Kunze, California – First Greenwater Town

Kunze, California 1906

Kunze, California 1906

The original  Greenwater site, Kunze, California, was founded by Arthur Kunze, a prospector looking for copper in 1906. Following the trail of other prospectors, he staked out several claims in the Greenwater District of southeastern Death Valley. Later, he returned to Tonapah, Nevada, where he displayed rich copper ores to several investors, hoping to sell his claims. In July, Kunze was successful, selling 16 claims to Charles M. Schwab for $180,000, who, along with other investors, formed the Greenwater Death Valley Copper Company in August, with a capitalization of $3,000,000. One of the largest capitalizations in the Greenwater District, Schwab retained majority control of the company, which would become the most significant and longest operator in the district. With the company’s organization, the rush to the Greenwater District was on.

The first townsite of Kunze, also called Greenwater, was in the wash near the range’s crest and adjoining the mining claims that Charles Schwab and his followers purchased.

As a mining camp, this location was ideal as it was near the best properties and sufficiently elevated to secure the coolest climate during the hot summer months. Most people in the area agreed, except a man named Harry Ramsey, whose one ambition in life was to have a mining town bearing his name. Ramsey, who had purchased the early interests of Frank McAllister, one of the original locators of the Greenwater District, built another townsite in the flat three miles below Kunze. But, Ramsey’s choice initially found little favor from those entering the district, and by August, Kunze/Greenwater boasted two stores, a hotel, a restaurant, and several corrals under construction. In addition, the Salsberry Water Company was under contract with Kunze to keep the camp supplied with water, and a petition was sent to establish a post office. In response to Ramsey’s new townsite, Kunze filed a lawsuit claiming that Ramsey was squatting on his land and produced the mining claims to prove it. In retaliation, Ramsey added insult to injury by renaming his town Greenwater too.

Death Valley Copper Company

Death Valley Copper Company

In the end, however, the townsite of Ramsey would win out when the railroad men came to survey the area, concluding that it would be cheaper by several million dollars to build to Ramsey instead of climbing the grade to Kunze near the top of the range. The owners and managers of the Greenwater Death Valley Copper Company agreed, having found in previous mining endeavors, that a townsite beyond the borders of their property was safer and less expensive. As to the pending lawsuit, the dispute was resolved in late November when Jack Salsberry and three partners bought out both the Kunze and Ramsey townsites. Once these men concluded that Ramsey was a more desirable place for the city of Greenwater than the wash that Kunze had selected the townsite events happened quickly. The new owners then offered comparable lots in the new townsite to residents and business owners in Kunze. In early December, people began to move, merging the two  Greenwaters at the Ramsey site.

It was a carnival atmosphere, leading the first issue of the Death Valley Chuck-Walla, published on January 1, 1907; the movement was portrayed in an article aptly titled A Town on Wheels: “Pandemonium reigns. Saloons and boarding houses, stores, and brokerage firms are doing business on the run and trying to simultaneously be on both sides of the mountain. A barkeep puts down his case of bottles on a knoll en route from the old camp to the new and serves the passing throng laden with bedding and store fixtures… The butcher kills a cow en route and deals steaks and roasts to the hungry multitude hurrying back to the old camp to get the necessities for the new. Those who remain in the old camp are walking two miles to the new to get the eggs for breakfast. Those who have journeyed to the new are walking two miles to the old to get their mail and a pair of socks. Through it all Jack Salsbury, Harry Ramsey, and the Townsite Company smile…”

In the end, it is said that the founder, Arthur Kunze left the Greenwater District broke.

Though the Greenwater District would grow quickly to support some 2,000 people, there is little left of the old towns today. Surprisingly, however, the best remnants are at the original site of Kunze, which continues to display an old rock dugout, low rock walls, and mining remnants.

Kunze, California 1906

Kunze, California 1906

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2022.

Also See:

California – The Golden State

Death Valley, California

Death Valley Ghost Towns

Ghost Towns Across America

Primary Source:  Greene, Linda W. and Latschar, John A; Death Valley Historic Resource Study; National Park Service, 1979.