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The European-American community began circa 1900 with the discovery of silver-rich ore by prospector Jim Butler. The legendary tale of discovery says that he went looking for a burro that had wandered off during the night and sought shelter near a rock outcropping. When Butler discovered the animal the next morning, he picked up a rock to throw at it in frustration, noticing that the rock was unusually heavy. He had stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history.

Men of wealth and power entered the region to consolidate the mines and reinvest their profits into the infrastructure of the town of Tonopah. George Wingfield, a 24-year-old poker player when he arrived in Tonopah, played poker and dealt faro in the town saloons. Once he had a small bankroll, he talked Jack Carey, owner of the Tonopah Club, into taking him in as a partner and to file for a gaming license. In 1903, miners rioted against Chinese workers in Tonopah. This resulted in China enforcing a boycott in China of U.S. imported goods.

By 1904, after investing his winnings in the Boston-Tonopah Mining Company, Wingfield was worth $2 million. When old friend George S. Nixon, a banker, arrived in town, Wingfield invested in his Nye County Bank. They grub-staked miners with friend Nick Abelman, and bought existing mines. By the time the partners moved to Goldfield, Nevada and made their Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company a public corporation in 1906, Nixon and Wingfield were worth more than $30 million.

Wingfield believed that the end of the gold and silver mining production was coming and took his bankroll to Reno, where he invested heavily in real estate and casinos. Real estate and gaming became big business throughout Central Nevada. By 1910, gold production was falling and by 1920, the town of Tonopah had less than half the population it had fifteen years earlier.

The old Mizpah hotel was renovated and reopened for business several years ago.

Jim and Belle Butler

Mizpah Mine

Belmont Mine

Belmont Mine

Boot Hill

'Big' Bill Murphy - On the day of the Belmont Mine fire (February 23, 1911), "Big Bill," age 28, was the cage operator at the Belmont Mine. Fire broke out on the 1166 level between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. By 6:30 a.m., when Big Bill's shift began, shift bosses had entered the mine to determine a way to fight the fire. A group of miners were sent to explore other areas to determine the extent and fight the fire. However, some of these men disobeyed and started for the surface. In no time, thoughts of extinguishing the fire vanished as workers were literally gasping for breath, attempting to escape. As smoke filled the tunnels, panic set in among those in the mine and they made a hasty retreat to the cage. As they arrived at the surface, some were unconscious due to the toxic gases and smoke. With men still underground, no one came forward at first to descend back into the mine, not wanting to return to the hell from which they just escaped. Only "Big Bill" came forward and gave the signal to descend. He first went to the 1100 level and loaded the cage with confused and unconscious miners. After this first ascent, he helped with their unloading and descended again for a second time to bring more to the surface. Said to say "he was nearly done in," he made his third descent into the mine. This would be his last.

WWII Army Airborne Training Center

The Tonopah Army Air Field was activated and ready for occupancy in July 1942, the airbase included runways, barracks, mess halls and a hospital. In September 1943 the base was shut down to expand for Consolidated B-24 Liberator training. By October 1943, about half of the personnel were moved temporarily to Bishop Army Air Field, California, in order to provide housing at Tonopah for construction contractors on a $3,000,000 project. Most construction was complete by the beginning of November 1943, and training facilities included a rifle range, pistol range, skeet ranges, turret trainers, bomb trainers equipped with Norden or Sperry sights, flexible gunnery trainers, navigation trainers, and schools for gunners and radio operators. Personnel at Bishop returned on November 1, 1943, and the 458th Bombardment Group arrived for training. When the 458th departed in January 1944, the 470th Bombardment Group arrived at Tonopah as a B-24 replacement training unit. In a March 31, 1944, reorganization the 470th was disbanded and its training functions being taken over by the 442nd Army Air Force Base Unit.

In the summer of 1944, a Field Test Unit of Wright Field's Special Weapons Branch* tested guided bombs (e.g., GB-4, GB-6 and the GB-8). The post exchange that had opened in August 1942 paid a 13 November 1943 dividend of $10,741.48, and the base's large bakery during 1943 and 1944 sold an average of 400 dozen doughnuts a day. In October, 1944, there were 66 B-24 aircraft available for the training program and there were 1,264 officers and 5,273 enlisted men assigned to the base (437 officers, 3,707 enlisted men, and 184 civilians by March 1945).


WWII Army Airborne Training Center

WWII Army Airborne Training Center

WWII Army Airborne Training Center

WWII Army Airborne Training Center

Since the late 20th century, Tonopah has relied on the nearby military Tonopah Test Range as its main source of employment.


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