It may come as
surprise to Sunland/Tujunga locals that mining is a part of this
area's rich history. In fact, Rancho Tujunga is directly connected
to the first discovery of gold in California.
Long before the
cry of gold was heard on Sutter's Mill in Northern California;
stories were told of the yellow flakes being found on property near
Saugus that was once owned by Mission San Fernando. This was in
1834 during California's Mexican period. Small shipments of gold
were being made to New England during the days of hide and tallow
trade. The Indians apparently brought gold to the old mission. It
was believed that the padres were secretly mining the gold, and
hiding it on the mission grounds. By 1840 or 1841, an Indian, named
Rogerio, supposedly found gold in Little Tujunga Canyon.
Francisco Lopez sat down to have his lunch under one of California's
huge old oak trees, in the area we now know as Placerita Canyon.
While sitting there with his servant, he remembered to dig up some
wild onions as his sister had requested he bring some back for her.
He dug around the soil where he had found the onions, and discovered
more flecks of yellow. Soon the cry of gold was to be heard in the
pueblo of Los Angeles. The cry quickly spread on throughout
Southern California, from Santa Barbara, to San Diego. The Mexican
prospectors began digging and washing the canyons, yielding two
dollars per day per miner.
was a member of a prominent California family from the early days.
His father was a leading citizen of Los Angeles, and a Latin
scholar. His mother was a teacher, and was also from a prominent
family of the time. His aunt and cousin were owners of Rancho San
Francisco. His brother, Pedro, was mayordomo of the Mission San
Francisco Lopez were both granted ownership of the Rancho Tujunga
lands. A scholar himself, Francisco, had been educated in Mexico
City, where he learned techniques of prospecting and mining at the
famous Colegio de Mineria. Two years before his fateful dig for
wild onions, Andres Casstillero, a Mexican mineralogist, joined
Francisco, in Southern California. Near San Fernando they had found
water-worn pebbles of iron pyrite. From there, Francisco obtained
mining tools and began searching for gold around the areas.
Perhaps, it was more coincidence that he found the wild onions for
his sister, while he was actually on a search for gold, and the rest
became the story that many of us have read in our California history
From 1842 to
1855 the areas of Rancho San Francisco, in and around Placerita and
San Feliciano Canyons were mined. In 1843, Francisco Lopez brought
another visitor from Mexico, Francisco Garcia. Upon visiting the
placer locations in these canyons, Senor Garcia returned to Sonora.
He came back six months later with experienced placer miners, known
In San Feliciano
Canyon, 212 pounds of gold were taken out. Over several years,
Sonoran Jose Salzar found $12,000 worth of gold. It's interesting
to note that the first parcel of California gold dust coined in the
U. S. Mint in Philadelphia, was taken from the San Fernando
Placers. Abel Stearns, a Los Angeles merchant, shipped 18.34 ounces
of gold around Cape Horn and it was deposited at the mint, July 8,
1843. Gold was shipped to the mint for several years afterwards.
As late as 1859, miners in the San Fernando hills still reported
Along with gold
discoveries, there are always legends of fabulous lost mines.
Supposedly, San Fernando Mission Indians brought gold from "Lost
Padres" gold mine to the Fathers. The mine was located somewhere in
the mountains north of the mission, and worked in the early 1800's.
One tale has it that the mine was located in Pacoima Canyon under
the flood control reservoir.
version, appearing in October 29, 1987 in the Pasadena Union, hits
close to home for Sunland/Tujnga residents. The Union
reported that "30 miles up Tehunga (Big Tujunga Canyon) is said to
be the location of the 'Mina de los Padres'." Of course the exact
location of the mine was unknown, but tremendous wealth was
apparently pulled from the mine, until the Indians supposedly
massacred the padres and removed all traces of it.
Many believed the
San Fernando Mission padres were hiding away their great gold
discoveries for private use. Before the mission was restored,
treasure hunters would excavate the grounds hoping to find what the
padres had hidden away. In 1904, a visitor to the San Fernando
Mission, claims huge holes were within the church itself. The main
alter was torn apart in the search for the treasures. In 1915,
vandals apparently looked for gold "buried in the bosoms" of dead
monks. For more than a century, people searched for the Los Padres
Mine, but to no avail.
newspapers first report gold in the Tujunga region in 1865. A ledge
of gold-bearing quartz was found in Little Tujunga Canyon. The
Mayflower Mining Company dug a tunnel eighty feet into the mountain,
looking for the Mother Lode. The famed bandito, Tiburcio Vasquez,
not only hid out in La Tuna Canyon, in the Verdugo Hills, and in Big
Tujunga Canyon, in the San Gabriels, he also did a little gold
prospecting along Mill Creek in the 1870's.
Early day forest
rangers, Phil Begue, and Tom Lucas, discovered remnants of Vasquez
mining efforts still in good condition in 1916. They burned the
combustibles, and did a little gravel washing themselves,
discovering about $6 worth of gold.
found small amounts of placer gold in the upper canyon of Big
Tujunga in the late 1880's, creating a minor gold rush. As the
placer ran out, the search was on for quartz veins in the hillsides.
The slopes of upper Big Tujunga, the tributaries of Mill Creek,
Alder Creek, and Wickiup Canyons showed promise. In 1889 the Tujunga
Mining District was booming. Above Mill Creek, the largest mine, the
Josephine, had two tunnels, one of which extended 400 feet. A small
stamp mill was also in operation. The Tujunga, London, Hope, Lottie,
Dundee, and Cable and Pacific mines, spotted the mountain. Dry
washers could be seen along the main canyon. Abandoned arrastras
from previous years were reported along upper Mill Creek.
By 1896, The
Josephine was no longer in existence. It could have shut down, or
been bought out by new owners, who changed its name. Mill Creek was
full of activity, however, with two major groups of mines. The
Tujunga Group contained over a thousand feet of tunnels and many
small stamp mills. Five tunnels, three shafts and a four stamp mill
made up the Monte Cristo Group. The Monte Cristo was the most
productive and longest of the gold mines.
not known for certain, stories told by Delos Colby, of Colby Ranch
along nearby Coldwater creek, could have been the beginning of the
Monte Cristo Mine. When Colby first came to the mountain around
1867, he saw Spanish miners carrying ore up to a water wheel driven
crusher. When the Spanish left, Colby used the wood from the
waterwheel for his ranch. The Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News,
January 1867, also reported the forming of a new mining district
north of Tehungo and east of Soledad, with discoveries of gold
bearing quartz. The paper told of four large arrastras, which would
soon be in operation, and a 60 foot diameter water wheel which ran a
twenty stamp mill.
The Monte Cristo
went through several owners over the next years. In 1893 Colonol
Baker organized a company, and spent $85,000 building a rough wagon
road from Acton up Aliso Canyon, over Mill Creek Summit, down to
Monte Cristo. Heavy mining equipment and buildings were assembled.
Very little ore was recovered, and the mine was quickly abandoned.
Captain Elbridge "Ed" Fuller, arrived in 1895, and ruled the Monte
Cristo during a colorful period of various partners, one of which
was found dead with his head blown off. Fuller was not successful
in his mining venture, and eventually disappeared. Fred W. Carlisle
took over in 1915 until 1946. Carlisle came to the Monte Cristo from
the Randsburg Mining District, where he had been assayer. Upon
suffering financial losses in Randsburg,
came to Mill Creek and the Monte Cristo mines.
Scott Cole and Eric Vargo explore near the Monte Cristo
From 1923 to
1928 the Monte Cristo, under supervision of
recovered gold bearing ore from two rich quartz veins. Of six
tunnels that were bored, the longest was 425 feet into the mountain.
Among the machinery brought in was a Blake Crusher and a portable
air compressor. In 1927, the California State Mining Bureau reported
recovery of $70,000 in gold. Some claimed as much as $200,000 had
been recovered - the difference stolen by high-graders. In the
1930's, production slowed down, and Carlisle suspended operations
for awhile, then leased east and west veins to various outside
operators. Order L-28 by the War Production board, in October of
1942, forced the Monte Cristo, and all gold mines, to cease
operations. More than 50 years of mining at the Monte Cristo, came
to an end.
ventures have occurred in the mountains above the communities of
Sunland-Tujunga for years. Along the tributaries of Big Tujunga,
Delos Colby mined small amounts of gold from a quartz mine in
Wickiup Canyon in the earlier years of the 1890s. Thomas Clark
worked along the west slope of Alder Creek in the 1890's. Captain
Lester Loomis expanded that area from 1913-1936, Ore from the Loomis
mine was milled by a water driven arrastra. Areas of Chilao were
prospected for gold by prospectors named Bell and Hartman around the
turn of the century. Even Charley Chantry, of Chantry Flats fame,
tried his hand for a short while, but with little success.
tons of gold and silver ore came from the Falcon Mine near Mill
Creek Summit in the years from 1939-1942. Minor quantities of gold
came from the Black Cargo, along Monte Cristo Creek, up into the
1950's. The Black Cargo boasted the only 24 bucket tramway to
transport ore from the mine to the mill. The tramway proved
inadequate, however and a road was built instead.
Today from our
armchairs, we can visit the rich history of the Monte Cristo Gold
Bob Kerstein, the current owner of the mine, writes the colorful
stories related to this area. Bob and Susana Kerstein's family
acquired the properties in the early 1940's. They own 25.66 acres of
private property, as well as 525 acres of surrounding mining claims.
All claims have been registered and kept current for nearly 100
years. Property managers on duty maintain structures and claims. A
raging fire burnt hundreds of thousands of acres of Angeles National
Forest in September 1979. Three main buildings from the Monte Cristo
Mine survived this fire. Perhaps someday the Monte Cristo will
become productive again.
The History of Sunland Tujunga
(out of print)
Trails of the
John W. Robinson
Mines of the San
John W. Robinson