The Tujunga Mining District
Few realize that there was a significant gold rush in Big Tujunga Canyon in the late 1880s in what was then known as the “Tujunga Mining District.” This little known chapter of history is documented by my good friend Cecile Vargo in her history blog ExploreHistoriCalif.com, from which I draw most of this info.
The San Gabriels above us were (and are) rich in minerals. As we all know, the first “gold rush” in California was not at Sutter’s Mill but in Los Angeles in the early 1840s, after gold strikes in Placerita Canyon. The first California gold minted by the U.S. Treasury was not from San Francisco, but from placer mining around San Fernando. The earliest mention of gold locally is a persistent centuries-old legend that the Fathers at San Fernando Mission maintained a secret gold mine in the San Gabriels. Some conjecture that it was in Big Tujunga Canyon. The legend states that the Indians, brutally forced to work the mine by the gold-fevered priests, rose up and slaughtered the padres. Stories of the gold-rich abandoned “Lost Padre Mine” have circulated ever since.
Small gold strikes in Big Tujunga Canyon occurred through the transition to American rule, with intermittent discoveries reported. The first big gold strikes in the canyon were from placer miners working the main stream and its tributary Mill Creek in the late 1880s. Immediately hard-rock miners moved up the slopes of the canyon looking for the gold-bearing veins the flakes and nuggets had washed down from. Mill Creek was the center of the most intense mining activity, starting in 1889. (Mill Creek parallels today’s Angeles Forest Highway and joins Big Tujunga Canyon just above the reservoir.) The Josephine Mine was the biggest, with two tunnels going several hundred feet into the mountain. In the early 1890s activity increased with the addition of several more mines, with names such as the Tujunga, London, Hope, Dundee, Cable, and Pacific mines, all of which are lost to us today. Mill Creek itself was the site of many water-driven arrestras (ore crushers) and stamp-mills (thus the name Mill Creek).
The mines that can still be found today include the Monte Cristo Mine near the Monte Cristo Campground. Its origins are murky as it interweaves with early stories from the 1860s of Spanish miners crushing ore, possibly from the Monte Cristo, with a 60-foot water wheel driving a 20-stamp mill. Some have even surmised it may have been the fabled Lost Padre Mine. The Monte Cristo hit the big time in 1893 when investors drove a road in from Acton and wagoned in heavy equipment. It had a colorful history from 1895 to 1915 when it was “ruled” by the free-wheeling, hard-drinking, irascible Captain Ed Fuller, whose myriad partners were either driven off or murdered. Worked sporadically since then, Monte Cristo Mine still exists today in private hands, although the Station Fire consumed the original mine structures.
In that same area the Black Cargo Mine still exists, and was worked until the ’50s. It was remarkable for the fact that a 24-bucket aerial tramway was constructed there to transport ore to the mill. The nearby Falcon Mine was opened in 1939, and was apparently still working up until the early 2000s. Other mines in that area that are still extant are the Black Crow and the Gold Bar.
There were hundreds of mines dug into the San Gabriels from the 1700s up to the present, many of them in Big Tujunga or Mill Creek. But the crucible-like environment of fire, flood and landslide in the San Gabriel Mountains has wiped out any trace of the majority of them.
This just in: In last week’s article I mentioned a mine in the Verdugos that I explored as a kid. I heard from Bob Gregg who owned the land at that time. He told me it was a water tunnel to provide water to the orchards and vineyards of Onandarka Ranch just below, where Oakmont Woods is today. Lots of abandoned water pipes were found around the entrance. The mine was covered intentionally because of liability issues.