At first glance, Eldorado Canyon visitors may not be aware they’re standing on ground that at one time epitomized the Wild West. A region deluged in riches and plagued by lawlessness, greed, and murder, the history of this Southern Nevada treasure was crafted in blood and gold. Though the days of harboring Civil War deserters may be a thing of the past, the resonance of an unruly population can still be felt echoing throughout the canyon walls.
NOT YOUR EVERYDAY GHOST TOWN
In the heart of Eldorado Canyon, just east of Nelson, lies the Techatticup Mine—a popular destination for photographers and adventurers. Owners Tony and Bobbie Werly first took notice of the old mining camp while retrieving canoes for their former Colorado River canoe rental business. In 1994, the Werlys purchased 50 acres that included several mining claims, a store, a stamp mill, a bunkhouse, and a few tin miner cabins. Since then, the couple has been restoring the area, even opening up the Techatticup Mine for tours.
Though the area has become a popular tourist destination (located approximately one hour south of Las Vegas), Tony emphasizes to visitors that this is authentic Nevada history. “We remind people that this isn’t Disneyland,” Tony says. But to truly grasp the significance of Eldorado Canyon and the Techatticup Mine, a look back at the region’s origins is necessary.
THE CANYON OF GOLD
According to the Werlys, the region owes its roots to the pre-Paiute basketweavers. After the basketweavers, Paiute and Mojave tribes inhabited the area relatively uninterrupted before the Spanish—in their conquest for gold—descended upon the canyon in the 1700s. The Spanish commenced mining in the area on the banks of the Colorado River, but found mostly silver before deeming the area unproductive and moving on.
Nearly 75 years later, the area would be visited by prospectors employing different methods, which allowed them to uncover the gold that had eluded the Spanish. The finds remained relatively secret until 1858, when steamboats began making their way up the Colorado River, causing whispers of gold to swell into a full-fledged mining boom.
In 1861 came the discovery of the Techatticup and Queen City mines, the combination of which formed one of the richest mining districts in pre-Nevada. The mines were owned by prominent California politician George Hearst. The name Techatticup derived from two Paiute words meaning “hungry” and “bread,” as many Paiutes in the surrounding barren hills are reported to have frequented the mining camps begging for food.
Because of Eldorado Canyon’s remoteness, vigilantism became the law of the land. According to Tony, even murder was not a heinous enough crime to warrant the involvement of the law. “In the 1870s, the nearest sheriff lived in Pioche, which was 200 miles north,” Tony says. “It took him a week to get there, so not even a killing was a good enough reason for him to come.”
The isolated canyon soon became a haven for Civil War deserters, and gunfights became commonplace. An ownership and labor dispute over the Techatticup Mine only fueled the fire. At one point, gunfights and killings in the canyon became frequent enough that even lawmen skirted the disputes. Camp Eldorado, a military settlement, was established to protect steamboat traffic and deter local Indians who were raiding the canyon.
But blood wasn’t spilled only at the hands of prospectors. Eldorado Canyon was also home to two of Nevada’s most notorious renegade Indians—Ahvote and Queho. Ahvote is said to have murdered five victims, while Queho is believed to have killed more than 20. According to a plaque near the Techatticup Mine, Queho killed his last victim, Maude Douglas, in 1919, then managed to successfully elude sheriff’s posses.
In the 1920s, nearby Nelson’s Landing—a port on the Colorado River which lies at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon—became one of the most active ports on the river. Later, preliminary work on the Hoover Dam also made Nelson’s Landing an attractive place for surveyors to operate small boats, and, after the dam’s completion, acted as a popular destination for fisherman and tourists.
The Techatticup Mine remained active until the mid-1940s, yielding millions of dollars in precious metals during its productive years. Nearly 10 years later—after the completion of the Davis Dam—the rising water levels and subsequent creation of Lake Mojave meant some changes to the region were due. “The old cemetery used to be further down the canyon,” Tony says. “It was moved after the creation of the lake came close to washing the bodies away.” The new cemetery stands approximately one mile west up the canyon from Nelson’s Landing.
BEYOND THE BLOODSHED
Now that the happenings that earned Eldorado Canyon its notorious reputation are no longer a part of daily life there, it has become a popular Hollywood set. The canyon has been a filming location for several movies and television shows including the 2001 crime film “3,000 Miles to Graceland” and—more recently—the National Geographic Channel’s “Brain Games.”
Tony and Bobbie now reside in Eldorado Canyon and operate Techatticup Mine tours. The guided above and underground tour takes visitors into one of the oldest and most famous gold mines in Southern Nevada. The Werlys also operate a museum/gift shop near the mine, which holds an eclectic collection of historical items from the area.
Though details are still vague, the Werlys are rumored to be opening up a new mine tour this year, which will include underground mine tunnels. Tony explains that the new tour will be somewhat physically demanding, and thrill seekers must be ready for anything. “We’re gonna call it the mother lode tour,” Tony says.
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For the first few years, the miners were able to keep their gold find a secret due to the seclusion of Eldorado, but in 1858 when the first steamboats began to make their way up the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona this all changed. It wasn’t long before word spread about gold in the area, this brought more miners to Eldorado.
Three years later in 1861, miners had the rich, vertically stacked ribbon of gold also known as the Salvage Vein that ran through a steep ridge along one side of the canyon, about five miles up from the Colorado River. The miners would cut down into the vein from the top of a high hill, which soon formed the Techatticup Mine. The name derives from the Paiute Indian word for hungry. This Mine was once owned by Senator George Hearst of California, father of William Randolph Hearst of publishing fame.
Eldorado gave way to the start of several mines in the Nelson District including Gettysburg, Duncan, Solar, Rand, Wall Street, Swabe and Golden Empire Mines. This district was to become one of the earliest and most wealthy mining districts in the state of Nevada.
The Techatticup Mine, as well as the Gettysburg Mine were the first mines in Nevada to be worked by white men. Many of these men were reportedly Civil War deserters. Disagreements over gold and women were common and gunfights would happen often. The Techatticup Mine had a notorious reputation for everyday feuds over ownership, management and labor disputes. Killings were an almost daily event, where even lawmen refused to enter the mine. Despite the notorious reputation of the Techatticup Mine, this went on to become the most successful mine in the area, mining millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead for the next 70 years.
Men worked with picks and shovels in chambers lit only by candle light, and as the gold would play out in one chamber, they would carve a new one just beneath it, using blasting powder, and then drag out the broken rocks to be pulverized and treated with cyanide to separate out the gold. This process would continue on for years, allowing miners to excavate tiers of a dozen tunnels, the lowest of which could be reached by a long tunnel cut into the hillside some 500 feet below the upper entrance. The temperature in the chambers or tunnels would remain a constant 70 degrees, which was a relief for many of the miners who would sleep in their workplace to avoid the outside desert heat.
Ore was transported to Nelson’s Landing along the Colorado River and then shipped by steamboat to Yuma, Arizona for overland shipment to San Francisco, California. The Colorado River was not only used for ore transport, but also served as the primary source of necessary supplies for the camps along the Eldorado canyon. In 1864, when the area was still part of Arizona, the territory’s first stamp mill was built near the steamboat landing. The 10-stamp, steam-driven mill, then processed the ore from the area mines before it would be shipped to Yuma.
The lawlessness of the mines continues as Northern and Southern sympathizers developed among the miners during the Civil War. The hatred split the workers into two separate camps, which hindered mine and mill production. Federal troops stationed downriver had to be brought in to break up the sympathizers before more bloodshed occurred. After the area transferred from Arizona to Nevada, the lawlessness among the people got worse. In 1867, a military post was established in Eldorado Canyon to protect the steamboat traffic and to monitor the local Indians who were beginning to raid the canyon.
In 1883, a railhead was developed in Needles, California where ore was now shipped to instead of Yuma, Arizona. With the development of the railhead, eventually better overland routes eliminated the need for ore transport by steamboats.
In addition to the canyon’s numerous rowdy miners, two of Nevada’s most famous renegade Indians lived in Eldorado Canyon. One of which was a man name Arvote, said to have killed five area settlers. Another was named Queho of the Cocopah Indian tribe, and was reportedly Nevada’s first serial killer, said to have murdered 23 people in the early 1900s. The last person Queho killed was a man named Maude Douglas near the Techatticup Mine in 1919. Having already become Nevada’s number 1 Public Enemy, Queho was constantly pursued by Nevada’s sheriffs by was never captured. In 1940, Queho’s remains were finally found in a cave in Eldorado Canyon.
The Ancient Puebloan Indians first settled in the area surrounding Nelson and Eldorado Canyon, and later the Mojave and Paiute tribes joined the area. Some time later, in 1775, these tribes were intruded upon by the Spaniards who were on a quest for gold. The Spaniards founded a small settlement at the mouth of the Colorado River, they gave Eldorado it’s name. Although they were on a quest for gold, they somehow missed the rich gold veins just beneath the canyon’s flanks, and found silver instead. Once they learned that silver was not enough to justify their operations, they pushed forward and left Eldorado. It wasn’t until the 1850s, when a new breed of prospectors settled in the area on a search for treasured gold.