This is where silver was discovered first in Owens Valley and is located 7 miles east of Keeler and 30 miles south of independence. Initially, Mexicans roamed the area in search of silver on the mountain they called Cerro Gordo, which means “Fat Hill.” Indians attacked a group of Mexican prospectors in those early days and of these, 3 were killed while the other two got detained.
As the two got released, they had to make a vow never to return here again but when the activities of Indians had been neutralized after the establishment of Fort Independence around 1862, Mexicans made their way back to the mountain once more. Pablo Flores was the man behind the discovery of rich veins of silver at Cerro Gordo who went ahead to establish smelting and mining operations in 1865 near the summit of Buena Vista Peak.
New prospectors stormed Cerro Gordo after news about the new found treasure in the area. Among these was Victor Beaudry who was a businessman originating from Independence, California. Part of his ventures when he came to Cerro Gordo was the establishment of a store close to the mine, in addition to acquiring a number of mining claims that were supposed to help him settle pending debts.
He also put up two modern smelters as he continued his pursuit of acquiring mining rights from those who owed him and as a result, in the course of time, he became the owner of the most productive and richest mines within Cerro Gordo, including some interest in the Union Mine. Mortimer Belshaw was the other businessman who expressed interest in Cerro Gordo after his arrival in 1868.
Together with another stakeholder he formed a partnership and became the pioneer who brought the first wagon laden with silver to Los Angeles from Cerro Gordo. Thereafter, he established the first wagon road leading to Cerro Gordo in addition to a superior smelter. The wagon road was known as the Yellow Road and Belshaw was able to control shipments from the mountain on this road because users were required to pay toll.
In addition to the smelter at Cerro Gordo, another one was put up on Owens Lake where there was an abundance of water and wood and a variety of ores and fire-clay; the essentials that enhanced smelting works in the area, promoting the commercial success of Cerro Gordo. Some of the most profitable mines in the area included Union Mine, Santa Rosa mines, Cerro Gordo, Silver Reef, Cerro Gordo extension and Estelle.
Several challenges were experienced in the 1870s among them being litigation that had been introduced over ownership of the Union lode, scarcity of ore in the mine for some months and the water supply that dried up temporarily. This forced the closure of furnaces, which were opened up later on, but by the onset of 1877 the Union Mine had been exhausted.
In the final stages of the existence of Cerro Gordo, a fire gutted the Union shaft as well as mine buildings and all furnaces were closed after the incidence. The prices of silver and lead had fallen also and this marked the end of Cerro Gordo. A comeback was experienced in 1905 through to 1938 and today Cerro Gordo is a ghost town open to visitors subject to weather conditions.
Among the attractions in this former town presently include kilns, several buildings, equipment and remains of the Union Mine. If you wish to spent the night here, you can rent one of the buildings available and these are the old American Hotel built in 1871, Belshaw House – 1870s and the Bunkhouse – 1904.