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He was known as the “Blind Miner” to everyone in the Goldfield region and even to people as far away as New York. To everybody else, he was Henry “Heinie” Miller. Just the same as the tens of thousands of people who came to the Greatest Gold Camp Ever Known on a quest for riches beyond their wildest American Dreams, Heinie arrived in Goldfield, NV with the lure of gold as his compass. But instead of being part of the grand rush from 1903 to 1910—Goldfield’s true boom years and when it became the largest city in Nevada—Heinie sought his riches in undiscovered gold pockets that had been overlooked, or missed entirely.
This is a routine tale in Nevada and one that remains common practice to this day, to take a closer look at old tailing piles using more sophisticated mining techniques. Or in Heinie’s case, go looking for undiscovered gold-rich ore pockets around what had already been reaped from Goldfield’s world-famous $86 million-dollar bonanzas at the Mohawk, Combination, Florence, Jumbo, January, and Red Top claims. Heinie was sure they’d missed some pockets of gold, and you know, he certainly wasn’t wrong. But unlike just about everyone else who was part of Goldfield’s origin story, he made it all happen without a miner’s candlestick or carbide lamp, and all while never faltering, making a single misstep, or losing faith in the high desert’s gilded glory.
A Calamitous Accident, and Becoming Goldfield’s Blind Miner
While Goldfield’s most romantic boom days were happening at the turn of the 20th century, Heinie’s Goldfield story didn’t begin until the 1920s—after a devastating flood and those two apocalyptic fires swept through town, and persuaded most of the population to hit the road along with them. Even though Goldfield’s most sensational years were already in the rearview, pretty major mining activity continued to happen here all the way up until the 1940s, and with Heinie’s arrival basically right in the middle of it, he was convinced there was plenty left to cry “Eureka!” about.
Everything was a pretty common 20th century prospecting story up until Heinie lost his eyesight in a disastrous mining accident in 1927. At just 40 years old, he was working as a leaser (which basically means he could reap the profits from his own mining lease), and could never recover from an unfortunate explosion that blasted him from the waist up. The calamity instantly claimed the vision in one of his eyes, and while doctors sure tried to save whatever vision remained in the other, Heinie went completely blind. Luckily for him, he already knew exactly where the gold was.
While his modest miner’s cabin was there in town and next to the Santa Fe Saloon (which somehow avoided those fateful weather systems that swept through Goldfield, by the way) his Yellow Rose and Smallwood claims at the Combination Mine sat three whole miles to the north. Heinie had already been working his own claims before the accident, routinely traveling this exact route many times before, and post-accident, continued to blindly follow this same trail alone every single day, somehow dodging something like 50 holes and open pits. While there was no doubt this trek was a dangerous one that he performed daily (pre-OSHA and ahead of any other safety standards, remember) Heinie fortunately had already pulled some riches from his claims that amounted to enough to have a trail built, using old tires that were sunk into the ground with a cable threaded through to guide him along the entire three miles from his home to his claims. The craziest part is, that same cable is still laying there on the ground in Goldfield, now almost a hundred years later.
Blind Mining the Yellow Rose and Smallwood Gold Claims
Ever heard of Diamondfield Gulch? If you haven’t been up there, definitely go and preferably to one of those wild-ass stargazing parties or to see the bar, but just know that Heinie’s claim was very close to it. Even though what’s there today sort of replicates a curated Frontier Town type of vibe, Diamondfield was basically an entirely separate town during Goldfield’s peak years, almost like a giant suburb right in the middle of all the major mines. Feeling his way to work and back every single day—something that took him more than an hour each way, and totaled 6 miles round trip—he did this for more than a whole decade and all completely alone and unaided, determined to uncover a less valuable, overlooked claim that he was just sure still had some profit to be had. He was of course interested in the obvious, to become rich, but he was also motivated by a very noble wish: to assist in the founding of a home for Nevada blind people from the profits of his treasure.
Mining was a dangerous job for someone with all of their senses still intact, and while getting to work unscathed was one entirely impressive endeavor in itself, to actually mine below ground without your sense of vision was basically on the edge of insanity. But Heinie sure did it, and basically laughed in the face of danger while doing so. Every stick of timber and every foot of ladder was expertly fashioned of metal and wood. Heinie sharpened his own steel, drilled his own holes, put in his own shots, blasted and then mucked out his claims, swung a single-jack with extreme accuracy, and all without any help from anybody else. Heinie sank an 80-foot inclined shaft, installed a ladder to the bottom, rigged up a bin on top with a self-dumping skip, and from the bottom of the shaft did several hundred feet of lateral work, all in hopes of finding a gold vein at the other end of his dynamite sticks.
Heinie was able to mine so deep, and for so long because he claimed to have developed a “feel” for the ore. Loading and shooting all his own holes, he mucked out what the holes had broken down and got so he could pick up a piece of rock after a blast and tell whether it was actually promising, or any old waste just by feeling it. At one point, a mining engineer named E.S. Giles visited Heinie and his claim, where he climbed down his self-made ladder and to the 120-foot level, followed the drift to climb another ladder to a rise, and then along another drift to where Heinie was putting in a set of timbers in a crosscut he had just started building. His only comment after seeing what Heinie had rigged up? “This roof don’t look any too safe to me.” People were absolutely astonished whenever they learned exactly what he was up to out there in Diamondfield, but Heinie carried on, and all for the sake of feeling his way along the gold vein he knew he was about to discover.
Most of Heinie’s mining production happened during the 1930s, when he eventually struck a three-foot-wide gold ore deposit that assayed at $24 per ton. It wasn’t exactly lucrative, at least not compared to the millions of far richer ore being pulled from just about everywhere around him, but he still spent 7 to 8 years chasing it. The locals continued to be impressed by what Heinie was not only capable of but more what he was determined to set out to do, which became a tale that everybody loved to tell and one that eventually traveled all the way across the country to New York.
Making the Airwaves on “We The People” in New YOrk City
Traveling with Ray Germain, the editor of the Tonopah Daily Times Bonanza as his companion, the pair went to Las Vegas and then traveled by train to New York City to tell his unusual story on a radio segment called “We the People”, which was a show self-proclaimed as “a rich, juicy slice of life, telling the queer, brave, amazing things people do from one end of the land to the other.” The entire expedition was sponsored by Calumet Baking Powder Company (such a rosy detail that really illuminates the era), and was such a compelling, smash-hit that “Goldfield’s Blind Miner” received financial backing from its New York radio program broadcaster, Phillip Lord, who instantly decided to send an engineer out to Goldfield, Nevada to devise a plan to expand Heinie’s work.
As much as the story was a locally beloved one, as soon as Heinie’s tale hit the east coast airwaves, anyone who heard it instantly wanted to help. Almost miraculously, he went on to receive all kinds of funding from all over the country, which did help expand his mining project and also paid for several operations on his eyes.
Goldfield Today: The Blind Miner’s Legacy Lives
Heinie never did find much gold ore, either because he was beyond the ore-bearing zone or he hadn’t dug down deep enough, yet he remained committed to his claim through the 1930s. He did finally find a wife, however, reluctantly gave up on the mine project, moved to California with her, and died in 1949.
Today, what remains of the Blind Miner’s cabin still stands in Goldfield, just north of the Santa Fe Saloon at the corner of North 5th Avenue and Pearl Street, with the cable he relied upon all those years still laying there on the ground. Make no mistake that, like the rest of Goldfield’s relics and ruins, all of what you see in there in one of Nevada’s most famous towns was where somebody spent their entire life and has its own story to tell, but also know that Heinie’s old cabin now belongs to somebody else and sits squarely on private property. Take all the pictures you want from the road, and for the love of Goldfield stop and admire that cable he devotedly followed—I know it’s something I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about. And then? Then go where he surely stopped by on his way home from a day of honest work at the Santa Fe Saloon and hoist one up in the name of Heinie, and the too-good-to-be-true legend of Goldfield’s Blind Miner.
As the Goldfield News once put it, “if Miller’s accomplishment, feat, can be equaled anywhere, we’d like to know the circumstances.” And you know, I couldn’t agree more.
- Retelling the Legend of Heinie Miller would not be possible without the incredible newspaper archives and wealth of information the Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah always affords. The CNM museum provided about a dozen newspaper articles from Heinie’s time from the Tonopah Daily Times Bonanza, and Goldfield News. If you’ve ever wondered about anything from Nevada’s central region, here’s your chance. Stop in and learn a bazillion things you probably didn’t know about the region, all told from a person whose family has spent generations studying and retelling its histories. It’s one of those magic places out there in rural Nevada—one you better make sure you know personally.
- Conversations with Allen Metscher, the director of the Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah, and John Ekman, the President of the Goldfield Historical Society in Goldfield.