Happy Hooligan Mine & Cave Rock Spring (Death Valley National Park)

The Happy Hooligan Mine was one of the earliest prospects to be discovered in the now legendary Bullfrog Mining District. Three prospectors named McMann, Stockton and Wilson, first discovered the rich surface ore in May of 1905, along the hillside of what would go on to be known as “Hooligan Hill.” Within a month of the discovery the prospectors were able to flip the mine to Curtis Mann and the Gorrill brothers, who formed the Happy Hooligan Mining Company.

It can only be assumed, but the company was likely named after the popular comic strip of the period by Frederick Burr Opper, called Happy Hooligan. The “Happy Hooligan” character was a well-meaning “hobo,” that had plenty of bad luck, but wasn’t willing let it get him down. His two brothers, “Gloomy Gus” and “Montmorency” were similar characters, however each with their own traits.

A month after the incorporation of the Happy Hooligan Mining Company, it was reported, “the mine consisted of an open surface cut and a discovery hole, where ore values of $22 to the ton had been uncovered.” It was also reported that the mine owners intended to erect a mill at nearby Cave Rock Spring, which also served as the mine’s camp. Because good news traveled like wildfire in these parts, soon the hills around the Happy Hooligan were crawling with miners, and the Happy Hooligan Mining Company had extensive competition.

 

Tailings at The Happy Hooligan Mine

Tailings at The Happy Hooligan Mine

 

One of several shafts at the mine. I opted not to enter any of the shafts, as they appear unstable.

One of several shafts at the mine. I opted not to enter any of the shafts, as they appear unstable.

 

As the summer of 1905 approached, all activities at the Happy Hooligan ceased. This was a common practice among mines in Death Valley Region. The temperatures were and still are known to reach the 110s and even at times well into the 120s.

As October rolled around, it was back to business as usual. It wasn’t longer after, that the owners announced the discovery of ore found in the surface trenches ranging from $10 – $100 per ton. That called for the sinking of a shaft, and that they did! By November, the shaft had reached seventy feet, and Mann reported that the value was increasing with depth.

Around this same time, the town of Rhyolite was beginning to boom. It wouldn’t be long before it was the largest city in Nevada, at least for a passing moment. The mine owners constructed a road linking the Happy Hooligan and Rhyolite.

 

Well marked vertical shaft.

Well marked vertical shaft.

 

Looking down the vertical.

Looking down the vertical.

 

Scattered rubbish at the site of the mine.

Scattered rubbish at the site of the mine.

 

By the end of 1905, the mine was reporting positive “that the ore vein was two feet wide and that the three shifts of miners employed on the property had sunk the inclined shaft to a depth of 120 feet.” Despite that report, the government geologist which visited the mine reported, “The ore vein was rarely more than a few inches in width, and the future of the Happy Hooligan would depend entirely upon what conditions were uncovered as the shaft went deeper.”

Up until this point, I don’t believe that the Happy Hooligan owners had any intention of becoming swindlers, but future actions on their part could be looked at in any number of ways. After the report from the government geologist,  Mann traveled to San Francisco and listed the Happy Hooligan on the city’s stock exchange. Work continued on the mine, and in March of 1906 the company announced that it was ready to begin shipping their high-grade ore, and at the same time, they began running an advertising campaign for their stock in the Rhyolite Herald. Within three days of their first ad, they had sold 50,000 shares.

Finally in March the company began building a blacksmith shop and a boarding house. Up until this point the mine’s camp was a half mile away at Cave Rock Spring, and their employees had actually been living in the caves at the spring. In April, the finishing touches were complete. The mine was now employing ten men, and had received a shipment of 500 ore sacks, to begin sacking the high-grade ore. By the end of May, the company announced that 500 sacks were full, and awaiting shipment.

 

What remains of either the blacksmith shop, or the boarding house.

What remains of either the blacksmith shop, or the boarding house.

 

The missing roof.

The missing roof.

 

Parts of a vehicle.

Parts of a vehicle.

 

In June the mine again went on hiatus for the summer, meanwhile the 500 sacks of high-grade ore never shipped. Share holders began to become annoyed and frustrated when in mid-September the mine had still not resumed operation. Stock prices began to fall, and at a shareholder meeting, it was voted that work begin in the “immediate future.”

Finally in October the company was able to regroup, and begin work once again. Stockholders began to feel comfortable again with the operation, despite the non-shipment of the high-grade ore, which the company reported ready to ship in May.  Nevertheless, stock prices again rose.

A lot of excuses later, and finally over one year later, in March of 1908 the company disappeared from the stock exchange, having never shipped the 500 sacks of high-grade ore.

Visiting the site of the Happy Hooligan today, there isn’t much remaining. The mines remain open, but appear unstable. There are at least two horizontal shafts, and a vertical shaft – which is all that I bothered to inspect. Scattered around the site of the mine are rusty cans, and discarded barrels – nothing much more.

 

Cave Rock Spring - The miners employed by the Happy Hooligan Mine lived in these caves.

Cave Rock Spring – The miners employed by the Happy Hooligan Mine lived in these caves.

 

A closer look at one of the caves. The black on the ceilings, is extensive smoke damage.

A closer look at one of the caves. The black on the ceilings, is extensive smoke damage.

 

From the inside, looking out.

From the inside, looking out.

 

A small rock wall, behind it, one of the miners likely once called home.

A small rock wall, behind it, one of the miners likely once called home.

 

Lots of old cans are scattered across the landscape.

Lots of old cans are scattered across the landscape.

 

The blacksmith shop, and boarding house are located a short distance from the mines. Neither building stands any longer, they have both been reduced to a pile of wood and nails. One of the buildings tin rooves remains surprisingly intact, discarded several feet from what was the structure.

A half a mile from the mine, I found the caves of Cave Rock Spring. The setting is picturesque, along an outcropping of stone on the eastern slopes of the Grapevine Mountains. While I found no flowing water, it is evident by the vibrant green vegetation that the spring still flows, but now underground. Along the stone outcroppings, there are a handful of caves, varying in size. Each of the caves containing extensive smoke damage, and large can dumps. Plenty of evidence of the miners that once worked the Happy Hooligan Mine.

Upon further inspection, I also noted several faint orange Native American pictographs outside of the largest of the caves.

By far the most interesting remains of the Happy Hooligan Mine, are those of Cave Rock Spring, showing the primitive manner in which these miners were forced to live.

 

Native American pictographs also mark the walls of the caves.

Native American pictographs also mark the walls of the caves.

 

Native American pictographs also mark the walls of the caves.

Native American pictographs also mark the walls of the caves.

 

 

 

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.