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Home About the Vale History A History of Bullion Canyon
A History of Bullion Canyon PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 26 March 2010 04:23
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A History of Bullion Canyon

by Daniel Glass


Carved into the eastern slope of the Tushar mountains of south-central Utah, rise the walls of Bullion Canyon. Surrounding mountain peaks soar more than 12,000 feet above sea level. Pine Creek descends through the gorge, losing more than 2,000 feet of elevation until it merges with the Seview River about four miles west of the canyon. At the confluence sits the town of Marysvale at 6,000 feet. Vegetation ranges from stands of aspen, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir on the north-facing canyon slopes to sage brush at the foot of the mountains.

 

Indians of the Fremont culture inhabited the region about a thousand years ago, leaving little but petroglyphs and pottery shards. Ute and Paiute roamed the area by the eighteenth century. The first Europeans to discover the Tushars were Spaniards, seeking gold. An arrastra stone, used in crude milling of gold ore, still lies next to Pine Creek, providing mute testimony of early mining. Jedediah Smith, the first American to see the Tushar Mountains, probably saw only their western slope. Not until the 1850s did Mormons pass through the area.

The history of Bullion Canyon is a history of mining. From the first rush in 1868 until the mines died out a hundred years later, men sought precious metals in the gorge. While the motive that drew men to live in the canyon remained the same, the character of the settlements over time changed radically, Initially wild and unrestricted, canyon settlements grew increasingly civilized as families formed.

In the summer of 1856, George A Smith, the Second Counselor to President Brigham Young, explored south-central Utah, following the Sevier river until he encountered a winding canyon just south of the confluence of Clear Creek and the Sevier. Probably to avoid that twisting obstacle, Smith ascended what is no known as Monroe Divide and became the first recorded member of the Mormon community to look down on the valley at the eastern foot of the Tushars. His glance took in the ribbon of green cottonwood foliage that spilled out of the Tushars and merged into the larger lush strand that marked the course of the Sevier. Smith and his party camped at the confluence of the mountain strem and the Sevier. During a stay of several days, the group engaged in revelry that culminated in a “stag dance”. Smith named the locale “Merry Vale” after the festive mood of his men. In time, the name was changed to Marysvale.

Among Smith’s party was a tough frontiersman, Sylvester Hewitt, who had been present at the initial discovery of gold in the Sacramento Valley in 1848. Hewitt was a member of the Mormon Battalion and a competent, daring prospector. While at “Merry Vale” Hewitt panned Pine Creek and found traces of gold dust. Word did not spread as rapidly as it might have elsewhere. Mormon leader Brigham Yound discouraged prospecting and mining, because he believed his people should first establish themselves in agriculture and other stable enterprise. Consequently, Smith tried to prevent the news from being spread by demanding silence from the party.

Historically, the discovery of gold has been a notoriously difficult secret to keep. In 1868. Lieutenant Jacob Hess and Ebenezer Hanks, probably having heard of Hewitt’s discovery, rode into the Marysvale country in search of gold. They found color in Pine Creek and tried sluicing to extract the metal from creek gravels, but the concentrations were too small to be profitable. The men were earning only a dollar a day.

Hess and Hanks were not easily discouraged. They followed Pine Creek upstream hoping to discover the source of the dust, entering what would be later known as Bullion Canyon. On the south side of the canyon, opposite Beecher Ridge, they found a large quartz outcropping with ore assaying at $100 per ton. The site became the Webster mine and was the initial stimulus for Bullion Canyon’s first boom. In 1868 Bullion Canyon and the surrounding country, comprising about 100 square miles, were organized into the Ohio Mining District. By 1872, several hundred people were living in the Canyon. In 1873 Bullion City became the county seat.

Extraction of the gold proved a complex and expensive affair. Ore produced by the miners had to be smelted before it could be transformed into bullion. When the Webster lode was discovered there were probably no smelters in Utah Territory. Even if there had been a smelter in Salt Lake City, it would have taken a month for a team of oxen, and two weeks for horses, to transport a wagonload of ore from the mines to Salt Lake and back.

Transportation was not the only expense, however. Until 1884, mining a ton of ore in Utah cost about ten dollars, including the wotk that preveded the actual extraction. By 1883, there were seventeen smelting and reduction works in Utah territory. At these smelters, silver ore was valued at New York prices. Five percent of the price paid for the ore was deducted for loss in smelting. Ten to twelve dollars per ton was charged for smelting, sixteen to eighteen dollars was charged for refining, and around $25 per ton was then charged for shipment of the bullion to New York.

Expenses like these encouraged claim owners to construct their own milling and smelting works. Unfortunately, such projects required considerable capital. Ore reduction mills generally cost about a thousand dollars per stamp, an amount usually out of reach of a lone prospector with his shovel, pick, and pan.

Consequently, during the first rush, the small-time prospector in Bullion Canyon often made his profit by selling his claim to someone with the necessary capital to develop the lode. For example, on October 21, 1871, Ash Stewart, William Stewart, and Luther Rimsey sold their claims in the Ilinois, Bully Boy, Daniel Webster, Baltic, and Golden Curry lodes in Bullion Canyon for $3,000.

Necessity is the mother of invention, but not always of success. In 1870, Frank E. King, an influential pioneer in the first rush of miners, bought materials for a crude smelter. He purchased bricks in Beaver City and hauled them about 100 miles to Bullion Canyon. As the crow flies, Beaver City is only 35 miles away, but the rugged Tushar range demanded the roundabout route.

King’s smelter was extremely simple. The brick structure, with an area of 4 feet by 4 feet, was reinforced with large rocks. Fueled by charcoal, the smelter was slow and inefficient. Nevertheless, the first batch of bullion prompted a celebration from the miners. Apparently it was at this time that Pine Canyon was renamed “Bullion Canyon.”

In 1872, eastern capital brought heavy machinery to the Canyon to reduce the ore. The Piute Mining and Milling Company, organized in Chicago, arranged for a two-stamp mill with a ten-horsepower “donkey engine” to be erected in the canyon, probably to service the Webster lode. That the mill was a failure is certain, but the reasons given vary from mechanical faults to an inability to adequately reduce the complex ore of the canyon. In any case, with the failure of the Piute Milla major slump in mining development occurred.

As high grade ore at the “grass roots” level began to diminish, some prospectors turned to agriculture or raising cattle in the Marysvale valley. Population in the canyon declined between 1873 and 1878. In 1878, George T. Henry and Joseph Smith drifted into the Marysvale area from the silver mines at Silver Reef. While deer hunting just a few miles south of Bullion Canyon, Smith stumbled onto a rich vein of gold ore exposed on a deer trail. This strike drew away much of the canyon’s remaining miners, sounding the death knell of the first era of mining by the banks of Pine Creek.

Mining at this time was rugged, particularly the hard rock mining of the Ohio Mining District. Miners tried to follow surface ore veins into the mountains by blasting tunnels. To properly set off a charge, a hole three feet deep and about 1 ¼ inches in diameter was drilled into the solid rock for each stick of dynamite desired. Using a steel two feet in length, and a four-pound sledge hammer, the miner began drilling. After each hammer blow, he rotated the steel ¼ turn, preventing a mere notch from being formed. Periodically the miner stopped to remove the pulverized rock dust that built up in the hole with an adapted metal spoon. Longer steels were used as the hole became deeper. It was estimated that one man could drill one foot per hour through the typical rock of the Gold Mountain Mining District. Two men might work together as a “doublejack” team, one man holding the steel and the other swinging a long-handled ten-pound sledge hammer. Such a team usually drilled about two feet per hour, and drilled holes six feet deep.

Several holes were needed for a “round”, each hole holding a dynamite stick. The miner cut his fuses in lengths needed to detonate the sticks in an important sequence. Often, the bottom two charges exploded last, hurling shattered rock into the tunnel. Appropriately, these last two charges were called “lifters.”

The debris was “mucked out” into ore cars running on iron rails. Miners or mules pushed or pulled these cars to the surface. Horses were rarely used, as they tended to hit their heads on the supporting wooden beams of the tunnel’s ceiling. Before the introduction of carbide lamps some years after the turn of the century, work was done by candlelight.

Miners lived far from luxury, security, and civilization. In 1870, the railroad extended to Salt Lake City. By 1879, the nearest railhead was in Juab, necessitating a 150-mile trip by wagon for supplies brought to Marysvale. Such distances resulted in high prices for imported goods. Tobacco, for example cost $5 for a “large slab.” This was a huge sum since 40 years later miners in the Gold Mountain Mining District were earning only $3 a day.

Furthermore, miners were often uneasy at the possibility of Indian attacks. In April of 1865, conflict broke out between whites and a band if Utes under Chief Blackhawk in nearby Sanpete County. Over the next three years more than fifty Mormons were killed, and many towns in southern Utah territory were abandoned. Sporadic Ute raids continued until 1873. Also, in 1873, Paiutes were encouraged to relocate to the Ute reservation. Facing bleak prospects on their current reservation in southern Nevada as well, many Paiutes simply vanished into the mountains of southern Utah. LaPreal Nielsen recalls her grandfather, Frederick Hamel, an early prospector of the Ohio Mining District, telling of being run out of the area by Indians, probably sometime between 1869 and 1872. As late as 1879, men around Bullion Canyon still wore sidearms, at least ostensibly because of their fear of Indians.

Miners lived in log cabins, sometimes sharing them with another miner and always sharing them with rats. Canvas tents were also probably used during the summer.
Between 1870 and 1880 the population in Piute County grew from 82 to 1,651 people. Marysvale precinct had 297 people in 1880, a population that was ethnically homogenous. Out of 1,651 people in 1880, only 122 were non-white - - 120 of the latter being Indian. The majority of early miners were born in the United States. In 1870, 54 of the 82 people in Piute county were native-born. A further breakdown of the 1880 population reveals that 1065 residents of the county were native to Utah territory, with only 312 foreigners present. Immigrants from Sweden, Norway, and the British Isles made up the largest percentage of the foreign born, but gold also attracted men from very different backgrounds. For example, Frederick Hamel was among 15 French-Canadians from Montreal who came to Bullion Canyon. The gorge became a melting pot of cultures.

The personal backgrounds of these men varied, but all were tough. Ebenezer Hanks is a good example. Hanks was a sergeant in the Mormon Battalion, an Indian fighter, and a former miner in California in ’49 and ’50, where he reputedly did quite well. Born in Wisconsin in 1843, James A. Stark came to Bullion Canyon in 1872 after spending time around South Pass, Wyoming. Thomas Calaway came early to the area, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. Lieutenant Jacob Hess was also a Confederate veteran. After the Deer Trail boom in ’78, many miners from Silver Reef drifted into the Marysvale area.

The vast majority of these men were not greenhorns. In their late 20s to mid-30s, they had already lived on the edge for a number of years. They were described as wandering prospectors, drifting from mountain range to mountain range looking for an elusive bonanza. Many of them were new to Utah upon arriving in Bullion Canyon. The canyon was a raw environment, with “whiskey, gambling, and even worse,” until at least the mid ‘70s.

Gun-toting miners, combined with whiskey and gambling, created an explosive social environment. In the ‘70s, the nearest federal court headquarters was west of the Tushar mountains in Beaver, which made official justice slow and expensive to administer. In one instance of assault with a deadly weapon, local law officials banished the offender to avoid the inconvenience and expense of a trail over the mountains.

By the 1880s Bullion Canyon was a ghost of its former self. Isolated and sporadic development continued but not on the scale of previous years. The quality of the known ore deposits simply did not justify transportation and refining expenses. As many lodes became dormant, most of the single, wild, and reckless men of the mining camps left for other boom towns. Some moved to the Marysvale valley, marrying, homesteading, and putting down roots. A few men who had done well in the first boom became influential leaders of the county. James Stark, for example, became the probate judge. By 1872, Jacob Hess was the county recorder. The growth of families, probably more than any other factor, changed the character of Marysvale.

Two of the major claims in Bullion Canyon, the Webster and Bully Boy (whose boundaries touch at one point), well reflect the history of mines throughout the canyon. After the discovery of the Webster lode, Hess and Hanks joined with Frank Murray, Jared Taylor, and other area prospects to develop the site. Working together, they mined and transported wagonloads of high-grade ore to Salt Lake City. Nevertheless, expenses crushed their business once ore quality dropped slightly.

The shipments attracted the attention of two rich investors - - a Mr. Chambers, and George Hearst, the father of Williams Randolph Hearst. Chambers and Hearst owned the fabulously lucrative Ontario mine in the Park Mining District, closer to Salt Lake. After sufficient inspection, they purchased the Webster and Bully Boy mines. Shipments were attempted, but soon the mines drifted into dormancy.

In the ensuing years, Chambers and Hearst died. The only activity at the Webster in the ‘80s occurred when Tom Fergussen, who held a lease on the property, cleaned up easily accessible ore bodies in the mine at a tidy profit. Running the ‘90s, a Mr. Colbath came into possession of the mines. Running an 1800-foot long tunnel underneath some earlier encountered ore bodies, Colbath revealed large quantities of very rich ore with a few upraises.

Excitement spread to the East, where the Bully Boy Mining Company was formed to take advantage of this alluring development. A mill two-and-a-half miles west of Marysvale, previously used for the Copper Belt Mine, was relocated to Webster Flat in 1912, close to the mines. Probably built around 1879-80, the mill had ten stamps, for concentrating tables, and a large cyaniding unit, giving the mine a processing capacity of 150 tons per day.

Because the cyaniding unit was completely mismanaged, the operation suffered. The manager, Jacob Young of Marysvale, quit, and was replace by another local. Extremely poor quality ore was processed at the mill, reportedly because of ineptitude. Because of managerial ignorance, men excavated low quality ore, despite the presence of richer material nearby. In 1914, a fire provided the coup de grace of the operation, burning the mill into “blackened, bent and twisted” remains.
At the turn of the century a new factor dramatically changed the region’s mining equation: the railroad steamed into Marysvale. In 1889, ore still had to be shipped to Juab siding just south of Nephi, a long, expensive haul. In 1891, the Rio Grande Western Railroad constructed a spur line to Salina, reducing the distance to Marysvale considerably, but still leaving roughly 50 miles from the rails to the Canyon. Richfield enticed the railroad with ten acres of land, and space for a depot and other buildings in town. The town also offered to construct the grading for the railroad through the city limits. The railroad accepted Richfield’s offer, and by June 1, 1896, the tracks extended into that town. By October 14, 1896, the tracks went all the way to Belknap, only miles north of Marysvale.

In 1900, trains came to Marysvale. Bullion Canyon changed as well. Transportation costs fell enormously, and previously marginal bodies of ore became profitable. Even before the rails reached Marysvale itself, the prospect of improved transportation stimulated further exploration and prospecting.

As a result of this prospecting, some remarkable claims were discovered in the 1890s. In 1892 the Angel mine and the Apex #1 claims were patented. In 1893 the rich Wedge claim was patented. In 1899, the Bully Boy #2 was patented. In the 1890s, George Frank Dalton uncovered one of the most exciting strikes in the canyon. The Dalton mine yielded between $100,000-$200,000 in gold and silver. George Dalton was transformed from an average prospector to a wealthy man who lived in a luxurious Salt Lake City home, bought a race horse, and lit his cigars with twenty dollar bills. Tunnel after tunnel was driven to discover more gold in the claim after the rich vein ran out, but by 1900 hope had died.

The strikes of the 1890s did not produce a boom as large as the first one. Indeed, for the first decade of the twentieth century not much happened in the canyon, perhaps because the majority of the holdings were “in the hands of poor men.” Litigation also seems to have stalled development. In October of 1896, the Wedge became snarled in a boundary conflict with another claim, forcing the lucrative mine into inactivity. Not until the Bully Boy Mining Co. began serious work in its claims did the Canyon start to hum again. The fire at the mill at Webster Flat slowed large-scale activity until once again eastern capital stepped in.

On November 1, 1921, the Bully Boy Mines Corporation was organized in the State of Delaware, and this corporation ushered in a boom of roughly the same size as the first rush at Bullion Canyon. Work commenced in March 1922, and by July ore bodies were producing from $20-$200 per ton.

This second boom had a fundamentally different character than its predecessor. Comparison between the two gold booms seems to demonstrate a thesis of David Courtwright’s Violent Land, and interpretation of violence on the American Frontier. The composition of frontier mining society created the high levels of violence characteristic of so many mining camps of the West, instead of some mysterious quality peculiar to the American Frontier.

Two hundred unmarried, armed, young men with plenty of whiskey roamed Bullion Canyon in the first boom’s zenith. It is no wonder that the area was called “one of the wildest and woolliest places on earth.” The same canyon housed a similar sized population about fifty years later that was very different.

Miners in the canyon of 1922 had many more trappings of civilization. Equipment, housing, transportation, education, even recreation were provided to the miners by the Corporation. By this time, hand-drilling had been abandoned in favor of jackhammers, and the company furnished Ingersoll-Rand jackhammers to its miners. Electrical power flowed from the 125 Kilowatt 2300 volt A.C. generator in the company’s power house. Steam boilers, air compressors, and water wheels developed by the Company supplied energy for ore extraction.

By June of 1922, almost 200 people lived in the Canyon, including a number of families. Besides the tents necessary to house the burgeoning population, more permanent quarters were built. A limited number of family homes, with three rooms each, were constructed in a separate locale from the bachelor quarters. A bunk house capable of housing around 200 men and another, smaller bunk house with a 40-man capacity were built for single miners.

In contrast to the extreme isolation of the 1870s, canyon residents in 1922 were linked to the outside world by telephone. A 7 ½ mile road connected Marysvale to Bullion City, and the Company maintained the road in fairly good condition. Freight going from Marysvale to Bullion City cost four dollars a ton, in the other direction, two dollars a ton.

The company provided a club house with pool tables and a reading room stocked with newspapers and periodicals. A dance hall with a pavilion was constructed in 1922, as well as a baseball diamond for the Bully Boy baseball team. Even the uniforms were furnished by the Bully Boy Corporation.

The miners earned standard industry wages for Utah. In 1911, the Sevier-Miller Coalition of nearby Gold Mountain Mining District paid miners $3 a day, mockers and millhands $2.75 a day, and mechanics $4 a day. One can safely assume similar wages for residents of Bullion City. The Corporation charged individuals $1.05 per day for board.

Mining activity in the Canyon declined significantly after 1923. Possibly ore bodies dwindled to below profitable levels. Perhaps extraction proved too expensive. In any case by 1938 Bullion Canyon’s major operation was the Iris Mining Company, worked by about 20 men. Small scale mining also continued on claims such as the Shamrock and the Cascade. There were still a few occupied cabins in the canyon, but most workers commuted from Marysvale, about a 20-minute trip in the ‘30s.
The more recent era at Bullion Canyon can be glimpsed through the recollections of men like T. J. Moore, who grew up there as children. Moore’s father mined in the Shamrock and Cascade operations of the late ‘30s. Grinding work still marked the life of the miner even then, although technology helped alleviate the burden to some degree. A miner’s day of work focused on getting “a round in, and a round out.” That is, shattered debris from the last shift’s blasting was mucked out, necessary timbering was installed, more track for the ore cars was laid if needed, and a new charge was detonated to finish the shift.

Miners operated jackhammers to drill holes for the dynamite sticks. Noise during drilling prohibited communication. Drilling was a team effort - - one man (the actual “miner”) did the drilling while his “mucker” held the drill bit in place by hand. Slow bit rotation made this operation possible. Bits would be lengthened until the hole was 6 feet deep.

During detonation, miners literally “held on to their hats,” as otherwise the concussion would send them and the attached carbide lights flying. Lingering gases in the tunnels often produced splitting headaches. Moore remembers many men placing rattlesnake rattles in their hatbands in an effort to ward off such headaches.
Bullion Canyon became more than a realm of work and sweat. It became a realm of children, perhaps the ultimate change from the days of the first gold rush. As a child Moore straightened nails on ore dumps for his father underground. There was no need for formal recreational facilities. Children had a sparkling creek loaded with plenty of fish to catch. There were berries to pick, and or course always opportunities to get into mischief. Cal Baker, another resident of Marysvale, grew up in the nearby mining town of Kimberly in the 30s. He remembers sledding, skiing with homemade skies made from barrel staves, and feasting on chokecherries and elderberries. Moore lived in Bullion Canyon only during the summers, and went to school the rest of the year in Marysvale.

Mining continued to decline, with fewer claims being worked during the 1930s and 40s. The value of the ore finally fell below the cost of mining, and custom milling facilities were closed. At the same time a nearby uranium boom drew away experienced miners by offering higher wages. The Great Western, the Iris, the Shamrock, and the Bully Boy, the last claims to continue mining, ceased production in the early 1950s.

Today Bullion Canyon lies within the boundaries of Fish Lake National Forest. In 1993, the Passport in Time Program of the US Forest Service began field work in Bullion Canyon to develop an interpretive trail and exhibits. Archaeological research also began at the same time and continues during the summer. Currently the substantial ruins of the Bully Boy Mill, as well as many log cabins and mining structures, stand in the Canyon. Largely off the beaten track, the visitor who takes the time to travel up the dirt road into the Canyon still glimpses vestiges of the past.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 April 2010 05:14