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What is the Story of the Burro Schmidt Tunnel?

The mysterious work of Burro Schmidt in the Mojave Desert has been the talk of the town for ages. Was he insane? Or did he have different goals?

Burro Schmidt, a miner in California, spent 40 years of his life digging a half-mile-long tunnel by hand on his own. When he reached the 22nd year, the state built a road, but Schmidt continued to dig through the tunnel for the next two decades.

Why Did Schmidt Need to Build a Tunnel?

William “Burro” H. Schmidt was born in Providence, Rhode Island. When all of his siblings died of tuberculosis, he left and moved to California. He was a gold prospector and was busy mining around El Paso. He decided to start digging through Copper Mountain in 1990.

According to Schmidt, he needed to create the tunnel to bring his gold ores to market easily. But even when the state had already built a road as a solution, Schmidt continued the process. It took him about 32 years, a lot of determination, and hard labor to complete the project.

After he was done, he spent the rest of his remaining days in a cabin nearby. (Source: KCET)

How Did Schmidt Dig Through The Tunnel?

Schmidt had no formal training in mining. He learned by experience and did everything by himself. Unlike most gold prospectors, he did not have access to equipment or tools that would have made things exponentially easier. He could not afford the fancy equipment.

He started with cracking the rocks with an ordinary pick, a hammer, and a hand drill. After cutting through the rock, he would place them in his canvas bag and carry them out. It was labor-intensive and took a long time. He was eventually able to use a wheelbarrow later on. Towards the end of the project, he succumbed to mining technology and installed iron tracks to operate a mine car. (Source: KCET)

What Was Schmidt’s Life Like?

After Schmidt left Rhode Island, he lived alone and was very frugal. He never got married because he did not want to pass on tuberculosis to his family. It also seemed that Schmidt did not wait long for the company of a woman at any point while he was building his tunnel. Needless to say, Schmidt did not care about being accepted into society. The locals gave him the nickname jackass, which was changed to a more acceptable name; burro.

Being a loner, he did the most peculiar things. He would mend his clothes with flour sacks and fix his shoes with crushed tin cans. When he had money available, he would use kerosene lamps, but he lit his space with two-penny candles most of the time.

He was so frugal that he would even cut the fuses of the dynamite short to save money. Sometimes it would be too short that he literally needed to run for his life. (Source: KCET)

Did Schmidt Ever Find Gold?

Several rumors circulated about a rich gold ore he was protecting within the tunnel, but there was no record of it. While he lived a very simple life, people were only left to speculate about why he continued making the tunnel, even though it seemed pretty pointless. (Source: KCET)

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