Historical resources in Gold Butte National Monument
Mining is thought to have begun in the 1700’s when the Spanish left remnants of their efforts in the form of arrastras. An arrastra is a large flat rock hollowed out over which a donkey would drag another rock to crush the ore. There are four known arrastras in the Gold Butte townsite area.In the 1800’s mica was being mined and shipped from the area. Gold was discovered in 1906 and by 1907 Gold Butte was booming with a speculated population of 2,000. By 1909 the boom went bust and the post office was removed from the townsite of Gold Butte. Mining continued in the area as the Grand Gulch copper mine produced much of the needed copper for World War 1. The wagon trails that carried the copper to the St. Thomas railroad spur can still be followed to this day. The wagon masters’ signatures in wagon wheel axel grease tell the story on the sandstone walls of Mud Wash.
Ranching in the Mojave Desert was certainly an arduous task in the early 1900’s. Yet, the hard work of pioneers carved out corrals, water improvements, and fencing. The historic corral at Horse Springs is a wonderful example of early pioneer ingenuity. Short on wood, the corral is set back against a rise and rocks were used to create its walls. The wood that was used in the coral still stands, a weathered character its own. To direct the herd to the corral a rock wall was built up the hillside. An incredible piece of history only Gold Butte holds.
The depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) also left their mark on Gold Butte. There are a long series of stone check dams in Windmill Wash south of Bunkerville. At Whitney Pockets, a CCC camp was established to build a dam to catch rain water for ranching.
Left behind in this camp are storage rooms built into the sandstone alcoves. Interestingly, this is all built within a Native American habitation site. Today this is the focal point of the recreation in Gold Butte, with the heaviest camping and off-roading in the area. It is also the richest in history. Through education and interpretation, Friends of Gold Butte believes these past and present resources can be protected and enjoyed.
Unfortunately, there is no information for visitors to explain the importance of our pioneer history. An excellent example of the importance of interpretation at these sites is the effect of one small sign at the CCC storage room at Whitney Pockets. One of the walls had been torn down for a fire ring and graffiti scrawled inside the alcove covers the wall. After a sign was placed showing what the site looked like several years ago, the damage stopped. Interestingly, visitors are trying to rebuild the side that was torn down. Through National Conservation Area designation, interpretation and protection of these sites is possible. Friends of Gold Butte has the interested membership to work on such volunteer projects and is looking forward to this opportunity.
There are many examples of loss of historical artifacts in Gold Butte. The arrastra set in shrubs hidden for many years. When the fire of 2005 burned the area and it was uncovered, in just a few weeks some of the more valuable artifacts surrounding the arrastra were gone. This same area has a corral from the 1930’s associated with colorful characters such as Bill Garrett, Art Coleman, and “Crazy Eddie” Bounsall. Many locals recognize these names and can tell vivid stories of their life in the desert. Recently, the wooden boards of the loading shoot were sawed off and used for firewood. To those that enjoy local history and discovering the past, this is an unnecessary loss.