HEAD ABBOT VI
SOCIETY OF VITUSCAN MISSIONARIES
A WHOLLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF THE
ANCIENT AND HONORABLE ORDER OF
E CLAMPUS VITUS
THE TALE OF THE DALES
A 4WD HISTORICAL EXPLORATION OF
THE DALE MINING DISTRICT
JANUARY 20, 21, 22, 2006
(IN THE RECKONING OF OUR ORDER, 6011)
CONDUCTED WITH ALL HONOR AND OBEISANCE
TO OUR PATRON
TRIP NUMBER 35 IN A CONTINUING SERIES
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY MIKE JOHNSON, HEAD ABBOT II
DALE MINING DISTRICT
“The Tale of the Dales” is an apt description of the mining history of this corner of the high desert. It is somewhat confusing to keep track of the small desert settlements known at one time or another as Dale, Old Dale, New Dale, Virginia Dale, Dale the Second and Dale the Third, and different sources provide conflicting and contradictory information. Nonetheless, the story is worth the effort. This article will attempt to unravel some of the mystery and relate some of the history of the region.
In the backwash of the California Gold Rush, miners abandoned their quest for the Mother Lode and spread out across the West in search of undiscovered sources of paydirt. In the 1860s there were mining booms in Holcomb Valley, at La Paz on the banks of the Colorado River, and at Julian in today’s San Diego County. By 1873 claims had been filed near the natural oasis at Twentynine Palms, which served as the main camp of the Palms Mining District. Some of the claims were good, but most were not, and by 1883 many miners were prospecting the more remote mountains nearby.
1883 also marked the arrival of one Charley (or Jonathan, or Johnny, or Dirty Shirt) Wilson at the oasis. He is perhaps best known by the sobriquet of Chuckawalla Wilson, allegedly for his frequent use of the aforementioned reptile as a stew ingredient. He came to Twentynine Palms in search of a rip-roaring mining camp, but arrived just too late for all the excitement. While at the oasis he met another miner named Tom Lyons, with whom he would soon join forces.
According to one source, Chuckawalla was an Army deserter. He moved to Twentynine Palms to avoid the authorities, and went into the business of keeping burros for other prospectors. He also built an arrastra which was used to process other miners’ ore. It is said that he had hidden holes in the arrastra to siphon off some of his customers’ gold.
When not working the arrastra or tending the burros, he prospected the nearby desert. Like many of his colleagues, he was not so much interested in mining as in discovering a promising claim and selling it to rich investors. Although he never met with great success, he did locate some good claims that he worked with his new partner, Tom Lyons.
Placer gold was discovered in the hills east of Twentynine Palms oasis in 1883. John Burt also reported good diggings on the edge of Burt’s (later Dale) Dry Lake. A small rush ensued, and the many of the claims turned out to be profitable. This was one of the very few times in mining history when dry-washing of gold ore proved to be a paying proposition.
In the 1920s, Dale Lake would be mined for other, more humble, minerals. Over the years, many thousands of tons of sodium sulfate (essential to paper mills, rayon factories, plastic manufacturers and many other industries) and sodium chloride (table salt) would be extracted from the lake bed.
Despite limited successes in the Dale District, mining on a larger scale would require a dependable source of water. As more claims were taken up, the need became greater. The closest spot with water near the surface was Dale Lake. A well was dug on the southern edge of the lake and an arrastra was built to process ore from all over the district. With the availability of water and lots of flat ground to build on, a town sprang up a short distance from the claims to service the mines and miners. It was called Virginia Dale, supposedly after the first child born in the camp, but was usually referred to simply as Dale. During its heyday in the early 1880s it reached a peak population of 1,000, making it, according to most sources, the most populous of the Dales. The modern Auto Club map shows the site to be north of Highway 62, but historical records clearly indicate that the town extended on both sides of the road. The name Virginia Dale is synonymous with Dale, Old Dale, or Dale the First.
In 1884 director of the United States Mint issued a lengthy report, six pages of which were dedicated to the Dale mines. He stated that “several lodes ranging in width from six inches to three feet have been found. Some of these lodes, worked by arrastra, yield $100 per ton.” The Dale District, despite its remote location and primitive milling methods, appeared to have good potential.
The first major claim was located on the western side of the Black Mountains, a branch of the Pinto Range. The ore was found in irregular quartz formations, mostly of low to medium quality. As the local placer mines played out, attention turned to finding lode prospects, and soon the hills were covered with claims. Chuckawalla Wilson and Tom Lyons were among the first to locate, filing the Virginia Dale claim in 1885. It consisted of six prospects, all at about 2,000 feet in elevation, following three parallel veins of gold.
Wilson and Lyons moved in, constructing a rock dwelling with a fireplace and roofed with branches. In an effort to obtain working capital, they formed the Virginia Dale Mining Company. Despite the presence of ore, the milling process was evidently faulty, and operations were suspended. The 1889 report of the Bureau of Mines listed no activity at the Virginia Dale. Wilson sold out to Lyons and returned to Twentynine Palms. Lyons sold out in turn, and a parade of new owners followed.
During World I a new shaft and several hundred feet of tunnels were dug, and a new mill was installed. Despite these improvements, the property was still unable to turn a profit. In 1923 new owners refurbished the mill and operated it for a few days until stopped by lawsuits. After working for 18 months, they claimed a net loss of $40,000.
In the 1930s, with improved milling techniques and equipment, another group of owners was able to retrieve about 90% of the gold from the ore. Forty tons a day were being processed, using water piped from the well at Dale in a two-inch line. As is typical of many mines in the district, the Virginia Dale was involved in many legal disputes over the years, probably producing more in legal fees than in gold.
The activity at the Virginia Dale Mine attracted some of the people and businesses at the town of Dale, who moved to the new camp. Here is where much of the confusion about the Dales comes in. This settlement, about 4.5 miles south of Dale on Gold Crown Road, has come to be called Dale the Second by some sources ( Leadabrand, Neal; see bibliography) while others (Miller, Service and Werges) only make the distinction between Dale (or Old Dale) and New Dale. Weight states that there was indeed a settlement here at the Virginia Dale Mine, but gives it no specific name, while Service and Werges further state that the original town of Dale moved twice, but making no mention of Dale the Second. This is confusing enough, but there is even more to muddy the waters, as will be seen later in this article.
Milling the Virginia Dale ore proved difficult. The first mill was little more than a motor-driven arrasta, working on the same principle as an ordinary flour mill. It was cheap to operate, but could only recover 60% to 70% of the gold from the ore. Most of the nearby mines could not operate profitably at this level. As a result, mining activity slowed, and by 1898 only 34 registered voters were listed in the district. The Virginia Dale Mine and the nearby claims were operated intermittently until just before World War II.
The discovery of the Virginia Dale was quickly followed by the location of several other large mines. In the decade or so after the opening of the Virginia Dale, there was a distinct rise in mining activity throughout the region. In 1896, when development of the mines here began in earnest, a five-stamp mill which had been operating at Twentynine Palms was dismantled and moved to Dale. As the main mining activity moved farther to the south, this arrangement proved too costly and inefficient, and the newer mines, such as the Virginia Dale, piped water from Dale and set up their own milling operations. Since most of the mines no longer transported their ore to Dale, and mining continued to expand ever southward, it appeared that the town had outlived its usefulness. Dale, however, was not ready to throw in the towel. In response to a boom at the Supply Mine, Dale would simply move to where the action was. Since it consisted largely of tents and flimsy buildings, moving the town was no great feat. The heavy stamp mill machinery, anchored to concrete abutments, did not make the journey.
History does not record exactly when the Supply Mine and its sister claim, the OK Mine, were located, or who filed them. The Supply is about 3 miles south and east of the Virginia Dale on the opposite side of the ridge. It was by far the most profitable find in the district. As activity increased at the Supply, Old Dale found itself too far removed from the boom, and moved to a spot out on the flat south of the mine where there was room to build. The new settlement was christened New Dale, thus making the original townsite Old Dale. The post office moved here in 1915.
Once again, the situation becomes confused. Leadabrand calls this site both New Dale and Dale the Third, as does Neal. To even further obfuscate the issue, the modern website ghosttowns.com says that Dale the Third is at the top of the pass a few hundred feet north of the Supply Mine where the crumbling ruins of a few buildings still remain. It also states that New Dale, which it calls Dale the Second, coexisted with Dale the Third from 1903 onward. At any rate, it appears that the denizens of the camps probably only used the terms Dale (later to become Old Dale) and New Dale to describe their settlements. Dale the First, Dale the Second, and Dale the Third appear to be modern attempts to clarify??? the chronological order of the various camps.
The Supply Mine was a major producer. New Dale thrived during the mining boom and eventually became a company town for the Supply, the richest of all the mines in the district. At its peak, the town boasted personal residences, a saloon and a post office. Although the historical record does not mention any other business or stores, they undoubtedly existed. On the hillside above the Supply is the Ivanhoe Mine, reached by a steep and dangerous road. Little is known of its history, except that it was located by a Chilean miner by the name of Denny Pardo.
Various freighting companies served New Dale. A typical outfit consisted of twelve-mule teams pulling two wagons, although mention is also made of six-mule, single wagon rigs. One route went north to Amboy and the railroad carrying high-grade ore, returning with supplies, coal for the steam engines, and machinery for the mines. Another route ran from Banning to Dale, a two-day trip with a stopover at Warren’s Well in Yucca Valley.
In 1919, after its glory days, desert traveler and historian J. Smeaton Chase wrote of New Dale “The present camp is about a dozen years old, and is supported by one good-sized gold mine, the Supply, though there are a few smaller mines in the vicinity. Fifty or sixty men, half a dozen women, and one badly spoiled baby made up the population at the time of my stay. The mine is a highly organized affair, with electric-lighted buildings and a water supply pumped from wells six miles away. Day and night the whirr and crash of engines goes on unceasingly. It was strange to wake at night and hear the roar of machinery in that remote place…”
Around the turn of the 20th century, the Supply and the OK were owned by a company called the Seal of Gold. It set up a high quality ten-stamp mill and sank a timbered shaft to 600 feet at the OK. Curiously, the Supply, which had bigger and better ore bodies than the OK, had only a pair of three-stamp batteries in its mill. Water was piped to both properties from the well at Old Dale.
The original well, even though a considerable distance to the north of the mines, supplied water throughout the district. A powerful gasoline engine and triple-cylinder pump forced the water over a 2,500-foot ridge to the mines. At a later date, a booster pump was installed near the Supply Mine, greatly increasing the system’s capacity.
The daily output of the pumping plant was 7,000 gallons. In 1904 the Seal of Gold purchased a half interest in the water and the plant. A water corporation was formed, and prices were set for the delivery of water to the various mines in the district at rates ranging from three-eighths to one-fourth cent per gallon. The water was said to be somewhat dark in color and contained a variety of salts, but the miners adapted to it and even complained of the strange flavor of “ordinary” water.
The Seal of Gold company was dismantled in 1908. Only one of the four original owners, H. A. Landwehr, retained ownership of the mines. He formed a syndicate with investors from Riverside, but soon became entangled in legal difficulties. The case was eventually settled in Landwehr’s favor, whereupon he leased the mines to the United Greenwater Company in 1914.
The United Greenwater, headed by investor Charles Schwab, still had some cash left after abandoning its abortive attempts to mine copper near Death Valley. Schwab sent an experienced mining engineer named Jack McGee to manage the new holdings. McGee was skeptical of the OK Mine’s potential, but installed a 300-ton cyanide plant at the Supply and extended the main shaft from 800 to 1200 feet. The modern mill allowed a more complete recovery of gold from the ore.
The process was simple and efficient. Ore was crushed to about quarter-inch size, then ground by rollers into very small particles. This fine ore was placed into tanks about twenty feet in diameter. A few inches above the base of the tanks were false bottoms of wooden slats with spaces between them. The slats were covered with heavy canvas, upon which the ore was placed. A cyanide solution was introduced from the bottom of the tanks and allowed sufficient time to dissolve the fine gold particles from the ore. The gold-rich solution was then drawn off, and the solids were precipitated, melted, and poured into ingots.
Landwehr, evidently unhappy at losing control of the Supply, tried to cause trouble for United Greenwater in any way he could. Also, when the shaft was extended to 1,200 feet the miners encountered water, making ore removal much more difficult, and ran into sulfide ores, which were harder to work and necessitated expensive changes in the milling process. Taken together, these difficulties forced the mine to close in 1917. The end of mining at the Supply also marked the decline of New Dale, which never recovered.
The most striking features at the Supply Mine today are the huge, pinkish tailings piles, a result of the cyanide process previously alluded to. They cover many acres, and despite being heavily eroded, still exhibit sides that are nearly vertical. They graphically illustrate the size of the mining and milling operations that took place here.
There is an interesting and plaintive historical reminder of New Dale still to be seen today. The original owner of one of the two saloons was Percy McCabe, who came with his wife to New Dale early in its history. He owned several claims in addition to the saloon. Replacing a heart-shaped gravestone, now missing and whose original location is unknown, is a plaque, placed by Billy Holcomb Chapter on May 5, 1974. The plaque bears a heart-shaped likeness of the headstone bearing the inscription:
PERCY J. AND ADALINE D. McCABE
OCT. 17, 1903---JAN. 11, 1904
and beneath that the words:
WE REMEMBER BABY
Although our trip has been focused on the northern portion of the Dale Mining District, where the richest mines and most populous settlements were to be found, there was considerable mining activity further to the south and east. These mines, although within the district, never had much connection with New Dale, even though their water was piped from the Dale well. Unlike the mines in the northern portion of the district, which obtained supplies from Amboy and Banning, the southern mines were served by freight wagons hauling goods through Cottonwood and Box Canyons, past Shaver’s Well, and on to Mecca and the Coachella Valley, where rail connections were reached. In the earliest days, ore was hauled to Cottonwood Spring, milled in an arrastra, then transported to the Southern Pacific line. Later, the process was reversed and water was hauled from the springs to the mines. Still later, these mines were supplied with water from the well at Dale, greatly improving efficiency and reducing costs. Among the more prominent mines in this southern group were the Zulu Queen, Los Angeles, Iron Age, Rose of Peru, Rusty Gold, Outlaw, and the Gold Crown, from which the main dirt road through the area takes its name. Although part of the Dale Mining District, and thus part of the Tale of the Dales, they are a subject unto themselves and will not be addressed in this article.
Estimates of production from the Dale District vary dramatically. It is clear that at least several million dollars of precious metal were recovered here, but against this must be weighed the money spent extract it. Never a bonanza, the mines were worked profitably for many years, and although they no longer produce wealth, they have left a legacy rich in the mining history of the West.
Leadabrand, Russ, A Guidebook to the Mojave Desert of California.
Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles, 1970.
Miller, Ronald Dean*, Mines of the High Desert. La Siesta Press,
Glendale, CA, 1968.
The following articles from Desert Magazine are courtesy of the Neal Samson collection:
H. H. Marquis, Chemicals from a Desert Dry Lake, June, 1942.
Miller, Ronald Dean*, The Virginia Dale’s Two Forgotten Towns, April,
Neal, Howard, The Dale Mining District, March, 1975.
Service, George and Werges, Kent, Exploring Dale Mine District,
Weight, Lucile, To the Dale Mines: Beyond the Sunset Range, December,
* XNGH of Billy Holcomb Chapter, now gone to the Golden Hills.