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The Lost Mine of Becker Canyon


The West has always been ranching rather than farming country. The land and climate is much more suited to the raising of livestock. In some parts of the West, men were herding cattle and sheep even before the great mining booms began. When the ores played out and the mining camps disappeared, the cattlemen and sheepherders were still there.

Stockmen and sheepherders are uniquely fitted for the business of prospecting. The very nature of their work makes it so. Sheepherders in particular seem to have all the prerequisites. They tend to work in fairly inaccessible areas that are well off the beaten path. They are able to wander and roam about while guarding their sheep. And they have plenty of time on their hands.

In the mining history of the West, a number of rich mineral deposits were discovered by local sheepherders. They also seemed to have a penchant for losing them. Take for example the fabulously rich gold-bearing vein found and then lost by Sasario Silva near the head of Lime Creek, just south of Silverton, Colorado during the 1900's. Or the rich gold and silver vein found somewhere on the Twin Bridges Ranch near Elko, Nevada by an

unknown Basque sheepherder. Of course, the old sheepherder was never able to find his way back to the vein. During the 1930's, a Mexican sheepherder named Santiago Lopez stumbled on a hidden mine portal somewhere in the mountains northwest of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Inside he found several piles of ore, an old Spanish forge, and a few crudely smelted bricks of metal. Lopez never made it back to the mine. In 1922, another Mexican sheepherder named Juan Quintana discovered and then lost the hidden Levi Carson gold vein near Twilight Peak, just 10 miles south of Silverton.

Basque sheepherders feel right at home in Nevada. They find the Nevada mountains very similar to their native Pyrenees. During the early 1900's, one of the many Basque sheepherders in the Reese River valley was driving his herd southward from Austin, along the eastern foothills of the Shoshone Mountains. Somewhere near the mouth of Becker Canyon, the sheepherder chanced upon a "3-inch vein of gold-bearing sugar quartz" exposed right on the surface! He continued south, eventually reaching Belmont where it is said he filed a claim on the gold vein. But when the sheepherder returned to Becker Canyon he was unable to find the small vein. He never did.


Nevada has always been mining country. The state has been blessed with three truly momentous mining booms during its history. Each has had a significant effect on the mining industry and the nation's economy. The first great mining boom in Nevada began in 1859 with the discovery of the fabulous Comstock Lode on Sun Mountain (or Mount Davidson). The massive silver lodes of the Comstock produced a frenzy of excitement in the mining world. Prospectors poured over the nearby mountains in search of the precious white metal. In the ensuing years, a number of rich silver strikes were made in the nearby ranges, all a result of the Comstock discovery. These include the Humboldt strikes in 1861, the Esmeralda strikes near Aurora in 1861, Reese River in 1862, Candelaria in 1863, the Union District near Ione in 1863, Pioche the following year, Belmont in 1865, and the incredibly rich silver discoveries at White Pine in 1868.

The second great mining boom in Nevada history lasted from 1900 to about 1908. Unlike the first great boom, gold rather than silver was the object of the prospector's search. Like the first boom, the second was initiated by a fabulous discovery of world-shaking importance. The incredibly rich silver and gold deposits of Tonopah were located during the spring of 1900 by a prospector named James Butler. This discovery attracted a horde of prospectors and mining men who streamed into the deserts of west-central Nevada. The excitement was reminiscent of the great 1860 Comstock boom. Fabulous gold deposits were discovered at Goldfield in 1902, Bullfrog in 1904, Manhattan in 1906, and at Round Mountain later that same year.

The third of Nevada's great mining booms began in 1987 and continues to this day. The incredible reserves of gold disseminated throughout the rocks of the co-called Carlin Trend have raised Nevada to third place in world production!

The Shoshone Mountains themselves are home to two important mining districts, the Union District near Ione and the Gold Park or Jackson District. The Gold Park District is located just across the divide of the Shoshone Mountains from Becker Canyon and Waterfall Canyon. It lies only 6 miles northwest of the mouth of Becker Canyon. The gold deposits of Gold Park were discovered during the heyday of the Comstock boom in 1864. But they languished for 16 years before being rediscovered in 1880. Some work was done, but the area essentially laid dormant until 1893. For the next 20 years, sporadic mining operations were conducted in the area but it wasn't until 1921 that peak production was reached. Over half a million dollars worth of gold was recovered from the Gold Park District during its lifetime.

The Union District is located 12 miles southwest of Becker Canyon , near the old mining town of Ione. Like the Gold Park District further north, the Union District was discovered during the early 1860's, right after the Comstock discovery. Peak production was reached after 1870 when several rich ore bodies were discovered in the mines near Ione.

Becker Canyon itself is home to a small mining "district" which centered around the short-lived mining camp known as Ursline. In 1908, Ursline was booming. The discovery of small gold-bearing quartz veins of amazing richness produced a small boom that lasted a few years. The area is deserted now.