Keyesville, CA


In 1852 a half-Cherokee ’49er named Richard Keyes discovered gold at would become Kern Counties first established town. Soon after Keyes discovery, Captain Matly discovered the Mammoth mine. Between these events and the discovery of placer gold in the Kern River, miners began flocking to the region.

In August of 1855 five arrastras were in operation, two years later, there were sixteen. Between 800-1000 men were employed by the mines.

The first stamp mill was erected in 1856. By 1858 three arrastras, and five mills with a capacity of twenty-two stamps were working the Keyesville gold. 1861 and 1862 brought severe flooding to the area, between the two floods much of the Keyesville mining operations were destroyed.

During Keyesville’s peak the town site consisted of 5 or 6 stores, 3 hotels, 4 saloons, a brewery, two livery stables, a wagon-making shop, 2 blacksmith shops, a barber shop, 2 butcher shops, a shoemaker’s shop, express and post office.  Many of the individual mines had their own boarding houses and saloons.

On April 19, 1863, the Keyesville Massacre took place not far from the town.  White settlers and the 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry under the order of Captain Moses A. McLaughlin launched an attack on the Tubatulabal Tribe and the Owens Valley Paiute. They killed 35 tribal members.

White miners began leaving the area in the mid-1860s as the high-grade placer deposits became exhausted. Chinese miners moved in and worked the gravels in Keyesville into the late 1860s.

A short resurgence took place in 1897. A 5-stamp mill was erected at the Keyes mine, and a 10-stamp mill at the Mammoth mine. Both mines operated on and off until World War II. The Keyes mine produced a total of $450,000, the Mammoth about $500,000.

One early era building remains at the Keyesville town site. It is on private property and can not be accessed. A number of private mining claims remain in place.

The old townsite of Keyesville

The old townsite of Keyesville




Interested in visiting this site?

BOOK OPTION: Keyesville is featured in Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. III. Detailed maps, and GPS coordinates are included.  Order your copy now.

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.