and text excerpts are all from "From this Mountain -
by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day (1975) unless otherwise indicated.
this icon to view a map of the Cerro Gordo / Owens Lake area.
Fludine of Myrtle Beach, S.C. writes.
My name is Phyllis! I was surfing around looking for a few copies
of my fathers book, and I was fortunate to have stumbled upon
your website! My fathers name is Robert Likes and he wrote the
book "From This Mountain". As a teenager, I spent many
many weekends out there with my dad and felt like it was my "other
home". My father loved to go out there and research that
country. Although we all live in the south now, he still reads
and watches all he can about the west. When I found your site
tonight, I called to tell him right away. He was so thrilled!
He told me to tell you to keep up the site.
Thanks again for a great and informative site!
Three Decades of Frustration
M. Keeler arrived in Owens Valley in the winter of 1879-80. As
an agent for D. N. Hawley, Keeler represented the Owens Lake
Mining and Milling Company. Having purchased the Union Consolidated
holdings at Cerro Gordo, Keeler began laying out a town and mill
site near the Cerro Gordo landing in March 1880.
Owens Lake Mining and Milling Company purchased Colonel Stevens'
inactive lumber company as a means of obtaining construction
material for the proposed town. The steamer Molly Stevens was
included in the purchase. After the damaged section of the flume
was restored, the sawmill was put into operation in October 1880.
The Molly Stevens delivered the first consignment of lumber across
the lake, and the small community called Hawley began taking
shape. The name of the town was later changed to Keeler.
steamer Molly Stevens did not prove to be as efficient as Julius
Keeler had earlier hoped for. The Bessie Brady was pulled off
the beach at Ferguson's Landing in the spring of 1882. After
being towed to Keeler, her weathered hull was completely reconditioned.
The Molly Stevens was dismantled and the powerful engine from
the U.S.S. Pensacola was removed and refitted into the Bessie
May 11, 1882, a spontaneous combustion from the oil, paint, and
tar turned the Bessie Brady into an inferno. After sparing no
expense to restore the steamboat, all that Julius Keeler could
do was stand and watch her burn. Steamboat
navigation on the Owens Lake had come to an end.
When the railroad
came to Owens Valley, the famous freight wagons of R. Nadeau
departed for Tombstone, Arizona where they were sold. Nadeau
built a four-story hotel in Los Angeles, in 1883, and remained
in the city his freighting company helped build as a successful
hotel man until the turn of the century.
Gordo was a deserted town when state mineralogist, W. A. Goodyear,
visited it in July, 1888. The great Union mine was under lease
to Thomas Boland and John Gorman who were extracting and shipping
small quantities of ore. A few others were probing here and there
for pockets of rich silver that might have eluded the previous
silver kings. Belshaw and Beaudry's smelters, as well as the
town, were being cannibalized for material and equipment by those
who historically follow the fall of the boom towns. In the Annual
Report of the State Mineralogist for the year ending October
1, 1888, Goodyear made the following statement; "At the
present time, there is altogether perhaps thirty or forty men
around the site of the old town, getting their living as best
early 1900's were not "good times" for Cerro Gordo.
The price of silver continued to drop, reaching a low of fifty-three
cents an ounce in 1902. The effort of Thomas Boland was the only
thing keeping Cerro Gordo alive. Boland refused to acknowledge
the silver era was over, or that the mines could not be worked
profitably again. There were times when as few as five men were
employed. But there was always someone searching, someone keeping
alive the dream that Cerro Gordo would again bring excitement
and prosperity to the Owens Valley.
"From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo" by Robert
C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
down the "Yellow Grade Road" after yet another breakdown
in the aerial tramway. The tram was completed in 1909 but continual breakdowns delayed shipments to the Four Metals Mining Company's smelter on the shore of Owens Lake.
Keeler in 1925
Colorado Engine No. 9 in 1954.
between 1911 - 1919
Miners at the
Wells Fargo Express payroll office at Keeler.
riding one of the "wheelers" on the rugged 8 mile Yellow
Grade Road to Cerro Gordo - circa 1911.
kilns built in 1876-77 located at Cottonwood Landing on the Owens
courtesy of Rich McCutchan)
from the Estelle tunnel.
Cerro Gordo Ghost Town
Cerro Gordo died, so did the remaining activity connected with
it. The last 71 mile segment of narrow gauge track from Laws
to Keeler was abandoned in 1960. The Southern Pacific Railroad
announced the action unavoidable, "though regrettable from
a sentimental point of view." The last narrow gauge common
carrier west of the Rocky Mountains made its final run on April
29, 1960. A salvage company removed the rails in January, 1961,
concluding the 77 year history of narrow gauge railroading in
Once the busiest section of the valley, the dry lake bed now
harbors only memories of Inyo County's silver era. Except for
the small number of families residing at Keeler, and Wally Wilson's
widow, Barbara, still living at Cerro Gordo at the time of this
writing, few people travel the parched landscape on the eastern
side of Owens Valley.
that once transported ore cars to the tramhouse now stare into
empty space. The tramhouse, identified with Cerro Gordo's second
boom, was destroyed shortly after its machinery was removed in
1959. The course of the tramway from Cerro Gordo to Keeler is
marked by wooden towers, and in a few places midway down the
mountain, steel cables and suspended ore buckets.
the buildings at the Union mine, machinery and equipment are
that of Cerro Gordo's second boom. The exception to this is the
remains of the old steam plant installed in the late 1800's.
Embossing on the face plate identifies the manufacturer as Westinghouse-Church-Kerr
and Company, Chicago-1890.
The adobe and stone ruins of Mexican vasos can be seen in the
vicinity of the Ignacio mine, half a mile south of Cerro Gordo.
A stone corral and several foundations beside a section of the
original Yellow Grade Road, a short distance below the mine,
also date back to the earliest days. Other ruins and debris at
the mine reflect the period of reactivation during the zinc era.
century has come and gone since the smelters of Belshaw and Beaudry
sent silver bullion from this mountain, and the square nailed
wooden structures at Cerro Gordo reflect its passing. Sprawling
down the slopes of Buena Vista Peak, the cluster of old buildings
will delight the heart of any ghost town buff. While only a faint
glimmer of its former self, Cerro Gordo's remaining structures
all contribute to the general feeling that here time has stopped
the turmoil is over. What is left is a ghost town with an atmosphere
"From this Mountain - Cerro Gordo" by Robert
C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
by Willis Linn Jepson
silver by Steamer, Mule Team and Railroad
by James Brady and launched into service on June 27, 1872.
20 mule team
& Colorado Railroad
C&C RR traversed some 400 miles from Mound House, near Carson
City, Nevada, in the north to Keeler on the shores of Owens Lake
in the south.
by Richard E. Ligenfelter
Cerro Gordo with Owens Lake in the background |
Iron shoes attached to the locked wheels of ore wagons slowed down wagons descending the steep Yellow Grade Road
Cerro Gordo smelter with bullion stacked up in front of the smelter waiting for transport down the Yellow Grade Road.
on Cerro Gordo