Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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George Washington Mine Graves


By: Allan Hall – APCRP Coordinator & Historian


Neal Du Shane and I made a research outing to the Arrastre Cemetery near Black Rock Mine on January 21st, 2009, with plans to visit the George Washington Mine if time permitted.  My first objective of the day was for Neal to assess progress on the two grave terraces at the Arrastre, and to get his views on prospects for a full restoration of the cemetery.  Although no real work was done at the site that day, Neal was enthusiastic about the condition of the lower terrace, where nine graves have been located, plus the progress in clearing the growth away from graves 10 and 11 on the upper terrace.  Only a few more hours of work need be done to remove sediment; then we can restore the grave outlines with large rocks to prevent disturbance by cattle.  Thanks again to those who have contributed their time and energy at this site!  A follow up article will be posted in the near future.


After the assessment was complete we packed up our gear and proceeded to the George Washington Mine via Constellation Road.  While Neal and I have both visited this site before, we never had any time to determine if there were graves in the area.  The axiom ‘If there was a mine, there will be graves’ gave us the motivation to check the area more thoroughly on the 21st.  When you consider that the George Washington dates to 1880 or earlier, we have always thought there might be graves nearby.


The map in Figure 1 shows the route to the George Washington Mine.  For those who are already familiar with this area, you will recognize the 4WD trail that traverses the mountain northeast of the Black Rock Mine.  This trail is easily visible from the Monte Cristo mine location, as well as from the trail that leads past the Texas Group mines before it descends into Lower Slim Jim Creek.  If you have never made this trek before, the GPS coordinates for the turnoff to the George Washington Mine are:  N 34o 04’ 46.7” by W 112o 34’ 21.7” (WGS84).  For reference purposes, this location is in Section 33 of the Morgan Butte Quadrangle of USGS maps.  The Gold Bar Mine is on the opposite side of this peak as you descend toward O’Brien Gulch.


Figure 1, Route to George Washington Mine and Graves


I should emphasize, as a matter of safety, that the trail to the George Washington Mine is suitable for 4WD and ATVs only.  If there has been recent rainfall in the area it may be necessary to stop occasionally to remove rocks from the trail!  Otherwise, the route is in reasonably good condition if you have the appropriate vehicle.  Drive slowly and you will be fine.


The ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ Grave


Approximately ½ miles after turning onto the George Washington Mine trail you will come to the first grave in the area.  Neal and I have given it the name of ‘Lonesome Cowboy’.  Figure 2 shows one angle of the grave.  There is a significant earthen mound that runs from right to left, with a rock covering that begins under the Palo Verde tree and continues to the left edge of the photo.  Grave dimensions indicate this is an adult male.  To the right (out of view) of the photo there is a rock cairn that appears to have supported a wood cross at one time.  Although the cross is no longer standing, there are faded and worn pieces of lumber lying next to the cairn.  The view from this spot (left is west) is magnificent, and I imagine this grave site was specifically chosen for that reason.  It is situated on a point that overlooks the basin where the Black Rock Mine is located, as well as a clear view of the Monte Cristo and Texas Group Mines.  To the south you can see Morgan Butte and upper Slim Jim Creek.  A portion of the trail that continues to the George Washington Mine is visible (north) in the upper right corner of the photo.



Figure 2, Lonesome Cowboy Grave


This grave requires only a modest amount of work to bring it back to its original state.  The Palo Verde tree can be trimmed and a few grave stones need to be reset.  The wood cross should also be replaced in the cairn, but a bit of evaluation is needed to determine the size of the original one.  The dirt mound and covering stones suggest this is not a deep grave.  The loose brown rocks you see in the center and right of the photo were probably excavated when the grave was dug.  The GPS coordinates for the Lonesome Cowboy grave are:  N 34o 04’ 49.1” by W 112o 34’ 40.0” (WGS84).


Three Graves at the George Washington Mine


We proceeded another mile on the trail to the ‘housing area’ at the George Washington Mine.  This is a relatively flat saddle in the mountain with a view to the north and northwest.  This location provides an exceptional view of Sam Powell Peak, “The Needle”, and other peaks in the Weaver Mountains.  In addition, you can look down toward the ATOS mineshaft.  Elevation at this point is approximately 3630 feet, which makes it roughly 1100 feet above the Hassayampa River to the north.


The saddle area still contains the remnants of a miner’s house or cabin.  There is an exceedingly thin cement slab (not more than one inch in thickness) that supported a structure that would have been about 150 square feet.  There is also a modest volume of metal debris, including nails, and a few old cans.  Otherwise, this site gives no reason to suspect a mining operation that may have lasted from 1880 until early 1942.  More on that subject later…


In recent years this site has become an occasional camping spot for hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.  It is on the southern edge of the Hassayampa River Wilderness Area, and that probably adds to its attraction.  Every camper likes to have a good fire at night, so you can expect to find rings of rocks that outline old campfires in many remote areas.  Such is the case here but, unfortunately, the campfires were constructed using grave stones.  See Figures 3 and 4, below.



Figure 3, Campfire Grave at George Washington Mine


Figure 3 shows a structure that has been formed into a ring of campfire stones.  Regardless of what the surface features may suggest to you, this is a grave.  Notice the line that we marked in the center foreground.  This represents the western end of the grave.  The east end terminates at the upper edge of the collection of stones.


Figure 4 shows a second grave with characteristics identical to those seen above.  The mound of stones has been used for a campfire, but it is a grave with an east-west orientation.  For reference purposes, I placed two small brown stones in the foreground to identify the western edge of this grave.



Figure 4, Second Campfire Grave



A third male grave is located approximately midway between the two campfire graves and is visible where Neal is standing in the upper left of the photo.  The GPS coordinates for this site are:  N 34o 05’ 05.1” by W 112o 35’ 20.7” (WGS84).  This coordinate is actually for the grave shown in Figure 3, but the separation between all three graves is only about one-tenth of a second in GPS coordinates.  If you reach this location you will find all three graves.



A Miner’s Shrine?


I am generally amazed at the things I miss seeing on the first or even the sixth opportunity when I pass through an area.  Cemetery #7 at the Black Rock Mine is a perfect (if not embarrassing) example, where I passed it more than two dozen times before I realized it was there.  Fortunately, Figure 5 shows an item that I have missed only a few times on previous visits to the George Washington Mine.


Figure 5, Miner's Shrine?


About twenty yards north of the three graves there is what appears to be a primitive shrine constructed from slabs of granite stone.  This object measures about 16 inches in height (ground to inside roof) and roughly the same width at the ground level.  The photo was taken from the trail that leads down to the ore dump and one of the shafts.  The graves and building slab are left (south) of this photo.


Whether this shrine dates to the 1924 era or to the 1880’s is not known, but I imagine it was a place where the workers might have offered a prayer for their safety before entering the mine for the day’s work.  A modern analog might be the term ‘descanso’, which is the Spanish term for a roadside memorial.


George Washington Mine Graves Assessment


Each grave is an adult male and they were very likely workers at the mine between 1924 and 1940.  While the origin of the mine can be traced to 1880 or earlier, it apparently became abandoned and then forgotten for a period of time.  The only known owner was a man named Steve Loncar, who rediscovered the vein and maintained operations from 1924 through 1940-41.  Like many other ‘non-essential’ mines, the George Washington would have been shut down by the government at the beginning of World War II. 


Little is known about the mine’s history before 1924, including the extent of tunnels and shafts or the people who may have worked there.  It is possible there may be other graves that date to the 1880 era, but additional survey work will be needed to determine this.  The three graves identified here are within 100 feet of the cement slab and there is no compelling reason to believe that the earliest miners would have established their camp in the same location.


Although the mountain saddle is now used as an occasional camping spot, the area is remarkably clean.  It would be a simple matter to reestablish the original grave outlines and protect them with rock coverings.  Once people recognize them for what they are, I believe they will not be disturbed.  APCRP signage should be about all that is needed.


The ‘Campfire Graves’ provide a useful lesson in survey work:  Don’t let your eyes overrule your brain!  Surface features can change dramatically over the decades; whether the terrain has been altered by nature or man.  Just because your eyes ‘see’ a campfire doesn’t mean you should ignore it.  If there is a grave, the rods will let you know.



Mine Owner’s Report – 1940


The George Washington Mine is one of those tales of what might have been; but not because of corruption, malfeasance or scandal. It is, rather, a tale of lost opportunity.  It is, possibly, a story of being one stick of dynamite or one swing of the pick away from discovering the mother lode.


The Mine Owner’s Report that was filed by Steve Loncar on April 2, 1940, provides a fascinating historical insight to the George Washington Mine and the tenacity of this miner.  In the document, Mr. Loncar provides directions to the mine by saying it is “1 ¾ miles northwest of Post Office at Constellation, AZ.”  His road directions state that it can be reached via a “graded dirt road from Wickenburg, AZ to where trail turns off to camp.  One mile past Constellation Post Office; Road maintained by county and in fair condition.  1½ miles from road by trail.  Point where trail turns off to property is 13 miles northeast of Wickenburg on road to Gold Bar Mine and Constellation, AZ.”  By April 2, 1940, the Post Office at Constellation had been closed for fourteen months (January 31, 1939) and Mr. Loncar listed his address as Post Office Box 446, Wickenburg, AZ.


That Mr. Loncar had mine workers between 1924 and 1940 is evidenced by the three graves at the site.  However, according to the last known owner’s report, he no longer had any employees.  The report also states that he had no mill, no equipment, no power and all work was ‘hand dug’.  So, by (or before) 1940, the George Washington Mine was a solo operation by a man who was 71 years old at the time.


In his report, certified by ‘government supervising engineers’, he had 150 tons of shipping ore sitting on his dump plus 3,000 tons of ore blocked out in the mine.  I have no record of how much ore he might have shipped in previous years.  The government engineer estimated the probable ore content of the mine at 500,000 tons.  The average width of the George Washington vein was eight to ten feet and up to seventeen and a half feet in some places.  There was a three foot high ‘stringer’ in the center of the vein that averaged more than 6 ounces of gold per ton, according to the assay reports.  In modern terms, that would equate to about $6,000 per ton, excluding the value of silver and lead.  The mine was comprised of four shafts and four tunnels, but there is no record of how extensive the tunnels and drifts were.  The report also states that he had an 18 foot deep hand-dug well on the site, but I have not located it as of this date.


Steve Loncar died at the age of 76 on July 25, 1945, barely one month before the war that shut down his mine ended.  He came to Arizona around 1905 and was listed as an area resident of Wickenburg as early as 1920.  His death certificate lists his occupation as ‘miner’.  We may never know the names of the three men buried at the George Washington Mine, or the name of the ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ nearby.  May they all rest in peace.


If you would like to help conduct detailed surveys for other graves in the George Washington Mine area and/or restore the four graves, drop Neal or me a note via the www.apcrp.org web site.  You can also give me a call at (928) 231-2528.  If you are interested in the survey effort, I must caution you that there is some steep ground in the vicinity.  Grave restoration activities would be pretty straightforward, since the sites do not require clearing of trees or undergrowth and hiking is not necessary.


Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presentation

Version 012409


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