Tumco - Hedges - Ogilby

California Gold Mines and Historical Towns


Driving Interstate 8 east of El Centro, California, after you pass through the Imperial Sand Hills, you can see off to the left a small group of mountains that appear dark brown. These mountains are known as the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The mines in the Cargo Muchachos have been called the most hazardous in the Southwest. Cave-ins and fires were common. The miners, especially in the summer, found living conditions deplorable. The town where the miners and their families lived was originally known as Ogilby and Hedges, then later changed to Tumco. Because of the old mining activity, access to the area has been somewhat restricted.

The Cargo Muchacho Mountains have an interesting future, as well as a checkered past. Today the price of gold is around $1,200.00 per ounce. Mining operations no longer tunnel down 1,000 feet or more. Now, they just remove chunks of the mountain, crush the ore and recover the gold.

One of the last remaining buildings

Discovery of gold in the Cargo Muchacho Mining District is credited to a mule that strayed while members of a California-bound wagon train were camped near these mountains in 1862. When the mule was later found in the foothills, one sharp-eyed man picked up a nugget at the spot. A few pieces of float were found, which were traced to quartz ledges.

Over the years, there were several mines operating in the area of Hedges. The American Girl Mine produced a good deal of gold and is now the main site of the current gold mining activity. The Gold Rock Claims passed through many hands but made little money, and most of the operators eventually went broke. The Gold Rock Mine closed in the fall of 1881 when the mill contract terminated. The mines remained closed until 1889 when a Boston firm purchased the claims. The new owners decided to move the 15-stamp mill they had been using at another mine to their new claim.

Some of the Gold Rock claims assayed as high as $150 a ton. (At $20 an ounce that would be about 7.5 ounces of gold a ton, a very rich find. Today, a mining company will mine as low as 1/8 ounce per ton of ore.) No one was immediately eager to begin developing the veins because a 14-mile haul was needed to get the ore to the nearest mill. A group of California investors decided to gamble on the Gold Rock mines in 1893 and formed the Golden Cross Mining and Milling Company.

Looking for gold, some copper on the rocks

The Golden Cross Company was soon facing financial difficulties because the ore didn't bring the high yield expected, and they couldn't turn a profit operating the 40-stamp mill they had built. Management concluded that a simple solution would be to add another 60 stamps. But with a 100-stamp mill capacity, the problems became worse. It was necessary to mine some very poor ore to keep all 100 stamps going, and the firm went further into debt. Even with gold mining, the basic rules of business still apply -- in order to make a profit, you have to sell your product at a price higher then it costs to produce it. This gold operation was finally sold to a Salt Lake City investment group which gave one million dollars for the property and agreed to pay the debts owed by the Golden Cross Company.

It didn't take long for the investors to realize they had made a bad deal. Ore from the Gold Rock mines was bringing no better than $3.10 a ton, and financial disaster was soon staring them in the face. In an effort to stave off the inevitable, the firm began cyaniding the thousands of tons of tailings that had accumulated around the mines over the years. Within two years they were insolvent, and a receiver was appointed to run the mines. By 1909, the Gold Rock mines had been deserted, and Hedges became a ghost town.

But there were still some optimistic folks who thought the Gold Rock claims could be operated at a profit and The United Mines Company took them over in 1910. Though all of the old shafts went down at least a 1,000 feet, they reconditioned the mill and hired a crew. The camp was rechristened Tumco, an acronym for the company name. But low-grade ore brought the enterprise to a halt soon after it was launched.

Today, this open area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All that remains are a few old buildings in poor shape and some very dangerous mine shafts that drop a 1,000 feet or more. The locals tell a story about a man trying to jump one of the shafts with his dirt bike; they say he didn't make it. Others have tried to climb into the shafts with ropes, only to be overcome by gas rising from the mines and fall to their deaths. There is still some gold in the washes near town, but it's not worth the effort it would take to recover it.

I used a dry washer in the area about 16 years ago and got a few flakes of gold, but it took four hours of digging to get about $5.00 worth of gold.

If you use a bigger shovel you can dig a hole like this, and yes, there is water in the desert.

If you're in the area, be sure to stop at the Gold Rock Ranch. They have a campground, supplies and lots of local history. The area behind the old town site is now being strip-mined, and there is some thought of tunneling down to much lower levels to reach the gold deposits. Let's hope they have better luck than those mining adventurers of days gone by.

-- Jim Bremner


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