in the
The Gordon’s noted beautifully
dressed women wearing mantillas and a great deal of face powder, smiling
and bowing to each other. Though the streets barely had room for the harrowing
passage, it was obvious the American couple were witnessing a very important
Louis and Cornelia enjoyed
their sightseeing in Mexico and then returned to Salt Lake City until their next
trip to Round Mountain.
“Round Mountain, Nevada is in
Nye County, 60 miles from Tonopah and on the desert…” an elderly Cornelia speaks
into the tape recorder once again.
“We drove the first trip we
made and the mine is on the sunny side of the mountain and has a stamp mill
where the very high grade ore is treated and an office building with quarters on
top for family, which in later years when I came out and took the children we
occupied. The ore is very rich and very high grade, and was made into gold
bullion at the stamp mill and then taken to Tonopah and shipped by train to a
smelter…The water for the placer came from a canyon up in the Black Mountains -
Jet Canyon - and the mine was both placer and lode.”
“...Mining engineers from all
different parts of the country would often come out to the mine because it was a
very unusual development, both placer and lode, and very high-grade ore. So
there were many interesting contacts with people, and life was far from dull.
Sometimes there were dances on
a Saturday night and the Indians would come. We had a man to play the piano and
a violinist, and it was real old fashioned country goings-on.
Indian families at
Round Mountain, Nevada.
(Photo L.D. Gordon Collection)
I danced with the Indians and
it was a little tricky because they were not too careful about their person, and
the weather was hot, but anyway, it was something to do and a little different.”
Around 1911, Cornelia Gordon
was visiting friends in Los Angeles when word came that her husband, Louis, had
obtained the lease on an old worked out silver lead mine in Inyo County, known
as Cerro Gordo.
The trek from Los Angeles to
Keeler at the base of the mountain would be an arduous one, but paled in
comparison to the 23 per cent winding incline up the Yellow Grade Road, where no
automobiles had ever gone.
The little Gordon family was
packed and ready to head across the vast Mojave Desert from Los Angeles when
Louis learned he would be detained by business.
Cornelia and son boarded the
train alone to Mojave, laid over a night in a boxcar there, then on to Keeler.
From Keeler she boarded a wagon which would take her up the infamous Yellow
In the seat behind her,
another person sat, holding an umbrella for shade. Somewhere along the
precipitous eight mile journey, they would stop to make a fire to warm the
baby’s bottle for feeding time.
from Cerro Gordo towards Owens Lake and the Sierras.
Nearly at the top of the
mountain peak, Cornelia and party arrived at the Cerro Gordo Mines. As they
stepped out of the wagon, they turned to the view of Keeler down below. Cornelia
described the view of the “dry soda lake turned the most heavenly blue... blue
as sapphire” with Mount Whitney towering in the distance.
A sad looking cabin was
provided for the Gordons to live in until a more comfortable house could be
built. The little place was so dirty, Cornelia had to get miners to scrub the
walls and take up the horrible matting on the floor.
Old green carpeting, brought
in from Los Angeles, was put down on the floor, and a nice table was provided to
sit and have meals, soon making the place quite homey indeed. Behind the cabin
there was a bathroom, with a galvanized zinc tub. Water was heated and brought
in from elsewhere, since there were no pipes.
When Louis finally arrived on
the mountain, he was quite surprised to see his wife, son, and the accompanying
nursemaid content in their humble quarters.
Cornelia recalled, “We had one
Christmas up at the mine…and it was very pretty with snow all around…The wind
was always very bad and very blustery.”
A snow storm knocks
down tram towers and buries Cerro Gordo under a white blanket.
(Photo L.D. Gordon Collection)
“L”, as Cornelia called
her husband, would be gone all day, then take off again after a 5 p.m. dinner
and go back down into the mines for the evenings.
She longed for good
conversations or book reading together, but there was never time for it.
With no housekeeping
facilities in her little cabin, she did manage to cook for the baby, get
breakfast and a light lunch, and then a fine dinner would often be had at the
house of one of the wives of the other miners, relieving her loneliness.
The Gordons lived on the
mountain on and off from 1911 to 1920. Louis was more often than not, busy
tending to the business of the Cerro Gordo Mines Co., or off the mountain at one
of his other holdings.
Cornelia and son learned to
entertain themselves when they could, astride horse or hiking on the mountain,
enjoying the beautiful backcountry scenery and the wildflowers as weather
Eventually, a suitable home
was built for the family to take the place of the primitive cabin they
originally lived in.
It had as many modern
conveniences for the time period as could be expected on an isolated mountain
The ore tramway often provided
communication to the outside world when modern means failed or just plain
weren’t in existence.
Cornelia would put her grocery
list on a bucket headed down the mountain, and it would come back with her
requests, including baby formula.
Cornelia had known from the
early days of her marriage that she and Louis would call the God forsaken mining
camps their home. The primitive tent camp of Gold Circle had well rehearsed the
Gordons for what lay ahead of them in California’s Inyo Mountains, as well as
times yet to come in other mining areas of Nevada, Utah, and Mexico, where Louis
also had interests.
Three children and a divorce
several years later would send Louis and Cornelia in separate directions. But
Cornelia fondly remembered the tales of their early years together.
Mountain Cerro Gordo
C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
Printing and Publishing, Bishop
A Guide To
The Ghosttowns And Mining Camps Of Nye County Nevada
& Co New York
Gordo Bugle of Freedom
Edition, March 1996
Goes To Cerro Gordo
Historic California website, July 2007
Legends of Inyo County, A Bi-Centennial Book
That Built Los Angeles -Cerro Gordo”
by Fred S.
Traveler, Inc., Pioneer, Calif.
Images from the L. D. Gordon Collection,
courtesy Douglas Gordon.