A Window on the Wilderness
Fall Equinox 2001 || Volume IV, Number 3
From Willow Creek to Cone Peak:
The Life of Philip Kinder
Philip Joshua Kinder at work on the Cone Peak Lookout Tower, circa 1970
rom the dark depths of a hard-rock gold mine in Willow Creek to the lofty heights of the Cone Peak fire lookout tower, few people have known the Santa Lucia mountains as intimately as Phil Kinder.
Born Philip Joshua Kinder in Grove City, Pennsylvania in 1909, Phil apparently knew early on that he was destined to lead his life in the great outdoors. in 1920 at the tender age of 11, Phil resolutely told his older brother Stewart that he was going to California to buy a gold mine and pan for gold. He invited Stewart to come visit some day and see his mine. Stewart, in Europe with the Army during World War I at the time, made fun of his younger brother's youthful notions and politely declined the offer. Little did he know.
In the early 1920s Phil, Stewart, father Cy, mother Jane, and a few other family members moved west to California, settling in the town of Atascadero in San Luis Obispo county. After graduating from high school there in 1927, Phil worked as a gardener in order to raise the capital necessary to fulfill his still-vivid childhood dream.
Cabin and arrastra at Kinder Mine in the Willow Creek Drainage
Phil Kinder (on left) with two friends on the bank of Willow Creek
Around 1929 he began prospecting in Willow Creek and befriended one of the Cruikshank boys, a long-time family in the area and one that was very involved in mining activities in Willow Creek and the Los Burros Mining District from the very beginning. On the advice of his friend he began working old abandoned placer claims down in the creek bed, and eventually staked two claims in an area where local rumor had it that an old miner had taken out $80,000 worth of gold nuggets in 1913. Phil's intention was to sell the claims in order to raise money to buy and further develop a hard-rock claim that he had his eye on upslope.
In 1937 Phil Kinder and his family purchased the Yellow Quartz claim from from G. A. Miller. A hard-rock gold mining claim on the north side of Willow Creek in the south half of section 22, T24S R5E in Monterey County, the lode was originally discovered by John Bushnell in 1904 and located as the Green Gold mine. The unpatented claim's name and boundaries were changed (relocated) several times over the years, eventually ending up as the Golden Quartz Mine under the Kinder ownership. Phil and his brother Stewart also owned two other claims in the area, the Hidden Treasure and Caladonia, but it was the Golden Quartz where they spent most of their time and effort.
According to the 1966 publication by the California Division of Mines and Geology, Mines and Mineral Resources of Monterey County, California by Earl J. Hart:
Although the (Golden Quartz) mine has been worked during several periods, recorded production is minor. According to unpublished data of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, total gold production amounts to $188, in 1912 and 1935. However production figures ranging from $9,000 to $150,000 have been reported by residents of the Los Burros district. The extent of the workings strongly suggests that total production exceeds the recorded production figure of $188. On the other hand, an estimate of $150,000 seems much too high as such production would be outstanding for the Los Burros district and would not likely escape documentation.
In 1962 the Kinder brothers left the mine in Willow Creek and leased it out to G. A. Doyle of Watsonville and James Pauley of Seaside. To this day the claim is still active and although under different ownership is still widely known as the Kinder Mine.
Phil never hit solid pay-dirt mining in Willow Creek, but he kept at it for over 20 years. During this time he would make ends meet in a variety of ways such as gardening in Atascadero, driving a trash truck, hauling gravel, working for the United States Postal Service, and working for the grounds department at Hearst Castle where he specialized in topiary. When Pearl Harbor was attacked he enlisted in the army and sent to Europe and the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, where he received a medal for bravery. But he still spent all his spare time at the mine in Willow Creek where his Mother and brother Stewart now lived, hoping to finally hit that rich vein of ore.In the later years his young grandchildren Terry and Eddy Puccini once came and spent the summer at the mine, where Phil taught them how to pan for gold. At the end of the summer they were each sent home with $8.00 for their efforts, which was a fortune to a youngster back then.
During one of his late-night walks from his vehicle up to the mine in 1951 Phil met with disaster, accidentally stepping off the side of the dark trail and falling 150 feet to the creekbed below. He landed feet-first in the shallow water of Willow Creek breaking 46 bones, but managed to crawl back up the nearly sheer mountainside to the trail and another two miles back to his car. The next morning another miner found him there and drove him 80 miles to the hospital. The doctors told him he would never walk again, but they underestimated the tenacity of Phil Kinder - after 13 months of recuperation he was back at work, both at the mine and in town.
Phil Kinder and 'Red' on Cone Peak, circa 1970
In 1963 Phil went to work for the US Forest Service during the fire season as the lookout on 5,155' Cone Peak at the head of Limekiln Creek watershed. While it might seem like a lonely place to spend months on end, Phil was rarely without visitors, who would come for the inspiration of his indomitable spirit as well as his endless array of fascinating stories. He stayed on as fire lookout for the Forest Service until 1973, when his old injuries from the fall into Willow Creek began to slow him down a little bit and his supervisors worried about his safety. Once during a wildfire he had to be evacuated from Cone Peak and, unable to walk for long distances with confidence, he had to be packed out on a burro since the smoke was too thick to get a helicopter in safely. Apparently this was a deciding event for Forest Service management, as they reassigned him to an office position in Big Sur shortly thereafter which they felt was better suited to his physical condition (see letter below). But Phil, always the outdoorsman, thought better of it and made the decision to leave the Forest Service in 1973.