CERRO GORDO Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts


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Cerro Gordo History
by Cecile Page Vargo

  Nestled high in the Inyo Mountains east of the Sierra Nevadas, at an altitude of 8,500 feet, Cerro Gordo, Fat Hill, was discovered to be rich in silver deposits by a group of Mexican miners led by Pablo Flores. The year was 1865. By 1866, Victor Beaudry, a French Canadian, now a merchant at Fort Independence in Owens Valley, realized there were opportunities at the Cerro Gordo mining camp, and opened a general store on the mountain. He began acquiring mining properties in lieu of overdue accounts and by January of 1868 arranged with Pierre Desormeaux to build ore furnaces. By April of 1868, Beaudry acquired more properties which included the richest claims on the hill, the Union, the San Lucas, the San Felipe and more. 

That same April that Victor Beaudry claimed more and more properties around Cerro Gordo, Mortimer Belshaw came in to town. He became part owner of the Union Mine, as well. June 1868, Belshaw processed ore in one of the Mexican furnaces, then brought the first wagon load of silver into the sleepy pueblo of Los Angeles. He built the Yellow Grade road from Owens dry lake to Cerro Gordo, in July of 1868, so equipment could be taken to the mines, and the ore taken down the mountain. He also built his own smelters to process that ore, in much larger volumes than Victor Beaudry was capable of. By December of 1868, regular shipments of silver bullion were going to Los Angeles. Silver ingots 18 inches long, and weighing 85 pounds, were worth from 20-35 dollars. Cerro Gordo was being hailed as another Comstock.

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Cerro Gordo Mining in the 1900’s

by Cecile Page Vargo  

         From the mid to late 1800’s, Cerro Gordo was a lively silver boom town, controlled by a savvy  French Canadian merchant named Victor Beaudry, &  Mortimer Belshaw, a well educated son of Irish emigrants who just happened to have a background in both engineering and silver mining.  Evidence of their reign over the old Fat Hill which sits in the shadow of Cerro Gordo Peak, is apparent everywhere you go when you visit the privately owned ghost town today.  As you come up the Yellow Grade Road, the stone chimney remains of  Beaudry’s smelter, the restored 1871 American Hotel, the tin general store/museum, the red wood painted  Mortimer Belshaw House and worn wooden remnants of the assayer’s office next to Lola’s Palace of Pleasure, as well as assorted other tin and wooden buildings, stand as testament to these two bullion kings.   

            Set back from the main street, but prominent nonetheless, the large two story wooden shingled house lovingly restored by the late Jody Stewart & her husband Mike Patterson, stands. At first glance, this home, looks out of place, until one realizes that it was the home of Louis D. Gordon, who was primarily responsible for the zinc boom in the early 1900’s.  The broken down “tramway to nowhere” that stands in the distance amongst the piles of rock tailings, also serves to remind us of this resurgence of mining in Cerro Gordo.  Above the tailings, hidden from the main view of town, the Union Mine hoist house shows evidence of both eras.

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Diary From the Old Fat Hill
by Cecile Page Vargo

Thanks to friends and caretakers, John and Roxie Bowden, and town owner, Mike Patterson, of Cerro Gordo, I got the opportunity to celebrate my Big 50 on the old Fat Hill, and experience day to day life there for two weeks in May of 2002. The following are excerpts from the journal I kept during my stay:

May 8, 2002 

The guys went off to visit the Whitesides Mine in Mazourka Canyon, where friend Cat, and her dog Ripley met them for explorations. Friend Mayet Cole, and her daughter Resa, helped me settle into my room in the upstairs of the American Hotel where I would be living for two weeks. I guess you can say we appropriately "Martha Stewart" the place with comforters and quilts from home, a few throw pillows, some old Cerro Gordo bottles with dried flowers on top of the trunk that held my clothes, and a picture of Roger and I that was taken on the porch of the hotel, as well as a picture of the first Ecological 4-wheeling tour we did to this wonderful old ghost town. Wrought iron hooks hold my collection of various denim jackets, a large country blue kitchen towel hides my port-a-potty when not in use. My journal, my Cerro Gordo history books, a few magazines and lighter reading sit atop the trunk as well. 

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Memories of Jody, Pam and Cerro Gordo
by Cecile Page Vargo

With Spring 2003 upon us, I find myself haunted by memories of two important women in my life, and how their lives intertwined with mine, yet the two of them never even knew each other except through conversations with me. Sadly, both of these beautiful women who had so much to offer this world, are gone. The following e-mail letter and story which I sent to Jody Stewart of Cerro Gordo in the fall of 1998, is a tribute to both Jody, and to my dearest friend, Pamela Macaluso. The spirits of both of these women will live on in my heart and in the hearts of all who knew and loved them. We buried Pam on April 5th, 1997. Jody Stewarts Memorial Service was in May 2002. I like to think they are friends in heaven now, and I know they are my guardian angels. The same year I lost Pam, I also lost my father, and this serves as a tribute to him as well. 


Letter to Jody

Jody, I sent you a thank you note in the mail for once again hosting our Fat Hill Fandango 4 wheel drive tour, but I also wanted to send you the story I wrote about our trip. I thought you should read this and understand why my visit to Cerro Gordo was bursting with emotions this year.

This was a very emotional trip for me this year. In March of 1997, my dear friend Pamela Macaluso, who had some fame as a romance novelist for Silhouette Desire, was a victim of a murder suicide by her husband. 

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Reserve A Ghost Town!
Stay a night in historic Cerro Gordo

     The historic ghost town of Cerro Gordo is now available by reservation. You and your group can now enjoy the 1868 townsite; including the 1871 American Hotel, the fully restored 1904 Bunkhouse (accommodating up to 12), and the 1868 Belshaw House (accommodating up to 4). You will enjoy colorful history and artifacts in the General Store (now a museum, complete with viewing deck) an assay office, and numerous other remaining structures. Cerro Gordo, a museum in restorative reuse, is billed as the only "bed and cook your own breakfast" ghost town in the world.

             The townsite is perfect for photography clubs and workshops! Unlike Bodie, Cerro Gordo is privately owned and you set your own shooting schedule according to the light and not the clock. The photo opportunities are too numerous to mention. The views are truly spectacular. you can see the majestic Mount Whitney, the Sierras reflected on the Owens Lake playa, vibrant sunsets and beautiful pink and gold sunrises.

             You and your group can be comfortably accommodated on site. However, if you require a little less "ambience" and more conventional creature comforts, the picturesque little town of Lone Pine nestled at the foot of the Sierras is only 20 miles away. 

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