Tag Archives: Cerro Gordo
The ghost town of Cerro Gordo is located in the Inyo Mountains, roughly seven miles from the town of Keeler. You can reach the town by following the graded dirt road, Cerro Gordo Street which is located on the east side of Keeler for roughly 7.5 miles.
The Cerro Gordo area has been active since the mid-1800′s. A group of five Mexican prospectors first began prospecting the area and gave Cerro Gordo its name which translates to “Fat Hill”. The five men ended up finding themselves in a battle with the local Native Americans. Three of the five men were killed, and the other two had been held captive. They were eventually freed with the understanding that they were never to return.
Not long after these events, Fort Independence was established and the Indian uprising activities subsided. In 1862, the Mexican prospectors returned to Cerro Gordo. In 1865, Pablo Flores discovered a rich vein of silver near the summit of Buena Vista Peak. He immediately began mining and smelting operations. In April of 1866, the mine was included in the newly organized Lone Pine Mining District.
Victor Beaudry, a businessman from Independence, was the first to open a store in Cerro Gordo. He provided goods to the miners working the mines in the area. When mine owners couldn’t pay, Victor would acquire their mines as payment. It wasn’t long before Victor owned a majority of the richest mines in the area, and built two smelters.
Mortimer Belshaw arrived on the scene in 1868. He had become partners with the stakeholder in the Union Mine. Being a smart businessman, Belshaw would construct his own smelter, as well as build the first road known as Yellow Road which would lead up the mountain to the camp. A toll would be charged for use of the road, which would allow him to control the shipments of silver leaving the mountain.
Remi Nadeau would undertake the task of shipping the ore 275 miles away to Los Angeles via his stage and mule team. The silver received in Los Angeles from Cerro Gordo was in such high numbers that in 1872, the Los Angeles News said, “To this city, Cerro Gordo trade is invaluable. What Los Angeles now is, is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence. Should it be unfortunately severed, we would inevitably collapse.”
Violence was common in Cerro Gordo. It has been estimated that there were weekly shootings for a period of time. The stage was frequently held up, as were the wagons hauling the silver to Los Angeles. One of the most famous of these hold-ups took place at Coyote Holes in 1874, where Tiburcio Vasquez and his lieutenant Cleovaro Chavez would rob a stage carrying Mortimer Belshaw. The robbers only getting a silver watch, 20 dollars in gold coins, and a pair of boots from Belshaw warned him not to travel this same road again without at least a thousand dollars on his person, or he would die.
In 1875, Cerro Gordo would shut down its furnaces as ore had become scarce. This problem would plague the town for several months. Litigation over the ownership of the Union Mine would only make things worst. Finally settled in January, 1876 the Union Consolidated Mining Company of Cerro Gordo was created, and mining could return to full scale production. By early 1877, the Union Mine was thought to have been played out. Then a fire burnt down a number of mine buildings as well as the Union Mine shaft. This was the end of Cerro Gordo for the time being.
In 1905, Cerro Gordo was purchased by the Great Western Ore Purchasing and Reduction Company with the intentions of building a 100-ton smelter, and to process ore tailing that had previously been left behind. In 1907, high-grade zinc was found in the slopes.
By 1912, Cerro Gordo was the largest producer of zinc carbonates in the United States, shipping upward of 1,000 tons of ore daily. Mining continued at Cerro Gordo off and on until 1957.
Today, Cerro Gordo is one of the best preserved ghost towns in California. Numerous buildings still stand, including but not limited to, Mortimer Belshaw’s house, the miners bunkhouse, The American Hotel, saloon, and general store. Tours of the town have been made available on and off in recent years. However, at the time of this writing, Cerro Gordo has been closed to visitors since July of 2012. Interested parties can contact the owner at (661) 303-3692 or contact the on site caretaker at (760) 876-5030.
It is also worth noting that Cerro Gordo Street, the road leading up to Cerro Gordo is public property and maintained by Inyo County. You can not be stopped from traveling this road, and it does lead you right through the middle of the town site. As long as you stay on this road you are not trespassing.
For a more detailed history of Cerro Gordo I recommend the books, “From this Mountain – Cerro Gordo” and “Looking Back at Cerro Gordo” both by Robert Likes.
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