"Normal" Places We Go

California Ghost Towns: Potosi And The Winkeye Mine

If one continues half a mile northeast past Howland Flat, over Potosi Creek, one will come to a fork in the road. This fork is where the town of Potosi was located.

No one knows the source for the name of the town of Potosi. However, potosi is the Spanish word for “great wealth” and the optimistic miners in the area began to call their camp by that name in 1858.

Today, this is all that remains of Potosi:


At the fork, the road to the right leads to Poker Flat and the road to the left winds a little way up the hill overlooking the town of Howland Flat. But, more on that in a moment…

Although looking at it now, one may find it hard to believe, but at one time a hotel, blacksmith, carpenter’s shop and several residences were all clustered around this fork in the road.

Mines that were/are active in the Potosi area include the Benicia Boy Claim, Bonanza Gravel Claim (Lincoln), Empire (San Francisco Company), Gross & Company, Hawkeye, Hunter Company, Lincoln-Potosi (Bonanza), Montreal Drain Tunnel, Monumental, Nebraska, Pittsburg (Hawkeye, Winkeye), Virginia (Bonanza) and the Winkeye Consolidated (Hawkeye, Pittsburg).

The Lincoln-Potosi Mine was probably the most prominent of these mines. It was situated along Potosi Creek (on the side with the road leading to Poker Flat).

Snowsheds covered the track at the Lincoln-Potosi Mine allowing miners to operate during winter:


As I mentioned earlier, the road that leads to the left from the fork winds up the hill behind Howland Flat and soon comes to a small cemetery next to the road.

Now, according to my (albeit limited) skills at reading the old maps that exist of this region, the cemetery area is part of Potosi. However, everyone seems to refer to this area as the “Howland Flat graves” or the “Howland Flat cemetery”. So, I have included this section in both the Howland Flat article as well as the Potosi one. Potosi and Howland Flat were right next to each other and so some overlap is understandable.

There is/was both a Catholic and a Protestant cemetery covering this area. The cemetery next to the road is the Catholic cemetery:




Below, is a picture that shows the Catholic church that used to stand next to the graves pictured above. In the background, Table Rock can be seen much more clearly than at present day:

catholic church howland flat

I must mention that the historical pictures in this article come from the outstanding and exhaustively researched Roar of the Monitors by Jann E. Garvis. If you’re interested in this area’s history, you’ll find a staggering amount of information in this book and I highly recommend it.

If one crosses the road onto the land marked as being a claim controlled by Winkeye Mining, one will see a number of other graves in two areas. This is what is left of the Protestant cemetery. The tailing ponds of the Winkeye Mine operation bisect the graves, with one section being below the ponds on the flat area overlooking Howland Flat and the other being in the brush next to the other side of the pond. If one wanders through the brush in this area, one should come across a number of graves.

The below are pictures of some of the graves from both sides of the tailing ponds:


The late Dick O’Rourke (a colorful local character) standing next to the same graves in 1986:

Dick O'Rourke in Potosi





I have it on very good authority that there is also a Chinese cemetery in the Potosi area, but I have never been able to find it. Apparently, the cemetery (empty of bodies) was hidden in dense manzanita, with the dead finding their final resting places in their homeland.

A listing of the graves that have been found in the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries can be found here.


Now, about the Winkeye Mine (also sometimes called the Wink Eye Mine) which was mentioned above…

The earliest records I have seen on the Winkeye Mine date back to 1856 when it was known as the Pittsburg Claim. The Pittsburg Company would also incorporate the Hawkeye before ultimately evolving into the Winkeye.

Below is a picture of one of the mine buildings that was on the Winkeye site:

winkeye mine

The main tunnel of the Winkeye Mine:

winkeye mine

The upper sections of the Winkeye Mine, until recently, offered the most to see of the former mines operating in this area. When I first visited, the structure pictured below was fully intact and there were numerous outbuildings around the site. On every subsequent visit, there would be less and less. And now, all of the equipment is gone.

The Winkeye Mine in 1986:

Winkeye Mine

The pictures below were taken by me on subsequent trips during the 2000s, but I believe everything pictured below (aside from the signs) has, like the structure above, been removed.

The Winkeye Mine:

Winkeye Mine

Some of the trailers and outbuildings that used to be scattered around the Winkeye Mine:

Winkeye Mine

Winkeye Mine

A water tank on the site:

Winkeye Mine

Heavy equipment that used to be at the Winkeye Mine:

Winkeye Mine

These are the tailings ponds on the Winkeye Mine site:

Winkeye Mine

A pump on the tailing ponds:

Winkeye Mine

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the upper sections of the Winkeye Mine as a kid and I’m sorry that almost all traces of it are now gone. However, fortunately, there are still some interesting things to be seen at the lower section of the Winkeye site…

This structure, although it has seen better days, has a good roof and is still standing:

Winkeye Mine

Winkeye Mine

Outside, and all down the hillside, are all sorts of bits of metal, old glass bottles and other interesting artifacts, such as this safe:

Winkeye Mine

And down along Potosi Creek, one can still find the old Hawkeye Tunnel:

Winkeye Mine - Hawkeye Tunnel

Please click the video below to see the inside of the Hawkeye Tunnel at the Winkeye Mine:


Below are three older pictures, courtesy of Don Goard, from when mining work was still being done near the lower section of the Winkeye:




I love getting comments from people that have their own memories of this site or know anything more about it, so please do share if you have anything. Also, if anyone has any questions, I will do my best to answer them or will follow up with those that can answer them.









18 thoughts on “California Ghost Towns: Potosi And The Winkeye Mine

  1. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: Howland Flat | The Velvet Rocket

  2. The old trommel from our mine was taken and restored and dragged to the Winkeye. When the Winkeye people went back to Utah after screwing up they towed the trommel down to the valley somewhere. That loader is gone now, but a D-8 is supposed to be parked up on the Bonanza mine without permission of the mine owners. The Forest Service and County would like to catch up with the Winkeye bunch and settle accounts with them. They tore up the road real bad and it cost a bunch to regrade it. They owe me $500. They didn’t know what they were doing. The former Winkeye owners were the Pettigrews. Pettigrews owned that plant you have in the picture and gear. He had 3 partners who sued him for control and won, kicking him out, after they hit it big. Pettigrew sued his lawyer for malpractice and won, then sued his ex-partners and got his mine back. He had several heart attacks and didn’t make it. The ex-partners now own some adjoining claims like the Nugget Bowl and some up on Potosi Creek. Due to age and health those claims won’t be mined by them. I knew widow Pettigrew. She once showed me three gold pans heaped full with nuggets from the mine. The average nugget was the size of an almond and she said they called it the “Almond Gold.” The tunnel in your pic was reopened by a buddy of mine for 260 feet. It’s blocked with mud and muck. He gave up on finishing it. There are seven tunnels on the Winkeye.

    One of the pics shows Sinnott’s graves. One of them used to be an employee at our mine in late 19th century. His grandson wrote the six volume series “A History of Sierra County.” Have met Jann Garvis and toured with her. Have her book, too.

    There is a “lost lode” up at Potosi. It was never really developed. Plan to find it this season. Have reason to believe it has platinum with gold. There is another “lost lode” further south on the ridge, too.

    Once while showing the Winkeye to another mining buddy his friend made a dowsing rod out of an old wire he stepped on. He said he was going to dowse. “Show me, says me, I’m from Missouri.” He wondered around and then stopped. His wire was doing the shimmy and pulling down. I told him he was standing over the Winkeye tunnel where they hit it. Have no explanation. He had never been there. Go figure. The mining engineer who taught me to pan could dowse water in Nevada and was constantly being hired to find water for big companies over there. He had no scientific explanation for it, either. Just did it.

    The “former” WInkeye had character. Too bad the USFS cleaned it up. Widow Pettigrew couldn’t afford to do it, so they did it.

  3. I have spoken to a man who was born at Howland Flat in that cabin out in the meadow. He was working in Auburn at an equipment rental yard on hi49. His brother is a pro photographer who has taken many pics of Howland Flat. He offered me the “Howland Flat Discount” on any heavy equipment I rented there. I hope to reconnect with him and meet his brother and see/maybe buy some of his pics. When I first saw the Flat in ’91 with buildings still standing on Down East Street (Main St.) it reminded me of a Clint Eastwood movie set. Down East Street was named for the Down East Drift Mine which adjoins my mine on the east side. I have seen unfriendly types at the Miner’s Home house, all dressed in black, in black SUVs and carrying black webbing and pistols. They gave me dirty looks and frowns so I waved to them and smiled back and slid the .44 mag out of its holster on the seat next to me and carried on down the road.

  4. David, thank you for setting the record straight regarding my parents Dewey and Elaine and their involvement with these mining claims. Every word you said is true about what happened between those “partners” of my father’s and how they “screwed” him over. Ken Pettigrew

    • I knew gary miller ….the forest service messed with him all the time ..I once pulled his truck out a a ditch near howland flats …he was an interersting and colorful local charactor

  5. My great grandfather, Sandy St. Pierre,.was a mining engineer and a partner in a mine I believe named Potosi in Howland Flat. This was probably before 1900. He moved on to many other camps. Is there any other source for data on him or his mine?
    You’ve done a terrific job in exploring and documenting the area and its history.
    Thank you very much

    • Thank you for your comment and your kind words. There was a mine in the Potosi area named the Lincoln-Potosi Mine. So, it could well be that one where your great grandfather worked. I have some pictures of the remains of that mine and I hope to be doing a post on it soon. I checked several of the books I have on the area and could not find your great grandfather’s name in anything relating to Potosi (bear in mind that the information I have is far from complete though). Some of the families that have connections stretching back for generations in this area might well know of him. Hopefully, one of them will spot this comment and respond as, fortunately, they do tend to drop by regularly.

      Oh, and if you wish to know more about Potosi or the Lincoln-Potosi Mine or this area in general, I would very strongly recommend the Jann Garvis book.

  6. Pingback: California Ghost Towns: Poker Flat | The Velvet Rocket

  7. All so interesting. My daughter in law, Lia, is an up and coming librarian and doing research on a Aaron Harris who had pulled a patent on the nozzle used in hydraulic mining, to make it safer. He worked in the La Porte area. I will be acquiring Jann’s book but would like to know if anyone else could shed information on his life, marriage, death, Cabin, etc. It seems he was a roomer. In those days the population was 10,000. Today the population is 29. wvmccormick@yahoo.com.. Thanks, Wally

  8. I camped there with my family in 57 and almost every year there after til ’67..

    Once we walked to poker flat and back. I college I read a short story about poker flat which i enjoyed immensely having been there.
    I think about Howland Flat many times over the years and have been wanting to bring my best friend to see it also.

    • You were there during something of a golden age. I would love to have seen the area back then…

      Walking down to Poker Flat and back out is no joke. That is a serious hike! There was a tunnel that ran from somewhere near the Poker Flat side and over to Howland Flat that served as a shortcut. I’d love to know where it was, but haven’t been able to learn that yet.

      Howland Flat is still there. Only a handful of buildings are still standing and only one is still inhabited in the summers, but the town is still there…

      • Great grandfather John St. Pierre was a partner in the Potosi mine. He was a mining engineer in the early 1900s who lived in Quincy and many other mining towns. Thank you for your history.

        Best regards, Bruce and Wendy Fowler from our paradise Sent from my iPhone


    • Yes, there were Chinese immigrants working in every town and almost every mine. Howland Flat (right next to Potosi) had a large Chinese neighborhood and there is/was a Chinese cemetery near Potosi.

  9. Just a little note. The name Potosi is not Spanish. It is the name of a silver mining town in Bolivia. It is thought to be a Quechua onomatopoeic word for the sound of a hammer on ore. The Cerro Rico de Potosi there was the source of 60% of all sliver in the world in the 16th cent. The city gave rise to a Spanish expression, still in use: vale un Potosí, (“to be worth a Potosí”) meaning “to be of great value”.

  10. Pingback: Winkeye Mine – Explore Real California Gold Mines!

  11. I looked up this site because of the town of Potosi. My great-grandfather, George Frederick Breithaupt, was a miner during the Gold Rush. He arrived at Yankee Jim’s in Placer County on August 16, 1852. He stated that later that year he and a couple others went down to Barn’s Bar to vote for Franklin Pierce. In Feb. 1853, he went into Nevada County and then into Sierra County. After having his mule stolen by Spaniards, he took up four claims in Howland Flat. He mined in that area and then in June 1858, he left and mined the Frazier River in British Columbia, Canada. He got tired of fighting Indians there and returned to California in the spring of 1859. He eventually moved back to Sierra County in the early 1860’s. He lived there with his wife Nellie and daughter Annie. His next two daughters were born in Potosi: Helen Adelaide on Feb. 8, 1866 and Nellie Matilda on Jan. 8, 1868. I can imagine how tough those births were on his wife, Nellie! I hope to visit the area next year.

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