October, 2003 Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts



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. J. T. Hammond came along in 1909 and recorded a claim, then along came a man named Jim Simpson who took over in 1910-1911.  Simpson rode his horse with a pack animal from a local store to the mine until someone named Brand built a road nearby.  Simpson used this road for supplies from Brand’s lodge to his mine. 

            Jim Simpson’s family decided to help him with his gold mine.  His mother, sister, and brother Jack were all involved.  During the summer months the Simpson brothers would work hard at the mine, but  the harsh snows  kept them off the mountain in the winter.  From 1910-1912,  Jim Simpson filed claims on adjoining lands.  In 1923, his stepfather, M. N. Clark, and Harry Chandler of Los Angeles were associated with the mines.  The road that Brand built allowed Bill and Guss Hess to haul machinery and supplies to the mine with their truck.  Today the name “Guss Hess” remains on a signpost near the ceiling of one of the many buildings that remain standing at the mine.. 

            In the 1930’s a corporation from Washington purchased the Simpson mine, and much work took place during this time, including the construction of a ten stamp mill.  In 1932,  Jim Simpson apparently filed claims on more mines in the area, but by 1939, another company took over everything, including the original claim. Much of what remains at the site today is from this era and beyond.

            Through a complicated three-way land swap, the United States Forest Service eventually acquired this property. 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.

            We must start a campaign to save this place for future generations.  Letters must be written to let both the Mono Basin Historical Society and the Inyo National Forest know that we care, and  to ask them what we can do to help them with their efforts. This is also the time for us to provide input on what we would like to see done at the site –  perhaps guided interpretive tours with building access or a museum of mining equipment and displays with pictures, histories and working machinery.

            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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