May 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook



Cerro Gordo is



 * Please phone




before your visit.


The town is open during daylight hours, road and weather conditions permitting.


Please contact owner Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Robert at Cerro Gordo for information and current road conditions:

(760) 876-5030


(909 856-4434


Contact us through email at:


Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

First year membership (though December 2014) is only $10.

Click here  or the F.O.C.G. logo above to download a membership  brochure.

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456


Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

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.

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.



He Conquered a Mountain with Pick and Shovel

By Roger Vargo

Most mountains are “conquered” by climbers ascending their tallest peak. William Henry Schmidt did his conquering by digging, drilling and blasting through the interior of Copper Mountain. Why? Schmidt’s precise justification went with him to his grave, but “Because it was there” seems as valid a reason as any.

William Henry Schmidt was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in January of 1871. As a young man, he was frail and small of stature. Six of his brothers an sisters died from tuberculosis. He was expected to face the same fate as his siblings unless he moved to the West with its hot, dry climate.

William Henry "Burro" Schmidt in his later years.

Young Schmidt came to California in 1894, a year before the big gold strike above the Fremont Valley. He prospected around Kern County and eventually established claims in the (then) remote interior of the El Paso Mountains, near Last Chance Canyon. The canyon was known to travelers before Schmidt’s day.  Some forty years earlier, in February of 1850, William Lewis Manly passed through on his “escape” from Death Valley. The mountain range, particularly to the east near Garlock or “Cow Wells” , as it had once been called, was an established mining area.

A successful mining operation depends on several factors. First, there must be a worthwhile body of ore that will allow itself to be separated from the surrounding rock. Secondly, a transportation infrastructure must be available to convey the ore to a processing or distribution facility. Mojave, about 20 miles to the south, was the local transportation hub. The Southern Pacific Railroad had been there since 1876. Closer were the mills of Garlock or those in the young mining town of Randsburg. Schmidt’s dilemma was that no roads, only scant trails, were available in the El Pasos. His primary route of travel, like Manly’s, was through Last Chance Canyon.

There had to be a better route. This was a time of building, a period of great ideas. Work had already started on a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. There was talk of building a gigantic pipeline from the Owens Valley to bring water to Los Angeles. Schmidt had an idea. He would build a tunnel through Copper Mountain. Flatlands, meaning easy access to Garlock or Mojave, lay on the other side. History remembers that year, 1906, not for the birth of Schmidt’s Tunnel, but for the destruction of San Francisco by the Great Quake.

Schmidt apparently had no formal training in either mining or engineering. He had no power tools, although the use of such appliances was well established in the mining industry. He pounded through the solid rock with a pick, four-pound hammer and a hand drill. The broken rock was carried out first on his back, and later in a wheelbarrow. Schmidt would eventually install iron tracks and a mine car to transport debris beyond the growing tunnel.

Schmidt lived a solitary and frugal existence in the high desert. His only companions were a pair of burros, Jack and Jenny. The locals dubbed him “Burro” Schmidt. His clothes were patched with flour sacks. Tin cans were pressed into service as soles for his shoes. An old cast iron stove, purchased second hand, cooked his meals and heated his one room cabin which was insulated with old magazines. Two of his favorite meals were supposed to have been pancakes and a fish chowder made from sardines, rice and boiled onions.

Schmidt's home during better days. Schmidt's camp has unfortunately suffered repeated vandalism since Tonie Seger died in 2003.
Schmidt used old magazines, newspapers and boxes to insulate his cabin against the desert cold and heat.

Burro’s mining habits differed little from his sartorial and eating habits. He did most of the work by hand. Some explosives were used, but in character with his frugal nature, Schmidt would cut the fuses as short as possible. Once the fuse was lit, he literally would run for his life toward the end of the tunnel and throw himself to the ground to avoid being struck by the force of the blast and debris. Sometimes either his fuses were too short, or he didn’t run fast enough, because he would occasionally show up injured at another prospector’s shack.

 When he could afford it, Schmidt burned kerosene in his lamps. When kerosene became an unobtainable luxury, he used candles, but limited himself to one two-cent candle each day.

Work progressed slowly. At some point in time, the tunnel mutated from a project into an obsession. Schmidt would hire out during the summer months on Kern River ranches in order to generate income to support his digging. In the 1920’s,  a good road was constructed through lower Last Chance Canyon to the Dutch Cleanser Mine at Cudahay Camp. It connected with the rail line extended from Mojave in 1909. Schmidt was in his fifty’s, and for most folks, this would have been reason enough to stop tunneling and get on with mining.

But reason didn’t stop Burro Schmidt. He continued tunneling until 1938 when daylight was finally visible through the far side of his tunnel. Fifty eight hundred tons of rock had been hollowed out of Copper Mountain.

Sixty seven years old, stooped and gnarled from thirty two years and more than 2000-feet of tunneling, Schmidt never used the tunnel to transport ore. He sold the claim to another miner, Mike Lee, and moved elsewhere the El Pasos. “I never made a damn thing out of it,” Schmidt said. He retained ownership in several other claims. The California Journal of Mines and Geology, April 1949, showed Schmidt as the owner of the Copper Basin Group of mines (copper) and the Iron Hat mine (gold).

Burro lived another sixteen years. He died in January of 1954 at the age of 83 and is buried in the Johannesburg Cemetery. Was it Schmidt who conquered the mountain, or the mountain that conquered Schmidt?

Schmidt is buried in the Johannesburg Cemetery.

Robert L. Ripley , cartoonist, chronicler of human oddities, and author of the “Believe It or Not” features, made Schmidt’s legacy known to the world in the 1940’s.  Ripley called Schmidt “The Lone Miner of the Black Mountain.” Ripley wrote, “Wm. H. Schmidt spent 32 years boring thru a mountain. The greatest one man mining achievement in history. He dug the tunnel 2,000 feet long in order to facilitate the shipment of ore.”

Former tunnel owner Tonie Seger poses with Ripley's letter to Schmidt, "The Human Mole of Black Mountain".

Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel is open to visitors to explore the depths of one man’s obsession.





  Copyright © 2014, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by