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Sole Resident of Ghost Town Not Leaving Without Silver

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(Kitco News) - Cerro Gordo was once one of the most bountiful silver mines in California, but it is now the home to a single inhabitant for the past 22 years, and he isn’t leaving until he finds more silver.

Robert Louis Vesmarais, a 70-year-old former high school teacher, detailed his mining exploits in an interview with the BBC. Living in an old log cabin with no running water -- that previously belonged to one of the town’s miners -- Vesmarais spends his days hoping to discover a missing silver vein in the abandoned Cerro Gordo mines.

The former high school teacher’s persistence has yet to unearth substantial gains, however, he has found some silver. His process involves descending 800 feet with only a chisel and hammer. He then sells his ore discoveries in their raw form to tourists, charging a range of $5 to $20 for a single piece.

“Over 22 years, I’ve found equivalent to a wheelbarrow full of silver,” he said.

The BBC profile is just the latest example of growing mainstream interest in silver prices, which is finally starting to outperform within the precious metals complex. After lagging gold for a few years, silver is now on the move with prices trading near a one-year high. September futures last traded at $16.55 an ounce, up 64% on the day. Silver fever is building as prices have rallied nearly 8% this past month.

Cerro Gordo was once the largest producer of lead and silver in California. The original discovery of silver veins in 1866 attracted prospectors to the area, and three years later, the mines yielded ores worth “at least as high as $300 per ton,” according to its website. In February 1872, a local news outlet wrote about the significance of the mining town, stating that “what Los Angeles now is, is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence.”

When silver and lead discoveries began to falter near the mid-20th century, the town’s population dwindled accordingly. However, Cerro Gordo’s desertion is only one reason it is labelled a ghost town.

Image courtesy of The Adventure Portal

“In its heyday, it averaged a murder a week,” said local real estate agent Jake Rasmuson. “In the Bellshaw Bunkhouse, one of the former owners of the town had an escape tunnel out for labor disputes.”

Although today its mines are barren, Vesmarais is not the only person who sees potential for its development. For decades, the mining town was privately owned by a family, but last year LA-based entrepreneurs, Brent Underwood and Jon Bier, purchased Cerro Gordo for $1.4 million, citing its compelling history as the main reason.

“It isn’t so often you’re entrusted to maintain such an interesting part of American history,” Underwood told CNN in an interview last year. “The town is so rich in history and has impacted so many lives.”

The entrepreneurs said they believe the missing silver vein could be found eventually, stating that $500 million worth of minerals were extracted from the mines in the past, and there is ample reason to believe that there could be another $500 million waiting to be found. 

“Cerro Gordo is a true piece of American history that is impossible to replicate,” said Underwood. 

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