Mining Techniques


And what made everything tick?  Water.  Sometimes there was too much, journals and newspapers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are full of “dewatering” stories.  Sometimes there was too little, real mining efforts and mine scams both had to prove they had access to water to be successful.  

Water pipe fitting found east of Hillsboro - Photograph taken on April 15, 2015.

Not all of the mining that was done in the Hillsboro Mining District was of the hard rock variety (shafts and adits dug into the earth).  There was a significant amount of placer and dredge work which was done east of Hillsboro.  To be very effective, such mining requires significant amounts of water.  The New Mexico Directory and Gazetteer (1882) (referred to below as “The Gazetteer”) contains the following description of the water situation on page 54:

The “water problem” was purported to be solved in this case by running a nine-mile pipeline from North Percha Creek where a reservoir capable of impounding seven billion (7,000,000,000) gallons of water was being built.  The pipeline was to run through a tunnel 1,500’ long in its transit to the mining operations.  (See the March 2, 1883 edition of the Black Range newspaper for more information.)

G. M. Fuller, the Superintendent of the Hillsboro Hydraulic Mining Company, reported the condition of six miles of pipe (8”, 9”, and 12”) on March 8, 1885 and noted that “It is contemplated by this company to extend the pipe line some six miles this coming season...”  He further noted that during the fall of 1884 “our reservoir broke loose and it became necessary to relay over a mile of the twelve-inch pipe.”  (Reference: Facts About Pipe, by Edmund Cogswell Converse, National Tube Works, 3rd Ed., 1895, p. 62)

“Dry-Land Gold-Saving Machines” are pictured below from the Hillsboro Placer Mining District, from “The Geology and Ore Deposits of Sierra County, New Mexico” by George T. Harley NM State Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, Plate IX, found between pages 166 and 167.  In the second photograph below, a row of rock mounds extends off to the right (material which has been dredged and processed), still a common site in areas around Hillsboro.

Harley (see above) reported that the Animas Consolidated Mines Company supplied its operations from one well which produced 23 gallons a minute and that the Placer Syndicate Mining Company had constructed a 4,000,000 gallon reservoir between Dutch and Grayback Gulches. (p. 168)  He goes on to say that “The water supply in this district is a serious problem, as wells to a depth of 85 feet are pumping less than 100 gallons of water per minute, and it is questionable if a large underground supply is available.  The water in the Rio Percha is said to be available in part, but its utilization would involve pumping against a 600-foot head for a distance of over 4 miles.”

On October 21, 1892, Ellis Clark, General Manager of The Silver Mining Company of Lake Valley, reported that the pipe at their leaching mill “has given perfect satisfaction”.  (Reference: Facts About Pipe, by Edmund Cogswell Converse, National Tube Works, 3rd Ed., 1895, p. 67)

When the mines gave out, the pipe was not necessarily abandoned.  Converse reports that “an  hydraulic mining company in New Mexico that had several miles of Converse Joint Pipe in use; the mines giving out, the pipe was taken up, after having done seven or eight years’ service, and resold at prices which netted about 80 per cent  of the original cost.”  (Reference: Facts About Pipe, by Edmund Cogswell Converse, National Tube Works, 3rd Ed., 1895, p. 435)  Although the hydraulic mining company is not named the facts match well with the Hillsboro operations and may explain why so little evidence exists of their use/presence.

It is likely that mining operations ran pipelines to any number of mines, evidence is scarce and often circumstantial.  For instance, the pipe fitting shown at the top of this section was found at the location shown below, in a wash running down the side of a good sized hill.  What was it doing there?  It is unlikely that this fitting is part of a pipeline to the placer operations, more likely it was to a shaft or adit mine, but which....  when....    why....

The employment level of these operations, estimated at about 300, is generally consistent with the estimate for Dona Ana County.  The Gazetteer estimated that at that time “from fifteen hundred to two thousand reside in the mountains and on the plains engaged in agricultural pursuits, stock-raising, and mining” throughout the county. (p. 46)  Further, that the “census of 1880 gives Dona Ana county a population of 7,612.  The present population of the county is about 10,000; of these over 8,000 are native born and speak the Spanish language.”  (And that the “majority of the jail...are English speaking persons who are not natives of the Territory”.)

At page 57, the Gazetteer notes:

Water made the placer operations much more efficient and the companies which ran those operations went to extraordinary lengths to assure water was available.  There is little current evidence of this part of our mining history.

The Role of Water in the Rattlesnake and Opportunity Mine Groups

“Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities”  (1906) describes the Rattlesnake and Opportunity Mine operations of the Sierra Consolidated Gold Mining Company.   It notes: “The company is proceeding with development work, and purposes erecting a stamp mill and plant in connection with the Rattlesnake Group, capable of treating 200 tons of ore daily, and a pumping plant of sufficient capacity to furnish water to treat at least 500 tons of ore daily.”  The company’s prospectus (p. 5) notes that “It will also erect a pumping plant at the source of water supply which it owns and lay a pipe line of sufficient capacity to furnish water to treat at least 500 tons of ore daily.”   

Sierra Consolidated was incorporated in West Virginia on December 1, 1902 (for a term of 50 years) with a place of business listed as Hillsboro and a capitalization of $3,000,000.  When the term of the corporation expired, the state of New Mexico simply listed it as delinquent - along with page after page of mining and milling companies of that era.  In The Ore Deposits of New Mexico, Waldemar Lindgren et al., notes that “The Snake Mine, once actively worked but idle for many years, became the property of the Sierra Consolidated Gold Mine Company, which began operations on it in 1906, but soon closed down.” (Professional Paper 68 of the United States Geological Survey, Washington, 1910, p. 210)  Sierra Consolidated acquired the properties from Henry M. Porter of Denver (“Report of the Director of the Mint Upon the Production of the Precious Metals in the United States During the Calendar Year 1902”, Washington, GPO, 1903, p. 175.)

The prospectus of the Sierra Consolidated Gold Mining Company includes a report by a mining engineer named William M. Farish.  At page 39 (image below) of the prospectus, Mr. Farish discusses where the water needed for the mining operation is to be obtained.  

Water was to be pumped (by “a pumping plant”) from “Percha River” to the mines.  Polluted water was to be returned to the Percha a mile above the pumping plant so that it could “clarify itself” and be re-pumped to the mines.  The pollution of the ground water by this process would have been significant.

Farish notes at the end of his report, p. 40 of the prospectus, that “The mines give every evidence of permanency and lasting quality of ore, thus insuring for them long life and prosperity.”

The “Report of the Director of the Mint Upon the Production of the Precious Metals in the United States During the Calendar Year 1902”, Washington, GPO, 1903, p. 175  states that “The principal gold camp of Sierra County is Hillsboro, in the Las Animas mining district.  Both placer and lode gold are mined in considerable quantities at Hillsboro.  The Mexican element work the placers, while the lode mining is being done by Americans.”

What was happening at the Sierra Consolidated properties during its life time?  Or more particularly what was being reported.  See “Played Out In Minneapolis: The Rise? and Fall? of a Hillsboro Mining Venture” by Mark Thompson in the February 2014 issue of Guajalotes, Zopilotes, y Paisanos - Newsletter of the Hillsboro Historical Society, for one possible scenario.  Bad business decisions or fraud?  Much of the mining money of the west was made from investors responding to such prospectus.  Ferreting out the real from the fraud was often very difficult.  At roughly the same time that the Sierra Consolidated Gold Mining Company was circulating its prospectus, “the postoffice department lately issued a fraud order against the Hillsboro Consolidated Mines Co., alleging that the company purchased a defunct mine in the Hillsboro camp for $9,950, capitalized the company for $2,000,000 and sold a large amount of stock, the money from which went into the pockets of the promoters rather than into the development of the property.” (“The Mining Reporter”, Volume 56, page 411, October 31, 1907.)

At this time Sierra Consolidated was “retimbering the three-compartment shafts on its Snake and Opportunity groups and is making a number of other improvements.  A traction line is to be built from Hillsboro to Osceola and a large milling plant is to be erected.”  (“The Mining Reporter”, Volume 53, page 121, February 1, 1906.)  Two weeks later (February 15, 1906, Volume 53, p. 181) “The Mining Reporter” noted that “A traction engine and cars have been delivered at this company’s (Sierra Consolidated) property and will be used on the road which will be built either from Lake Valley or Osceola to Hillsboro.  The company is preparing to unwater its Snake mine and to erect a hoist on the main shaft of the Opportunity.  It is also reported that the company will, as soon as possible, erect a fifty-stamp mill.”  Three months later “The Mining Reporter” was reporting that “Work on the traction road from Osceola to Hillsboro will commence soon and will probably be concluded before the rainy season sets in.” (Volume 53, May 17, 1906, p. 501)  A few months later, February 21, 207, the Mining Reporter (Volume 55, p. 192) was reporting that “according to local reports, this district is more active than it has been in years.  The most extensively operating companies are the Sierra Consolidated Gold Mining Co. and the Empire Gold Mining & Milling Co..”

This photograph, described below, is presented courtesy of the New Mexico State 
University Library, Archives and Special Collections Department.  It is from the 
Mildred Elizabeth Fulghum Rea Papers, 1880-1921, Ms0054.  Used with permission.

This photograph (see attribution above) documents the delivery of heavy mining equipment in Hillsboro during this time period.  Mildred Elizabeth Fulghum Rea described this photograph as:  “An Exciting Event in Hillsboro, about 1906 or 1907 I believe.  One of the mines near Hillsboro - if I remember right, it was the Snake - purchased some very heavy equipment.  It came to Lake Valley by rail, from there was hauled to the mine by a 24 horse team, brought in from outside Sierra County.  Shown here passing thru Hillsboro between "Happy Flat" (the lower, Mexican portion) and the upstream (largely "American") part of town.  A sad happening as they pulled out of Lake Valley, on the road then existing which went west past the mill and over a steep rise before turning north.  Two of their best lead horses were somehow crowded off the road and fell into a shallow shaft just left of the road.  They had to be killed."

In the March 26, 1908 issue, p. 328, of “Mining American” (Vol. 57)  it is reported that “E. S. Neal, receiver of the Sierra Cons. Gold M. Co., has headquarters at Hillsboro, NM” and that (May 14, 1908, p. 478) “leasers are profitably operating on the Snake and Opportunity Mines, with occasional shipments of high-grade ore.”  In Vol. 61 (March 3, 1910), p. 213, of “Mining American” it is noted that “The Statehood Mines Co., which took over the late Sierra Consolidated at receiver’s sale, will unwater the old workings and rumor has it that shortly after this work is done actual operations on the property are to begin.”

The Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. 101, p. 500, March 11, 1916 reported that “John M. Sully and associates, of the Chino Copper Co., have taken an option on the Snake and Opportunity mines.  Consideration, $75,000.  Force of workmen has been set to work unwatering and retimbering the main shaft.  New shaft is being sunk on Snake, from which crosscuts will be extended to tap veins.  This mine formerly produced several million dollars in gold and copper.”  A week later, (March 18) it was reported that a “Big Diesel engine being put in shape for operation...hiring skilled labor and engineers...preparatory to beginning unwatering.” (ibid. p. 540).  And on April 22, “Diesel engine now in operation.  Station at 300-ft. level Opportunity mine being retimbered.” (ibid. p. 754)

The Mines Handbook, by Walter Weed, Vol. 14, 1920, p. 1258, reported that the “Sierra Consolidated Mining Co. (is) out of business. Property taken over by Statehood Mines Co., both of which companies were reported into bankruptcy through incompetent management and spectacular get-rich-quick financing.  Mine now operated by the Snake and Opportunity Mines Co.” and the following about the Snake and Opportunity Mines Co.:

A history of mining in the American West, seen through the shafts of some Hillsboro mines.


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