Cerro Gordo mine
Cerro Gordo mine
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
The Bonanza Era
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.
“From this Mountain – Cerro Gordo” by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day