Mining in White Pine County, Nevada

by June Shaputis

Early Army and freighters prospected and found gold and silver deposits in what is now known as White Pine County in the 1860's and their placer mining efforts showed enough promise of riches to cause small "booms" in various locations for the next several years. Hamilton, Schellbourne, Black Horse, Ward, Taylor, Aurum, Osceola and many other towns would flourish for a time, then wither away to become empty or almost empty ghost towns. Each mining district and ghost town in White Pine County, Nevada has its own stories that can be found on the ghost town pages. Most claims have been worked sporadically over the years by men who could not give up the hope of "striking it rich." Picture of a typical miner's cabin. The WPH&AS photo shows a cabin built by Fred Frances in 1893 at the Stinson Mine at Granite. Left to right is: W. D. Campbell, John W. Hudgens, Con J. Hudgens and G. G. Buzzetti.

Thomas Robinson, while prospecting for gold and silver, discovered those ores in the Robinson District in 1868. The abundance of  low-grade copper ore in the area interfered with the extraction of the gold and silver using the mining processes then in use.

BHP mine operations 1996 and after closure Photos

Views (aerial) of mine pits and sites of towns and Robinson District mine buildings.

Map of mines and shafts in the Ruth and Robinson Canyon area.  

Biscuit Mine at Cherry Creek, NV 1906 - 1908 employees

In 1887, Thomas Rockhill located the Chainman mine in Robinson Canyon. The adjoining Gore, Turvey and Southern Cross mines were taken up by W. N. McGill, James P. McOmie and A. J. Underhill. Thomas Rockhill later traded the Chainman mine to McGill, McOmie and Underhill for the Southern Cross mine which he still owned in 1907.

About the same time, General A. L. Thomas located the Ely and Mohawk Mines near the Chainman Mine. The Robust Mine changed hands from the Ely - McDonald Company to Richard A. Riepe, General Thomas and Henry Riepe. D. C. McDonald had secured mining property near the Robust mine and in other locations in the hills north of Ely but the gold content was disappointing.

A. D. Campton, the owner of what is now the townsite of Ely, Nevada  had located the land as placer ground but abandoned the project.  Campton was the first person to attempt to smelt copper ore in the Robinson District.  Because his only fuel was wood, his efforts were not successful.

A. R. "Buckskin" Watson,  was the original locator of the Joana Mine east of the Chainman Mine and he is prominently identified with the growth of the Robinson District.  He and his partner, Abe Shallenbarger successfully operated an arrastra.  Watson's early locations were:
    1.   Eureka and other claims that were later in the first holdings of the Nevada Consolidated.
    2.   Pilot Knob and Brooks claims which were later owned by the Giroux Consolidated.
    3.   part of the land later owned by the Cumberland Ely Company.

A. R. Watson had once turned down $100,000 for the Joana Mine and the mine became involved in a lengthy litigation suit which lasted several years. By the time the suit was settled in his favor, Watson had used up all of his vast resources and the Joana Mine was taken over by his creditors to settle his debts. Buckskin Watson died penniless several years later.

Between 1892 and 1897, gold mining was attempted haphazardly. Occasionally high-grade silver ore was found but generally those who owned claims near the copper belt sold them and made money off them.

In 1897, Charles D. Lane, a California mining man, purchased the Chainman Mine and Mill on the hillside west of  Mineral City. The town name was changed to Lane City. Lane spent $168,000 in the next two years on a water ditch, power plant, and cyanide plant. Mismanagement caused the suspension of operations. An Eastern Company bought the property and erected a second cyanide plant near the first one. Sulfide ore was encountered 180 feet deep in a shaft. The cyanide processes could not work the ore. Again, mismanagement and incompetence caused the Chainman to shut down after just a few months of operations. The Chainman Mine properties were purchased by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company but the Chainman Mine stockholders were unhappy with the purchase price and brought suit for possession of the mine.

On the opposite side of the canyon closer to Ely, the Ely Mining and Milling Company bought the Robinson Group and built a cyanide plant near the mine. Sulfides at a short depth caused the mill to shut down there too.  Thomas Kearns, David Keith and others organized the McDonald - Ely Company with D. C. McDonald as manager.

The long ignored copper deposits were finally being explored by mining people and by 1907, thirty mining companies were in operation in the Ely District. 

The Giroux Consolidated Copper Company owned the largest single group of   underground mining claims in the Robinson District and they ranged from 350 feet to 1,000 feet in depth. The Alpha Shaft was the deepest, descending 1000 feet but even at that depth, it was still into Sulfide ore in 1907. The Taylor Shaft produced some of the richest copper ore in the district. The company erected a 500 ton concentrator to handle the ores from their mines.

Joseph Bray had acquired a group of claims at Copper Flat from Thomas Rockhill and Newton Boyd in 1898.  These holdings included the Ruth Mine discovered by McDonald and named for his only daughter. The Ruth Mine was originally purchased for $1,000.  Bray formed the New York and Nevada Copper Company for development purposes but this company was not successful. 

In 1913, the Giroux, Ely Mines, Chainman, Ely Central & Butte and Ely Mine companies merged with the White Pine Copper Company financed by Mark L. Requa and this organization  became the Consolidated Copper Company  and the company prepared to build a smelter at McGill that would have a capacity to process 10,000 tons of ore a day.

The Consolidated Copper Company  led by Requa  had a direct hand in bringing the Nevada Northern Railroad a distance of 150 miles (from Cobre to Ely)   to transport the copper ore.  On September 30, 1906, Mark Requa drove the copper spike made from copper ore from the Ruth Mine into the ground  to celebrate the arrival of the train. Over the years, the Consolidated Copper Company developed the Richards, Alpha, Emma and Morris underground mines. In 1922 the company was reorganized in the Consolidated Copper Mines Corporation.

Chart of underground mines or open pits, from the east to the west (pre 1969) and year they first operated.

Area Mine deaths 1910 - 1914    

Consolidated Copper employed about 1,200 men during World War I and in 1929 in their underground  mines. The Emma Mine went into production in 1929 and became the top producing mine at Kimberly.  Copper prices dropped to 5 cents per pound in 1932 and the mines at Kimberly closed down until January 1937.  In 1941 there was more than 1,000 men on the payroll and the skip was surfacing 9,000 tons of ore a day.  The underground mines shut down in 1949 and by 1951 were converted into open pit mines.

Kennecott Copper Corporation bought out  the Consolidated Copper Mines properties in White Pine County which included the town of Kimberly in January 1958.   Kennecott took possession on February 1, 1958.  Kennecott offered to sell the mine owned homes and buildings in Ruth and McGill to their employees in the middle 1950's at affordable prices. They made the same offer to employees after purchasing the townsite of  Kimberly.

The Consolidated Copper Company and the Kennecott Copper Company operated for many years providing  jobs, company towns, homes, medical care, and recreation  for generations of White Pine residents.

Gradually over the years, the pits have become huge and blended into one another. The pit well may be the largest open pit in Nevada.  It is certainly one of the largest in the world.  Watching the 240 ton trucks and three-story shovels at work at the bottom of the pit from the mine overlook the mine equipment appeared to be smaller than Tonka toys. In 1998, the copper pit measured 2 miles long, 1 mile wide and 1000 feet deep.

After Kennecott shut down its operations in White Pine County, several other mining companies have reworked the old tailings to extract any ores left in the old dumps. These companies include:

Alta Gold

MAGMA 1995 to 1996

BHP (Broken Hills Proprieties) 1996 to June 25, 1999. Due to low copper and gold prices, BHP announced the closure of all of their North American holdings and laid off 462 White Pine County employees. BHP was the largest employer in the county.


Friday, July 9, 1999

"The last ore train out of BHP, the copper mine here, just went by at 10:45 a.m. The engineer, Larry Ruckman, blew some long, drawn-out blasts on the diesel’s engine whistle several times for me as he slowly chugged past my house and across the railroad crossing headed to Ely. What a sad, lonely sound it made. In a poignant way, it signaled the end to a historic copper mine’s era I believe. Tomorrow the train will head to Cobre, NV for its last transfer of ore. I got some pictures of it on our digital camera.

The whistle sounds were wonderful but sad too. Made me tear up a bit thinking of all the different cultures of people who have worked in the mines here and their families who struggled to survive and cope with the isolation since 1906. It is always sad to see the death of a business that is so vital to a community. Like Leadville, Colorado, perhaps here, they too will pull themselves up by the bootstraps and go on with life." June Shaputis, Ruth, NV

Copper Mining in Nevada  University of Nevada, Reno Geology Project page

Active Mines in Nevada in 1990 Geology newsletter

Mackay School of Mines, University of Nevada, Reno

Major Mines of Nevada

The Mining Company - Guide to Treasure Hunting

Source: Notes from R. L. Polk Directory for Ely, Nevada 1907/1908


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Revised: 08/11/2002