Hidden Valley Road is a long, often straight stretch of dirt road – in suitable condition (most of the time) for the average high clearance vehicle to make its way down the lonesome road. It wasn’t always as lonely of a road or valley, as it appears today. In the early 1900’s, much like other isolated portions of today’s Death Valley National Park, there were camps of hard-working people at every turn. There was a mining boom underway, and hardy people poured into the hot, rugged terrain with dreams of striking it rich.
For most that dream was nothing more; a lot of back-breaking work was put into the realization that striking it rich in the desert wasn’t an easy feat.
Then there was Bert Shively – a man who lost his burro. It was April 18th, 1907, when Shively went looking for one of his lost burros – he tracked it to a location that would be life changing. The story claims that he picked up a rock to throw at his burro, but was surprised by the weight of it – he broke it open to find it filled with free gold.
He filed six claims that showed free gold with surface assays running from $40 to $1,000 per ton. Shively’s partners consisted of W. D. Blackmer, general manager of the Tramp Consolidated; W.B. Morris, superintendent of the Bullfrog Mining Company; Charles N. Garden, superintendent of the Tramp Consolidated; and Jack McCormick.
Within days of locating the claims, the group of partners opted to bond the property, as opposed to working them, themselves. Julius Lamley (Lemle) of Beatty and associates bonded the properties for sixty days for $45,000 (to give you a little perspective in value – $45,000 in 1907, is the equivalent of 1.1 million dollars today). A number of setback took place, and Lamley’s operation never took off.
After Lamley’s disappointing sixty day, the claims were bonded to Thomas Cornish, a Denver capitalist, and H.B. Lind of Goldfield for $50,000. Cornish died a short time later, and Lind was hospitalized, and unable to make the required payments to keep the operation going. The mine at the time was averaging $80.86 per ton in gold, with at least $50,000 worth of the ore in sight, it was expected that there was tons more underground. Shively and his partners took over the operation, after non-payment, and having had others do a majority of the work on the claim.
The financial crisis of 1907 never shook the foundations of the Lost Burro – it continued to be worked despite a nationwide financial panic that halted production for many mines. In the entire Ubehebe Mining District, the Lost Burro was considered to be the richest claims – it was now reporting $300 to $1,450 in gold per ton.
Over the course of the next several years, the Lost Burro Claims would exchange hands several times, with each lessee having their own varying amount of success.
1917 would be the last year that the properties would be worked until the 1930s. The last known claimant was W.C. Thompson, who worked the claims into the 1970s, last reporting $50 per ton in gold.
Today the Lost Burro Mine provides a rare glimpse of the mining history of the area. While many other areas mines have been reduced to fallen structures, and dismantled mills – the Lost Burro Cabin remains standing sturdy, and well taken care of by visitors to the remote area. Inside of the cabin, artifacts from the mining period have been spread out across tables, and shelves – rustic furniture adds an element of eeriness and harsh reality as to the minimal lives these hard rock miners once lived.
A cousin-jack (a building that was built into a dug-out part of the earth) remains beside the cabin, and a leaning outhouse – which is on its last leg.
Looking up canyon, a partially intact 5 stamp-mill which was built around 1915, grabs your attention – along with the extensive tailing piles from the numerous mine workings.
The mines themselves are a rare treat, they have not be sealed by the NPS – but consider yourselves warned, the timbering and support beams inside are terrifying, there have already been partial collapses in places – a good earthquake, and these tunnels will likely succumb.