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Recent Archaeological Investigations at the Stonewall Mine Site: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Recent Archaeological Investigations at the Stonewall Mine Site
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County
by
Michael Sampson, Associate State Archaeologist
Contributions by Rachel Ruston and Don C. Perez, Archaeological Specialists
Southern Service Center, California State Parks

Introduction

The remains of the nineteenth century Stonewall Mine and its former workers’ community are located at the northern end of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (SP), San Diego County, next to Cuyamaca Lake (Figure 1, below). Together, they are designated archaeological site CA-SDI-18502. The site is open to the public daily and has a parking lot, restroom, and picnic tables.  Archaeologists from the Southern Service Center (SSC) of California State Parks conducted test-level archaeological excavations at potential locations of new park visitor facilities in April-June 2006 and October-November 2007 to identify the presence or absence of significant cultural remains.  The latter fieldwork represents the first subsurface archaeological explorations ever conducted at the Stonewall Mine site. 

The geomorphic province in which Cuyamaca Rancho SP lies is composed primarily of granitic rock of the Southern California Batholith. The batholith has been dated as Late Cretaceous in age.  The Stonewall Mine itself consists of a body of gold-bearing quartz surrounded by quartz diorite and schist.  Today, the site is characterized by a pine-oak woodland vegetation community with a ground cover dominated by exotic grasses.  Cuyamaca Lake and montane meadows surround Stonewall Mine and the old townsite.
View Project Maps (Figure-1) PDF

Stonewall Mine Project Location, Figure-1
Figure 1:   Stonewall Mine Project Location

Previous Archaeological Fieldwork

California State Parks staff, directed by the late State Historian John McAleer, conducted a detailed archaeological and historical study of Stonewall Mine and the associated townsite of Cuyamaca in 1982.  This work, which involved no archaeological excavation work, was reported in a thoroughly researched 1986 report.  A total of 221 separate cultural features, divided into ten principal categories, were recorded and measured during the 1982 fieldwork. [Note: the term “feature” used here refers to physical evidence of historic-period buildings, structures, trails, artifact concentrations, and similar cultural remains.] The categories consisted of flats (primarily, building remains), prospect holes or mining depressions, trenches, mounds or mine tailings, roads, trails, artifacts, trash deposits, and “large areas” (features of expansive areal extent). Subsequent archaeological studies by SSC Archaeologists have defined an additional 18 historic features at the Stonewall Mine site. No significant prehistoric cultural remains have been found within the 2006 and 2007 Stonewall Mine project area.

History (Based primarily on research by H. John McAleer and Alexa Luberski-Clausen)

The discovery of the gold ore deposits of the Stonewall Mine is a matter of some debate.  There is agreement that the gold discovery occurred in March 1870 and mining within the present-day park began soon thereafter.  Ownership of the Stonewall Claim became the subject of litigation, though, by early 1871, A. P. Frary and J. M. Farley had purchased all claims to the Stonewall Mine and had a full mining operation in place; the remains of the 1870s mine shaft is located north of the later (1886-1892) mine shaft.  Frary and Farley sold their mine holdings in January 1876 to settle financial difficulties.  The Stonewall Mine reopened in early 1885, but, by September 1886 the mine was sold again to Robert W. Waterman, who had been successful in previous mining ventures.  Subsequently, Waterman purchased lands of the Rancho Cuyamaca Grant; this grant land comprises the present-day state park.  Waterman was elected Lieutenant Governor of California in 1886 which led him to turn over supervision of the mine to his son, Waldo.  In 1887, Waterman became Governor when the incumbent governor died.  Stonewall Mine had many successful years under Waterman’s ownership; Waldo Waterman, Robert’s son, served as Mine Superintendent during these good years.  Waldo, with a degree in mining engineering from UC Berkeley, directed the day-to-day operations of the mine and served as overseer of the Rancho Cuyamaca Grant lands. 

Stonewall MIne circa 1889-1890

Figure 2:   Stonewall Mine 1889 or 1890, with Hoist House and Mill Buildings

Stonewall Mine (Figure 2, above) was well publicized as a highly successful mining operation by 1886.  Gold production at the mine continued to be strong throughout 1886, 1887 and 1888 under Waldo’s direction.  For example, 5,182 tons of gold ore was mined and processed in 1888 with a total value of $198,666.  In 1889, Waldo directed the construction of a new 20-stamp mill that was added to the existing 10-stamp mill.  Reportedly, a total of 300,000 bricks were made on-site for use in the new stamp mill.  In this same year, the work force reached 200 men and the mine had been sunk to a depth of 400 feet. The mine shaft, identified as Feature 81, reached a depth of 600 feet in 1892.  Stonewall Mine under Waterman’s ownership ended production by mid-1892.  Total gold ore production from 1888 to 1892 (first three months) was 57,754 tons with a dollar value of $906,063.  According to a 1963 California Division of Mines & Geology report, Stonewall Mine was the most productive gold mine in current San Diego County with a total yield of approximately two million dollars over its entire span of operation. [Note: San Diego County was much larger than today up to 1907.]

During the operation of Stonewall Mine, a lively community for the mine workers and families was located nearby in the present-day State Park.  The community of Cuyamaca consisted of two bunkhouses for single miners, cabins for married workers, a boarding house (that sometime in 1891 became a hotel), the Superintendent’s house, a school, a library, a general store, a cemetery, and support structures. 

Robert Waterman had passed away in 1891, a year after leaving the Governor’s office. Sather Banking Company became owner of Stonewall Mine and holdings of adjacent lands by the latter part of 1892 to satisfy financial claims against the Waterman Estate.  The workers’ community became a resort for several years after the mining operation ended, until the early 1900s.

An option to reprocess the tailings of Stonewall Mine stamp mill were apparently purchased in 1898 by a company called Strauss and Shin from Sather Banking Company, the land owners. The Strauss and Shin operation sought to extract gold from the tailings left from the Stonewall Mine operation that ended in 1892 using the relatively new cyanide process.  Experiments with the use of cyanide to extract gold took place in many countries throughout the 1880s, but, this technique only proved to be commercially successful as a gold processing technique in 1890.  An economically viable cyanide processing technique was introduced to the United States shortly afterwards.

According to a San Diego Union newspaper article dated March 14 1899, the Strauss and Shin operation included the construction of “several large buildings,” with “one containing the tanks being 200 feet long and 60 feet wide, and another containing the cyanide plant being 40 by 60 feet.”  The March 14, 1899 article reported that the buildings had been completed the previous week, and “about twenty men” had begun working on the tailings that week. A photograph of the operation from the San Diego Historical Society collections (Figure 3, below) clearly shows a large-sized building (Feature 177), used in the cyanide processing, and a tramway leading up to it from next to the abandoned hoist building (Feature 81).

Stonewall Mine Cyanide Building circa 1899-1901

Figure 3:   Stonewall Mine Cyanide Building, circa 1899-1901.  Note the tailings spilling out
from the building; the hoist building for the abandoned mine is at right.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Historical Society)

According to a 1963 California Division of Mines & Geology report, the Stonewall Mine cyanide reduction plant operating from 1898-1901 processed a total of 35,000 tons of tailings and they reportedly yielded an average of $4 to $6 of gold per ton. Another source indicates that the cyanide operation at Stonewall Mine yielded a total of $50,000, a figure not consistent with the average yield identified in the 1963 report.

The land of Rancho Cuyamaca Grant stayed in the ownership of the bank until 1917 when Capitalist Colonel A. G. Gassen bought the mine and grant lands.  Los Angeles Businessman Ralph Dyar acquired the land of the present-day state Park, including, Stonewall Mine, in 1923.  Dyar sold off the mine buildings and filled-in the main Stonewall Mine shaft soon after purchasing the land.  California State Parks purchased Rancho Cuyamaca in 1933 and it became known as Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era Federal works program for young men, constructed many facilities within the new park in the 1930s, including parking and a picnic area at Stonewall Mine.  The CCC then constructed a Girl Scout Camp on the edge of the mine and the townsite of Cuyamaca.  The camp included a lodge, restrooms, a swimming pool, storage, and camping tents for the scouts.  The reservoir (Feature 180), originally built to supply water for Stonewall Mine and miners community, was renovated by the CCC for use by the scouts.  The Girl Scouts stopped using the camp in 1975, and then the camp buildings were removed. The 2003 Cedar Fire destroyed all wood members of the historic reservoir, the only remaining standing historic structure from Stonewall Mine.

 Fieldwork Methods and Results

The potential locations for proposed day-use park facilities dictated the archaeological work locations for the 2006 and 2007 SSC investigations at Stonewall Mine.  However, the site areas examined were diverse in historic function and content. Ultimately, the SSC fieldwork tested portions of several historic features associated both with the Waterman era mining (1986-1892) and the subsequent cyanide reprocessing operation (1898-1901).  The methods and results of these efforts are described in excavation reports.

The excavation units in 2006 and 2007 were dug in stratigraphic levels, that is, by following natural and culturally-deposited layers of soils and sediments.  All excavated materials were dry-screened through eighth-inch and quarter-inch hardware cloth to ensure recovery of artifacts and subsistence remains.  Standard professional archaeological fieldwork techniques and tools were employed during the above-cited test excavations at Stonewall Mine. The testing in 2006 and 2007 employed units of varying sizes, shovel test pits, and surface collections at specific locations. The artifact collection will be stored at the Begole Archaeological Research Center in Borrego Springs, a facility operated by Colorado Desert District staff of California State Parks.

A ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted by staff from ASM Affiliates, a cultural resources consultant firm in Carlsbad, at the beginning of the 2007 archaeological test excavations. The GPR instrument can reveal buried items, including, potentially significant cultural features that are otherwise not visible on the surface.  This instrument does not interpret those subsurface findings, but, archaeologists use GPR to help focus excavations to particular locations.  The GPR transects and grids by the ASM staff were clearly marked on-site making it easy for the archaeological field crew to place excavation units within the surveyed areas.  The GPR report is on file at the Southern Service Center.

Other investigations were accomplished at the Stonewall Mine project site by the SSC archaeologists in addition to the test excavations.  Historic mining features, in particular, tailings piles, found next to the mine shaft and stamp mill were examined, photographed, and mapped by GPS.  SSC archaeologists conducted an examination of the site of the Girl Scout Camp swimming pool, where the existing restroom, picnic area, and access path are located, to document the Civilian Conservation Corps era landscape features.

Selected portions of two structural features associated with the Waterman-era Blacksmith Shop (1886-1892) and features from the subsequent cyanide processing operation (1898-1901) were investigated in 2006.  Four new cultural features were defined during the 2006 study that provided additional details about the cyanide works. During the 2007 fieldwork, additional testing occurred within the Blacksmith Shop site, as well as, work at two Waterman period structural flats and within a large area of tailings (Figure 4, below).  [Note: “Tailings” represent the waste product from the stamp mill after the ore is crushed and the gold has been extracted from it.]

Stonewall Mine exhibit building

Figure 4:  Exhibit Building and Feature 86 in foreground; Waterman-era mine
shaft in background, view to west/southwest.  Photo taken October 1, 2007.

The spring 2006 archaeological fieldwork at the Stonewall Mine site provided strong evidence for preserved significant structural remains related to the 1898-1901 cyanide reprocessing operation. A series of shallow rectangular depressions with intervening earthen mounds, for example, are consistent with descriptions of percolation vats provided in an 1894 California State Mining Bureau publication. A concentration of historic artifacts collected during the 2006 fieldwork,  such as, consumer goods, kitchen items, clothes parts, a stove part, other domestic debris, bricks, and structural cuts into the slope at the west end of one feature provide good evidence that a modest-sized residence for the cyanide operation worker had been located here. Evidence of additional structures associated with the cyanide operation included flattened terrain that had been cut into the slope; these structural flats also contained window glass, nails, remnants of corrugated sheet metal, and other material. One large-sized cultural feature that measures 3.2 acres consisted of reprocessed mine tailings (gold ore crushed to a fine powder consistency in a stamp mill), a holding pond, channel, and earthen berm or dam (Figure 5). This feature is interpreted as both part of the mechanism by which the used cyanide solution was recaptured for reuse and the final resting place of the spent, reprocessed tailings. 

Overview of Stonewall Mine site

Figure 5 :  Overview of Stonewall Mine site, photo 4-18-06. Tailings piles
remaining from the 1899-1901 cyanide reprocessing operation
are visible at tree line (arrow).

The nail assemblage was a particularly noteworthy finding from the investigations at Stonewall Mine. The abundance of nails, nail fragments, the presence of nail plate fragments, and the high variability in nail style and size from Feature 84 in 2006 and 2007 test excavations indicated that nails were made at the Blacksmith Shop for the specific needs at Stonewall Mine. The remote location of Stonewall Mine suggested that the most efficient means to get nails suitable to the needs at the mine would be to make them on-site. This same conclusion can be applied to other tools and the bricks used at Stonewall Mine and mill. There is not an abundance of large nails or spikes in our collection.  Few large nails were recovered (3 square spikes and 15 round).  This may be due to the fact that all of the structures formerly present at the site had been removed in the 1920s, and the building materials and hardware were probably salvaged for other projects.  Mining tools and machine parts would also have been repaired on-site, as evidenced in our fieldwork results.
 
Historical documents, in particular, the Waterman Letters, indicated thousands and thousands of bricks had been manufactured at the Stonewall Mine site for use in building construction. One of our 2007 excavation units yielded a sizable component of broken bricks, which prompted us to attempt a study of them.  Our analysis, conducted by SSC Archaeologist Don C. Perez, showed that a majority of the analyzed bricks were hand-made using a soft-mud technique by non-professional brick makers with limited access to high-quality materials.  Such an outcome would be expected where bricks were opportunistically manufactured from raw materials readily available near the mine, and not obtained from a brick manufacturer.

A significant number of the excavation units and shovel test pits yielded abundant Julian schist waste rock.  Apparently, a traditional practice among mines in the western United States included placing waste rock immediately outside the mine opening and then these piles were graded flat.  The graded waste rock deposits could be utilized in the continuing operation of the mine.  At Stonewall Mine, the flattened waste rock deposits became areas to store equipment and places to construct new mine buildings as production expanded.

Stonewall Mine is a highly significant cultural property that has much to inform us about historical issues such as, mining in our local mountains, the everyday work and life of a miner, the effects of gold mining on local settlement, mining technology in the late 19th century, brick making technology in the late 19th century, archaeological signatures of cyanide reprocessing, fuel use at mining operations and its effects upon local forest lands, and other issues.  The site is today preserved for posterity, open to the park visitor, and protected by State Parks Ranger and Maintenance staff.

Acknowledgements

Michael Buxton, Kyle Knabb, Soraya Mustain, and the present writer conducted the 2006 fieldwork at the Stonewall Mine site.  Kyle and Soraya efficiently performed most the lab work for the 2006 project and prepared the tables for the 2006 report.  Michael Buxton, Matt Mandich, Don C. Perez, Erin Smith, and the present writer conducted the 2007 fieldwork.  Rachel Ruston skillfully performed the lab work and much of the artifact analysis for the 2007 study at Stonewall Mine.  Marla Mealey provided much appreciated technical support to the two projects.  The present writer, Michael Sampson, directed the fieldwork and lab work for the two projects.  The historical background for Stonewall Mine was the result of earlier research by Alexa Luberski-Clausen, John McAleer, Tom Crandall, and Leland Fetzer.


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