Alabama Precious Metals
Source: Memorial Record of Alabama: A Concise Account of the State’s …, Volume 1
As has been already stated, gold was probably discovered in Alabama about the year 1830, for soon after that date considerable quantities of the precious metals were secured in half a dozen counties of north Alabama. Professor Toumey’s report, published in 1858, has allusions to the gold deposits, but until recently no thorough explorations of the gold fields have been made or even attempted. Under the enlarged powers given to the survey by the general assembly of 1888–90, Dr. Smith determined to make a thorough examination of the metamorphic region of north and east Alabama, having an area of 4,426 square miles. This work was specially intrusted to Dr. W. B. Phillips, and he seems to have entered . upon it with enthusiasm and prosecuted it with intelligence, zeal and ability. His “Preliminary Report,” detailing his explorations in the counties of Chilton, Coosa and Tallapoosa, has been printed, and an early copy furnished the writer through the courtesy of the state geologist, Dr. Eugene A. Smith. This document and the earlier reports of Dr. Smith furnish much of the information contained in this department of the industries of Alabama.
For convenience of reference, Dr. Phillips divides the gold fields into an upper and lower field, separating them by a line running due east and west along the northern boundary of Chilton, Coosa, Tallapoosa and Chambers counties. That part of the field south of this line, he calls the “Lower Alabama Gold Belt,” which contains about 1,700 square miles. The “Upper Gold Belt” comprises the counties of Cleburne, Clay, Randolph and a part of Talladega, containing about 1,800 square miles. The productive portion of this field is comprised in an area which Dr. Phillips describes as an equilateral triangle, the sides being about ninety miles in extent, the term “productive” being used to indicate that gold mining has at some time been carried on successfully within the described area. The gold bearing rocks of Alabama are believed to be coeval with the gold-bearing rocks of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Near Honeycutt’s mill in Chilton county, along Mulberry creek, placer mining has been carried on, in a small way, says Dr. Phillips, for the last fifty years. The mining commenced about ten miles below the mill, and extended about eight miles up the creek. Dr. Phillips, himself, out of thirty pans which he took out along the little branches leading into the creek, found gold in twenty-five of them. The thickness of the gold stratum he estimates at from one to two feet. Although gold is found in nearly all the branches running into Mulberry creek, in the vicinity of Honeycutt’s mill, Dr. Phillips does not consider that it occurs in sufficient quantities to justify further investigation. Several years ago some prospecting for gold was made near Verbena, on the Louisville & Nashville railroad. Although traces of gold were found, they were not sufficient to encourage an attempt at working them. A sample of quartz taken from a vein eight inches thick, near the gate at William Howard’s residence, gave $6.20 in gold. On Rocky creek, two miles east of Verbena, extensive washings for gold have been carried on in the gravel which underlies the soil at depths varying from three to six feet, and extends on both sides of the creek about 100 yards. Mr. William Howard states that in about ten weeks he personally realized $200 in gold from the washings along Rocky creek, securing one day as much as $19. His only implements were the pick and pan. Another gold seeker, less fortunate, worked there two months and secured only $60. This was about twenty years ago. Most of the work was done before 1860, when much interest was taken in gold mines. Dr. Phillips does not think that Rocky creek will now afford pay gravel of sufficient quantity and richness to pay for renewing work in it—the best of the gold having already been removed. ; The “Rippatoe Mine,” situated in section 17, township 21, range 16 east, Chilton county, was famous in the early days of gold mining in Alabama. Work on it was commenced as early as 1835, and continued with little interruption until 1860. For a mile up Blue creek, from James Mims’, on both sides there are great numbers of old pits, trenches and ditches, but these were so fallen in that Dr. Phillips had to sink two new pits to enable him to examine the gravel. A vertical section to the gravel of the Rippatoe mine shows soil and sandy clay two feet; soft reddish, inclining to bluish green, three feet; stiff bluish clay three feet—gold gravel, one foot—the latter being found eight feet below the surface. The depth varies from six to nine feet, the vein becoming thinner and at a greater depth, as the adjacent hills are approached. Much of the gold obtained was found in the run of the creek caught against upturned edges of slate. Several pieces of gold, worth from $1 to $5, were taken out. One piece, valued at $20, another, at $70, were also found here. No reliable estimate can be made of the amount of gold taken from this mine, but, judging from the character and extent of the old workings, it must have yielded a large return for the labor of the different gangs of men from time to time engaged in working the gravel. When the California gold fever broke out, most of these miners started forthwith for that land of promise, and there has been little, if any, gold washing in this vicinity since 1855. The average width of the valley, along which the gold bearing gravel is found, is less than 200 yards, and its length is about three-quarters of a mile. On the land of James Mims, in section 16 of the same township, the same kind of gravel is found; has been worked over, and a considerable quantity of gold was obtained from it prior to 1860, but little has been accomplished since that date. At a place called “Alum Bluff,” in Coosa county, there appears a heavy seam of bluish crystalline quartz, carrying decomposed pyrite. A sample on analysis gave gold 0.60 ounce per ton, with a trace of silver, showing the quartz was worth $15.40 per ton. A sample from the walling next the quartz gave in gold 0.35 ounce and silver 0.10 ounce, and was therefore worth $7.33 per ton.” Dr. Phillips considers this a “true vein” and worthy of thorough examination. He thinks it could be easily mined. At a place in sections 1 and 2, township 21, range 16 east, in Coosa county, called “Gold Ridge, “prospecting for copper and gold was made in 1885 and for graphite and gold in 1872 and 1873. A sample secured by Dr. Phillips in 1891 was assayed and found to contain, gold 0.15 ounce and silver 0.25 ounce, making the value $3.35 per ton—not rich enough to pay the cost of working. Four samples were taken from Flint Hill in section 17, same township, Coosa county, only one of which showed more than a trace of gold, and this sample was worth $4.13 per ton. Tradition affirms the existence of a silver mine in this locality which was worked by the Indians, but was so well concealed by them that, although diligent search has been made, no one has yet been able to find it. According to this tradition the mine is of exceeding richness and furnished the Indians with an abundance of silver. Before leaving the country, it is affirmed that the “redskins” sealed up the entrance to the mine with heavy rocks and obliterated all traces of the approach to it. Dr. Phillips does not credit this tradition, as he failed to discover any traces of the existence of such a mine. Professor Toumey’s report of 1858 gives an account of the Stewart gold mine, located in Coosa county, in section 4, township 23, range 17. The auriferous portion of the ridge, he says, “is about 200 feet wide and was at first worked in open cut, but the ridge is perforated with shafts, at intervals, for a distance of half a mile.” This mine was long since abandoned. Near Rockford he found an auriferous deposit of gravel and clay, a portion of which was once worked. Professor Toumey quotes Mr. Lieber’s description of the old mine in section 4, township 23, range 27 east, which produced well at one time, having an “engine mounted on the spot,” but, for lack of skill and good management, failed of success. Of the auriferous gravel deposits of Alabama, Mr. Lieber said “they present some very peculiar and interesting features.” “Gold is found,” he says, “in greater or less quantity, in almost all the gravels and sands of the creeks and branches of the metamorphic region, extending as far south as the Tallapoosa, twenty miles east of Wetumpka, where traces of gold exist. The deposits on the Weogufka and Hatchet creeks, in Coosa. county, demand, perhaps, the greatest atention.” “The ‘ packed gravel,’ as it is locally termed, immediately underlies the soil and debris of the surrounding rock, and is usually about a foot or eighteen inches in depth. The quartz of the gravel is throughout of an orange color, of a kind I have not seen in any other auriferous region. It belongs to the compact granular quartz commonly called ‘Sugar quartz,” and is probably identical with that which, in Australia, has received improperly the name of ‘cairngorn.’ * * * The quartz, when broken, resembles lumps of goodbrown sugar. The color is pale lemon within and orange without. Occasionally pieces are seen which pass from a blood red to a deep claret color, and on the fresh break exhibit correspondingly redder tints than the other.” The largest quartz bowlder found in the gravel deposits of the Weogufka contained about four cubic feet. “The gravel,” Mr. Lieber says, “pans from four to twenty particles of savable gold of a fine color,” and he has no doubt that if suitable locations were selected and proper contrivances chosen for extracting the gold, very profitable operations would be the result. The Hatchet creek includes what was called the “Miller” gold mine, in section 1, township 24, range 20 east, and another close to it in section 11, same township and range. The former mine usually paid $1.75 per hand, the latter only $1.00 per hand. The Miller mine was last worked in 1847 by T. Phillips, of Nixburg, with a force of six to eight hands. In the summer of 1843 as many as fifty hands were regularly worked here. The gold was of a very superior quality, and if properly managed, this mine, it is thought, might yet be made very productive. In the summer of 1854, a man worked in it by himself without any conveniences and made, while at work, $1 per day in gold, but ill health compelled him to stop work. The whole valley seems to be auriferous, for we are told that many pits were sunk in various places and gold was found in all but one of them. Near the town of Rockford, Coosa county, Dr. Phillips found an old pit, sunk forty or more years ago for gold, and worked several years ago by Mr. Lewis Parsons, but without much success. The assay of a sample from the “old dump” showed a value of $12.40 per ton. On the land of Mr. E. M. Thomas, in section 11, township 22, range 19, is a ledge of graphitic schist, some of which, he says, he worked and smelted in a blacksmith’s forge, and obtained from the rock 35 cents worth of silver. An assay from a sample taken by Dr. Phillips, however, showed a mere trace of gold and no silver. Tallapoosa and Cleburne counties were famous “among placer mines and quartz creeks fifty years ago,” and “yielded a large part of the gold credited to the southern states between 1830 and 1850.” It is stated that the town of Arbacoo, chee, in Cleburne county, which now has only about 300 inhabitants, had, in the times of the gold excitement, a population of 5,000. What was called the “Goldville” belt extended from Hillabee bridge, six miles east of Alexander city, to and beyond Goldville, a distance of fourteen miles. The entire distance presents a view of trenches, pits and shafts, indicating an active industry in the way of gold mining. Among the pits formerly worked, as given by Dr. Phillips, were the Ulrich, Croft, Mahan, Stone, Ealy, Log, Houston, Goldville, Germany, Jones and Birdsong. Of these the Ulrich pits were southwesterly and the Birdsong northeasterly. According to Professor Toumey, the Goldville mine was discovered in 1842, and was worked with much success. The gold was worth 90 cents to the pennyweight. About $30,000 in gold was extracted from this pit, and, in addition, about $80,000 in silver. The want of sound and systematic business methods caused the failure of operations at this valuable mine, but Mr. Lieber reports that it was subsequently reopened. He says further that “a vein has been discovered which, from its curious contortion, is called the snake vein.” On the south side of the shaft he says it was poor, but on the northern side the average yield was $1 per bushel. Besides gold, magnetic iron sand, native sulphur, garnets and mica are found in the vicinity. The Ulrich pits were opened, says Dr. Phillips, by a German named Ulrich some forty years ago. He opened the gold pit and crushed, in a rude way, a good deal of ore, and is reputed to have made considerable money. He seems to have struck the ore while excavating a wine cellar for his vineyard. While a good deal of ore has been taken from the pit. Dr. Phillips thinks that the main body has hardly been touched, and that a large amount of free milling quartz still remains within 1,000 feet of the creek. Samples received by him from several old dumps, gave, by fire assay, from $2.06 to $8.46 per ton. Over a distance of twelve miles the quartz seams are reputed “bold and strong, preserving the same general characteristics and showing a remarkable continuity of walling, strike and dip.” Referring to the operations in Tallapoosa county (and the same remarks apply to the entire gold district), Dr. Phillips says: No organized capital was employed and there were no mills worthy of the name. But little was known of the art of mining, and still less of the art of milling, the most important consideration in the successful management of gold ores, and there must have been a large loss of gold. Yet the work went on for years—some of it costly work. The only explosive they had was black powder; all the drilling was done by hand, and a great deal of the crushing also. But they kept at it, and the engineer who examines the district to-day, can see for himself that an astonishing amount of ore was raised and treated. * * * * At Goldville itself, between 1840 and 1850, there are said to have been fourteen large stores, with a contributory population of at least 3,000 souls. Now one looks in vain for the tenth part of this population, and the stores have been converted into dwellings and barns. It must, however, be distinctly stated that the mining operations conducted forty or fifty years ago along this belt merely scratched the great deposits of free milling quartz that characterize it.
At the Jones pits, in section 5, township 24, range 23, Dr. Phillips discovered undecomposed sulphuret of iron, with arsenopyrite at the bottom of a shaft sixty feet deep, held in a hard bluish quartz, showing also free gold. A sample, without the free gold, showed, by fire assay, gold 27-10 ounce, silver, 1-10 ounce per ton, having a value per ton of $55.90. In the upper portion of the quartz seams of the Goldville belt, we are told, all the gold is now free and can be readily taken up by quicksilver. The “old time miners,” not knowing how to treat “undecomposed sulphuret,” mined only the upper portions of the seams, from which the coveted gold could be obtained with comparative ease. The seams in this district are known to extend continuously for at least fifteen miles and “probably extend thirty miles.”
Dr. Phillips thinks that the old miners, when they “moved on,” left “an incalculable amount of free milling ore,” but even should this not be the case, he says, “we now possess means for the economical treatment of the undecomposed sulphuret which, for ease, rapidity and thoroughness, leave but little to be desired.” The “sulphurets,” he says, “no longer vex us.” By the “Theis process” (the chlorination of gold ores) they can be treated for their gold contents cheaply and successfully, but apart from the sulphurets, he gives it as his deliberate judgment that “between the Hillabee bridge and the Birdsong pits, there is enough free milling gold ore to maintain a dozen stamp mills, of two hundred tons capacity per day, at work profitably for twenty-five years. He bases this roseate opinion upon his own personal survey and a thorough examination of this region. In an interesting letter, Col. B. L. Dean (who acted as guide for Dr. Phillips, and whose letter is published in Bulletin No. 3), after describing minutely the several pits mentioned above, goes on to say, “about two and a half miles west of the Log pits we find a great mass of ore in the Hog mountain. There are millions of tons of quartz in the Hog mountain, all of it carrying gold.” Assays of this ore varied in value from $4 to $16 per ton. He says that the first work in gold mining, in that part of Tallapoosa, was done by Edward Birdsong, who died over thirty years ago. His widow once explained to Col. Bean the reason why her husband stopped the work. The country, she said, was full of miners, and she could not afford to raise her children where the Sabbath was a day of hunting and gambling. In illustration of the gold fever, she said that her negro cook, after attending to all the duties of the house, would take a pan and wash out seventy-five cents worth of gold a day, crushing the ore in a little hand mortar. In eighteen assays of samples from different pits—numbers 1,282 to 1,299 inclusive—only a trace of silver is found in ten of them, and in one, from the Jones pits, it showed 3–10 ounce per ton. The same assay showed gold 9–10 ounce per ton and a value of $8,90. This was by far the most valuable of the samples assayed. The famous “Hog mountain,” to which reference has been made, lies four miles due west from Goldville; is about one thousand feet above tide water and towers five hundred feet above the surrounding country. It gets its name from its peculiar shape when viewed from a distance. On the west side are “enormous outcrops of quartz seams and massive bowlders of quartz.” One of the seams is uncovered to a breadth of thirty-five feet, from which good ore has been taken. Dr. Phillips informs us that there is now a ten-stamp mill, California pattern, with boiler and engine, on the property, but no work has been done there for several years. He estimates that as much as five hundred tons of ore have been mined and milled in this locality. He further informs us that a company organized in St. Louis, called the Tallapoosa Mining company, is about to begin work at Hog mountain on an extensive scale. He estimates that there are millions of workable ore in this mountain, and with a “modern mill crushing two hundred to three hundred tons per day” the business could be made very profitable. Mr. A. F. Hopper, writing to James P. Dawson, Esq., of St. Louis, president of the Tallapoosa Mining company, says that in 1886 and 1887 he had several assays made of Hog mountain ore, some of which ran as low as $2, some as high as S31, and averaging $7.50 per ton of ore. Dr. Phillips made (in 1891) four assays from ore taken at random from some old dumps on Hog mountain, which ran from $6.20 to $58.67 per ton, showing an average of $24.23 per ton. In summing up his researches, in the Goldville and Hog mountain belts, he remarks that the Ulrich and Jones pitts are well supplied with running water, sufficient for extensive operations; that the nearest water supply to Hog mountain is Hillabee creek, about two and a half miles distant; that an abundance of good timber of all kinds is within easy reach of Hog mountain, and all the pits mentioned; and that gold mining can be carried on perfectly in this part of the gold belt. In the same county, Tallapoosa, about thirteen miles southwest of Dadeville, is “Silver Hill,” where mining was carried on as far back as the year 1835, but there are no records of the result that are attainable at this date. Dr. Phillips, however, finds evidence that a great deal of work was done here, as the old works are quite extensive. Professor Toumey and Mr. Lieber both visited the locality before the shafts, drifts, etc., had falllen in, and the former, in his report published in 1858, gives an interesting description of the veins, illustrating it with sectional views. He says that about ten years before that date “This mine was in a very prosperous condition. About 150 feet of the principal vein was outcropping on the crest of a hill.” It was two feet thick near the surface; about twelve feet below the surface it becomes richer and thinner, but at a depth of fifteen feet below the surface it becomes poorer again. Then it thickened to four or five feet and continued to improve in productiveness until it was abandoned. The vein was worked to a depth of eighty feet in the center, where ore was found worth $4.85 per bushel, or or about $96 per ton. Professor Toumey attributes the ruin of the works to the accustomed mode of “letting out the mine in small parcels.” It was subsequently re-opened, and while an adit was being driven above the natural drainage of the creek, the proprietor had ore hauled by oxen from the top of the hill to the mill, a distance of about two hundred and fifty yards, where six stamps and a badly constructed “Burke rocker” were in operation. The ore thus treated was worth only about $2.50 per ton. Mr. Lieber, who more recently examined the place, reported as follows to Prof. Toumey: “The country is a talcose slate, one of the beds of which is of that peculiar black kind resembling black lead. Another talcose bed, in which quartz appears in irregular masses, is the one which is worked, the slate being also auriferous. The main body is eight feet thick. Deeper down, the quartz will consolidate, in all probability, into a regular vein. Garnets and peroxide of iron occur, but all mixed confusedly with the slate. The present company have driven two good adits, one of which is four hundred feet in length, which, by draining a large amount of untouched ore, will enable them to work the contents of the mine for a long time, without any additional expense of consequence for drainage. The gold is said to be worth ninetyfive cents per pennyweight * * * On the tributaries of the creek, a great amount of gravel has been washed, in years past, for gold, and with much success, but these works have been abandoned years since.” Dr. Phillips confirms the foregoing statement with regard to Silver hill, and finds sufficient evidence of the “wasteful and unscientific methods” pursued by the early miners. He is confident that there is still good silver ore at Silver hill, and proves it by assays of three samples “taken at random from some old dumps.” “The first sample was bluish crystalline quartz, carrying pyrite, which assayed, gold 4 9–10 ounces per ton; silver 3.7-10 ounces per ton—valued at $104,98 per ton. The second sample was yellowish, sugary quartz, which assayed gold 4–10 ounce, silver 3–10 ounce per ton—value. SS. 50. The third sample, light and sugary quartz, gave only traces of gold and silver. The first assay represented the ore found in the bottom of a shaft of eight feet. The vein was described by Mr. Worthington, who worked it, as being about five feet in width and as carrying a good deal of sulphuret.” At the time of Dr. Phillips’ visit (August, 1891) this shaft was filled with water. Dr. Phillips, in his “Preliminary Report,” publishes some interesting letters from Major C. H. Parmalee of New York, which furnish information worth considering here. In a letter dated September 1, 1891, he says that many years ago he had some assays made of Silver hill ores, the lowest of which showed a value of $15 and the highest of $500 per ton. Some Cincinnati parties, several years afterward, had assays made of the Silver hill sulphuret ores, of which the average was thirty dollars per ton. At Gregory hill—two miles north of Silver hill— Major Parmalee says that, in about 1861, he worked about 1,200 tons of ore without any care in selection, which averaged $1.75 per ton. The screens used were very coarse, and he says their knowledge of the business was very slight. “I think,” he continues, “that Gregory hill would average, without selection, $2.00 per ton, and at a cost of fifty cents per ton; ample water can be obtained for twenty stamps, say sixty tons, per day. I think it would be safe to call the Silver hill refractory ores $25. I once got fourteen dollars free gold per ton from eight tons of refuse Silver hill ore. The ore was partially decomposed by weather exposure, say for twenty years.” In a subsequent letter, dated October 2, 1891, Major Parmalee writes Dr. Phillips as follows: “You are probably not aware that there is a shaft sunk about ninety feet down square on to the sulphuret vein—at least thirty feet or more below any of the old* * * It was in this shaft that Prof. Emmons examined the + * + works. vein. It has been sunk about twenty feet deeper since that time. There is also another shaft in the same vein about 150 feet west of this, which can be cleaned out. The ore from these shafts will assay from fifteen to fifty dollars. The vein, so far as stripped, averaged from eighteen to twenty-four inches.” Mr. Parmalee, Dr. Phillips’ states, has a fifteen stamp mill at work at Gregory hill, where the ore is rapidly treated. The water supply is not sufficient to operate more than twenty stamps, but the doctor thinks there is sufficient ore in sight to warrant much more extensive works which, with good management, would yield a handsome profit. Blue hill, in the same section, shows similar characteristics to Gregory hill. At the latter place, the explorer says, “it is almost impossible to take a pan from any place on top of the hill, where the ore has been mined, without getting free gold; the surface yields good panning and when one takes the ore itself extraordinary results are obtained.” He says that he has never seen better panning anywhere than from this locality. The chief drawback to mining in both localities is the absence of sufficient water. Blue creek—a bold stream of water which could be tapped within a distance of one mile—would afford an ample supply, but that water can only be made available by the use of powerful pumping machinery, which would of course be expensive. At Long branch, about one mile south of Silver hill, a good deal of successful work has been done, and also at Owl hollow, in the same vicinity. The former place, according to reports, yielded much gold about forty or fifty years ago. The Morgan mine, on the Talapoosa river, not far from Dudleyville, says Toumey’s report (1858) “is a deposit mine, composed of a thick bed of coarse gravel. The mine was just opened at the time of my visit and was attracting much attention.” The southwestern corner of Talapoosa county, Dr. Phillips tells us, “is the southern limit of the gold region of the state.” Chambers county he also places in the Lower gold belt, but so far as known no attempts at mining have been made in the county. Heavy quartz seems to abound as far south as Lafayette, but these have not been examined. Dr. Phillips thinks the outlook is better in the Upper than in the Lower belt, particularly in the vicinity of Arbacochee, where placer mining has been carried on for fifty years, and at Bell’s mills, Idaho, Extension miné, Pinetucky (where a ten stamp mill is now at work) and other localities in Cleburne, Randolph, Talladega and Clay counties. Gold has been profitably worked at the Riddle’s Hold mine, Talladega county. In much of the quartz mined here, gold was plainly visible to the eye, and the numerous assays from various depths, as well as the testimony of those who have worked the mine, show, in the judgment of Dr. Smith, that the mining can be carried on here with profit. Gold, he says, has been mined also northeast and southwest of the Riddle mine, in the same belt, but with no other appliances than a pick and pan.
In concluding this review of the gold and silver mines of Alabama, the language of Prof. Toumey in his report, published more than thirty years ago, seems as applicable to-day as when the words were penned by that far-sighted and enlightened scientist: “It is impossible,” he says, “to point out all the occurrences of deposit gold in Alabama, and it is almost as difficult to ascertain all the localities at which it might be profitably worked. * * * Future discoveries will probably develop more than it is possible to show at present.” The fact that, after so long an interval, gold and silver are now being mined in the state; that the precious metals exist, in considerable quantities, in a large area; that enterprise and capital are preparing to seek for them diligently, aided by the improved appliances of modern times, and the further fact that the statements herein given will be new and interesting to many people, will excuse, if apology were necessary, the time and space devoted to this part of the subject of “Mines and Mining in Alabama.”