Lessons From the Desert Queen

Listen up, you wild freebooters! Valuable life lessons can be learned from the Desert Queen Mine, in Joshua Tree National Park. And those lessons might be more golden than all the bullion that was ever bled from her veins.

Main entrance into the Desert Queen Mine.

In the year 1894, Frank L. James would wander the desert and prospect, on his days off from working at the Lost Horse Mine. One day he returned from a prospecting trip, proudly showing off a glittering rock to his coworkers. Word quickly spread of his find.

Soon after, three local cattle rustlers, Jim McHaney, George Meyers, and Charles Martin, showed up at James’ cabin. Charles Martin called him out, then shot James twice, killing him in cold blood.

Lesson 1: Be humble. Don’t advertise your success. Avoid bragging.

Inside the main shaft of the Desert Queen Mine. Remember, if you brag about your success, you may get the shaft.

The shooting made exciting fodder for the local newspaper. Charles Martin was square in the public eye, and many suspected he was guilty. But Martin claimed self-defense, and McHaney and Meyers backed up his story. James was dead, so he could not tell his side of the story. As a result, Martin walked.

Soon after, Jim McHaney filed a claim on land that James had been prospecting, and named it the Desert Queen Mine. A year later, newspapers trumpeted stories of a great bonanza in the desert, with thousands of dollars of gold ore being extracted from this mine. But nobody made a connection to Charles Martin, because Jim McHaney was the celebrated owner of the mine.

McHaney rewarded Martin with $47,000, and gave a herd of cattle to George Meyers.

But McHaney was a lousy business manager, and prodigal with his money. He went on spending sprees, and lavished his lucre on diamonds, so that he could show off his wealth. He failed to learn Lesson #1, and within a few years he went broke. Around the same time, the Desert Queen played out and was abandoned.

Lesson 2: Ill-gotten gains can quickly disappear through the slippery hands of those who acquire them.

Remains of the stone cabin where McHaney and his crew lived, while working the Desert Queen Mine.

In 1924, Helen and DeFaus Geil briefly leased the Desert Queen Mine. They knew nothing about mining. For them it was kind of a hobby, and they were willing to gamble that Jim McHaney had not found all the gold to be found there. They were right. They drilled a small hole into the side of a hill, set off a black powder charge, and out popped $25,000 worth of gold ore.

Lesson 3: The murderers and thieves of this world can’t steal all the treasure. They’re too lazy and dull-minded. They always leave something behind for those willing to work for it.

An air vent, above the main shaft of the Desert Queen Mine.

In 1931, a prominent jeweler named Frederick Morton purchased the Desert Queen Mine. He’d been convinced to make this purchase by a one “Mr. Hapwell,” who passed himself off as a mining engineer. Morton and Hapwell became partners. Morton invested money, and Hapwell invested “expertise.” For Morton, it was an opportunity to become fabulously rich. For Hapwell, it was a confidence game.

The air vent above the main shaft, my camera peeking between the grates that cover it.

But the scheme took a strange twist when Hapwell’s mining crew unexpectedly discovered a rich vein of ore. Hapwell kept the vein a secret from his moneyed partner, and pocketed all the profits. Seems he was well aware of Lesson #1.

Meanwhile, Morton went broke paying the wages of Hapwell’s mining crew. So Morton began issuing stock in the mine, to raise funds. Problem was, he failed to incorporate under California Securities Law. He was convicted of fraud and imprisoned. And as for Hapwell, he and his wife went on a world cruise, never to be heard from again.

Lesson 4: Those who trust too much in what others say, will watch their money sail away.

Abandoned equipment at the Desert Queen Mine.

Categories: History

34 replies »

  1. Poor Frank!
    So are you saying that bragging and gloating can get you into trouble? Hmmm….will try to remember that. By the way, did you finish off your 2 shoo-fly pies yet?
    I guess another lesson is that you can’t trust engineers, they sail away with your money! Hmmm….. Has Jason booked a cruise recently?

    Liked by 2 people

Go ahead, blurt it out:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.