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The Lost Chinaman Mine


The California gold rush drew prospectors and adventurers from all over the world. Besides the American and native Hispanic population, Argonauts from Mexico, Australia, Chile, and China poured into the Mother Lode country during the early 1850's. The Chinese proved to be very patient and industrious prospectors. They would work claims abandoned by American miners and actually make them pay. In the goldfields and mining camps of California, the Chinese were at the bottom of the pecking order. Even the local Indians preyed on them. They were easy prey as most of the Chinese miners lacked firearms of any kind. The Chinese mining camps were frequently raided by outlaws from every ethnic group. In 1855, a Chinese camp near Drytown was attacked by Mexican bandits who robbed the miners of all their gold. A band of outlaws led by the infamous Joachin Murrieta plundered a Chinese camp on the Cosumnes River, near the Big Bar placers. They killed 6 of the miners and carried away their hard won stash of gold.

By 1852, nearly 20,000 Chinese emigrants were in California. The Chinese brought their language and culture with them to their new home. They also brought their "tongs". These secret Chinese societies sprouted up in the various mining camps of the Sierra Nevadas. Occasionally they clashed with each other. In 1854, a ten-minute battle between two tong armies near Weaverville left 8 men dead and 6 wounded. Two years later, another tong battle near Chinese Camp took the lives of 4 men.

Chinese miners eventually showed up in virtually every mining district in the American West, but were most abundant in the California goldfields. Even the Death Valley camps saw the occasional Chinese miner. During the early 1900's, such a miner was working at the famous Eagle Borax Works, located at the bottom of Death Valley.

Death Valley's most famous prospector, "Shorty" Harris, was working at Searles Lake for a short period of time during the early 1900's. "Shorty" was a Death Valley legend. Most prospectors never make a major strike. Only a very select few are lucky enough to make one big strike. "Shorty" Harris made two! His discoveries at Harrisburg in the Panamint Range and at Rhyolite in the Bullfrog Hills of Nevada made him a good judge of rich ore. While at Searles Lake, "Shorty" got a chance to see some incredibly rich gold ore.

"Shorty" Harris was working at the lake one day during the early 1900's when a Chinese borax miner from Death Valley staggered into the valley. The Chinaman pulled out a handful of gold ore and showed it to "Shorty". It was nearly pure gold! The exhausted Chinaman claimed that he had stumbled on a ledge of the stuff while crossing the Panamint Range. The ledge was in a steep, tree-covered canyon on the eastern flank of the range. "Shorty" Harris spent a number of years searching for the Chinaman's ledge, but he never found it. It still lies hidden in the trees, somewhere on the eastern flanks of the Panamints.


The history of mining in the beautiful Panamint Range really begins with the discovery of fabulously rich silver deposits near the head of Surprise Canyon in 1873. Located by outlaws hiding out in the canyon, the rich silver lodes spawned a mining camp called Panamint City. Unfortunately, the boom was short-lived. By 1876, the silver had run out and the mines began closing.

The Panamints languished for 24 years until the discovery of rich gold deposits only 7 miles south of Panamint City, in Pleasant Canyon. The mining camp that sprang up at the foot of the mountains was named after the famous Australian gold camp known as Ballarat. The mines at Ballarat produced nearly 50,000 ounces of gold during their lifetimes.

Prospectors now poured over the Panamints in search of mineral wealth. In 1905, "Shorty" Harris

and Pete Aguerreberry discovered rich gold and silver deposits near Emigrant Canyon. A small mining camp sprang up nearby. Named after "Shorty" Harris, the town of Harrisburg never really got its feet off the ground. The veins were quickly depleted and the mines closed down in 1908.

The Harrisburg discoveries were almost immediately followed by the biggest strike of all in the Panamints. In 1906, massive gold deposits were discovered only 7 miles northwest of Harrisburg. The mining town of Skidoo rose up nearby as prospectors and mining men poured into the area. The ore deposits were mostly low grade but they were immense. The mines of Skidoo eventually produced nearly 200,000 ounces of gold before closing down for good.