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Silver Reef - Sandstone
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This old mine sits in a gully behind the town site of
Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
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.
M. Mariger, 1951
Located about 15 miles northeast of St.
"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
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
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
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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