Bullfrog Mine

In the late summer of 1904, two wandering prospectors happened to meet at the Keane Wonder Mine, on the east slope of Death Valley. Ed Cross, the first, was an occasional prospector who had participated in mining rushes from time to time. Cross, however, was an “amateur” prospector, since he had a home and farm in Long Pine, California, to which he would return between forays. Attracted by the Goldfield boom, Cross was on his way towards that region, and had stopped off at the Keane Wonder to look over the country surrounding that recent discovery.

The other prospector, Frank “Shorty” Harris, was a veteran desert rat. Shorty bragged that he had attended every mining rush in the country since the 1880’s, including those of Leadville, Coeur d’Alene, Tombstone, Butte, British Columbia, and others. Like most prospectors, Shorty had, as yet, nothing to show for his efforts. He had already been through the initial Tonopah and Goldfield booms, but had gotten there too late to
locate any close-in ground. Now, like Cross, Shorty Harris was determined to give the Goldfield territory another look, and the two men teamed up.

Like countless other prospectors who were scurring around the deserts, Cross and Harris dreamed of finding another bonanza like those of Goldfield and Tonopah. As the two men trekked across the Amagosa Valley, that dream loomed large before them, for they were about to make the discovery which would initiate the great Bullfrog boom, and which would change forever the history and territory of southwest Nevada.

Accounts of the next few days vary wildly, as romantic tales of big discoveries are wont to do. Both Cross and Harris repeated their versions in later years many times over, and it is difficult to find any two versions which agree. Apparently Shorty persuaded Ed to make a detour on the way to Goldfield, in order to examine some rock outcroppings which he had noticed on an earlier trip. There, on the east side of the Amargosa Valley, the discovery was made. Both men knew at first glance that they had found something big, but how big would have to be determined by the Goldfield assayer’s report. Quickly locating a claim, staking the ground, and naming the mine the Bullfrog, for the distinctive mottled green ore, the two men set out north for Goldfield, to record their claim, have their samples assayed, and to celebrate.

The rock samples indicated that the mine had ore worth over $700 to the ton, truly bonanza stuff. News of the discovery soon spread through Goldfield, and by morning the rush to the newly named Bullfrog District was on. In the meantime, Ed Cross went north to Tonopah to record the claim there in addition to Goldfield, since no one knew whether the mine was located in Esmeralda or Nye county. By the time Ed got back, Shorty was half-way through a six day drunk, sometime during which he sold his share of the Bullfrog mine. Cross later claimed several times that Shorty got no more for his share than $500 and a mule, although Shorty once claimed to have received $1,000, and thirty years later said he got $25,000. At any rate, Shorty Harris was out of the picture. Like most old-time prospectors, he had spent most of his life looking for a gold mine, and had sold it for a pittance when he found it.

Ed Cross was more business-like, as he reported to his wife. After several deals fell through, Ed sold his share to a group of mining promoters for cash and a share of the stock in a company formed to exploit the mine. Ed later claimed to have received $125,000 for his share of the mine, but that figure is probably inflated. But whatever the exact amounts, both Cross and Harris had sold out–one for drink and the other for stock certificates. Which would prove to be the better deal was yet to be seen. It is certain, however, that neither of the two prospectors who started the great Bullfrog boom made much profit from their discovery, but that is nothing new in the history of mining.

By early fall, the Bullfrog boom was in full bloom. Tents, towns and prospectors surrounded the area of the Bullfrog Mine, as prospectors and promoters rushed to get in on the ground floor. In short succession, mine after mine was discovered in the vicinity, and the Bullfrog District became the talk of the west coast. In the meantime, the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate, organized to operate the original discoveries, was incorporated by the Goldfield promoters dealing with Ed Cross, and actual mining was started. The company advertised a capital stock of 1,000,000 shares, with a par value of $1 each, but they did not say how much actual cash was placed in the treasury to finance the development efforts. As events proved, it wasn’t enough. Ed Cross was given a seat on the board of directors of the company, as befitted the owner of one sixth of the mine.

Initial development through the fall and winter of 1904 were promising. The company reported ore assaying as high as $813 to the ton, and began sacking high-grade ore for shipment to the Goldfield smelters. On March 23, 1905, the Original Bullfrog Mine made the first big shipment out of the new district. Ore estimated to be worth $10,000 was escorted through Rhyolite by five armed guards and the Rhyolite band. The Original Bullfrog Mine, symbol of the entire Bullfrog district, was now a shipper and a producer. More good strikes were made in the shafts and tunnels through May and June; sixteen men were employed at the mine; a 15 horsepower gasoline hoist was ordered to enable deeper sinking; and the mine superintendent expressed the hope that shipments of high-grade ore would pay for all development costs, thus saving a strain upon the company’s treasury. By August of 1905, the superintendent estimated that the company had between $750,000 and $1,500,000 worth of ore in sight.

By 1907, the Original Bullfrog Mine had already seen its best days. By 1910, when it was becoming apparent that the entire Bullfrog District was dying. Nothing is harder to kill than the mystique of a name, especially a name such as the Original Bullfrog, with its intimate connections with the glorious boom and bust of the Bullfrog district. Time and again, throughout the following years, miners, prospectors, promoters and even movie stars were attracted by the prevailing mystique of the Original Bullfrog Mine. Surely, they thought, there must be something there, if this was the mine which started the whole thing. Their efforts were met with various degrees of middling success.

So lived and died the Original Bullfrog mine. Considering its history, which saw only insignificant production and small-scale mining efforts, the mine itself would hardly be worth remembering. It was, however, much more than just a mine–it was and is the symbol of the entire Bullfrog mining district, and all that that entails. The Original Bullfrog Mine was the spark which lit the Bullfrog boom, and that boom was in turn responsible for several other booms, the building of two towns, Rhyolite and Beatty, and the transformation of the entire history and economy of a large portion of the southwestern Nevada region.

And what of the two lonely prospectors who made the discovery? Shorty Harris went on, as most old-time prospectors did, to hunt again for gold in the desert. Amazingly, Shorty found gold a second time, at Harrisburg, on the western rim of Death Valley. Again, however, Shorty was unable to capitalize upon his discovery, and he died in 1934, alone on the desert, still looking for gold, and with little but his burro and his blanket to his name. Ed Cross, after giving up on his lease at the Original Bullfrog, returned to his home and farm in California and died at his daughter’s house in 1958.

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