Museum Musings

Courtesy photo/Mary Sorenson

Copper Discovery in White Pine County

The following article was written by Robert “Bob” Wynn, (www.robertwynn.com with Ghost Town Seekers).

All inquiries concerning this article should be directed towards Mr. Wynn.

Copper was discovered in the Robinson District in the early 1870’s, but due to the low grade, low demand and the problems with the exploitations compared to silver and gold, discouraged any development. It wasn’t until 1900 when Edwin Gray and Dave Bartley came to the Robinson District and optioned two copper claims, that led the way to the copper boom. To find out what the limits were, they first run a tunnel into the mountain and soon found themselves in caved on all sides by copper ore. With this news, they had no problem drawing the attention of many engineers and prospective buyers.

Mark Requa became attracted to the discovery and since his father owned the Eureka and Palisade railroad which was given to Mark to manage, he was looking for a potential feeder. By October 1902, Requa took option on the Gray-Bartley claims for $150,000, and with daddy’s help the following year organized the White Pine Copper Company.

Requa tried to sell the idea to the Southern Pacific Railroad, but they refused due to 150 miles distant from their track at Cobre. He then attempted to raise the funds for a narrow gauge, but before realizing what the costs would amount to, he already had engineers in the field running a preliminary survey from Cobre to Ely. Requa headed east to find capital to operate the mine and build a narrow gage railroad, while there he was able to get the New York and Nevada Copper company to unite their holdings with his and incorporate the Nevada Consolidated Company, November 1904. Together this gave them a company, with enormous ore reserve, but still lacked the capital for development. He did though have enough to build the narrow gage railroad, he then presented the whole matter to the Guggenheims Exploration Company.

The Guggenheims did help Requa organize the Nevada Northern Railroad in May 1905. They then organized another firm, the Cumberland-Ely Copper Company to obtain the best water rights in the district and a proposed site for the reduction plant. The Guggenheim family in 1906 wanted to merger their company with Requa’s, Requa refused, but by October they came to an agreement. The Guggenheims and Requa were to form a new company, jointly owned, to construct and operate the reduction works. Also, that the Cumberland-Ely would be allowed to purchase half interest in the Nevada Northern Railroad. Now the Cumberland-Ely owning half interest in the smelter, and having the control over the water rights plus owning eight square miles of land, selected the McGill site for the reduction plant. Soon after that Requa was removed as general manager of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company. That fall after construction began, the area started filling up with company owned building and tents and became known as McGill, named after a local ranch owner. By 1907 the Steptoe Valley Company built quarters for their officials and modern homes for their skilled employees. This is when a few stores, bank, boarding houses and saloons were built. In August of 1908, the first shipment of blister copper from the district marked the completion of the reduction plant. In the eight years since Gray-Bartley discovery, showing a recorded production of $420 and a cost of $4,000,000 by the Guggenheim family, the quest was over. At the end of 1908 production reached $622,470 and the following year topped out at $6,561,787, and rose steadily in following years thereafter. This made the Robinson Mining District the richest in Nevada History.

In 1909 the Nevada Northern Railroad built a modern depot and service began. By 1910 the population had grown to almost 2000 and supported many businesses, including a weekly paper known as the Copper Ore. In the late part of the decade, McGill past Ely as the county’s largest town, showing a 1920 census of 2850 permanent resident. Then in July of 1922 the reduction plant covering about nine square acres, burnt to the ground at an estimated cost of $2,000,000. It was soon rebuilt. 1930 found the town at 3000 people with over half of them working the mill and smelter. Ruth and Kimberly were sending great amounts of tonnage, and the plant was treating 14,000 tons of ore daily. The town maintained in a high level through World War II and the mid-1950’s.

The White Pine Public Museum will be hosting a “1930s era Mining Photography “exhibit for their March event. On display will be photographs, memorabilia and maps of the early days in White Pine’s mining history. Local historian, Mary Sorenson will be presenting a lecture on the March 23rd at 6:00pm.

For more information, contact the museum at 775-289-4710. The museum is open daily 10-4.

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