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The Lost Mormon Mine of the McCullough Mountains


Mormons and miners were the key players in Nevada during the early days of the territory. The Mormons came to cultivate the land while the miners came in search of silver. By 1851, both groups were there in force. Occasionally, the Mormons did a little mining themselves. Most of their early efforts were focused on the rich lead deposits scattered throughout southern Utah and Nevada. Eventually they learned that many of these deposits contained silver!

In 1856, Mormon colonists discovered lead ore in the mountains near present-day Las Vegas. The ore turned out to be rich in silver, but the Mormons didn't realize it at the time. They abandoned the Las Vegas area two years later. In 1864, a Mormon missionary discovered a rich deposit of silver ore 10 miles northwest of Meadow Valley. The mining camp that sprang up near the diggings became known as Pioche. The town flourished for a few years, but by 1876 the rich silver lodes had been exhausted. Pioche withered away and eventually died in 1880.

By the 1890's, Nevada was in a mining slump. Indeed, the only significant discovery during the 1890's occurred 50 miles southwest of Pioche, in the Delamar Mountains. The Delamar deposits were extremely rich. Over fifteen million dollars worth of ore was eventually recovered from the Delamar District. The Delamar strikes were a prelude to the great silver and gold discoveries of the 20th century. And like all big strikes, the Delamar rush drew prospectors from all over the West. The mountains and deserts of southern Nevada were soon crawling with men searching for gold.


Two of those men wandering the deserts of Nevada would find more than they bargained for. Somewhere in the McCullough Mountains of extreme southeastern Nevada, the two prospectors would encounter the "elephant" of western fable. Although Mormon by creed, very little else is known about them. Only the last name of one of the men has come down to us - Mashbird. The two prospectors entered the McCullough Mountains sometime during the 1890's. Setting up their base camp near a spring in the mountains, the pair combed the surrounding country in search of a rich vein. After several weeks of fruitless search, the prospectors encountered an Indian who told them about a large gold deposit hidden nearby. The two men were elated. When the Indian offered to show them the outcrop, Mashbird decided to follow him to the gold while his partner waited in camp. The two prospectors should have been suspicious. Mashbird was attacked on the way to the mine and left for dead. When he awoke, he staggered down the trail, weak and delirious. Stumbling through the wilderness he suddenly found himself looking down at a rich vein of gold-bearing ore! There at his feet was the Mother Lode. He gathered some samples and eventually made his way back to camp where he found his partner murdered. Mashbird sadly collected his gear and made his way out of the mountains. When he finally recovered, he tried to locate the gold deposit but he was never able to find it.


Southern Nevada has a venerable mining history. The rugged mountains of Clark County have been prospected and mined for centuries - first by the Indians and then by the white men. The turquoise deposits at Crescent Peak were worked by Pre-Columbian Indians well before the Spaniards arrived. It took them awhile, but Spanish prospectors eventually reached the mountains of southern Nevada sometime during the late 1770's. Unfortunately, the Spaniards found very little gold or silver during their tenure. Nor did the Mexicans who followed them. It would be a very different story with the Americans.

The American prospector was a breed apart. In less than a century he would penetrate every corner of the North American continent in search of precious metals. It would be the American prospector who would eventually uncover and tap all of Nevada's great ore deposits. Those ore bodies have made Nevada one of the greatest gold and silver producers in the world.

In southern Nevada, it was the hardy Mormons who made the first strikes. In 1856, they discovered lead ore in the mountains near present-day Las Vegas. Only later would they learn that the ore was rich in silver. The Crescent Peak District was also a source of silver, but not until the turn of the century. Prior to that, the district had been a good

source of gold and turquoise. Mexican miners may have been the first to recover gold from the Crescent Peak District. It is said that a group of Mexican prospectors discovered gold-bearing quartz veins on Crescent Peak in 1863. They worked the veins for a number of years before abandoning the area. In 1904, a rich outcrop of silver ore was discovered on the slopes of Crescent Peak. The following year, the town of Crescent sprang up near the silver mines. Unfortunately, like most boom towns, Crescent faded quickly. Nothing is left now.

During the 1890's, when most of the state of Nevada was in a mining slump, the southeastern portion was booming. Rich strikes at Delamar and Searchlight were virtually the only bright spots in the entire state. Searchlight is by far the largest gold-producing district in Clark County. Nearly 250,000 ounces of gold have been reported from this district alone.

In 1908, large deposits of alunite were discovered in the northernmost portion of the McCullough Mountains. This discovery generated a considerable amount of excitement as alunite is many times associated with gold. At first, it was thought that a new "Goldfield" had been discovered, but alas it was not to be. The Alunite District proved to be a disappointment to all.