April 2006 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts




Mojave Expedition (11-12-05) photo gallery--Click the photo to go to the gallery



Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.



Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.

Cerro Gordo now has its own Web site. Click the link below to visit.


Join us at the 10th annual Moose Anderson Days, April 29-30, 2006 at Jawbone Station.  Click the drawing for details.




The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo for details.

The True Legend of the Lost Gunsight Mine

 by Cecile Page Vargo

          It was the cry of gold in the foothills of the western Sierras echoing across the North American continent that sent William Lewis Manly & the 49’ers across the treacherous valley of Death in 1849 to get to it. Along with the dramatic stories of both death and survival in that barren valley, legends of gold, lost gunsights and silver were told as well. Many hearty fortune seekers were lured back to the valley & surrounding country  in the ensuing years in search of those legends. The list of names accredited to finding the gunsight mine is  many, as are the tales, and the places as to it’s whereabouts are as numerous as the list of names, and the tales. Not only is there confusion as to where the lost mine might be, there is as much confusion as to what the gunsight was, also.

          But I’m not here to tell you the legends and lore of the past that are so well known.  Here for the first time in print, is the true story of the Lost Gunsight Mine and how it was found as told to me by a friend of mine. 

Pablo Flores and The Lost Gunsight Mine

           It was a brisk night on the mountain, and the wind was fierce, bringing even brisker temperatures to chill the bones of the four who sat in the primitive miners cabin. The little pot bellied stove in one corner, provided some heat, but the nooks and crannies of the compact cabin couldn’t filter all of the wind out, and the four huddled close together around the old stove, as the breezes managed to find their way through them. The roar of the little fire, and the howling wind beating against the nearly rotten timbers of the cabin, made it necessary to talk louder than the whisper that the conversation warranted. Miles of desert nothingness surrounded the cabin, even at this altitude of 8,000 feet. 

          Long ago men with names like Benoit, had lumbered out what few scraggly trees had grown on the cragged hillsides, to burn in the smelters that processed the ore that had put the mountain on the map. But the map of the 20th century, barely showed the place where the four sat hovered before the fire bracing themselves from the chill and the wind, and few to dared to venture to the remote spot much any more. There was little danger of anything more than the mouse who peek-a-booed from a solitary two shelved cabinet on the wall, hearing what was about to said.

          Everyone in the cabin that dark night  had wandered up to the faint remnants of an old Mexican trail on a long forgotten adventure in search of a dream and come to stay more than a little while. The cowboy, his ruddy face and blonde hair well hidden by the hat he always wore, leaned forward in his crackled paint chair, with a yellowed piece of newspaper in his rough-hewn hands, and read to the others:

          “I’ve had this old paper for some time,” the cowboy began, “we all know the story about this mountaintop I’ve chosen to call my home, but it elaborates on it quite nicely. It’s from the Territorial Enterprise - Virginia City, Nevada dated way back in  May, 1867.  

          ‘We yesterday saw some specimens of ore and silver bullion that were brought to this city by a Mexican named Bernarda Arambula. They came from a mountaintop, about forty miles from the camp where the boys in blue are stationed in Kearsarge Country. The ores shown us are of the richest character, and came from veins that range in width from one to four feet. There are said to be hundreds of veins of a similar character, and only a few of them have been prospected. 

          The Mexicans have six small furnaces, and extract silver from the ore by smelting. The leads are held in common, as are the furnaces, and each one goes and digs as much ore as he pleases, carries it to a furnace and smelts it. The furnaces used are very small and ordinary, being but a foot or two in width, three or four feet long and five or six high. In all they take out with these six furnaces about twenty five to thirty pounds of silver per day. Most of this is sold in rough bars in to which into which it is molded at a small town called Pine Grove, where they all go to purchase their provisions.  There is but little coin in circulation, silver bars of various sizes being used instead. One of the bars shown us weighed six pounds, the other about one pound.

           Bernarda says that the man who first puts up a large and well constructed furnace at these mines will make a fortune. He brought the bricks that he extracted to us to this city, in order that by having them correctly assayed he might find the exact value of the bullion they are producing. The bars look as well as those produced here. In this mountain neighborhood, an abundance of pure and malleable lead is found, as well as significant amounts of zinc, and a perfect amount of copper ore or astounding richness. There is quite an excitement among the Mexicans at the north end of the city about the new mines.”

          “Wait a minute…. whose this Bernarda whatever his last name is, guy?  I thought it was somebody named Pablo that discovered the mines?” one of the four asked.

          “Don’t worry… I’m getting to that,” the cowboy said, as he reached in the pocket of his heavy suede coat and pulled out another yellowed newspaper clipping. “This one comes from the Mining and Scientific press in December of the same year. I won’t read the whole thing, but here’s the part about Pablo.”  

           The cowboy sipped from his tin coffee cup that was just served him, carefully unfolded the old piece, then continued, “ The first mine discovered here was by Pablo Flores and two other Mexicans. They started from Nevada two years ago last March, on a prospecting tour and traveled southwest over the different ranges of mountains, but did not find any mineral until they reached this place. After they had satisfied themselves that there were rich silver and lead mines, here, Pablo Flores’ two companions started for Virginia City for supplies, and he remained at the mines. 

           As they did not return at the appointed time, nor for a long time afterwards, Flores left, on account of being out of provisions, to look for them fearing that they might have been killed by the Indians. he made his way to Virginia City and could learn nothing of them from his countrymen, and they have not since been seen or heard of. The Indians no doubt killed them. Flores told his friends about the discovery of these mines, which induced many of them to come here with him, and last summer there was quite an immigration of other Mexicans. During the summer and early fall several Americans located the mines."

          “That’s more like it, that’s the story I know,” someone said, and the four all nodded their heads in agreement, 

          “That’s not all there is to the story”, the cowboy informed them, “Haven’t you wondered what brought them here….of all the places they could have gone, what guided them to this particular mountain? 

          They looked at each other, then one said, “And you think you know what it was?” 

          “I don’t think, I know what it was,” and the cowboy stopped talking and looked at his watch, as a yawn overcame him. “Well, that’s it for me….we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow, so I’m turning in.” 

          He carefully folded his newspaper clippings and put them back in his coat pocket, then stood up, tipped his hat to his three friends, then headed out to the door to his own dwelling further up the steep dirt road.

          Dawn the next morning, the four met again at the cabin, and enjoyed a stout black coffee, and omelets, cooked on the small pot bellied stove that had struggled to keep them warm the night before. Silence filled the room while the four nourished themselves.

          “Got some work to do at the hoist house today, could sure use a hand,” the cowboy said, as he wiped a crumb from his mouth with a paper napkin. “But maybe before we do that we should head down the back side of the mountain, what do you think?”  and the others noticed a twinkle in his eye as he said it. 

          Breakfast dishes were piled into a wash pan to be tended to later, as men often do, and they hurried out to start their day. The sun was starting to heat up, and the wind was dying down, thankfully. There was an old Jeep, outfitted with seats for four, waiting for them.  The cowboy took the driver’s seat, and the others climbed in after him. He started the engine and slowly meandered up the narrow dirt road ahead of them. As he got to his own place, a dog ran out to greet them hoping to go for an adventure. The cowboy stopped for a brief moment to point the dog back to his place, then proceeded up the road, past the hoist house, and over the crest of the hill.  There they stopped to enjoy the view of the dry lake bed below, and towering mountain ranges behind it, then they continued down a deep ravine that served as road.

          The old Jeep maneuvered easily over the pathway that twisted and turned until it branched off to the east. At this point the four found themselves in a virtual Joshua tree forest. They abandoned the Jeep here and set out on foot up a deeply rutted footpath. They followed it, the cowboy in the lead, until they came to a cabin so hidden by Joshua trees and giant boulders, that it was obvious to the others that the cowboy knew it was there.  The cowboy took a swig from a bottle of water, then passed it around to his friends. His face had a slight grin on it as he pointed further up the where vegetation refused to grow.  

The sun was shining through a notch in the highest point on the mountain.  One of the four knew a Kodak moment when he saw it, and lifted his camera to his eye and began setting up his shot.  The other two followed the cowboy into the cabin.  The door had a padlock on it, and the cowboy had the key. Inside, the cabin, while the same size as the one they had stayed in the night before, was better furnished, but  only one person to stay in, as opposed to three. One wall  had a dry kitchen, with rough cabinets that was full of non-perishables. There was a small wooden table with only one chair, a cot sized wooden bed minus blankets, a small bookcase with some reading material, a pot bellied stove, and a large trunk.

          Again, the cowboy smiled a knowing smile, as he bent down to put a key in the large trunk. At first glance it appeared to have bedding wrapped in plastic, but there  further down was a tiny tin chest, with a tiny padlock on it. The cowboy searched through his key ring and found the appropriate key to match it. He made a big production of opening it, adding to the suspension that thickly filled the cabin. By this time their fourth companion had walked in the door to join them. A piece of checkered cloth, perhaps an old napkin, was at the top of the chest covering the prize inside. The cowboy lifted it, to find a ziplock bag. He picked up the ziplock bag and held it up for everyone to see, before he opened it. Inside was a worn leather diary with ink smudges on the front. Before turning the pages of the diary, the cowboy looked up at his friends and grinned.  

          “I came across this broken down cabin a few years back, and decided I needed a place for a vacation once in awhile to get away from it all,”  and he laughed, the others joining him. “ I actually use it as a base camp so I can poke around at some of the old mines on the hill when I’m alone up here looking for something to entertain me. I was out hiking around one day when I nearly stumbled into a vertical mine shaft. Fortunately, I caught my balance just in time.”  and the cowboy laughed again. “ I can’t pass an opportunity to look down an old mine shaft, of course, even when it nearly consumes me, so I took a peek, and sure enough there was a pretty sturdy wooden ladder, so I went down it.  I had every intention on going down as far as that ladder would go, but I hadn’t gone down too far, when I noticed an old miners lunch pail sort of  stuck between the ladder and the rock wall of the shaft. I pried it lose from it’s spot, and inside was this diary. I’m not sure how it kept so dry, and in such good condition, but the way you see it now, is as it was when I found it.” The diary was passed around and examined by each of them. The last to receive it gingerly flipped through the pages as the others had, then turned it back over to the cowboy.

          “I want you to remember that notch in the mountain with the sun shining through it,” the cowboy winked. There was a long moment of silence as if he was savoring what he was about to read, and once again enjoying the anticipation he was building up in his companions.  Then finally, he opened the diary again, and read from it.




         At this point the cowboy stopped reading, although there were pages more. He walked towards the cabin door and threw it open and motioned for the others to follow him. When he got to the spot where they had first viewed the mountaintop with the unusual notch in it he spread out his arms and grinned ear to ear as Pablo Flores’ friend had, then  he announced in his best Spanish accent, “My dear compadres,......I too have found the lost gunsight.  Welcome to my mountain!”  

My sincerest thanks go to our dear friend, Mike Patterson, who pointed me down the road that eventually led to the notch in the mountain and the fabled Lost Gunsight. 

Thanks also to my new friend Bob Likes who discovered the mountain long before I knew of it's existence, and helped me to understand it's important place in California history.



A Mine of Her Own-Women Prospectors In The American West, 1850-1950

chapter on Ferminia Sarras

by Sally Zanjani

University of Nebraska Press


Lost Mines of Death Valley

by Harold O. Weight

The Calico Press

Twenty-Nine Palms, California


Cerro Gordo Bugle of Freedom, Volume 1 Issue 1 

Article quotes from:

Territorial Enterprise, May 14, 1867

Virginia City, Nevada


Mining and Scientific Press, December 14, 1867

San Francisco, CA     


Tour Information

We're back on the road again! 

Click on the photo for our preliminary 2006 schedule details.

Thanks to all who joined us on our dirt road travels.

Please contact us at info@explorehistoricalif.com for additional information or reservations.


Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at: info@explorehistoricalif.com.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty


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