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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: The Lost Silver Ledge of Hardin City

By Susan Couso

The Black Rock Desert, with its fumaroles and bubbling springs of scalding water, is not a welcoming place. Vegetation is scarce, and water even scarcer. Most emigrants, traversing the route through the desert to the west, spent as little time here as possible.

In September of 1849, while traveling the Applegate Trail through this formidable place, James Allen Harding found something that caused quite a stir on the western slope of the Black Rock Range.

Hardin, from Illinois, was anxious to cross the desert, but the wagon train was nearly destitute. He and two other men left the train and hiked into the hills to look for game. It was a barren, desolate, burned region of black igneous rocks, and volcanic ashes, and the hunters found no game.

As they came down a ‘wash’, they noticed clumps of what they assumed was lead. They gathered about 40 pounds of the metal and melted some of it to make bullets. They left a portion in camp and took the rest with them.

Hardin melted a portion of the metal into a ‘button’, as he thought it might be valuable. When the train arrived in Shasta City, Hardin showed the button around. Many were interested, some declared it to be silver, but none could be induced to travel back into the desert. The conditions were dramatically harsh, and the Paiutes were not happy with the influx of emigrants.

Hardin settled in Petaluma, Sonoma County, and told his story of the abundance of silver along the trail. He had sent his ‘button’ to San Francisco to be analyzed in 1850, but records were lost in a fire that year.

Finally, in 1858, a group of men was formed to seek the treasure; James Harding, M. S. Thompson, A. B. Jamison, Fred Alberding, H. Whiteside, Charles Humphries, James Pringle, Holt Fine, P. McGuire, and a man named Oman. For three years they searched, but to no avail, and the group dispersed.

In 1865, A. B. Jamison, who had not given up the search, found some ore, and the ‘rush’ began. At its ‘heyday’, Hardin City, as the new town was called, boasted 15 well-built houses, a stable, a restaurant, and one woman. There was even a post office for a short period in 1866. But conditions were severe and large amounts of ore were never produced. News of trouble with the Paiutes, along with the lack of profit caused many prospectors to leave the area.

Hardin’s ‘discovery’ has been the subject of more speculation and the cause of more fruitless searches than most stories of hidden wealth. But up until today, this unaccommodating area has kept its treasurers well hidden.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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