Elko, Nevada is our virtual host for the Mining History Association’s 31th Annual Conference, on June 10-12, 2021. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s conference will be held virtually. We hope everyone will eventually be able to visit Elko to experience Nevada’s amazing mining heritage in person. In the meantime, the Conference Organizing Committee is creating a program of outstanding papers and virtual field visits to important Nevada mining sites past and present.
Elko is at the base of the beautiful Ruby Mountains and surrounded by the rugged Great Basin Desert, in what Nevada’s Tourism Board touts as Cowboy Country. Of course, nowadays mining folks and mining historians know northern Nevada as Gold Country.
In his book A Great Basin Mosaic, Nevada historian James Hulse (2017) described Elko County as part of the “other” Nevada. It is not the gaudy neon Nevada of Las Vegas, or the resplendent Nevada of Lake Tahoe. Rather, it is the Nevada of livestock towns and mining camps, a quick respite for the weary traveler, and the final frontier experiment. This “other” Nevada fills out the panorama that makes Nevada a unique Western state.
The town of Elko is an oasis in this “other” Nevada, a place of 21,000 people intimately connected to the surrounding mines and ranches. Founded in 1868, Elko was born on the tracks of the Transcontinental (Central Pacific) Railroad, but California’s gold-seeking 49ers and other emigrant travelers had already been passing through here. By 1868 dozens of mining camps had sprung up in Nevada, and Elko was ideally suited to become a major freighting and stage center in this far northeastern part of the state. By 1869 stage lines were running the toll roads to the camps of White Pine, Tuscarora, Bullion, and Mountain City, Nevada, and north to Silver City and Boise, Idaho. As more mines sprang up (especially Eureka and Mineral Hill), the importance of Elko and other railheads along the line grew. The history of the Cortez and Eureka Mining Districts, and the Carlin Trend will be the included in the conference program.
Cortez (80 miles west of Elko) is one of the only mining districts in Nevada to remain nearly continuously active or explored in its 150+ year history. Cortez has two large active open pit gold mines and an active underground mine. It is the location of Goldrush, the state’s largest untapped gold reserve discovered since the Carlin Trend.
Cortez was discovered in 1863 as a silver camp. Prospectors from Austin, Nevada were fascinated with Mount Tenabo’s massive limestone and quartz face and knew minerals had to be there. They set up camp in Mill Canyon, and imported technologies straight from the Comstock. The Garrison, Arctic, and St. Louis mines came under the control of Simeon Wenban, an Englishman, who in 1886 replaced the failing amalgamation process with Russell lixiviation in a new state of the art mill. Earlier, Wenban had taken the unprecedented step of replacing Cornish miners with Chinese labor, employing them as underground hard rock miners. These two steps allowed Wenban to reap enormous profits, making him one of the West’s Bonanza Kings.
Cortez’ longevity allowed it to experiment with all of the precious metal milling technologies that emerged. From pan amalgamation, to lixiviation, cyanide, and finally flotation, all of Nevada’s milling techniques are represented in the district’s ruins. In the 1960s Cortez was one of the first places in Nevada to experiment with heap leaching.
The discovery of rich silver-lead ores in the Eureka District (110 miles south of Elko) transformed central Nevada from a harsh and isolated outlier to a major mining center. Eureka’s boom starts in 1869 on a place called Ruby Hill. From 1869-1890 Eureka was Nevada’s leading silver-lead district. Two smelters, the Richmond Mining Company and the Eureka Consolidated Mining Company, dominated the district. The hills surrounding Eureka in a 30 mile radius were denuded of their trees to satisfy the smelter’s demand for charcoal. In 1875 the narrow-gauge Eureka and Palisade Railroad connected the town of several thousand people directly by rail to the Central Pacific. Thereafter Eureka became a jumping off point to mining camps located even further into Nevada’s interior.
Eureka’s decline began in 1905. Today Eureka is the county seat for about 600 people along the “Loneliest Road in America,” US Highway 50. The 1876 courthouse, the still-active 1880 Opera House, the Eureka Sentinel Newspaper Museum, and a fairly intact “western” main street all welcome visitors.
The Carlin Trend
The Carlin Trend (25 miles west of Elko) is a late comer to Nevada’s mining history, but by any measure is the most impressive mining location in Nevada. The Carlin Trend is America’s largest gold producer. In 1963 Newmont Mining’s exploration team discovered a body of 11 million tons of ore, but it was disseminated (microscopic) gold. Things moved quickly. A mill was running by 1965, and in 1968 Newmont had poured its one millionth ounce of gold. Heap leaching experiments began in the late 1960s, and the process was operational by 1979. To mine low grade ore, you have to think BIG, and the pits and equipment at Carlin define big. Oxide mills, roasters, and leaching heaps treat the various deposits and lowest ore grades possible, and milling technologies continue to evolve as more deposits are found. The proven feasibility of mining “Carlin-type” deposits revolutionized worldwide mining. As the numerous coach buses for mine employees leaving Elko for the mine at 3 a.m. will tell you, the Carlin Trend is still very active.
In 2019, Barrick Gold Corporation and Newmont Mining Corporation formed a joint venture, Nevada Gold Mines, LLC. It is the world’s largest gold mining complex comprised of 10 underground mines and 12 open pit mines. Included are such famous operations as Barrick’s Cortez, Goldstrike, and Turquoise Ridge Mines and Newmont’s Carlin and Twin Creeks Mines.
Back in Elko, the Cowboy Gear and Arts Museum inside the historic Garcia Saddle Shop pays homage to this part of Northeast Nevada’s heritage, and the California Trail Center, located on an actual section of the trail, tells the story of the California-bound 49ers and later emigrants (the Trail Center will also host our membership meeting and another reception). For the hearty modern explorer, Elko is surrounded by ghost towns and abandoned mining sites in various states of decay. A word of caution to anyone seeking out ghost towns – respect private land, take water, expect no services (gas!), and communicate with someone where you are going – cell service in Nevada is not reliable away from the major towns!
CONFERENCE PROGRAM will be available in the Spring 2021.
VISITOR INFORMATION (Accessed, Feb. 11, 2021)
Elko, Nevada Visitor’s Site, http://www.exploreelko.com/
Northeastern Nevada Museum, https://museumelko.org/index.htm
California Trail Center, https://www.californiatrailcenter.org/
VIDEOS AND OTHER ONLINE RESOURCES (Accessed, February 11, 2021)
The Mine Cycle. How modern gold mining is done. Barrick Cortez Gold Mines.
The History of the Silver Rush. Nevada mining history from the Comstock Lode in the 1860s through the rebirth of gold mining in the 1980s. Nevada Mining Association (NVMA) Documentary.
Nevada Mining Assocation (NVMA)
Major Mines of Nevada 2019, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
The Nevada Mineral Industry 2018, Annual Report from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
Mineral Mondays, A weekly feature from the W. M. Keck Earth Science and Engineering Museum, MacKey School of Mines Building, at University of Nevada-Reno.https://www.unr.edu/mackay/keck-museum
READING AND REFERENCES
Bennett, Dana R. 2014. All Roads Lead to Battle Mountain: A Small Town in the Heart of Nevada, Lander County Historical Society.
Bennett, Dana R. A Century of Enthusiasm: Midas, Nevada, Friends of Midas.
Emmons, William H. 1910. A Reconnaissance of Some Mining Camps in Elko, Lander, and Eureka Counties, Nevada. USGS Bulletin 408. (download the pdf)
Ford, Victoria, Ed. 2001. Midas, Nevada: Mining, Milling, and Memories, University of Nevada-Reno Oral History Program.
Granger, A. E., M. M. Bell, G. C. Simmons, F. Lee. 1957. Geology and Mineral Resources of Elko County, USGS Bulletin 54.
Hall, Shawn. 1998. Old Heart of Nevada: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Elko County, Nevada. University of Nevada Pres.
Hall, Shawn. 1993. Romancing Nevada’s Past: Ghost Towns and Historic Sites of Eureka, Lander, and White Pine Counties. University of Nevada Press.
Hardesty, Donald. 2010. Mining Archaeology in the American West: A View from the Silver State. University of Nebraska Press.
Heitt, Dean G. 2019. Before the Gold: Early History of the Carlin Trend 1874-1961. Southern Nevada Conservancy.
LaPointe, Daphne D., Joseph V. Tingley, Richard B. Jones. 1991. Mineral Resources of Elko County, Bulletin 106, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
Morris, Jack. 2017. Going for Gold: The History of Newmont. University of Alabama Press.
Obermayr, Erich and Robert McQueen 2016. Historical Archaeology in the Cortez Mining District: Under the Nevada Giant. University of Nevada Press, Reno.
Paher, Stanley. 1970. Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. Howell North.
Patterson, Edna B. Louise A. Ulph, Victor Goodwin. 1991. Nevada’s Northeast Frontier, University of Nevada Press.
Ramsey, Robert H. 1973. The Men and Mines of Newmont: A Fifty-Year History, Hippocrene Books.
Tingley, Joseph, Robert Horton, and Frances Lincoln, 1993. Outline of Nevada Mining History. Special Publication 15, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Reno (Download the pdf)
Wilhelm, Walter. 1970. Last Rig to Battle Mountain, William Morrow and Company.
2020 CONFERENCE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
Richard Reid, General Chair
* Program and Registration Materials will also be published in the Spring 2021 Mining History News (MHA Newsletter).
CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE
Nelson Mill, Mountain City, NV.
Cortez Mining District, NV, ca1916.
Tenabo Mill ruins, Cortez District, NV
Tuscarora Mine, Tuscarora, NV.
Fad Shaft, Eureka, NV, ca1950s.
Aerial view of a modern Carlin Trend North gold mine.
An open pit gold mine near Elko, NV.
A Carlin Trend underground gold mine.
(Photos courtesy Elko Visitors Bureau, UNLV, NVMA, Google Earth)