and text excerpts are all from "From this Mountain -
by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day (1975) unless otherwise indicated.
have some unfortunate and sad news to report: Mike Patterson
passed away just a few days ago. (September
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)
of the Men Who Made Cerro Gordo
transformed Cerro Gordo from an obscure Mexican mining camp into
a roaring silver city.
kept Cerro Gordo alive through the "hard times" of
the early 1900's up to the great depression.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
"From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo" by Robert
C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
by Russ Leadabrand
The Timber Baron
The Town Baron
The Legal Baron
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.
the architect of the town of Keeler and reactivated the Union
Consolidated Mines and Col. Stevens' lumber operation
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Stevens' Timber Empire"[pdf]
by Oscar Lewis
charcoal kilns located on the shores of Owens Lake
smelter ruins located at the town of Keeler.
Colorado RR - Slim Princess engine.
- explorer and author of numerous travel guides.
Water tank on
the Carson & Colorado rail line
& Colorado rails on the eastern side of Owens Valley