Los Angeles newspapers first report gold in the Tujunga region in 1865. A ledge of gold-bearing quartz was found in Little Tujunga Canyon. The Mayflower Mining Company dug a tunnel eighty feet into the mountain, looking for the Mother Lode. The famed bandito Tiburcio Vasquez, not only hid out in La Tuna Canyon, in the Verdugo Hills, and in Big Tujunga Canyon, in the San Gabriels, he also did a little gold prospecting along Mill Creek in the 1870's. Early day National Forest Rangers, Phil Begue, and Tom Lucas, discovered remnants of Vasquez mining efforts still in good condition in 1916. They burned the combustibles, and did a little gravel washing themselves, discovering about $6.00 worth of gold.
Prospectors found small amounts of placer gold in the upper canyon of Big Tujunga in the late 1880's, creating a minor gold rush. As the placer ran out, the search was on for quartz veins in the hillsides. The slopes of upper Big Tujunga, the tributaries of Mill Creek, Alder Creek, and Wickiup Canyons showed promise. In 1889 The Tujunga Mining District was booming. Above Mill Creek, the largest mine, the Josephine, had two tunnels, one of which extended 400 feet. A small stamp mill was also in operation. The Tujunga, London, Hope, Lottie, Dundee, and Cable and Pacific Mines, spotted the mountain. Dry washers could be seen along the main canyon. Abandoned arrastras from previous years were reported along upper Mill Creek.
By 1896, The Josephine was no longer in existence. It could have shut down, or been bought out by new owners, who changed its name. Mill Creek was full of activity, however, with two major groups of mines. The Tujunga Group contained over a thousand feet of tunnels and many small stamp mills. Five tunnels, three shafts and a 4 stamp mill made up the Monte Cristo Group. The Monte Cristo was the most productive and longest live gold mine of all.
Although it's not known for certain, stories told by Delos Colby, of Colby Ranch along nearby Coldwater creek, could have been the beginning of the Monte Cristo Mine. When Colby first came to the mountain around 1867, he saw Spanish miners carrying ore up to a water wheel driven crusher. When the Spanish left, Colby used the wood from the waterwheel for his ranch. The Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News, January 1867, also reported the forming of a new mining district north of Tehungo and east of Soledad, with discoveries of gold bearing quartz. The paper told of 4 large arrastras, which would soon be in operation, and a 60 foot diameter water wheel which ran a twenty stamp mill.
The Monte Cristo went through several owners over the next years. In 1893 Colonol Baker organized a company, and spent $85,000 building a rough wagon road from Acton up Aliso Canyon, over Mill Creek Summit, down to Monte Cristo. Heavy mining equipment and buildings were assembled. Very little ore was recovered, and the mine was quickly abandoned. Captain Elbridge "Ed" Fuller, arrived in 1895, and ruled the Monte Cristo during a colorful period of various partners, one of which was found dead with his head blown off. Fuller was not successful in his mining venture, and eventually disappeared. Fred W. Carlisle took over in 1915 until 1946. Carlisle came to the Monte Cristo from the Randsburg Mining District, where he had been assayer. Upon suffering financial losses in Randsburg, Carlilse came to Mill Creek and the Monte Cristo Mines.
From 1923 to 1928 the Monte Cristo, under supervision of Carlilse, recovered gold bearing ore from two rich quartz veins. Of 6 tunnels that were bored, the longest was 425 feet into the mountain. Amongst the machinery brought in was a Blake Crusher and a portable compressor. In 1927, the California State mining Bureau reported $70,000 in gold. Some claimed as much as $200,000 had been recovered - the difference stolen by high-graders. In the 1930's, production slowed down, and Carlisle suspended operations for awhile, then leased east and west veins to various outside operators. Order L-28 by the War Production board, in October of 1942, forced the Monte Cristo, and all gold mines, to cease operations. More than 50 years of mining at the Monte Cristo, came to an end.
Small mining ventures have occurred in the mountains above the communities of Sunland-Tujunga for years. Along the tributaries of Big Tujunga, Delos Colby mined small amounts of gold from a quartz mine in Wickiup Canyon in the earlier years of the 1890s. Thomas Clark worked along the west slope of Alder Creek in the 1890's. Captain Lester Loomis expanded that area from 1913-1936, Ore from the Loomis mine was milled by a water driven arrastra. Areas of Chilao were prospected for gold by prospectors named Bell and Hartman around the turn of the century. Even Charley Chantry, of Chantry Flats fame, tried his hand for a short while, but with little success.
Several hundred tons of gold and silver ore came from the Falcon Mine near Mill Creek Summit in the years from 1939-1942. Minor quantities of gold came from the Black Cargo, along Monte Cristo Creek, up into the 1950's. The Black Cargo boasted the only 24 bucket tramway to transport ore from the mine to the mill. The tramway proved inadequate, however and a road was built instead.
Today, from our armchair, we can visit the rich history of the Monte Cristo Gold Mine at www..encyberpedia.com/gold.htm. Bob Kerstein, the current owner of the mine, writes the colorful stories related to this area. Bob and Susana Kerstein's family acquired the properties in the early 1940's. They own 25.66 acres of private property, as well as 525 acres of surrounding mining claims. All claims have been registered and kept current for nearly 100 years. Property managers on duty maintain structures and claims. Raging fire burnt hundreds of thousands of acres of Angeles National Forest in September 1979. Three main buildings from the Monte Cristo Mine survived this fire. Perhaps someday the Monte Cristo will produce once again.
Written by Cecile Page Vargo
Thanks to my friend, the late sarah Lombard for her local history book, Rancho Tujunga: The History of Sunland/Tujunga
Additional thanks to John W. Robinson for his series of books on the San Gabriel Mountains.