“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
San Jose in Santa Clara County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Marker image. Click for full size.
By Syd Whittle, March 29, 2011
1. New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Marker
Inscription.  For generations the Ohlone Indians followed the path along the Alamitos Creek to find cinnabar in a cave in the nearby hills. They traded the mineral, used it in religious ceremonies and decorated their bodies. Elsewhere in the world, quicksilver, another name for mercury, the end product in the processing of cinnabar, was an important component in the amalgamation of gold, silver and other precious metals. The Rothschilds, an influential European banking family, owned the Almaden mines in Spain, held the monopoly on quicksilver and controlled the price for quicksilver on the world market.

In 1845 Captain Andres Castillero, a Mexican soldier, diplomat and scholar, was sent to Alta California on a mission to Sutter’s Fort. The Mexican government wanted to buy out Sutter in an effort to keep out American settlers. When meetings between Castillero and Sutter failed, Castillero returned to Mission Santa Clara. It was there that he noticed the red paint in the artwork in the mission church and on the bodies of the Ohlones. Recognizing the red color as probably being that of cinnabar or silver, he proceeded to test the ore and discovered
New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Marker and Apartments image. Click for full size.
By Syd Whittle, March 29, 2011
2. New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Marker and Apartments
that it was indeed cinnabar. Indians took him to their source. He filed a denouncement on 3,000 vara of land for all sides of the cave mouth. This is the site of the richest mine in California and the largest quicksilver mining area in the Americas. Castillero’s keen observation in recognizing cinnabar ore helped break the Rothchild’s monopoly of quicksilver.

Twenty-eight months later the discovery of gold sparked the great overland migration of people to California. Soon after arriving miners realized they needed quicksilver to amalgamate with gold. The community of New Almaden became an integral part of the gold rush because its quicksilver was readily available and inexpensive to ship to the Mother Lode. Wagons loaded with flasks traveled to the port of Alviso where the flasks were shipped to San Francisco for worldwide distribution. This local source of quicksilver made mining lucrative for the gold miner.

By 1865, life on Mine Hill was very wild and dangerous. Criminals, including Tiburico Vasquez, were hiding out, drinking was rampant, and shootings were common. In an effort to control the criminal element, mine manager Samuel F. Butterworth built a toll gate at the entrance to the Hacienda Mine works at the narrows of the canyon where Almaden Road and Almaden Way meet. The toll collector lived in the far apartment where he collected tolls and inspected
Hacienda Tollgate image. Click for full size.
By Unknown
3. Hacienda Tollgate
Courtesy of California Online Archives and the San Jose Public Library, California Room.

Postcard of the tollgate at the entrance to the Hacienda at New Almaden, circa 1900-1920
wagons. The residents of Mine Hill were not allowed to bring in alcohol and guns. These residents were fined if they were caught with unacceptable goods.

Over the years, the three apartments were rented to a number of Californios. Among those living there were Berryessas and Narvaezes, descendents of members of the 1776 Anza expedition. Frank Lewis, a son-in-law of James Frazier Reed and the husband of Patty Reed of the Donner Party, was a tenant in 1866. Antonio Soto, a Mutsun Indian, lived here in 1880.

The story of New Almaden’s quicksilver and of the overland pioneers’ dreams of a better life will always be tied together as a rewarding and tragic human experience that helped settle the Santa Clara Valley, California and the American West.
Erected 2006 by Argonauts Historical Society and the New Almaden Quicksilver County Park Association.
Location. 37° 10.483′ N, 121° 49.439′ W. Marker is in San Jose, California, in Santa Clara County. Marker is on Almaden Road east of Almaden Way, on the right when traveling east. Marker is mounted at the parking area for the apartment building. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 21744 Almaden Road, San Jose CA 95120, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Site of Reduction Works (within shouting distance of this marker); Site of First Mining Operation in California
New Almaden Quicksilver Mine image. Click for full size.
By Lawrence & Houseworth, Publisher
4. New Almaden Quicksilver Mine
circa, 1860/1870
Courtesy of Online Archives of California and the Society of California Pioneers.
(within shouting distance of this marker); Hard Rock Miners (within shouting distance of this marker); New Almaden Community Club (within shouting distance of this marker); Patrick Tillman (within shouting distance of this marker); Site of First Mining in California (within shouting distance of this marker); Hacienda Hotel (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named Hacienda Hotel (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in San Jose.
Also see . . .  The History of New Almaden. In 1845, a group of Ohlone Indians led Andrés Castillero, a captain in the Mexican military, to their source of cinnabar. The Ohlone used cinnabar in body paint to decorate themselves and also in trading. Castillero was also a mining engineer and recognized commercial uses for the cinnabar ore as a mercury agent. Castillero filed a mineral claim with the Mexican government in 1845 and began small-scale mining of the ore and quicksilver production. The Barron, Forbes Company obtained Castillero’s shares in 1846 and named
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the mines New Almaden for the famous Almaden quicksilver mines in Spain. Legal challenges plagued the land from the outset and in 1863 the Quicksilver Mining Company assumed ownership.
(Submitted on April 6, 2011.) 
Categories. Natural Resources

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Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on April 6, 2011, by Syd Whittle of El Dorado Hills, California. This page has been viewed 1,272 times since then and 24 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 6, 2011, by Syd Whittle of El Dorado Hills, California.
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