If you have spent any amount of time reading or researching about the thousands of mines in the vicinity of Death Valley, you are likely aware that few amounted to much more than hype. If it wasn’t hype, it was discovered that the cost of transporting the ore from the mines was too costly, resulting in little or no profit for mine owners. Despite these facts, miners and prospectors flocked to the Death Valley vicinity in search of riches – hoping to be more successful than their predecessors. In a rare occurrence success would be had, the Carbonite (also known as Carbonate) and Queen of Sheba proved to be one of those successes, but not without a lot of hard work.
In the blistering summer of 1907, Clarence E. Eddy was exploring the southwestern slopes of the Panamint Mountains, when he found a large galena outcrop. No sooner than he began the development process, word of his strike had spread. Other prospectors came calling, and it wasn’t long before Frank Stockton and a mining engineer named Chester A. Pray, located what would become known as the Carbonite Mine. Unfortunately for Eddy, his original “find” never amounted to anything, with the exception of credit for being the original locator of the outcrop.
To expand a little further on Clarence E. Eddy, he was not so much your typical prospector. He was known by his fellow prospectors and the media, as the poet-prospector. Eddy had played the roll of a newspaper editor, miner/prospector, author, and poet. His works include, The Pinnacle of Parnassus (1902), The House of Hell: A Ballad of Blackfoot (1909), The Burros Bray (1922), and Ballads of Heaven and Hell (1923). Overall his mining endeavors in Death Valley never amount too much, making him more of a poet than a miner/prospector. However without his experiences, he likely would not have written poetry that rang so true to the west.
After Stockton and Prey located the Carbonite, two fellows by the names of Jack Salsberry and Ed Chafey took interest in the mine. They formed the Carbonate Lead Mines Company of Death Valley. Due to their interest, a small camp sprung up below the mine, it was also named Carbonite. The usual problem of transportation was quickly resolved by Salsberry, in the form of a wagon road from Salt Wells to the eastern side of the Black Mountains (today we continue to use this route – “Salsbury Pass”). The wagon would haul the ore across Death Valley, and over the Amargosa Mountains. From there the ore would be transferred to a tractor, which would haul the ore the final sixteen miles to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad station at Zabriskie.
Despite the hard work of building a road, as well securing the animals to haul the wagon, by 1913 only two rail cars of ore had been shipped out of Carbonite. The summer months were rough, and the miners had a tendency to sleep in the mines to escape the heat of the valley. Workers at the Carbonite had documented temperatures reaching up to 164 degrees in the shade (despite the official highest temperature in the world of 134 degrees, having been records just a short distance away that same year).
That winter, CLMC was able to expand their number of workers, and by February of 1914, the camp was being referred to as the “latest sensation of the western mining world.” The large deposits of lead, silver, gold, and copper that were being found were mighty impressive. Lead and silver ore values supposedly as high as two million dollars.
CLMC’s success was beginning to become apparent, when just a few short months later they ditched the mules for sixteen large trucks. The trucks were able to drive direct from Carbonite to Zabriskie, and deliver one rail car full of ore per day. They were averaging between $57.50 to $75.00 per ton.
Between 1915 to 1918, the Carbonite had produced 11,000 tons of lead and silver ore. However in 1920, the mine was listed as inactive – but was likely operated on and off between then and 1923.
In 1923 there was a rather confusing shift of deeds, but in the end, the New Sutherland Divide Mining Company took control. They leased the property to U.S. Smelting, Refining & Mining Company. Work began again on the Carbonite Mine, and also, the Queen of Sheba was born.
Report Twenty of the State Mineralogist Concerning Mining in California and the Activities of the State Mining Bureau reported, “6,500 tons of sorted ore that had been shipped to the Salt Lake City smelter averaged 40% lead and 20 ozs. silver per ton. At the prices later reached for lead in 1926, this amount of ore could have grossed over $500,000.”
In the February 27th, 1926 edition of the Inyo Independent, it was stated that the Queen of Sheba was “the largest body of proven commercial-grade ore in the Death Valley region”. Despite that news, U.S. Smelting, Refining & Mining Company surrendered their lease of the operation.
Over the course of the next thirty-five years many mining companies came and went, with the final lessee, a Mr. Ray Bennett in 1961.
Total production of the Queen of Sheba has reportedly been 16,000 tons of crude ore yielding 5,000,000 lbs. of lead, 100,000 ozs. of silver, 1,500 ozs. of gold, and 146,000 lbs. of copper. Ore from the mine has averaged 15.5% lead, .5% copper, 6.3 ozs. of silver, and .09 oz. of gold per ton.
Today, one may visit the ruins of the Queen of Sheba and Carbonite, via a four-mile dirt road that leads off of the valley floor, from West Side Road. The road itself is rough at times, and crosses several washed out areas. High clearance, and four-wheel drive are recommended.
Most of the significant ruins are to be found at the site of the Queen of Sheba. Two shacks, which are believed to have been from the 1940s or even the 1930s remain standing near the site of the mill. Two ore bins, several pieces of large rusted mining equipment, as well as concrete slabs, make up what is remaining of the mill. At the site of the mine itself, a picturesque ore chute extends from the cut in the mountain above.
The site of the camp or town of Carbonite has long been lost, its exact location remains a mystery.