Please remember to exercise caution when exploring Nevada's Ghost Towns & Mining Camps. Open shafts, drifts going into mountainsides, and old buildings, are all DANGEROUS. Be aware of your surroundings, and let someone know where you are, especially if your plans change.


DIRECTIONS: From Tenabo, head directly east for 4 miles, crossing paved road at 0.5 mile. Exit right and follow graded road for 12.5 miles. Exit left and follow for 1 mile to Cortez.

" The long history of Cortez begins in 1862 when a group of Mexicans discovered silver ore next to Mount Tenabo. The ore was shipped to Austin, where it raised considerable interest among the locals. An eight-man prospecting party, led by Simeon Wenban, traveled to the district in March 1863 and found silver float in the gulches southwest of Mount Tenabo. Wenban and his group followed these floats and located substantial silver ledges, which sustained Cortez for many years even though the isolated location of the deposits made development difficult. In 1864 Wenban formed a partnership with George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, and that summer the first mill in the district was built. An 8-stamp mill, the Cortez, was constructed in nearby Mill Canyon, but its success was limited and most ore was still shipped to Austin.

The troubles with processing and the camp's site did not dampen Cortez's growth, however, and by 1865, three mining companies were active in the district: the Cortez Company (the largest, Wenban's company), the Edward Everett Silver Mining Company (C. H. Burton, secretary), and the Pizarro Silver Mining Company (also with C. H. Burton as secretary). The Cortez company spent $100,000 in 1865 to enlarge the Mill Canyon Mill to 16 stamps in response to the huge volumes of ore being produced from the Garrison Mine, the richest of the early mines. The camp's population swelled to more than 400, and close to 200 men were employed just to cut the wood needed to keep the mill running around the clock. A post office, with James Russell as postmaster, opened on January 3, 1868. Hearst, who was not happy with the progress of the mines, sold out to Wenban and left the district for good. The discovery of the St. Louis Mine in 1868 gave Cortez an additional boost. An 88-ton test shipment from the mine had values of $600 per ton. While the post office closed on October 15, 1869, activity continued to expand, and Wenban gained control of virtually all the claims in the district. For the next two decades, the Aurora, Arctic, Benjamin Harrison, and Garrison mines proved to be the district's mainstays.

In 1886, Wenban built a 50-ton leaching plant at the Garrison Mine. The mill continued to operate until 1894. From 1887 to 1891, the Cortez mines had an impressive record, each year producing over $300,000. The post office reopened on June 25, 1892, and continued to operate until June 15, 1915. Cortez's founder, Simeon Wenban, died in 1895, and from 1895 to 1919, only leaseholders worked the district. Production, however, was still impressive. In 1919, big changes came to Cortez. The newly organized Consolidated Cortez Silver Mines Company, with F. M. Manson as president, gained control of the district's mines. The company purchased 49 claims consisting of the Cortez group and the water rights and mill sites formerly owned by Tenabo Milling and Mining Company. Consolidated Cortez employed 150 men, and in 1923 built a 150-ton cyanide mill.

Because of the large work force, the post office was reopened on January 3, 1923. Mining activity continued to increase during the 1920s, with the Garrison Mine continuing to be the main producer of the district. By 1924 the Garrison Tunnel was 4,000 feet long, connected on the fifth level to the St. Louis Mine and on the sixth level to the Fitzgerald Mine. The other big producer was the 2,170-foot Arctic Tunnel. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, silver prices dropped dramatically and activity in Cortez slowed down. The mill was shut down in January 1930, and the company finally folded a couple of years later. By the time the mines were closed, the Garrison was 4,500 feet long and 1,270 feet deep, with ten levels and more than fifteen miles of workings. Production from 1919 to 1929 was just over $2 million.

After Consolidated Cortez folded, only leaseholders were active in the district. In 1959 the American Exploration and Mining Company took over Cortez's mines, which had a total production of more than $14 million from 1862 to 1958. In 1969, the company built a 1,500-ton cyanide mill that produced $6.6 million in its first year of operation. Today the property is controlled by Placer Amex Incorporated, and the mining and milling operations employ 150 workers. Discoveries recently made in nearby Horse Canyon revealed deposits estimated at 3.4 million short tons with a projected annual gold production of 40,000 ounces. Placer Amex has taken a refreshingly sincere interest in the history of the area, a much different attitude than that of companies mining in other historical districts. For example, when expansion dictated that the main roads to the mill (which go through what used to be downtown Cortez) be widened, the company was careful to make sure that none of Cortez's remains were disturbed. We can only hope that such an example of history and mining working together will be taken to heart by other mining companies. Shaky wooden buildings and scattered ruins remain at the Cortez townsite, located a couple of miles east of the new Cortez Mill."

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