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NEVADA

The Lost Breyfogle Mine

THE TALE

Boundary Canyon slices through the heart of the rugged Amargosa Range just north of Beatty Junction, California. Besides Highway 190 which follows Furnace Creek Wash further south, the road through Boundary Canyon is the only route that cuts through the Amargosas. Boundary Canyon forms the border between two subranges of the Amargosas, the Grapevine Mountains to the north and the Funeral Mountains to the south. The canyon and surrounding mountains are extremely rugged and nearly waterless, but early prospectors sometimes used Boundary Canyon to travel to and from Death Valley. Occasionally, they left their marks along the way. On a vertical cliff in the Boundary Canyon area, an old inscription is carved into the rock. The words are enough to fire the imagination. There, cut into the rock above the canyon floor, is the message: "Hunting the Breyfogle. 1872."

The Lost Breyfogle Mine is one of several legendary lost mines of Death Valley and is indeed one of the most famous lost mines of the entire West. And no wonder. The renowned Death Valley prospector, "Shorty" Harris, saw some of Breyfogle's amazing ore and instantly pronounced it the richest he had ever seen! A chunk of the fabulously rich ore was on display in Austin, Nevada for a number of years. Hundreds of mining men and prospectors stared with amazement at the ore sample. It was nearly half gold!

The man who discovered this golden bonanza came west during the 1849 rush to California. Charles C. Breyfogle and his brothers Jacob and Joshua left their home in Ohio and joined the nearly 50,000 Argonauts who journeyed overland to the California goldfields. Charles spent the next 10 years of his life in the mining districts of the Mother Lode country. In 1859, he was drawn to the booming silver camps of Nevada. By 1862, Charles Breyfogle was one of many prospectors working the western slopes of the Toiyabe Range, overlooking the Reese River valley. The mining town of Austin rose up near the silver mines.

Several accounts of the Lost Breyfogle Mine have Charles setting out from Austin on his fateful journey. Other sources have him traveling from Los Angeles to the Nevada silver camp when he made his discovery. The sources are confused and contradictory, but in any case, Breyfogle and at least two companions were traveling through Death Valley in 1863 when they were attacked by Indians. All were killed except Breyfogle. Breyfogle scampered into the foothills of the Funeral Range and started wandering through the mountains in a generally northward direction. Somewhere on the western flanks of the Funerals, Charles spied a solitary mesquite tree in the distance. As he headed toward the tree, he stumbled on an outcrop of incredibly rich gold ore! It consisted of native gold in an iron-stained "chocolate brown" quartz. The ore contained nearly 50% gold! He continued northward, his pockets bulging with gold. Charles was eventually discovered wandering in the Nevada desert and brought in to Austin, where he recovered from his ordeal.

The incredible richness of Breyfogle's ore astounded the local miners. By 1865, Charles was ready to return to the Death Valley country to search for the ledge. Breyfogle, Jake Gooding, and Pony Duncan wandered the valley for months but were unable to find it. Charles returned many times; his last attempt in 1869 ended in failure. He died the following year. In 1872, Jacob Breyfogle (Charles' brother) took up where his brother left off. Unfortunately, his efforts also proved to be futile. The fabulous ledge remains hidden today.

MINING HISTORY

The scattered mineral deposits of the Funeral Mountains were developed fairly late in California's mining history. Although the Funerals have been prospected since the 1850's, all of the major precious and base metal deposits were discovered after the turn of the century.

The heyday of mining in the Funeral Mountains occurred during the early 1900's. In 1903, amazingly rich gold and silver deposits were discovered on the west flank of the Funerals, about 5 miles southeast of Boundary Canyon. At about the same time, the Chloride Cliff deposits were located less than 2 miles away, near the crest of the range. Chloride City sprang up in the area in 1905, but died the following year when most of the prospectors drifted away. The Keane Wonder and Chloride Cliff mines, however, were in operation until 1916. The Keane Wonder Mine was extremely rich, producing over a million dollars worth of gold and silver during its lifetime.

In 1905, rich copper and lead deposits were discovered in the northern part of the Funeral Mountains, at the head of Titus Canyon. The claims languished until 1926 when the deposits were finally developed. The mining town of Leadfield rose up nearby, but its lifespan was no longer than Chloride City. By 1927, the lead deposits had already petered out and Leadfield faded away.