Called the Kimball Mining District, a number of mining
camps, with names like Kimball, Pocahontas, and Beck, sprang up along
the base of the Peloncillo Range in the late 1870's, after the
discovery of mixed deposits of gold, silver, lead and copper, at
which time the area began to crawl with prospectors. Steins
however would be known as a railroad town.
In 1878, the Southern Pacific Railroad began to blast away at the rock
bluffs of the area, developing a quarry and taking away tons of rock
for a new railroad bed. During this time, some 1,000 Chinese railroad
workers lived at the foot of Steins Peak.
By 1880, the railway was complete through the area and the railroad
stabled a station near what would become the town of Steins at Steins
Pass. For more than a decade, the area was dotted with little
more than ramshackle cabins and prospector tents, though Beck’s Camp
sported a store and a hotel, with buckboard service to the Southern
Pacific Station. A Post Office was established at Steins Pass to serve
the area in January of
On December 9, 1897, the mining camps were bursting with excitement
when the Southern Pacific Sunset Limited was held up at Steins Pass by
the Black Jack Ketchum Gang. In the robbery attempt a trainman named
Edward Cullen was killed, and the bandits were able to escape;
however, they made off with no money.
has been confusion over whether a Stage Station for Butterfield's
Overland Mail Company (1858-1861) was located in Steins. According to
the research by Gerald T. Ahnert, an authority on the history of this famous line, that
confusion probably comes from the fact there was a "Steins Stage
Station" at the foot of Stein's Peak, a few miles from the town. The
Overland Mail Company ran through Doubtful Canyon, three and a half miles
north of town. To confuse things further, the town of Steins is by
Steins Mountain, and Steins Pass, not Steins Peak.
Although there are many government records
from 1858 to 1861 published in Senate Documents by the Postmaster
General and reports from newspaper correspondents who were passengers
on a Butterfield stage that describe the route and stations, one of
the best Ahnert recommends is:
The Butterfield Overland Mail, Only Through Passenger on the First
Westbound Stage, by Waterman L. Ormsby, The Huntington
Library, San Marino, California. Ormsby was a correspondent for the
New York Herald.
It is also alleged that that San Antonio &
San Diego Mail Route (a.k.a. The Jackass Mail or Birch Stage) operated
by James E. Birch also had a station at the same location where Steins
would develop, however it too went through Doubtful Canyon to the
north of town starting in July of 1857, and for a brief time during
Overland Mail service in 1858, and didn't have a station in the area.
In 1902, the area around the town of
Steins only had 35 registered voters, but sported a
schoolhouse for the children. A couple years later, the Southern Pacific
Railroad built a new station east of the older one at Steins Pass, and
the town Steins grew
fast around it, with the Post Office moving there as well in 1905.
By 1905, the settlement
boasted about 100 people, a mercantile store, a restaurant, and a
saloon. Acting as a headquarters for a few of the mining companies,
the town grew to about 200, most of who worked in the nearby
mines or in the rock quarry.
It is estimated, at its high point in
1919, the surrounding area supported more than 1,000 residents. By
this time, the town also had a boarding house, two bordellos, a dance
hall, more stores, two more saloons, and a hotel. But, for those early
pioneers, life was tough in the desert region, as there was no source
of water and had to be brought into the area on the train, selling as
high as $1.00 per barrel.
For Steins (pronounced 'steens' by
some), prosperity would be
short lived. In 1925, the rock quarry closed putting dozens of men out
of work, and at the end of World War II, the Southern Pacific Railroad
discontinued its stop in Steins, giving the town notice that it would
no longer deliver water and the station would be closed.
Spelling certain death for the town,
the railway offered the residents free transportation to wherever
they might like to go and the vast majority of its inhabitants
took the offer, leaving many of their possessions behind. In time
Steins was completely abandoned. The post office was discontinued
in 1944. In 1964 a fire destroyed many of the historic deserted