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Death Valley National Park - Ibex Spring

History of Ibex Spring

Early references to mining activities in the Ibex Hills area are somewhat questionable, due to vague and contradictory geographic references in the contemporary newspapers and journals. The first serious mining to take place in this region apparently began in December of 1882, with the incorporation of the hex Mining Company--a Chicago based group. The exact location of the original Ibex Mine is undetermined, but it is probably safe to put if within a mile of the Ibex Mine located on the 1951 Shoshone quadrangle.

The Ibex Company had good luck initially, as evidenced by its decision to build a five stamp dry roasting mill in 1883. Following the completion of the mill, several loads of silver-lead ore were shipped out, but production was never extensive. This early mine soon experienced all the problems which would plague later mining efforts in the Ibex region--intense heat, water shortages, exorbitant freight costs--thus preventing the profitable extraction of any but the highest grade of ore. As a result, the original Ibex Mine was never very successful. In 1889 the mine was operated only sporadically due to fuel problems, and by 1892 the mine and mill were idle.

For the next several years, the Ibex district was deserted, with the sole exception of Frank Barbour, who relocated the Ibex Mine and performed the necessary assessment labor year after year. Then, after fifteen years of isolation, Barbour was suddenly crowded with company--a result of the prospecting wave set off by the Bullfrog boom.

In June of 1906, a party of three prospectors on their way north towards the Greenwater District discovered the Orient Group of claims approximately two miles north of the Ibex Mine, and the rush was on. Within a year, three major claims, as well as many minor ones, had been staked. The Busch brothers, prominent mining promoters from Rhyolite, purchased two of these, the Orient and the Rusty Pick Groups. The third, the Evening Star Mine, one mile from the Rusty Pick, was owned and operated by the Heckey brothers, who moved their wives and families to the site. Meanwhile, Frank Barbour continued to push development on the old Ibex Mine. [2]

Attempts to develop these mines continued throughout 1907 and 1908. By December of 1907, the Orient had forty sacks of ore ready for shipment, and the Evening Star, which boasted a sixty-five foot shaft, had taken out almost twenty tens of ore for eventual shipment. The problems encountered by the mines were emphasized by the cost of $20 per ton freightage, merely to get the ore from the mines to the railroad, twenty miles away. Nevertheless, prospects were bright enough to warrant a Christmas dinner hosted by the Heckey women, and attended by the miners of the region.

Developments continued during the early months of 1908. In February, the Busch brothers bonded the Orient and Rusty Pick claims to a Goldfield operator, and the Heckey brothers readied their first carload of ore for shipment, claimed to be worth $85 to the ton. By May, the Rusty Pick shaft was down to eighty feet. Then, due to a combination of summer heat, lack of development funds and the failure of promising ore leads, this portion of the Ibex District suddenly slowed down. [3]

By May of 1909, a year later, the Rusty Pick Mine, which had been sporadically active, still had only 200 total feet of development work, and had made only one shipment of ore, worth $50 a ton Nevertheless, the Busch brothers managed to bond the mine again, to Chicago and Goldfield operators. The new owners promised immediate and extensive developments, but the promise went unfulfilled.

The following years saw occasional activity, but little real mining. In 1910 the Busch brothers managed to bond the Orient and Rusty Pick once more, but no work was done on the property. Funds were so low on the Evening Star property that the former partners were suing one another to recover the costs of assessment work. Although several men were at work on the Rusty Pick again in 1911, by the end of the year Pete Busch, the mining promoter, was reduced to performing his own assessment work. By this time, the Evening Star group had been abandoned, as John and Melvin Heckey left with their families, to join their brother Ross in Alaska. [4]

In the meantime, a few miles southeast of the "old hex Mine, the area in the vicinity of Ibex Spring had undergone a very similar experience. Like the "old' hex Mine, the Ibex Spring region pre-dated the Bullfrog boom, but did not undergo any serious developments until the effects of that boom had spread southward. The first known miner in this area was Judge L. Bethune, who located three claims at Ibex Spring in April of 1901. When Judge Bethune got drunk and died in the desert in 1905, his mine immediately became lost and subject to all the folk tales peculiar to lost mines. In this case, however, it was not lost for long, for the mine was relocated in January of 1906. [5]

The new locators, primarily Rhyolite men, incorporated themselves as the Lost Bethune Mining Company in October of 1906, and with a capitalization of $1,250,000 began development work. Bunk houses and a boarding house were erected at Ibex Spring during 1907 and by March of 1908 the mine's eight employees had sunk a shaft 200 feet deep, had fifty tons of ore on the dump and had shipped over 300 tons, which averaged $43.30 per ton. Despite this encouraging start, however, the demise of Rhyolite, which curtailed the flow of development funds and increased freighting and supply expenses, had its effect upon the Lost Bethune. Although monthly shipments of high grade ore were still reported in May of 1909, the mine was abandoned the next year. [6]

Five years later the Ibex District experienced a revival of sorts. Leading the way was the old Ibex Mine, still owned and operated by Frank Barbour. The mine employed twenty men in 1915, and was termed a regular shipper. Across the wash to the east, the Wonder Mine had been developed, and plans were announced to erect a mill. In 1916, by which time Barbour had sold out, the Ibex had fifteen men at work, and the new owners were planning to construct a 2,800-foot aerial tramway from the mire on the side of the mountain down to the wagon road below. In 1917, although the Wonder had already become idle, the Ibex was still active. Nineteen men were employed, paid at $4 per shift, and seven or eight tons of ore were being trucked out daily--the tramway had not been built. By 1921, however, the mine was again idle, and this time it had breathed its last. [7]

One other mine bloomed briefly in the Ibex region. The Rob Roy, about one mile north of Ibex Spring, was located in 1914, and by 1915 was described as well developed and shipping ore of good quality. This mine was periodically active as late as 1924, when the owners, the Ibex Spring Mining Company, received a patent for four lode claims and one mill site. As quietly as it had appeared, however, the Rob Roy sank back into obscurity, and with the exception of lonely prospectors who still roamed the desert dreaming of riches, the Ibex region lay quiet. [8]

Source - NPS: Death Valley; Historic Resource Study, A History of Mining
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