Randsburg Ghost Town

Randsburg still has 69 residents. Most of the town has remained virtually unchanged since the mining days.

County: Kern

Primary Mineral: Randsburg's economy was built around the famous Yellow Aster Mine, the largest gold producer in Kern County. The Rand Silver Mine on nearby Red Mountain produced more silver than any mine in California. Tungsten was mined in the neighboring town of Atolia.

Years of Operation: Gold was discovered on the slopes of Rand Mountain in 1895. From this discovery, the town of Randsburg (originally known as Rand Camp) sprang up almost overnight. By 1899, the town had over 3,500 residents. Randsburg boasted a 100-stamp mill and conservative estimates are that $60,000,000 in gold was taken out of the mines in the area during the town's boom years. From 1895 until about 1933, the Yellow Aster mine produced almost $25,000,000 worth of gold. Today about 69 people still reside here.

Nearest City or Landmark: Close to the Kern-San Bernardino counties border, 17 miles south of Ridgecrest, near the El Paso Mountains.

Remnant of Randsburg's mining days. This building probably dates back to the early 1900s.

Randsburg is a living ghost town. In 1899 it was host to over 3,500 residents. But like all mining towns, the boom came and went. Today there's still a population of around 69 people, who show their pride by keeping this legendary town as original and unchanged as possible. The main street through town is Butte Ave., and although quite a few tourists pass through this area I wouldn't call Randsburg a tourist trap. At least not on the level of Calico. It's mostly a sleepy desert town with open mines dotting the hillsides and artifacts just about everywhere, mostly from the Yellow Aster Mine. During the first half of the 20th Century, the Rand Mining District was the principal gold producing region of California.

This building is currently an antique store, but may have been a machine shop at one time.

Large-scale gold mining continued until 1918, but small-scale placer operations continued through the 1930s, and to a lesser extent even into the present. By 1919 most of the population had moved on to greener pastures.

"Randsburg has no saloons, no churches, no newspapers, no pastor, no doctor, and but a few years ago had all these. The town jail has been forlorn and deserted for two years.” 

– Bakersfield Californian, November 23, 1919

Earliest known photo of Randsburg, (Rand Camp), after the discovery of the Yellow Aster Mine.

History of Randsburg 

As early as the 1860s this region was being prospected, however no significant finds were made at that time. It was not until placer gold was discovered in 1893 in Goler Wash, in the El Paso Mountains 15 miles to the north west that there was any mineral production. Numerous short-lived dry-washing camps soon sprang up in various locations along the El Paso range. In 1894 prospectors Frederic Mooers, William J. Langdon and B.F. McGee had been placer mining in the El Paso Mountains, east of Red Rock Canyon and south of Ridgecrest, when they ventured into the Rand mountains. 

John Singleton's office. Singleton was a partial owner of the ultra successful Yellow Aster Mine.

They found a little “color” there, but returned to a dry wash which had been worked by a German man named John Goler, an area that had been worked since the 1850s with proven success, known as the Summit Range Mining District. The partners had planned to continue their placer mining operations in that area, but an extremely wet winter made mining the wash nearly impossible. In 1895 Mooers returned to the Rand region with a new partner named John Singleton to take a closer look. To their surprise the volcanic mountain was “covered with float” showing free gold as large as wheat grains to the naked eye.

Randburg in the winter of 1897. Taken at the intersection of Broadway and Butte Avenue.

Mooers and Singleton brought in a third partner by the name of Charles Burcham and staked their claims in 1895. Soon after they changed the name to Yellow Aster Mining and Milling, named after a new novel one of the men was reading at the time (“A Yellow Aster” by Hunt Caffyn, written in 1894). 

Looking east on Butte Ave. in 1897. Randsburg once had a population of over 3500 citizens.

Despite the legendary success of the Yellow Aster Mine, this venture nearly failed in the beginning. The prospectors barely had enough food and supplies to keep them alive when they first established their claim, and every ounce of gold they found was used to finance another day’s digging. At one point they came close to selling the claim when Charlie’s wife, Rose Burcham came to the rescue. She wouldn’t allow the sale, and found a way to finance the mine’s development. This was TRULY a rags to riches story. The Yellow Aster mine became one of the biggest gold mines in all of the Mojave.

The Rand Development Company sold mining properties and lots for businesses and homes.

Their first shaft was fifteen feet deep, and a ledge six feet wide was soon developed. According to the San Francisco Call of Jan. 27, 1896, “They then began prospecting for other ledges and located fourteen other claims.” But coming up with the money to file the claims and paying the fee apparently took a lot longer than expected, and by that time word of their find had spread far and wide. Hundreds of prospectors, investors, fortune seekers and mining experts from South Africa poured into the area.

Members of the Morgan family in front of the Randsburg Oil & Fuel Company in 1898.

By the start of 1896 there were "five wooden buildings, including stables, corral, saloon and about thirty tents." Later that year the nearby supply town of Johannesburg was established. The area became known as “The Rand” - named after the Rand Gold Mining District in South Africa. A barber shop, general store and even an opera house sprung up and the early town of Randsburg was born, known locally as "Rand Camp."

The St. Elmo Hotel in 1897 was owned by the town's sheriff and also served as a stage line.

In the same year, a prosperous Tehachapi farmer named Eugene Garlock constructed a stamp mill at Cow Wells. Renamed Garlock, it became a service town to the Yellow Aster Mine, supplying both water and milling services. Garlock’s first mill was called the Visalia Mine. Under John Singleton’s superintendency, the Yellow Aster hired 65 men and was soon leasing as many as three of Garlock’s mills, which ran night and day, crushing as much as 20 tons of ore daily until 1898, when the Kramer-Randsburg rail line was completed and ore was hauled to a new 50-stamp mill in Barstow. That same year a 30-stamp mill was erected at the Yellow Aster, making the services of Garlock obsolete.

Randsburg in 1898. At one time there were twenty-one different saloon keepers operating here.

By 1897 Randsburg was a boomtown of nearly 4,000 people. The same year, three separate fires destroyed most of the original town, but some of the $60 million dollars in gold profits quickly rebuilt it. The Yellow Aster mine alone had taken $25 million dollars worth of gold at the day’s price of $20 an ounce. In 1901, a 100-stamp mill was added on site, one of the largest ever built. Over 110 years later, the Rand Mining Company still operates 24 hours a day and employs about 80 workers.

4th of July parade in 1900. At that time there were only 45 stars on the American flag.

Both silver and tungsten were discovered in nearby hills. The Kelly Silver Mine, aka California Rand Silver Mine, was discovered in 1919 and was worked on a major scale through the 1930s.Tungsten, a strategic material, was mined during the first and second world wars. Gold production tapered off after the 1930s, but the town would not die. On a smaller scale, gold mining continued through the 1960s, Even today, the hearty souls who still live in Randsburg and the surrounding areas survive off a little mining and a little tourism. Dozens of mines are still visible on the hillsides, and original mining equipment is strewn about everywhere. 

Old Post Office location on Butte Ave. By 1899 Randsburg had grown to over 3,500 residents. 

The Post Office 

Randsburg’s Post Office was first established in 1896. The first postmaster was F.M. Mooers. The original location was inside of D.C. Kuffel’s store, but two major fires forced a change of location to a new adobe building, later known as Rinaldi Market. 

“The Post Office has been moved to its new quarters, at the corner of Butte avenue and Broadway, and has been handsomely lifted up with new boxes, etc. The building is of adobe and is as nearly fireproof as possible. ” 

– The Herald, August 10, 1898 

In 1910 the location changed again, this time to the building pictured above. In 1940 it was moved once again, to a building next to the Randsburg General Store. And believe it or not, it moved one more time in the early 1980’s to its current location, downstairs at the Opera House.

The White House was one of Randsburg's many saloons. Across the street is anothe, The Joint.

Saloons of Randsburg

The White House Saloon (pictured above) was was reportedly opened in February of 1917 by Emmett and Moses “Whiskers” Elder when a liquor license was issued to Emmett. At that time the saloon was known as the “Whitehouse Club”. However a sign on the door states that the saloon was established in 1897. This might be explained by a change in name from the early days. Although liquor is no longer served here, you can still get a shot of spiced sarsaparilla. "The White House" and "The Joint" located across the street both have original boot rails and spittoons.

Countless Saloons have come and gone since Randsburg’s heyday, and some still exist today. The first one was known as the Starkey & Richards Saloon, opened by Ed Starkey in 1895. Starkey’s partner, Charles Richards who was the first man ever killed in Randsburg. Richards was supposed to be married to Sally Payne of Tehachapi, but a fellow by the name of L. A. Scott put an end to his life in early September of 1896.  Mr. Scott was a miner on whom the sheriff had received a number of complaints in the prior year. Richards was shot in the back after a fight broke out over money. Scott was arrested and later transported to Garlock. 

Yellow Aster Saloon in 1900. The game being played was called Faro, very popular in that day.


Townspeople got wind of the killing and formed a lynching party to head off the the lawmen. However the deputies took an out of the way route, and eventually transported the prisoner to Bakersfield for trial. Scott had influential friends, including on of the owners of the Yellow Aster Mine who testified for him in court. The first trial ended up in a hung jury. The second trial found him guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to the maximum, ten years as San Quentin. However after serving just one and a half years Scott was set free on bond, granted another trial by the Supreme Court and was ultimately set free. Upon returning to Randsburg, Scott proceeded to start a fight in another saloon and was beaten to death by two men. The coroner’s jury determined the men had acted in self-defense.

Originally the Jones Drug Co., A soda fountain inside is over 100 years old, built in 1904. 

The General Store

The General Store has been a landmark of Randsburg since the 1930. In 1896 a drugstore existed on this site, known as the Randsburg Drug Store. By 1898 it had been hit by two fires, In 1900 the store was sold to George W. Turner, age 20. In 1903 another fire hit Randsburg, burning the drug store to the ground. After being rebuilt in 1904 a soda fountain was added. In 1905 the store was sold to R.S. Cheney from Los Angeles and then re-sold to Oscar Glanville in 1916. Three years later it was sold once again, this time to Daniel & Anna Gunderson and Wilson H. Jones. In 1938 W.A. Hankammer purchased the business & renamed it Jones Drug Company. He was the last Pharmacist to operate the business. In 1949 Hankammer's daughter bought the business and turned in into a general store, known as the Randsburg General Store. In 1980 it was bought by Mike and Jan Hillenbrand. Subsequent owners from 1996-2006 (Kittell, Wilson, McNamee). In 2006 the store was sold to Pam Keiser, who is the current owner.

The soda fountain inside is over 100 years old, built in 1904. 
It was purchased in Boston, MA and brought around the horn by Clipper ship, then hauled in by mule and wagon. The store still serves original style ice cream sodas, phosphates, and the biggest banana splits ever seen, known as the Black Bart. Today this building serves as both a sit-down restaurant and a general store and includes memorabilia, maps and locally-published histories on Randsburg. The restaurant is known for its long counter, antique backbars, active malt machines and the famous Egg McMiner Sandwich.

Randsburg and nearby Johannesburg take their names from miners who worked in South Africa.

The Churches of Randsburg

The Santa Barbara Catholic church (seen above) was founded in 1897 but burned down one year later. It was rebuilt in 1904 by Father Matthew Ternes of St. Malachy. It still has the original bell. Apparently one side has been propped up because of instability. One street north of this one is the Randsburg Methodist Church, built in 1934. Methodists of Randsburg began holding services at a different location as far back as 1898. There was also an Episcopal church that dated back to 1896. A small Mormon church was mentioned by the Deseret Evening News in 1902. And a Christian Science was mentioned by the Bakersfield Morning Echo in 1918.

Randsburg School in 1905. Today kids are bused to Johannesburg and Ridgecrest.

The School

The Randsburg School was established in 1897. From 1897 to 1962 there were 37 teachers. Today Randsburg no longer has its own school. There is still a one room school in nearby Johannesburg for children up through 3rd Grade. Older students are now bused to Ridgecrest, the nearest large town. The first school teacher of Randsburg was Miss Wores.

“The Halfway house at Randsburg has been purchased, and fitted up as a school room. School will open on the 20th inst., with Miss Wores as teacher.” 

– The Herald, September 17, 1897

Randsburg had a Sheriff, but town's people also formed their own Vigilante Committee.

The Jail

As was the case in virtually all mining boom towns, Randsburg had its share of crime. 

Claim jumping at Randsburg has already commenced, and a few gun plays made, mostly bluffs however, as no serious results lately have occurred. It is thought at the beginning of the New Year, at which time a great many locations expire, there will be trouble in earnest and that the new cemetery will have additional occupants about that time.

–San Jose News, December 19, 1896

One of the first lawmen of Randsburg was John M. Crawford, owner of the St. Elmo Saloon and a Kern County Deputy Sheriff. Claude Bohannon, who owned the Capital Saloon, was appointed the town constable in October of 1896. At the same time E.B. Maginnis was appointed the Justice of the Peace. In 1897 townspeople felt they might need some help, so they formed a vigilante committee. They called their group the “Committee of Arbitration” and posted a notice to all would-be criminals: 

“The citizens of Randsburg have organized to enforce the Laws. Ten Deputy Constables have been appointed and any riotous and threatening conduct will be suppressed and punished. By Order of the Citizens Com’te".

~ The Mining and Electric Journal, 1897

This Inn was once the site of the Orpheum Theater, opened in 1897. Later it became a brothel.

Randsburg Inn

Randsburg Inn sits on the site of the old Orpheum Theater, which opened in 1897. Originally owned by Joe Petrich, It was the center of entertainment for the town's miners at that time. Stage plays, dance hall girls, ladies of the evening, and a gymnasium in the basement were just some of the offerings. By 1899 a new owner, Joe Woodward, renamed it "Woodward's Dance Hall". Sadly, it was destroyed by the "Fire of 1903".

From 1903 to 1907 Marguerite Roberts ran a "House of Ill Repute" on or near this location. She called it the "My Place Dance Hall". Several trade tokens from this dance hall and the Orpheum Theater have been found around the small buildings called "cribs" directed behind the Randsburg Inn. Maraguerite managed to keep the establishment open until her death in 1907, despite repeated attempts by some citizens to shut it down. Miss Roberts in buried in a local cemetery.

In 1922 another mining boom created the need for more hotels, so Mrs. Artibe build the Commercial Hotel with lumber supplied by the Johannesburg Lumber Company. Since then the hotel has be refurbished and renamed. It's a tiny, rustic inn with with a little antique store in the front.

Inside the Yellow Aster Mine with a mule. This mine has operated intermittently since 1895.

The Yellow Aster Mine

The Yellow Aster Mine was huge. It operated continuously from 1895 to 1918 and then reopened in 1921. In 1933 the Anglo American Mining Corp. Ltd. leased it and reopened in in 1939. There have been intermittent lessees since that time. By 1905 about seven and one half miles of horizontal underground working had been driven. Most of the ore mined from 1905 to 1933 was obtained from a large glory hole, but reportedly the workings totalled between 12 and 15 miles in length by 1909. Between 1895 and 1939, more than 3,400,000 tons of ore was milled, and about 500,000 ounces of gold was recovered, nearly all by amalgamation. In addition, 1,700,000 tons of mill tailings was treated and yielded 41,000 ounces of gold.

The Yellow Aster's Olympus Tunnel in 1897. This mine had at least twenty eight different portals.


In 1902, under John Singleton, 200 men were employed to work the mine. At that time each tunnel was considered an individual mine. The tunnels were named as follows… Alameda, Big Horse, Burcham #1, Burcham #2, California, Columbia, Defender, Desert View, El Rico, Fannie C., Golden Queen, J. B., Johannesburg, Mariposa, Mooers, Nancy Hanks, North End, Old Dollar, Olympus, Prescott, Rand, Reservoir, Wedge, Scott, Security, Singleton, Tennessee and Trilby Wedge.

20 Mule team at Yellow Aster's 30-Stamp Mill. In 1901 a 100-stamp mill was added.


Although the Yellow Aster was the big dog, other miners wanted to share in its successes. The Federation of Miners union demanded that car men and shovelers (top-siders) who earned $2.50 per day, be paid the same wage as underground miners, who earned $3. Singleton resisted, and by the next year the union was demanding $3.50 for miners and $3 for muckers. A strike ensued, not only at the Yellow Aster, but also at several other mines. Rather than conceding to the demands of the union, Singleton shut the mine down, and Randsburg’s businesses halted, with merchants giving no credit. Although strike busting was illegal, the Yellow Aster did it anyways. Non-union miners were brought in from Missouri and elsewhere. In solidarity with the union, Randsburg’s mayor shut down the saloons.

Locomotive at Yellow Aster Mine. The Randsburg Railway opened in 1898 and ran for 35 years.


Eventually a compromise was reached. "Miners nine hours $3.00; muckers 9 hours $2.50; car men 9 hours, $3.00; timber men 9 hours $3.50; amalgamators 12 hours $4.00; stationary engineers 12 hours $4.00; hoisting engineers 8 hours $3.50; and the pump men 12 hours $3.50."

Miners coming off a shift at the Yellow Aster Mine's Hercules Hoist House in May of 1898.

Other Mines In & Around Randsburg

The Yellow Aster was the big game in town, but that’s not to say there weren’t other successful mines. Here’s a list of the many others in and around Randsburg ...

Ajax, Aksarben, Alpha, Alphonse, Allstate Prospect, Amber, America (American) Group, Argus Butte, Arizona, Annex, Apex, Archer E. Lass, Bald Eagle, Baltic, Banner, Barnett Group, Belladona, Belle, Big Dike (Big Dyke), Big Daisy, Big Gold Mine (Big Tungsten, Bi-Metallic, West End), Birthday, Bogart & Morton, Black Crown, Black Hawk (Eureka Mining & Milling Co.), Bobby Prospect, Buckboard (Merton Mining & Milling), Bully Binder, Bully Boy (Lucky Boy), Burcham # 1, Burcham # 2, Butt (Butte Lode Mining Company, Consolidated Butte Mines Company, Sun Ray Mining Company), Capitola & Combination Claims, Central Lode Mining Company, Comstock, Corona, Craig & Chamberlain, Culbert (Josephine, T.G.), Curless & Faver, Cuve (Rand United Mining Company), Defender, Donovan, Double, Dos Picaninni, Eclipse (Dixie Rand Company), Elizabeth Prospect, Eva L, Ezperanza, G.B. Mine, Good Luck, Gold Coin, Gold Crown (Gold King), Gold Dollar, Gold Flint ...

A shot of the Kenyon Mine in the late 1800s. The mine was often misspelled "Kinyon".

Golden King United, Gold Seal, Granton (Alfred) / Ready Cash, Great Western, Grey Eagle, Gunderson Group (King George, Minnesota), Hardcash, Hasson & Jones, Hatchet, Hercules (Miners Dream), Holtz, Horse Shoe, Illingworth & Colburn, Indianapolis, Jenny Lind / Jennie Lind, Josephine, Juanita, J.H.L Mine, J.I.C. & Excelsior, Kelly, Keystone Divide, Kinyon (Good Hope – Consolidated Mines Company), Koehn, La Crosse, La Grange, Little Bonanze, Little Butte, Little Emma, Little Lily Quartz, Lone Star, Lucky Star, Mable S. / Mabel S., Magganetta, Mapes Lease, Marguerite Claim / Dead Shot, Maria, Mars, Marvel, Mascot Prospect, Master Key Group, Mary Garrett, Mattie, Mayflower, Merced, Meteor, Midnight, Minnehaha, Monarch Rand (Monarch Tungsten Gold Mining Co.), Monkey Wrench, Monte Christo, Napoleon, Nancy Hank, New Century Group, Nondescript, Noonday, Nordon Dredge, Old Baldy Prospect, Ophir, Orphan Girl, Pacific Mining & Milling Company, Pandora, Pearl Wedge (Victory Wedge), Pestle Group, Petaluma, Phantom, Philadelphia, Pine Wedge, Placer Gold Mining Company, Poor Man’s Mine, Pyramid, Rand Exploration & Mining Company ... 

A bizarre desert dredging contraption owned by the Placer Gold Company at the Baltic Mine.

Randsburg Placer & Quartz Mining Company, Rattlesnake, Rawhide, Reedly, Red Bird, Redondo Stand-By, Republic, Republican, Rizz No. 2 (Golden Eagle), Rose M. Claim, Rose Mines (Irene and May Queen), Ruby, Rustler, San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara Camp, Shamrock, Shingle, Sidewinder (Double Thirteen Prospect), Sixteen To One (Double Standard), Skukum (Skookum), Snowbird, South Rand Prospect, Spokane, Standard Claim, Stand-By, Standford Group, St. Elmo, Stine Mining & Milling Company, Stratton, Stringer Gravel, Sunshine (Fraction), Superior, Tam O’Shanter, Teresa, Tiger Rose, Tip Top, Togo Group, Treasurer, Vienna Prospect, Violet Fraction, Wasp, Whip-oor-will, Wedge Gold Mining, Milling & Water Company, Wells Fargo (Old Mojave), White Cloud & White Cloud Fraction Lodes, Whipple, W. H. No. 1, White Mine (Sidney Group), Wild Lilly, Winnie, Yarnell, Yellow Bank, Yellow Jacket, Yellow Poppy, Yorkshire Lass Group, Yucca Tree (Santa Ana Group) and the 1900 Quartz Mine.

Headframe over a shaft at the St. Elmo Mine in 1897 with stage coach and horses in foreground.