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Cerro Gordo
"Fat Hill"


Pictures and text excerpts are all from "From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo"
by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day (1975) unless otherwise indicated.

I have some unfortunate and sad news to report: Mike Patterson passed away just a few days ago. (September 2009) Mike joins his beloved Jody, who passed away quite some time ago. Mike & Jody owned and operated the American Hotel in Cerro Gordo as a bed and breakfast for quite a few years.

Shawn, Jody, and Mike Patterson

IN MEMORIUM - Mike Patterson (1947 - 2009)

Portraits of the Men Who Made Cerro Gordo

The Mining Baron
 

The Mining Baron
 

The Freighting Baron
 

Belshaw
Mortimer Belshaw

He transformed Cerro Gordo from an obscure Mexican mining camp into a roaring silver city.

Boland
 Thomas Boland

He kept Cerro Gordo alive through the "hard times" of the early 1900's up to the great depression.

Nadeau
Remi Nadeau

He perfected his freighting system between Cerro Gordo and Los Angeles, and by 1874, his 16-20 mule teams were transporting 18 tons of bullion across the desert every day.


Early Cerro Gordo History

Situated near the summit of Buena Vista Peak at an elevation of 8,500 feet, the isolated mining outpost became known as Cerro Gordo, meaning "fat hill", the meaning, of course, that it was fat with silver. The principal mines at this time were the San Lucas, San Ygnacio, San Francisco, and San Felipe. Within four years, the number of mining claims would increase to more than seven hundred.

The Mexicans processed their ore in crude adobe and stone ovens called "vasos". These primitive furnaces directed the heat from the open-hearth across the ore and reflected it downward from the low roof, rather than heating from directly below. The ore was thus "roasted" until the silver was extracted.

Cerro Gordo's ore was of such high quality, that, even the Mexican vasos extracted a larger amount of silver than might have been expected. Although their success attracted a few Americans, little effort was directed toward underground development of the deposits. The miners on this mountain had no capital except their own labor with which to develop the mines. Other obstacles also restricted Cerro Gordo's growth, these being mainly the ruggedness of terrain, scarcity of water on the mountain top, and the location remote from any settlement with a large population.

Unlike most boom towns of its day, Cerro Gordo did not come into being overnight. To the contrary, the mining camp high in the Inyo's seemed almost reluctant to become California's greatest silver producer. The first real effort to develop any of the claims was made on the San Lucas mine in 1866 by Jose Ochoa, who was extracting about 1112 tons of ore every 12 hours. The silver ore was transported in sacks by pack animals to the Silver Sprout Mill a few miles west of Fort Independence. It was probably these shipments of silver ore, yielding $300 a ton, that first attracted the attention of Victor Beau dry, a successful merchant at Fort Independence.

"From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo" by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day


"Into Southern Inyo County"[pdf]
by Russ Leadabrand




 The Timber Baron 


 The Town Baron


 The Legal Baron

Stevens
Colonel Sherman Stevens

He founded the Inyo Lumber & Coal Company and fueled the furnaces of Cerro Gordo with charcoal produced from his sawmill at Cottonwood Canyon in the Sierra Nevada.

Keeler
Julius Keeler

Was the architect of the town of Keeler and reactivated the Union Consolidated Mines and Col. Stevens' lumber operation

Hannah
John Hannah

Inyo County's first judge, brought law and order to the lawless streets of Cerro Gordo where a murder a day was not uncommon.


The Bonanza Era

The Owens Valley trade brought instant prosperity to Los Angeles and, by the end of 1869, 340 tons of bullion had passed through the city. Cerro Gordo's silver ingots became a common sight in the city, and were proudly displayed at most hotels and banks, as well as many business establishments along Main and Spring Streets. Any citizen could describe, in detail, the affairs of the mines at Cerro Gordo. Many jackass prospectors found "easy pickins" for a grub stake with rumors of rich strikes and new bonanzas circulating from every street corner.

Local farmers and businessmen found an ever increasing market for their surplus produce in Nadeau's Cerro Gordo bound wagons. Sacks of flour, sugar, potatoes, and nuts, barrels of wine, crates of fruit, bales of hay-every staple item from picks and shovels to crated live chickens rolled north. The county's entire surplus barley crop was consumed by the mules of Remi Nadeau and other freighters. Within a year, Los Angeles' business life was dominated by the mines of Cerro Gordo.

With two daily stages from Owens Valley serving the camp, Cerro Gordo was well established as a mining town by 1871. The main street was being lined with buildings as fast as the lumber could be obtained. The two-story American Hotel was completed that year, as were several other permanent structures. High false fronted general stores, restaurants, and saloons soon replaced the canvas shacks scattered throughout town. just over the divide, at the head of San Lucas Canyon, small clusters of stone and canvas dwellings were strung down the canyon floor. The predominant structure was the large shafthouse covering the 300 foot vertical shaft of the Newtown mine. Either side of the canyon was covered with prospect holes and miners' shanties.

Cerro Gordo was also classified as a "wide-open town" with only a semblance of law and order. Although the law was available, it was not respected by most of the town's inhabitants. This lawless element found Cerro Gordo's remote desert location a comparative safe refuge, and was responsible for the bloody record of shootings compiled during the bonanza days.

The combination of whiskey and women made the dance halls, and the red-light houses of Lola Travis and Maggie Moore, the principal scenes of gunplay. Dr. Hugh McClelland, physician at Cerro Gordo, reflected upon one such incident the night he accompanied a young man wishing to visit one of the dance halls. A hot-tempered Mexican girl overheard McClelland explaining to his younger companion the reason for her odd nick-name, and came at the good doctor with a stiletto in her hand. An Irish girl caught her by the wrist and disarmed the screaming Mexican, but not before a Mexican man was shot dead by George Snow when he tried to plunge a knife into McClelland on behalf of his girlfriend. This ended in a general shooting until the lights were extinguished.

In another editorial, P. A. Chalfant described Cerro Gordo as being a shooting gallery, stating that "pistols continue to crack and good men go down before them." He went on to suggest that perhaps a little judicious hanging and a strong jail might be needed at Cerro Gordo to restrain its inhabitants from reaching too quickly for the weapons at their side. Despite Chalfant's efforts, the six-shooter and knife continued to be the authorities called upon when justice was to be administered.


"From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo" by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day


"Sherman Stevens' Timber Empire"[pdf]
by Oscar Lewis


 charcoal kilns

Col. Stevens charcoal kilns located on the shores of Owens Lake

(Russ Leadabrand photo)

 Smelter

Cerro Gordo smelter ruins located at the town of Keeler.

(Russ Leadabrand photo)

 Slim Princess

Carson & Colorado RR - Slim Princess engine.

(Russ Leadabrand photo)

 Leadabrand

Russ Leadabrand - explorer and author of numerous travel guides.

 water tower

Water tank on the Carson & Colorado rail line

(Russ Leadabrand photo)

 C&C rails

Abandoned Carson & Colorado rails on the eastern side of Owens Valley

(Russ Leadabrand photo)
 

One Packer's High Sierra Experience  

Brochures of the Eastern High Sierra  
 

 More, Cerro Gordo

 

 Early Big Pine

 

 Early Bishop Pioneers

 

 Mary Austin

 

 Carson and Colorado Railroad


 sun
Sign Guest Book

Sunhorn
The Pigmy Packer



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This page was last updated on 15 January 2014