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The Harmony Borax Works – The mining complex went out of business in 1888 but the remnants of it can still be found …

David Goran

The discovery of borax (or “white gold” as it is called) north of the mouth of Furnace Creek was made in 1881 by Aaron and Rose Winters, whose holdings were immediately bought by William T. Coleman and Francis Marion Smith for $20,000. They opened the way for “large-scale” borax mining in Death Valley.

The Harmony Borax Mines were the first successful mining venture in the valley. Source

The Harmony Borax Mines were the first successful mining venture in the valley. Source

 

Although it only operated for 5 years, it employed 40 men who produced about three tons of borax daily. Source

Around 40 men were employed and they produced about three tons of borax daily. Source

The operation became famous because of the use of large mule teams and double wagons. The “Twenty Mule Team Wagon” was built for transport to the railroad at Mojave, which is 165 km away from the Harmony Borax Works. To carry the borax out of the valley, they needed to carefully design the wagons, as it was a heavy load. The driver “Skinner”, had to handle his mules in all conditions. He was a veterinarian, a blacksmith, and a repairman when something had to be fixed on the wagon. The drivers assistant “Swamper” had numerous duties. Going up grades he walked along the teams. On downgrades, he handled the brakes on the rear wagon. He also was in charge of making the camp, hooking and unhooking the mules, and feeding them.

The wagon train was used to haul borax from Death Valley to a rail station in Mohave, a distance of 165 miles. Source

The wagon train was used to haul borax from Death Valley to a rail station in Mohave, a distance of 165 miles. Source

 

The heyday of the Harmony operation was from 1883 to 1888. Source

The heyday of the Harmony operation was from 1883 to 1888. Source

The type of borate being exploited on the salt flats of Death Valley was ulexite, in the form of “cotton balls” that were scraped off the salt pan and then refined by evaporation and crystallization. During the summer months, when it was too hot to crystallize borax in Death Valley, a smaller borax mining operation shifted to his Amargosa Borax Plant in Amargosa, near the present community of Tecopa, California.

A twenty-mule team wagon. Although the teams only ran for six years--1883 to 1889--they have made an enduring impression of the Old West. Source

Although the teams only ran for five years, they have made an enduring impression of the Old West. Source

 

By 1888, Harmony’s mule teams had hauled over 20 million tons of borax. Source

By 1888, Harmony’s mule teams had hauled over 20 million tons of borax. The total load of these wagons could be up to 30 tons. Source

The Harmony Works remained under Coleman’s operation until 1888. The discovery of Borax in other parts of Death Valley eventually forced Harmony Borax Works out of business and operated for only 5 years. William Coleman’s original holdings in the works were subsequently acquired by Frank M. “Borax” Smith in 1890, to become the Pacific Coast Borax Company with the 20 Mule Team Borax brand. Activity at Harmony Borax Works ceased with the development of the richer Colemanite borax deposits at Borate in the Calico Mountains, where they continued until 1907.

The type of borate being exploited on the salt flats of Death Valley was ulexite, in the form of "cottonballs" that were scraped off the salt pan and then refined by evaporation and crystallization. Source

This facility has long been abandoned is now a mere ruin. Source

 

On December 31, 1974, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Source

On December 31, 1974, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Source

The Harmony Borax Works was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974. They are part of the National Park Service historical site preservation program in Death Valley National Park.