Paymaster, Brannigan, and the Oro Fino Mines (Mojave National Preserve)

Brannigan Mine - The cabins at Brannigan have been maintained as Adopt-A-Cabins by local 4x4 groups.
Paymaster Mine - A chimney from an old mining cabin below the Paymaster Mine

Paymaster Mine – A chimney from an old mining cabin below the Paymaster Mine

 

The Old Dad Mountains in the north-western portion of the Mojave National Preserve are home to the abandoned Paymaster, Brannigan, and Oro Fino Mines. The settlement of Seventeen Mile Point was established just a few miles north in 1900 to support the mines in the area, but nothing remains of it today. The mountain range received the name “Old Dad,” after Joseph “Old Dad” Wallace, a railroad worker from Kelso that later became a prospector. Wallace was accused of murdering his fiancee, this prompted him to leave town and move to this mountain range to prospect.

In the early days, the Paymaster, also known as the Whitney Mine was the largest producer in the Old Dad Range. It’s most relevant years were from 1900-1914.   In 1909, the Paymaster was included in a deal with the Precious Metals Development Company, and became part of the Eaton Group. PMDC piped in water from Indian Spring, and had a mill operating in February of 1911. The operation is estimated at having made between $50,000 – $100,000 before being shut down in 1914 on the account of litigation. The mine was reopened in 1930, and was active on and off through the 1980s.

 

Paymaster - Tailing piles at the Paymaster

Paymaster – Tailing piles at the Paymaster

 

In 1905 gold was discovered at the Brannigan Mine, however it was sparsely mined until 1930 when M. A. Sisley and John Herrod found some high-grade ore, and relocated the claims.  From 1938-1940, it yielded 51 tons of ore containing 59 ounces of gold and 20 ounces of silver. (source: Geology and Mineral Resources of the Ivanpah Quadrangle) Despite the short mining period, the Herrod family lived at the claim well into the 1970’s, with John Herrod’s grandchildren returning in April of 2012 to visit the site.

The Oro Fino, one of the earliest mines in the area began production in the 1890s. The expense of moving the ore at the time is what likely shut the mine down after a few short years. It wasn’t until 1930 that the mine was reactivated, it operated through 1943; producing $50,000 in gold.

 

Brannigan Mine - The cabins at Brannigan have been maintained as Adopt-A-Cabins by local 4x4 groups.

Brannigan Mine – The cabins at Brannigan have been maintained as Adopt-A-Cabins by local 4×4 groups.

 

Brannigan Mine - Inside the main cabin you will find all the comforts of home, well, maybe not all of them.

Brannigan Mine – Inside the main cabin you will find all the comforts of home, well, maybe not all of them.

 

Brannigan Mine - Don't forget to hang the "No Vacancy" sign if you plan to stay the night.

Brannigan Mine – Don’t forget to hang the “No Vacancy” sign if you plan to stay the night.

 

All three of the mines have interesting mining artifacts of the past remaining in the form of surface materials, and structures. The first things I noticed when making my way to the Paymaster was a chimney (see top photo above) standing all alone in the distance. It is a common occurrence at these old mining structures for the chimney to outlast the rest of the building, I see it all of the time, yet I still find it very cool.  Once you travel past the chimney, in just a short distance you reach the mines. Old tin cans, and other pieces of rusty gold litter the landscape. Climbing up the side of the mountain there are stone walls that had been built to reinforce the shoddy road up to the tunnel. Large tailing piles dumped at the mouth of tunnel, and sadly an iron bat-gate sealing the mine.

A couple of miles south of the Paymaster is the Brannigan Mine, the Brannigan is by far the most intact site of the three. Two cabins sit on site (however I believe that only the main cabin is period, the second appears to be made of newer materials). Scattered around on the outside of the cabins are artifacts from the mining period, complete with the obligatory truck stuck in the wash. The main cabin is cozy and well maintained by travelers that pass by, and a local 4×4 club. There is a healthy amount of supplies on hand to make your visit as comfortable as possible. Please remember to leave the cabin as nice, if not better than what you found it. The smaller (likely newer) cabin is bare bones with only a metal bed frame, and wood burning stove.

 

Oro Fino Mine - Collapsed ore bin, ore bin tracks, and loading chute are what remain of the Oro Fino.

Oro Fino Mine – Collapsed ore bin, ore bin tracks, and loading chute are what remain of the Oro Fino.

 

Continue up the road from the Brannigan for a quarter of a mile to reach the Oro Fino. Here you will find a wooden ore bin that is on its last leg, and a steel loading chute. Ore bin tracks are still visible and laid out in places. Again like the previous sites, the mines are not accessible.

Overall this was a great place to spend a day exploring, and despite the mines being on lockdown, there is enough on the surface to keep the history buff or explorer satisfied.

 

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.

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