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The Legend of The Lost Cement Mine

california gold rush

Gold mining in California. Lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1871. Image courtesy: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com

Hundreds of million years ago, a multitude of geological forces colluded to deposit billions of dollars worth of gold in the mountains of California. This gold was first discovered 170 years ago, and the rush that followed made (and broke) the fortunes of thousands of people. Gold was so abundant in California’s gravel beds that early miners simply panned the rivers and streams for loose nuggets that washed down from the mountains. Later, miners started diverting water from entire rivers so that they could look for gold in the newly exposed river bottom.

As gold became scarcer, mining became more complicated that involved digging and blasting rocks—a technique known as “hard-rock mining”. Today, hard-rock mining is the only process that yields gold in profitable quantities. But if an old legend is to be believed, there is still a rich vein of gold somewhere in Sierra Nevada, waiting to be rediscovered.

According to the often retold story, in 1857 two German migrants were wandering on foot through Sierra Nevada when they stopped for a break near the Owens River. On the ledge where they were resting, the men noticed a peculiar red rock with lumps of dull yellow metal sticking out of it. Convinced that the lumps were gold, the men broke up as many rocks as they could carry, covered up all traces of the gold vein, drew a crude map of the locality and started westward towards the nearest town. Misfortune befell them when one of the fellows lost his footing and broke his leg, and the other was obliged to leave him to die in the wilderness. The survivor eventually reached the mining camp of Millerton, sick from exhaustion. During the journey, he had thrown away all the rocks but a few fragments, which he showed to a certain Doctor Randal who treated him.

The possibility of a previously undiscovered gold mine set everybody wild with excitement, and a large number of prospectors set up camp in the eastern Sierra region in search of the so-called “cement mine”. Even Mark Twain joined in the search. He leaves a brief account of his experiences as a gold hunter in Roughing It, published in 1872.

The search for the lost mine continued throughout 1860’s and 1870’s. When Mark Twain joined the party, Mr. Whiteman, the assistant to Doctor Randal, had already been on the search for thirteen years. Twain writes:

…when I had my one accidental glimpse of Mr. W. in Esmeralda he had been hunting for the lost mine, in hunger and thirst, poverty and sickness, for twelve or thirteen years. Some people believed he had found it, but most people believed he had not. I saw a piece of cement as large as my fist which was said to have been given to Whiteman by the young German, and it was of a seductive nature. Lumps of virgin gold were as thick in it as raisins in a slice of fruit cake. The privilege of working such a mine one week would be sufficient for a man of reasonable desires.

Although the “cement vein” was never found, many prospectors did find gold resulting in the mining camps of Dogtown, Mammoth City, Lundy Canyon, Bodie, and many others. It is also possible that the cement mine was rediscovered at some point during the last 150 years, without the finders knowing it.

Lost Cement Mine

Lost Cement Mine Historical Marker. Photo credit: Justin Ennis/Flickr

In 1980, a plaque dedicated to the lost cement mine was erected near the Owens River Road in Crestwood. The plaque reads:

Somewhere near this spot is located the famous Lost Cement Mine. First discovered in 1857, the find was described as a ledge, "wide as a curb stone" of rusty, reddish cement, two thirds of it pure gold. Various circumstances prevented the original discoverers from returning to claim their wealth. History indicates the location of the Lost Cement Mine may have been rediscovered and mined periodically until 1877 and then again concealed. An occasional prospector still searches for the elusive treasure but its location today still remains a secret. If while hiking in the area, you happen to come upon a ledge of pure gold please notify the nearest ECV chapter so that we might relocate this monument to the correct site.

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