Eldorado Canyon - Lawlessness on the Colorado River
area surrounding Nelson and Eldorado Canyon
was first home to the ancient
and later the Paiutes and Mojave tribes. Living peacefully for hundred
of years, the
were intruded upon in 1775, when the Spaniards arrived in the canyon in
their constant quest for gold. Founding a small settlement at the
mouth of the Colorado River, they called it Eldorado. However, these
early Spaniards somehow missed the rich gold veins just beneath the canyonís
flanks, finding silver instead. They soon found that the silver was
not in high enough quantities to justify their operations, and moved on.
years later, in the 1850s, a new breed of prospectors began sluicing the
many streams feeding into the Colorado
For a few years, the miners were able to keep their gold find a relative
secret due to the remoteness of the area. However, this all changed in
1858 when the first steamboats began to make their way up the Colorado
River from Yuma,
Arizona. Before long, word
spread and miners began to flood the area.
area, April, 2005, David Alexander.
By 1861 miners had discovered the Salvage
Vein about five miles up from the
River. The rich, vertically stacked ribbon of gold ran through a
steep ridge along one side of the canyon. The miners began at the
top of a high hill, cutting down into the vein. Before long,
several of the miners formed the Techatticup Mine, supposedly through a
series of shady dealings. The name derives from the Paiute
word for hungry, a term often heard by early settlers from the starving
Indians inhabiting the dry hills. The Techatticup Mine was
once owned by Senator George Hearst of
California, father of William
Randolph Hearst of publishing fame.
Before long the Nelson
District was dotted with several mines, including the Gettysburg,
Duncan, Solar, Rand, Wall Street, Swabe and Golden Empire Mines in what
was to become one of the earliest and richest mining districts in
Nevada. The Techatticup Mine, along with the Gettysburg, were the first mines in
to be worked by white men.
Many of prospectors who find their way to
the gold field were reportedly Civil War deserters and disagreements and gunfights over gold and women became commonplace. Greed, claim jumping and vigilante justice fueled the fire. Meanwhile, the Techatticup Mine itself was in the midst of feuds over
ownership, management and labor disputes, which soon earned it a
notorious reputation. At one point the killings in the rowdy
canyon, called home to as many as 500 miners, became an almost daily
event where even lawmen refused to enter.
Despite the sinister reputation of the mine,
the Techatticup was to become the most successful in the area, mining
millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead throughout the years. For the next 70 years, miners at the Techatticup
Mine dug deeper and deeper into the hard rock, working with picks and
shovels in chambers lit by candles.
As the gold played out in one tunnel, they
would carve a new one just beneath it using blasting powder, and then drag
out the broken rocks to be pulverized and treated with cyanide to separate
out the gold. Over the years, the miners excavated tiers of a dozen tunnels,
the lowest of which could be reached by a long tunnel cut into the hillside
some 500 feet below the upper entrance. The temperature remained constant in
the tunnels at around 70 degrees and it is said that some of the miners
slept inside their workplace to escape the desert heat.
The Techatticup Mine, along with dozens of
others engendered a number of settlements including Nelson and Eldorado at
the riverís edge. As the ore was extracted from the many area mines,
it was then transported to Nelsonís Landing along the
River and shipped by steamboat to Yuma,
overland shipment to San Francisco,
California. The river also served as the primary source of much needed supplies for the
camps along the canyon.
In 1864, when the area was
still a part of
territoryís first stamp mill was built near the steamboat landing. The
10-stamp, steam-driven mill, then processed the ore from the area mines
before shipping to Yuma.
lawlessness continued as factions of Northern and Southern sympathizers
developed among the miners during the Civil War. The strife and
bitterness split the workers into two camps, severely hindering mine and
mill production. Before long, Federal troops stationed downriver
had to be brought in by steamboat to break up the factions before more
bloodshed occurred. The lawlessness got worse after the area became
when the nearest law officials were in Hiko,
some 300 miles away. Finally, a military post was established in Eldorado
in 1867 to protect the steamboat traffic and to keep an eye on the local
who were beginning to raid the canyon.
1883, a railhead was developed at
and the long riverboat shipments to Yuma were rerouted to
Needles, where the ore was offloaded. Eventually, better overland routes eliminated the need for the steamboats.
In addition to the canyonís
numerous rowdy miners, two of
lived in Eldorado Canyon,
the first of which, a man named Arvote, was said to have killed five area
settlers. At about the same time a Cocopah
named Queho, was
terrorizing the area and was reportedly
first serial killer. He was said to have murdered 23 people in the
early 1900s. The last person
Queho killed was
Maude Douglas near the Techatticup Mine in 1919. Having already become
Number 1 Public Enemy, the
was relentlessly pursued by sheriffís posses but was never captured. What was thought to have been his remains were finally found in a cave in
The posse that recovered
remains stands at the mouth of his
cave hideout. Photo courtesy UNLV Special Collections
In the early 1900s Nelsonís Landing was
one of the largest ports on the
River and became even more important in the 1920s for two reasons.
The first was
prohibition, enacted on January 16, 1920. On the
side of the river in Mohave County, prohibition was strictly enforced
and moonshine sold for as much as $50.00 a gallon. However,
in Clark County on the
side, prohibition was not enforced and homemade liquor sold for as low
as $1.00 a gallon. This created a brisk trade along the river as
bootleggers ran their white lightning into
second was the preliminary work required for the building of the Hoover
Dam. Dozens of surveyors operated small boats from Nelsonís
Landing, while many others were ferried across the river to complete
their work. When the dam was completed, the area became one of the
first main tourist sites as visitors were guided to the best fishing
areas and taken on tours of the dam. Before long, Nelson's Landing
prospered as a resort, where boats, bait, gasoline, food, and cabins
The Techatticup Mine
remained active until about 1945, producing more than 2.5 million
dollars worth of gold, silver, copper, and lead, after which, it sat
abandoned for almost five decades. In no time, the town of Nelson
dwindled leaving little more than the remains of mine works and tailings
among the scorpions and rattle snakes.
Following the completion
of Davis Dam in the mid-1950s, Lake Mohave began to fill up, drowning
the old stamp-mill site, the steamboat landing and the remains of the
Nelson District yielded more that 500 million dollars in ore in its almost
100 years of mining.
A tour of
begins by accessing Nelson Road (Nevada
Highway 165) from I-95 south of Boulder City. Traveling southeast, the
highway gradually climbs through about 11 miles of desert hills before
reaching the old mining community of Nelson,
Nevada. During the spring, this part of the drive will provide numerous picturesque
views of desert wildflowers. Nelson is entirely surrounded by Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) property, where you might also see big horn sheep
and wild burros roaming among the hillsides.
Today, Nelson is all but a
with a population of just about twenty people. With no open
businesses, the town marks its past with a few weathered sheds, small shacks
with corrugated metal siding, and rusting machinery parts. Those few
residents that remain mostly live in a smattering of modern buildings and
mobile homes. On a hillside above Nelson is a small overgrown cemetery
and though it has some fairly recent graves, they can barely be seen through
the brush. Though itís hard to imagine today, in the 1880s Nelson and
the 10-mile Eldorado Canyon was called home to more people than the entire Las Vegas
As you leave Nelson, the road begins a twisting
drive through the canyon, providing dramatic views of rugged rock walls and
stone formations, pocked with holes and tailings from its old mining days.
Clearing the rubble from the mine tunnels,
stabilizing ramps and ladders, and installing electric lights and emergency
phones, the mine soon opened for guided tours. The above and below ground
guided mining tour lasts about one hour taking visitors 500 feet into the
mine. On this tour you will receive the history of the mine, Nelsonís
landing, and the areaís turbulent past. Mine tours require a minimum of four
people (which can be combined with another group) and reservations are
This old barn across from the Techatticup Mine houses several of the props used in the movies filmed at the mine site. April, 2005, Kathy
the last decade the couple has also restored and preserved a number of
buildings at the mine site. Across from the mine sits a historic 1861
building which serves as a museum to the area and to the Techatticup Mine.
Here, you will see a display of old photographs, tools and other mining
memorabilia. Tony and Bobbie also provide river tours and rent kayaks and
canoes for use on the nearby
River. Reservations for river tours are required.
The Techatticup Mine has been the set of two movies. The first,
Breakdown, with Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan, was released in
1997 and several artifacts from the movie can be seen at the site. Several years later, the movie 3000 Miles to Graceland, was
released in 2001, parts of which were filmed at the mine site. This movie, again with Kurt Russell, as well as an all star cast
including Kevin Costner, Courtney Cox, Christian Slater, and David Arquette, shot several scenes here including the scene where the Lucky
Strike gas station blows up . Props from the movie, including the
crashed airplane can still be seen at the site.
During mining heydays, prospectors would build a
shack to live in with whatever was available. April, 2005, Kathy Weiser.
Within just a
few miles you will come to the infamous Techatticup Mine. After having
sat abandoned for five decades, Tony and Bobbie Werly purchased the mine and
51 acres of surrounding property, and recreated the buildings. Prior to purchasing the mine acreage, the
pair operated a river adventure outfit in nearby Boulder City.
Techatticup, the road continues to wind its way to the
River where it opens up to panoramic views across Lake Mohave into
Arizona. On the river below once stood Nelsonís landing, long gone today. Numerous old roads angle down toward the lake where much of the area is
administered by the National Park Service. Be aware that
severe penalties can be levied for off-roading in National Park areas.
travel the outlying land, be cautious as there are many open mines and
ventilation shafts. Though most of the mines in the district are
no longer active, the majority are on private property and are so
posted. Respect these no-trespassing signs as reports have it that
local land owners are quick to prosecute trespassers.
To get to
follow I-95 south of Boulder City for 13 miles to SR 165. Turn
left on SR 165 (Nelson Road) for about 11 miles to Nelson. Continuing from Nelson, the Techatticup Mine is just a few more miles
down the winding road, and a few miles beyond that, is Lake Mohave.
It's been over a decade since we have been here, and we are hearing
mixed reviews about the quality of the the mine tours. We
recommend calling ahead to make sure they are available. We also
recommend checking the latest reviews on
Trip Advisor HERE.
Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours
Highway 165 between Nelson,
and the Colorado River
Kathy Weiser/Legends of
America, updated March 2016
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Indian Outlaw or Scapegoat?
Dogs of Eldorado Canyon - Ghostly Canine Apparitions
Nevada Ghost Towns
Nevada (main page)
Towns Photo Print Gallery
One of the many buildings restored/recreated by Tony and Bobbie Werly, that now serves as a museum, April, 2005, Kathy Weiser. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
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