February 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts



Enterprising Women of the Western Mojave Mining Camps

First Came the "Ladies"

by Cecile Page Vargo

           When word got out that a few lone prospectors were digging for gold in the El Paso & Rand Mountains of the Western Mojave area of California , more men followed.  They came on foot, burro, mule, or wagon, hoping to strike it rich and go on to bigger and better things in life.  They spent their days dry washing, digging and blasting, and if they were lucky they were rewarded with a few nuggets of the precious yellow metal.  They lived in dugouts in the canyon walls, or built cabins with rock foundations and canvas tops that barely protected them from the extreme desert conditions that could dip below freezing in the winter, and above the century mark in the summer.  The wind always seemed to howl, blowing dust on their person and everything surrounding them.  The rain, though seldom, came with a vengeance when it did arrive, turning dry narrow gullies and canyons into raging rivers, washing away anything that stood in it’s path.   

          If the prospecting was good, and rich strikes were discovered in the multicolored hills around them, more prospectors followed and more substantial settlements began growing around the lonely dugouts and cabins.  Supplies would be brought in, and stores would be set up.  More often than not the first establishment to set up shop would be the primitive saloons consisting of a wood shack or lean-to with a bar inside made of two whiskey barrels and a wooden plank.   The saloons wet the miners parched throats, and helped them to forget their families in civilized towns far away, but the more they drank they still found they were thirsty for female companionship.  The “ladies” would be the first to come in to quench that thirst until the camps grew into real towns, and more respectable women arrived.

 Mexican Nell Comes To Goler Camp

         In 1893 a curvaceous dark-eyed woman came down the mountains of Tehachapi across the desert to the Black Mountain diggings in the El Paso ’s.   She came on a freight wagon with  food and mining supplies, and her latest lover.   “Mexican Nell”, was her name, and she was described as having “temperaments as volcanic as the peak the camp was named after.”    Word was that the camp in Goler Gulch was the place to be, so Nell said good bye to her partner in Black Mountain , and secured her belongings to the back of a burro she had gotten from a miner.  She wound her way up and down the sandy trails to the new camp, hailing the boys as she rode in. She was ready and “willing to relieve the camp of its tedium and the boys of their dust.”     Though there were many saloons, Nell, and the girls that eventually followed her to Goler, preferred Nugent’s where they could listen to the sound of the fiddle, guitar and accordion, and join the old time miners as they sang favorite old camp songs.  As the evenings would wear on and the voices became weary from singing, the lonely miner could trade in gold dust or nuggets for one of Nell’s girls and go back to a tiny room or crib for a few hours of  “companionship.”


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Songs of the Old Prospectors

by Cecile Page Vargo

Whether in the saloons or out prospecting, the miners loved a good song.  This one was popular amongst the dry-gulchers:

 There’s a Good Pile Coming, Boys

There’s a good pile coming, boys,

A good pile coming.  Tho’ you sink full many a hole,

Ere the sigh delights your soul,

Of the good pile coming;

Let the hope still urge you on,

And make your blows the stronger,

You’re nearer to it every stroke,

Dig a little longer!



There’s a good pile coming, boys,

A good pile coming.

There’s a good pile coming, boys

A good pile coming:

Pick and shovel, pan and crow

Rightly used, ‘twill quickly show

The good pile coming;

Work with industry and skill,

Your chance will be the stronger.

You’ll come upon it soon or late,

Dig a little longer!


There’s a good pile coming, boys,

A good pile coming--

But beware of cards and dice, They will clear you in a trice,

of the good pile coming;

But if you use it as should,

‘Twill make your credit stronger.

Then work away with good intent,

Dig a little longer!

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Can This Mine be Saved?
You Can Make a Difference

           Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains high above the Mono Basin is an almost completely intact mine and mill.  Legend has it that two prospectors wondered up the mountain and discovered gold, but one miner was killed in an avalanche before they could do anything with the claim. The year would have been1890, and the  original file on this claim was listed as  the Mendocino. The mine and mill were active through the 1980’s.

            Until recently, only a few tried and true ghost towners or local residents have ventured up the dusty dirt road, and explored the area. Most refused to talk much about it in fear that less mindful  people would haul everything away. Today, the Inyo National Forest and the Mono Basin Historical Society have joined hands in efforts to preserve what remains. Plans are in the making to make this area safe for general public access to this important part of California ’s mining history.  Buildings are being locked and safety hazards removed.  Plexiglas may replace glass windows for viewing the complicated mining machinery inside these buildings. Interpretive signs may be put up to help visitors identify what they are seeing.  There’s even talk that a  caretaker will stay at the site during the summer months.

            The Mono Basin Historical Society is spearheading the preservation efforts for this nearly forgotten mine and mill, but they  can’t do this alone. If enough interest from people who care about preserving our mining history is not shown, there is a possibility that these efforts will stall, and this historic site will  fall victim to the harsh winter weather and to the vandals and souvenir hunters who have discovered it.

            Please e-mail us at info@explorehistoricalif.com or contact Don Banta of the Mono Basin Historical Society (760-647-6627) or mbhs@qnet.com, or the Inyo National Forest (760-647-3044), if you would like to  help save this endangered mine and mill.    Volunteers are also needed to help  collect oral or written histories from old timers that actually worked in this mine.  

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Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

We're climbing into 2004!

Please check here  for our 2004 tour schedule.

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 visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     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 15 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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