Gold Mining in the Early Days
by Elsie Lenton Corwin

Long, long ago, as long as six times as old as most of you are now at this writing an eager, tall, strong man, Captain Loomis hiked these hills investigating the many old gold mining claims to be found in the Angeles Crest Forest. After many trips he found a spot where he was sure gold was to be found and so he purchased some claims of his own. Now in order to keep a mining claim you must do at least $1.00 worth of work on it each year. (Orval Thomas still keeps up the work each year on those claims the Captain purchased). Since the Captain had once been a miner in the Klondike region of Alaska he knew how to assay ore, that is estimating how much gold would be in the rocks when it was taken out. When he finally moved his family to the green oasis on the north fork of Alder Creek canyon, he expected to develop his mines, and for awhile he did, with the help of his whole family, until the growing ranch took too much of his t1me.

Now do you know what an Arrastra is? I didn't either until we visited Loomis ranch and saw what was left of the one they had built and used. Hazel Thomas, one of the Loomis daughters, told us about it, and now I'll tell you because it's really interesting to hear, I think.

An Arrastra is a crude apparatus for grinding and mixing ore (Ore is rock with gold or other minerals in it) First a bed of crushed rock or tailings is made and on it is sprinkled quicksilver. A load of ore is then dumped on this and heavy boulders are then drug around and around over it to crush it, thus breaking out the free gold. Quicksilver draws the gold to it so that the grinding which breaks it from the ore also helps to combine the gold with the quicksilver. (This is Called amalgum) Sounds like magic doesn't it? Well after all the ore is broken, the amalgum sponge is then retorted or heated to take out the pure gold.

In Mexico and other places, these crude crushers are still used. Great heavy boulders are fastened to a frame which is drug around and around by mules or horses as you can see in the picture, to grind and mix the ore. This is just what Captain Loomis rigged up to free the gold from his mines so that he could sell it. First he used water power to drag the rocks around, building a big water wheel for the purpose. That didn't work so well so then "Old Jack" the mule was hitched to the drag. The first Arrastra was about a mile down canyon from the mine, but later a better one was built below the house, which is now our Lodge. You can still see the remains of it if you walk down that way.

For the new one some of the machinery was brought over Mt. Rountop from the once rich und famous Monte Cristo gold mine. Ed Fuller, who was an old time Englishman, owns that one. Ed had been a seaman at one time and Mother Loomis says, "He was quite a character"! You should hear her tell it! Well, Ed brought his machinery over the trails packed on burros of course, they could always hear him coming down the trails by the ringing of the bell on his lead burro and someone would call, "Here comes Old Ed!" And as he came down the trail just as soon as he was within yelling distance, everyone could hear him call at the top of his lungs, "Hazel, Oh Hazel, I say Hazel - make me a cup of tea, I say - make it good and strong I say, make it so it will float a dime!" And Hazel made the tea, but I didn't hear whether Old Ed or anyone else really floated a dime in it!

Well finally the machinery was on the ranch and the Captain finished the new Arrastra. This one was at first run by horse power then the Captain again put in water power using the original water pipe and a Pelton or water wheel and this worked fine. Later however a gasoline engine was installed.

But, I expect you are more interested in gold than in primitive machinery. By the twelth of February 1914, they had run five tons of ore through in this fashion. And imagine, the first run of five tons of ore cleaned out only seven ounces of gold. Using this crude machinery much of the gold is lost. After all this process the gold was then melted into a bar and sent directly to the United States government mint. In those days gold sold for $20.00 an ounce and a run paid from $70.00 to $200.00. The run for March in 1914, Mother Loomis remembers paid $90.00. All that work for such a little amount of money! But, then it didn't take so much money in those days e especially when the family grew in their own fine garden and the meat animals they raised almost all the food they needed. Even when the price of gold went up to $32.00 an ounce it still wasn't very much money for all the work involved.

Both Captain and Mother Loomis worked at the mine. She doesn't much look like a miner for she is small, dignified, but full of fun too. Maybe she just made fun out of hard work. The Captain always said his wife was the "best gold digger ever". She says that she could really work when she could at last see the free gold breaking from the rocks.

When enough ore had been dug out of the mine for a run they would load it on the burros. Mother Loomis still remembers some of the names of those burros all these years later. There was Jumbo, "big enough to carry a house and ornery too", and Queen, the colt, Dinkey, Dan, Dick and Johnny, who has a special story I'll tell you later. There were also two mules Jack and Maud.

Well after loading all the animals, Mother Loomis then mounted her horse, Old Joe, and lead the loaded animals down the steep winding trail to the Arrastra. The Captain always tied the ropes ingeniously in some way so that all she had to do when she got there was to pull one rope and presto - all the loads on all the burros just dumped off! Then she would ride back up the hill with the string of pack animals for another load.

They worked the mine and then rested as they pleased. They surely didn't make much money, but they proved that you can do anything if you try hard enough. Even though they didn't make much the Captain always said, "It was good clean money anyhow."

[Source: The True Loomis Stories by Elsie Lenton Corwin, Wandalee Thompson Collection (2006.38.1)]