cleaning sturgeon

Mining the Red Ledge, an Oral History of a Life in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains.

Hugh Addington, born November 24, 1894, was the mine mechanic at the Red Ledge mine on the Eagle Bar in Hell’s Canyon, Idaho. The Red Ledge and associated mines, Landore, Peacock, South Peacock, and the Blue Jacket, operated for about two years in 1926 and 1927. Hugh was one of the first men into the mining area, setting up camp and the machinery. He was one of the last to leave, closing up the operation. A map is at the end of this post.

portrait
Hugh and Olive Addington in a wedding photo, 1916.

He was married to Mary Olive Emery Addington for more than sixty-five years. Olive coordinated education and taught at the only school the Hell’s Canyon had then. The one-room-school house, along with the mining camp and other buildings, are now under water backed up by the Hell’s Canyon Dam.

school in canyon
Olive Addington’s school at Eagle Bar.
group photo
Hugh Addington on right with students and parents from Olive Addington’s school on Eagle Bar, 1927

Here is Hugh’s account of the mining operation as told to me, his granddaughter, in November, 1978. Tape recordings of this and other accounts of the mine and early life in Idaho are archived at the Adams County Library in Council, Idaho.

SEPTEMBER, 1926. HORNET CREEK ON THE EAST SIDE OF PECK MOUNTAIN:

Hugh: “They sent me up on Hornet Creek on the East side of Peck Mountain to set up an engine and compressor up there. I was supposed to be workin’ for the Red Ledge and my checks was comin’ from the Red ledge. I thought there was something spooky in it but I stayed there and worked and then they sent me up to the Peacock to go to work.”

They skidded all their groceries and supplies to Snowline, a dry camp, by way of six horses pulling wagons on skids.

“See, there was no road in there at all. Morrison Knudson was buildin’ a road along the edge of the river. It was a regular Klondike deal. We lived in tents for dog-goned near a year before we got any building set up and…heh…fifty men…and I’ll tell you, when you house up fifty men, and they can’t get away from each other, you better be careful, you could get a fight any time you wanted one. Oh! They get cranky! Holy Jesus, they get cranky and ornery.

Miners built the steep narrow road up Deep Creek to the mnes.
The steep narrow road up Deep Creek to the mnes.

They was fifty of us there. Heh, heh…something funny happened. The man that was buildin’ the trail down there, Jess Ward, sent up to the Peacock for a gallon of oil. Frank Louzon, the superintendent at the Peacock, went up to the cook shack and went out behind there and found a Rosebud Syrup can and he took it down to the compressor house and he filled it up with Mobile A oil and sent it down there. Well, the darn thing got tangled up in the groceries somehow. So along in the winter…heh, heh…the boy that was waitin’ the tables and takin’ care of things there ran out of syrup, oil,  and he didn’t know; it looked like syrup. He filled up every dog-goned pitcher with that oil. Well then, it was pretty dog-goned touchy, I’ll tell you.”

Olive: “They didn’t take it as a joke, did they?”

Hugh: “They didn’t take it as a joke! I’ll tell you they didn’t! I was sittin’ right by the superintendent eatin’ breakfast. We always had hot cakes for breakfast and, of course,  I poured a whole lot of it on my plate. I heard somebody down at the other end of the table…they was three tables, long tables…say, ‘It’s oil!’. Well, I took a bite and the minute I took it I knew it was oil and I spit it out! I was sittin’ there with the MP and he took a mouthful of it and he swallowed his! And then he threw down his knife and fork and out of the tent he went. I thought, ‘Damn you. If you can eat that, I can too!’ and I tried another mouthful but I couldn’t go it. I spit her out. Finally they was just about to hang the superintendent. [ Hugh broke up laughing here.] There was an awful rumpus. Jess Ward, the mine foreman, he come to his senses and he said, ‘I made that mistake. It was a can of oil that I was supposed to have got and it got in, tangled up, in the groceries.’ Jess got the men settled down. I’ll tell you, they was about to hang the superintendent! Heh…heh…heh.

Red Ledge 1978
The Red Ledge 1978

RED LEDGE MINE ON THE EAGLE BAR 

“We started to tunnel into that tunnel there. Instead of startin’ that tunnel in the rock they started it into the dirt and we went a hundred and seventy-five feet into that hill. It was an eight-foot square tunnel and I’ll tell you, that dirt was heavy, before they hit solid rock. But when they hit solid rock, it was just a wall, just like a cliff. They came down in the night and got me out of bed to start the compressor and they started drillin’.

Well, we had good machinery, good drills. We had English Sawl Rand water liners for drills and they was some good hard rock miners. They set those up and put up three drills on a bar. Now, a bar is a thing that reaches across a tunnel and it’s kinda like a screw jack and you screw it into the wall good and tight and hold it. Then you set your drill on top of that. Then they run air and there’s water that goes right down through the center of ’em and down through the drill. The drill is hollow, right down to where the bit is because you’re not allowed to run a dry drill through a tunnel because you get that rock dust in your lungs. It doesn’t make any dust. It comes out and it’s all kind of a mud. They set three of those on a bar and started drillin’. That rock was hard. I tell you, that rock was hard, that old diorite. The fire would just fly when they started drillin’.

mine tunnel 1926
8 foot square tunnel into Red Ledge mine 1926

They was drillin’ twenty-four holes in the face of that thing, in that tunnel. They couldn’t pull it at first. They was pullin’ around. Now, pullin’ around is blastin’ it out. They was drillin’ five feet holes, five and six feet deep. You know, them electric caps are in what they call ‘lays’. One bunch’ll shoot. Then another bunch’ll shoot. Then another bunch’ll shoot. They was a shootin’ it with electric caps. So they drove, drilled, this wedge in there like this, in a ‘V’. Now, those are ‘best holes’; the first or the middle holes are ‘best holes’. And, then, they drilled their uppers and then they drilled their lifters. They’d shoot the best holes out first. They’d shoot that ‘V’ out and then down would come the uppers, would blast, and then the lower ones would blast. There’d be a big pile of muck there then, and they’d shovel it out. That was the only way they could pull that ground, it was so hard to pull.

It was an eight-foot-square tunnel. We were really goin’ into that mountain. We got in there seven hundred feet when she shut down. They bought a lot of street car rail in Boise and hauled it down there for rail. We had forty-pound steel and six by sixes for ties. They had an electric locomotive and eight three-ton ore cars that were on Tempton bearings and everything was a workin’ just wonderful.

They had two Butler muckin’ machines. Now, these muckin’ machines, they’d run one in, in front of the train, and then they would wedge it to the track so as to hold it. That muckin’ machine would reach out nine feet and then it would double right up and it would spin right around, it run by air, and dumped it into the car behind it. It was awful fast. The man that run it, he strapped himself to it to keep from getting thrown off.

A compressor house for one of the mines, Claude Perkins name on the door
A compressor house for one of the mines, Claude Perkins name on the door
1978 mine compressor house
The compressor house from Deep Creek 1978 near the Hells Canyon highway.

We had two of those and two machines on a bar and two jack-hammers runnin’ outside and I could hold a hundred pounds of air with that compressor. We had a wonderful compressor. We had a two stage compressor that had high and low cylinders, low compression on one side and high on the other. A big flywheel was in between. It weighed seven tons, that compressor, and the engine weighed nine tons that run it, a diesel engine. The fly-wheel that run it weighed a ton. The belt pulley on the engine was four feet in diameter and the one on the compressor I think was seven and it was an eighteen-inch leather belt. Boy, I’ll tell you, they had a fine bunch of machinery.

Harold Burns with Hugh Addington hauling diesel engine to the Eagle Bar mine 1926. Horses behind are pushing on a pole.
Harold Burns with Hugh Addington hauling diesel engine to the Eagle Bar mine 1926. Horses behind are pushing on a pole.

They brought it there on a loggin’ truck with six horses. When they took it up the mountain they had six horses in front [pulling] and four horses behind pushin’. They had them hooked up to a pole pushin’ on the back. They were pullin’ but we called it pushin’ because they were behind, shovin’.

Men walked behind to drive the horses and keep them on the narrow road. A hot and dusty job.
Men walked behind to drive the horses and keep them on the narrow road. A hot and dusty job.

[Photos illustrate two pairs of horses behind the truck harnessed to a pole that ran between them. The horses pulling on their harnesses forced the pole to push the truck. To turn the sharp switch backs on the steep grade the crude road had a flat stretch at each corner where the truck would stop. The horses were unhitched and turned around. The harnesses and the pole were reversed so that the rear of the truck now became the leading wheels and the teams started up the grade again.]

horses resting with wagon
Rest stop while hauling diesel engine.
hauling hoist drum
Hoist Drum going to South Peacock Mine

That country is a pocketty deal. There’s no ledge. Those mines all through the Seven Devils and up there were in what we call kidneys. They’d find a body of ore and dig it out and they’d have to hunt for another one. There was no continuation of a ledge.  That’s all that Red Ledge is, is a great body of ore sittin’ there. It’s been spewed up from down underneath in the makin’ of the world. All that whole country, Landore, Peacock, Blue Jacket mines and around there, they was all in pockets. [He explained that the Red Ledge is like a layer cake, layered with rich ore, then none, then ore, and so on.]

The man that was runnin’ the diamond drill there, Lindsey, he was paid five thousand dollars a month to diamond drill. He was down about four hundred feet and the diamond came off the end of his bit. He couldn’t drill anymore. He had to get that diamond out of there or drill another hole. He tried and tried to get that diamond out of that hole. He finally went down to the cook shack and mixed up a batch of dough, a heavy, thick chunk of dough. Then he put that on the stem to the drill and he shoved it down that hole and brought ‘er up. There stuck that little ol’ diamond right on the end. (sourdough starter) and (sourdough whole wheat bread recipe)

 

color mine tunnel
Red Ledge mine tunnel, 1978

BLUEPRINTS FOR THE TUNNEL

That tunnel was to be nine thousand feet long when it got under Deep Creek and Deep Creek was to be nine thousand feet above it. They were goin’ to bring that water down through a shaft, bring it out and make their own electricity. Kennedy, the engineer, told me, ‘We’ll never get back under Deep Creek. That ledge is on a dip. We’ll get ore in about four thousand feet and we’ll have all the ore to run for years and years’. They had surveyed out where the mill was gonna be just about a week before they shut down.

SHUTTING DOWN THE MINES

The mines shut down because of a lawsuit. The Peacock, the South Peacock, which was never any good… We shipped only two carloads out of there in the two years that we run it. They were sellin’ stock in New York on the Peacock to develop the Red Ledge. Butler was a smart old cuss. Everybody lost their money. I never bought any stock in it at all. I was afraid of it. They got into a lawsuit and he beat everybody out of it and got away with the money. They didn’t sell stock on the Red Ledge because they didn’t want it to get tangled up. There was too much money in it.”

[According to Hugh, when the lawsuit came about, mostly mail and stock fraud, the Red Ledge was hardly involved. The mines were only open about two years. The Red Ledge is supposed to be rich in copper ore still but Butler (who may be dead now) is supposed to be so rich that he doesn’t want to waste his time with it.]

BLASTING FOR STURGEON 

several sturgeon hanging on a rod
Mining foreman Jes Ward with some of the sturgeon mined by the night crew.
cleaning sturgeon
Cleaning 19 sturgeon caught by the night crew at Eagle Bar mine.

[The night crew threw 40 sticks of dynamite into the Snake River at Eagle Bar and captured 19 sturgeon as a result. They ate what they could and took the rest up and down the river to share with other mining camps. Hugh did not eat sturgeon because they are scavengers, “hanging around the bottom of the cliffs where we threw our garbage”.]

Map

color map
Red Ledge, South Peacock, and other mines are in white, private lands.

Red Ledge and South Peacock mines are west of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (dark green) and east of the Snake River. Eagle Bar and the Red Ledge (horizontal marker, the triangle) are closer to the Snake River. Blue Jacket mine is southwest of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The 1978 photos were taken when I hiked down Deep Creek with my dad, Bruce Addington, to visit the Red Ledge mine. We actually started our Deep Creek hike from the Peacock mine. Deep Creek runs from Smith Mt. to the west.

Advertisements

One thought on “Mining the Red Ledge, an Oral History of a Life in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains.”

What are your feelings or thoughts about this? Leave a Reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s