David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Mining Camps and Ghost Towns: A History of Mining in Arizona and California along the Lower Colorado. By Frank Love. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 192 pages. $7.95.
Reviewed by Duane A. Smith, professor of history at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado, author of Rocky Mountain Mining Camps (1967), Horace Tabor (1973), Silver Saga (1974), and co-author of A Colorado History (1972).
The perfect setting for reading this book about the hot, dry mining conditions of the Lower Colorado river region would be the cool, comfortable elevation of a mining camp nestled in the Colorado Rockies, from whence that river springs. Not only would this keep the reader from wanting a glass of water at his elbow, but it would also give him a frame of reference against which to judge the accomplishments of those other miners out on the desert.
The long-ignored mining region which is brought into focus in Frank Love’s book stretches northward from Yuma along the banks of the Colorado, straddling the Arizona-California border. Yuma, famous for its heat and prison, was the “nerve center” of the area, and from it prospectors, miners, speculators, and a motley crew of hangers-on searched for wealth, either in the ground or in someone else’s pocketbook. They found some gold, silver, lead, and copper, among other things, and organized little districts and built small camps, such as Hedges, Castle Dome, and Pacific City—names that are not likely to arouse much recognition among the uninitiated.
In this last area, however, lies the strength of the book. Because this region was unknown and insignificant, it has been ignored, but if the history of western mining is going to be told, the unknown as well as the famous must be studied. Love, a professor of history and social science at Arizona Western College at Yuma, has produced a book (to repeat an oft-used expression and, in this case, a bad pun), which must have been a “labor of love.” He researched available sources, toured the old sites, and wove all he found into an interesting, if slightly disjointed, narrative.
Each chapter deals with a district or mine, or a special topic, such as promoters or lost mines. A few famous names appear, John C. Fremont for one, but basically this is the story of local people and a handful of outside investors who gambled their time and money on the swing of a pick. Each chapter presents a complete story or two, focusing primarily on mining and its related problems. A couple of tales of violence manage to creep in to whet the reader’s interest. A little more social history of the people in the mines and communities would have been welcome, as would a less-ready acceptance of the wild and woolly tales.
A representative cross-section of original photographs is included, supplemented by current ones, that is, overall, interesting and visually helpful. Missing and called for is a map. Love also must familiarize himself more with the total mining picture and learn to be somewhat skeptical of profit statements and sale prices. A more imaginative title might attract more readers.
This book makes no pretense to being more than it is, a solid contribution to local history. The lower Colorado mining frontier was never more than a sideshow, but scholars are richer for Love’s having taken the time and having the enthusiasm to dig out its story.