The mining industry in Marion County at one time was one of the leading industries in the county. Immediately preceding and during World War I the population of Marion County reached it's highest peak even until the present and this was due in large part to the very active mining industry at that time. Since the ending of World War I and the decline in the price of the ores mined in the county, there has been very little mining activity. There have been sporadic efforts to revive interest, but these efforts have been short-lived and generally unsuccessful. To the credit of the late J.H. Hand, one of the foremost and most consistent boosters of the mining interest in the county, it can be said that he devoted a great part of his time, his energy, and often at a financial sacrifice to himself, his finances, to keep alive the facts of the many and varied mineral resources in the region in the hope that this natural wealth would be developed and used in bringing to Marion County and its people a better way of life.
Most of what follows is not original but is taken from the early files of The Mountain Echo, from notes and information given by Mr. Fred Dirst of Rush Creek, one of the few remaining citizens who had an active part in the mines in the Rush Creek area when the town of Rush was the largest town in North Arkansas, and from material taken from books and pamphlets on file in the State Geology Commission Library, furnished the writer through the courtesy and cooperation of Mr. Norman (Bill) Williams, State Geologist.
While the mining industry in Marion County is usually associated with the Rush Creek District, it is well to keep in mind that the U.S Geological Survey listed several other districts wholly or partially within Marion County. Districts shown to be wholly within Marion County were: First, Rush Creek including the Panther Creek area, the Cedar Creek, Cow Creek and Boat Creek areas; second, Warner Creek and Halls Mountain District; third, the Dodd City District; fourth, Georges Creek and Jimmies Creek District including Bull Mountain area; fifth, Big Music and Sister Creek Districts; sixth, the Grassy Creek, Hampton Creek and Clear Creek District. Districts shown as being partially in Marion County were; First, the Zinc District; second, West Sugar Loaf and Malden Creek District; third, Tomahawk District and fourth, Maumee and Water Creek District.
Bulletin 853, Plate 5 of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey lists by name and shows the location by districts of more than one hundred twenty mines located in Marion County. Some of these are such well known names as the Morning Star, Philadelphia, Edith, Silver Hollow, and Beulah in the Rush Creek District; Lion Hill and Ohio in the Halls Mountain District; the Tarkiln in The Zinc District; The Governor Eagle, Salina, and Black Bear in the Dodd City District; the Bear Hill, Beaty, Olympia, Monkey Hill, Erie Ozark, and North Star in the Georges Creek-Jimmies Creek District. The Booth in the Sister Creek District, the Sure Pop and Silver Run in the Maumee-Water Creek District and the Lucky Dog in the Tomahawk District. Other names listed, not so well-known but remembered by older citizens, are: Mattie May, McIntosh, Lonnie Boy, Dixie Girl, Good Luck, Groundhog, Bonanza, Big Elephant, Reynolds, North Pole, Bardeen, Nischivitz or Gregory, Lost Bell, and Big Saddle.
Most of the ore taken from these mines was a form of zinc such as jack, carbonite, silicate, and varied from mine to mine. Some of the mines, particularly those in the Dodd City District and those on Bull Shoals Mountain, produced lead.
According to the news item in THE MOUNTAIN ECHO under the date of March 20, 1903, copied verbatim therefrom:
"Uncle Alf Hampton saw the first piece of zinc ore ever discovered in the North Arkansas zinc field. It came off a tract of land now belonging to William Bennett in zinc mine hollow of Georges Creek. At the time the ore was found the land belonged to Willion Wood, who lived and was running a saw mill on what is now the John Hudson place. Mr. Wood was bringing a pine log to the mill. One end of the log was swung under the wagon and the other end was dragging the ground. The end that was dragging on the ground a struck a bump of rock and broke it and Mr. Wood noticed that there was a bright shining piece of ore in the rock. He brought it up to the mill, and dozens of curious people examined it but it was quite a while before anyone came along that new what it was. Wm. Bennett hearing of the discovery came to the mill, bought the land and has ever since steadily refused to sell it. Mr. Hampton does nor remember the exact date of the first discovery, but thinks it was about 1858. He says lead was known to exist before this in various portions of the county."
In Volume V of the Annual Report of the Arkansas Geological Survey for 1892, Dr. John C. Branner then State Geologist reported in his preface to the Report that the geological survey to the zinc and lead region of North Arkansas was begun in 1889 but stopped unfortunately when the survey was scarcely more than half completed.
According to Dr. Branners Report the lead deposits of the region were known long before there was any knowledge of or any interest in the zinc deposits. He refers to the fact that Henry R. Schoolcraft, one explorer and ethnologist as early as 1818, made a trip across Southern Missouri viewing the lead mines of Potosi and in North Arkansas descending the White River to Batesville, and that Schoolcraft was the first writer to record the lead deposits of North Arkansas. Dr. Branner reports that there was little mining of lead but that the pioneers of the region used the lead to supply the rifle balls used in their hunting rifles. This free lead could be easily smelted. In the Report he mentions that there was said to be a lead smelter on West Sugar Loaf Creek as early as 1851 or 1852 and that this pig lead was shipped by wagon to Springfield, Missouri.
In the above referred to Report, Dr. Branner points out that there was little interest in the zinc deposits prior to 1886 but in that year prospecting in the western part of the zinc region began in a modest way. He reports a rush into the region in 1899 and says that every conveyance going into the region was literally crowded for months with miners or prospective miners staking out "mines", "prospects", or "claims".
This Report, as well as Bulletin 853 of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey, refers to the mines according to the District -- such as Rush Creek District, Jimmies Creek District where the particular "mine", "prospect", or "claim" was located.
In the Jimmies Creek Region reference is made to the Mitchell Mine located on Wild Cat Creek about 300 feet west of the Wild Cat -- District #13 -- school house and refers to the ore as zinc carbonate and some zinc blend; to the Gregory Mine located on a branch of Jimmies Creek in 20 N, 15 W, Section 30 and that there were at the time of his visit about 20 tons of ore bearing rock on the dump; to the Bull Shoals Mine, the Big Star, The Lost Bell, The Cincinnati, Blue Flag, High Peak, Big Elephant, Full Moon, North Star, East Star, Big Buffalo and Little Buffalo, and in each mine mentioned a brief resume of the ore, degree of exploration at the time.
In the Georges Creek Region particular attention seems to have been given to the Bear Hill Mine, located in 19 N, 17 W, Section 10 or 11. He gives an analysis of the ore sampled and reports that at the time of the visit the shaft was 157 feet deep with five drifts running -- one north, one east, one south, one west from the shaft and the fifth drift running northeast was the richest at the 135-foot level. The ore was a zinc blend and there was at the time of the visit, probably 1899 or 1900, a steam crusher and hoist and a hand jig. The Report says that it was said that 100 tons of ore from this mine were shipped in the preceding year.
In the Report Dr. Branner refers to his first visit to the Rush Creek Region as being made on July 13, 1889, and refers to the high quality of the zinc carbonate ore being mined at the Morning Star Mine and mentions that ore-bearing beds are from six to seven feet thick. He mentions that later the Morning Star had crushers, jigs, etc. built in 1898 and operated for about a year and a half prior to their closing in March of 1900. From then until July the ore was sacked, hauled to Buffalo on White River and from there by boat to Batesville or Newport where it was shipped by rail. Other mines in the Rush Creek District mentioned in the Report by Dr. Branner were: The Climax, The Creek Dig, The Hill Dig, The McIntosh, White Eagle, Silver Hollow, Red Cloud, Yellow Rose, Yellow Jacket, Leader Tunnel, Philadelphia, Last Chance and Lucky Dutchman. Several other prospects are mentioned briefly.
As a sort of summary, though not so-called in the Report, we found this observation of Dr. Branner on pages 248-249 quite interesting: "So far as the extent of the ore deposits is concerned it is safe to say that it is so great that it is unknown . . . In addition to the zinc and lead deposits there are many other mineral resources in the zinc regions that are untouched and almost unknown." Dr. Branner then goes on to list some of these minerals: marble, phosphates, iron, epsomite, niter or saltpeter, smithsonite, commonly known as "turkey fat", sulphur, tripoli and zincite.
Earlier reference was made to Bulletin 853 of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey of the zinc and lead deposits of Northern Arkansas. Now a more detailed discussion of this Survey will be given as refers to some of the better-known mines of the area. For sake of brevity only a number of these mines will be discussed.
In Bulletin 853 of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey, prepared by Edwin T. McKnight in cooperation with the Arkansas Geological Survey by Dr. George C. Branner, State Geologist, we find on page 197 and page 198 the following statements: "The ore shipped from the district has been preponderantly carbonate, but all the deposits carry more or less unoxidized jack and this was the chief product of the Beulah, of the earlier workings at the White Eagle, and of the later workings at the Silver Hollow and Philadelphia mines. Statistics on the production of this district are incomplete, but an estimate of 26,000 tons of concentrates, based on partial statistics, is believed to be conservative. Perhaps a quarter of this has been jack. Outlying mines in more distant parts of the Rush Creek drainage system account for an additional 450 tons or so of carponate and 80 tons of jack. The Rush Creek District has thus produced far more than any other in Northern Arkansas."
In a review of the Mattie May from bulletin 853 on page 198 and 199 the following is copied: "This mine is at the head of a short east branch of a hollow tributary to Rush Creek probably in SW 1/4 Section 8, Twp. 17, N.R. 15 W. It lies only a short distance northwest of the main road to Rush at an altitude of 895 feet ... The working is drift into the hill about 250 feet long ... The ore occurs in a run, no more than 30 feet in width ... The zone of most intense mineralization is only 15 feet or so wide ... About 100 tons of concentrates have been milled on the Matty May property since the mill was put in, probably in 1918, but is reported that 350 or 400 tons of ore was taken out as free carbonate ore prior to that time. Masses of high grade carbonate ore weighing 300 to 400 pounds were sometimes encountered during this earlier period."
From page 201 and page 202 of Bulletin 853, the following excerpts are copied relative to the Morning Star and Ben Carney Mines: "These two mines, lying adjacent to each other, are at present owned by the same company ... they lie on the northeast slope of Rush Creek above the town of Rush in NW 1/4 Section 10, Twp. 17 N, R. 15 W ... The Morning Star Mine is a huge open cut, 400 feet long, 100 feet wide at the top, and 40 to 50 feet deep. The Ben Carney tunnel extends for about 600 feet towards The Capps workings ... about 400 feet away.
The Morning Star Mine was the first zinc property developed west of Sharp and Lawrence Counties. Prospecting began in 1880. The first prospectors were: John Wolfer, Bob Stultzer, and J. H. McCabe. After spending several months developing ore, whose metallic nature was unknown to them, they had an assay made which reported the ore to be zinc carbonate but which also erroneously reported it to carry $8.00 a ton in silver. Two smelter men were brought in, detailed to build a small rock smelter in which the silver ore could be reduced ... The expected silver did not collect in the sand molds at the bottom of the furnace. The discouraged miners offered to trade their prospect, with the smelter thrown in, for a box of canned oysters, worth $2.50, but the offer was rejected. The remains of the old smelter still stand in the lane just east of the Morning Star Hotel at Rush.
The Morning Star has been famous in the past for the large masses of free botryoidal carbonate obtained from it ... A remarkable specimen, weighing 12,750 pounds, took a prize at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. This specimen was hauled by team from the mine to Buffalo City from whence it was freighted by barge to the railroad at Batesville.
The complete production of the Morning Star is not known but it has been rather large. In 1907 there were 231 tons and in 1908, 200 tons; records indicate production from 1915 to the end of 1917 was 370 tons. During the same three-year period the Ben Carney produced 1357 tons of carbonate. Since 1917 the company has marketed 53 tons in 1918; 205 tons in 1927 and 160 tons in 1928. Perhaps two-thirds of this total production came from the Morning Star and Carney Mines."
Incidentally, it is often said that the mass of carbonate taken from the Morning Star was the largest piece of free ore ever extracted from a mine on the North American Continent. A part of this mass is on display in The Field Museum in Chicago and another mass is on exhibit in The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
The Philadelphia mine in 1915 produced 1065 tons of concentrates; in 1916 produced 1066 and in 1917 produced 1120 tons. These concentrates were estimated to be 40% zinc. Many other mines were rather heavy producers of zinc during the period 1915-1918.
Bulletin 853 of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey, page 231 and 232 has this to say of the Ohio Mine in the Halls Mountain District: "The Ohio Mine is in the W2 Section 15, Twp. 18, N., R. 15, W., near the top of the hill 1 1/2 miles southwest of Rea Valley (Onset). The opening is wide, stoped-out tunnel that penetrates the hill in a general westerly direction for about 300 feet. The maximum width of the working is about 100 feet. A 30-foot shaft is located in the bed of the tunnel some distance back from the portal ... The ore stoped out at the rear was largely carbonate, stoped from the front the ore was largely jack. The production of the mine, about 175 tons of concentrates, was made chiefly in 1922-23 although there was a small output in 1916.
In a discussion of the Zinc District, Bulletin 853, of the 1935 U.S. Geological Survey page 249 discusses the Tarkiln mine as follows: "The property is in SE 1/4, Section 10, Twp. 19 N., R. 18 W., on the slope of Tarkiln Creek ... A mill was erected on the property several years before World War I but all the ore recovered by milling is reported to have come from the shafts up the side hollow and to have been jack rather than silicate. The production of the Tarkiln has about 150 tons most of it being free silicate. Most of the production was made several years prior to World War I."
The Salina Mine in the Dodd City District is discussed on page 257 and 258 of Bulletin 853 in these words: "The Salina is in SE I/4 NW/4, Section 36, Twp., 20, N., R. 18 W., on the east side of the same hollow as the Broome County mine. Its altitude is about 1100 feet. There are two main openings, the most productive one, No. 2, is an open cut 60 feet long with a tunnel at its back end going 120 feet into the hill. Most of the ore was taken from the open cut and from a cross drift 75 feet long at the end of the tunnel. A drill hole sunk near the site of the mill is reported to have penetrated eight or nine feet of ore at a level 125 feet below the level of openings I and 2. The primary ore mineral is jack ... The Salina has produced several carloads of ore, two of which were milled at the Markle Mill. Its greatest production came in 1915,1916 and 1917."
From the mines mentioned in the Georges Creek District in Bulletin 853 on page 272, the following excerpt is taken: "This mine is in NE 1/4 SW 1/4 Section 11, Twp. 19, N. R. 17 W. on the headwaters of a small southward flowing tributary to Georges Creek ... The main shaft reached a depth of 160 feet with drift runs at the 45, 90 and 143-foot levels ... The most abundant type of ore fills the openings in the breciated and shattered dolomite. The chief mineral is a clear crystalline rosin jack with some black jack admixed ... The mill was originally equipped with an especially large mill (capacity 250 tons in 10 hours) which is now in ruins. It produced about 100 tons of jack concentrates from March, 1916, until the big shut-down in the middle of 1917. There was, however, some production in 1907 and, perhaps, earlier."
In the Jimmies Creek District one of the better-known mines was the Monkey Hill. This mine was mentioned in Bulletin 853, page 278 and 279, and the following is taken from that Report: "The mine is on the south bank of the east fork of Mitchell Creek 200 to 300 feet above the forks in the NE 1/4 SE 1/4 Section 2, Twp. 19 N., R. 16 W. The main working is a shaft, at the elevation of 720 feet, sunk about 120 feet. Two ore runs were penetrated ... The average ore face is about 6 feet except in the southeast room, where an additional 4 feet has been taken from the floor ... The ore is ruby jack. The mine was once equipped with a rather small mill which is now in ruins ... Its production has been about 200 tons of jack concentrates."
We close the discussion of the individual mines as to the materials found in Bulletin 853 by this quotation found on page 284 of the above referred to Report: "The Booth Mine is in the SW 1/4 Section 16, Twp. 20, N., Range 16 W., about half-way up the slope between two prongs of Sister Creek at an altitude of 890 feet on a massive 10-foot bed, the Black Ledge, that lies in the Powell dolomite 50 feet above the base ... The opening is a tunnel which passes immediately into a large, but low-ceiled room about 200 feet in diameter, with numerous pillars at irregular levels. The ore minerals are jack and predominate zinc carbonate. The jack is mixed rosin and black jack and appears in irregular pockets ... There formerly was a small mill on the main fork of Sister Creek below the mill. The mine produced about 100 tons of carbonate concentrates, averaging 44% zinc."
As was mentioned earlier, for sake of brevity, only a very few of the more than 120 mines in Marion County discussed in Bulletin 853,1935 U.S. Geological Survey, Zinc and Lead Deposits of Northern Arkansas, have been presented herein. It can be said that no estimate of the total tonnage of ore concentrates taken from all of these mines can be made but it is safe to say that the total would be a surprise, perhaps, to all who may read this chapter. More surprising, however, would be the impression gained of the vast amount of these valuable minerals remaining untouched waiting for discovery and development.
In the 1892 Annual Report of the Arkansas Geological Survey by Dr. John C. Branner, State Geologist, mention was made of the minerals to be found in Marion County and among those mentioned was niter or saltpeter. This mineral was never mined commercially in the county. It appears as a white, gray, or colorless mineral of potassium nitrate, and is used in the making of gun powder.
During the Civil War this mineral became very important, particularly to the Confederacy in Northern Arkansas, and the Salt Peter Cave on White River above the Cave Bottom east of Fairview was the chief source of this mineral. The cave, according to tradition, was heavily guarded and local people tried to keep its location secret. The ore was smelted in huge, iron, open kettles and some of these kettles could be found in the community as late as World War II. The writer recalls one of these kettles, used by his grandfather, G. W. Jenkins, to scald hogs in the butchering process.
(Excerpts are taken from news items on file from the BAXTER BULLETIN in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and from the MOUNTAIN ECHO, Yellville.)
The following are miscellaneous facts and dates about the Rush Mining area as related by Mr. Dirst, taken from the Bicentennial Edition of the MOUNTAIN ECHO, July 1, 1976.
"There were actually two areas that were referred to as Rush. Old Rush was located about 1 1/2 miles West of the landing. The remains of an old smelter in old Rush is evidence of an attempt to extract silver from the gleaming ore that was discovered here in the 1880's. Disappointingly, all the ore yielded was a blue smoke created by the burning zinc in the ore. Shortly thereafter, a 14,000 pound chunk of zinc was taken by wagon to the river, put on a steamboat to Newport, Arkansas, and shipped by rail from there to the Chicago World's Fair. This exhibit sparked the first real interest in zinc mining in this area. The first mine to operate at old Rush was called the Morning Star, which can be seen, along with the remnants of its mill, just east of the Rush Creek crossing. Other mines in the old Rush area had names such as: the McIntosh, the Capps, and the Mary Hatti Anna.
The town of new Rush was located in the area just southwest of the mouth of Rush Creek. The town, at one time or another, had a population of from four to five thousand. The only evidence now left of its existence is a barely definable old roadbed which was formerly Main Street, three still standing walls of a rock building, formerly a general mercantile called "Mullholans", and the oven from the bakery which has been rolled several feet from its original position by boys looking for fishing worms. Most parts of the town have disappeared completely.
Among those are two hotels, the hardware, the blacksmith shop, a general store, a bakery, a drugstore, and two pool halls which employed seven barbers. It was reported that even with seven barbers working, to obtain a haircut on Saturday one was issued a number and sometimes had to wait until the small hours of the morning for the barber's services. By this time the barbers had usually partaken of spirits to relieve the drudgery of working 18 hours. One would have to put his well-being in grave jeopardy to get a haircut when the barber was in this condition, and no one even considered a shave!
The old mines which created, and in a sense destroyed the town, are still easy to detect although several have filled or caved in. Among those in the immediate area are the Red Cloud, Yellow Rose, Edith, Lonnie Boy, Silver Hollow, White Eagle, Monte Christo, Leader Hollow, and the Philadelphia. The remnants of the mills which served these mines are also still evident near the Red Cloud, Edith, and White Eagle mines.
The two everlasting springs that provided water for the Rush residents still flow freely. The largest about a half mile west of the landing called "Boiling Spring" which is a very accurate description, and a smaller one named Vickers, or Bluff Spring, emerging from the small bluff just east of Boiling Springs. Bluff Spring was condemned in the days of Rush's existence. Because of the tremendous amount of waste caused by the outdoor toilets of four to five thousand people, typhoid was feared to have entered the spring, but no outbreaks were reported.
Surprisingly enough, as rough as most mining towns are, Rush was relatively orderly. There were two or three killings in its history and a few near-misses. Very few men were killed in the mining operations but here also there were several near-misses. One notable occurrence was in the White Eagle. A zinc vein was found in this mine to extend from three to four hundred feet under the bed of the river. While the miners were working in this tunnel, water rapidly began to fill the diggings. The evacuation of the tunnels was so hurried that all the equipment was left where it lay and the men barely escaped with their lives by hanging onto pipes being pulled from the shafts by the ground crew. This equipment still lies in these old flooded shafts which are located approximately under the present location of the well that serviced Mr. Dirst's trailer.
New Rush's most active and productive period was the time between 1914 and 1917. Shortly after the WWI Armistice was signed in 1918, the major zinc markets were cut off. The price of zinc tumbled and people left the area in droves. The desertion of the town was so rapid the druggist was reported to have merely walked off and left his store which elated the local children who made the most of the soft drink fountain while it lasted.
All that remains now of the once relatively large, booming town of Rush, are the rock walls, rutted streets, a few mine shafts, and, of course, memories."
Also from the Bicentennial Edition of the MOUNTAIN ECHO, dated July 1, 1976, the following information was written by Chiquita Babb.
"Besides playing pool and drinking, the miners had square dances, would shoot craps, and had a fight every now and then just to liven things up. One man around whom many of Dirst's stories are based was John Hughes, "a great big man, all bone and muscle." One of his exploits involved an "average-sized man" named Tom Walker, who, Dirst explained, "couldn't weigh over 150 pounds." Hughes was standing by the steps leading to Old-town, and Walker was on the second step, when Walker broke a two-by-four over Hughes' head. "It didn't knock John down," Dirst related. "He just stood there and batted his eyes a little bit, and pretty soon he just reached out and grabbed Tom, and took him off the steps. John was holding Tom, with his thumbs right on his Adams'apple, and choking him." Dirst continued, "Tom was turning black in the face and bugging out. Old John Farms said 'Put him down, John.' "When John set him down," Dirst laughed, "Tom just went down in a pile."
Hughes was later involved in a fight with a blacksmith at Rush, who Dirst described as "another big man." "John," Dirst related, "started gouging the blacksmith's eyes, but missed and got his finger in his mouth. Immediately, the blacksmith bit it off." When telling of the incident, Hughes would say, "That damn blacksmith is a cannibal; he ate that damn finger." Hughes was later shot and killed, an accident which, in Dirst's words, "discouraged John."
The ore was mined by pick and shovel; several men "pounding steel" with a sledge hammer and a "powder spoon," a steel rod flattened and cupped on one end, used to spoon out the dirty sludge; or, if necessary, with a machine and his helper, a dummy, on a drill. Two types of ore were mined, Dirst explained, the "free ore," which could be shipped without processing; and the "bucking ore," a combination of ore and rock, making processing necessary.
Four men operated the processing plant during its one eight-hour shift. The rock would first be screened on a "grizzly," then sent by rough elevator to be classified, and rescreened, if necessary, and then returned to be crushed.
The ore was carried from the mine and processing plant by a boy, paid 75 cents a day, who carried several loads of 75 to 80 pounds each. It was then transported by wagon and team to Buffalo City, to be carried further by railroad.
Because of the high cost involved in locating and extracting the ore, the mining boom faded around 1917. Attempts to revive the area were made in the 1920's, but met with failure due to the lower cost of imported metal."
Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.