March 2011 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles



Cerro Gordo is again open to day visitors, road and weather conditions permitting.

NOTE: Because of heavy snowfall, access is not recommended during the winter months.

Please phone (760-876-5030) for current conditions before venturing out!

A caretaker is living on on the site and visitors must check in before venturing around the ghost town.

No supplies or accommodations are available at Cerro Gordo and visitors should bring plenty of drinking water and haul out their own trash. The dirt road from Keeler to Cerro Gordo is a steep, eight mile ascent. Four wheel drive is not usually required, but vehicles should have adequate ground clearance.

Phone 760-876-5030 for current information or contact us through email at:


Robert C. Likes, co-author of From This Mountain--Cerro Gordo, has  completed a second book about Cerro Gordo.

Click on the cover image (above) to learn more.

This is a story of a generation that sought its own self-identity in a world that suddenly became more complicated with an uncertain future and values.

This epic journey was staged on desert mountains, on steamboats carrying silver bullion across a desert lake, and on a freighting trail that traversed 200 miles of inhospitable desert.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you


A new book

by Nick Garieff

Discovering Bodie tells stories about twenty residents of the High Sierra ghost town of Bodie, California. Included are a selection of the author's black and white photographs presented as duochromes of buildings or artifacts relating to the residents lives.

The story of Eli and Lottie Johl is an example of new revelations this book uncovers.

Published 2010 by Nick Gariaeff, Gilroy, CA.
80 pages including 64 photographs.
8 1/2 inch square perfect bound
ISBN 978-0-984363

Click on the book cover above to go to

LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt for details!


Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site,, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Terri Geissinger is a Bodie area Historian, Guide and Chautauquan. A long time resident who lives in Bodie and Smith Valley, she is dedicated to preserving stories of the pioneer families, miners, ranchers and teamsters. Click the photo for information on her tours with the Bodie Foundation.

Credo Quia Absurdum




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 the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



Belshaw Blasts the Mining World

by Cecile Page Vargo

Mortimer W. Belshaw was living with his wife, Jane, on Jackson Street in San Francisco when he heard reports of the silver strike up on the Fat Hill in the Inyo Mountains between the

Mortimer W. Belshaw

 Sierra Nevadas and present day Death Valley National Park. After bidding farewell to Jane, and their two sons, he hopped aboard the stage to the Owens River in the valley of the same name. Accompanying Belshaw was his friend, Abner B. Elder.

Belshaw worked, 1862-1864, with silver ore in the mines of Sinaloa, Mexico. Elder, was also a graduate of the Mexican mines. Upon their arrival to the primitive camp of Cerro Gordo in April,  1868, Buena Vista Peak was already pockmarked from the diggings of Mexican miners who worked individual sections of the hill. It was said that a big rope was fastened to a convenient tree in the camp with which they would hang the first man who talked of “one ledge” to these men., and the idea of one big “mother lode” was not even allowed.

Belshaw knew that control of Cerro Gordo would be in the hands of the man who built the smelting works. As he looked over the mountain, he saw galena ledges with 40-80 percent lead content. Knowing these veins would ultimately provide him control over the workings of the silver ore, he bought only those deposits containing the galena. The richest galena load was in the Union Mine, which he managed to acquire one third interest in from Joaquin Alamada by May 6, 1868.

With visions of building his own smelting furnace in his head, Belshaw knew it was important to show his wares first. Using existing Mexican vaso furnaces, he smelted galena into silver-lead pigs, loaded them into a wagon and drove them to Los Angeles. Belshaw and his partner, Elder, travelled through Los Angeles to the San Pedro harbor and created much excitement with their valuable cargo.

Once at the harbor they loaded their cargo aboard the steamship, Orizaba and sailed for San Francisco where they would drove up to the offices of Egbert Judson of the California Paper Company.  Judson liked what he saw so much, he shook hands with Belshaw and Elder to form the Union Mining Company.

On the return to Cerro Gordo, it was obvious to Belshaw that heavy machinery for his own furnace would not make it up the primitive mountain trail. Through July of 1868, Belshaw and Elder graded a wagon road the eight miles and 5,000 foot elevation gain from Owens Lake to the mines at the top of the mountain.

View looking east into Cerro Gordo today. The brick chimney on the left marks the site of Beaudry's smelter. Belshaw's smelter was at the top of the road saddle to the left of center.  The original Yellow Grade road is at far right.  The American Hotel, built in 1871 by Belshaw's competitor, John Simpson, is at the right. The modern Yellow Grade now winds through the center of the privately owned ghost town.

Cerro Gordons joked of having to be drunk to manage the winding route that consisted of sections so narrow two wagons could not pass each other without the smaller one being taken apart so the larger could pass.

Upon completion of this harrowing road, Belshaw saw more opportunity to leverage control and make money. A toll gate was set up in the constricted canyon. Every two horse wagon that passed through had to pay a dollar. A horse and rider were charged 25 cents. This route, the only practical way up the mountain, became known as the Yellow Grade, and is the easier route in to Cerro Gordo today.

The next order of business for Belshaw was to build the smelter that would extract silver and lead from the galena ore. His previous experience working in the Pacific Refinery in San Francisco, and an aptitude for mechanical devices helped him to design a blast furnace for ore reduction, complete with a more efficient water jacket.

High on the saddle of the mountains, just below Buena Vista Peak, the Belshaw smelter was erected. On a shelf approximately 150 feet wide, the furnace door had a view of the valley from both sides of the ridge. The blast furnace itself was two feet in diameter and fourteen feet high. According to author Robert C. Likes, a 10 horse power steam engine blower supplied the blast as it entered the furnace through three cast iron ruyere nozzles, which were located one foot above the slag spout. The furnace was gradually heated until the charcoal-filled crucible was aglow, in a process known as “blowing-in”. Alternating layers of charcoal, slag, silver ore, sand and limestone were added from the charge-door.

Site of Belshaw's smelter. Only a few scattered bricks and part of a foundation remain.

Molten lead and silver were drawn off from the tap hole at the bottom and poured into bars. At the same time slag (silica waste) was wheeled out and poured on the dump below the smelter. With the completion of this furnace, Belshaw succeeded to efficiently produce silver-lead bullion.

A piece of slag, possibly from Belshaw's smelter, sits on the ground. Most of Cerro Gordo's slag was later reprocessed to recover a small amount of silver.

By 1871, Belshaw once again drew upon his mechanical genius, and designed the even more efficient Belshaw Water Jacket blast furnace. In one twenty-four hour period, this boiler-like cylinder with scalding water surging between its double walls and lined with local fire resisting clay, was capable of producing silver-lead faster than any other process seen in the United States.  In one twenty-four hour period, 22.7 tons of ore, or 5.25 tons of bullion was smelted, consuming only 350 bushels of charcoal.

Belshaw joined forces with Victor Beaudry who ran a lesser smelter a short distance down the mountain. The two gained almost complete control of Cerro Gordo's ore and bullion production, earning them both the title of Silver King.

The camp of Cerro Gordo burst with buildings as signs of a real community, minus church and schools, cropped up. Top wages of $4 per day were touted by miners. Bullion was produced faster than it could be carried off the mountain and shipped to Los Angeles.  As others threatened, Belshaw’s domain, he would battle them, and strengthen his position buying the remaining shares of the Union Mine and investing in additional mining properties.

Cerro Gordo would eventually bust in ensuing years, as even the most productive mining towns are prone to do. Belshaw would eventually severe his connection with the mines as its manager, but retain a large financial interest. By 1877, he arrived in Antioch, Calif., where he opened the Empire coal mines in the foothills of Mount Diablo.  Here along with Egbert Judson and a man named Rouse, he built a railroad and dockage, acting as civil engineer and surveyors for the road.

Near Jackson in Amador County, Belshaw became active in the Kennedy Mining and Milling Company, as stockholder and director. He was also acting president of the Gwin Mine Development Company in Calveras County.

Noted as a man devoted to business and having little time for leisure, Belshaw spent his later years writing articles about silver and mining which were published throughout California. Among the more noted: “Silver on its own Merit”, San Francisco Evening Post, December 10, 1884; "Hard Times-Their Cause and Cure”, San Francisco Bulletin, September 8, 1885; “The Silver Problem”, Winona Republican, January 4, 1890 and an article entitled simply “Silver", that was published in Washington D. C, October, 1893.

Mortimer Belshaw died in the home of his son in Antioch, Calif., April 28, 1898, following a six month illness. His wife, the former Jane E. Oxner of Herkimer County New York, and two sons William Conrad, and Charles Mortimer, succeeded him.



The City Makers
by Remi Nadeau
Trans Anglo Books

From This Mountain--Cerro Gordo
by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day
Community Publishing

Looking Back At Cerro Gordo
by Robert C. Likes
Rosedog Books

The Silver Seekers
by Remi Nadeau
Crest Publishers

Western Times and Water Wars: State, Culture, And Rebellion In California
by John Walton
University of California Press

Mortimer Belshaw Biography courtesy of Martha A. Crosley Graham

Through the Eyes of a Child

California is a Great State

by Aidan Grant Garner

Through the Eyes of a Child is a new, occasional, column featuring stories by children relating to historical subjects. If you or your child would like to submit a story, please contact us through the usual channels.


This month's story is by seven year old Aidan Grant Garner, of Los Angeles. Aidan is in second grade and a member of the Cub Scouts. His hobbies include hanging out with his dog, reading the encylopedia, astrophysics, and playing Pokemon, Bakugan and Beyblade with his brother,  Reed.



California is a great state. There are lots of

Aidan Grant Garner

meadows and animals who roam and live

free. People get along in California and it's

a great state but not the biggest state in

America. And everything goes fairly in

California and everybody goes fairly in

California and everybody gets along in

California while everything is fresh and

free. And the leaves in the trees blow in

the wind. And California is just one of fifty

states in America and everybody makes

friends in California. While new people

move in to California, time goes past each

year while property is bought. And

everybody lives peacefully and keep the

community clean and going to keep

California clean, fresh and free.

Robert C. Likes

August 16, 1932 - February 15, 2011
by Roger Vargo

Bob Likes, western heritage historian and author of two books on Cerro Gordo has died. He suffered from heart disease for many years.

Bob Likes with one of his paintings.

Bob studied engineering at Los Angeles Pierce College in the 1960's. After attending Pierce, Likes worked for North American Rockwell in Canoga Park where he became president of the company's Ghost Town Club. He wrote his first book on Cerro Gordo ("From This Mountain-Cerro Gordo") with Glenn R. Day at this time.

After retiring from Rockwell, Likes and his family moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where he pursued interests in writing, photography, oil painting and classic automobiles. He became an award winning artist and published multiple works (including several articles for Desert Magazine), in addition to his Cerro Gordo books.

Bob was married to his wife, Janet, for nearly 60 years and had two daughters, Phyllis and Tracy, and a son, David. Bob was also a grandfather and great grandfather.

Christy Van Pelt, a relative of Remi Nadeau said, "Bob left a void in this world that can never be filled. You are missed!!"

He completed his most recent book, "Looking Back at Cerro Gordo", this year. His daughter, Phyllis Likes Fludine said, "My Dad didn't give up on his book even when the chips were down. He was a tough cookie and as we all know, a fighter. I am just thankful the book got finished so he was able to see the final copy. Mission Accomplished!"

A memorial service for Bob Likes was held Saturday, February 26 near his home in South Carolina. It was Bob's dream to again visit Cerro Gordo. He never made the journey in life, but some of his ashes will be returned to rest in the ghost town he loved.

We never met Bob in person, but talked with him on the phone and in many email and Facebook conversations. He was a good friend and mentor.

Bob Likes relaxes on the porch of the un-restored American Hotel in Cerro Gordo (above) and inspects the Bessie Brady's propeller in the Eastern California Museum (below).


Bob strikes a tourist-like pose while in Bodie. Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by