High in the mountains of California, 8,500 feet above sea level, a big treasure was waiting to be discovered. The Inyo Mountains were packed full of high-grade gold and silver–a cache in the rough that was bound to be discovered sooner or later.
The name of the man who hit the first rich vein of silver and gold was Pablo Flores. Very soon, that same summer of 1865, he began to put in place the infrastructure of a larger mining operation near the summit of Buena Vista Peak.
Within a year, the mine was producing silver, lead, and zinc ores. And by 1867, Cerro Gordo was on every hand-drawn prospectors map in California, and even further. The tales of the rich deposits of high-quality silver brought frenzied flocks of diggers up in the mountains.
Next in line of important characters regarding the mining of this region was a businessman named Victor Beaudry, who hailed from Independence, California.
The story is that he was so impressed by the quality of silver that was coming out of Cerro Gordo, he decided he must be part of the profit. Hacked his bags and stormed up the mountain. First Beaudry opened a store next to the mine and in a short space of time was the owner of several mining claims, which he got in lieu of unpaid debts in his shop.
His next step was to construct two smelters. Not all the prospectors were lucky enough to hit a vein, many suffered losses, even bankruptcy.
Beaudry continued to offer credit to these hopefuls, slowly acquiring more and more claims from his debtors. By the end of his part in this story, Victor Beaudry owned most of the mining grounds in the area.
By 1869 the whole western slope of the Inyo Mountains was taken over by the fever. More miners, more equipment, new and more modern smelters in Cerro Gordo, and the surrounding rival mining towns as well. It wasn’t just gold and silver.
Every single metal that was worth something was being dug up and smelted on the spot or sold as ore. The only way to transport big loads of ore down from the steep mountain at the time was using mule teams. The high quality ore was transported with mule teams 275 miles, all the way to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles newspapers in 1872 reported: “To this city, Cerro Gordo trade is invaluable. What Los Angeles now is, is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence. Should it be unfortunately severed, we would inevitably collapse.”
In 1875 the mines hit a dry period. For months, the ore excavated was very low in quality. In addition there was a fire that destroyed some of the mine buildings. And if that wasn’t enough, prices of lead and silver started to fall, thus marking the end of an era of great prosperity for Cerro Gordo.
But this wasn’t the end for Cerro Gordo. Mining activities were restarted in 1905 after the mine was purchased by the Great Western Ore Purchasing and Reduction Company. They had great plans for the future of the mines.
The biggest idea was to build the greatest smelter on the mountain. The revival didn’t last long–by 1920 only ten men were left, working the mountain with pickaxes. In 1938 the mines finally closed for good.
Today the mines and the mining town, though empty and abandoned, are privately owned. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
The upside is that the mine and the town are both completely preserved and kept in fine shape. On the flip side is that it’s illegal to visit and roam around the old town without permission from the owner.