Although gold was first discovered in Randsburg in April 1895 the site did not develop immediately into a “camp” or town, with merchants. While the strike made by Burcham, Singleton, and Mooers appeared to be “lousy rich pay dirt” the first real milling of ore did not occur until the fall of 1895. Until this milling proved the value of the claim, and the weather cooled off, it is doubtful that much development of a town had taken place. While Marcia Wynn Rittenhouse in her book Desert Bonanza, attributes Clyde Kuffel with having built the first frame building, which was used as a post office for a time, it is not clear who established the first businesses in town. My research indicates that Charlie Koehn; the indomitable pioneer of Kane Springs erected the first frame building for a store.. Whether Clyde operated the Post Office out of Charlie’s Building is doubtful as Charlie was the Postmaster for the district having had a Post Office established at his ranch in 1893. From this point Charlie ran a wagon providing mail service, general merchandise, and miners’ supplies. Charlie also had a store at Goler in early 1895. The Daily Californian reported in January of 1896 that provisions for the camp were supplied from the store of Charlie Koehn. It was not until May of that year that the Daily Californian reported that Wilson and Kuffel would open their store in a few days. In the same issue of that paper it was reported that the papers had been received establishing the Randsburg Post Office with Mr. Mooers as the Postmaster. In June of 1896 the Daily Californian reported that Kuffel and Wilson had a store with the Post Office in one corner which was presided over by Mr. Mooers.
Regardless of who established the first business in town or who built the first substantial building it was not much of a town in January of 1896 when it consisted of five wooden buildings and some thirty tents Among the substantial buildings were stables, corrals, and one saloon. By May of the same year there were three saloons and a boarding house. Mrs. Kerns, who had moved her business over from Goler, ran the boarding house. By August of 1896 it was reported that there was one store, a post office, two boarding houses and five saloons. Ed Starkey of Mojave has been credited by Marcia Wynn Rittenhouse in her book Desert Bonanza, as having opened the first saloon in Randsburg. The records of the early liquor licenses are not considered to be complete, but do list Starkey and Richards among the earliest saloon men having been licensed in June of 1896. In addition among the earliest saloon men were Chris Matson who was licensed in May of 1896; Davis & Wolfskill, July 1896; and Charlie Koehn, July 1896. This accounts for four of the five that were reported to be in business by August 1896. As to whether these licenses were new or renewals could not be determined. There was a reported problem as indicated in the records of the Kern County Supervisor’s records about collecting back liquor license taxes in 1896.
It was after the summer heat of 1896 had waned that the real boom occurred and Randsburg started to take on the look of a real town. By September of 1896 the boom was so intense, that according to a visitor in the camp from Los Angeles, there were stages arriving on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. A correspondent from Garlock Stated that there were three stages a day from Mojave to the camps of Garlock and Randsburg As of late September there were, besides the saloons, three boarding houses, three general merchandise stores, a post office, blacksmith shop, and a drug store There existed a need however for more rooming houses as winter was coming on and additionally it was reported that the town was in need of a bakery, tailor shop, shoemaker shop, harness maker, and a second hand furniture store.16 Lots in the business section were selling for a minimum of $500,17, which based on the relative value of gold in those days of $18 per ounce and today of $360 per ounce these lots were going for $10,000.
In December of 1896 the following report was made in a Los Angeles newspaper: December 20, 1896: “Randsburg Dec. 18, (Regular correspondence) The business activities of this place still continues in an ever-increasing voulume. New houses are going up in all directions, but especially on Butte Avenue, the main road running throught the Rand to Fiddler’s Gulch. This is the route to Kramer on the Santa Fe, and also that upon which the stages over the new route to Mojave arrive and depart. The mail coach comes in over the old road serving the offices at Koehn Springs and Garlock on the way. On Butte Avenue during the past week more than fifty new buildings erected, some of them quite pretentious in size, but for the most part small and either composed wholly of lumber, or the foundations, floor and sides lumber, and a tent stretched over for a roof. The buildings are, or course, of the plainest and cheapest kind, without any attempt at architectural plans or beauty. They will serve their purpose equally as well as more costly ones, until their owners either get rich or fall. There are many more people here than a week ago and lots are a good sale. The price of lots anywhere along Butte Avenue varies a little according to location. Just now there is most activity out towards Fiddler’s Gulch and more building going on there. Lots sell from $50 up, and the title is only squatter’s. If not occupied or built on they are likely to be occupied by someone else some morning before the reputed owner is aware. So far there has been little trouble, but just yesterday a lot owned and claimed by a young man here, but who had no buildings up, was taken possesion of by other parties and a house is going up today. All the indication point to a wonderful mining boom at this place. People are flocking here from every direction. Many believe the mines will justify everything said about them, which others are doubtful. From careful observations so far as developments has been made, the opinion of the writer is that it will prove a permenant camp. ” — Los Angeles Daily Times
Water, lack of capital, and lawlessness were problems in the early days of the camp. In the early years of the camp, water was hauled from Garlock at a cost of $2.00 per barrel. This led to the early mills and many of the business houses being established in Garlock. However the gold and the work were in Randsburg so development of the town continued despite the shortage of water. There was, however, no shortage of liquid refreshment in the early camp. In 1896 approximately twenty-one different saloonkeepers were in business at one time or another. These thirst emporiums and gambling halls attracted a rowdy crowd. Amongst this crowd was a group called the “Dirty Dozen” who were involved in some lot “jumping” incidents and shooting scrapes.19 the first shooting in Randsburg that resulted in a murder was the shooting of Charley Richards who, in partnership with Ed Starkey, was a saloonkeeper. This shooting occurred in September of 1896. In the latter part of October of that year another shooting occurred as a result of a fight over a card game. The shooting, which occurred in the Thompson’s Saloon;, ended the life of an innocent bystander several blocks away when a bullet passed through the wall of the building and struck the man as he was walking up the street. A third and fourth shootings occurred within a day of each other in December. The third shooting occurred in the Elite Theater when Frank Stevens a member of the “Dirty Dozen” shot and killed J. F. Davis, a gambler, who became the first man buried in the local cemetery. The fourth shooting was the result of a tragic accident, which resulted in the death of A. J. Klein. Mr. Klein was sitting in front of the Capital Saloon when Constable Bohannon accidentally knocked his 44 Winchester off the back of the bar, causing it to discharge when it hit the floor, with the bullet passing through the wall and hitting the victim.
These shootings led to newspaper headlines such as “A man for supper” and “Another man for dinner”. The Mojave News carried a story, which said ” A man came in from Randsburg Sunday evening, and told the people that a man had died in that town from natural causes. He was asked if all the buildings in town had fallen down at the same time, and he said no. He was branded a liar, and severely punished for trying to deceive the natives. We might believe that an airship passed over the town, but no amount of argument will convince us that any one died in Randsburg from the effects of anything but a knife or gun wound.
This kind of publicity tended to slow the development of the town, however the town was not without law enforcement. John M. Crawford, who owned the St. Elmo Saloon, was a Kern County Deputy Sheriff, and Claude Bohannon, who owned the Capital Saloon, was appointed the town constable in October of 1896 at the same time that E. B. Maginnis was appointed the Justice of the Peace. The town’s people however felt that they needed some help so they formed what is commonly called a Vigilante Committee, but they termed it a “Committee of Arbitration”. It is not known with a certainty who was on this original committee, that was formed in late December or early November of 1896. However, The Mining and Electric Journal in early 1897 reported in an article discussing this committee that “There are in every new section a few individuals whose magnetic influence sways the crowd. In Randsburg is J.P. Carroll, genial honest, but determined in what he considers just; P. J. Hartt, the affable manager of the Kramer Stage Co. T. Weisendanger, D. C. Kuffel, Jolly Col. Hafford and a few others who are ready at all times to welcome strangers or suppress crime. It is the presence of men of such sterling qualities that has made Randsburg a law abiding camp.” In 1897 when the original committee was established they posted a notice, which read “The Citizens of Randsburg have organized to enforce the Laws. Ten Deputy Constables have been appointed and any riotous and threatening conduct will be suppressed and punished. By Order of the Citizens Com’te.”
Once the committee had invited a few people to leave town and law and order was assured the camp began to grow at a steady rate. Not that is became a model puritan community for it still had its saloons, gambling, and ladies of the evening. And in fact not everybody was happy with the town as one of the Arizona newspapers reported the following: May 6, 1897: “A Randsburg man advertises for sale a town lot, cooking utensils and bedding together with a lady that goes with the outfit all for $18 It would appear from this that ladies are somewhat of a drug on the market at Randsburg The idea of giving away a lady with every lot sold has never occurred to Los Angeles real estate dealers Perhaps if ladies were cheaper here the experiment would be tried. Meantime bachelors in search of a bargain are advised to go to Randsbnrg. Los Angeles Time” — Arizona Silver Belt
December 19, 1896: “RANDSBURG THE NEW MINING CAMP, now has a population of 500.” –Corona Courier
Some of the newspaper accounts for the period were exagerated as to population such as the follwing: January 21, 1897: “CALIFORNIAS NEW CAMP — Los Angeles Lays Claim to the Promising District – As mentioned before in these columns Randsburg on the edge of Death Valley in California 40 or 50 miles from Vanderbilt is making rapid strides to the front as a progressive and growing camp and it is stated that Los Angeles now has what it has long craved for, big gold camp, from which to derive revenue and trade, A California exchange in speaking of Randsburg says the stampede to the desert mining camp Randsburg in California continues. It is said there are fully 5000 people there now and by April there will be 7000 or 8000. Up to date some 4300 mining claims have been located. There are only four rough wooden buildings there now called hotels and about 700 tents. There are five restaurants and 24 saloons and dance halls. One keno and three faro games are running. Rough lumber sells in Randsburg for$35 to $40 a thousand, hay from $20 to $22 a ton, wood from $8 to $10 a cord, coal from Gallup N. M. at $15 per ton and water at $2 per barrel of 40 gallons for human drinking purposes or $1.50 per barrel for stock. Town lots are held from $50 to $1,000 the higher figure being asked for Casey’s lot near the new post office site. In three months Randsburg has changed from one of the most dreary remorseless desert wastes to as lively a mining town as there is in the world and has grown faster than ever Tombstone in 1879 or the Comstock in 1S69 for in those days there was no railroad communication to aid in the rapid growth of mining towns Whether Randsburg will ever grow to the importance of either Cripple Creek or Leadville depends upon the continued of the newly found success prospects there and the finding of water in sufficient quantity to operate the nines economically.” – The Salt Lake Herald
By 1897 the town of Randsburg was the third largest town in Kern County, but then as now there was sentiment driven by a perceived neglect of the Desert Towns to form their own county. In the January 10, 1897 edition of The Herald newspaper of Los Angeles it was reported that: “A NEW COUNTY PROBABLE. – I learned today that a bill will be introduced during the session for creating another new county. It is intended to take a slice out of Los Angeles, Kings and Tulare counties each and establish a new county of which, Randsburg, the wonderful mining town that has so recently blossomed into existent and has attracted so much attention throughout the country, will be the chief city, the commercial metropolis, the head-center and the county capital. Whether the measure will go through is by no means certain, but I know that a number of members of each house have already expressed their belief in the wisdom of thus establishing the proposed new county. It is therefore more than probable that the proposition will go through. I mention this because it is interesting news and that is what The Herald is always after and always giving to the public, l am aware that the prospect of such legislation is liable to start a “land boom” In that mining region, and a town lot craze in Randsburg itself. A crazy boom of that kind always results disastrously to many persons who jump into the swim with more hope than money, though a few sharpers generally manage to drop the iron before it becomes too hot.” Again on July 30, 1897 The Herald reported that: “There is a revival of county division talk in Los Angeles County, and it seems to have a strong sentiment in the city of Los Angeles in favor of consolidating the territory from the San Gabriel River and the Newhall hills to the sea in a city and county of Los Angeles. This would result in the organization of San Antonio county, with Pomona for county seat, and leave the Antelope valley country to be annexed to Kern
county or go into a scheme for a new county with Randsburg as county seat,—Riverside Press.” – The Herald
September 2, 1898: “Last spring when the census was taken there were 1260 people in camp; the registration returns show the names of 560 for both Randsburg and Johannesburg. More registered than was expected, and it shows the Interest that is being taken in the coming election. This district will cut quite a figure in Kern county politics. Up to the present time over 2600 claims have been recorded in the Rand district. Some of these have become open ground, owing to the locators not doing the necessary assessment work.” –The Herald
In November of 1898, after two major fires and several smaller ones,the Citizens Commitee posted another notice which read “All ex-convicts, masquereaus, disreputable loafers without visible means of support, and bad characters are hereby ordered to leave Randsburg forthwith. By Order of Citizens of Randsburg”. It was feared that the disreputable element in town would try to start fires to draw attention away while they looted stores. An article in a Bakersfield paper, The Daily Californian, stated “The people are in earnest: the thugs must move on or there will be a few whipping posts in use, or a lynching or two, should they be necessary as a last resort.” Property and person were made relatively safe by the actions of these committees and opportunity to make money existed both in mining and commerce.
November 23, 1919: “RANDSBURG HAS NO SALOONS, no churches, no newspapers, no pastor, no doctor, and but a few years ago had all these. The town jail has been forlorn and deserted for two years.” –Bakersfield Californian