(Editorial Note: Part 126 of a series of historical happenings that impacted the residents of Franklin County. Source: Gems of our Valley — article #11 of place names in Development series, Preston Citizen, Claudia Erickson; Franklin County Citizen, issues of 1917; Mining publications of 1917-1922.)
It seems that men have always had a hankering to find a way to “strike it rich.” This corner of Idaho had its moments in its early days when everyone knew someone who dabbled in prospecting for mineral wealth. Prospectors hoped to turn into miners. The account of Gentile Valley’s early resident Don Stalker relates that several hardy gold miners from the Caribou Mountain mines found winters too hard for endurance. Feed was limited for their horses and trappers had tales about this valley to the south where there were warm springs and geysers that held the snow at bay much of the winter. Wild game was for the taking. These miners took up residence in the south end of the valley when the weather got frigid.
In the mountains surrounding northern Cache Valley are several spots where a prospector sunk a hole in the hope of finding valuable minerals. In some cases a family filed a homestead claim on a patch of ground they felt would likely produce some crop other than that grown by plowing and irrigation.
The Intermountain Industry and Engineering Publication, Official Publication, Vol. 19, Salt Lake Mining Review Magazine of July 1917, announced several new mining industries.
One was of interest to the people of Franklin County. “A new Corporation, Valentine Cinnabar Company, capitalization $25,000, J. W. Trease, President, Benjamin Rose, Vice President, C. L. Rollins, secretary, incorporated in Ogden, Utah.” Their claims were located on the western edge of what had been Oneida County, which included Preston and surrounding communities.
On the front page of the Franklin County Citizen, July 26, 1917, was this headline: “Reported Big Mine Strike in Black Pine Mountains — The cinnabar strike at the east base of Black Pine mountains seven miles west of here gives much evidence of becoming a great quick silver mine. The vein is a true fissure in excellent dolomite limestone formation lying upon a lime shale footwall which consists of a snow white quartz which is literally impregnated with the beautiful vermillion or scarlet red spots of cinnabar and which has been traced and proven by assays for 1,000 feet in its course . . . and ending to cross the mountain range diagonally. At one place a 30-foot underground cross cut shows the vein to be three feet wide, with 10 feet of barium spar on the hanging wall side, without the hanging wall yet being reached, therefore the real thickness of the barite is not yet known. An assay of this heavy white and orange colored spar proved it to be barite and worth $12 per ton. Barite like this is found together with the great cinnabar mines of Texas and California, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
“This character of ore invariably improves with depth. With quick silver selling near $1.50 per pound this ore is worth about $40 per ton.
“This excellent property was discovered two years ago (1915) and was only thought to be red zinc, but assays the last few months has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to be cinnabar. The property consists of four claims and is owned by the Valentine Cinnabar Company, a recent Utah corporation.
“It might be said in regard to cinnabar deposits that they are found not in the volcanic or lava formation, but nearly always a few miles to the one side or the other, according to U. S. Geologist Becken. Great mines are found in Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada and Spain.”
Evidently this was big news for some Franklin County citizens. The paper further reports, “The other day a party of Preston men, hearing of a rich strike in this section, silver going 150 ounces to the ton went out early one morning about five o’clock by automobile route to locate a rich section in which this strike is reported to have taken place. From inspection of ore we never saw anything look so promising and the cinnabar is just as good as the cinnabar found down in Mercur, Utah. We are sure to hear something from this section.”
A few months later the headline was “Valentine Cinnabar Mines Are Coming Out Strong.” The claims were remarkable strong in what looked like a chloride formation. “A cross cut showed a new vein westward. The first three feet of this vein a material encountered is composed of what the miners call soft clay shale of silver, white, yellow and greenish colors. The next three feet downward of supposed sandstone but here shows the beautiful yellow of the chloride of silver.”
By December of 1917, the company’s secretary was visiting Preston, showing some samples of cinnabar ore. The assumption is that the company may have been looking for investors. However, from this point on, the name of the company, even the word cinnabar disappeared from the local newspaper.
What happened? Perhaps it was just the defining of the new county boundaries with Franklin County named the eastern part of what had been Oneida County. Perhaps the Valentine Company decided we were too distant to be economically needed in their venture. The Mines Handbook of 1922, lists mines in operation throughout the nation. There were many located in Idaho, besides the Valentine, which was described briefly as “a group of claims on the eastern slope of Black Pine Mountain, 4 ½ miles west of Black Pine Post Office.” Some of the other mines in this handbook at this time were located in Wallace, Kellogg, Hailey, Burke, Mackay, Mullan, and some identified by county: Shoshone, Cassia, Idaho. Generally the financial backers were from Washington state or Utah. With that, the chapter of Franklin County’s mining industry appears closed.