John. W. Searles: California Mining Pioneer



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John Wemple Searles left New York and went to California to seek his fortune in 1852. He and his older brother, Dennis, first settled in Trinity County where Dennis worked in the gold mines and John farmed and ranched. After losing everything in a lawsuit in 1858, John and Dennis moved to San Bernardino County where gold and silver had been discovered in the mountains of the Slate Range. Here, they played important roles with many different mining companies, some of which were successful. However, in 1865 they again lost everything in a lawsuit to satisfy their debts. Their bad luck continued when John was seriously mauled by a grizzly bear in 1871 but survived against all odds. In 1873, he and his partners filed claims to 640 acres of borax-laden land on what is now known as Searles Lake. Here he built and operated the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company and finally found the fortune that had eluded him. Today, Searles Lake continues to provide millions of tons of industrial chemicals annually—including borax—with no end in sight.

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