High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
All of the mines are discovered by people who are looking for minerals of value. Strikes are seldom made but when they are they become big news. Some of the prospected sites are very rich in one mineral or another, others aren't but finding even a minor amount of valuable mineral deposits causes excitement.
Miner's Coat of Arms
When I first came to the desert as a youngster of 6 years old I was amazed at the amount of old weathered buildings one could see all over the valley and the surrounding mountains. My family was interested in exploring these places and we came upon many a delapidated deserted cabin close to the tailings of a minor dig or even a fair sized mine. There were several such structures in the El Paso mountains south of Ridgecrest. One I remember especially because Mr. Ruperts who lived in a house at the base of the road near Hwy 395 told us a story about it. It had been lived in by a gentleman who was half indian half white man and who was a prospector of the 30's. His name was "Arrowhead Smith" and he was purported to have struck a fair sized claim up in the El Paso's somewhere. Now Mr. Rupert lived at a site that was an old mill and it still worked so he would occasionally start it up and do some milling for locals. Arrowhead would occasionally load up his burros with ore and bring them to Mr. Rupert to be milled and have the gold extracted. I guess it was enough to keep Arrowhead living and he continued for several years to do his mining. On visiting the cabin that Arrowhead stayed in which was pretty weathered but was still a viable shelter you could see where he had stuffed newspapers in the holes between the boards in the walls to provide some weatherproofing. Also a couple of the walls were covered with newspaper like wallpaper. The windows had been covered with some kind of heavy waxed paper that was apparently translucent as some shreds of it still existed when we first got there. Of course it had a dirt floor and there were some shelves in there. The first time we went in there were a half dozen old flip topped Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco cans and some claim paperwork in one or two of them. His name was signed at the bottom of the sheets so knew he was for sure who stayed there. On looking around outside I found several very carefully chipped out arrowheads. They were done in flint both red and black. Mr. Ruperts told us that he made arrowheads during the winter when he couldn't mine his claims. Over a period of, oh maybe, 4 years I used to walk down to his old cabin and search for arrowheads and I don't believe I failed even one time to find some. He sure must have made a lot of them. Sometime in the late 40's someone drove out there and couldn't stand to let well enough alone and burnt that old cabin down. I don't why but I felt as if I had lost an old friend.
Prospecting isn't always about Gold!!
Prospectors were looking for all kinds of rare minerals and were able to analyze ore samples and tell what they were. I don't know where they got their education but the prospectors in the area we all lived in were looking for gold, silver, tungsten, copper, and other rare minerals and metals. The prospector's I met up with were not prospecting anymore when I met them but they did have a lot of stories to tell and had the equipment so I could see what it was that they were using to help them tell if they had anything valuable. First and foremost they had a decent gold panning pan, a mortar and pestle to crush ore, and some mercury in a tube and some acid. They would take a piece of sample ore crush it up with the mortar and pestle and then take the dust and pan it to remove all the impurities to see if gold or some other valuable mineral was present in the pannings. I think they used the acid to get an idea of the purity of the traces (gold apparently was unaffected by the acid if pure) the more it discolored the less pure it was. I don't remember why they had the vial of mercury but it was a testing solution too.
Heres a story of prospectors from Ridgecrest in the 50's
This is a picture of my father (Iley Head) from the 1950s that ran in the local newspaper. Doris Head Radford (Burros '54)
In the early years it wasn't unusual to see an old prospector coming to town to get supplies or maybe just to get a little entertainment and some renewal with people before continuing on his journey to find the strike he has been dreaming of. I only saw a few of these individuals when I first got to the desert and after a while they just disappeared. I guess when compared with the story of the cabin above I was just seeing the end to an era.