The significance of mining in our area may lie more in the future from 1979 than in the past. Few, if any, early settlers came to this immediate area with prospecting in mind. The location of Harbor and Brookings made them inappropriate as travel lanes to any of the rich mineral deposits located "outside" Curry County.
The Brookings-Harbor area is not, however, without mineral wealth.
In 1862, John and Emma L. Cresswell settled at a ranch north of Brookings. Because their land was five miles from the nearest neighbor, they called it Lone Ranch. In outcroppings along the creek they found a chalky, white substance that proved excellent for polishing silver. Carpenters and boat builders began to use it as a substitute for chalk. It was borate and borate minerals, commonly called borax after refinement.
In 1891, the Pacific Coast Borax Co. bought the entire ranch and began mining operations. The companys "Twenty Mule Team" advertising slogan was already famous, and expectations for this site were high. Disappointment followed quickly. By the end of 1892, only 1,000 tons had been removed. Mining operations soon were ended, and the land again became a sheep range.
More years were to pass before the Company gave the land lying west of Highway 101 to the State Parks Department, which made it into a recreation site. An historical marker just back of the beach tells the story of the area clearly and concisely:
This Location Approximately the Center of Two Miles of Spectacular Ocean Coast Line a Portion of Samuel H. Boardman State Park Was Donated to the People of Oregon by Borax Consolidated, Limited Predecessor to United States Borax and Chemical Corporation September, 1950
The rest of the land containing the borate deposits is still owned by the U.S. Borax Corp. Apparently it realizes the potential of the area and is only awaiting circumstances which could make production profitable. The Pilots editor, Dewey Akers, noted in 1946 that:
A little over a mile west of Brookings, in neighborhood of Lone Ranch, the Pacific Borax Co. has considerable holdings, on which they have been paying taxes for many years and upon which much exploration work was done, some years ago. This big outfit isnt hanging onto this property without some tangible reason and some day, they probably figure, whatever they have underground there should pay off. The Pilot, May 2, 1946.
Such circumstances might include discovery or refining of oil in the area, or possible new uses for the borax.
Chrome and nickel deposits have been found around here, and some mining has been attempted. The last chrome mining was done in the 1950s. Although deposits are known, and are plentiful, they have not yet attracted sufficient capital for their development.
Red Flat, north of Brookings, is evidently rich in mineral deposits. Successive uplifts of a 60-million year old rain forest have laid down deposits of nickel, chrome, cobalt, raw mercury even gold in this geologically fascinating area. According to Bruce Manley, a former Mayor and long-time attorney for local mining interests, Pan Arctic, a Canadian-connected concern, has negotiated leases on many of the Red Flat mining claims. The better known Hanna Mining Company has shown interest in this and other Curry County areas.
Gardner Chrome Mine Produces High Grade Ore
Fred Gardner, who, with his three sons, have a chrome mine in the Red Mountains near Vulcan Peak, said Tuesday that they were well satisfied with the quality of chrome oxide and iron already taken from their holdings. The metal so far has been taken from large boulders on the surface. The Pilot, Feb., 12, 1953
The lure of gold has always fired adventurers.
In November, 1879, a traveler going north was stopped at the Winchuck River because it was in flood. He made camp, caught a fish in the backwater, built a fire and determined to wait until the river subsided. While waiting, he began panning the sands of the beach at the mouth of the river, found enough gold to encourage him, so he built a shack by the trees close to the ocean and stayed there panning for gold for many years. He is reported to have made about $3 a day at itHe lived as a hermit, and while several persons remember him, no one in Smith River nor in the Brookings area knows his name. The Pilot, Jan. 12, 1961
Up the headwaters of the Chetco River some gold was found. The original discoverer was Chester Chess Bravo, who took our $18,000 worth of gold from one pocket. Apparently his mine was just that a pocket, not a vein, as others who tried to find a vein there discovered to their disappointment. Good gold strikes were made in the Bunker Hill and the Peck mines. Considerable mining development followed during the turn of the century.
Harry Bowden, Ben Miller and Mrs. Cook started on a prospecting trip and will be gone several weeks. They intend going to headwaters of Chetco River. There has been quite a lot of gold found in that locality by prospectors who have been there before. Gold Beach Gazette, May 13, 1893
A.F. Gardner of Harbor came up on Fridays stage and on Saturday took from the beach north of the river, samples of black sand to the weight of about one hundred and twenty-five pounds. The sand was put aboard the Fish and will be shipped via Marshfield to Stockton, Cal., where its values will be tested by a dredging company. Gold Beach Globe, July 13, 1909
Mark Woods of Harbor mined rather extensively around Mt. Emily, staking several claims. Other local miners were Frank Pallady and Alfred Bell. The latter represented the Goss interests which bought up all the mining claims in the area.
Gold Seekers Rush
Into Curry Wilds
The rush of prospectors into Currylands wilds for gold which started early in the spring is growing in volume. It is safe to estimate that there are not less than 500 men with picks and shovels and sampling outfits now out in the mountains, and each day adds to the number.
Unemployment and the worldwide cry for more gold is the cause of the rush into the hills. The same conditions prevail in all other sections of the Pacific coast where there are mineral deposits. But in Curry County, instead of prospecting old diggings, here the prospector finds virgin country in which to conduct his quest for the yellow metalSome of the new ground located on the Sixes, Elk, the branches of the Rogue and the upper Chetco looks most promising. Gold Beach Reporter, Oct. 8, 1931
In Depression year 1932 young Willis Pyle of Hillsboro drove his jalopy car to Brookings, planning to go gold prospecting up the Chetco. Here is his story, told 45 years later:
Even though it was late January we three men Ted Wainwright, Jack Kater (sometimes he spelled it Carter) and I decided the weather was good enough to start. We shouldered our heavy packs, axe, shovel, pick and rifle, and trudged up the south bank Chetco trail to the Red Gardner place. Spent the night there, Next day snow began; it lasted three days and nights, and totally blocked the trails.
We stayed in that cabin until March because the weather was so bad and the river so high that no prospecting was yet possible. Finally we moved up to the head of Long Ridge, where there was a Forest Service lookout station called Packer Station cabin, manned during summer months only. (That cabin is still there Editor) Fred OConnor of Harbor, a blacksmith by trade, and two other men, joined us there. The previous fall he had brought three packloads of supplies and equipment to his cabin on Chetco Bar, about a day and a half travel past the Packer Station. Now he proposed that we all move on into it, despite the heavy snow all around us. He thought we could get through if two men with axes would chop trees fallen across the trail, while two others shoveled the snow.
So we started. On the trail we encountered 14 foot snow drifts, too deep to shovel, so in two days we backpacked over the drifts to Freds Chetco Bar cabin. Within a week after we arrived, four of the men left. Guess it looked just too tough for them. Tom Newton and I remained.
Up there in the mountain headwaters of the Chetco River we were really isolated. One man was living two miles downstream; another located about two miles upstream from us; three or four miles above him there were two brothers. Nobody else around.
The river was still too high for mining, so we spent some time hiking about, exploring the country. Wildlife was prevalent: especially bear and deer. There was plenty of fish. In 15 minutes time I could catch enough for a meal.
We had no tent, only sleeping bags. When it rained we just got wet. Did all our cooking over open fires. For lighting we had miners carbide lamps. We used sourdough to make biscuits and pancakes. Beans were our staple diet, along with some rice and macaroni. Also had dried fruits, and of course coffee. Every evening we made tea.
At last the water level dropped enough to allow us to being sniping searching for gold along rock crevices above high water level. The very first crevice I explored was about three inches long, but from it I dug out $1.43 worth of gold.
We worked around Chetco Bar, then went upstream, trying various other bars. In July we were at Baby Foot Creek, and found there the best gold on its gravel bar. Most of it was in nugget form, small as peas, generally. We panned the gravel and also used two small sluice boxes into which we shoveled the gravel. When we got down to bedrock, we would use wire brushes to scrape crevices there. Sometimes we used metal hooks to fish out nuggets. Most days we could make a dollar a day, each. Once in awhile we made as much as seven dollars apiece. When we had replenished our supplies we went up smaller feeder streams, hoping for a bonanza. We never did find one.
Once a month Tom Newton and I took two days to hike 27 miles to the Selma store to get more supplies. Selma was 23 miles south of Grants Pass, a few miles before Cave Junction. The storekeeper would tally up what we had bought, then weigh out our gold on gold scales standing on his counter. We paid with our gold, shouldered our 55 pound packs, and started back, doing 15-20 miles a day.
Cold weather came. A nearby hard rock mine named the "Robert E" had shut down, but now the stockholders were ready to reopen it. Tom and I got jobs there for the winter, working in the mine, and living in a company cabin nearby. We received housing, food and clothing, but our wages were to be paid out of the mines earnings. Unluckily, the mine never paid out. It closed again, in May. We got only a small portion of the wages we had earned. So for us it was back to Brookings. There I got my old car and headed back to Hillsboro.
What did I get out of it all? I had paid my way, and I came back with five dollars more in my pocket than I had when I went in. But I hadnt worked too hard, I saw a lot of new country, and I met many interesting characters.
Willis Pyle never struck it rich. But riches gold riches were still abounding. An example: There is a story that the contents of a safe deposit box of a recently deceased Brookings resident yielded over $100,000 worth of gold nuggets which he had collected in the neighboring hills.