part 1

Next I looked into Arizona. I had been to Jerome when I was living in Phoenix. It's similar to Lead, South Dakota in many ways with houses jammed together here and there on steep hills. The town completely depended on the mine. In Jerome's case, the United Verde copper mine closed in the 1950s and Jerome essentially turned into a ghost town like Galena. Thomas had been involved in property next to United Verde's, and his mine was the Pittsburgh-Jerome copper mine. He was president in 1909. The official address for the company was a Pittsburgh, PA address. Was Thomas in Jerome or Pittsburgh? Mary Lynn says he had indeed gone to Jerome.

The Jerome Historical Society investigated the mine for me, but didn't come up with too much. They sent me a map of the claim, which was actually pretty big. The volunteer there also told me that the database showed they had photos of the mine in their collection, but she couldn't physically find them. I asked if I could come up sometime and browse through old newspapers, but they said they don't allow the public to do that. Once again, there was no record of whether the mine actually produced anything or not.

It's not unusual for the mines to have been poor or non-producers, at least here in the Hills. The Black Hills are generally a hostile environment for any endeavor. The winters can be brutally cold and snow can pile up in long-lasting drifts that make transportation impossible. This is my first winter in the Black Hills since 1980. Just this week, right before Christmas, we had a storm that dropped about 32 inches of snow here in Spearfish. I know because my fellow tenants and I spent 3 hours digging out the apartment driveway and uncovering our cars. When I walked over to the nearby park, I tried to go up a deer trail. The snow was up to my waist. Galena was especially a cold place in the winter. At our cabin, the sun rises about 9:30am and sets about 3pm. The deep north-south gulch there has hills almost too steep to climb. The gulch itself is just wide enough for the Burlington rail bed on the east, Bear Butte Creek, the gravel road, our cabin, and the narrow-gauge rail at the top of our property. The miners living here in town would have had to trudge through the snow in the dark to get to work and back. Transporting supplies and equipment was impossible at times.  Water seeping into a mine was often a problem.

Anchor Mountain Mine tunnel

The weather wasn't the only hurdle, though. First you had to find a vein of ore with enough gold or silver to make it worth digging out. Most people did this by following where a strike had already been announced. When a British reporter came to Custer in the southern hills about 1877, the town was almost completely abandoned because of the latest rumor of a big strike near Hill City. Everybody had run there to make claims near the alleged new strike and start digging if there was any sign of a vein, or even not. Even when you did find good ore, the vein could shrink to nothing, and you'd be stuck deciding whether to keep digging and hope you run into better ore again, or give up. Many kept digging. An example of this is the Big Thunder Mine in Keystone. This is a tourist trap now, but it's worth the tour. Two partners had dug hundreds of feet into hard rock, based on the fact that across the gulch was the Holy Terror Mine, one of the best gold producers in the Black Hills. But for all their digging, the Big Thunder produced just a few dollars in return.

It was time to physically look for the other mines. The US Geological Survey has a convenient web site where you can type in information about a mine, and it will spit back the location of that mine (http://tin.er.usgs.gov/mrds/find-mrds.php). When I typed in both Custer Peak and Jungle, I got the same spot on a map. I wrote the coordinates down, copied the map, and headed out on my trusty 200cc dual purpose motorcycle with 3 maps and a GPS.

The X was right near forest service road 256. Toward the top of a hill I parked my bike, took out my GPS, and started walking around the area. Nothing. There should at least be tailings, but also there should be some sort of old clearing where buildings were and 3 shafts. Nope. So I figured the thing must be close but I couldn't find it anywhere. About 1/4 mile further down the road, there was a place where tailings were right next to a shaft. But it wasn't the proper coordinates. So could that be it?

Waterland's book had mentioned a Black Hills Mining Review newsletter that had been published in the earlier mining years. I looked all over for copies of this publication in Deadwood, Lead, Custer, and other town libraries in the Hills, but no one seemed to have it or even heard of it. Finally, I decided to try the South Dakota School of Mines library in Rapid City. And there it was.

There wasn't much information that helped me in these. There was mention of water causing problems at Custer Peak in 1905 (a common problem). The paper had ceased publishing in the 1910s, so there was no mention of Anchor Mountain. But as I looked around in the library I found a book with photos of the Custer Peak Mine from the 1960s. Sure enough, this was the tailings site that was off from the GPS coordinates. So I had found another mine. The old photos showed that the bullwheel and some lumber had survived into the 1960s, but in my visit I did not find a stick of wood anywhere.

Another source was the Black Hills Weekly newspaper. In 1932 an article talked about a mining engineer from Washington, DC. He had been investigating the Anchor Mountain Mine, and for some unexplained reason, he decided to stay on longer to investigate more. Who sent him? What did he see that made him stay on longer? I looked for this professor, Matthew Van Siclen, and found his basic biography, but not whatever report he had made of the mine.

Another old book called the “Report of the Inspector of Mines of South Dakota” was dated 1892. The author wrote about Galena and blamed the demise of mining there on one man; “The discontinuation of work on the Sitting Bull, Richmond, and General Merritt, was not due to the decrease in valuation of Silver, nor to the mines as ore producers; but altogether to mismanagement on the part of G.L. Heavns, the general superintendent of these valuable properties.” It was actually G.L. Havins, but I've noticed that spelling of names back then seemed to be done phonetically rather than just asking how a name should be spelled. At any rate, the author goes on for a full paragraph ripping into Havin's poor management and the resulting demise of Galena's production.

My brother reminded me that a student from the School of Mines had lived in our cabin for a time while working on his doctoral thesis. He had written on the mines in the Deadwood Formation in the Galena area. This did not include Anchor Mountain, but it was helpful to learn about what the miners were looking for in the rock, where the ore was found, and where the mines in the area had all been.

The Jungle Mine was still a mystery to me. I didn't have any source saying where it was, and some of it was contradictory. Waterland says the mine is near Corral Creek, but if that's so, it puts it way off from the other directions. Jeraldine mentioned an old-timer who might know, so I called him. He said yes, the mine is next to his property, but there's nothing there anymore. He told me he had photos of the mine as well. I promised to come over sometime and swap photos with him, but now I'm going to wait for the snow to melt before I go romping through the woods again.

Thomas had been in mining quite a few years, apparently. The family doesn't know what years he was where, and I can only go by the records I have. But he was a few years in Jerome, then moved to the Black Hills to work at the Custer Peak and Jungle Mines. And finally he wound up at Anchor Mountain. And I still don't know how or why he got into mining.

I had moved some of my stuff into Lilly's cabin and decided to replace her makeshift bookshelf with my bigger fancier one.  After I moved the books and took away the bricks, I found a piece of paper stuck near the wall.  It was a notice of a stock holders' meeting for Anchor Mountain, dated 1934.  This was an unexpected pleasure!  He states that some New York investors had invested about $108,000, which would allow the mine to "pay all bills, finish the mill and start production."  He also said he was foregoing $21,000 of his back salary.  This indicates to me that he was confident that the mine would be producing soon, since his own salary was now directly invested.

My cousin Forey found a stock ledger from Anchor Mountain that he didn't remember having.  It lists the investors and how much stock they had.  Many of the investors were from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, and Jean remembers several of the names as being Thomas' friends from when he lived there.  My grandmother Lilly is listed as having 1000 shares (valued at $1 each), which she got perhaps as partial payment for being the cook at the mine.  I suspect that some of the stock was used in that way; payment for work done for the mine.  It was cheaper to pay in stock rather than actual cash.

The earliest stock distribution listed is in 1921 and the latest is 1934.  Right through the Depression Thomas was still able to find investors to a mine that had yet to produce anything.  Well, it did produce something.  Forey told me that my grandfather helped run a still at the mine, which produced moonshine for the Deadwood houses of prostitution during prohibition.  Eventually suspicions were aroused by the vast amounts of sugar being purchased for the mine, and finally the whore houses abruptly ended their purchases when the law started snooping around.  So the mine did produce something, at any rate.  Whether the investors shared in the liquor profits is not very likely.

Included with the stock ledger that Forey mailed me was a 4-page promotional for the mine that appears to be from about 1925.  The first page is glowing opinions of the Anchor Mountain Mine by three mining engineers. George W. Morthland is important here because he was a well-respected mining engineer for the Homestake Mine in Lead.  Morthland wrote that the property "contains very large bodies of ore that will assay from three to ten dollars to the ton, and, if worked in quantities would give big returns in the money invested."  Inside the brochure is a map of the property and area showing several "ore zones" criss-crossing the where the tunnel and shaft are.  Other successful mines in the United States at the time are listed.  Thomas estimates there will be $12 of gold per ton of rock, which after the $2 per ton of mining and milling expenses are removed leaves quite a nice return on investment.  Additionally, some kind of security bond is promised that would make sure there was "no chance of losing your money invested."  It all looks so certain and lucrative.

But that certainty still bothers me.  If Thomas' corporation had the mine from 1920 to 1936 or so, where is the production?  Certainly in 16 years they could have managed to mine some part of those many ore zones with the great assay values?  Wasn't the goal to get out the gold and sell it?  And why, if it was such a sure bet that good ore was there, did Brohm try to use the property for a tailings dump?  Why did the prospectus say they needed to dig the shaft another 500 feet when the assay samples were good in their current digs?  Unless some production records show up, or somebody opens up the mine again, I'm afraid no one will ever know whether Anchor Mountain could have been a success or not.

In 1936 Thomas is still president of Anchor Mountain Mine, and his son Percy is secretary. Perli and Bolger are "directors." But the county document says the mine is "idle at present. Examined for RFC loan." The Deadwood paper reported in 1937 that someone had walked off with $2000 of machinery from the mine. This squares with what my grandmother had said about the mine, that it had been idle for some time with new machinery still in shipping crates just lying there for months. Someone apparently decided that the machinery should get some use. Thomas was again listed as president, but he was in New York on business during the theft.

He might have been in New York seeking investors, as around that time he had written a prospectus for Anchor Mountain seeking $30,000 to install the new equipment and restart the mill. The prospectus is vague about what the mine had already produced, but glowing about the potential income. All that was needed was to dig the shaft another 500 feet to reach the same ore bed as was being mined in the Homestake in Lead. There is a flaw in that thinking, though, because the same ore bed in one place can be rich in gold or silver, but someplace else it could have no trace of anything of value. Many mines had closed after following a vein only to have it vanish altogether or the ore values became unprofitable.

The most important statement to me in the prospectus is the assay claim: “Hundreds of assays have been taken on this property which show from 50c up to $2,603 per ton. Many tons of ore were taken from this property and shipped to the smelter at Deadwood, which assayed from $15 to $65 per ton.” The smelter had closed, however, and they were stockpiling the good ore for shipment to another smelter, or waiting for one of the promised smelters in the area to open. The wildly successful Homestake mine, just to contrast, was getting about $10 per ton. But this is the closest I've come to any actual production statements of any of Thomas's mines.

Jeraldine found an article from 1938 about Thomas suing the Anchor Mountain Mining Company. He sued to recover $39,000 alleged to be due him from the company for salary as president and general manager from 1927 to 1938. He lost the suit. I paid $15 for the county courthouse to research the lawsuit, and got copies of the complaint and some other documents. The newspaper article had been off by a zero on what Thomas was seeking, having $3,900 instead of the $39,000 actually asked. He was after back wages of $300 per month for being the superintendent those 11 years. Why he wasn't taking his wages is another mystery. I'm going to venture that he offered to not get paid until the mine produced an income, and that apparently never happened. The family legend is he died poor and angry.  He spent his last years at the Poor Farm between Deadwood and Lead.

Poor Farm in Central City

On June 23, 1941 Edward E. Rieck of Pittsburgh, PA, who had about 50,000 shares of stock, purchased all the claims of the mine. D. C. Ward signed as president of Anchor Mountain. In October of that year L. W. Hardin filed a levy against the claim. This document lists all the machinery and buildings on the site: air compressor, stone crusher, water tanks, steam boiler, and of course the buildings. The levy was lifted in December.

In 1949, the year of his death, Thomas filed a claim for the mine. This must mean that the company had gone under. No one else filed a claim until 1952, and this is the last mention of Anchor Mountain in the old county books.

Whenever the mine had closed, much of the equipment had just been abandoned there. Even in the boarding house, my grandmother had said the dishes, beds and such were just left there. Of course, no one in my family took any of it, so we have nothing from that time except a very few photos. I recall as a child visiting the closed Golden Crest Mine a few miles to the southwest. That property had been left in the same condition. Several of the buildings still had furniture and equipment. There was a beautiful refrigerator-sized safe in the office. But that property burned down in a suspicious fire, and there is little left there as well except for the metal tanks and stamps of the mill.


CONCLUSION

Thomas Houlette left Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where he had been a successful owner of a construction company. He first went to the exact opposite of a thriving metropolis - Jerome, Arizona - and ran a copper mine. Then he went to the Black Hills of South Dakota and ran the Custer Peak Mine, first looking for gold, but then settling for a vein of copper. The Jungle Mine nearby had some sort of success when he ran it. Then he went to Anchor Mountain and looked for gold. All of these failed, but right up to the end of his life he was still trying to get something out of Anchor Mountain. I don't think he ever succeeded.

For 40 years Thomas was involved in mining. Despite that, I still can't figure out whether he could be considered a success. Did the mines produce much ore? I don't know. Did the investors lose out? I think so. There are so many questions left to me, even after all this digging. Unless Google Books comes through for me sometime in the future, I'll have to be satisfied with the information I was able to find. Thomas was bold if nothing else. My grandfather said he wasn't a good manager, and quit the mine to work for Homestake Mine as a painter. But Thomas went from a high eastern lifestyle to a rough western wilderness living. He stayed with it the rest of his life. Maybe he stuck it out in the Black Hills for the same reason that I've returned here. It's a beautiful, magical place, and it feels like home.

As for me, I still have a bit more to do before I finish with Thomas. I'll visit the Jungle Mine after the snow melts. When I next visit my family in Arizona I'll make a run up to Jerome and check out what's left at the mine there. And once in a while I'll visit Google Books to see what other unusual books they've scanned with Thomas Houlette somehow listed.

The main thing I've taken from this investigation is, gather up your family history while the people who know it are still around. If you don't, you'll never be able to reconstruct it on your own. Before my grandmother died, we set up a video camera after dinner one day, and spent an hour asking her questions about Galena, her life, and anything else we could think of. Anchor Mountain never came up.

Thomas Houlette, Roubaix Cemetery

 

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