What kind of person would spend more than three decades digging a tunnel that had no real destination? One person: William “Burro” Schmidt, also known as the “human mole.”
Schmidt is infamous for hollowing out a 2,087-foot hole through Copper Mountain in the Mojave Desert’s El Paso range. The bizarre project began in 1902, but was something he never spoke about, a secret of sorts. If he was ever questioned about what he was doing out in the desert all alone, he simply replied that the tunnel was was a shortcut.
But nobody ever really figured out where that shortcut was meant to lead.
The half-mile-long passageway through solid granite, which he completed in 1938, simply ended in the middle of nowhere, high up on a distant ledge overlooking the vast terrain.
With no formal instruction, he used hammers, hand drills, picks and explosives, to gradually carry out his mysterious excavation. He allegedly even carried some of the rubble out on his back before installing iron tracks and a mine car to assist his venture.
What he was doing may have seemed like a grueling, meaningless task to outsiders, but Schmidt probably kept his efforts hush-hush for good reason.
During his digging efforts, there were rumors floating around town that he was mining for a deposit of rich ore or a vast amount of undiscovered gold. Despite these rumors, no one knows what he actually unearthed within the mountain. Even if he did strike gold, he never told anyone about it, and surely wasn’t living abundantly.
When several people attempted to find some answers to his motives, no records could be located.
Many folks who lived in the area believed he was absolutely crazy, not just because he spent his days and nights digging a tunnel to nowhere, but also since he lived all alone and had a reputation for being a hoarder.
He picked up the nickname “Jackass Schmidt” after injuring himself numerous times with his own explosions. Later in his life, he took on the name “Burro,” which means small donkey.
After reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, he just packed up and left Copper Mountain, moving to a nearby town to live out the final years of his life with his partner named Mike Lee.
Together, they gave fascinated visitors tours of the tunnel.
When he died in 1954, all the secrets of his life’s work were buried with him in the Johannesburg Cemetery.
Until this day, his puzzling project, which has become a popular tourist attraction, remains a great mystery that continues to stir up the imagination of everyone who visits. Some people who have visited report hearing whispers and seeing shadows lurking about. The Burro Schmidt tunnel was even featured on the television series Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
However, the question remains – why would anyone want to build a tunnel to nowhere?