Hill is now a prestigious North Tustin
neighborhood, the hill has a long and colorful
history, beginning with the Indians who called
it Katuktu, signifying hill of prominence or
place of refuge.
legends told of families fleeing to its top when
the great flood covered the world. Artifacts
confirm that Indians once spent time on its
Maps of El Camino
Real, the trail used by the early Spanish
explorers and mission fathers, identify Red Hill
as Cerritos de Las Ranas. This translates to
Little Hill of the Frogs, a reference to the
swamp, Cienegas de Las Ranas, which extended
from the base of Red Hill to the Upper Newport
Bay at that time.
In the 1880s, Red
Hill was designated a boundary marker for the
meeting of three great ranchos, Santiago de
Santa Ana, San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de
As the ranchos
faltered and the gringos took over, the cinnabar
or reddish mercuric sulfide, which gives Red
Hill its red soil, was recognized as a source of
mercury. Several commercial mining operations
were attempted over the years.
historian for the Irvine Ranch Co., which owned
Red Hill in the early years, wrote in 1975 that
the first mention of Red Hill's potential was in
Harvey Rice's "Letters from the Pacific Shore"
Sleeper, the initial attempt at mining was
probably in 1884 in what was called the
Rattlesnake Hill Mercury Mine, followed in 1890
by the Irvine Ranch Co. driving two tunnels and
sinking a 30-foot shaft.
The property was
leased between 1896 and 1898 by Thomas "Shorty"
Harris who worked the mine with a crew from the
Santa Clara Coal Mines, sinking several shafts
70 feet deep.
The first stock
promotion of the mine was in 1899 when two Santa
Ana men, E. J. Kimball and J. A. Turner took a
10 year lease. They sank two shafts in the next
six months, one to 80 feet and one to 30 feet.
Eight men reportedly were employed around the
clock with 50 tons of ore extracted.
The assays were
reputedly worth $250-$600 per ton. Red Hill was
sold to Felton P. Browning on Feb. 27, 1907, and
worked under lease during World War I, when
mercury was at a premium, by A. W. Sheets.
A WPA report
written during the Depression details the mining
operations of Charles McWalters who leased the
mine from Felton Browning in 1927.
reportedly extracted 120 flasks of mercury worth
about $120 each from the mine, McWalters sold
the lease to another mine operator who expanded
A diagram of
mining operations on Red Hill is included in
Herschel C.Logan's book, "Katuktu."
Over the years
many Tustin boys found the abandoned mine on Red
Hill to be a beacon-signaling adventure.
One of their
favorite expeditions entailed bicycling or
walking to Red Hill where they spent hours
exploring the mine shafts and derelict
classmates (and probably a lot of their parents)
never realized how daring they were to visit the
hazardous site. But one of the nicknames for Red
Hill, Rattlesnake Hill, gives you an idea.
Red Hill was
registered as State Historical Landmark 203 in
1935. An unsuccessful attempt to extract mercury
was made during World War II, but since then the
mine has been cemented and fenced off and the
only prospectors are Realtors.