My First Red Shirt Mine Visit by Vernon LaMotte
I came home in June 1932 after graduating with a B.S. in Mining Engineering. I contacted Mahlon McCain who owned part of the Red Shirt Mine. Then he was having Bill Voigt and Fred Bigelow doing yearly assessment work by hand steel in the face of the lower Flag Tunnel at Mazama. Bill was leaving for a carpenter job on the first of July. Therefore McCain wanted to show Fred Bigelow and me the Red Shirt Mine workings.
We drove up Finley Canyon to within one mile of the Red Shirt Mine. Here began a steep trail on a steep hillside for 1500 feet, then north along a low ridge to the mine. Fred brought lunches for us. Our packs carried the lunch, water and candles. We looked over the underground tunnels and stopes with candlelight. We found all the underground (35 years old) tunnel timber and stulls were still in perfect shape because of the fresh air venting through the mine workings and up the original partly caved discovery shaft. After seeing the mine, we sat down on the No.1 portal and had our lunch. Fred had brought a big jar of pickled pigs feet which we cut into strips and put on our bun, which we enjoyed eating (my first pickled pig's feet).
Later, before we were married, I took Beulah up to the mine and showed her the mine workings. P.L. Filer who lived on Beaver Creek, told me that two brothers, Buck and Boots Lewis who lived on Fraser Creek near the Jack Stokes place, had operated a still in the mine around 1927.They had their fifty gallon corn mash barrel set up in a cross cut 100 feet into the mine. Here no frost occurred in the winter so the mash was able to ferment and make alcohol the year around. Going in from this point, the tunnel roof was black and sooty from the wood firs that the brothers had under their still to boil off the alcohol for their moonshine whiskey. A light air breeze of fresh air went into the mine; therefore the brothers had no problem with smoke when they ran their still. This location was an ideal place for a still, hidden one and one half miles away from habitation. The brothers rode horses from their home to the mine. The old wagon road to the mine was not usable for car travel.
We started the operation of the 50-ton Red Shirt Flotation Mill on May 1, 1936, and I, Vernon LaMotte, was the operator on one shift. The mill ran six months on Red Shirt ore, and then shut down. The mill heads average .18 oz gold and the tailings ran .06 oz. per ton. This amount was lost to the tailing pond. Again this operation was not a success as the mill recovery averaged 65%. The Seavey's had installed four Pachuca air agitation tanks, 24 feet high, to cyanide the concentrate. The tank manufacturer instructions had the airlift pipes set solid in the tank. They could not start up the packed concentrate for cyaniding, so sacked it for shipment to the smelter. Later in 1937, cutting the lift pipe in half and hanging them with a cable to a hand winch allowed the pipe with air hose to pick up the packed concentrate load and put it in agitation with a high pulp density for cyaniding.
The Red Shirt north vein had a ten-foot showing of one oz. gold ore and Seavey started a sub drift below the high-grade ore and ran it out twenty-five feet before the values declined. This ore, 20 tons, he piled near the mill bin. We ran the mill and loaded the four Pachuca tanks with this pulp and this trial run gave a good recovery of 90 percent. We cleaned the zinc shaving up after this run. We used sulfuric acid to dissolve the zinc shorts and then shipped the gold sludge to the Tacoma Smelter. Later the ore truck owner, Fruen, mined and milled this high-grade vein out for a fast buck, then quit.
I remember the day I came on shift at 4 p.m. at the mill and a thunderstorm was overhead. I was in the process of taking the head sample and I got a real electric shock. I saw the transformers smoking so I rushed and pulled the main panel switch. The mill was down a few days before the transformers were replaced. I was lucky that high voltage wasn't coming into the mill.
A young mining graduate by the name of Les Richards filled the position of assayer at the Red Shirt. He took a few days off and went to Yellowstone Park for a short vacation. There, he would go up to the big lodge and put his feet upon the rail with the visiting big shots. When nearby people asked him what business he was in, he would respond, "I'm just one of the idle rich”. While there he slept in his car at night. I think his salary was around $100 per month. In 1977, we visited with him in Portland and he took us out to a country club for lunch. He still liked to frequent fancy places, and for the first time got married in 1978.
Jack Gibson was one of the men sent up to help build the ore bin. Jack liked to play jokes on his friends. Therefore to get even with him, Les and I put a bat we found in the mine in his lunch pail. He lived with a lady but was not married. We never did ask him what happened to the bat.
After the mill started operation, John Semple started to look for a new job. He made contact with some Portland bankers who formed a syndicate, Montex, and they were looking to find a gold mine with a sizable indicated tonnage. He hired me as his examining engineer. He would make contacts with the mine property owners and usually secured option on the property.
I would then examine the property by cutting samples and making ground Brunton compass survey sketch of the workings. At times I had a helper with me to pack out the ore samples and other times only my wife, Beulah, would accompany me. I would write a brief report and after we received the assay returns, we would evaluate the merit of the property. We looked over properties in Washington, Oregon and Montana. I saw none with a better showing than the Alder Mine at Twisp. I only saw a two stamp mill running in my time. The first one at the Northern Gold Mine on Toroda Creek in 1934, and another small three stamp mill on the Petty Property at Greenhorn, Oregon in 1936. They roar and vibrate and make as much noise as a close-by passing freight train. These stamp mills used for crushing ore are now a thing of the past. They were used before ball mills came into use.
John Semple was sold on a rumor that promoters had set up in regard to Alder Gulch in Montana having a section of false bedrocks because of the evidence that a large fault had crossed the valley. This evidence suggested that gold placer gravel might occur at a deeper depth than the old placer channel.
At this time, September 1936, the Porter Dry Land Dredge was working between old Nevada and Virginia City. Just above the place where the floating dredges had stopped operation. Around 1900, we also saw another gold dredge working near Helena, Montana. I visited the Virginia City Courthouse and saw the records recorded in beautiful long hand. We also saw the rope marks on a timber that they claimed was worn from hanging the road agents and hold-up men.
In April 1937, we started two drills working, a stand piping drill on Alder Gulch. We drilled several holes through the old placer tailing piles, but found no false bedrock, so stopped this operation. We started drilling with a portable placer drill at the mouth of Wisconsin Creek and again found no pay dirt. Then the drill was moved out on the Big Hold River west of Twin Bridges. Again we found no gold in the gravel. The Portland backers became discouraged with negative results, so stopped financing this exploration program.
We also had the good fortune of visiting Meterville, just east of Butte. This place was wide open for gambling and also had all the amenities that miners prefer.
With no job in sight, we decided to return home to the Methow around July 1, 1937. We had purchased a new tan-colored Chevrolet coupe in May 1936. It cost us $750 cash plus our 1928 Model A Ford coupe, which was all the money we had. Therefore, our 1936 car was our main possession when we came back to the Methow in 1937.
Beulah's folks decided to install a water system for their home and I worked on this during the summer. We built an enclosed cement water tank on the knoll above the barn. They put in a gas-powered pump down at the spring to supply water for the cistern, which gave them gravity water at the house. They didn't have electric power until REA come by in 1939.
Around September, we moved down into the Nels Trainman house one half mile west of Beulah's grandparent’s home, the Robert T. Prewitts. October and November 1937, I spent opening up the lower tunnel at the Red Shirt Mine. The timbers had decayed and talus rock had caved in and filled up the adit for about thirty feet from the portal into solid rock.
I drove spiling through the cave-in section and re-timbered the tunnel, which opened up the lower level. In 1940, McCain took Alder money and extended the drift north for about 200 feet on the vein stringer under the upper level ore shoot, but we found no commercial ore in the lower level. We also directed several diamond drill holes off of this drift, but found no parallel vein.
The Red Shirt still contains several thousand tons of gold ore grading .20 oz. per ton above Stewart’s old stoped backs. The section Seavey mined was about fifty feet long and stoped to the grass roots for a total tonnage of plus 5000 tons.
Lebold Scales and friends from Tacoma had built a new 50 ton flotation mill about two and one half miles north of Mazama under Goat Wall for the Mazama Queen Mine. The man in charge of the mill construction knew how to set the machinery up, but didn't know how to operate a flotation mill. Therefore I was called on to complete the mill flow sheet by installing the launders and piping and setting up the reagent feeders.
I started the mill up and soon found the mine didn't have commercial ore for the milling operation. Therefore I was out of a job again in February 1938. No sign of the mill or mine camp exist today.
That winter the snow was six feet deep and the state brought in a large rotary plow from Stevens Pass to open the road to Lost River. Two men were cutting mine timbers north of the mill and cut down a tree with a flying squirrel nest in it. The snow was so soft that the squirrel floundered in the snow and the men were able to catch it and bring it into camp for all to see. This is the only one I ever saw in the Methow.
Early summer, 1938, Beulah's father, A.C. Lehman, decided to build a new barn and a machine shed. Therefore he hired Carl Johnson and son, Keith, to be the carpenters. Carl had been a carpenter all his life and had constructed many buildings in the Methow and other places. Carl liked to put up the main framing and outside sheeting, but not the final finishing inside the buildings. Carl would say, "I like to throw the building up." I was a helper on these buildings and learned how to put up buildings rapidly. This experience helped me on later building jobs.
The Northern Gold on Toroda Creek had produced considerable gold for the Wrigley Gum people during the period of 1906 to 1912. One of the operators by the name of Perkins came back and started to operate the ten-stamp mill in 1934 for himself. He soon replaced the stamps with a ball mill. The ore held free gold and pyrite so that mercury coated amalgamating plates worked well here. The pyrite concentrate was loaded into a four by twenty foot cyanide-leaching tank with an inner false bottom covered with burlap. He poured gold brick at the assay office and Lund's Bank at Tonasket advanced him payroll money until the gold brick returns came in.
One evening about the first of September 1938, Dwight Filer of the Twisp garage run by Ed Haydess and Filer called and told us they would like us to trade in our 1936 Chevy coupe for a new two door Chevrolet that they still had on the floor and listed for $835. They would allow us $500 for our 1936 car for they had a fellow by the name of Gibson from Conconully that wanted a car like the '36 coupe. Sight and unseen we traded for a new 1938 Chevy two-door that we kept until 1947.
In three years time, Perkins had depleted the $10 gold ore and felt that the installation of the flotation cells would give him a better percent recovery on lower grade ores than amalgamating plates and put in a bank of Farenwahl Sub A flotation cells. He needed an experienced flotation operator; therefore I was offered a job. We also were offered a cabin to live in so Beulah and I moved over to the Bodie Camp around the first of November 1938 on Toroda Creek. He ran the flotation mill for a month on $5 and less heads so the returns were disappointing. Since he didn't have the cells paid for, he returned them to the equipment company in Spokane. Perkins put the amalgamating plates back in their original place and started the mill again on low-grade ore.
I stayed on as a mill operator and learned how to dress mercury on the plates. This was one thing that I always wanted to learn. Today, stamp mills and mercury plates are the thing of the past. This operation couldn't carry the payroll, so he shut the operation down and we returned to Beulah's folk's place to live until March 1. We met Lee and Gertie Banks at Bodie. Lee was a diesel operator and mechanic. I had him come over in 1939 and work in the Red Shirt Mill on the Alder Ore. They still live on Toroda Creek.
One of the diesel operators at the Bodie Mine told me that one-day he was looking out of the mill window, when he saw Perkins come out of the assay office with a shovel. He dug a shallow hole in one of the tire tracks and covered up a brick like object, tromped on the spot, ran over it several time with his car tires and drove off to his cabin. That's one way to hide a gold brick.
In Spokane, we found an expert millwright Bill Yerkes, one of the best that I had worked around. We bought a bank of Denver Sub A Flotation cells from the Mazama Queen Mill and Bill went up and moved them out of the Mazama Mill and installed them in the Red Shirt Mill. The old set we discarded. When our operator shut down, December 30, 1940, Bill went to the Wagner Lumber Mill and started to set in mill machinery for their lumber operation. He was an expert machinery repairman and worked for Wagner's for years.
Note: The above article is an excerpt borrowed from Dale Dibble’s “Methow Valley Pioneers”. This is on a CD-Rom version and is loaded with information on the early days of the Methow Valley pioneers. His CD can be purchased through the Shafer Museum in Winthrop, Washington.
The Big Bend Empire, a weekly newspaper published at Waterville in Douglas County, kept a close eye on mining developments in the Okanogan country and particularly in the Methow Valley. The following articles, published in the 1890’s reflect the genuine excitement, which prevailed in the Methow at that time.
The fact that there is a large producing gold mine in the Methow district is not generally known. The Red Shirt Mine, three and one-half miles from Silver, which town is about 35 miles up the Methow Valley, is the one referred to…No doubt exists as to the quality of the ore, and while it is low grade it concentrates readily, and repeated shipments have demonstrated its value as a money-maker.
It is approximately 1,000 feet above the Methow River. The ledge is four to seven feet wide with clear and well-defined walls. The ore is somewhat decomposed quartz, carrying values of $10 and upward of gold to the ton. It concentrates readily, about 30 tons of ore making one of concentrates.
Quite extensive development work has been done on the property and a most through expert examination was given it before the purchase by the present owner. The upper tunnel has now been driven in over the vein for a distance of 300 feet, at which point the vein forks and two drifts have been run north and south for a distance of about 100 feet each, all in good ore, with the lead several feet wide. In the south drift the vein dipped downward, and a tunnel was run to strike it, which was done at a distance of 550 feet.
The present output is about 35 tons of ore daily, which is expected to be nearly doubled in the future, as the mill has a capacity of treating a largely increased amount of ore. The mill is about two and a half miles from the mine by wagon road.
Surveying is now being done for a tramway to connect the mine with the mill, which will be a much more expeditious and economical means of transporting the ore. It will be about a mile and a half long and run on the gravity principle.
A ditch from Beaver Creek, about two and a half miles in length, furnishes water from the mill. Steam power will be used when the ditch freezes in the winter. About fifty-five men are now employed, forty at the mine and fifteen at the mill. Wages are $2.75 for miners and $2.25 for other workmen and board is .75 a day.
A Scotch syndicate is the owner of the mine and Jack Stewart, formerly of Wenatchee, is the general manager. F.C. Farnham is the superintendent at the mine and Mr. Hill presides at the mill. Big Bend Empire, May 20, 1897.
But a year later, on the Methow a great deal of assessment work is in progress but little development work is going on aside from that. That section, like all the rest, awaits capital to make it profitable. The district just now suffers on account of the Republic boom, which occupies the public mind to the exclusion of all other mining camps in this part of the state, and which owes its prominence largely to the fact that it is cheaper to develop than is the Okanogan country. Big Bend Empire, July 7, 1898
In the spring of 1887 a prospector by the name of Chickamin Stone found his strike, and this is said to have started the town of Silver. The mine is supposed to have come by its name of the Red Shirt because Stone sold it to Jim Byrnes for a red shirt and a bottle of whiskey.
In 1900 the famous Red Shirt Mine on nearby Polepick Mountain gave up the ghost. Four years later, Silver, the first Methow Valley town bit the dust.
Location: On lower west slope of Polepick Mountain.
Elevation: 3,800 feet.
Access: On private land. No access.
Property: 1 patented claim: Red Shirt; 4 unpatented claims.
Owner: John Russell and George M. Gibson, Winthrop, Washington; lessees, (1952).
Red Shirt Mining Company (1936-1938).
Mahlon McCain, Winthrop, Washington; (1949).
Ore: Gold, silver, copper.
Ore minerals: Pyrite, chalcopyrite, arsenopyrite.
Deposit: Quartz vein, with a width of 1 to 5 feet, in schist.
Development: 100 ft. of drift from a 425 ft. crosscut and 375 ft. of drift from 200 ft. crosscut.
Assays: 35 oz. Ag-silver, ½ oz. Au-Gold. Ore average about $10 per ton.
Production: It is known that between 1900-1940 the Red Shirt Mine produced over $1000,000 in gold and silver. Produced intermittently for 50 years, latest work in 1936 to 1938.
The Red Shirt Mill Site is located on Airport Road near Twisp, Washington and borders the Methow River. The Red Shirt Mill was in operation during the 1930s and 1940s. The mill processed ore from the Red Shirt Gold Mine located on Polepick Mountain. Tailings, crushed rock left over from the mill process after the ore was extracted, were deposited onsite and remain onsite. The mill building was demolished in December 2002 and the areas of highest contamination on site were excavated.
The Red Shirt Mine is situated on private property and is posted as such. Mines and mine shafts are DANGEROUS please respect NO TRESPASSING signs and keep out.
Red Shirt Mine:
N48° 20.889 W119° 59.991'
UTM 11U 0277746E 5359346N