Lookout City, CA (Modock)

Lookout City is located at the top of Lookout Mountain in the Argus Mountain Range at an elevation of 3,579 feet. The short-lived story of Lookout City begins in 1875 when silver-lead ore was discovered in the Argus Range on top of Lookout Mountain.  B. E. Ball, J. E. Boardman, E. W. Burke and J. S. Childs made the discovery while searching for the “Lost Gunsight”.

This first discovery was called the Modoc, in August the mine was sold to a number of investors including one extremely wealthy and well-known man by the name of George Hearst. Hearst was a famed mining engineer and U.S. Senator, even running for Governor of California in 1882, but lost.  The group of investors became the Modock Consolidated Mining Company of San Francisco.

By 1875 the town was in full boom with two General Stores, three saloons, a slaughterhouse, a hotel, and a post office. The post office operated under the name Modock as opposed to Lookout City to avoid confusion with another town in Mono County already officially named Lookout City.

In 1876 the Minnietta Mine opened directly below Lookout City, however it was not extensively mined until 1895, well after the rise and fall of Lookout City.


Lookout City, CA - The Basement of one of the town's two General Stores in Lookout City.

Lookout City, CA – The Basement of one of the town’s two General Stores in Lookout City.


In October of 1876, the first of two thirty-ton furnaces began operating at Lookout. Previously, the ore was shipped to Panamint City to be crushed and treated at their twenty-stamp mill. The furnaces at Lookout City had the ability to produce 160 bars of bullion, each weighing 80 to 85 pounds per day. Within a month it was reported that $100,000 worth of bullion were produced by the Lookout furnaces.

The furnaces at Lookout required a large amount of coal to operate. In 1877, Nadeau’s wagon road was completed, connected the newly constructed charcoal kilns at Wildrose to both Lookout City and Darwin. Lookout Coal and Transportation Company began operating a tri-weekly stage between the locations. The summer of 1877 was a busy one, 40 men were employed at Wildrose to keep Lookout City stocked with charcoal for their furnaces. 1877 saw 140 voters registered at Lookout, and 8 children from Lookout enrolled in the Darwin School District.

In the fall of 1877, things began to make a turn for the worst. The first blow was both of the furnaces breaking down, then the Modock Company changed managers, following by a drop in the price of lead, and finally the Modock Company cutting wages. In the end the miners struck, and again changes were made in management. It wasn’t until about May of 1878 that things turned around for a short time when the furnaces began operation again, but never returned to the height previously seen. The town of Lookout City (Modock) was pretty well dead.


Lookout City, CA - Ruins of the ore scale.

Lookout City, CA – Ruins of the ore scale.


Before the town’s demise, Lookout City had over 50 dwellings, 5 saloons (Jake Whitemere, Collar and Elbo, Greens, Jim Maloney, and Jack Gun Saloons), a Blacksmith and stable, Modoc Mine Company Office, two General Stores, a post office and a boarding house with a restaurant.

In 1881, the Modoc Mine was leased to Frank Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was Lookout’s constable prior to the town dying. When he lost his job he moved to the nearby community of Darwin and become the deputy sheriff. By 1890 the Modoc had produced $1,900,000. The Minnietta Mine didn’t see any real production until 1885 when Fitzgerald began to work it and produced $65,000 in silver and $600 in gold. Ten years later the Minnietta produced over $350,000 in silver and $25,000 in gold. The total estimated production for the Minnietta from 1895-1955 is $600,000.

What is left of Lookout City today is mostly stone walls from the dwellings that the miners called home. The largest structural ruin is the basement of one of the town’s General Stores. Inside the basement there is an old rusted metal stove, broken glass, fallen beams, and rubble. In all, I counted roughly twelve stone cabin ruins that are still distinguishable. The town site is littered with rusty metal cans, and broken glass lay discarded throughout.


Lookout City, CA - Pack trails created by Chinese works.

Lookout City, CA – Pack trails created by Chinese works.


On the drive/hike to Lookout City you will pass ore bins, mines, and rusty mining equipment. The entire area around Lookout Mountain is a mining enthusiast’s dream come true.  If you decide to hike down the mountain from Lookout City you will find the pack trails built by the Chinese workers that built the route from Wildrose. The trails are still in impeccable condition. The stone walls that these men built along the trails and ledges are mind-boggling.



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.