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Mining and Prospecting in Mount Rainier National Park

Excerpt from Wonderland -
An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park


Following consultation with James Longmire and other local people in the late 1890s, the authors of the Mount Rainier Park Act decided there would be little harm done by accommodating miners and prospectors in their bill.  Thus, a brief two lines were added to the end of the bill, which provided that the park would remain open to mineral location under the Mining Law of 1872. This feature of the bill raised no objection in Congress, and even the Secretary of the Interior waited until after the law was passed to criticize this section in his annual report for 1899.

Yet the provision for mining in Section 5 of the Mount Rainier National Park Act flatly contradicted Section 2 of the act which declared that all mineral deposits (together with other specified features) would be preserved from injury or spoliation and retained in their natural condition. The only explanation for this blatant contradiction in the law was the fact that Section 2 had been copied directly from the Yellowstone Park Act when the bill was first drawn in 1893, while Section 5 was introduced late in the evolution of this bill. After the law was passed it quickly became obvious that the provision for mining and prospecting not only made it impossible for the Department of the Interior to protect mineral deposits in the park, but compromised the department's ability to protect other natural resources in the park, too.

Under the Mining Law of 1872, a prospector could locate a mineral claim wherever he could show there was a reasonable prospect of mining precious metals. His claim gave him the right to dig tunnels or holes in the earth, divert water from streams for sluicing, and cut down trees with which to frame his diggings and erect buildings. The mining law did not give the prospector the right to bear arms, much less hunt in the park, but park officials nevertheless showed some reluctance to separate the prospector from his gun whenever he requested permission to take a gun into the park. Thus, the allowance of prospecting and mining in the park set up a peculiar double standard between prospectors and other park users while placing trees, water courses, and wildlife, together with mineral deposits themselves, at risk.

Acting Superintendent Grenville F. Allen tried to give a picture of the extent of prospecting in his annual reports. Allen reported that 90 prospectors were known to have entered the park in 1905, and that the number of new claims filed with the Pierce County auditor rose from ten in that year to 104 in 1906 and 165 in 1907. It could readily be seen that the park attracted a significant number of prospectors and that it was soon peppered with claims. Probably Allen ceased giving the number of prospectors after 1906 because they were becoming harder to distinguish as a group from pleasure seekers. "In most cases," he wrote in 1907, "the claimant makes a summer camping trip, does a few days' nominal assessment work, and returns to his usual vocation." By and large these were not professional miners or prospectors. The vast majority of claims consisted of no more than four blazes on trees, the posting of a notice of the location, and the filing of it in the office of the county auditor. Often the claim notices bore such vague descriptions that the park administration had no idea where the claims were located, Most of the significant claims were located in Glacier Basin (northeast of the mountain), above Longmire Springs, and in the Carbon River area.

At first Allen was inclined to regard the prospectors as no more than a nuisance. He reported that most of the claims were made in good faith, and judging by the dearth of successful mines in the vicinity of Mount Rainier National Park he did not think any paying mines would ever eventuate inside the park; therefore, it might be expected that prospecting in the park would fade over time. The prospectors themselves seemed "on the whole to be careful of their fires, and to desire to comply with the regulations."  But with the huge number of new claims in 1906 and 1907, Allen changed his mind. Many so-called prospectors used their claim locations to build unsightly cabins, and no doubt came back to these cabins to hunt the park's game in the fall. Furthermore, many of these claimants left slash lying around wherever they built cabins or cut trails, increasing the fire hazard. These conditions would only grow worse. Consequently, Allen recommended a thorough examination of the mining districts in the park with a view to invalidating all claims that showed no mineral values so that these claimants could be removed from the park for trespass. It could then be ascertained whether conditions warranted consideration by Congress of a law to repeal Section 5 of the Act of March 2, 1899.

Assistant Engineer Eugene Ricksecker made much the same recommendation in a long letter to Secretary of the Interior Garfield on October 18, 1907.  Congress should be asked to amend the Mount Rainier Park Act, and a USGS geologist and mining expert, Ricksecker urged, should be detailed to the park to report on all existing claims. Ricksecker's letter followed Allen's report by just a few weeks, and probably reflected some discussion and agreement between the two men on the park's most important needs. (They offered similar recommendations for improving wildlife protection, too.) This was not the first time that the Corps of Engineers had complained about the policy of allowing mining and prospecting in the park, nor was this a new concern for the Secretary of the Interior. Yet it seems probable that the combined effect of Allen's and Ricksecker's advice in the fall of 1907 made a crucial difference, for the desired amendment to the law was inserted in the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act approved by Congress on May 27, 1908.

This law only prevented the location of new claims, however. It made no provision for the elimination of existing claims. The Department of the Interior still had to cope with dozens of prospectors who already had claims in the park. Over the next three years, numerous claims were invalidated by the General Land Office because they were inadequately described in the notice of claim, or they were not marked on the ground, or the claimant failed to do the necessary annual assessment work. A few claims persisted, however, and would cause trouble for the park for decades to come. Thus the problem of mining in the park changed after 1908, but did not go away. Park officials no longer had to cope with a yearly horde of prospectors, but they now had to try as best they could to contain the damage as the claimants carried out their annual assessment work and built "improvements" on their claims.

The change in the law raised two underlying legal and administrative issues for park officials that would frame the issue of mining for as long as any claims remained in the park. First, inasmuch as the mining claims were all marginal, park officials had to assess at what point it became worthwhile for the administration to challenge each claim and attempt to have it annulled. Second, the new park regulations that accompanied the 1908 law restricted the claimants' right to dig, divert water, cut timber, and erect buildings, to the confines of his or her claim without the permission of the Secretary of the Interior. But in practical terms, a successful mining operation required timber for the mine, an access road for getting supplies in and the ore out, and a staging area for buildings (known as a mill site, whether or not the ore was actually milled there). All of the significant mining operations after 1908 either attempted to claim a mill site or requested permission to build a road, or both. Two mining operations received permission to cut timber. The law was ambiguous as to how much the department needed to cater to these marginal mining operations in permitting such ancillary developments on park lands.

The Department of the Interior's response to these requests varied with each mining operation. Park officials attempted to assess whether mill site claims and applications for timber cutting or road construction were in "good faith." Their assessments varied. Another important variable related to the location of the mining operation relative to the park administration and the center of visitor activity. The mineral area near Longmire Springs was under the close eye of the park superintendent and the Corps of Engineers' Assistant Engineer Eugene Ricksecker. The mines in the Carbon River Valley were under the surveillance of a permanent district ranger. But those in Glacier Basin had very little oversight in this era. The department's treatment of these different concerns grew noticeably more lax the farther they were from the park administration and the center of visitor activity. Discussed below are three mining operations in the Longmire area, two in the Carbon River Valley, and one in Glacier Basin. These were the major mining concerns in the park, though in a couple of cases they would lie virtually dormant until a later era.

Short Canyon Mining Company, Longmire

Frank and Emma Hendricks and three Hendricks brothers located four quartz-lode mining claims (named the Pete, Eagle, Discovery, and Hendricks) around 1902. The claims were situated on the west bank of the Nisqually River about one half mile above Longmire Springs. It appears that neither Acting Superintendent Allen nor Assistant Engineer Ricksecker was even aware of the claims when Frank Hendricks asked for permission to build a short road connecting the claims to the park road above Longmire Springs. The newly surveyed park road, it seemed, went directly through one of the claims.

This situation disclosed how the provision for mining in the national park could work against the public interest, and it provoked Major John Millis of the Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, to urge special legislation that would exempt the park from the mining law.  Acting Superintendent Allen immediately detailed Ranger J.M. Schmitz to report on the validity of the claims. Schmitz found a showing of minerals on each claim. On the Discovery claim, Frank Hendricks had sunk two shafts, one 12 feet deep and the other 42 feet deep, and had dug a tunnel 10 feet deep. He had also built a 12 x 24-foot cabin and an 8 x 10-foot blacksmith shop. Allen forwarded the reports to the Commissioner of the General Land Office with the comment that the claims appeared to be made in good faith but that if they ever went to patent they would probably be used for a hotel site—just like the Longmire family's placer claim nearby.

As long as the claims remained valid, the possibility existed that the land would be patented and alienated from the park. The Hendricks family continued to work these claims for many years. In 1913-14, Superintendent Ethan Allen identified their mining concern as the Short Canyon Mining Company. The Hendricks sold their interest in the company to a group of Seattle investors in 1915 and apparently assessment work on these claims all but ended after that. In 1923, the abandoned claims were annulled.

Eagle Peak Copper Mining Company, Longmire

Mary A. Long filed a location notice for the Aldula claim on July 10, 1904, and her husband Baker Long and son Robert Wheelock filed notice for the adjoining Paradise No.1 claim on August 10, 1906. The family formed the Eagle Peak Copper Mining Company, with a capital stock of $150,000, on May 21, 1908. These claims were situated at the base of Eagle Peak, below the confluence of the Nisqually and Paradise rivers, and a short distance above Longmire Springs.

The park administration's quandaries began when the company filed a location notice for a mill site claim in 1910, two years after the Mount Rainier Park Act had been amended. Superintendent Hall requested instructions, advising his superiors that the company had previously built some cabins on this site in connection with the development of the Aldula and Paradise No. 1 claims. Without actually challenging the mill site claim, the Interior Department took the position that the company could use the land only as the department saw fit to permit, and that it did not object to the continued use of the land for "camping purposes." Three years later, in March 1913, Superintendent Hall informed the secretary that the company had maintained a permanent "camp" on this mill site since June 1, 1911. He found the camp unobjectionable except insofar as it might give the company "some claim to the land."  There was no reply from the department. In 1918, the company announced plans to develop the mill site with machinery and ore bins so that it could transport ore across the Nisqually River and then out of the park. The Interior Department recognized that the mill site claim was of doubtful validity, yet it permitted the company to invest the site anyway.

Paradise Mining and Milling Company, Longmire

Two brothers, Ike and Sherman Evans, located the Iva Henry No.1 and Iva Henry No.2 claims some time prior to the 1908 amendment of the Mount Rainier Park Act. The claims were situated at the base of Eagle Peak nearly adjacent to the Aldula and Paradise No. 1 claims. In September 1909, a mineral expert with the General Land Office reported "certain irregularities" in the way the claims had been located, but apparently no further action was taken to invalidate the claims at this time. In the spring of 1911, the Evans brothers applied for a permit to build a wagon road across 400 feet of park land and to construct an 800-foot cableway across the Nisqually River to a point approximately 750 feet from the park road. On June 2, 1911, the Department of the Interior advised Superintendent Hall not to permit this construction until further advised.  Apart from some limited assessment work on the claims, this mining operation lay virtually dormant until the First World War. As in the case of the Eagle Peak Copper Mining Company, the park administration evidently hoped that these claims would be abandoned. It was probably indicative of the park administration's low level of concern that the correspondence on both of these mining operations had to be reconstructed in 1917-18, and that none of this material survived in the park's administrative files.

Carbon River Valley Mining Operations

Two short-lived mining operations in the Carbon River Valley caused the park administration some concern in 1907-10, mainly because their location just inside the park boundary coincided suspiciously with a stand of the largest cedar found anywhere in the park and perhaps in the region. Some of the trees measured ten to twelve feet in diameter.

The Hephizibah Mining Company had six adjoining claims starting at an elevation of about 1,800 feet and going up the side of Sweet Peak to about 4,000 feet elevation. Late in the year 1908, the company filed notice for a five-acre mill site claim at the foot of Sweet Peak, and in April 1909, the company cut and slashed a line in the heavy timber around this claim. During that same winter, a logging railroad was constructed from Fairfax, located five miles from the park boundary on the Northern Pacific line, up the Carbon River to a point in the Rainier National Forest within three miles of this claim. To Ranger O'Farrell, the mill site claim did not appear to be made in good faith but rather appeared to be an attempt to acquire the large trees. In answer to a report from Acting Superintendent Allen on the mill site claim, the department ruled that the claim was invalid and that any further cutting of timber on the mill site would constitute trespass. Park officials were advised to inform both the local land office and the company accordingly.

But the matter did not end there. In 1910, the Hephizibah Mining Company filed papers with the General Land Office seeking to perfect three mining claim locations and the mill site in exchange for relinquishment of the other three mining claims. A General Land Office mineral expert, sent to inspect, reported that the lands were "mineral in character" and the claims were valid. Secretary Ballinger replied that the General Land Office's report was glib and inadequate; if the company wished to apply for patents, further examination was necessary. At this point the Hephizibah Mining Company practically vanishes from the historical record; apparently the company was discouraged from trying to take the claims to patent. In 1923, a mineral examiner found that the officers of the company had died or moved away, and the General Land Office annulled the claims.

The second mining operation in the Carbon River area was that of the Washington Mining and Milling Company, which had located some thirty claims about one mile inside the park boundary on the south side of the Carbon.  In 1907, the company's manager, William Colgrove, applied for a permit to construct a wagon road across park land. Colgrove indicated that the road would be twelve feet wide and would continue beyond the park boundary some five miles down the Carbon River Valley to Montezuma, about one-half mile east of Fairfax, where it would connect with an existing county road. The department approved a permit with the understanding that the road would be government property. O'Farrell reported his disappointment with the results in the fall; the road was barely passable and extended only from the company's workings to the park boundary. Moreover, he found twenty-eight large cedar, spruce, and hemlock stumps—indicating the removal of far more board feet of timber than the company could account for in the bridge construction and corduroying that occurred here and there along the road.

For about a twelve-month period in 1908-09, the Washington Mining and Milling Company took a keen interest in the claims, employing from seven to fifteen laborers. One tunnel reportedly reached a depth of 250 feet. By the spring of 1911, however, Superintendent Hall was able to report that the company had relinquished twenty-one of its claims. At this time the company still claimed fourteen locations, and Hall thought these, too, should be cancelled as they were probably being held for the merchantable timber on them. The record is incomplete, but the remaining claims appear to have been forfeited a few years later.

Mount Rainier Mining Company, Glacier Basin

The most significant mining operation in Mount Rainier National Park was that of the Mount Rainier Mining Company. Though this mining concern was finally no more successful than any other mining concern in the park, it involved more road-building, logging, building construction, and subsurface workings than all the others combined, and was the only one to take its claims to patent.

During the summers of 1897 and 1898, prospectors discovered signs of copper ore deposits on the east flank of Mount Rainier, between the Emmons and Inter glaciers, in a place called Glacier Basin. In the summer of 1902, Peter Storbo of Enumclaw and B.P. Korssjoen returned to the basin and staked forty-one claims, and in 1905 they formed the Mount Rainier Mining Company. The first recognition of this mining operation by park officials apparently occurred in 1906, when the Interior Department granted permission to Storbo and Korssjoen to improve the trail from the park boundary up the White River and the Inter Fork to their camp in Glacier Basin.

The earliest indication that this mining operation's remoteness would pose special administrative problems came in the acting superintendent's annual report for 1908, in which Allen stated that he had reason to believe that in the summer of 1907 the prospectors in Glacier Basin had killed a number of mountain goats in the area. The following year Allen reported that Ranger O'Farrell had confiscated rifles from the miners' cabins; now he was more certain that the miners had wiped out the goat population in the basin. Allen described the expanding operation as follows:

The mining claims are all contiguous and are located in the basin and on the ridges that surround it. The mining is done on the claims in the upper end of the basin and the tunnels run in the direction opposite to that by which the other claims would be reached. The lower claims in the group are in the timber. A sawmill with an estimated daily capacity of 10,000 board feet is operated by water power to produce timbers and lumber for the mine. The development work includes one tunnel 700 feet long, one tunnel 73 feet long, and a prospect hole 13 feet deep. Two cabins, 14 by 22 feet and 15 by 30 feet, a barn, 18 by 25 feet, and a blacksmith shop, 16 by 18 feet, have been built.

In 1913, the Mount Rainier Mining Company relinquished its claim to thirty-two of the forty-one locations, retaining nine mining claims (for which it would eventually obtain patents). In exchange for these relinquishments, the department granted the company a permit, renewable each year, for two campsites, two existing tunnels, an existing sawmill and waterpower site, and the privilege to build a road up the White River into the basin. The permit stipulated that no timber was to be cut without separate authorization from the Secretary of the Interior. The company would pay an annual fee for the permit, the amount to be adjusted as the Secretary of the Interior deemed appropriate. On paper, the department seemed to retain a lot of control through this agreement, but as things worked out over the next three years, the mining company was allowed considerable license.

The main reason for this was that the company's road construction promised to open up the east side of the park to tourists, a development which park officials regarded as positive even if the road would be an inferior one. At the time of this agreement, State Road No. 1 (today's Highway 410) terminated at the confluence of the White and Greenwater rivers, several miles north of the park boundary. Between 1914 and 1916, the Mount Rainier Mining Company constructed a wagon road from that point all the way up the White River to Glacier Basin, a distance of more than twenty miles. At the beginning of 1915, the company had already expended $25,000 on this project, and was employing a donkey engine, seven horses, and a crew of thirty to forty men, whose camp was situated just outside the park at the mouth of Silver Creek.

Glacier Basin - Mt. Rainier National Park

In 1915, the company also received permits from the Department of the Interior to cut green timber in Glacier Basin with which to construct two more buildings and a flume. The timber sales were small (the first was for 25,000 board feet and the second for 50,000 board feet, at $2.00 per thousand) but not insignificant considering the relatively sparse forest in Glacier Basin. Again, the department appeared to be motivated partly by the thought of opening up the east side for tourists that much sooner. One of the two buildings which the mining company proposed to build was a tourist hotel for the anticipated throng of automobilists once State Road No. 1 was completed.

When all was said and done, the privileges which the department granted to the Mount Rainier Mining Company seemed unreasonably generous. The "improvements" did not yield much benefit in the way of public use. The road was so steep beyond the mouth of the Inter Fork (with grades of up to thirteen percent) as to be nearly impassable to motor vehicles, while the rest of the road required extensive regrading by the Park Service before it was opened to automobile traffic. The "hotel" remained incomplete and never saw any guest use. Afterwards, however, the company was able to make an adequate case that it had made sufficient investment in the mining claims to have them patented. Once patented, the mining property in Glacier Basin would stand as the only alienated land in the park for many years.