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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Tonopah Mining Company

The silver rush in Tonopah started in the spring of 1900.      Prospector Jim Butler was camped here enroute to a strike in the Klondike.     During the night his mule wandered off and found shelter near a rock outcropping.    When Butler discovered the animal he picked up a rock to throw at him, but instead noticed the rock was unusually heavy.    He kept the rock and upon returning home asked a friend to have it assayed.    It was valued at more than $200 a ton.

Butler and his wife Belle returned to Tonopah and filed 8 claims and commenced mining.    They had no money to transport the ore to Salt Lake City for smelting, so they gave a one fourth share of the mines to Wilse Brougher in exchange for his transporting the ore.

That first shipment netted the three partners $500 which was used to buy equipment needed for further development.      The partners implemented the unusual concept of mine claim leasing.    These leases, sealed by a handshake only, gave the lessor 75% of all profits from his claim with 25% going to the original three partners.     These miners were hard working honest men and the agreements continued until the day the mines were sold, making all of them very rich.

We were able to walk into this mine a few feet - that was enough for me!

The stopes are where the ore bodies were mined out.    These show where the veins actually came to the surface.    The ore bodies averaged about 500' in depth and most of the stopes are that deep.    The first 100' or so were mined from the surface down on leases led by Jim Butler between 1900 and 1901.    The miners used windlass and whims (horse drawn hoists) to get the ore to the surface.    All drilling for blasting was done by hand using the "single jack" (one man) or "double jack" (two men) method.   (do you remember Pa Ingalls doing this in Little House on the Prairie)    Light was furnished by candles.       Timbers were put in by these early leasers to keep the walls from collapsing.

This is an old horse drawn whim

In January, 1902 Butler sold his mining rights to a group from Philadelphia who organized the Tonopah Mining Company.   They had the money to modernize the mining operations and brought in large numbers of workers.    In July 1904 a narrow gauge railroad line was completed which solved the problems with transporting the ore.    In the next couple years total production surpassed $10 million.    By 1921 total silver production topped $120 million.    Nevada had been in a great financial slump and this mine was responsible for reviving and saving the state.       Money from these mines also was a large factor in rebuilding San Francisco after the earthquake.

This entire area is part of the museum and you are free to walk around and see the entrances to the actual mines and pieces of equipment from the mines.   Several of the buildings are open and have even more equipment.   It is well worth the $3 admission fee.

This building was used for storage of dynamite and candles during the first few years of operation.

The first steel hoisting works in the USA were at these mines.     Mules were no longer needed to pull the ore out of the mines.

Another of the old mines in this area.    



  1. So, he literally owes his finding a fortune to some jack ass.

  2. Thanks for sharing area sites that I can't visit...your photo's and story are great and factual.