This article was originally a CRM survey report that was
popularized and published in True West
magazine, Vol. 40, No.2, February 1993. ©
2014 by the author.
THE CAJALCO DIGS:
an Early California Mining Camp
Smelter and reduction works of the Cajalco Tin Mine in 1891
(photo: Title Insurance and Trust Co., Los Angeles).
down side of conducting an archaeological survey on land scheduled
for development is that 90% of the time you find nothing of
interest. I have often spent days (even weeks) transecting on
foot parcels of thousands of acres, looking for that one unreported
and elusive prehistoric Indian site or some historic feature worth
recording for posterity. More often than not, the field
reconnaissance end of cultural resource management serves only to
flush a few rabbits. Occasionally, however, the odds pay off
and make the drudgery of search pale in contrast to the thrill of
of you who are familiar with USGS topographic maps know that
sometimes the landmarks shown don’t exist. Time and man
often obliterate distinct geologic features, and buildings that may
have once stood are razed to make way for parking lots or housing.
In the case of my particular survey near the Lake Mathews area of
western Riverside County, the maps indicated the presence of an old
mining site known as the Cajalco Tin Mine (pronounced Ka-hal-ko).
Basing my conclusion on previous experience, I had little hope of
finding anything more than tailings.
Photo: Present-day view of the mine taken from the same location
as the 1891 photo.
the structures that once stood had been removed long ago, I was
amazed to find several rock and concrete foundations of various sizes
scattered over an area of perhaps ten acres. Palm trees,
junipers, and willows had been planted around the mining camp, and
there was even an olive orchard. Additionally, several of the
mine’s vertical shafts were still open, extending to dangerous
depths of over 100 feet. At first glance the extent of the camp
and its facilities suggested that the Cajalco Tin Mine was, at one
time, a very large and profitable operation.
armchair research revealed that the Cajalco Tin Mine had also been
referred to as the Temescal Tin Deposit. Temescal Canyon,
approximately two-miles west of the site, was once part of a 50,000
acres Spanish land grant known as Rancho El Sobrante de San Jacinto.
Originally, this immense tract of rugged, mountainous terrain fell
under the jurisdiction of the mission San Luis Rey de Francia between
1798 and 1832. Because it forms a natural passageway through
the mountains, the Temescal Valley had served as an old Indian
camping ground, later becoming an alternate route of the Southern
Emigrant Trail in the 1850s and 1860s, as well as a
Butterfield-Overland stage corridor.
Photo: View of a partially subterranean rock and concrete
foundation. The walls of this structure are over a foot thick, with
angle iron door supports and heavy iron hinges. Its
construction suggests that it may have served as an explosives
regard to the unusual name of “Cajalco,” the story goes
that Salano, chief of the Gabrieleño band of mission Indians
and uncle to Daniel Sexton’s wife, was on his deathbed in San
Gabriel and feared that the place with Indian “medicine”
would be lost. Thus, he ordered his medicine man to show Sexton
the sacred site. Soon after seeing it, Sexton concluded
that the medicine in question was actually valuable “metaliferous
rock.” Sexton began to mine the deposit which through him
became known as Cajalco Hill--a hispanicized Indian name of unknown
meaning. No claim has yet been found for Sexton’s
original claim, but records show that he retained full ownership
until June 28, 1859, when he sold half of his interest to one Nathan
news of Sexton’s discovery spread far and wide and spurred an
unprecedented onrush of miners. Because nearly all of the
ensuing claims were staked in the Temescal area, all were immediately
referred to as the Temescal Tin Mines. Hundreds of claims were
filed, some miners staking as many as a hundred a piece. It
also quickly became evident that more money was being generated
through the buying and selling of claims than what the mines actually
produced. For example, records indicate that as late as 1868
one George Aiken has sold half interest in 170 “tin”
mines for $15,000. It seems that such sales were not uncommon
even though there was little, if any, profitable production.
Temescal tin frenzy went unabated even after Professor Josiah Whitney
and William H. Brewer, both competent geologists, visited the digs in
1861. Whitney’s impression was that the mines were
located on streaks of common hornblende, and that although many
samples had been taken, not one trace of tin could be found.
Disregarding such unfavorable reports, companies that had been solely
formed to exploit the potential tin bearing lands in the Temescal
Valley continued to sell and resell their interests.
from as far away as Los Angeles and Orange counties tried recovering
the elusive mineral with some limited success. The first major
attempt at mining the Cajalco deposit was vertical exploratory shaft
sunk 95-feet into the hard granodiorites. But the outbreak of
the Civil War, coupled with a long and bitter litigation between
claimants of Rancho Sobrante, suspended explorations for a time.
Then on January 2, 1868, mining was officially resumed with the
establishment of the San Jacinto Tin Mining Company which purchased
Rancho Sobrante and the Cajalco. Interestingly, Whitney’s
initial conclusions were proven incorrect. That same year saw
the first shipment of 15.34 tone of cassiterite ore to San Francisco,
which, when smelted, yielded 6,895 pound of tin.
was the hope of the Cajalco’s success that bars of tin from the
mine were exhibited at the Mechanic’s Fair in San Francisco in
1869. Ore specimens were sent to England where they were
pronounced the purest in quality. Investigators of the time
stated, “Here was a body of tin, unlimited in quantity and of
the finest quality--the richest and only workable body of tin in
America.” English experts examined the region repeatedly
and finally two English companies with considerable backing
incorporated with the intent to purchase and exploit the deposit.
the newly-formed English syndicate officially acquired the Cajalco,
erected a smelter, and began to seriously work the veins.
Production was increased many times with the help of two “Husbands”
pneumatic stampers which weighed 900 pounds each and dropped at a
rate of 135 times per minute.
January 1, 1891 promotional pamphlet asserting the virtues of nearby
Perris Valley, it was noted that the English Company: “...had a
force of one-hundred men improving the mines, erecting buildings, and
constructing a large dam. Reduction works are being erected and
two-hundred experienced Cornish miners will arrive in the spring when
active mining will commence.”
were claimed to be great pigs of pure tin were hauled to the South
Riverside railway station (what is now Corona) and stacked into the
shape of a huge pyramid. There, President Benjamin Harrison and
California Governor Henry H. Markham honored the town by stopping and
having their picture taken at the base of the pyramid. Atop
this geometric mountain was an inscription proclaiming that this was
the first tin produced in the United States.
the company had invested well over 2 million dollars in the
development of the Cajalco, a tide sum for that era. Yet even
so, within the short span of two years, unwise investments and bad
management led to the Cajalco’s abrupt closure. The
expensive facilities were dismantled and sold at auction, and the for
the next 35 years the Cajalco deposit lay dormant.
advent of the 20th Century with its burgeoning industrialization
brought new machines, technologies, and investors into the mining
market. Evidently the American Tin Corporation, headed by P.H.
Gorman and G.H. Bryant of Riverside, decided that the Cajalco’s
full potential had not been played out and that it was time to
re-open the digs using more modern recovery techniques. So, in
1927 the mine was reactivated and for three years extensive
improvements were made.
disaster stuck the nation’s economy with the fall of the stock
market in 1929, and Gorman and Bryant were forced to close down the
Cajalco once again. In 1942 the Tinco Corporation of Richmond,
Virginia, revived the mine in order to supply the demand of the
military effort of World War II. Tinco’s improvements
included the installation of a 100-ton mill which operated until the
Cajalco’s final closure in 1945.
to historic documents, the Cajalco Tin Mine was followed to a depth
of 690 feet without bottoming, and was explored with over 5,800 feet
of drifts and crosscuts on seven levels. All told, the entire
state of California had yielded less than 150 tons of tin by 1945.
Of that, the Cajalco Mine was responsible for around 113 long tons
and was the only tin producing mine in Riverside County.
Ironically, continuing local hopes of establishing a viable tin mine
were permanently dashed on May 25, 1953 when the Los Angeles Times
reported, “The U.S. Department of the Interior said there isn’t
any tin to speak of in the Temescal area.”
End of the line for this old Underwood found at the dump site.
a wealth of history and the remnants of building foundations, we
found other physical evidence of the mine’s early use.
During our field reconnaissance we discovered square nails, horse
shoes, and various other items scattered about. A dumping area
just south of the mine yielded old cans and bottles dating to the
turn of the century. But our most spectacular find was a silver
coin found on the surface. Minted in Prussia and honoring
Friedrich Wilhelm III, the coin’s date is 1828. A “D”
mintmark on the coin indicates that it was probably struck in Aurich,
East Friesland, Prussia--the kingdom that in 1918 fell and was
absorbed by Germany.
Photos: Heads and tails of the 1828 Prussian coin found on the
surface at the
Cajalco Tin Mine. The size is roughly
that of a U.S quarter.
the true story behind the 167-year-old coin’s presence at the
mine will never be known for certain, several plausible scenarios
might explain how it came to be at Cajalco. One might be that
it was lost by an early miner/emigrant traveling along the Temescal
Trail. Or the English investors who owned the mine in later
years might have hired a consulting geologist from Germany who lost
the keepsake during prospecting activities. Or perhaps, because
U.S. currency was in short supply during California’s early
years, miners working at the Cajalco might have been paid with
whatever moneys were available.
and regardless of its true origin, the lone Prussian coin stands as a
unique testament to the colorful history of one of Southern
California's earliest mines.
T.A., and D.M. Van Horn
1989 Archaeological Survey Report:
Cultural Resource Assessment of 800 Acres in the Lake Mathews Area of
Western Riverside County, California (Ultrasystems Job No. 4520).
Unpublished report on file with Archaeological Associates and the
Eastern Information Center, Archaeological Research Unit, University
of California at Riverside.
Cliffton H., Jr.
1957 Tin. In: Mineral Commodities
of California. State of California Department of Natural
Resources, Division of Mines. Bulletin 176: 641-646.
Mildred Brooke, Hero Eugene Rensch, and Ethel Grace Rensch
Riverside County. In: Historic Spots in California.
Revised and expanded by William N. Abeloe. Stanford
University Press, Stanford.
Jean, and Lewis Tadlock
1977 Archaeological Element of an
Environmental Impact Report, Leighton Project No. 77023-1
(Tallichet-Hurford Ranch). Unpublished report on file at the
Eastern Information Center, University of California at Riverside, MF
Perris Printing Company
1891 The Great Perris Valley,
Southern California: Its History, Resources, Development.
Holiday Supplement to the New Era, January 1, 1891.
Perris Printing Company, Perris, California.