Leadfield, CA (Death Valley National Park)

 

Leadfield, CA is located in the Grapevine mountains within the boundaries of Death Valley National Park. The story begins in 1905, twenty years before the town site would be plotted and officially be dubbed Leadfield. In the fall of that year two miners, W.H. Seaman and Curtis Durnford staked 9 lead-copper claims; the Romeo, Juliet, Sunset, Last Bit, Bustler, Humming Bird, Red Rube, Copper King, and Bobbie.

In December of 1905 W.H. Seaman, Curtis Durnford along with Clay Tallman (Rhyolite Attorney / Real Estate Promoter) formed the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company. In May of 1906 the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company was ready to begin shipping ore to the smelters in Rhyolite. They soon realized that shipping the ore was not financially feasible, and they wouldn’t be able to turn a profit. After just six short months the mines at the future site of Leadfield were abandoned.

The future site of Leadfield stayed quiet for the better part of 18 years. In the spring of 1924 that changed when three prospectors staked a claim on the mountaintop that overlooked the future Leadfield town site. The claim was for Canyon Gate No. 1, the prospectors were Frank J. Metts, Lawrence Christiansen, and Ben Chambers. The three men would go on to locate several additional claims in the area.

At some point that same year the three men were introduced to Jack Salsberry. Salsberry had owned the Carbonate lead mine in the Panamint Mountain Range, and backed a copper venture in Ubehebe in 1906. Salsberry purchased 22 claims from Metts, Christiansen, and Chambers. From those 22 claims, Salsberry formed four companies, Western Lead, Leadfield Carbonate, New Road, and Burr Welch. On August 17th 1925, Western Lead Mines (WLM) filed their incorporation papers in San Francisco.

Once WLM incorporated the word spread quickly about the claims in the Grapevine Mountains, and soon miners, businessmen, and swindlers began to flock to the area. In late November two-dozen people arrived and were living in Leadfield. While the town site was being surveyed, 42-claims had been located. A road was constructed up Titus Canyon from Death Valley. In December the road toward Beatty began construction. Lots in Leadfield were selling for between $150-$250.

In January of 1926 C.C. Julian arrived in Leadfield.  Julian had recently dissolved his company Julian Petroleum, and the IRS was after him for $792,000 in back taxes. He was brought up on mail fraud charges which were dropped in exchange for hiring the federal investigator that was investigating him. On January 21st, Julian bought into WLM and become one of four partners, later becoming the President of WLM.

By the end of January it was estimated that 150-250 people were living in Leadfield. Telephone and telegraph wires were being strung from Beatty, NV to Leadfield.

February 1st was the beginning of Julian’s famous advertising scheme to get unsuspecting investors to buy into WLM stock. Julian’s advertisement read more like newspaper articles, than advertisements. Headlines on Julian’s ads read, “Death Valley and Her Hidden Treasure, That’s my Baby Now”, “Step on Her, Now”, “Hot Dog”, “Not Bad Business”, “Come Up or Shut Up, That Choo Choo Leaves for Western Lead”.

By late February, Leadfield was looking like a town. Hotels, mercantile stores, restaurants, a barbershop and bathhouse, saloons (though not called saloons at the time due to prohibition) all began to line the main street of town (Chambers St.).  Rumors ran amok of an airport, a 50-ton mill, and a 20-room hotel being built at Leadfield. None of which ever happened.

In March, Julian put together a weekend extravaganza in Leadfield, with the purpose of showing investors and potential investors the town and mines.  That weekend over 300 people arrived in Beatty via the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and automobile. On Sunday a cavalcade made its way down the long and winding road to Leadfield. Visitors were sent on tours of various WLM adits, and were permitted to take sample sacks home with them (it is thought that whatever they found in their sacks was likely brought in from other locations, however that has never been proven).

The Monday after the extravaganza proved to be successful for Julian and WLM. The stock prices on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange for WLM soared to $3.30 a share. That was short-lived as the following day it had leaked that the California Corporate Commission was investigating Julian and WLM. Trading prices dropped to $1.88. On Wednesday the California Corporate Commission launched their attack on WLM, and by Thursday the Los Angeles Stock Exchange had to set up barricades to keep angry WLM investors at bay as prices for WLM stock dropped to $.90,  and closed at $1.75. Friday WLM fell to $1.33, and closed at $1.50.

WLM wasn’t the only mining company in town, but little had success in Leadfield. A mill nor ore bins were ever erected at Leadfield, despite many promises. Julian at one point advertised that steam boats would eventually come up the Amargosa River, and dock near Leadfield. Anybody that has ever seen the Amargosa River knows that this is not possible as majority of it flows underground, and the parts that are above ground you’d have a hard time putting any boat on, much less a steam boat.

April 5th began the California Corporate Commission hearings on Julian and WLM. The hearings would last until April 27th, at which time the state ruled again Julian and WLM.  Despite the ruling, business continued as usual for WLM until May 27th when the Chief Deputy Corporate Commissioner handed down the decision to stop the sale of WLM stocks in California. That same day WLM was stricken from the Los Angeles Stock Market. While this was a huge blow to Julian and WLM, it didn’t slow him down.

WLM was still listed on the Reno Stock Exchange, but was listed at $.65, not even half of the original asking price on the Los Angeles Stock Exchange. Julian continued to try to keep things going, accumulating a large portion of the low-priced WLM stock. Not everyone had given up on Julian yet, he still had a good number of prospectors, townspeople, and even some investors behind him.

Other mining companies came and went in Leadfield, none of them ever shipped any ore including Julian’s WLM. In August, Leadfield’s post office officially open. 200 people at the time received their mail in Leadfield. The post office stayed open until February of the following year, when the population had dropped to one.

As for Julian, he was indicted for mail fraud in 1931. That same year he was also arrested for kidnapping and threatening a former employee. In 1932 he filed for bankruptcy claiming $3,057,430.53 in liabilities and no assets. In 1933 he jump bail and fled to Canada. On March 23rd 1934, Julian was found dead in a Shanghai, China hotel from a fatal dose of amytal.

At the Leadfield town site today there are a few still standing metal structures, dug outs, that had once been used for housing, the concrete slab from a power plant, stone walls, wooden floorboards, many rusty cans and a rusted automobile frame. All of the mine entrances have been blocked off by the Park Service. The current road driven through the town-site is the same road that was once the main street through town (Chambers Street).

 

 

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.