It was back in 1863 that a prospector by the name of William Hamblin along with a local Indian came across some good looking samples of silver ore. Hamblin was one of the mormons who founded the settlement of Gunlock Utah. In fact it is said he was the first white man to ever come to this area. After grabbing various samples for different locations he sent these samples to Salt Lake to get assayed. Hamblin then staked a bunch of the ground and continued prospecting. Over then next few years not a lot happened in the area but in 1868 a big money man from Califronia by the name of Francois Pioche heard about this silver find and so he sent an assistant to see if he could buy these claims. After some dealings Hamblin sold the claims.
One of the problems with mining in Pioche was the fact that there was little to no water, so crushing ore was a difficult task. Then in 1869 two mining men, John Ely and William Raymond arrived in camp. These two men had a stamp mill across the range over in Hiko. They had been crushing ore for a couple mines over there but because the ore was real low grade it was tough to make a profit. Seeing that there was good high grade ore in Pioche the two men moved there mill about 12 miles south of Pioche to an area known as Panaca Flats because there was an abundant amount of water there. This site eventually became a small settlement known as Bullionville and ran for several years. If you haven't watched the video about Bullionville, I'll leave a link in the description box below and also a link at the end of this video.
At first ore was transported by wagons from the mines around Pioche but as time went by there was a narrow guage line rail road built to transport the ore. Eventually over time a water line was built from Bullionville to Pioche and milling of ores could be done closer to the mines. The largest mines were above the town in an area called Treasure Hill. Later a mill and smelter known as the Godbe Mill was built down in the valley. This mill processed ore not only for Pioche, but also other nearby camps that were connected to the mines by the Pioche Pacific Railway. As time went on an arial tram was built from Treasure Hill to the mill where ore buckets would transport ore from the mine to the smelter and mill below. from 1871-1873 the camp produced over $12 million in silver ore but because all the bullion was sent out of the state to be cashed along with tons of thievery and corruption, who really knows for sure how much silver was produced. That 12 million back then would be like half a billion today.
Once these mines started running this area grew fast. So fast in fact that within a few years there was an estimated 6-7000 people living in Pioche. One of the problems the town had was the lack of services like law enforcement. With all different mines in this area and because there was a lack of a mining recorder when the camp first got started, there were constant fights and disputes over claim boundaries. In fact it was so bad that large mine owners had to hire gunmen for protection because other claim owners would want them dead. This is how Pioche became known as the roughest, toughest mining camp in the West. Places like Tombstone, Bodie and Dodge City looked like a Sunday school picnic compared to Pioche. It is said that a good gunman could fetch 20 bucks a day in pay.
Along with most shops and services in the town, there were reported to be over 70 saloons, gambling joints and of course a bustling red light district. Law and order was almost non existent. In fact during the first settling of Pioche, Local lore says 72 men were killed in gunfights before the first natural death occurred in the camp. Many of these men are buried in the “Old Boot Hill” Cemetery. In the early 1870’s it’s reported that 60% of the entire Nevada states murders occurred in Pioche. I toured this cemetary and couldn't help but noticed some poor soul as killed over a dispute about a dog.
Because there was a lack of law enforcement, corruption was the name of game. In 1871 the town decided to built what soon became known as the “Million Dollar Courthouse”. The original cost of this building was suppose to be around $30,000, but with a bunch of extravagant spending and kick backs, the price tag balloned to $75,000. This cost overrun was financed and then refinanced for decades along with compound interest charges until 1938 when the cost reached almost a million bucks.
Then like pretty much every old mining town we talk about, on September 15, 1871 a fire destroyed much of the town. The fire started in a resturant and quickly spread buring much of the town down. Then if that wasn't enough, in the early morning an explosion where 300 odd kegs of blasting powder was stored in a building basement let go and the subsequent explosion shot debris nearly 400 feet into the air, blowing a 1000 pound steel door clear out of town.
Of course this isnpt the end of it. Another fire in May 1872, saw the town loose twelve more buildings. Then in August 1873, a flash flood of 3.5 inches of rain within an hour, ripped though town and then in May of 1876 another fire swept through town,that saw 21 more building destroyed. Then of course in 1893 the so called panic of 93 happened and that put a damper on silver mining which had led to an oversupply of silver.
The area finally got a rail connection in 1907 which reinvigorated the mining industry. For the first time, Pioche settled into a long period of steady mine production that created a stable local economy. Starting in the late 1930s, lead and zinc mining became important in the area. Ultimately, most mining at Pioche ended by the late 1950s.
You can still go to the town of Pioche today. It's quite an interesting little place. Drive up top and see the old mine site and the ore bin along with the tramway. Be sure to stop by the old cemetary also.