Originating as a silver-mining camp and marketed today as a silver-mining ghost town, Calico, CA outlived the silver era when borax was discovered in its hills. Supplying Borax worldwide—employing the twenty mule teams still associated with Twenty-Mule Team Borax—the Calico mines played a pivotal role in the evolution of the less glamorous industry, borax mining. Correcting the image sold to tourists, Steeples provides a tight geographic, economic, social, political, and business history of Calico, a once thriving community struggling to survive in primitive conditions. He tells the tale of three Calicos: the silver-mining town, the borax-mining center, and the ghost town, providing a masterful history of regional silver mining and national borax mining, processing, and marketing.
The book provides an essential chapter in the development of western mining, the borax industry, and western mining camps. But it is more than the story of silver and borax in Calico. Steeples probes beyond the mines and mills in search of the community’s soul, considering, for instance, the local paper, the Calico Print, the creation of the twenty-mule team image of Borax, the entrepreneurship of Francis Marion Borax Smith and his multinational organization, the education of the children, and the creation of the modern-day myth. Contrasting the working Calico with the illusory Calico, Steeples writes the complete history of the town from its natural setting to its imaginary legacy.