Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Railroad-Tracks-in-Space Mine

Over the past few days some of the history of the "Railroad Tracks in Space" mine has emerged, with the help of old maps, a 1902 CA Bureau of Mines report, and the Internet.

This is the mine with nearly-level ore-cart runs running along the side of Fulda Canyon, near Lost Camp, and within the 600 acres owned by Siller Brothers lumber company, where a massive and monstrous timber harvest is planned. Lost Camp is a ghost town, embedded within a complex of hydraulic mines, in Section 23 of T16N, R11 E. The Railroad Tracks in Space, which is properly known as the Red Rock Mine, is in adjacent Section 24, just to the east.

The country rock is steeply-dipping strata of the Shoo Fly Complex, the oldest rocks in the Sierra, here metasediments, along the lines of meta-sandstone, meta-shale, with some chert. It is called a "complex" because it is not one discrete formation, but several. The nearly vertical strata strike north and south and have endured several episodes of deformation. Here they have been intruded by a system of quartz veins which follow the north-south strike, which veins must likely be assigned to that same system which is also found farther west, on the flanks of Sawtooth Ridge and within Humbug Canyon. Many "hard-rock" mines exploited these gold-bearing quartz veins, most notably, the Rawhide Mine and the Pioneer Mine. The source of the quartz may have been the granitic plutons to the north and east, visible around Lake Spaulding and Loch Leven Lakes, which intruded the Shoo Fly and other metamorphic rocks in the Jurassic or Cretaceous.

So much for the geology. Now for the historical evidence.

Around 1900 the first good topographic maps of this part of the Sierra were published, and the renowned Waldemar Lindgren used this topographic base to complete a geologic map of the same region. On Lindgren's map one sees the body of Eocene river gravels at Lost Camp, and, just to the east, a red stripe running north and south, denoting a quartz vein, with a crossed pick-and-shovel symbol, denoting a mine, and the words, "Red Rock."

The CA Bureau of Mines published a "Report of the State Minerologist" in 1902 which lists many of the mines in California, county by county, with tables of information. Here we find the Red Rock Mine to have had a water-powered, ten-stamp mill; a workforce of four men; the mine superintendent being one N.B. Willey; and the owner(s) in Philadelphia. The mine is listed as patented, that is, the lands there had passed from public to private ownership, in a process which involved demonstrating a viable commercial potential for the mineral deposit.

Not all mining claims were patented. For instance, at Gold Run, more than half of the dozens of claims were patented, the rest were not, and it is those unpatented claims which comprise the moderately large BLM holdings in the southern part of the Gold Run Diggings. These claims were never patented because they were "worked out," that is, the miners had finished hydraulicing away the gold-bearing gravel.

Parenthetically, the hydraulic mines at Lost Camp itself were patented in 1872, by Osmyn Harkness, who also had claims at Gold Run. This man Harkness is found in the remarkable record of the 1881 case, State of CA vs. the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Company, in which 27 volumes of testimony were written down. These may be examined on microfilm at the Auburn Library. Harkness gave testimony about the early history of the Gold Run Diggings, remarkable testimony, for, in 1881, he could remember events in 1852 day by day.

Last Friday Ron Gould and I had found the very ditches which supplied the water which powered the ten-stamp mill at the Red Rock Mine. Then, in a telephone conversation, Steve Hunter told me of the remains of cabins higher on the ridge, which may have been used by the miners themselves. The Red Rock Mine was coming into focus.

I chanced a Google on "N.B. Willey" and found references to man of that name who was Governor of Idaho in 1892. It hardly seemed likely that a man would go from being governor to mine superintendent.

It seemed to me that I remembered the name, N.B. Willey, from the old Placer County newspaper articles in my book, the "Dutch Flat Chronicles." So I opened the text file on my computer, and searched for Willey.

I found two items. One was significant:

Colfax Sentinel
October 2, 1896
Gen. Geo. H. Roberts and his son, A.C.B. Roberts, with Gov. N.B. Willey were down from Blue Ca–on Tuesday. The General is largely interested in mining all through the mining country and is one of the owners of the Redstone mine, near Blue Ca–on. The mine has been closed down for a time, but will resume work in a few days.

The mine is incorrectly named the "Redstone." Set that aside, mark it off to human error. What's interesting is the reference to "Gov. N.B. Willey." It can only be a certainty that Idaho's governor, and the Red Rock Mine's superintendent, are one and the same.

Returning to the Internet, I found several sites which describe Governor (Norman) Willey's involvement in labor disputes in Idaho. For instance, see


From another site I gleaned the following:

A bitter labor dispute grew out of company efforts to try to operate Coeur d'Alene lead silver mines in face of union opposition to a lower wage scale. Efforts to bring in organized, outside workers, protected by company armies, provoked considerable trouble. (Idaho's state constitution had a provision, growing out of the national railway strikes of 1886, against admission of private armies to the state. But no serious effort was made to enforce the law on this matter.) When the miners discovered that their union secretary also served the companies as a Pinkerton agent, the whole conflict literally exploded. On June 11, 1892, in an open war, a force of miners dynamited an abandoned mill at Gem. At this point, the mine owners prevailed (without any difficulty) upon Governor N. B. Willey (a mine superintendent from Warrens) to proclaim martial law.

So, here was a little about our superintendent of the Red Rock Mine. What about the "General largely interested in mining," Geo. H. Roberts?

I found (using Google) that, during Willey's term of office as governor, in the early 1890s, one Geo. H. Roberts had been Attorney General of Idaho. This is beyond the pale of possible coincidence. But could service as a state Attorney General earn one the honorific title, 'General'? I didn't really know, but I doubted it. Then I struck gold with the following reference to our General George H. Roberts, excerpted from a query on a genealogical site:

... a Civil War veteran who, it is said, was the youngest breveted-General from the Civil War.

His name was George H. ROBERTS and he was "on the staff" of
Gen. Joe HOOKER. He was wounded three times, at least one of those
happened at Gettysburg. All I know of that injury comes from a
newspaper article about his return to Gettysburg for the 50th
anniversary. It says he "took a long walk down a familiar dusty
road ... vaulted over a stone wall ... and walked again through the same
orchard where five decades ago, he had left a crimson trail of his
own blood." (Not much to go on, huh?)

But then this wonderful story: "General ROBERTS was seeking
the farm house where two Pennsylvania-Dutch girls had hidden him and
nursed him after he had staggered wounded through their kitchen
door. Standing at the entrance now and filled with bittersweet
memories, he pulled the bell cord, wondering as he did so if the two
women were still living here ... The door opened to reveal a stout,
comfortably dressed woman, her cheeks had the same rose, wrinkled
bloom as the apples in the orchard through which he had passed.
General ROBERTS removed his hat with a gallant flourish and bowed,
before inquiring for the ladies Ellen and Lizzie RIDENBOUGH who had
lived there as girls 50 years ago. He started to tell her his name
but before he could finish she cried, 'Lizzie, be comin' now. Here's
our George ROBERTS.'"

The rest of what I know about George ROBERTS is that he was
born in Philadelphia on 13 Jul 1841 of Welsh and Quaker ancestry.
His grandfather was said to be the Lord High Sheriff of Wales who
came to PA with William PENN. He joined the Union Army when he was
22 and a student at the Univ. of PA, with his family purchasing him
a commission as 2nd LT.

After the War, he married Julia CULBERTSON, daughter of a
renowned fur trader on the Upper Missouri, and became attorney
general of NE and then the first attorney general of ID.

Such is what I found about the Red Rock Mine. Steve Hunter mentioned debris near the cabin sites which suggests occupation much later than 1896 or 1902. It seems possible that the Red Rock Mine was worked intermittently through the 1930s. The ten-stamp mill is gone, and descending to the ore-processing area, and cutting the lines of the two ore-cart runs, is a kind of bulldozed skid trail, with small trees growing in it. Steve and I guess that this skid trail is coeval with the last timber harvest on Fulda Ridge, which we think occurred in the 1950s or 1960s. No trees were taken from the ore-processing area at that time. We conclude that someone, either the owner of the property, or perhaps one of the logging crew, used a bulldozer to remove the stamp mill.

It is known that Wendell Robie once owned the 600 acres at Blue Canyon/Lost Camp/Fulda Canyon. Perhaps Robie himself had the stamp mill brought out.

Such, then, is a little history bearing upon the Red Rock Mine.

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