top shadow

1864 Mines

Arizona and Sonora, by Sylvester Mowry, was published in 1864. A few pages about the Colorado River area mines is provided here.


The following extracts from the Alta California published during the month of April, 1864, present a summary of the condition and prospects of the mining region of the Colorado. It says:

In consequence of movements in San Francisco to secure the full and cheap navigation of the Colorado River, mining operations throughout that section are being pushed with energy. Many tunnels and inclines are being run, and shafts sunk. Assays of different ores indicate values per ton of $85, $170, $70, and $30. One mill is already at work, crushing chiefly gold ores, and arrange^ ments are in progress for the erection of a first-class mill, with the necessary machinery for working silver ores, near the mouth of the river. Large piles of rich ore have been taken out of the various tunnels and shafts, of which there are nine mentioned in the report before us. Extensive discoveries of salt, free from impurities, have been made. It is found in veins similar to the mineral veins, underlying at an angle of 45 degrees, and varying in width from eighteen inches to three feet. Discoveries of coal are also reported. Several mining districts are organized — the San Francisco, Williams's Fork, La Paz, etc. The mines on the extreme lower river are chiefly valuable for copper; farther up, silver and gold predominate. The San Francisco Mining Press, from the columns of which we condense the above, closes its article thus:

"The river, which is now attracting a large share of attention, is destined to become one of the most important rivers on the Pacific coast. Its topography and general characteristics are certainly most remarkable. Taking its rise, as we have already said, in the Pike's Peak mining region, it constitutes simply a mountain stream until it reaches the vicinity of Black Canon, about eighty miles above El Dorado Canon. From this point to its mouth, a distance of a little over 600 miles, this river is navigable for river steamers of a small draught; and for 500 miles of this distance the entire country is rich in minerals - gold, silver, and copper - down to its very banks, and to an unknown and unexplored distance into the interior. All kinds of miners' supplies will soon be delivered along this river, via the Gulf of California, for a price not greater than that now charged for the delivery of goods at Nevada City or Placerville. Freight has already been delivered at La Paz for three cents per pound."

The Alta California then famishes the following detailed description of the mining districts upon the Colorado, and the modes of working in use there:

The mining districts on the banks of the Lower Colorado continue to preserve their attractions for s considerable number of miners who have been in them for several years. They have as yet produced little bullion, but they promise to increase in importance, and to furnish no small portion of the gold, silver, and copper crop of this coast.
The Colorado River empties into the Gulf of California in latitude 31° 40, and for ninety-five miles above that point the river runs through a low plain. At Fort Yuma, as we ascend the river, the mineral region commences. The various districts are as follows:

I. Yuma or Pichaco District, on the western side of the river, near Fort Yuma. There may be 100 miners, mostly Mexicans, engaged in dry washing for placer gold. There are some rich lodes of silver and copper, and a few veins of auriferous quartz.

II. Castle Dome District, on the eastern side of the Colorado, between that stream and the Gila. There may be 100 miners here engaged in silver mining. The ores are rich, but they are from eighteen to thirty-five miles from the river. Some furnaces are now building for smelting the ores. The chief town is Castle Dome City, which has four or five houses, and is thirty miles above Fort Yuma, by the river.

III. Eureka District, on the eastern side of the Colorado, twenty-five miles, by land, above Fort Yuma, is twenty-eight miles long on the river bank, and twelve miles wide. There are 100 miners there, of whom a majority are Mexicans. The mines are silver, lead, and copper, and. very near the river. The country or bed rock is granite and slate; the silver veins are in pink and white quartz ; the lodes are from two to ten feet thick. The chief town is Williamsport, which contains one stone house and many tents, and is forty-five miles, by the river, above Fort Yuma.

IV. Weaver District, on the eastern side of the river, ninety miles above Fort Yuma. The mines are copper, silver, and gold. The principal town is Olive City, which has twenty houses, and is 150 miles, by the river, above Fort Yuma. The ledges which are now being worked are situated at from six to fifteen miles of the steam-boat landing at Olive City. Among these are the Great Central, Colorado, Blue Ledge, American Pioneer, Weaver, Henry Barnard, and others.

V. La Paz District, on the eastern bank of the Colorado, 100 miles above Fort Yuma. It contains 500 miners, who are engaged in silver, copper, and lead veins, and in gold placers. There are some Mexican smelting furnaces at La Paz, the chief town of the district, and ore is regularly shipped to San Francisco. La Paz City has 150 houses, and is 155 miles, by the river, from Fort Yuma.

VI. Chemahueva District, on the western side of the river, opposite La Paz.

VII. El Dorado Canyon District, on the western side of the river, 250 miles, by land, above Fort Yuma, contains a population of about 300 miners, and has some rich silver and copper lodes.

There are several other districts along the river, but some of them are almost unknown save to a few prospectors, who are wandering about in them. The Walker Placer Mines, on the foot-hills of the San Francisco Mountains, are 150 miles east of La Paz. The diggings are good there, but the Indians are troublesome. Persons bound for those mines, from California, usually go through La Paz.

Freight for the Colorado mines, from San Francisco, goes by sailing vessels, in a voyage of three or four weeks ordinarily, to the mouth of the Colorado, at a cost of $20 per ton. There are four steam-boats on the Colorado River; and they charge $25 per ton to Williamsport, and $75 to La Paz, from the mouth. The stream is about 350 yards wide, and the channel averages five feet deep, but it has a swift current, and a bed of quicksand, which is constantly shifting. In the dry season, the steamers have much difficulty above Williamsport in ascending the rapid stream, in which no experience can enable a pilot to know where the channel will be tomorrow, however familiar he may be with it to-day. The steamers take six days in low water in going from the mouth up to La Paz. It is thought the price of freight will fall, in consequence of competition and opposition. Flour at La Paz is worth $9 per 100 pounds.

There is not a good silver mill in the whole Colorado county, and not one mine is opened so that a large amount of ore could be supplied at a short time, but the vein stone is known to be good. The Apache Chief and the Providencia Mines, in the La Paz District, and the Carmel, in the Eureka District, among others, have shipped ores to this city. The Arizona Company, in the Eureka District, has sent down sacks to hold 500 tons of their ore, rich argentiferous galena, which is to be shipped. The Margarita, River, Norma, Enterprise, Rockford, Gray Eagle, Cache Knob, Cocomongo, and Rosario, of the same district, have smelted rich ores in Mexican furnaces. The ores of the two last-named mines yielded seventy ounces of silver to the ton.

The silver ores of the Colorado Valley, or nearly all of them, contain large quantities of either copper or lead, both of them unfitted for amalgamation. No attempt has yet been made to reduce the cupriferous ores; those are either neglected or shipped to Europe. The chief attention of the miners is turned, therefore, to the argentiferous galena. That found in the Cache Knob and Arizona Mines contains sixty per cent, of lead and sixty to 100 ounces of silver to the ton. This and similar ores are reduced by smelting, which is managed by Mexicans in the rudest manner.

The rock is crushed, not with stamps or arastras, but between two flat stones, the upper one being worked by hand. Some of the workmen stop when there are no pieces of ore larger than a hazel-nut, and others will not have a piece larger than a pea; very few insist on reducing the ore to a fine flour, as is done in good silver mills. The finer the ore, the quicker the smelting, and the more thorough the separation of the metal.

The furnace is built of stone and adobes, ten feet long, four feet wide, and eight feet high. The inside is lined with clay mixed with bone-dust, this being the best material to be had there for resisting the action of the fire. The bellows is worked by hand. It is made of canvas, and has two horizontal chambers, each about as wide and half as long as a barrel. These two chambers or bellows are put on a level with a man's breast; and the workman pulls out the board end of one bellows, while he pushes in the board end of the other. Each chamber has its own pipe, but the two unite, and thus, by the alternate movements of the arms, a constant stream of air is kept up.

The fuel used in smelting is charcoal, made of mesquite, which gives a fire of intense heat. Twenty-five or thirty pounds of ore are put in at intervals of ten or fifteen minutes, and at the end of an hour and a half or two hours they tap the furnace, let out the metal, clean out the slag, and commence anew. The metal which has run out, called a plancha, weighs from 125 to 150 pounds, and contains only about one half of one per cent, of silver to ninety-five per cent, of lead, with a few other base substances.

After all the ore on hand is smelted, refining commences. Two or three planchas are put into the furnace and melted, and kept at a high heat. The lead* turns to litharge, which is raked off, and, as the molten metal decreases in quantity, more planchas are added, until the lead has all been converted into litharge, and the silver remains pure enough to be sent to the market. The litharge is worth seven cents per pound, and brings nearly as much as the silver.

There are numerous furnaces of this kind in the Colorado region, nearly all of them worked by Mexicans. It is plain that, if ore will pay for such working, there must be silver in it. The Mexicans offer to pulverize, smelt, and refine for $40 per ton. Some Frenchmen at Olive City have a better class furnace, and rumor says they are doing well. The Americans are anxious to get stamps and good furnaces. The Recorder of the Eureka District, Mr. Spann, is now in this city for the purpose of getting fire-brick for furnaces, for the clay and bone-dust will not last long in a heat hot enough to smelt silver.

The Colorado valley may not be equal to Paradise for a home, but it is rich in silver, and silver mines arc not generally found in the most fertile valleys and the most genial climes. There are probably no silver mines in the world so near the level of the sea as those at Eureka.

Templates in Time