Randsburg Ca., A Living Ghost Town
Randsburg or Rand Camp, is just about a mile off of Hwy 395, 17 miles south of Ridgecrest and north of Kramer Junction. The town began in April 1895 when three miners, F.M. Mooers, John Singleton and Charles Burcham, located gold on a yet unnamed mountain, and quietly staked their claim. But like most new mining claims of the day, the ” sagebrush telegraph ” got wind of their claim and very shortly Rand Camp became a overpopulated reality. At least the original miners thought so. By 1896 the name Randsburg became official and the town boasted 1500 residents. By 1900 there were 3500 people living in Randsburg, today there are barely 30 full time residents.
Extremely tough conditions awaited these miners, they had no running water, primitive living conditions, and very high winds day and night. But the lure of a rich strike kept them there, even to the grave. In 1896 Mr. Mooers became the first postmaster and Randsburg became official. By 1896 there were more than twenty saloons opened for business, and by September the first shooting had occurred and Charlie Richards, a saloon keeper was dead. When you visit Randsburg today, make sure you check out all the bullet holes at the Whitehorse Saloon.
A Citizens Committee had been formed due to all of the ” bad element ” in town, and in November of 1898 they had enough and posted a sign which read:
“All ex-convicts, masquereaus, disreputable loafers without visible means of support, and bad characters are hereby ordered to leave Randsburg forthwith. By Order of Citizens of Randsburg”.
There was also an article in The Daily Californian, a Bakersfield newspaper that stated
“The people are in earnest: the thugs must move on or there will be a few whipping posts in use, or a lynching or two, should they be necessary as a last resort.”
Times were tough for early mining towns and bad folk were not tolerated at all.
One of the best places to stop and visit would be the Rand desert Museum, located on the right side of Butte St just past the small park. They host a ton of early mining relics as well as pictures of past, and even a pair of Burro Schmidt’s britches!!! But the rock and mineral collection is second to none, if you ever wondered what a particular type of mineral looked like, they have it, and we are not talking about tiny specimens, but large hearty samples. They also display a good collection of Native American artifacts as well. Please make sure you say hello to Bart the curator and friend of Dezert. He nearly single handedly put the museum together.
There are a variety of places to visit, but one must see is the Butte St Mercantile is a photographic emporium featuring the works of noted local photographer Cheryl MacDonald. she is also the caretaker for the unofficial mayor of Randsburg Georgia O’. Further down Butte St and on the left, will be the Opera House and the Santa Barbara Catholic church. But there are a variety of antique stores and other shops to enjoy along the way.
The original reason people came here was not for a leisurely walk through town, they came here for the gold and gold it did have. Eventually the most widely known mine would become the Yellow Aster, which was originally called the Olympus. By 1911 the Yellow Aster took out over $9 million in gold. The mine is still there and is located on the hill just above town, but like nearly all of the other mines in the area, it’s off limits and inaccessible. The history of mining in Randsburg is huge, plenty of mines would show up from the Meteor, Rose, St. Elmo, Blackhawk and Butte mine, and the gold was aflowin’.
I have to include this picture of Randsburg from Nicholas Clapp’s book Gold and Silver in the Mojave. To me, it tends to capture the moment and heart of a growing town. This was taken sometime during the first year and really shows the variety of a mining camp. we have the bartender with children, most likely miners playing cards and Will Lee the barber. Lee isn’t even listed in the past barbers of Randsburg. But if you look closely, you’ll notice a Pabst beer sign, the hat styles and even though they are in a tent, the bar is very ornate and classy for a new mining town.
After taking in all of the sights, be sure to stop by the general store where miners would belly up for a “Salty Joe”. The store has been in continuous operation since 1896 and would later become famous for their ice cream treat known as the Gondola. But I can surely recommend their burgers for sure, they were GREAT!!
For more about Randsburg, check out an Harrison Doyle’s story about his family in Randsburg from the August 1959 issue of the original Desert magazine.
In closing, I would like to say that this is definitely a place to stop by and visit. I only wish that one of the mines could be open and used as a walking tour, kinda like Bodie, Tombstone and other ghost towns. but I know money is tight and it’s tough to find someone willing to undertake such a project. I am sure this would surely bring more people and that the town would truly enjoy that…