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| Joe de Kehoe | Trip Reports

War Eagle Mine, Bullion Mountains, San Bernardino County, California

War Eagle Mine

Bullion Mountains, San Bernardino County, California

Lat. 34° 27’ 31.71” N, Long: 115° 55’ 25.86” W.

By Joe de Kehoe

The October edition of the Desert Explorers newsletter included an article by Jay Lawrence about the War Eagle Mine which immediately caught my eye because I thought it was the one south of Bagdad that I tried for several years to visit. I quickly realized there are at least three mines in California named War Eagle.

Although the term War Eagle is now most commonly associated with Auburn University, the term dates back to the Civil War. Why mines were so named is a mystery; maybe it just sounded good.

The War Eagle Mine that is the subject for this article is in the Bullion Mountains, about 9 miles south of Bagdad on National Trails Highway, old Route 66. The mine was in operation from the late 1800s until about 1931, but the exact dates of mining operations are uncertain, and there were times when the mine was inactive for several years and then reactivated. The principal ore being extracted was wolfenite, a lead ore, and molybdenite. Secondary minerals included gold, silver, copper, and tin. Ore 

from the mine was taken to Bagdad, initially by horse-drawn wagons and later by trucks where it was loaded on to rail cars and shipped to the mill in Barstow. The other important mine using Bagdad as a staging point on the railroad at that time was the Orange Blossom copper mine, 8 miles northeast of Bagdad in the Bristol Mountains. A map of Bagdad drawn in 1910 indicates several businesses in Bagdad that supported the two mines including a general store, mining offices, and livery stables

When I visited the War Eagle Site in 2008 all the buildings were gone, and only a few concrete foundations remained, but there was an extensive network of mine shafts containing rotten wooden ladders; the mine was almost entirely an underground operation.

Access to the mine today is severely restricted because in the 1950s almost the entire eastern part of the Bullion Mountains was included in the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command base at Twentynine Palms where live fire training occurs including small arms, artillery, tank, and close air support aircraft. Consequently, the entire area became off-limits to the public. Trespassing in the area is a felony in addition to being monumentally dangerous.

I tried for two years to gain access to the area, explaining that I was writing a book about the history of the area, but my requests to the Marine Corps were repeatedly denied for all sorts of reasons. Finally, in 2008 a person whose family lived in the desert and whose mother I had interviewed for my book heard of my requests to visit the mine and agreed to take me. This fellow worked as a contractor for the Marines analyzing soil samples on the base. Although I volunteered to drive my Jeep, instead, three marines picked me up from my hotel in Twentynine Palms on the morning of our visit and escorted me through the area for the entire 

day. I felt like quite the dignitary and was treated to one of their MREs for lunch in the field.

Driving through a bombing range in the Bullion Mountains was almost as interesting as visiting the mine. Several times during the day I asked to get out of the vehicle to take photos. Although they agreed, I was instructed to stay on the dirt road because of unexploded ordinance.

I don’t know what the marines are firing that can drill a hole through a bulldozer blade on the front of a tank, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of it. On the way back to the base we drove through the range where tanks practice firing on steel silhouette targets moving across the area downrange on railroad tracks. I was impressed!

In addition to the bombing / artillery range the Marines have also built a mock-up of a Middle Eastern village, complete with a mosque, native role-players, trash piles and junk cars. I was not allowed to photograph that.  ~ Joe