|Cover Story||December 16th, 2010|
By Frank Lorey III
Not many people realize that gold was found in Escondido around 1840—and this early discovery of gold was not that unusual. San Diego County is actually one of several locations in the "Golden State" that had recorded gold mining before the magical date of January 24, 1848, the date when James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill, near Coloma.
How did San Diego County fare with its gold production? San Diego County never really figured prominently in gold mining, and the all-time figures rank it in 23rd place among counties in the state with close to $9 million as a total. The excitement of the Julian-Banner, which was by far the largest district, and the Cuyamaca district did create small localized gold rushes, however. The Escondido district ranked third in the county in gold production.
A total of around 225 gold deposits have been found in San Diego County, of which only one yielded over a million dollars. Six others produced over $100,000; all the rest produced lesser amounts. Still, those were the days when gold was valued at $20 per ounce, so multiply the figure by at least 20 today to get an idea of the true value.
The Escondido District
Before the 1840’s there wasn’t much here—it was truly a hidden valley. Trails largely by-passed it. Luiseno and Diegeno Indians inhabited the east end of the valley, much of San Pasqual valley, and another village site near Harmony Grove. They hunted game such as rabbits and deer, and gathered acorns which were plentiful from groves of oak trees along the creeks.
The first whites to live here came along in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. Don Juan Alvarado lived in San Diego, but had the idea of running cattle somewhere inland. He scouted around and selected the Escondido area, applying for the Rincon Del Diablo land grant and building an adobe near the intersection of San Pasqual and Bear Valley roads. It was his workers that are given credit for finding gold.
Gold was probably first noticed in Adobe Creek, leading to discovery of a quartz vein nearby sometime in the early 1840's. The first mine was the El Diablo, named after the Spanish Rincon del Diablo land grant where it was discovered. The Mexicans that discovered the deposit largely used local Indian labor to work the mine. Sometime before 1860, it was abandoned, and an 1868 report noted old small-scale surface workings, and an arrastre, used to process the ore could still be seen. The quartz vein was clearly visible running in a northeast-southwest direction parallel to what is now Bear Valley Parkway.
In 1886, the Escondido Land and Township Company had the quartz vein assayed, and filed claims to reserve the mine for possible later work. By this time, it was known as the Oro Fino Mine. The property was leased to several small operators over the years. It wasn't until 1894, however, that work began in earnest, with the sinking of a 40-foot deep shaft. Tunnels then branched out following the vein, which ranged from two to ten inches wide. A second shaft went down 330 feet, with over 1,000 feet of tunnels. In 1895 the D.J. Stough family took over, and a small five-stamp mill was set up on the property to process ore. Total production was around $60,000 by that date.
The Oro Fino mine shut down for good in 1901, after producing 2,500 ounces of gold, and 1,500 ounces of silver—about $1 million today! Flooding was the major problem, and the shafts were dynamited to permanently seal them off. The current site is underneath a housing development, so no trace remains.
The Escondido Mine started in the 1860's, when Judge Oliver Witherby came into the picture. He was also from San Diego, and between 1857 and 1860 he quietly bought up all the portions of the old Rincon Del Diablo land grant that he could get from the descendants of Alvarado. He had Americans and Mexicans who worked surface ore along the same vein about 3000 feet west of the Oro Fino Mine. The ore was carried to the old arrastre at the Oro Fino for processing, until a five-stamp mill was installed in 1864. The mill was eventually moved to Julian to support the mines there. Ore was valued at $50 per ton, with as much as 2 1/2 ounces of gold and four ounces of silver per ton. This was about what a 2-3 man operation could work in a day.
A few small operators again leased the mining properties when all the surface ore had been depleted, and that is when trouble started. One company got the idea to selectively sort some really good ore and have it assayed, and when the values came back as being $1000-1200 per ton, it created quite an interest in the San Diego area. Stock certificates were printed up and sold, and the stock was even marketed on the east coast. The company found that it was much easier to print certificates and sell stock than to actually mine, and stock holders were assessed for so-called “development” work for the next few years. It was eventually exposed as a swindle, and the stock was considered worthless. There was still gold there, however.
In 1896, the Cleveland-Pacific Company purchased the Escondido Mine, and promptly switched to the company name. A 350-foot deep shaft was sunk at a 45-degree angle, with 500 feet of tunnels to follow the vein. A five-stamp mill was also set up on the Cleveland-Pacific property to process ore, along with two ten-foot tall cyanide tanks used in processing old ore left by previous operations. The five-stamp mill was used to further crush the old ore, which was then leached by cyanide to concentrate the gold, mercury was added and roasted off to produce an amalgam of concentrated gold.
For a brief period, two five-stamp mills were running in the area, creating enough noise to easily be heard in downtown Escondido, about 2-3 miles away!
About the turn of the century, The Escondido Mining Bureau was established to promote mining in the area. Many prominent families were involved including the Turrentines and Bevingtons. They never really attracted much more interest in the mining possibilities, though.
Operations ceased in 1911, when the ore only contained one quarter to one half ounce of gold per ton, and one quarter ounce of silver. Pyrite (fool's gold) was much more abundant, which made the ore difficult to process.
In 1924, the old Cleveland-Pacific mine workings were replaced by newer workings about 1000 feet to the west when the mine was sold to B.F. Brough and Associates of Toledo, OH. The younger workings were still on the same vein, but a new 160-foot deep shaft was sunk, with 450 feet of tunnels. In 1926, the mine closed forever, after total recorded production of 4,000 ounces of gold, and 3,500 ounces of silver, for a grand total of $100,000. Today, this would be over $2 million! The shafts of the mines were dynamited in the late 1930’s as kids liked to play in them. Homes have now been built at the site of the newer workings. The oldest workings still remain, although the City of Escondido has shown no interest in preserving the last real traces of gold mining in Escondido. The original tailings pile and pad where the mine structure stood is quite visible, if you know where to look!
Some other mining was attempted in the vicinity, most notably the Cravath Mine, which had a 100-foot deep shaft. It was located northwest of the Bear Valley-San Pasqual intersection. The Cravath name was well-known, as Gavvy Cravath held the baseball home run record until it was broken by Babe Ruth. A short tunnel led to the quartz vein, but no production was recorded. No mill was set up on the property, and no ore dump remains, so any ore was probably processed at the larger mines if it had any value. In later years the Peet family drilled a water well on the site, and struck the old tunnel below. The water pump is still there.
The Geneva Mining and Milling Company also sank several shafts in the 1880's and 1890's, but only two quartz veins were discovered, becoming the Jolly Boy and Mountain mines. Both contained very little gold, and the company was unprofitable. Other mines, which were basically exploration shafts, were the Coyote, Able, Crescent, Golden Crescent, and Redrock. Most were stock swindles—they printed up certificates and were able to produce pictures of their mines with the large workings of the Cleveland-Pacific mine in the background. One shaft still remains, and the homeowner would like to have it filled in before there is a problem. It was used to hold trash from the Peet family in the 1940’s and 1950’s, so there could be items of interest way down inside.
The old shafts are now flooded as water was always a problem in the mines, and the land is worth far more than all the gold taken out over the years. Many people used to buy oranges from a stand that was located on the site, and the oranges were grown in the area where cyanide and mercury were used in the mining process.
Note—this is an abbreviated portion from “THE GOLD MINING DAYS OF ESCONDIDO and SAN DIEGO COUNTY”, by Frank Lorey III, a Federal and State-registered Historian. It was published by the ESCONDIDO HISTORICAL SOCIETY in 2000, and a few copies are still available at the Escondido History Center in Grape Day Park. The book has maps of the mines sites and more photos, and all proceeds go to the History Center.
Author note—Frank Lorey has 14 published books and over 450 magazine and journal articles. He was a regular guest star on the History Channel’s “Wild West Tech” show for two seasons, and has appeared on many other shows.