Revisiting the Tecopa Railroad

History:

Once a part of the large wagon train trying to find the fabled shortcut to the gold fields as suggested by Captain Fremont's map, Jim Martin and his followers "The Bugsmashers" left the train around the first of December, 1850. Abandoning their wagons, they made packs for their oxen. Meanwhile, the rest of the wagon train - including the Manley party - would continue on south into Death Valley before splitting up into two smaller groups.
 

After much wandering Martin and other Georgians were camped near the head of what is now known as Emigrant Wash. Nearby they found some rich silver ore on the slopes of Tucki Mountain. With supplies running low and their animals failing, the party abandoned whatever they could not carry out themselves.

Instead of taking out a fortune in silver, part of their leavings included most of their $2,500 in gold coin, left buried in a blanket.

Badwater at Sunset

Badwater, Death Valley at Sunset
 

 
Jim Martin did carry out one chunk of the silver ore to Mariposa California and later had it made into a gunsight. Tales of Jim's discovery of a "mountain of silver" sent many looking for the "Lost Gunsight Mine". While Jim's ore came from the Panamints, miners spread throughout the Death Valley area and over into the Amargosa Valley looking for riches. Gold had been found along the Spanish Trail, south of Death Valley near Salt Springs.

Over the next decade more ore bodies containing gold, silver and lead were discovered; in the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas, elsewhere in the Panamints, in the Cosco Range and other nearby locations.

Enter the Nopah Range. The spring of 1875 found two brothers, William D. and Robert D. Brown exploring the area south of Resting Springs - one of the stopping points on the Spanish Trail. In the hills just to the south they found a large body of ore and named the discovery "The Balance". This find ran some $60 a ton in silver with lead forming the second major part of the ore.
 

Brownsville Townsite ?

Anticipating a rush of other prospectors, the brothers laid out a townsite named "Brownsville" beside another nearby water source, Willow Creek, some six miles from the Resting Springs location.

Located in the upper portion of the now named "China Ranch Wash", Willow Springs is the source of the small creek that flows all year 'round to join with the Amargosa River.
 

Brownsville Townsite ?
 

 
To feed themselves and for sale to others, the brothers also began farming operations at Resting Springs, growing potatoes, vegetables and planting fruit trees.

Previously the superintendent of a mine in Eureka, Jonas Osborne arrived in the Resting Springs Mining District in late 1875. While some of the ore being produced by the Browns was high enough to ship at $600 per ton - and also have the miners hi-grade it - most of the ore needed smelting to make shipment profitable. Having purchased interests in some of the Brown's discoveries, Osborne needed to devise a means to smelt the bulk ore.
 

Forming the Los Angeles Mining and Smelting Company with several other partners, Osborne personally bought the Balance Mine for $10,000, and the balance of five other mines - including the Noonday Mine - from the Browns for $500. He promptly transferred them to the L. A. M.& S. Co and received half the stock of the company!
 

Gunsight Tramway

Original Tramway up to the
Gunsight Mine's
second level

 

 

The Company also bought several other claims in the district for a further $9,000. One of these was named the Gunsight Mine. Land Patents were obtained for six of the claims on February 12, 1881.

As part of the same transactions, Osborne also purchased the Brownsville townsite in China Ranch Wash, renaming it ... Tecopa! Lots in the townsite sold for about $75. By January 1878 a fairly large town had been established and Tecopa was adjudged, for tax purposes, to be just inside the Inyo County border. When found this survey may place the first Tecopa townsite near the bottom of China Ranch Wash, adjacent to the "Saloon" ruins or above the springs in an area known today as Lower Noonday Camp.

Working the mines was not as easy as first anticipated. The cost of operating the smelter exceeded the ore value and worse, soon the ore body changed form. The carbonate form wouldn't smelt properly because the lead proportion was so low. Rather than try to continue to smelt the new ores, Osborne decided to mill them with a Davis Pulverizer.
 

Resting Springs Area

Perhaps seeing an additional chance at profit, Osborne located the new mill closer to the Gunsight Minehead at Resting Springs, thus creating another townsite.

The U.S.P.S., refused to acknowledge the whims of the residents and simply moved the old Post Office out of the Willow Creek area up to Resting Springs and continued to call it ... Tecopa!
 

Resting Springs Area
 

 
By early 1879 the first Tecopa was abandoned. A ranch was soon established high up on Willow Creek, about a mile from the Amargosa River, to serve the Tecopa miners. After Ah Foo, a Tibetan, farmed it for several years during the 1880s it became known as China Ranch. This ranch, now a date farm, is currently owned by Brian and Bonnie Brown and is a gateway into the central part of the Amargosa Canyon.

The new milling equipment installed at Resting Spring soon proved to be useless, totally unable to work the ore. Once again Osborne levied an assessment against the stockholders and this time installed a 10 stamp, conventional style, mill. The suppliers of this third mill agreed to work the ore until they had both proven the mill and recovered enough to pay for the mill. This was done using the previously mined ore right at hand.

When the Company assumed operations again, it found that the costs involved with digging the ores and milling them, still cost more than their sale value! Not surprising as the ores had to be dug, lifted back up to the top, and muled down the steep rocky path.

As a last effort, Osborne began a 'Sutro' like tunnel to intercept the main ore body. The first diggings were high on the top of the cliffside, but the ores slanted downwards. Eventually, the depth of the worked portion of the ore body would reach 800 feet from the strike.
 

Osborne's idea was to tap the ores at a lower location within the mountain, about 120 feet below the current workings. The ores could then be sent via chutes to waiting ore cars and then lowered to the base of the mountain on a new tramway.

Quickly realizing that this tunnel would be a slow and costly procedure, Osborne sold off his stock and departed the mines.

Despite completion of the nearly 1,000 foot tunnel, partly financed through assessments and partly by working the richest ores available, the accessible ore body once again did not turn out to repay the costs of mining and processing.

By July 1881 the operation at the Gunsight Mine had ceased.
 

'Sutro' Tunnel

Entrance to the
TCMCo's Tunnel
on the 3rd Level
of the Gunsight Mine

 

Abandoned 'office'

In 1883 Osborne once again purchased the now idle properties and spent some effort in trying to develop means for profitably extracting and hauling the ores. He never succeeded.

In 1906 when the Tonopah and Tidewater was being built through the Amargosa Canyon, Osborne sold his interests to a new group - The Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company - for $175,000.
 

Abandoned 'office' at
Gunsight Mine Area

 

 
In 1909, on November 8th, Tecopa Consolidated Mining Co. obtained Land Patents for four new claims in their own name. On March 3, 1910, two additional claims were added and on the 21st of that month yet another group of four claims was added. Finally on January 15, 1913 the last two claims shown in the records were added to their holdings.
 

Tecopa Station, a division point and yard for the T&T Railroad, was located some four miles down the slope from Resting Springs. By the time the T&T operations had reached this point on February 10th, 1907, the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Company had over 800 bags of ore ready for shipment.
 

T&T Freight House

T&T Freight House
at Tecopa Station

 

 
Up to this time the Tecopa Mines had produced less that $300,000 in ores - almost all at a loss. The Company eventually shipped over $4,000,000 in silver/lead ores.

Within a few years, in July 1909, work began on a private railroad to run between Tecopa Station on the T&T to the mine heads at the Gunsight and the Noonday Mines. The Tecopa Railroad Company served the mines well until their sudden closure in August 1918.

At a later date, the mines were re-opened with part of the railroad bed being paved over for use as a truck road. This utility road then turned south and went down Sperry Wash into the Amargosa Canyon and then out to the highway near the Dumont Dunes. Remains of the road can be seen just up from Dumont Dunes, in the upper part of Sperry Wash as well as between Milepost 8.2 and 9.4 on the Tecopa Railroad R.O.W.
 

 

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05/22/2004