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.