|This is the portal to the mine, worked every day, rain or shine by Billy Heaton, until his death in 1924|
County: Los Angeles
Primary Mineral: Gold
Years of Operation: 1902 - 1924
Nearest City or Landmark: East Fork of the San Gabriel River, Heaton Flat, Bridge To Nowhere Trail
Depth: 127 feet
|Billy Heaton (center) and his cabin at Peachtree Flat, now known as Heaton Flat, around 1899.|
History of Heaton MIne
William Tecumseh Heaton, also known as "Billy" arrived at the East Fork of San Gabriel Canyon back in 1891. At first he prospected in an adjoining canyon, called Cattle Canyon, but then settled on a mesa above the East Fork, which at that time was known as Peachtree Flat. Today it's a campground, known as Heaton Flat. He filed a claim in this area in 1902 and built a crude shack of stone and wood on the flat. Two other small structures were constructed near his mine site, which can still be seen today. It is said that Billy worked this mine "every day, rain or shine" until his death in 1924. This mine is known as the Heaton or Billy Heaton Mine, but also goes by the name Queenie.
|One of two small cabin ruins located on opposite hillsides. Billy's Mine lies below a nearby red rock wall.|
The Heaton Mine is located on a hillside very close to Heaton Flat. Some years ago a drug operation was removed from this area. Heaton Flat is a campground located about five minutes from the Bridge To Nowhere trailhead. Another mine used to be located in a small canyon half way between the Bridge To Nowhere trailhead and Heaton Flat, dug into the gravel hillside by prospectors back in the 1950's and 60's. But this area experienced record breaking rainfall in 2005 and the mine's portal was buried by a partial collapse of the canyon wall. I recently found another mine called the Holly located just past Heaton Flat on a plateau above a side canyon. It looks like the main tunnel has been filled in by a hillside collapse but a small tunnel still remains.
|This mine is about 127 feet deep with a five foot high interior, an amazing achievement for a single miner.|
The Heaton / Queenie Mine is located in a gravel wash to the left of a dry waterfall, beneath a red rock wall. It is roughly 127 feet deep, reportedly worked by Billy Heaton until the day he died. This mine is about five feet high on the inside, mostly dry with some areas of calcium carbonate minerals leeching through the walls. The tunnel curves once to the right before reaching its end. There are a few large rocks that have dropped from the ceiling, but overall there are no cave-ins to speak of. Heaton worked other claims at well, including the nearby Holly Mine, Shoemaker Mine and the Good Hope Mine. Prior to his claim near Heaton Flats he lived in nearby Cattle Canyon where he worked additional prospects. For more photos of the Heaton / Queenie Mine click here
|I found this inside the nearby Holly Mine. It's called a smudge stick, used by Native Americans in rituals.|
East Fork Mining History
The first American miners to explore the East Fork probably arrived in the 1850's, just a few years after California had ceased to be Mexican territory. Exact dates are difficult to confirm, since many prospectors worked singly or in pairs, drifting from place to place. The story goes that pioneer miners drifted down from Kern River diggings and did placer mining until the water ran out. The first documented gold discovery in the East Fork was made by Captain Hannigan and party, according to the Los Angeles Star on Sept. 21, 1854. In February of 1855 the Southern Californian reported an average yield of "six to seven dollars per day", to the man." But water scarcity due to relatively dry years soon hampered the miner's efforts.
|Prospectors diverting water to their claim in 1885. Note the Quicksilver Machine emerging from the tunnel.|
"There has been some excitement this past week about the new gold diggings on the headwaters of the San Gabriel. We have met several persons who have been prospecting and although they found gold of the best quality, differ very much as regards to the richness of the mine. The Crab Hollow diggings are now considered the best and will pay from two to five cents to the pan."
~ Los Angeles Star - 1854
|Long Toms and the Quicksilver Machines were state of the art technology during the boom period.|
During the winters of 1858-1859 the rains came. Snowpacks piled up on the mountain peaks and by spring the numerous tributaries were flowing strong. A new rush of miners arrived, anxious to try their luck at panning and sluicing. By early 1859, profits had improved from a few cents to six and seven dollars per day. By May, "the East Fork was being prospected over almost its entire length, and promising new discoveries were made," according to San Gabriel Mountains historian John W. Robinson. As more prospectors arrived, the rustic settlement became known as Prospect Bar, a boom town located four miles up the East Fork. This settlement included a boarding house, two or three stores, a blacksmith shop, a butcher shop, etc. But the successes of Prospect Bar were short lived. On a rainy night in November of 1858, a ferocious flood ravaged the canyon, destroying the settlement, along with the dreams of its settlers.
|Hydraulic mining was effective, but destructive. It likely caused the flooding of Prospect Bar & Eldoradoville.|
The Eldorado Mining District
By all rights, the Prospect Bar settlement should have become a forgotten ghost town, but just four months after the flood there was a meeting of laborers, company owners and shopkeepers, who founded the "Eldorado Mining District". The East Fork soon became so densely populated that a series of 27 "mining laws." were enacted. Nearly 2000 miners filed claims in this canyon. However, as was the case in most mining settlements, disputes were often settled with a blade or a six shooter.
|Eldoradoville's six saloons featured gambling and dancing. Gun and knife fights were not uncommon.|
"We have frequent disturbances of the peace here, and as we have no local officers, rowdyism and sanguinary assaults are a very frequent occurrence ... If death is not the result, there is no notice taken of the number of assaults with knife or pistol. At one o' clock yesterday morning, one Mexican or Indian killed another, by stabbing him in the breast with a knife. The apathy with which the white men received this news was, to say the least, degrading to our sense of civilized refinement."
~ Los Angeles Star - 1858
|John Knox Portland (pictured above) was a violent psychopath who met his end with a bullet to the head.|
The lawlessness became even worse when more than six saloons featuring gambling and dancing were added to the settlement. Historian John Robinson tells of a saloon keeper, named John Robb, that alleged to have made his real fortune by collecting the gold filled pouches that often fell from the pockets of his drunken patrons. On Jan. 17, 1862 Eldoradoville met the same fate as its predecessor -- a torrential downpour followed by a deadly flood.
Those who managed to escape death ran up the hillside, beyond the torrent's reach, and observed what John Robinson described as the "Shacks, whiskey barrels, groceries, beds, roulette wheels, sluices, long toms, and China pumps that were swept clean out of the mountains into the floodplain of the San Gabriel Valley ... thus ended the boom days on the East Fork." From 1854 to 1874 it is estimated that $12 million was mined and shipped to various mints throughout the United States.
John Knox Portland
There’s an interesting story about the man pictured in the wagon above. His name was John Knox Portland, a fugitive southerner from Virginia who moved to the East Fork in 1895. Here he mined and operated pack trains which served the local camps. By most accounts, Knox was a shady character who most of his neighbors were wary of, and with good reason. He boasted about six people he had killed in the past, and actually had six notches carved in his gun handle. Knox had a small stone and wood cabin in Cattle Canyon, an offshoot of the East Fork above Camp Bonita.
During WWI in 1917, Knox shot and killed a man named Herman Miller, following a heated argument in Iron Fork. Miller was a German immigrant who worked a mining claim with his brother. somewhere in The Narrows. During Knox’s trial for the killing he claimed that Herman Miller was a German spy, and that his home in the canyon was a German communication line with Mexico. He also claimed that he killed Miller in self-defense. Unbelievably the jury bought his story and acquitted him of all charges.
But this was not the end of the story. Knox continued his mentally unbalanced behavior and sent threatening letters to another canyon resident named Blanche D. Cole, because he didn’t like her friendliness toward park rangers and government officials. Cole, who lived near Graveyard Canyon asked for the protection of rangers, who obliged. As expected, Knox soon rode up on horseback, drunk as usual, and encountered the two rangers posted on guard duty. He was ordered to step down, but chose instead to draw his weapon, and he was shot dead, by a bullet to the forehead.
|"Lower Klondike" gold mining camp. This photo was published in the Sep. 25, 1932 Los Angeles Times.|
The Klondike Settlement
One more mining settlement arose in the 1930’s. It was a shantytown built by unemployed and destitute people during the Great Depression. These types of makeshift towns rose up all over the United States, nicknamed Hoovervilles after President Hoover. This particular one was originally called Ragtown, but later became known as Klondike. About 500 people, including women and children populated the shacks, lean-tos and even ramshackle automobiles. They came from all walks of life, but very few had any previous prospecting experience. A grocery store was set up and gold dust could be sold there for $16 an ounce. Of course the grocery clerk would take his cut before sending the gold to the mint in Sacramento. Panning and sluicing were permitted, but hydraulic mining was prohibited. The average prospector made about $1.50 per day. The fate of Klondike is unknown, but eventually the settlement faded away.
|In 1853 a stagecoach was robbed near modern day Claremont. The treasure was buried in the East Fork.|
Lost Treasure of the East Fork
Stagecoach holdups were a common occurrence in the old west. This mode of transportation represented easy pickings for outlaws, mainly because they travelled in remote areas, and they weren’t very well protected. This caused concern for stagecoach companies and their drivers. Typically they didn’t put up much resistance when held up at gunpoint.
|Somewhere within Fire Camp 19 gold is said to be buried, stolen from a Wells Fargo stagecoach in 1853.|
In 1853, near what would become Claremont, four outlaws robbed a stage carrying a Wells Fargo chest filled with $30,000. They fled up San Antonio Canyon, with a posse not far behind. The leader headed down the east fork of the San Gabriel River. Before he was shot down, he is said to have buried his money-laden saddlebags in a grove of oak trees, now believed to be part of State Prison Camp 19, also known as the Fire Camp. The money was never recovered. You might be wondering how much $30,000 taken back in 1853 is worth today. Using an inflation calculator that amount comes out to just under one million dollars, $985,000 to be exact, as of 2018.
The late Bernie McGrath, former prospector & unofficial Mayor of the East Fork. Photo by Sarina Finkelstein
Modern Day Prospecting
Is there still gold in the East Fork today? You bet there is. And you'll see dozens of panners and sluicers on any given weekend trying to find their fortune. According to the U.S Forest Service, and the 1928 Mining Act, it's illegal to remove minerals from the San Gabriel River, however this law is rarely, if ever, enforced. Little if anything is left of Eldoradoville today, however if you type "Eldoradoville" into Google Earth's search engine you'll see the approximate location of this former boom town. It was located close to the merge of Cattle Canyon and the East Fork. A primitive campground now rests on this site. I have found a few cement and rock foundations there, but little else. If you would like to see what still remains click here
If you think you have gold fever, check out the award winning short film below. Prospecting is a hard way to make a living, but there are still a lot of people doing it. Footage for this film was all shot in the East Fork.
LA Miner from Thomas R. Wood on Vimeo.
Additional Photos - Heaton / Queenie Mine
All watermarked photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without my consent.