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The Boom & Bust Of Leadfield

There's an old saying that was quoted by Mark Twain about gold mines and gold mining. The quote went like this: "A Gold Mine Is a Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top". In later years the Detroit Free Press was noted as quoting, "A mine is a hole in the ground. The discoverer of it is a natural liar. The hole in the ground and the liar combine and issue shares and trap fools." Some would say that both of these quotes couldn't be more true of an example of the story of Leadfield. However as you will see, others beg to differ.

Most of these old mine camps were not the places you would have wanted to invest any money or even buy property. Sure, there's a few old towns that were known for their boom, but there are a whole lot more that are known for their bust and this town was just one of those kind of towns. In fact this town barely lasted a year.

It all started way back in 1905 when a couple of prospectors discovered some good looking ore here. This was around the time same as when the big discoveries were happening on over in the Bullfrog mining district just across the border in around Blair and Rhyolite Nevada. Anyways these prospectors grabbed some ore samples and took them to Rhyolite to get assayed and found out that this ore was grading around 40 bucks a ton. Not bad for back then so the two miners set up a company called the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company and even sold shares in the operation. However it didn't take long before these couple guys found out that after all the mining, transportation, milling and smelting costs, there was no money left and so after about six months the company closed up shop and they abandoned the claims.

These claims sat idle for almost 20 years when in 1924, three miners came in and staked up the ground. These three guys worked these claims for the lead ore for over one year and then sold the claims to man by the name of John Salsberry. Now this John Salsberry fella wasn't what one would call a miner however he was really good at promoting mines. First thing Ole John did was set up a company called the Western Lead Mines Company, with 1 and a half million shares of stock worth 10 cents each. Within a few months he had accumulated around 50 more mining claims and over a dozen men on the payroll. They installed a compressor for air tools and built a road out to Beatty. Then they ran a water line to the mine and by January of 1926 a small town was starting to shape. That same month the shares of the company were opened on the San Francisco exchange and within twenty four hours 40,000 shares had been sold, with the price sky rocketing to a buck and a half a share.

Then the next in February, a man by the name of Charles Julian appeared in town. Ole Charles here was a well known big time stock promoter. Charles had made his fortune promoting oil companies over in California and had money to spend. Not only did he buy stock in the Western Lead Mining company, he also became the president. Charles was the shining star this camp needed as there were other companies also trying to cash in on the boom. By the end of that month there were reports saying there were hundreds of men working the mines and talk of a 500 ton mill were being floated about along with ore grades as high as 30 percent lead and more than seven ounces per ton silver. It seemed the sky was the limit, however the California State Corporation Commission was not impressed with what was going on. You see the company hadn't gotten any approvals or permits for any of this work and yet they were selling stock like there was no tomorrow.

None of this stuff mattered to Charles though. He had the workers continue on tunneling and was buying machinery along with plans for a townsite. On March fifteenth Charles had a big promotion put on where there were over 1500 visitors came to the townsite and see this mine. There was a big meal that fed over a thousand people that day and the promoting must have been good as the price of the shares were up to three dollars and 30 cents by the end of that month. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad even sent representatives to Leadfield, to get an estimate of the ore for running a rail line there. In the meantime the plans were submitted to the local county for a town site to be surveyed and it sure wasn't going to be some small town either. These plans were showing a townsite with almost 1800 town lots.

Now while all of this was going on, some of the other companies were also busy raising money, selling stock and getting ready to mine. One company in particular, called the New Roads Company was running full steam ahead as they were wanting to be the first mine to be pulling ore out of the ground. They even went ahead and announced that its first shipment of $50 to $90 ore, would soon be ready. As word got out more companies starting coming into the area and in August of that year the camp got a post office. This alone put Leadfield on the map as a prominent mining camp.

But it didn't last long. In the months that followed tunnels and shafts that were being dug ended up getting ore assays of only two percent and not the 20 to 30 percent like the geologists had thought. To make matters worse another company that Charles was involved in had it's stock halted because of some wrong doings so this left Charles almost broke. This was a holding company, which Charles used as backup financial support. Of course now that Charles who was the big promoter of the town was out of the picture and the stock market commission breathing down his neck, investors weren't ready to put up any money into the any of the mines in Leadfield camp. It was only a matter of time before it all collapsed and the other mines slowly closed, one after another, and Leadfield became a ghosttown. The Post Office which opened just a few months earlier, closed in January of 1927.

Charles left town and went to Oklahoma where there was an oil boom going on and started promoting the Julian Oil and Royalties Company. After a few years of operation, he was indicted for defrauding investors, but he skipped town and fled to Shanghai, China in 1933. It is reported that he committed suicide a short time later.

Since 1927 very little exploration has been done around the Leadfield area as miners and investors had written the camp off, however there was a report by the California Bureau of Mines and Geology in 1938 that stated the main ore-bearing ledges of Leadfield carried lead ore of five to seven percent per ton and around five ounces of silver per ton. This would have been enough to support a small mining operation.

Charles Julian