The Bagdad Chase Mine

By Delmer G. Ross

Professor of History,
La Sierra University,
Riverside, CA.

John Suter, a roadmaster employed by the Atlantic & Pacific subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railway, was the leading spirit in the location of claims and the development of mines in the Buckeye Mining District, situated in the Mojave Desert about fifty-five miles southeast of Barstow. While vainly searching the parched, reddish appearing hills known as the Bullion Mountains south of Ludlow for water for the railroad, Suter discovered several promising outcrops of mineralization located in a long, narrow ledge. He took some samples, which he promptly had assayed. They were rich in gold and copper. He had already staked a number of claims, but now he staked several more. Moreover, as soon as he could, he also began mining. He named his richest mine for the nearby railroad community of Bagdad. For a short while the mining district was even named Bagdad. But that did not endure. In time, though, Suter had a dozen men working at his Bagdad and Roosevelt, the principal mines in the area.
 

 
Stedman in the early 1950s.
 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

 

The little settlement that began to grow around the mines was what was often called a "poor man's camp." That meant that anyone who knew anything about mining, regardless of how little capital he had to invest initially, could open a mine and, with a little luck and plenty of hard work, make a profit. It was not long, though, before investors with plenty of capital became interested in the area.

In the early 1890s Suter sold his mines and most of his claims to a group of wealthy New York railroad and mining investors, all of whom were major stockholders of the New York Central Railroad. While the exact purchase price was not made public, it is reported to have been less than $100,000. To the purchasers it was only a relatively minor investment. Just the same, they soon organized the Bagdad Mining and Milling Company, capitalized at $300,000, to handle their new acquisition.

Not long after that, a fast talking mining promoter from Los Angeles showed the new mining investors an easy way to make a quick profit. It sounded so good to them that they agreed to grant him an option to sell their holdings in the Buckeye Mining District for $1.1 million. That would give them $1 million in profit on a $100,000 investment. At the time they had concluded the agreement they had been delighted. They looked forward eagerly to the promised 1,000 percent return on their original investment.

The promoter, of course, hoped to sell for even more. In fact, armed with outstanding assays, he expected to sell for no less than $1.5 million, which meant a nice $400,000 for him. Apparently the promoter received offers, but all were for somewhat less than the $1.5 million he demanded. He was so sure that someone eventually would meet his price that he allowed his option to lapse, despite a number of lucrative offers. He was certain the Bagdad was a good mine. He would just renew his option and wait until he got his price.
 

John Baratto and a coyote
he bagged at Stedman.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Baratto Collection),
Goffs, California.

 
 

Meanwhile, though, and quite unexpectedly, a little gold-tinted cloud appeared on the financial horizon of the new mine owners. Miners working the Bagdad struck a large body of exceptionally rich ore. Now the $1 million profit that only a short while earlier had seemed so enticing began to look like a bad bargain for them. If the promoter brought them an offer of $1.1 million, they had to sell. J.H. Stedman, the executive secretary of the group of millionaire investors, feared what might happen if news of the strike somehow reached eight miles north to the town of Ludlow, so he offered the miners an attractive bonus to stay at the mines until the option had lapsed.

Stedman apparently succeeded because when the option expired, the promoter still had not brought the sellers a deal worth the required $1.1 million. When the promoter confidently asked for a renewal of the option, needless to say, the investors politely declined. Upon discovering the reason, he was thoroughly disappointed, as were those who had failed to purchase at the promoter's price. The investors, on the other hand, were delighted that they would not be able to make their planned $1 million quick profit. They now expected to make much more, even if it took several years.
 

Views of the Randsburg-Santa Fe Reduction Company's fifty-stamp ore mill located in Barstow. This was a large operation that could handle 200 tons of ore per day. During the early years of the Bagdad Chase Mine its ore was milled here.
These 3 photos courtesy
Mojave River Valley Museum,
Barstow, California.

The investors put E. H. Stagg in charge as general manager. Under his supervision, the first shipment of ore was sent to the Randsburg-Santa Fe Reduction Company's large stamp mill in Barstow late in 1901. This mill, equipped with fifty one-thousand-pound stamps and five regrinders, had a cyanide plant with a capacity of 200 tons of ore per day. Owned by the same investors who had purchased the Bagdad, it had been built specifically to handle ore from Randsburg. But when they received the report that the first 1,000 tons of ore from the Bagdad had yielded more than $17,000 after milling, they were eager to concentrate on what they now rightly considered to be an extremely valuable mining property.

As was only natural, the owners immediately thought of the financial benefits of moving the stamp mill closer to the mine. Upon investigation, though, such a move was seen to be a mistake because of the almost total lack of water at Camp Rochester, or simply Rochester, as the Bagdad portion of the Buckeye District was now being called in honor of the New York home of several of the investors.

Meanwhile, the Bagdad Mining and Milling Company was locating and filing many additional claims. While it was more than willing to expand, the extra claims were designed mainly to protect the holdings it had acquired from Suter.

And with good reason. Suter's Bagdad and Roosevelt had not been the only productive mines of the old Buckeye District. Another, owned by John R. Gentry, had been worked profitably as well, and it had been purchased by the apparent rival Benjamin E. Chase Gold Mining Company. Bagdad had sixty men in the field; Chase had fifteen.

Fortunately, however, Benjamin Chase, president of the Central Bank of Rochester, New York, was one of the investors in the Bagdad. He was also president of the Ludlow & Southern Railway, which had been completed in 1903 to transport ore from the mine to the Santa Fe railway at Ludlow. Thus, reason prevailed in this instance. There were no serious incidents of violence between the two crews. Anyway, the companies soon merged to form the Bagdad Chase Gold Mining Company. The combined mines were operated as one, known as the Bagdad Chase.
 

The headframe over the main shaft of the Bagdad Chase as it appeared in the early 1950s.
 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.
Headframe over another shaft
at the Bagdad Chase
in the early 1950s.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

 

Prospects appeared bright in the Buckeye Mining District, which by 1905 was beginning to be called the Stedman District, after the new name for Rochester. A total of 115 men were working in the Bagdad Chase group of mines -- 50 in the Bagdad itself, 40 in the Roosevelt, and 25 in the Chase. Output had reached 200 tons of ore per day. Moreover the cost of operations and all the improvements had been met with profits from mine performance -- and there was money left over for the investor owners.

The mining company hired a large number of Scandinavian laborers, partly because they were good, conscientious workers, but also because they seemed more willing to accept the company ruling against liquor than were many others. As a result, Stedman came to be nicknamed "Copenhagen." Perhaps Stedman could never boast of many people, but it could claim an unusual number of different names: Camp Rochester, Rochester, Stagg, Copenhagen, and finally Stedman, which in early years was often misspelled "Steadman."

Although never really spectacular, the Bagdad Chase was productive. From 1904, when mining began in earnest, to 1910, its gold production alone mounted to $4.5 million, making it the largest single source of gold in San Bernardino County. It was also the largest single source of copper, and its ores yielded a significant amount of silver as well. By 1950 production of gold totaled $6 million, one-half of the reported gold production in San Bernardino County for the previous seventy years.

Unfortunately, the early years proved to be the best for the Bagdad Chase. By early 1910 only about forty men continued to work the mine, and profits were down. So the Bagdad Chase Gold Mining Company let it be known that it would consider offers for its Stedman District operations.
 

The remains of a small ore mill at Stedman. Because of the high cost of water, the operation of this mill proved not to be economically feasible.
 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

 
 

The Pacific Mines Corporation bought the mine and the L&S late in 1910. As a result of the advice and leadership of well known mining engineer John Hays Hammond, production, which had fallen considerably, was increased to 100 tons of ore per day and the labor force increased to seventy-five men. Dilapidated railroad equipment and buildings were repaired. The entire operation was modernized: among other things, electric lights replaced candles and lamps, and air drills replaced hand drills. Moreover, the ore, once it had been hauled to Ludlow by the L&S, instead of being shipped to Barstow for processing, was shipped east to the United Verde smelter at Clarkdale, in central Arizona. By the end of 1915 the Bagdad Chase boasted four vertical shafts from 120 to 400 feet deep, one incline shaft 450 feet long, and several thousand feet of levels, drifts, and crosscuts. It was located on a body of ore measuring at least 2,000 feet long and 8 to 20 feet wide at the surface.

Unfortunately, after modernizing operations, Pacific Mines did not keep them modern. During a period of rapid innovations in mining generally, Pacific Mines' equipment became worn and obsolete, but rarely was replaced. Moreover, as a consequence of a gradual decline in the quality of the ore, and perhaps the very long haul to the processing plant as well, by 1916 profits again were down -- or even nonexistent -- and mining operations ceased. Whether because he felt the mine was exhausted, because of his new involvement in petroleum ventures in Mexico, or simply because he had too many other interests -- mainly in mining, hydroelectric, and irrigation projects on four different continents -- Hammond did nothing about it. The property went into receivership.
 

 
John Baratto, shown here beside an ore chute in Stedman in 1916, worked at the Bagdad Chase from 1916 to 1922. Almost everything moved by rail in Stedman: narrow gauge for local use and standard gauge for travel to Ludlow.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Baratto Collection),
Goffs, California.

 
 

Because Hammond was such a well known mining engineer, and because of his fame as an entrepreneur, his role in the operation of the Bagdad Chase is easily exaggerated. In fact it was minor -- so minor that he does not mention it even once in his autobiography. Nor, for that matter, does he mention Pacific Mines.

Moreover, by 1910, while not giving up his interest in mining and other money-making ventures, Hammond was far more interested in politics and diplomacy. As he himself expressed it, "As I look back on the years between 1910 and 1919, years crowded with public and private business, it seems to me that the problem of world peace occupied a great portion of my time and energies."

Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter was that the Bagdad Chase was no longer economically viable. As a result, it remained predominately idle for the next fifteen years. Most activity appears to have consisted of attempted high grading. Stedman became a ghost town as its population eventually dwindled to only one, the caretaker.

The Bagdad Chase power plant c. 1920.
 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Stan Tenerelli Collection),
Goffs, California.

 

During that time there was an additional change of ownership, at least in name. In November 1926 Pacific Mines and Metals, Inc., was organized in Nevada. One of the new company's goals was to arrange to place the Bagdad Chase group of mines on a paying basis again.

Starting in the early 1930s, the mine was leased to several different parties who operated it from time to time. The D'Aix Syndicate had it for a year, from 1938 to 1939. Then Frank W. Royer took over, followed for more than a decade by Don L. Love beginning in 1943. The Bagdad Chase was one of only four gold mines in California to be authorized to remain in production during World War II -- not so much because of its production of gold as because of the silica content of the ores it produced, which were found to be particularly useful as a flux in smelting. Although not very profitable, the mine operated continuously from 1940 to 1954, when many people thought it would close for good.
 

Bagdad Chase power plant in Stedman
appeared rather dilapidated
in the early 1950s.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

 
 
 

 
 
Adelaide Arnold (left) and Lucile Weight
explore the interior of the
Bagdad Chase power plant, c. 1953.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.
A few years later,
the power plant was little more
than a pile of rubble.
 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

Pacific Mines and Metals merged with two other mining companies to form a completely new corporation called Bagdad Chase, Inc., in 1968. Approximately four years later, the new company began open-pit operations at Stedman. That continued through 1975, when the board of directors decided that leasing the mine to other operators might be more profitable.

The Bagdad Chase Mine, which today consists of 26 patented claims located in what is now called the Stedman Mining District, continues to be leased occasionally. The last lessee was the United States Oil & Mineral Corporation. While its lease was terminated by court order, in 1993 the Board of Directors and shareholders of Bagdad Chase, Inc., granted it, or a "qualified third party" that it should locate, an option to buy the mine and all other mining properties the company controlled in the Stedman Mining District for $3.5 million. Unfortunately, United States Oil & Mineral Corporation was unable to buy, nor was it able to locate a "qualified third party." It could not make even the first payment, let alone any of the subsequent installments, owed to the seller. Thus, since early 1999, the Bagdad Chase Mine is again fully owned and controlled by Bagdad Chase, Inc.
 

Perhaps because so many people view mines as strange and perilous places, tales of ghosts or peculiar sounds or other unusual occurrences sometimes circulate about them. The Bagdad Chase is no exception. According to a number of sources, during the 1950s and early 1960s the ghost town that was Stedman became the site of a very different type of activity from mining. It has been claimed that the Aerojet Corporation used some of the deep, vertical shafts of the Bagdad Chase group for the purpose of testing rockets. Just where or how this story originated, and its accuracy, thus far has been impossible to determine.

Once Aerojet employees had accomplished their task -- if indeed they ever had one at the old mining location -- Stedman was abandoned to vandals who soon completely destroyed what was left of the little desert town. As he approached Stedman, one history-conscious visitor was appalled to see a plume of smoke rising above the townsite. When he arrived, he discovered a group of visitors from the city sitting around, watching the headframe of one of the mine shafts as it burned to ashes. They had set it on fire simply because it appeared not to be in use! Although, as has happened to other abandoned towns, Stedman was picked over by those who wished to use its lumber and fixtures elsewhere, it appears that much of the town was burned down on purpose -- to amuse the perpetrators.
 


 
 After the railroad had been dismantled, where possible
its berm became the road between Stedman and Ludlow.
Viewed here as it approached Stedman,
washouts made this section almost useless.

 
Photo courtesy Mojave Desert Archives
(Harold & Lucile Weight Collection),
Goffs, California.

 

Today, not a whole lot remains. Stedman is gone. Ragtown, a small mining and pleasure community once located part way between Stedman and Ludlow, has declined to little more than a few scattered rusty cans and broken bottles, and a monument marking the site. Ludlow itself is almost gone, and what survives exists mainly to help tired motorists on Interstate Highway 40. The L&S has been reduced to a slowly eroding berm marking its route across the desert. At the site of the mine, though, a lot of ore waits for the price of gold to rise once again to the point of profitability. It is an event Bagdad Chase, Inc., awaits eagerly.
 

Copyright 2001, Delmer G. Ross
All Rights Reserved

 

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02/02/2002