Silver mining in Tonopah dates back to 1900 with a rancher, Jim Butler. In search of his mule, he came across a rock outcropping that looked like it was covered in silver ore. His curiosity got the better of him and he took samples which he later took to an assayer for examination. Despite the assayerís claim that the samples were worthless, he took more samples at Tonopah Springs on his way home.
Not long afterwards, Tasker Oddie stopped by Butlerís ranch and examined the samples. In return for paying for the assay, Butler agreed to give a quarter of his interest in his claim. Tasker later offered a quarter of his quarter interest to William Gayhart. Following Gayhartís discovery, Tasker sent a messenger to Butler with the news that the assay was worth as much as $600 a ton, exceptionally rich ore.
Rather than lay claim on the site, Butler opted to complete the hay harvest. He didn't realize that he had found the second largest silver strike in the history of Nevada after the discoveries of the Comstock Lode
In August of the same year, Butler made claims on several more lode sites near the Tonopah Springs. A few of these sites including Valley View, Mizpah, Desert Queen, Buckboard, Burro and Silver turned out to be some of the biggest producers of silver in present day Nevada State.
News of the discovery of a silver ore soon brought prospective investors and miners to the area. In fact, it was the wealthy investors who really benefited from the discoveries at Tonopah, as it took considerable capital to develop the large lode mines needed to extract the rich ore.
The influx of people in Tonopah brought about formation of Camp Butler which later developed into a town. On Christmas, Butler made a bold decision to lease his claims for one year. In return he and his partner, Oddie, the District Attorney of Nye County, received 25% royalty from all claims. This was followed by an influx of people at the camp and within a few months, the number had grown to 250.
By April 1901, a post office named Butler was opened at the camp. The post office was later renamed Tonopah in 1905.
Within a year, Butlerís claims had produced over $750,000 worth of gold and silver from the rich lodes. Several saloons, restaurants, lodge houses and an assay office were established.
Lawyers and doctors flocked to the town. The first newspaper, Tonopah Bonanza, was launched that year by W.W. Booth. The paper was published in Butler until 1905.
1902 came with new changes. Butler sold his claims and as such, a new company, Tonopah Mining Company, was established. Along with controlling 160 acres of mineral bearing land, the company also controlled other mining companies in Nicaragua, California
and Canada. After mining, the ore was transported to be treated elsewhere. This continued until suitable facilities were built at Tonopah.
The year of 1902 also saw the foundation of Tonopah-Belmont Mining Company. The company controlled 11 claims that rested on more than 160 acres of land. Just as its counterpart, it shipped its ore out for treatment, until the company built a 60-stamp mill
to process the huge amounts of silver-bearing ore that were being discovered.
Tonopah was not a typical boom-and-bust mining town like were so common all throughout Nevada that were considered ďmined outĒ after a few seasons. It had considerable longevity, thanks to the exceptional extent of the ores.
Gold and silver mining in Tonopah was at its peak production between 1912 and 1923, long after most of the mining districts throughout the West
had long since been forgotten. 1913 was the most profitable year in terms of total mineral production, with about $10 million dollars-worth of gold, silver, lead and copper being mined.
However, World War II put a serious damper on mining activity at Tonopah, as did a fire that destroyed many structures in town. By 1947, the rails of Tonopah and Goldfield railroad were torn out.Today, Tonopah does not have much mining activities, but estimates put the total production of precious metals to be valued at over $250,000,000!
The gold found at Tonopah was nearly all a result of fine deposits in the ores, and was not found in any placer deposits, although there are nearby placer areas in surrounding Nye County. Small scale prospecting with metal detectors and drywashers is probably not a productive venture at Tonopah due to the nature of the silver and gold deposits.
Also Read: The Round Mountain Gold Mine
And: The Manhattan Mining District