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lola travis

Cerro Gordo
"Fat Hill"

See USE NOTICE on Home Page

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

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

Mike Patterson - 1947 - 2009
Jodi Stewart - 1944 -2001

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L/R: Mike Patterson, Jody Stewart - Former owners and operators of
The American Hotel in Cerro Gordo
(Photo courtesy of "Friends of Cerro Gordo")

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American Hotel bar.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Coberly)
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Inside of the American Hotel.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Coberly)

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Inside of the American Hotel.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Coberly)
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Painting over the bar in the American Hotel.
(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

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Inside of the American Hotel.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Coberly)

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Portraits of the Men Who Made Cerro Gordo

The Mining Baron
 

The Mining Baron
 

The Freighting Baron
 

mortimer belshaw
Mortimer Belshaw

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

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 Thomas Boland

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

remi 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.



Mortimer Belshaw Biography
(Courtesy of "Friends of Cerro Gordo")

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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

sherman 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.

julius keeler
Julius Keeler

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

john 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




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Abandoned Carson & Colorado rails on the eastern side of Owens Valley
(Russ Leadabrand photo)
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Carson & Colorado RR - Slim Princess engine.
(Russ Leadabrand photo)

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Water tank on the Carson & Colorado rail line
(Russ Leadabrand photo)

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Col. Stevens charcoal kilns located on the shores of Owens Lake
(Russ Leadabrand photo)
russ leadabrand
Russ Leadabrand - explorer and author of numerous travel guides.

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Cerro Gordo smelter ruins located at the town of Keeler.
(Russ Leadabrand photo)

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Cerro Gordo Photos Courtesy of Rich McCutchan
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Cerro Gordo - circa 1915

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Cerro Gordo

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Cerro Gordo

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4 metal pack train
The 4-Metal Pack Train at the News Bay Mine three miles from Cerro Gordo after delivering a load of ore.


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cerro gordo mining district
Cerro Gordo Mining District

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Cerro Gordo - 1869-1879

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lola travis
Lola Travis
(Photo courtesy of Friends of
Cerro Gordo)
Cerro Gordo's infamous Lola Travis was well known for her shrewd business sense, and her Dance Hall and Palace of Pleasure where the lonely miner's needs were taken care of. She made the headlines often and was noted as a beautiful woman, who wore the finest fashions of the day. There were no pictures of her, until Robin Flinchum started digging into her history. Robin found living relatives who had this picture of Lola as an elderly woman leading a respectable life in Bakersfield. This is the only known picture of her. She owned the "Palace of Pleasure" on the top of the hill and her competitor, Maggie Moore, owned the "Waterfall" at the bottom of town. Both women's establishbents were often the subject of the headlines of the day as is in evidence in this piece (below) by Remi Nadeau:
Altogether, Cerro Gordo produced $2,000,000 for the bullion kings in 1874 alone. Though his opponents apparently held the high cards in the grim game they were playing, Belshaw was in fact reaching into the earth and making off with the stakes. Always sociable and hearty in spite of his callous business methods, Belshaw now found himself entertaining more often at his hillside house, making more frequent trips "below" to see his wife in San Francisco. In spite of the San Felipe lawsuit still hanging over their heads, lie and Beaudry felt confident enough to join the Los Angeles city-makers in projecting a railroad across the desert to haul Cerro Gordo's expanding output.

As for the camp itself, the surge of production was bringing new buildings to her streets, new population to her hillsides. The Union Hotel was erected to compete with the two-story American House which John Simpson had erected in 1871, and the thousand persons who had previously remained on Buena Vista's slopes only during winter snows now found full employment the year round. But matching the heavier flow of silver down the Yellow Grade was a new stream of gold coins across Cerro Gordo's counters, a fact which inevitably brought a return of the lawless element. Shootings became so frequent that scarcely a month passed without another affray. Though the situation held little interest for Belshaw and Beaudry, their enterprise had in fact spawned a wild town which lived by the revolver. As the Inyo Independent commented, "A good calaboose or a little judicious hanging is much needed upon Cerro Gordo hill."

One of the bloodiest outbursts occurred one night early in February 1873, when two Americans were desperately wounded in Maggie Moore's dance hall at the lower end of town. A few minutes later shots ran- out from the camp's upper end, and a Mexican was carried out of Lola Travis's house with a ball in his stomach. Guns barked again the next night, and two antagonists fell wounded in air exchange of shots. "Cerro Gordo is a prolific source of the 'mail for breakfast' order of items," observed the Independent.
When the grand jury convened in March, County judge John A. Hannah, dean of the Inyo bench, reviewed the unpunished reign of crime in Cerro Gordo. He launched a bitter tirade against "these lawless ruffians who with murder in their hearts and the implements of death strapped upon their persons, congregate in public places, ever ready to discharge their death-dealing weapons upon the unoffending and unarmed citizens."

Following this outburst a trucelike quiet settled over the front for a few months. But by mid-October the Independent was again laconically remarking: "Our local shooting item for the current week reaches us from Cerro Gordo," and then detailing another fatal affray. On November 6. at Maggie Moore's house, two men fell dead before another burst of gunfire. "This makes five men shot, four killed outright, in this county in as many weeks," observed the newspaper. When word came of another affray in Cerro Gordo in the middle of the month, editor P. A. Chalfant had to change the score to seven men in seven weeks. "Pistols continue to crack and good men go down before them," moaned.
cerro gordo
Before setting up her house of ill repute in Cerro Gordo, Lola Travis had settled in Lone Pine with her three children and her brother. She bought property on the corner of Water and Main Street and built a saloon. This was in 1868. She kept half of the property for two years, then sold the other half to a French merchant named Charles Meysan. Meysan was a respectable family man whom she had met in the gold camp of Coumbia. He served as county and school supervisor. His general store stood next to Lola's saloon, and the two maintained a good business relationship dring Lola's time in Lone Pine. In the early 1880's , Lola sold the saloon, which operated as richards Saloon for several years before it was eventually torn down. Lola's saloon is long gone and a craft store. The Meysan store is occupied by La Florista's flower shop. This photograph shows the Meysan store at the right, and Lola's former saloon at the left ...taken in 1866. Dick Richards operated the saloon after Lola sold it, and stands in front of it. Charles Meysan is at the far right on the porch of his general store.
(Photo & text courtesy of "Friends of Cerro Gordo")

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Cerro Gordo when there was an Owens Lake.
(Photo courtesy of Friends of Cerro Gordo)
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Cerro Gordo when there was an Owens Lake.
(Photo courtesy of Friends of Cerro Gordo)
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Silver ingots stacked up on the shores of Owens Lake waiting transport to Los Angeles.
(Photo courtesy of Friends of Cerro Gordo)


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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


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This page was last updated on 09 June 2018