Peter Lebeck Chapter #1866

The Kern County Chapter of E Clampus Vitus ®
Randsburg Ghost Town
Randsburg, California -- Fall 1989
Fall '98 Erection -- Randsburg.

Dedicated on October 9, 1989, our Randsburg erection stands in front of the city jail. To find it go west to the end of Butte Avenue which is Randsburg's main street. As it turns north it becomes State Avenue. The jail lies inside the divot.

Though Randsburg lies within Kern County, putting it in Peter LeBeck country, this erection was part of a four chapter doin's, with the cost and effort needed to put up the monument shared by the four high desert chapters whose names appear on the plaque – John P. Squibob, Peter LeBeck, Slim Princess and Billy Holcomb, ECV. The Host Humbug was Peter Lebeck's own Jim Adams.

Our monument is made of cast concrete, five feet tall, in the trapezoidal shape typical of many of our erections. The bronze plaque seen here was inset at the time of the casting. The GPS coordinates are 35°22'7.26"N by 117°39'24.03"W.

The Rise and Decline of Randsburg
Randsburg Monument -- October 1989.

To be fair to Randsburg, it has never been a "ghost town" in the sense that it was totally abandoned and left for salvage by the people who once lived there. At the last census in 2000, Randsburg had 77 inhabitants, and today it continues to exist as a friendly cuiosity in the desert. A respite for off-roaders and tourists looking to soak-in a dash of local history.

Since its founding as a mining camp in 1895, Randsburg has never been without people; nor is it just a town -- the name "Randsburg" invokes the history of the fifty square mile Rand Mining District that in its boom years listed over fifty active mines; produced gold, silver and tungsten; and drew many a miner and his family to the high desert to try their luck.

Randsburg and the mining towns that grew uparound it.

Early in 1895, partners John Singleton and F.M. Mooers, invited a third miner, a man named Charlie Burcham, to join the pair in prospecting the slopes of what they later decided to call "Rand Mountain." The men had been digging in the eastern El Paso Mountains to the north of Rand with very little success. Since Burcham had a team and wagon, and Singleton and Mooers needed help hauling their equipment, Charlie was a logical, and as it turns out, a very fortunate choice.

In April of 1895, the three partners struck gold on their first try, and filed a claim on "The Rand Mine." Later renaming it "The Yellow Aster," this mine produced $200,000 a month at its peak, and $25,000,000 over its lifetime at the old fixed gold standard of $20 an once. At today's prices this would be equal to one and a quarter billion dollars.

Randsburg Monument -- Today.

But that was still ahead for these men. Before any of this could happen, the partners' needed financing, and this is where the choice of Charlie Burcham proved fortunate. Singleton and Mooers stayed behind to work the diggings, and Charlie headed for home to secure funding and supplies, for without both the men would be forced to sell.

Charlie had been a cattleman and merchant in San Bernardino, when in 1887 he married a young physician named Rose La Monte. Rose had completed medical school in Cincinnati, had moved to San Bernardino a couple years before and set-up a medical practice. That Rose La Monte Burcham had become a doctor in the 1880's made her a remarkable woman, but what happened next made her both extraordinary and rich.

Dr. Rose Burcham, Photo courtesy of Kern County Museum, used by permission.

In 1893, after six years of marriage, Charlie had the urge to go prospecting and Rose had agreed to stake him for two years in exchange for half an interest in any claim. When Charlie hit pay dirt at Rand Mountain, Rose suddenly found herself part owner of a gold mine. While it is true that the marriage and community property laws of California in the 1890's would have given Charlie much more control over Rose's financial affairs than they would now, the evidence is that Rose acted like a partner, often acted as managing partner and eventually became the sole surviving partner of The Yellow Aster. Throughout the life of the mine Rose delt with the company's legal and financial issues until operating costs, labor troubles and disputes with the partners' heirs forced her to close the diggings in 1933.

When Rose Burcham moved to Randsburg in 1895, she became the first medical doctor in Kern County, and despite her lack of mining experience, she was well suited for the work that was to come because of her background in both science and business. For exploiting a project the size of Rand Mountain meant more than mining, it meant attracting and hiring people to work the mine in a place with no housing, no food and no water; and with Rose and her partners working together, Randsburg was to become a well ordered company town in short order.

PXL's Host Humbug Jim Adams takes a break at Freeman Junction, 1989.

By the end of 1895, Randsburg had 13 wood and canvas "buildings" and a population of about 1500. By 1897 it could claim 300 buildings and a population of 2,500. At its peak it had over 3,500 residents. The partners set up a general store, laid out the adjacent town of Johannesburg in a grid pattern, and then piped in water to support both human life and a hundred stamp ore processing facility. The Santa Fe Railroad built a spur from Kramer Junction into Johannesburg, and The Rice & Shipee Company built the Randsburg-Mojave Road.

With all this done by 1898, the still growing mining town continued to change as miners and their families took advantage of stage and rail service. By 1897, Randsburg could boast its own bank, Episcopal Church and school district.

The 1989 Randsburg Four-Way Pin.

With success at The Yellow Aster, other prospectors were drawn to the Rand Mining District and yet more success was to be had. In 1907, tungsten was discovered a few miles south of Randsburg at Atolia. Tungsten is still used to improve the strength and hardness of steel when exposed to high heat, and during World War I it was badly needed to reinforce firearms and artillery. Then in 1919, silver was discovered at the Big Kelley Mine east of Randsburg near Red Mountain. It yielded over 7 million dollars in silver between 1919 and 1923.

The mining boom lasted into the mid 1920's, but ended with a whimper. By 1933, The Santa Fe had decided to tear out its rail spur, ending any chance of a large scale mining revival. The last efforts to work the Yellow Aster in Rose Burcham's lifetime ended in 1942. She passed away in 1944.

The Randsburg Doin's and Dedication
The Randsburg Opera House in 2005.

Jim Adams fondly remembers the 1989 four-way as the highlight of his year as PXL's Humbug. The weather was ideal – a clear bright and sunny fall weekend. Not too hot, blue sky, comfortable at night with little wind during the day. Each of the four participating chapter held its own Hall of Comparative Ovations, and each of the successful candidates was granted membership in all four chapters. PXL had six candidates, and they all successfully complete the ordeal.

Apart from brothers from the four chapters that sponsored the doin's, there were Clampers from throughout the breath of Clamperdom. XNGH-P Gene Duncker, attending his first doin's after admission at Julia C. Bulette in Carson City, Nevada, remembers hanging out with the Nevada redshirts. He pegs the number of Clampers at the dedication at 150. So with the actual Clampsite being just outside of town, a Clampout attendance of 300 redshirts is probably a fair estimate.

The monument's dedication on October 9, 1989, occurred at the old city jail, just north of the west end of Butte Avenue. Aside from the 150 or so redshirt spectators, there were a number of local people in attendance. The dedication was short and to the point. Speakers included XSNGH Sid Blumner and Mike Johnson. Mike was responsible for researching the plaque and the four page keepsake. There was also a miner still working the Yellow Aster who offered a few a words about his experience, and there may have been others. All in all, a very successful weekend.

Downtown Randsburg 2006. Photo by: Charles White, © 2006.  Used by Permission, all rights reserved.
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The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus®