The "golden West" has always had a silver lining. Silver mining has been a mainstay in the economies of several western states including Nevada, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona. The history of each is highlighted by a number of incredibly rich silver strikes which produced a stream of the white metal.
The American West turned out to be well-endowed with silver deposits. In a land rich with silver, one of the greatest strikes of all occurred in 1859 near the head of Gold Canyon, on the western edge of the Great Basin. It was during that year that the famous Comstock silver lode was discovered. The decomposed outcrop of silver ore discovered at the head of Gold Canyon was only the tip of the iceberg. An immense deposit of silver awaited the miners just below the surface. The Comstock silver lode produced no less than 16 bonanzas during the first few years of mining.
The Comstock discovery spawned a number of rich silver strikes in Nevada during the 1860's. Silver-bearing veins were discovered within a year of the Comstock strike at Unionville and Aurora. In 1862, the incredibly rich silver deposits near Reese River were uncovered followed by the Candelaria strike in 1863, the Pioche and Eureka strikes in 1864, the Belmont strike in 1865, and the White Pine discovery in 1868. The White Pine ore was some of the richest silver ore ever seen by miners.
Nevada was turning out to be a treasure trove of silver. Not surprisingly, more than a few rich silver deposits were discovered and then lost during Nevada's silver mining heyday. One of the most famous of these is the legendary Lost Hardin Silver Placer. Discovered by James Allen Hardin and John Lambert in 1849, the Lost Hardin mine has fascinated and frustrated prospectors for over 150 years.
James A. Hardin and John Lambert were members of an emigrant train bound for Oregon in the summer of 1849 when they made their discovery. The emigrants had just crossed the forbidding Black Rock Desert and were camped at Double Hot Springs, located on the western edge of the Black Rock Range. Hardin and Lambert decided to try their hands at hunting and set off northward in pursuit of game. They hiked through the broken country along the western flanks of the Black Rock Range until they reached a "dry sandy wash" covered with chunks of heavy, dark gray metal. Hardin and Lambert looked down in disbelief. The sandy arroyo was chock full of the metal. Thinking they had found a deposit of lead, the two men gathered up as much as they could carry and headed back to camp. Of course, it wasn't until years later that James Hardin found out that his "lead ore" was really silver!
Hardin eventually settled in Petaluma, California, while Lambert ended up in Oregon. It was from Petaluma that Hardin led a prospecting expedition back to the Black Rock country in the summer of 1859. It had been 10 years since his initial discovery. When they reached the Black Rock Range, they set up camp in the western foothills and began to scour the nearby washes and ravines. But try as they might, they were unable to locate the silver placer. They never did.
In 1866, a small ledge of silver-bearing ore was apparently discovered about 10 miles north of Double Hot Springs. Word went out that the Lost Hardin mine had been found. A mining town called Hardin City sprang up nearby complete with 2 stamp mills and a post office. But Hardin City was founded on questionable assays and a bit of wishful thinking. The Black Rock ore turned out to be extremely poor and like most boom towns, Hardin City quickly withered away.
Many men have searched for the Lost Hardin Silver Placer but as far as we know, no one has found it. It remains Nevada's most famous lost mine.
The mining history of Nevada is a magnificent tale of discovery which culminated in at least three world-shaking mineral strikes and countless lesser ones. The first of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1859 with the discovery of the famous Comstock silver lode, near the head of Gold Canyon. Prospectors swarmed into the surrounding mountains in search of silver. A succession of rich silver strikes occurred during the 1860's including Unionville and Aurora in 1861, Reese River in 1862, Candelaria and Ione in 1863, Pioche and Eureka in 1864, Belmont in 1865, and White Pine in 1868.
The second of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1900 with the discovery of incredibly rich gold and silver deposits near Tonopah. The Tonopah strike rejuvenated the economy and sent hundreds of prospectors into the mountains in search of similar ore. In 1902, the fabulous Goldfield deposits were discovered, followed by the Bullfrog strike in 1904, the Manhattan and Round Mountain strikes in 1906, the National strike in 1907, and the famous Jarbidge discoveries in 1909.
The third of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1962 with the discovery of immense disseminated gold deposits near Carlin. The Carlin ores are extremely low-grade but incredibly abundant. Total reserves at Carlin may exceed 40 million ounces of gold!
The mining history of northwestern Nevada is meager when compared to the rest of the state. This is no accident or oversight. The geology of northwestern Nevada is not conducive to the emplacement of large precious-metal deposits. Consequently, mineralization is sparse and largely confined to two small districts, Leadville and Varyville.
In 1870, prospectors discovered gold and silver deposits in the rugged country just north of the Black Rock Desert. This was the birth of the famous Varyville District. Within five years, the mines were producing gold, silver, lead, and copper in abundance. By the late 1870's, two stamp mills were in operation at Varyville. But like most mining camps, the good times eventually come to an end. By the 1880's, Varyville was dead.
The Leadville boom lasted from 1910 to the early 1920's. The district came into being with the discovery of rich silver-bearing lead ores in 1909. But unlike Varyville, Leadville proved to be much more resilient and long-lived. The old mining camp lingered on into the 1940's.
The history of mining in the Black Rock Range revolves around the search for the Lost Hardin Silver Placer. During the summer of 1866, prospectors from Honey Lake, California stumbled onto a ledge of dark gray, ore-like material about 10 miles north of Black Rock Point. After 17 years, had the Lost Hardin mine finally been found? Prospectors stormed into the Black Rock Range and a mining camp called Hardin City quickly sprang up. Unfortunately, the bubble soon burst as the Black Rock ore was found to be extremely low grade. By 1868, Hardin City was deserted.