Burro Schmidt Tunnel

Burro Schmidt came to California in 1894 with the same hopes and dreams of other people making their way out west, to strike gold. He prospected for a couple of years around Kern County before staking a claim in the El Paso Mountains in 1906.

The problem that he faced was moving ore out of the mountains, to the nearest railroad. So, he did what any mentally stable person would do, he spent thirty-two years digging a one mile tunnel through twenty-five hundred feet of granite. Fourteen years after starting his tunnel a road was built up Last Chance Canyon, rendering his tunnel pointless. But that didn’t stop Schmidt, he had become obsessed with completing the tunnel.

In 1938 Schmidt complete his tunnel, but never moved a single ounce of ore through it. Upon completion of the tunnel, he sold his land to Mike Lee, and moved to another location in the El Paso Mountains. Burro Schmidt died in January of 1954 at the age of 83, he is buried in the Johannesburg Cemetery.

Mike Lee’s time in the area is not well documented. After Lee’s death, Evelyn (Tonie) Ann Seger and her husband purchased Burro Schmidt Tunnel and the 800 acres surrounding it from the Mike Lee Estate in 1963. The Seger’s moved to the location, and within a few months Tonie’s husband passed away. Tonie stayed after her husband’s passing and ran a museum and antique shop out of the old Burro Schmidt house. She welcomed visitors to the tunnel, and gave tours. Tonie died at her cabin on May 30, 2003. She is buried at the Randsburg cemetery.

After Tonie passed the land was to be passed down to her daughter and David Ayers (whom helped look after Tonie during her last years). The Bureau of Land Management had something else in mind and declared that Tonie, Mike Lee and even Burro Schmidt had actually been trespassing on federally owned land, and that all sales of the property had been illegal. The only rights Burro Schmidt had ever were mineral.

From that time forward the BLM has poorly managed the Tunnel and the surrounding area. All of the artifacts in the museum were stolen, the camp buildings as well as the tunnel have been vandalized. 

The Burro Schmidt Tunnel remains open to the public. Bring a flashlight or two.

 

 

 

Burro Schmidt Tunnel - Burro Schmidt's home at the camp

Burro Schmidt Tunnel – Burro Schmidt’s home at the camp

 

 

Burro Schmidt Tunnel - Inside one of the old camp buildings.

Burro Schmidt Tunnel – Inside one of the old camp buildings.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • charlie

    DV Jim thanks for writing about BST and Bickel Camp. A few things to add: Scmidt didn’t dig his tunnel for 32 years, a common misconception. He actually only dug during a few months each of those 32 years, while working as a farm hand to earn money for feed, candles, flapjacks and beans. He actually bought the Copper King mines that had been started by another mining company that had folded, I’m not sure how much of the tunnel they’d dug before he came along, which I think was 1906 or so. Burro’s acheivement came from digging a level tunnel (used a whiskey bottle with water as the level) using a single jack and dynamite, hand mucked, not using the burros ever to pull the ore cart out. As to his never taking an ounce out I think is funny, really. He dug the tunnel based upon a gentlemen’s agreement with a mining company that later folded to move ore through the mountain down to the Saltdale siding at Koehn’s Lake. Walt Bickel suffered a mild stroke in 1986 when the BLM came to evict him, and mistakenly accused him of squating on public land, which let loose a landslide of negative opinion, where they backed off. There’s a lot more to be said, but thanks for the visit and cool pictures!
    charlie….the friends of last chance canyon – http://www.tflcc.org

    • thedejuretour

      From a 1989 article written about Bickel:

      “Over the past two years considerable controversy has surrounded the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new ‘zero tolerance to occupancy’ policy for small-scale miners. Many of these miners have lived on their claims for 30 to 50 years and more and feel occupancy is absolutely necessary in order to protect their mining operations and equipment from theft and vandalism. Walt was given notice by the BLM that he would probably have to vacate the cabin he built in 1934, used throughout the 1930’s depression-era, and lived in exclusively from 1946 until 1987.

      The date of 2 September, 1987 was set by the BLM for a ‘surface use’ inspection to determine if his mining operation was extensive enough to permit caretaker occupancy. A few hours before the time set for the inspection Walt suffered a mild stroke. The stroke in combination with advancing Parkinson’s disease led toWalt’s being confined to a nursing home. When the BLM inspection determined that Walt’s claims did not show enough surface use to warrant his occupancy Walt’s many friends were concerned about what the demolition of his camp and cabin would do to his failing health. There was also concern about the historical and cultural values that were about to be destroyed.”

      The BLM is disgusting. Forget about the few bad apples in the OHV crowd, the BLM is the #1 destroyer of historical and cultural values in our deserts. And like everything governments do, it’s done on a massive scale – with threats, force, violence and coercion, with little or no exceptions.

      • Milknot4free

        What thedejuretour said.

  • Tim

    OHV people didn’t destroy the area. Stupid people did. I almost take offense to that.

  • Jeff

    Tim, I agree.
    Lumping all OHV enthusiasts into one group of idiots that no more represent the OHV community than a mass-murderer represents the human race is uncalled for.People breaking the rules, period.
    The extraordinarily inept management of Public Lands by BLM is the problem here. They have seized control of property, and they don’t have the staff or the skill to manage it.

  • Dave

    Jim,

    I too have an appreciation for this state’s history. This is a very nice website you’ve developed. I’ve been exploring these lands for over 30 years, which is the same number of years I’ve been riding OHV motorcycles. I’ll buy your book too as long as you don’t offend me by generalizing the fact that I ride a motorcycle on a dirt road makes me an idiot. Don’t judge me based on what someone does who isn’t me. It’s not the OHVs that need to go as you said, but rather the humans you encountered should be educated on proper trail etiquette.

    -Dave

    • Hi Dave,

      I really appreciate your feedback. To be honest, you and the others on here are correct. I should not judge harshly at OHV folks alone, it is much more than just them. Living where I do, and “adventuring” where I do leads me to quick judgments however based on what I regularly see. In the future I will try harder to be a little less judgmental toward OHV enthusiasts.

  • thedejuretour

    Concerning the masses of OHV enthusiasts in Kern County…

    L.A. County: 9.8 million people
    Orange County: 3 million people
    Ventura County: 0.8 million people
    Santa Barbara County: 0.5 million people

    Total: 14.1 million people

    Average driving time: 3 hours or less

    Now, if just a FRACTION of these people decided to go riding out in the deserts of Kern County (specifically the Ridgecrest/Randsburg/Garlock areas), it’s going to be Disneyland out there.

    If you want to do some bird watching, hiking, or peaceful camping on a weekend, forget it! I’ve been there and tired it.

    The desert out there is merely the backyard playground for these coastal counties. I suggest driving an extra hour or two into Inyo County to get a more peaceful adventure experience.

  • MTC

    I visited there in 1986 when I lived in Ridgecrest. Remember meeting Tonie. Thanks for the memories.

  • Petra

    The BLM cannot do anything right…. it needs to be dissolved and better management put in its place.