December 21, 2017

Photo Essay: Bloodthirsty and Money-Hungry Shenanigans in the Colorado Mining District

If someone sent you to El Dorado Canyon, it wouldn't take much for you to figure out that you'd be looking for gold (or oro) there.

Then again, anyone who ever strikes gold anywhere should keep that little secret all to themselves—because once you label your stake as being part of Gold Country, you're just inviting opportunists and scavengers to come challenge your claim and steal the strike right out from under you.

A name like Techatticup, on the other hand, serves as an advisory of a different sort: There will be "Indians" there and, as the name loosely translates, they will be hungry.

One kind of man may attack out of greed, in search of gold—or, in the case of Techatticup Mine, gold and silver.

Another kind of man may attack out of necessity—provoked by starvation and the desire to protect the land and all its natural resources.

In Nelson, Nevada circa 1861, you might've found both those kinds of men—because although much of the original ghost town has disappeared over time, the mine shafts across the street are surprisingly intact (with some period-appropriate ore carts and other equipment strewn about).

And the traces of the historical conflicts with Native Americans may have faded into the hillsides, but we know that the Paiutes were, indeed, starving here in this dry canyon and that its remote location in the Southern Nevada backcountry attracted a number of white and non-white renegades, outcasts, and outlaws.

As 19th century miners commented at the time, there may have been no other place in the Wild West where so many crimes were committed and yet escaped unpunished.

Not the least of those was a man named Queho, born of a Cocopah Indian Tribe mother and eventually notorious as the first mass murderer of Nevada. His most famous victim was Maude Douglas, killed in her cabin near the Techatticup Mine in 1919. Queho was immediately a suspect, having gone "mad" and run amok killing others in the area.

But the dead giveaway, as it were, that he'd been the one to do it was the set of footprints found outside Maude's cabin. As Queho walked with a club foot, they were unmistakably his—yet he still managed to skirt the law and avoid apprehension, having gone into hiding, never to be seen again.

Although some men (and, apparently, women) were slain in gunfights and robberies in the lawless town of Nelson—a good 200 miles from the nearest sheriff—perhaps the grimmest of all reapers here was the mine itself.

When law enforcement officers were looking for Queho, they found plenty of other dead bodies—but not of his other victims.

Their lives had been taken by the mine.

There's probably no type of mining that's considered safe, but chipping away at the hard rock of El Dorado Canyon was particularly grueling and took way longer than you'd ever think would be worth the while.

But Techatticup Mine—along with two other nearby claims—brought in millions of dollars in 80 years of operation. In a year, they might've poured 100 bars of gold and silver (combined), worth $350,000 in 1916. By today's standards, that would be worth well over $20 million.

Still, it was dark down there, with more vertical shafts than horizontal ones.

With one misstep, or if any of the ladders or catwalks gave way, you could easily plummet to your death.

And it was such an intricate network of tunnels—sometimes compared to a rabbit's warren—that if you went too deep while you were following the vein, and something happened, you may never get out in time.

For some, there was never any canary in this mine—no warning of the dangers ahead, nothing to tell them to get out (with enough time to actually get out)—and so some just never left.

Was it any more dangerous down there than it was above ground? Maybe not. In fact, it might've actually been safer in the mine, where the perils were somewhat more predictable.

Al mining operations ceased in 1942, but you can take a tour of the abandoned mine, which has been cleaned up, cleared out, and illuminated for intrepid explorers who'd like to make it out alive.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ghost Town Where Eldorado Canyon Meets the Colorado River
Photo Essay: Eagle Mining Company's Underground Tunnels
Photo Essay: Calico Ghost Town
Photo Essay: The End of the Old West at Gilman Ranch

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