Not far from the Idaho border, and 15 miles north of Halfway, Oregon is the old ghost/mining town of Cornucopia. To reach Cornucopia, just travel on the Cornucopia Highway from Halfway, located in Baker County. Cornucopia is located at an elevation of 4700 feet in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Cornucopia is actually two towns created by two different mining operations.
Gold was first discovered in Cornucopia in 1884 by a man by the name of Lon Simmons. Old timers would say that some of the ore was so rich that large nuggets would fall right out of the rocks. There were plenty of High-graders. High-graders were men who worked for the mining companies, who just so happened to have gold fall into their shirts or boots. High-grading was common. More than sixteen mines riddle the area and produced 300,000 ounces of gold. Like many mines during world war II, Cornucopia was closed down because it was deemed non-essential mining in the fight against Japan and Germany. Cornucopia in Latin means “Horn of Plenty,” but miners named the town after Cornucopia, Nevada.
Today, there is some newer dwellings among the ghost town, but it has plenty of older buildings that still remain from a time not so long ago. Old tailing piles from placer operations are piled along the creek banks. There is old rusting machinery and plenty of still-standing buildings. The buildings take a toll each winter. Here snow has been known to get up to 15 feet deep. Several big gold booms happened between 1884-1886. Cornucopia had several amenities including a store, two saloons and two restaurants. As far as mining towns go, Cornucopia was rather orderly. There were only a few killings over the years.
Over 30 miles of tunnels are scattered over the adjoining mountains in the Cornucopia area and over 6,000 feet of shafts (some of the longest shafts in the United States). The larger mines are known as the Union-Companion Mine, the Last Chance Mine, Queen of the West Mine, and the Red Jacket Mine.
The Last Chance mine was a pocket gold mine. The Union-Companion was a very good producer and was said to have been on the vein itself. In the old days, horses were used to move the ore, but then the railroad was laid and the invention of the pneumatic drill helped the miners to do much better than they did previously. In 1922, the Cornucopia mines received electricity and a twenty-stamp mill was put into operation. It is said that the 20 stamp mill could crush 60 tons of ore per day.
One of the most important things to note was that the Cornucopia Mining Companies employed over 700 men in the early 1900’s. At it’s peak, the Cornucopia Mine was the 6th largest mining operation in the United States. In all, it is estimated that over $20,000,000 in gold was taken at gold prices at a mere $20 an ounce. It is estimated that 80% of the gold ore body still remains.