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Silver Reef - Sandstone Ghost Town

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Mine in Silver Reef, Utah

This old mine sits in a gully behind the town site of Silver Reef, Utah,

Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!


Alas, the homes that sprang so quickly
Soon were vacant, empty rooms.
But the pioneers who viewed them
Could not see them just decay,
And they brought their teams and wagons,
Hastily hauling them away.

Now, a scarred and lonely landscape
Greets the trav'lers wondering gaze,
As he comes to view the remnants
Of this camp of by-gone days.

And, so, we love your memory,
Sad old Silver Reef!
And your bright, new promise too,
Of a newer flow of metals,
lately Come to light,
That can even help our Nation in defending
What is right.


-- Marietta M. Mariger, 1951



Silver Reef, Utah 1880's

Silver Reef, Utah, 1880s.


Located about 15 miles northeast of St. George, Utah, the "ghost town” of Silver Reef got its start when silver was discovered in the limestone cliffs of the eastern slope of the Pine Valley Mountains. Silver in sandstone?? It was unbelievable and has spawned numerous tales of exactly how the ore was discovered.


The most often told tale is when a prospector named John Kemple had been roaming the sandstone reefs in search of any metallic color back in 1866, he took shelter with a family in the Mormon settlement of Leeds. Welcoming the tired and chilled man into their home, they got the fire roaring to warm him up and as Kemple sat staring into the fire, he allegedly saw a small shining stream ooze from an overheated rock. The next day, he then began to search for the source of what he believed was silver. Though he did find a small sample, it wasn’t enough to keep him in the area and he soon moved on to Nevada.




A later story tells of an assayer in the notorious mining town of Pioche, Nevada, just across the state line, who was infamous for his overstated ore values. Referred to by area prospectors as "Metalliferous” Murphy, two miners decided to pull a prank on him and submitted pieces of a broken grindstone for assay. When Murphy predictably reported the fragments contained silver to the value of 200 ounces per ton, the miners revolted, threatening to hang Murphy if he didn’t immediately leave town. Murphy complied, but not before he tracked the source of the fragments of the grindstone back to the area that would soon be called Silver Reef. Murphy then headed to Utah in search of the "sandstone silver.” Though there is no record of the assayer ever filing a claim, he quickly drew the attention of other prospectors and silver was soon confirmed to be hidden within the sandstone rock formations, much to the surprise of many skeptical miners. It was the first and only time silver has been found in sandstone in North America.


In 1874, John Kemple returned to the area and established the Harrisburg Mining District. Though he filed several claims, for unknown reasons he never developed them. Soon, word got out and the hills were crawling with prospectors.  The area soon drew the attention of two Salt Lake City bankers, who backed a well known prospector by the name of  William T. Barbee in 1875. The miner soon staked more than 20 claims and established a town he called Bonanza City. Though the settlement offered very little in its early days, the lot prices were so high that most miners couldn’t afford them and instead, established a tent city nearby that they simply called "Rockpile.”


After the mines closed in Pioche, Nevada in November of 1875, a number of businesses moved into the area, setting up their establishments in "Rockpile,” rather than Bonanza City.


The quickly growing community then changed the name to Silver Reef and by February, 1877, the camp was filled with more than 1,000 men looking for their fortunes.


Within no time, the town boasted more than 100 businesses stretched out along a mile long main street, including nine grocery stores, six saloons, a newspaper called the Silver Echo, eight dry goods stores, a bank, a Wells Fargo office, a hospital, hotels and boarding houses, and five restaurants.



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