Mining Claims

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

231015 Alva Matheson Family

Mine Story

During the post war years, our family continued to grow with the addition of Neal and Kevan, and by the 1950’s Kevan was old enough to be included in family activities that were primarily associated with road trips and assessment work within Iron County. During World War II there was a great deal of activity in western Iron County seeking and delivering iron ore to Geneva Steel Works in Provo, Utah, so it was often that we traveled as a family to any one of several exploratory mines particularly those where miners were searching for deposits of molybdenum and kaolin clay. Both had been used as fluxing agents in the reduction of ores in the town of Frisco in Beaver County. There was ample evidence that many of the diggings had identified scenes of desirable minerals and clays that would be of interest to being developed as a family income source.

As a family we spent many trips visiting mining claims previously posted by my father and uncle Al Harter in hopes of striking it rich. My Uncle Gordon participated on occasion, though most often helping with exploration costs. So it was not uncommon for the entire family to join in one of two activities. One was the search for new evidence of mineral deposits and evidence of prior exploration. The second was to perform legal “assessment” work as required to keep a claim active and properly recorded in the Beaver County courthouse since it appeared that most of the valuable deposits were in that county. The law required evidence, visible evidence that is, of mining activity and the expenditure of valuable effort in order to keep the claim valid. Thus, many of our trips were to locations west of Lund and north along the wagon roads to the mining town of Frisco, Utah. Many of the mines or the exploratory holes were visible, and the family was put to work making a showing of labor and activity being evident. Most of the labor fell to Neal and me since Kevan was more likely to play in the dirt rather than move it. With shovels and wheelbarrows Neal and I would go into the mine openings and collect as much colored dirt as possible and wheel the materials removed to the front of the talus dump and spread the material to make it look like as much activity as possible.

We also spent a great deal of good times walking the hills to check the mineral claim corners, renewing the paperwork which we then placed in upside down Prince Albert tobacco cans with the lids sealed to prevent moisture. We placed the filing notices on each of our several family claims and explored adjacent claims checking their papers to see whether any of the claims had become inactive. That led us to many exciting experiences. I am confident that to this day I could walk to one vertical shaft where we routinely dropped rocks through floor boards over the shaft (and counted as many as 25 seconds before the sound of the rock hitting the bottom was heard). Many of the diggings were horizontal drift type where the ore that had been removed following seams along the hillside. They were the easiest to get into and it took little searching to come up with a variety of treasures. Most often the treasures were tools and hand-forged candle spikes, which were long 10-inch spikes forged with a ring on one end expressly to hold a candle when the spike was nailed to a supporting timber.

Over the years family activity and revisiting the claims and the mines were common occurrences and family outings were both an enjoyable and treasured experience. Our only transportation was a 1932 Chev pickup with broad fenders and headlights between the front fenders and the engine cowl which provided ample seating for Neal and I to ride with our legs wrapped around the headlight and our feet on the front bumper as we whistled down the graveled roads and tracks pretending to call out any variety of hazards to Dad while he pretended to avoid each hazard.

As we got older, it was not uncommon for either of us to dump a box of 22 (.22 caliber) ammunition into our pocket, and we would shoot bottles along the roadside and jack rabbits should one be unfortunate to come within range. As the years passed, family interest in the mines waned, and the documentation expired permitting other persons to assume our claims as we had from others previously. By the time I was in college I had completed a number of courses in civil engineering and became a surveyor for the USDA Forest Service and was well pleased with my acquired skills for running transit lines, elevations, and clearing property lines for corner marking.

On one of the last opportunities that I had to visit the mines it was with my father in the best of times. We routinely stopped at the little grocery store at Lund, Utah, to indulge ourselves in a cold soft drink from the 10 cent vending machine. That was a real treat. By that time our family had upgraded to a 1950’s blue pickup truck that my father and I had remanufactured from portions of several other trucks. He had purchased a roll-over 1954 pickup, then proceeded to splice portions of three other earlier model vehicles into one. We drove to one of the claim sites, and while he enjoyed poking into the minerals and checking papers, I spent several different days flagging all of the lines and marking all of the corners with Neal carrying the chain pins, marking lines to the point the claims probably looked like a Christmas tree. I was highly paid for my professional services because when we recorded the assessment work it was well over $500 recorded as a result of my labors.

The first trip out of Iron County that I ever remember was to ride with my father to Salt Lake City to the University of Utah with mineral samples from the various claims we had to have them assayed as to tonnage value and mineral content in hopes of selling the mine materials to Geneva Steel. The Molybdenum content was sufficiently high to have been commercially viable, but the clays were too silted to be of value because of dirt contamination. In the latter portion of the ‘70’s I had occasion to visit the diggings where I had labored on so many enjoyable family trips and had the joy of having worked myself to exhaustion with my brothers pushing dirt over the precipice of each mine tailing. I found the markers and I found the mines, but unfortunately, some self-serving engineers under the guise of removing hazardous locations at their own profit had been paid to dynamite the explorations, and/or to eradicate them to prevent any access or evidence that a digging or a mineral deposit had ever existed. In the process they had eliminated the evidence of many great memories.

21 May 2023 ALM