A Mine and an Indian Curse

by Ella Adams


Stone Canyon Mine

Awaiting the arrival of the narrow gauge locomotive, two miners rest momentarily at the mine's entrance. This photograph was taken by Ella Adams shortly before the mine operations ceased.































1875 - 1934

The Stone Canyon Mine is located in a little known area in the southeast corner of Monterey County in a narrow canyon high in the Diablo Range. Miner F.H.P. Stone made the initial discovery of the coal mine when he walked in from Hollister in 1875. Indians had long known this peaceful land, but left it with a curse that it would be troubled with water and fire.

Nonetheless, a company was formed and a shaft started. Lack of transportation slowed the first company, but in 1886, the Southern Pacific Railroad secured 320 acres, including the mine, and it became an off and on again operation until 1907.

A bridge was built across the Salinas River and a broad gauge railroad was built up Indian Valley and the Big Sandy to the bunkers. There was no turntable at the McKay Station and the train came down loaded and backed up empty.

The first cars used on the narrow gauge were made at the mine of native Coulter pine, milled at the head of the canyon and strapped with iron. Coulter pine was also used for headsets in the mine. Antonio Bravin did this work and received 25 cents per day extra for his skilled work.

With more activity, miners brought their families, and forty-four homes were scattered up the canyon with the large superintendent's house built high on the mountainside. There was much building in 1907-1908: a cook house, two-story bunk house, school, machine shop, and boiler house.


In the early operation, mules were used in the mine; they were thrown and tied to a flatcar and taken down the steep incline shaft, and hay and barley were taken down to them. After thirty days, they were brought out at night to slowly accustom their eyes to daylight. On one occasion a mule received a serious cut and Veterinarian Boyce went down and sewed up the protesting mule. Both Doc and the mule recovered.

Before the power plant was built in 1912, carbide lamps were used in the mine. Miners on the lower 700 foot level were issued water goggles to protect their eyes from the stinging fumes; others suffered from the dreaded black damp. Along with the electric light, a narrow shaft was sunk and a blower house with a suction fan drew fumes from the mine.

At the turn of the century, seventy-five men worked at the mine, working a twelve-hour shift for $1.25 a day. There was a company store, and an old ledger told of shirts and drawers for 70 cents each; one harmonica 17 cents; neckties 37 cents; and calico for 5 cents per yard.

In the early operation, a horse-drawn stage came out of Bradley, bringing workers and mail, three times a week, staying alternately at Bradley and Stone Canyon and establishing three deliveries a week.


Gas explosions in 1907, 1908 and 1914 caused fire and some of the tunnels were cemented off. Antonio Bravin in 1907 and Walter Dolan in 1914 led the men out of the black smoke and fire to safety.

Rain followed rain in 1914; bridges and rails were damaged and the dam at the head of the canyon collapsed, sending a wall of water down the narrow canyon. Two houses were torn to pieces. Tom Tenant, the hostler, had living quarters in the barn, and he and another man, a Syrian peddler, were drowned. People ran for their lives. Clair Dolan told of being taken to safety by his brother Lee, and Myrtle Bonnifield and a neighbor carried small Floyd and baby Alfred up the mountainside to sit out the storm under an oak tree.

Two pumps were installed in the mine; one of them, a large Westinghouse on the 300 foot level pumped water up to the two large wooden tanks, where it was treated with lime to remove silica and sulfur, then used in the boilers.

The San Andreas fault runs through the canyon and in 1934, a heavy shock caved in 220 feet of the mine entrance shaft. The emergency shaft was damaged with 120 feet of twisted pipe and ladder.

The soft coal from the mine was laced with sulfur and could not compete with hard coal brought in from Australia as ship ballast. Never a profitable operation, the mine closed in 1934. All the buildings were sold and moved away, and metal, including that of the little narrow gauge locomotive and twenty-two miles of track from the bunkers to McKay Station, was sold as scrap to the Japanese government.

Today no sound of miners' picks or chattering air drills disturb this quiet land; wild flowers carpet the canyon in the spring and hawks soar overhead. The land remains much as the Indians knew it 122 years ago.