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Nevada Flag - silver state legends iconNEVADA LEGENDS

Eldorado Canyon - Lawlessness on the

Colorado River

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The area surrounding Nelson and Eldorado Canyon was first home to the ancient Ancient Puebloan Indians, and later the Paiutes and Mojave tribes. Living peacefully for hundred of years, the Indians 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 canyon’s flanks, finding silver instead. They soon found that the silver was not in high enough quantities to justify their operations, and moved on.

 

Seventy-five years later, in the 1850s, a new breed of prospectors began sluicing the many streams feeding into the Colorado River.

 

Nelson, Nevada area,

Nelson, Nevada area, April, 2005, David Alexander.

 

 

 

 Ives Expedition, 1858

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.

By 1861 miners had discovered the Salvage Vein about five miles up from the Colorado 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 Indian 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 Nevada 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 river’s edge. As the ore was extracted from the many area mines, it was then transported to Nelson’s Landing along the Colorado River and shipped by steamboat to Yuma, Arizona for overland shipment to San Francisco, California. The river also served as the primary source of much needed supplies for the camps along the canyon.

 

The Techatticup Mine Today

The Techatticup Mine today, April, 2005,

David Alexander.

 

In 1864, when the area was still a part of Arizona, the territory’s 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.

 

Abandoned Mine, Nelson, Nevada

Abandoned Mine in Nelson, Nevada,

April, 2005, Kathy Weiser.

 

The 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 part of Nevada, when the nearest law officials were in Hiko, Nevada some 300 miles away. Finally, a military post was established in Eldorado Canyon in 1867 to protect the steamboat traffic and to keep an eye on the local Indians who were beginning to raid the canyon.

By 1883, a railhead was developed at Needles, California 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.

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