"A Sketch of James F. Robinson"
by John A. Robinson
(note: if you use the hyperlinks to the mill pictures, use the "back" arrow on your browser)
AND THE ROADS
At this time and for the next few years, there was nothing but dirt roads beyond Commerce. During winter and in the spring of the year, we had trouble moving rigs and trying to get from one lease to another. I had a Model T Ford and could get as far as Commerce but once there I would, on many occasions, get a horse at the livery stable and make the drill rigs on horseback.
Once in a while I would get too optimistic and make the mistake of trying to reach the rigs with the Model T. Sometimes I would get stuck, even with chains and have to leave the car until a team of horses could be found to pull it out. I remember a couple of times I had to walk to Commerce late in the evening and leave the Ford out on the prairie until morning.
Late in 1913 there was enough evidence from the few holes drilled there to form the opinion that some ore deposits might be found on Section #30 on the Benjamin and See-Sah Quapaw allotments. The company began more extensive drilling and had four or five drill rigs working that were scattered over a wide area of leases.
1914 opened with prospects looking better in Section 30. The drilling continued and during the next few months a few good holes were drilled, but it was hard to define the trend of the ore. We had a great number of what were called "Shine holes". The Company decided to go ahead and sink a shaft and take a look to see what it was like. The shaft work started late in the fall of 1914.
During this year, Mr. 0. M. Youse, a drilling contractor of Baxter Springs, Kansas, had leased some eight or nine hundred acres west of Baxter Springs on what was called "Blue Mound" and to the west and north of the mound. He had leased this acreage in 1912 and was drilling on the Scott-Jarrett land, and had found a few shines. He discussed this matter with the company, and sold them a half interest in the leases. It was agreed for him to continue to do the drilling.
WORLD WAR I
In the month-of July, 1914, the Arch-duke of Austria was "bumped off" and this touched the spark that soon had most of Europe in the flames of war. The Kaiser had the war machinery all greased up, and it did not take him long to get it rolling. When this started no one over here realized how soon it was to affect the expansive development of the mining district in Ottawa County.
The shaft in Section 30 was completed and it was not long before some pull drifts were driven out from the shaft and the company discovered they had opened up what looked like another rich ore deposit. A mill was started immediately, and the mine was named the "Blue Goose". The old two-piece rig used to do the drilling on this lease was painted blue and was known as the Blue Goose drill rig. This home-made drill rig with a traction steam engine for power, was operated by an old well driller who ran this outfit until he was eighty years of age. He and the old rig became one of the familiar sights during this period of expansion in the Tri-State district. His name was Elam Hodson. (This was the rig that Roy Wills and I bought in 1912, and it had several good mines to its credit.)
The Blue Goose Mine made its initial production in 1915. It has been mentioned that Ralph J. Tuthill was the first employee of the company. He carried a one-fifth interest in the Blue Goose mine with the Company. His faith in the new mining company back in 1908 had begun to pay dividends.
PICHER IS BORN
During this year the Picher Lead Company which had been drilling north and east of Commerce about six miles, started sinking a shaft, and a settlement soon started in that area. It was called Picher.
Activities in the mining field accelerated rapidly. The Company had ten or twelve rigs drilling on several different leases. During the early part of this year I was spending all of my time out in the field and was in charge of all the development work for the Company. Looking back over my experience in the Tri-State field, this was the most interesting part of my life's work in the mining field.
Every time a new discovery was made the thrill continued from day to day, watching with intensive interest to see if the new discovery would develop into an ore deposit which would be rich enough to mine.
The Cactus Mill located on the Cardin land did not prove to be a very prosperous operation.
The mill was moved to the southwest forty acres of the Wat-Tah-Noh-Zhe land, and was put into the production list again.
Meanwhile, the drilling was progressing on the John Beaver land and some good drill holes were being brought in. Several holes had been put down on the Wilbur land just over the line in Kansas. This was proving to be the most difficult piece of ground to drill we had yet encountered. Now and then we would get a few cuttings that showed some ore. Then we would hit open ground and lose all the cuttings for the next fifteen or twenty feet. The flow of water was so strong it washed all the cuttings away. Drilling was going along on the other Kansas leases with 0. M. Youse, but without much success.
About this time, Mr. Siebenthal of the U.S. Geological Survey was working in the district. He and father became good friends. Mr. Siebenthal thought the Kansas area had a good chance to produce ore and his advice was to keep drilling up around the Blue Mound area. Drilling was also being done east of the Blue Goose Mine, and to the northeast on Section 30.
In 1916, after the Blue Goose Mine was producing lead and zinc in large quantities, two men from Kansas by the name of Apple and Harris showed up with a lease covering most of Section 30 where the mines were located. They claimed that the Company's lease was invalid.
In some mining areas of the country this was called "lease jumping". After overtures were made individually, for some kind of settlement, a telephone call came from a lawyer in Galena to my father. He asked him to come to Galena; that
he had a matter of vital importance to the company to discuss with him; that he was ill and not able to come to Miami.
Father and I drove to Galena to see the lawyer. He was in bed and did not get up. After light talk for awhile, he raised up on his elbow and said, "Jim, you're skating on damn thin ice there in Oklahoma on those Indian leases. Why don't you try to make some kind of a deal with Apple and Harris and settle the matter?
Father answered without a moment's hesitation, "That's just the way I like it. That thin ice will keep some of those ______ off, because they will be afraid to get on the ice with me. You tell them to crack down any time they are ready. I'll he in the courtroom waiting for them." We excused ourselves and left.
On the way home that night, Dad said to me, "There are times you have to stand up and fight, and this is one of those times. If we pay off on this we will be paying off from here on out”.
A suit was filed late in 1916, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma: Apple-Harris vs Robinson, et al. Scott Thompson defended the case. The company employed the same lawyers to help in this case they had used on two previous occasions, already related. They prepared this case very thoroughly for there was a lot at stake besides just the one lease involved.
The case was tried in Muskogee. The Company won the lawsuit and the decision went far toward settling the titles on Indian leases in this district.
1916 opened up with the most extensive development the Company had ever carried on up to that time—drilling all over the place! A good mine had been drilled out on the John Beaver lease and a mill was under construction. This mine was called "The Beaver". It was plain to be seen by this time that the greater mining activities would be carried on in that section of the district.
The decision was made to move the supply house from the Turkey Fat Mine. A much larger supply of mining equipment was to be carried. A larger warehouse was constructed on the John Beaver land. Henry Duffey, who had been with the company at the Turkey Fat office, was in charge of the supply business. The Company sold supplies to anyone; it was also an advantage to the company to purchase their own supplies wholesale. A deep well was drilled at this location for a fresh water supply for the mine. This water was also piped to the Blue Goose Mine.
That same year a mill site was being drilled out on the 40 acres east of the Blue Goose. The 40 acres farther to the east was showing up very good. It was now thought that a mill on 40 acres or more was all that was necessary. This idea was quite different from the earlier days when the first mills were being built in the Commerce section. The two mills, Blue Goose and Beaver, were classed as large mills at this time.
To the north of the John Beaver lease, the development work on the Anna Beaver allotment was looking good, and the prospect of another mine up there was promising. But the work on the Wilbur land in Kansas was still progressing very slowly, not enough ore to justify the sinking of a shaft. It definitely was the most difficult ground to drill that the company had encountered. About this time the story was told, and it was not very far from right: that it cost more to get one particular hole to the depth of 300 feet than the drill rig was worth. Therefore, the company lost a drill rig in the hole!
In 1916, 0. M. Youse died. He was the Commerce Company's partner in the 800 acres of leases covering the Scott-Jarrett, Davis, Webber, Foley and Barr lands. Later in the year the company made a deal with the Youse family represented by C. E. Youse, the oldest son, to take over the mining rights on this block of leases. Then the company took an option on the Webber fee land. Some ore had been discovered on this acreage and the company decided to sink a shaft and take a look.
Drill records were not too good, but it was the best way to find out if the ore deposit was worth mining. The company had discovered by experience that sometimes the ore mined out better than the drilling indicated.
The shaft was completed, the prospect drifts were driven, but the ore found did not justify building a mill. The Company let the option on the land expire. The drill was moved about a fourth of a mile east of the shaft. This was a five per cent royalty lease from the land owner, and was good as long as ore was produced. This was classed as a very favorable lease and the company decided to be sure there was no ore to be found elsewhere on the land before turning the lease back to the land owner.
The Company made a contract for a sub-lease on sixty acres of the Barr land to S. H. Davis for the Vinegar Hill Zinc Company. This joined the Webber land on the east where the company was drilling.
Due to the European war, both lead and zinc prices went up materially because the German army bad destroyed the great, zinc smelters in Belgium. The demand for metal from the United States was greater than the capacity to produce. The average price of zinc concentrate in the district in 1914, was $37 per ton, and lead concentrates $48 per ton. In 1916, the average price of zinc was $85 and lead $90 per ton.
The district was expanding rapidly. The outside world no longer doubted that the northern part of Ottawa County, Oklahoma, had great promise in developing into a real mining country. The high price of ore brought into the district, many promoters looking for leases.
The small two-storied (Savoy) hotel located a block east of Main Street on Central in Miami, was swamped with customers looking for Mining leases. If a lease was located in the northern part of the county, it was soon taken up. A drill rig was moved on; a company incorporated, and the promoter went back home and began to sell stock in the "Happy Jack" mining company or some other name.
For years many inquirers came to our office, or to the bank, asking what the stock in the "Jack Rabbit Mining Company" or some other long-forgotten company was worth. As time went on, it was found by many, to their sorrow, that ore did not exist on every 40 acres in the northern part of Ottawa County.
It was in 1917 that father and George L. Coleman bought the paper which had been established as the "Miami Republican" back in 1900. The paper had a varied history of ups and downs. It had been consolidated with the "Miami Enterprise"' in 1913, but a little later separated from the "Republican" and owned again by S. A. Roberts
The new Miami News Publishing company changed the name of the paper to the Miami District Daily News. It carried this name until 1923, when it was merged with the old Record-Herald to become the present News-Record.
Just to the east of the Beaver Mine, another small mining camp was established. It was called Cardin after a land owner in that area by the name of Cardin. A 40-acre townsite was plated and lots sold in 1918. The one thing that made this place famous for the next few years was a boarding house. I do not remember the name of the place, but this was the best place to get a noon-day meal over a widely scattered area of activity in this fast-growing mining district.
The food was placed on a long table that seated some twenty-five persons at a time, the one with the longest reach faring the best. As fast as anyone finished his meal, he got out of the way for there were many hungry miners, supply men, salesmen, drill pushers, sight-see-ers, lease hounds, etc., waiting for a chance to get to the table. As fast as the food disappeared from the bowls and platters, it was replenished from the near-by kitchen. You could have all you could eat; all you needed was a good boarding-house reach and fifty cents!
The year 1917 brought in more activity than ever. The Company had some twenty drill rigs working on a contract basis: so much per foot, total depth to be determined by the Company according to whatever formation was encountered. The average depth of most of the drilling was about 300 feet, however, in certain areas it was necessary to drill to a depth of 400 feet or more to get through the ore-bearing formations.
Soon after the turn of the New Year, it was apparent that war was getting closer between our country and Germany. After many of our ships had been destroyed by the German submarines despite repeated warnings by President Wilson, war was declared on April 6, 1917. On May 18, the Congress of the United States passed the Selective Service Act.
Soon thereafter a call was made for all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 35 to register for service. I was placed in a deferred class by the appeal board, since I was in an essential occupation necessary for the successful operation of the war. This class was not called for military service before the war ended on November 11, 1918.
Early in 1917, my father bought some stock in the State Bank of Miami; and on May 24, the bank was changed from a State to a National Bank. It was called the Ottawa County National Bank. On May 31, 1917, Father was elected president of this bank.
The company this year built two more mills on Section 30, east of the Blue Goose Mine. One was called the Jay Bird and the other the Woodchuck. These two mines were producing ore before the year closed, and added greatly to the company's production. The drilling on the Anna Beaver allotment was progressing satisfactorily, but instead of building a mill on this lease, the company decided to sell this property. The sale was made by Victor Rakowsky to a R. H. Channing of New York. A mill was built and the mine called the "Anna Beaver". It proved to be a very successful operation.
This year brought more active development on the Kansas leases. The Company continued drilling on the Webber land after the experience with sinking of the shaft on this lease the year previously. The contractor doing the drilling had encountered some very "cavey" ground, and was not making any progress or getting the holes below 260 or 270 feet deep.
The custom of the district was to go to the depth designated by the mining company, or no pay. I had been very lenient with this fellow, and had permitted him to quit on three different holes before he was as deep as I had instructed him to go. It was very tough drilling as any old driller will remember, when he hit what was called "hog chaw flint". It was plenty tough. It could be drilled by casing up the hole, and drilling on down with small tools. This usually caused the contractor to lose money, and naturally he avoided doing this if he could.
As I remember, it was the fourth hole in the immediate area, the fellow said he was as deep as he could go and wanted to quit. I told him he could quit any time he wished, but if he did not go to 300 feet he would not get any pay for the hole. I drove off and let him decide what he would do.
He decided to borrow a string of casing and small tools and try to finish the hole. This he did, and the drill rig was setting on top of the greatest ore deposit the company had yet discovered, as was later proven. As I recall, the ore was encountered at 280-285 feet in this particular hole. This was something like 600 feet east of where we had sunk the shaft and done previous prospecting without success.
So the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" was again demonstrated.
Bad luck struck later in the year. The building where the company had its offices was completely destroyed by fire. The courthouse had been completed, and the county offices had been moved the year before. For several years afterwards if any maps or other matters pertaining to the Company's business could not be found, the answer was always the same, "Guess it burned up."
Father owned a building across the street which was being partly used for an assay office. The Company went across the street, moving in with Relling, the chemist. We scraped up a few old desks and chairs and were ready for business again.
It was during this time that George Stein was employed on a full-time basis by the company. It was very fortunate for the company that his maps, notes, tracings of mine surveys, etc. had not been moved to the company offices before the fire. He had done all the surveying; work for the company on a fee basis since 1912.
As soon as plans could be drawn, father and Mr. Coleman let a contract for a building (early in 1918) on the corner of First and A Streets Northeast for the company offices. A room was also provided for the Miami District Daily News.
The war efforts of America were: first, to win the war; second, how to pay for it? Congress was working on new laws trying to find ways and means of paying the bills. The mining industry, which covered all classes of mining, and production of oil, was represented by an organization, called "The American Mining Congress" with offices in Washington. The Tri-State district as it was now called, needed to have a representative in Washington who was familiar with the problems of the district in order to get fair treatment when new laws were passed.
A meeting was called and all companies operating in the district were represented. Mainly through father's efforts, A. Scott Thompson, of
Miami, who had represented the company in all of its legal battles, was sent to Washington to represent the district. He had instructions to stay as long as necessary. Father was chairman, of the committee to raise the funds to pay his expenses.
The following excerpt is taken from the publication of The American Mining Congress Journal, Dec. 1918, Vol.IV, No. 12, P. 43:
American Mining Congress Committee on Revenue legislation consisted of Judge
A. Scott Thompson, Miami,
Edward L. Doheny,
George E. Holmes,
and John C. Howard,
Salt Lake City.
This committee is
the result of natural selection from more than three hundred different men
from all sections of the country, who had had to do with this movement for a
just application of war revenue taxation to the mining and oil industries.
Each of these men has rendered valuable service in this behalf and many of
them particularly valuable service. The members of the committee were able to
give more largely of their time and developed such capacity for service as to
make their selection a matter of course. The mining industry will never
appreciate its indebtedness to these men. Particular credit is due the
chairman of the committee, Judge A. Scott Thompson, who for months devoted his
whole time to this work. His distinguished service in this behalf should be to
him a crown of honor.
I think this article answered the question, "was Mr. Thompson's selection a good one?" he spent most of the year on the work in Washington. Some of the laws which were written at that time affecting mines, and production of oil, are still in effect and cover both industries.
The Company was still carrying on an extensive drilling campaign over a wide area in the district. The drilling on the Webber lease was showing good results and a shaft was started. Soon a mill was under construction. This mine was called "The Webber" and started production before the year 1918 ended.
Soon after the mill was under construction on the Webber lease and after the land had been sold by the original owners, a lawsuit was filed at Columbus, Kansas, against the Youses and the Commerce Company. The validity of the lease was the basis of the suit. It was another case of misguided information or advice of a lawyer to his client. When the case was tried, the Court held the lease was valid and in full force and effect. It was such a clear-cut decision by the Judge that the case was never appealed to a higher court. The same group of lawyers defended
this case as had defended the Company in previous lawsuits.
The Company had a lease on 100 acres of land south and east of Picher which lease was acquired through the efforts of Ralph Tuthill, who carried an interest, with the company in this operation. A drill rig was moved on and some ore encountered. The drilling continued and late in the year a shaft was started. It was decided to take a look at the ore before starting a mill. Another mill site had been drilled out on Section 30 north of the Jay Bird Mine, and a shaft sunk and mill built. This mill was called "The Bennie". It was on the Benjamin Quapaw allotment. The Bennie started production also in 1918.
The Armistice was signed November 11, 1918, and World War I came to a close with much rejoicing over the nation.
Mr. Isern had no easy task convincing the early-day mill men in the district that the ball mill and fine grinding was going to replace the long-used method of rolls for fine grindings and tables to clean the fine ores. During the year, oil flotation process was installed in the mills and the tailing losses were gradually cut down.
The shaft work at the Wilbur Mine was the most difficult job the company ever experienced. The water seemed to be in never-decreasing amounts. More money had been spent on this lease trying to sink this shaft than any dozen shafts the Company had sunk to date. There was no place to stop now. Too much money had already gone down the drain—or the drill hole-- so the Company kept "pouring the cobs" to it, an expression used by miners on the job. It meant, "Just keep the boilers fired up with a full head of steam and the pumps running!"
By the end of the year they had the water down to the ore, and drift work started. The results of the prospect drifts began to disclose an ore deposit that looked like the long and expensive effort was going to be justified.
Another thing was beginning to "jell" as the saying goes. In George Stein's mind, which from an experience the Company had had a year or
so previously when George recommended that we pipe compressed air from one of the mines to other small operation several hundred feet away.
This would be cheaper than installing another compressor as there was ample capacity at the mine to furnish all the air needed at the second operation. The Company was then using gas engines for power. It was saving the cost of two engine operators as well as the cost of new equipment. Mr. Stein began to make some estimates of distance from a central point to all the operating mines of the company, with the idea of piping compressed air to all the mines.
In 1924, Father was elected to the Board of the American Mining Congress and continued to serve on that board until his death.
The year closed with conditions over the district in pretty good shape, price-wise. The ore prices for the year were approximately $105 per ton for lead, and $40 per ton for zinc concentrates.
1925 opened up what looked like another prosperous year for the district. A mill was built on the Wilbur land and immediately upon completion went into production. This mine proved to be another good producer of both lead and zinc. I recall it was this year that my father became interested in the Grand River Dam project which had for some years been under discussion. He became interested through an engineer, a Mr. Salsbury, who had done some engineering work on the project. Father employed him to assist George Stein on getting up some cost data on the ideas which George and father had been discussing regarding the cost of producing electric power from coal, fuel oil, gas and hydro-electric.
The first idea to crystallize into action was the central compressed air unit located on the NE quarter of the NE quarter of 25-29-22, fee land owned by the Company. This was to furnish compressed air for all underground drilling for the Blue Goose, the Jay Bird, Beaver, Pelican, Wilbur, Webber and Westside Mines.
Early in 1926, the Company built a central blacksmith shop and steel sharpening plant adjacent to the warehouse, at Cardin, and thus did away with the blacksmith shops at all the mines. Drill steel was collected each day at the mines and the sharpened steel delivered each morning. Underground mine cars and much other equipment was built at this shop. The modern equipment installed resulted in more efficient work and the saving of much labor, all of which figured in as another small savings to lower the over-all cost of producing a ton of concentrates.
During the year 1926, the Company sold the Woodchuck Mine which consisted of 40 acres (the SE1/2 of the NE1/4 of Sec.20-29-23). It was sold to a New York financier by the name of Lewie Witcher. The transaction was handled, I believe, by Vic Rakowsky. It was called, The Oklahoma Woodchuck Lead and Zinc Company.
During the fall of 1926, Mr. Stein, W. J. Martin (the engineer in charge of maintenance for the Northeast Oklahoma Rail road) and a Mr. Salsbury, were compiling a lot of cost data on constructing a power plant for generating electric power for the Company's mining operation and the railroad. During this period the idea of extending the NEO to the coal deposits to the west was fading out of the picture. There were definitely large deposits of coal in the areas described elsewhere in this article. The larger deposits would be deep-shaft mining and from an economical cost basis would probably never be mined as long as natural gas for domestic consumption was in abundance in the central west.
Mr. Harrison organized a sales force and went after the supply business. The Central Shop and Steel Sharpening Plant was also placed under his supervision. The change of policy centering around these activities was soon accepted and was definitely a change for the better in this department.
The Blue Goose Mill was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1927, with many changes in the flow sheet, designed by Elmer Isern. This made for a better milling practice than was used in the old mill.
It was either in late 1926 or 1927, when Robert Keith, of Joplin, came into the office and introduced Mr. George Fowler to my father. Mr. Fowler was a noted geologist and had recently been working for the Anaconda Copper Company. From this meeting and future discussions, Mr.
Fowler was given permission to make a study of the Commerce Company's properties. The understanding was that if some agreement could be arrived at, which might be beneficial to both companies, such agreement should include the building in the area around Miami an electrolytic smelter and power plant.
Costs of production were going up and each year it was becoming necessary to make economics in production costs when and wherever possible.
During 1928, a situation developed on some leases in Section 24 and Section 13, which appeared to be on the west edge of the mining field. A great amount of drilling had been done on these restricted Indian allotments without developing any great amount of ore reserves on any one of the leases. Adjoining this acreage was a lease which was unrestricted, with only a limited amount of ore reserve.
The question of building mills on each of these four leases was the topic of discussion. Mr. Isern had advocated central milling almost from the time he was employed by the Company.
This seemed to be the ideal place to try out his. plan for central milling, if permission could be obtained from the Department of Indian Affairs, permitting the co-mingling of ores from the different allotments.
The procedure had never been used in the district and I was very skeptical of obtaining permission from the Office of Indian Affairs, to break the long-established custom. I discussed the plan with father, and he was of the same opinion but said he would be much in favor of trying to get the approval.
Mr. Isern first discussed the plan with Mr. Charles Williams, of the U. S. Geological Survey, whose office was in the Quapaw Indian Agency, Miami. I heard nothing from Isern for several weeks regarding the matter.
Eventually, he reported that Mr. Williams had asked for more information, primarily on his plan for sampling ores and that he was drawing plans for a sampling mill.
The only further progress reported during the year was that Mr. Andrews, in charge of the office of Indian Affairs, was making a study of the plan, also, and seemed to be much interested.
There was no immediate plan to build a mill on any one of the leases. Ore prices were still on a downward trend, and production over the District was much greater than the demand.
(This plan of Central Milling was later approved by Mr. Andrews and sent to the Department in Washington and approved. The four leases, three restricted, and one unrestricted, were mined and milled over what was called the Bird Dog Mill, the first centralized milling in the Tri-State District).