Take it easy

40° 8'29.38"N 116°36'6.21"W

VISITED April 15, 2022
DIRECTIONS From Beowawe, Drive south on NV-306 S for 24.1 miles; turn left on Cortez Gold Mine Rd. for 5.9 miles; turn left onto Cortez Gold Mine Surface Warehouse Rd and proceed 9.2 miles; take local road north for about 1.34 miles

The E CLAMPUS VITUS sign sums it up nicely. In 1862 some Mexican prospectors found silver deposits and took the ore to Austin, where they were paid, and vanished. In May of 1863 Simeon Wenban led a group to the area to locate and develop mining operations. I've seen several places say that he died in 1895, but the San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 95, 5 March 1901, says he died on March 4, 1901, at 76 years of age. This is confirmed at Find A Grave. Anyway, he developed the mining operations here which he controlled until his death. At one point there was a population of 400 miners, woodcutters, and others living here. Sixteen stamps were built. Mining and prospecting continued on a smaller scale, but in the 1950's larger companies got interested and started the open pit and underground operations which are here today.

The Cortez district was discovered in 1862 by prospectors from the silver camp of Austin, about fifty miles to the south. From 1864 to 1867 Simeon Wenban and George Hearst, in partnership, mined rich ores in the district.
In 1867 Wenban bought out Hearst, acquired all the important mines in the district and operated them until his death in 1895. [Actually, 1901] The period from 1864 to 1895 was the most productive in the district's history, with the bulk of the production in silver, although mìnor amounts of gold, lead and copper were recovered. Much of the ore was very rich, running into hundreds of ounces of silver per ton. During the period 1923 to 1930 Consolidated Cortez Silver Mines operated a 100 ton per day concentration plant mining deeper ore and also recovering some of the lower grade back-fill residue from earlier operations. In other periods from1895 to 1959 various lessees conducted small operations in the district.
-Cortez Gold Mines Report, 1969

A Mr. L.G. High provided some more details on the area, as he heard and experienced them.

I have gleaned most of my information in regard to this famous old mine from old timers who have passed over the Great Divide, other facts I gathered from prospecting the surface and have been in most of the workings underground, some of the tunnels are caved in today. There are two stories that I heard in regard to the birth of Cortez, Nevada. One was that Simeon Wenban and three partners started from Austin to prospect around Mt. Tenabo, the other story which is probably correct was told to me by Jack Scott who has mining claims in Mill Canyon which heads north of Mt. Tenabo (Devil Mountain). Jack came to Nevada on Advise from eastern doctors that he change climates or croak, he is still with us today but in poor health, folks say he was a very good singer in his young days.

The story he told me that he heard was to the effect that Simeon Wenban came to Mill Canyon in 1854 driving an ox team. I suppose he had a wife with him and perhaps two daughters, one of these daughters later married Joe Dean who once owned the "J.D." ranch in Pine Valley, also horse ranch on Horse Creek on the east side of Mt. Tenabo. Later Dean sold the "JD" and settled on what is known as the "Dean Ranch" in Crescent Valley 22 miles south of Beowawe. When Cortez was running full blast he run a stage line and sold mules and horses to packers and wood haulers in Cortez. It was told that Wenban operated a three stamp mill in Mill Canyon and used quicksilver to recover the gold and silver on plates. There was Piute a settlement in Mill Canyon, Shultes had a store and rich mine, there was plenty of water, wood, and deer, there were many mining claims and considerable ore was shipped. Mines there have operated now and then every since. A flotation mill was built by the Roberts Mining Co. Jim Greenan changed the flotation to a cyanide process to mill the ore from the Emma E in about 1929. The flotation mill was a failure as it floated too much iron for the amount of gold it contained. Allen Russel now has the most of the Mill Canyon claims and the Standard Slag Co. is interested in part of them and they are drilling for ore and cutting in roads .According to one story handed own, Mr. Wenban started for Eureka and at the head of Cortez Canyon he found a settlement of Mexicans who were picking up float silver in the forest and were sorting it and shipping it to the smelter. Further up the canyon there was a spring where he later built a house and had fine lawns and stables for horses. Wenban followed the float ore to the St. Louis Mine, as he named it. This float had been washed down from Mt. Tenabo for a distance of 2 1/2 to 3 miles. The Mexes chlorided the ore, taking the high grade and leaving the lean ore. Rock that had too much quartz was hammered off and discarded. The Saint Louis Mine was a large chamber and was mined by hand drills and single jacks. It assayed 4000 ozs. to the ton in silver, and some was shipped to Swansea Wales England to be smelted. The miners followed the ore down and later was connected with the Polar tunnel run from the Garrison tunnel a mile south. After Wenban had dug out the St. Louis mine by hand drill and crude methods he came back south over a mile and sunk 285 feet on a blowout which is above what is now the Garrison or No. 1 tunnel, believing it was a good lead to an ore body. He had to make an expensive road to it containing steep grades, level off a place, make a blacksmith shop and other buildings, then import a large compressor. He also had to build cook and bunk houses and timber up the tunnel. After drifting east a long distance and came to the point where the ore should be, there was no ore in sight.

Now about that time he was financially embarrassed. He had gambled his Saint Louis stake and lost. Well, not quite. He had some Chinamen working for him who also was sure Wenban was right, so he and a couple of Chinamen went to Frisco and took their trouble to a rich Chinaman. He loaned Wenban a bundle of money, I suppose 15 or 20 thousand bucks to continue the tunnel and Wenban promised to work many Chinamen which he hereafter did. Now he drove No.1 a few hundred feet east and picked up the vein. Now it seems he had sold mining stock in England. By this time joe Dean had married one of his daughters and was selling mules and horses to packers and teamsters and furnishing beef and hay to Cortez, so Wenban sent Joe to England to buy up all the stock he could, and then he opened up the huge chamber of ore in China Basin. This re assayed 500 to 3000 ozs. to the ton at $1.29 an oz. He bought people who had claims and formed the company of the Tenabo Mining and Milling Col. George Hearst was one of the company. There were 65 claims and later he had 37 claims patented and still later he had all these claims connected so work could be done on one or several to cover assessment work. In about 1871 with plenty of rich ore in sight and on the dump, the company built a stone brick Chlorinating mill, office, machine shop, smelter, store, saloon, and other buildings. The mill was run by a wood-burning porcupine engine [air-cooled by means of steel pins, screwed into the sides of the cylinder walls. This expanded the cooling surface of the engine and allowed it to be cooled simply by the air flowing over it. ] They had rolls to crush the ore and rotating furnaces to roast the ore with salt and lime before duping it into a huge furnace. This changed the oxidized quartz silver into a chloride form. The furnace burned charcoal made in the woods t the north, lime was obtained from a limestone quarry nearby and a limestone kiln above the mill. Was was piped 7 miles from Wenban Springs and came by gravity above the mill, also furnished the town below and was pumped to No. 1. There was also a tank in Poverty Gulch south of town. Salt was gathered from a salt marsh 20 miles south. Chinamen got $1.50 per day. Mill men got $2.50 for 12 hours. Mr. Spencer of the Grass Valley Ranch brought in hay, beef, salt, and grain. Joe Dean ran the mail line and long line teams with supplies. Some of the richer ore was smelted in smaller smelters. There were over 200 pack animals to pack grub, water, wood, charcoal, and steel. Animals were turned loose at night and rounded up in the morning. There were 600 people in Cortez. Wood cutters got two dollars and a half for cord wood. Brick for the mill and tall smoke stack were hand made in moulds near Wenban Springs. Limestone rock for mason work and for lime making was mined about the new mill site. There were several settlements near here, up in the Arctic Canyon, Down Cortez Canyon, up above in the Old Crater. Poverty Gulch, where now is tail piles was China Town where there were saloons, gambling dens, and bordellos. Homes were made by the Chinese under the No. 1 at the sharp turn of the railroad. Also on No. 1 dump which included a joss house, there were log houses way up above the quartzite ledges. Taking all things into consideration, Cortez has been the best mine that was ever found and still is according to my estimate.
-L.G. High, 1955(?)

Besides vast amounts of silver, Cortez was noted for violence, death, and horse thievery, both in and out of the mines..

They started to take note of Cortez early on.

Mining Review of 1863
Some [mines] claiming to be equally rich [to the Comstock[ but comparatively small, have been found at other points. The localities of the principal mines in the region east of the Sierra Nevadas includes the Cortez, 70 miles north, and the San Antonio, 100 miles south of Austin, now the principal town in the Reese River region.
-Gold Hill Daily News, January 15, 1864

As near as I can tell, the Nevada Giant- also known as the Fitzgerald, is now part of the Barrick Pipeline open pit mine. I could be wrong.

It would be too great a tax upon the credulity of our readers to state that one of the most wonderful silver veins inthe world exists in the County of Lander, scarcely seventy miles northeast of Austin. As marvelous as the statement appears, we believe it to be strictly true. We allude to a monster mine yet in embryo, called the Nevada Giant. It is situated in the district of Cortez, which was discovered in the year 1863.
-Gold Hill Daily News, January 8, 1867

How, exactly, does strychnine find its way into eggs? Hmmmm.

RECOVERED-- We were informed today that the man Ross, who was partially paralyzed last week at Cortez by eating eggs in which strychnine had been inserted, has completely recovered the use of his limbs. His narrow escape should admonish him to buy his eggs hereafter.
-Gold Hill Daily News, August 1, 1868

Cortez didn't waste much time pumping out silver.

Three bars of bullion, valued at $2,000, [$44,358 in 2021 dollars] were brought in town from Cortez yesterday. The mill at Cortez has been closed for the winter.
-Gold Hill Daily News, January 10, 1870

This no doubt happened at some other camps as well, but Chinese seemed to work hard for very little money, which pissed some people off.

CHINESE MINERS -- Mr. C. F. Horn informs us that a number of Chinamen are employed at Cortez in extracting quartz from some of the mines of that district. The work is underground and the rock is all blasted. Their employer is satisfied with them.
-Daily Appeal, Jul 22, 1871

People really started to take notice

J. E. Lucas, who, with two others, has recently returned from Cortez, has afforded us an opportunity to throw some light upon this District, which now promises to become a very important camp. The first mine in the district was found in 1863, in which Tom McMasters and Winburn were original locators. A company was organized soon after, and machinery brought from San Francisco at the rate of 37 1/8 cents per pound. This, with other expenses and the various "perquisites" exacted, swamped the company, and the members were compelled to abandon the mine. Everyone left the camp except Winburn, who, with his family, has weathered the storm for ten years. At intervals, however, the chloriding process has been engaged in by different parties ever since the mines were first discovered. In early days ores were taken to Austin, 75 miles distant, and converted into bars and bullion. For three years or over Winburn has been running a ten stamp mill, which has been found ample to accommodate the few who made the experiment in the district. With anything approaching a development of this camp's resources the mill-power will have to be increased ten-fold in order to reduce to bullion and bars the yield of these mines. Wood and water are found close at hand, and in the greatest abundance. The most prominent mines in the district are the Garrison, Nevada, Giant, St. Louis and Taylor, and Passmore, besides those owned and worked by J.E. Lucas, Amos johnson, and John Hanrehan, all of Pioche, from the former of whom we obtain some interesting data concerning Cortez District. The mines owned by Lucas and his partners are the Modoc and Richmond, silver mines, and the Mammoth, a copper mine. Enough work has been done on the Modoc and Richmond to hold them under the law of Congress and the mining laws. The Modoc has yielded ore assaying from $100 to $500, and the Richmond about the same. The silver mines, however, engage the greatest attention. It is the purpose of Mr. Lucas and his companions to return to Cortez District at once, being now satisfied that the mines are rich, and having secured the required capital for their complete development. The Cortez District will be heard from again.
-Pioche Record, July 13, 1873

Giant was a brand of explosive, in case you were wondering. In any case, you have to know what you're doing.

We learn from Mr. McAllister, who arrived in town last evening, that a fatal accident occurred last Wednesday at the Garrison mine at Cortez. Several blasts of giant powder, had been set off in the bottom of a shaft about sixty feet in depth, and a miner named McKenzie was lowered in a bucket to send up rock thrown out by the blasts. Soon after reaching the bottom he called out to those above him to hoist him out as he was getting faint from the fumes of the powder. When near the top he fainted and fell from the bucket striking the jagged rocks at the bottom of the shaft and killing him instantly.
-Pioche Record, October 3, 1874

THe first of several unauthorized horse borrowings. At least he got a trial.

A man named Edwards has been arrested as accessory to a horse stealing affair near Cortez. He was brought here by Sheriff W. H. Cucommur, of that place, and held in $500 bail, to await examination on Tuesday next.
-Pioche Record, October 13, 1874

Things are picking up.

The Garrison mine at Cortez, owned by J. Wenban, has a bona fide bonanza. The dump and ore houses are filled to overflowing, and averages are considerably over a hundred dollars to the ton.
-Yerington Times, March 16, 1875

Not to say there weren't cultured and literate people living here.

In response to numerous inquiries from all sections of the country, in regard to the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, we would say: The work will be issued in two volumes, to be published separately, about the first days of December and March next respectively. Price for each volume $4, $5, $6 and $9. For the convenience of the many subscribers in this county, we have appointed the following agents:
TOM JEWELL, Palisade
H. CLARK, Cortez
T.J. ISBELL, Mineral Hill
C.M. FASSETT, Ruby Hill
SMITH AND MOSER, Agents for U.S. Grant's Memoirs
-Eureka Daily Sentinel, November 19, 1885

Goodhart wasn't as lucky as Edwards.

A report was current on the streets yesterday that one George Goodhart, who had accumulated and lit out with a band of horses from Diamond Valley and vicinity, had been pursued, overtaken, and treated to a necktie party by the indignant owners of the stock. Grass Valley, in the Cortez range of mountains, is the place where the fleeing horse thief was left suspended to the branch of a tree, a warning to the live stock peculators. The animals were recovered and drive back to their former range.
-Daily Appeal, August 23, 1877

Looks like the hanging wasn't enough of a deterrent, though.

The Sentinel reports the disappearance of a lot of valuable horses from the vicinity of Cortez. They are said to have been driven towards Arizona.
-Weekly Independent, December 23, 1877

Just raking it in now

The Wenban mines, at Cortez, are yielding $1,000 per day.
-Nevada State Journal, February 19, 1878

Simeon Wenban had many Chinese under his employ. They worked cheaply, and he reportedly had borowed from a well-to-to Chinese person from San Franciso, with the stipulation that he would hire Chinese people to work at his mines. As usual, this did not sit well with many of the Causcasion miners. More complaints about the Chinese

A TOUGH DEAL -- Sanches, an old-time Eureka miners, returned from Cortez Sunday evening, and tells a woeful story of his sojourn in that camp. He says there are but five or six white men in the place, and they are hired as bosses over about 45 chinamen, who do the work in the mine and mill. The whole place belongs to one man, and he runs the place to suit himself. The Chinamen work contentedly at $40 a month, boarding themselves, and what work there is to do on the outside, such as wood chopping and hauling is performed by Indians. White man coming in to town in search of work would stand a far better show to starve to death than make grub.
-Daily Appeal, January 10, 1880

Wenban was making plenty of money though.

S. Wenban, of Cortez District, shipped west Tuesday twenty-five tons of bullion, valued at $33,000. [$958,702 in 2021 dollars]It was from ore reduced at his mill in that District.
-Pioche Record, February 19, 1881

Don't know if Wenban caved or not.

The Silver State is informed by a gentleman recently from Cortez District that S. Wenban, who has been mining there for years, and recently employed a good many Chinese, has been notified that unless he discharges the Chinamen, who are at work in his mines, steps will be taken to compel them to go.
-Reno Evening Gazette, June 10, 1881

Something in the water?

A Man Killed While At Table, Eating
The Eureka Sentinel gives the following version of the killing of William Redmond at Cortez: "It seems that Dave Martin keeps a boarding house at Cortez. During meal time on Monday Martin is alleged to have jumped up from the table and exclaim, 'This thing must be explained before anyone leaves the house,' at the same time drawing a revolver and firing at a man named Redmond, mortally wounding him. Martin then attempted to shoot a man named Henly, but Mrs. Martin, who was near by, caught her husband's arm and prevented him from carrying out his murderous design. Martin, at latest accounts, was still at liberty. Sheriff Sweeny, although an invalid and barely able to get around on crutches, made preparations to go to Cortez and investigate the matter.
-Reno Evening Gazette, September 7, 1883

Well that seems dumb.

A young man by the name of Peter Goodman lost his life at Cortez, Eureka county, on the 5th of this month, by his own rash act. He had drilled a hole for a blast with drills too small for the cartridge and undertook to force the cartridge down with the drill. The result was an explosion and his instant death. Goodman had been in the employ of S. Wenban as a miner for several years, and should have known better that to attempt the rash act which has resulted to fatally. The body was taken to Elko, and Tuesday was shipped east to friends.
-Reno Evening Gazette, March 12, 1884

Still looking for the guy. Don't know if they ever found him, but not for lack of trying.

Sheriff Sweeny returned home yesterday from a trip to California and the Coast north of San Francisco. His object while below was to secure the arrest of martin, the Cortez Murderer, whom, on two different occasions, he thought he was about to lay hands on. Mr. Sweeny is on the villain's trail and is confident that he will capture him yet.
Eureka Daily Sentinel, April 12, 1884

Improvements are being made.

S. Wenban of Cortez tells the Battle Mountain Messenger that his mine at that place is looking well, and he intends to erect a new ten-stamp mill this Summer, the old one not being able to crush the ore as fast as it is being extracted from the mines.
-Eureka Daily Sentinel May 24, 1884

From Cortez parties who arrived in town yesterday it was learned that work on Wenban's mill and in the Garrison mine there progresses.
-Eureka Daily Sentinel, February 4, 1886

Oops. An "Aurora-like" problem. Cortez sits right on the county line, with part in Lander and the other in Eureka.

Austin Reveille, June 8
In 1873 that part of Lander county now known as Eureka was cut off from the "Mother of Counties" and a new county organized with full powers and privileges of such an organization. Among other requirements of the new county was the duty of properly surveying it and establishing it metes and bounds at its own expense.It was done and a boundary line fixed which for all these years was satisfactory to Eureka county. It has been in the habit of assessing the Cortez property as within its territory, and until this year Lander did not dispute the right, but Assessor Hull looked into the matter and became convinced that the boundary really gave us Cortez and proceeded to assess it. Now Eureka is kicking and wants Lander to stand in and pay half the expenses of a new survey, the evident plan being to so warp the line as to throw the Cortez property into Eureka.
Eureka Daily Sentinel June 13, 1886

Problem solved.

By the new survey made by T.J. Read for Eureka county, in the disputed boundry line between Eureka and Lander, Eureka gets 2 miles more railroad and the Cortez mill.
-Reno Evening Gazette, August 30, 1886

The net profits of the mines as the ore is worked through this mill is said to be $20,000 per month, which requires the expenditure of at least $15,000 per month more in the town of Cortez, makingit a propsperous and lively little camp. There is also a fine store and hote at the mill run by the Wenban mines, and a saloon at the hotel run by Mr. Hank Knight, an old resident of Eureka and a former member of the Legislature of this State. Mr. R. D. Clark is the Superintendent of the Wenban mines with Mr. Mills, book-keeper, John Hunter, foreman, and W. W. Christian, store-keeper.
-Nevada State Journal, May 18, 1890

Economic conditions slowed things down.

Sam John is back from Cortez. He says the Cortez mill is closed and the people of that section are thoroughly discouraged. The Cortez has been the best paying silver property in the State, and when it has to close, owing to the low price of the metal, it is no wonder people are discouraged.
-Nevada State Journal, April 19, 1892

Price of silver must have nudged up again. Cortez got its post office back in June.

The Cortez mill starts up quite soon, arrangements to that end being pressed as rapidly as possible.
Reno Evening Gazette, August 16, 1892

A fire seems to enter the picture at some poit with ever mining camp. Cortez loses its post office in 1915 for the second time.

Capt. Menardi Says Loss Has Crippled Company, But It Will Be Replaced
According to Capt. J. B. Menardi, who is in Reno this week from Cortez, the milling plant of the Cortez Mining and Reduction Company, which was destroyed by fire a few weeks ago, with a loss of $45,000, will be rebuilt next spring and summer.
-Reno Evening Gazette, September 18, 1915

With Wenban gone, other interests have taken over by now.

George Wingfield Considering Old Mine and Instituting Operations
There are 12 men testing the merit's of the dump's ores and it is currently rumored that George Wingfield is considering taking the old mine over and instituting extensive mining operations.
-Tonopah Daily Bonnanze, June 1, 1916

Thomas Martin, the well known mill-wright, who has completed a contract at Candelaria is on his way to Cortez, to work on the big milling plant at that point.
-Reno Evening Gazette, January 13, 1923

Cortez regains some of its importance. Gets its post office back for a third time!

After many years of dependence upon rural mail delivery, which, in winter time, was frequently depayed, sometimes for days, Cortez, Lander county mining camp, is to have its post office. The office in Cortez was abandoned several years ago, but revival of mining activities there has caused the post office department to order it restablished. The postoffice will be of the fourth class, Vera L. Boitano being appointed postmistress.
-Reno Evening Gazette, January 29, 1923

New mill!

The new mill of the Consolidated Cortez Silver Mines Company will be ready for operation before the first of June, according to Frank M. Manson, president of the Western Ore Purchasing Company. The heads of the ore body will run forty ounces of silver per ton.
-Reno Evening Gazette, May 19, 1923

The up again, down again status of Cortez

A striking example of what the slump in silver prices has done to Nevada mines is furnished by Cortez, which has been one of the regular producers. A year ago there were eighty men on the payroll, with silver at fifty-six cents. The company was opening up a new level and was spending a good deal of money for equipment, and prospects for the future were "fairly bright," according to George Hezzelwood, general superintendent of the Consolidated Cortez Silver Mines Company. Now, he states, the camp has been closed since January 1, 1930, and will remain so for an indefinte period.
-Reno Evening Gazette, March 21, 1930

How much does silver sell for, and what does it cost to extract? That's what needs to be calculated before ore can be removed.

The Cortez Consolidated Mining Company has struck a deposit of ore at the property located in the Cortez mining district, according to Forrest E. Hart, one of the operators. Five men are working on the property, formerly operated by the Nevada Mexican mining Corporation, controlled by the Gilbert interests.
-Reno Evening Gazette, January 24, 1940

Mining in the area continues to this day.

Shipment Is Started On 80,000 Tons Of Tailings
The old mining camp of Cortez, which produced much silver in an earlier day, is showing some signs of life. Recently activity began in recovering the big pile of tailings which were left in the dumps when the mines ceased operation there about 25 years ago. In addition to the working of the tailings the town and mill are being hauled away, the Lovelock Review Miner reports.
-Nevada State Journal, March 5, 1954

POST OFFICE January 3, 1868 - October 12, 1869
June 25, 1892 - July 15, 1915
January 3, 1923 - February 15, 1943

The townsite is in the middle of some major minnig activity, so you probably want to be on the lookout for ore trucks and the like. It's easy to venture into an area where you are not supposed to be, so... don't. Thankfully, the mine company has dedicated itself to the preservation of the site, and makes it easy to find. There are still plenty of ruins to explore. All the buildings are marked "No tresspassing" and "Unsafe" so you probably want to stay out of them and allow them to age gracefully.

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