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Willow Creek Camp, Inyo Mts (Inyo Range), Inyo Co., California, USA

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A locale located at the mouth of Willow Creek, on the eastern margin of the Inyo Mountains.

The excitement over these new copper strikes and the ensuing rush into the district caused the inevitable battle over townsite locations. On November 16th, the townsite of Willow Creek was organized, near Willow Spring and next to the property of Oddie's Greenwater Arcturus Copper Company.

Surveyors were immediately put to work laying out a pipe line from the spring to the new townsite, and a pump was ordered. The new townsite was promoted by E. E. Mattison, and he placed advertisements in the Rhyolite newspapers, promising prospective citizens an "ample water supply" and telephone and telegraph connections immediately. Lots were put on sale from $150 to $250 each. In this case, the townsite battle was an extremely short one, for with the opening of the Willow Creek townsite, we hear no more of Chet Leavitt's townsite of Copper Basin, which apparently folded overnight. The life of his townsite--if it ever existed on the ground--was so brief that we cannot place its location definitely, although it was not very far away from the new townsite of Willow Creek.

As April (1907) passed and May began, the district settled down, with its companies looking for the copper deposits, and Willow Creek looked every bit the picture of a small suburb of Greenwater. Then, on May 10th, the picture suddenly changed, when the Greenwater Baltic Mining Company discovered a high grade silver-lead streak on its property.

Copper was one thing, but silver was quite definitely another, and the Willow Creek rush began all over again. Within a week after the strike on the Baltic was announced, the Bullfrog Miner proclaimed that a "Wild Rush Is On to Willow Creek. Numerous new locations were made and several more silver strikes announced, and another wave of prospectors rolled over the country, looking for the silver indications which had previously been ignored in the initial rush for copper ground. The Greenwater Copperhead Company was formed, with silver-lead indications on its claims, and numerous smaller silver mines were opened. The Bullfrog Miner reported that the keenest interest is being shown in Greenwater over the events of the past few days in Willow Creek, and rigs and outfits are now at a premium." To help those rushing into the district, volunteers began working on a wagon road to improve access to the camp. The Willow Creek Townsite Company was ready for another boom, for its plat of Willow Creek had just been approved by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. The new camp had thirty-one blocks surveyed and marked and just over 300 lots for sale.

As the new rush continued, the Bullfrog Miner wrote in mid-May that WILLOW CREEK STILL ON THE BOOM. THE NEW CAMP 15 ASSUMING CITY PROPORTIONS. Telegraph and telephone lines would be there soon, the paper said, and a water company had been organized to pipe water from Willow Springs up to the townsite. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, taking note of the amount of freight which was now going into the re-booming area, included Willow Creek as one of the freighting points on its new timetable, with teams connecting the townsite with Tecopa Station.

(By the end of May) A petition was being circulated in the area for a new Post Office, and a movement was underfoot to use the pure water of Willow Creek to start a brewery. In summary, although the Bullfrog Miner noted that the Willow Creek excitement was taking many people away from Greenwater, it cautioned that there were "no deep workings in the camp" as of yet, and more time was needed to demonstrate the permanency of the Willow Creek ores.

The Willow Creek townsite was also described in mid-summer as looking very prosperous, and was conceeded to be a sure winner, since it "lies in a natural basin and is the one available location in that section to house and home a mining and business population." It was described on June 1st as being a "considerable-sized" community.

In the meantime, the new gold section was booming and the Gold Valley townsite was described as having a general store and a saloon, with more business slated to come in soon. "According to all reports," said the Bullfrog Miner, "Willow Creek is attracting as much or more attention than any of the other Southern camps. It seems to have set Greenwater in the shade a degree or so, and it is stated that several firms are preparing to move from Greenwater to the new camp."

Late in December, the Rhyolite Daily Bulletin again assessed the camp, and reported "mining matters very encouraging at that camp, and while quiet at present, in sympathy with the general financial conditions, the district is developing into a good camp." In accordance with the abatement of the rush, and the lack of capital to develop the mines, the new town of Gold Valley was not growing very fast, although it had succeed in eclipsing the townsite of Willow Creek. The Rhyolite Herald reported late in-December that accommodations at Gold Valley were limited to ten or twelve tents, a store and a saloon. But still, more than half a dozen gold mines were still operating, although at a rather slow pace. [23]

As 1908 began, the copper section of Willow Creek, which had been responsible for opening the district originally, was entirely dead, and the only copper companies still operating were those which had subsequently discovered gold or silver on their property. The Greenwater Baltic, for example, was still working its mine, but was looking solely for gold and was no longer interested in copper. The Greenwater Clinton Copper Mining Company, however, which had found traces of gold on its property in addition to its copper, closed down early in January of 1908, as its gold deposits were not sufficient to warrant any further work. In addition to the Baltic, the only other incorporated company at work in the district was the Willow Creek Gold Mining Company, although several non-incorporated mines were still hard at work.

All in all, as the new year started, the district looked about as good as it could, considering the nationwide depression which was following on the heels of the panic. One of the lessees in the district was about ready to begin shipping out his high-grade gold ore, and none of the new gold locations made the previous fall had been allowed to lapse. One of the district's operators stoutly maintained to the Rhyolite Herald in late January that Willow Creek is going to be the banner camp of the section when it gets a little more attention and money. The panic has set it back, but . . . the goods are there." Showings were so good on the property of the Willow Creek Gold Mining Company that its owners began talking about adding a dozen more men to the payroll and of building a 15-stamp mill for the mine.

But development work was necessarily slow, and the Inyo Register was still reporting in mid-February that "If at depth the same values hold as now appear upon the surface and from shallow workings, the coming few months will witness another prosperous camp in the Funeral range . . . Indeed, as February drew to a close, Willow Creek got a shot in the arm from the rapid collapse of its giant neighbor to the north, Greenwater.

....Unfortunately, however, times did not get better, and following that one shipment of ore, the Willow Creek District started to decline. No more news was heard from the area between July and December of 1908, and the mines began to close down. The Willow Creek Gold Mining Company, for example, ceased operations early in July, and most of the independent operators were forced to follow its example. Once again, the isolation of the Death Valley mining districts was taking its toll, for the expense of mining, transportation and living in a desolate region made the mining of all but the highest grades of ore impractical. The Rhyolite Herald however, was not quite ready to give up on the district, and reported in December that several tons of shipping ore had been taken out of the Greenwater Baltic during the fall of 1908, and that numerous outfits were going back into the district to perform their annual assessment work necessary to retain title to their claims. "Everyone interested seems optimistic regarding the future."

But although most prospectors retained their titles through 1909, and the Greenwater Baltic even performed its annual work in order to retain its property through 1910, the Willow Creek District was dead--the victim of hard times, isolation, and too little ore. Most of the miners left the area during the fall of 1908 and the rest early in 1909. Their spirits were not broken, however, by the failure of one more mining district, as evidenced by Jack Robichau, who left Willow Creek early in January of 1909, on his way to the new boom district in Alberta, Canada.
Latschar, 1981

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References

Latschar, John A. (1981), U.S. National Park Service, Historic Preservation Branch, Pacific Northwest/Western Team, Denver Service Center, Death Valley – Historic Resource Study – A History of Mining, Volume II (Parts 1 and 2): Part 2: IV.C.4.a)(1).

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