Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Author Spotlight - History of Cerro Gordo Mine

Los Angeles was still a sleepy pueblo when Mortimer Belshaw of San Francisco began financing mining operations at the Cerro Gordo mine on the mountain peak by the same name in central California. He built a steep and winding toll road he named the Yellow Road from the valley up to the mine, then built a smelter on the shores of Owens Lake to extract the silver from the rock miners removed with picks.

The silver ingots, obtained when ore-rich rock was put through the smelter ,were then shipped on oxen-pulled, teamster-driven wagons to the port of Los Angeles for shipment to San Francisco, or to the bank.

Eventually two competing furnaces were built in Cerro Gordo and used to separate the silver from the rock, thus avoiding sending heavy loads of rock down the often muddy Yellow Road. The ingots had to be transported at great expense over long distances, and several shipping companies went bankrupt doing it.

The miners risked their lives every time they entered the mines. Trees were scarce on the mountain, so wood was seldom used to shore up the tunnels and frequent cave-ins took many lives. When it rained the mineshafts flooded. The more industrious workers prospected on their own mountainside claims on their day off. Housing was one small room dug into the mountainside, with a tarp for a door and sod for the roof, which got heavy and collapsed when it rained.

For their five and a half days of hard labor, the workers were paid 4 dollars, two hot meals a day at the American Hotel, and a cold lunch eaten in the mine. Water was scarce and all food and supplies had to be hauled up the mountain by mule-pulled wagons. The teamsters who drove those wagons had the best paying jobs.

The twice-daily stagecoaches dropped off hopeful prospectors at the American Hotel and carried the discouraged ones ready to throw in the towel down the hill to seek a better life. The stage was robbed at least once a week.

Life in Cerro Gordo was hard, cold, and uninteresting for most of the residents until October of 1874 when Wilda Stone, the heroine of Rising Above, crashed her hot air balloon near the town and turned the life of the local lawman upside down.

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