Mineral King -- The Past
A tantalizing name, old weathered cabins, bits of mine machinery and desert mine shafts were but a few of the things that aroused base campers to curiosity concerning their fist camp at Mineral King, 7800' up in the Sierras [sic]. Dr. Alan McCrae gave a vivid campfire talk on the dramatic ups and downs of this historic region, and this was supplemented by Ray Buckman in the days that followed.
The area was first discovered by white men in 1872, when J. A. Crabtree built the White Chief Mine and extracted the first ore. There was an immediate gold rush over the trail from Three Rivers; everything had to be packed in, including the machinery or the sawmills, smelters and other necessary equipment. The roaring miners' camp of Belulah was exceedingly busy during 1874 and 1875, and in the latter year the miners voted to change the name to Mineral King. Bad luck followed soon after, for the New England Tunnel and Smelting Company, owner of most of the mines, failed. The gold boom abated suddenly and Mineral King practically became deserted.
In 1878 the Empire Mine was opened, and the second gold rush again filled the valley with miners. This time there was to be a road--the Tool Road. Two hundred men worked on it, with half starting from Three Rivers and half from Mineral King, and a grand celebration was held when the two groups met in August of 1878, only five and a half months after starting. Nearly one hundred and fifty outfits were waiting for the road to open, and by the fall of 1879 there were three thousand people in the valley. A quartz mill was completed and a tramway from the mill to the mine on Empire Mountain was erected. A road was built over Timber Gap. Three sawmills supplied the area, and there were six hundred houses in Mineral King alone.
Particularly interesting was the year-round daily mail service. Stages were used as long as possible, then sleighs, and when the going got too bad snowshoes were resorted to. Three six-horse stages left Visalia every morning and three left Mineral King, each making sixty miles in one day. One stage carried mail, another carried passengers and whiskey, and the third was a fast freight, carrying 1500 lbs. Mail was six cents per lb.
Prospecting went on day and night. Every mine owner had one pack and one riding horse, and one thousand head of stock were pastured in the valley. Despite the seeming prosperity the large Empire Mine became increasingly expensive to run and owner Tom Fowler started to San Francisco for financial aid. History might have been different if he had not been killed while boarding a train. His heirs were not able to carry on the mining interests, and thus ended, in 1881, the second and last mining boom.
Gradually the old town became a center for summer vacationists and mining was pushed into the limbo of the past. The mountains were forced to yield gold, silver, copper, zinc, and antimony. However, there may be another period of mining in the history of Mineral King. State mineralogists are considering the extraction of lead and zinc if operating costs can be kept low enough to make it worthwhile. War may mean economic revival to a site which has already seen more periods of alternative activity and desertion than many another.