In the six years that Mark Twain spent in the Far West, he experienced the heady euphoria of a mining frontier in its heyday. Twain never forgot his years in California and Nevada and neither will his readers. His experiences at Angel's Camp on Calaveritas Creek inspired his first famous work, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". Twain's visit to the Esmeralda mines in western Nevada provided him with material for another work called "Roughing It." While visiting the nearby mining camp of Aurora, Twain got a look at a sample of ore from one of California's legendary lost mines. His account of the Lost Cement Mine, which appears in "Roughing It", describes the amazing ore in epicurean terms. Twain said it had "lumps of virgin gold thick as raisins in a slice of fruit cake".
The Lost Cement Mine is said to be located somewhere near the headwaters of the Owens River, in the Mammoth Mountain country of eastern California. Although the mine has assumed legendary status, the samples of ore from the fabulous ledge were real enough. Many prospectors and mining men got a chance to see the curious cement-like ore during the early 1860's. The ore was real enough to put 20 prospecting parties into the field at once! In the frenzied search for the Lost Cement Mine, prospectors stumbled on other
deposits, some of them extremely rich. The incredible gold and silver lodes on Gold (or Red) Mountain, east of Lake Mary, were discovered as a direct result of the Cement Mine rush. The lost mine was chased by hundreds of prospectors during the 1860's and 1870's who believed in the rich chunks of ore seen by Mark Twain that day in Aurora.
At least two accounts of the Lost Cement Mine exist. The most glaring difference between the two concerns the original discoverers of the mine. One account has three German brothers finding the ledge while the other account has only two members of a large party making the discovery. In both cases, the discovery took place somewhere near the headwaters of the Owens River, in the year 1857. The ore is always described as native gold embedded in a rusty red, cement-like matrix. It was amazingly rich! Word of such a discovery eventually got out, and by the 1860's a swarm of prospectors had descended on the headwaters of the Owens River and surrounding country. Samples of the unusual cement-like ore circulated around the mining camps at Aurora, Bodie, and Benton. This tangible evidence of the lost ledge produced a flurry of excitement that has sustained and motivated searchers for a century and a half.
Serious mining first began in the Mono Lake country of eastern California during the early 1860's. But prior to that time some tantalizing discoveries had been made that hinted of the country's hidden wealth. In 1852, a detachment of soldiers led by Lieutenant Tredwell Moore discovered gold-bearing quartz on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas, near Bloody Canyon. In 1859, the rich deposits at Bodie were worked for the first time, but on a limited scale. The following year, gold-bearing veins were discovered near Tioga Pass, on the west side of Mount Excelsior.
Then in 1862, massive silver deposits were found near the present town of Benton, California. Located about 25 miles south of Mono Lake, the Benton silver district produced over $4 million worth of precious metal during its lifetime.
The 1870's saw many rich strikes in the Mono Lake country of eastern California. In the summer of
1877, a party of prospectors led by James A. Parker discovered a huge ledge of gold and silver ore while searching for the Lost Cement Mine south of Mono Lake. Parker's discovery on Gold (or Red) Mountain became known as the famous Mammoth Mine. By 1879, the miners were extracting incredibly rich ore, but by 1881 the mine was forced to close down forever. Other mines in the area continued to produce ore until the 1950's.
The richest strike by far in the sagebrush country of eastern California was Bodie. Discovered in 1859 by a Dutch prospector named Waterman Body, the gold deposits of this district eventually produced over one million ounces of the yellow metal! It was by far the biggest producer in all of Mono County. Mining operations at Bodie continued until the 1930's.