Springs, later the site of one of the richest booms in
the West, was an Indian campground for many years, long
before Jim Butler spent a chilly night here.
A number of
stories exist as to how Butler discovered the ore. The
most popular version is that Butler's mule wandered away
and when Butler found the ornery critter, he noticed an
outcropping that appeared to be heavily laced with
silver. Butler took a number of samples. The date was
May 19, 1900. This quiet start belied the actual
importance of the discovery. Butler firmly believed he
had discovered an important silver deposit but he had
trouble convincing the assayer he visited in nearby
Klondike. The assayer told him the samples were
worthless, consisting mainly of iron, and he threw them
into the back of his tent.
still convinced that his find was genuine.
On his way
back to his Monitor Valley ranch, he stopped at Tonopah
Springs once more to gather samples. Back at his ranch,
Butler put the samples on
his windowsill. Not too much time passed before Tasker
Oddie, later to be governor of Nevada, stopped at the
ranch and spied the ore samples. He offered to pay for
another assay and Butler agreed to this. Butler, in
turn, offered Oddie a quarter interest of the assay.
Oddie heartily agreed. He took the ore samples to
William Gayhart, an Austin assayer, and offered Gayhart
a quarter interest in his quarter. Gayhart found the
assay ran as high as $600 a ton. When Oddie was notified
of the value of the samples, he immediately sent an
Indian runner to Butler's ranch to alert him of the rich
find. Butler did not react rapidly. He stayed at his
ranch to complete the hay harvest and did not even
bother to file claims on the lode site!
of the discovery traveled to Klondike and soon, scores
of eager prospectors were searching around Tonopah
Springs, to no avail, for Butler's lode.
went to Belmont, and on August 27, 1900, he and his wife
filed on eight claims near the springs. Six of these -
Desert Queen, Burro, Valley View, Silver Top, Buckboard,
and Mizpah - turned into some of the biggest producers
the state has ever had.
Work was begun on the Mizpah mine in October 1900, and a
camp called Butler formed nearby. On Christmas Day,
1900, 14 men were living in the camp including Butler
and Tasker Oddie, Nye County's new District Attorney.
Butler decided to lease out all of his claims for one
year, from December 1900, to December 1901. Soon, the
cry of "Jim, how about a lease?" was heard throughout
the bustling camp. Oddie and Butler were partners,
receiving a 25% royalty on all gold and silver mined
from the Butler claims.
The town of Butler began to grow by leaps and bounds. By
January 1901, there were 40 men in the camp. The first
stagecoach, coming from Sodaville, arrived in Butler on
March 24, 1901, with seven passengers. It was a two day
trip, with an overnight stay at Crow Springs. The camp
consisted of seven shacks, a number of tents and a
population of 60. Within weeks, the population had grown
to 250. A post office (Willie Sinclair, postmaster),
named Butler, opened at the booming camp on April 10,
1901. It was not until March 3, 1905, that the post
office changed its name to Tonopah.
the summer of 1901, Butler was beginning to make its
mark on Nevada's silver production figures.
around the town produced almost $750,000 in gold and
silver in 1901, and for the next 40 years, the Tonopah
mines were consistent producers. The town now had six
saloons, restaurants, assay offices, lodging houses, a
number of doctors, lawyers and a rapidly swelling
population of 650. The first wedding took place on
November 14 when Harry Stimler and Eleanor Whitford were
newspaper came to the town on June 15, 1901, when W.W.
Booth, who had published a paper in Belmont, set up the
Tonopah Bonanza. The first issue had this greeting:
"With this issue, the Tonopah Bonanza glides down the
typographical ways and into the sea of journalism.
Whether its voyage will be a calm and prosperous one,
time along will tell. The Bonanza will at all times act
as a free lance, giving credit whenever merited and
censure when called for. Our policy in politics will be
for the best of the country. That the paper will meet
with public favor or condemnation is left to the opinion
of the reader and advertiser. We have done our best and
sincerely hope it will meet with your approval." The
paper listed Butler as its place of publication until
March 1905. Booth took over the postmaster duties from
Sinclair and served until 1905.
was also very prosperous for the booming town.
Butler had sold out the claims, which were all
consolidated and gave birth to a new company, the
Tonopah Mining Company. It was incorporated in Delaware,
with stock listed on both the Philadelphia and San
Francisco exchanges. The company, with J.H. Whiteman as
president, controlled 160 acres of mineral-bearing
ground around the Tonopah district. The company also had
holdings in the Tonopah-Goldfield Railroad and
controlled mining companies in Colorado, Canada,
California and Nicaragua. The mine workings at Tonopah
consisted of three deep shafts with more than 46 miles
of lateral workings. The deepest of the three shafts was
1,500'. The ore mined at the site was shipped to
Millers, where it was treated in a 100-stamp mill. This
facility was used by the company's mines until suitable
treatment facilities were built at Tonopah.
Mining Company was also formed in 1902.
The company was based in New Jersey and had C.A.
Heller as president. The company's property, 11 claims
covering more than 160 acres, was on the east side of
the property owned by the Tonopah Mining Company. There
were two deep vertical shafts, 1,200' and 1,700', with
workings covering almost 39 miles. The company also had
to ship its ore to Millers until 1912, when its own
60-stamp mill was built at Tonopah. The mill had a
capacity of 500 tons. During its years of activity,
1912-1923, it was regarded as one of the country's best
equipped and most efficient silver cyanide mills.
mines maintained very high yearly production until the
Depression brought a slowdown.
Mine production from 1900
to 1921, the peak years, was almost $121 million. The
biggest single year was 1913, when almost $10 million in
gold, silver, copper and lead was mined. By World War
II, only four major mining companies were operating. A
huge fire in October 1942 destroyed the Tonopah
Extension mill and property, and spread to a nearby
hotel, causing $100,000 in damage. At the end of the
war, even these companies had left. The final blow came
in 1947 when the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad folded
and its rails were torn up.
much mining activity has taken place in Tonopah since
then. In 1968, Howard Hughes and his Summa Corporation
bought 100 claims in Tonopah, including the Mizpah,
Silver Top, and Desert Queen mines. Hopes for a mining
revival soon faded after core samples and nothing more
were taken. A few of the old mines were re-timbered but
never reopened. As of now, total production from the
Tonopah district is just more than $150 million, a
figure few other places could boast.
History of Tonopah
by Shawn Hall