Uranium Seekers: A Photo-Essay Tribute To Miners (Working)

Uranium Seekers: A Photo-Essay Tribute To Miners (Working)

by Craig Evan Royce

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The, Uranium Seekers, saga began in 1976 when world-famous Hollywood, California photographer, Martin, was contracted to come to Utah and begin documenting, paying photographic tribute to, uranium miners, native Americans, and the Vanadium King uranium and vanadium mines on Temple Mountain, Emery County, Utah.
The essence of the project was to pay tribute to the… See more details below


The, Uranium Seekers, saga began in 1976 when world-famous Hollywood, California photographer, Martin, was contracted to come to Utah and begin documenting, paying photographic tribute to, uranium miners, native Americans, and the Vanadium King uranium and vanadium mines on Temple Mountain, Emery County, Utah.
The essence of the project was to pay tribute to the persons who traversed Zane Grey's and John Ford's great western expanse in search of uranium ore, one rock at a time, from before Madame Curies trips to the, then, present, and to remind the world's public that uranium was, and still is, used to kill, not humanity, rather cancer. I harbored the hope that by going back to the first uranium rocks the nuclear industry would re-evaluate the physical structure of nuclear reactors, one cubic yard at a time. Nuclear reactors, when built, witness Fukushima Daiichi, are still being created with too much haste. Like the uranium miners themselves, it's the hands of the humanity who cast the cement forms in which the reactors rest which determines safety. I also, rather naively, hoped when uranium's harmonous utilization was embraced its destructive military reality, throughout the world, would melt.
Even with the support of the fine Beverly Hills, California literary agent, Clyde M. Vandeburg of Vandeburg-Linkletter Associates who represented Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and many others at the time, the national and international events at Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl put Uranium Seekers and Martins great photographs to bed for decades.
However, recently I learned the Utah Historical Quarterly Unpublished Manuscripts from the Department of Community and Culture at the Utah State Archives had harbored some of the manuscript material for decades and the recent events at Fukushima Daiichi made uranium part of the international conversation once again, I decided to dust off Martin's work and snatches of the original material for Uranium Seekers.

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Kirkus Reviews
Royce (Country Miles Are Longer than City Miles, 2006) looks at the glory days of uranium mining in the American West. The author draws on black-and-white images from a never-before-published 1970s photo essay by photographer Martin about Utah's uranium mines to takes readers on a journey through the history of uranium mining. The book covers its early days--before the properties of radiation were discovered around the turn of the 20th century--as well as the industry's heyday in the 1940s, when the demands of the Manhattan Project and the fledgling nuclear industry meant a booming market for every ton of ore the mines could produce. The book includes an oral history from Brenda Migliaccio, the daughter of a prominent mining family, as well as anecdotes from others in the industry. The text is illustrated with evocative images of the mines' stark environment, and the author describes an engaging world, full of classic Old West characters and a handful of East Coast and European scientists who supplied the theoretical knowledge that made the miners' finds so valuable. Several times, the author includes a story about a possibly apocryphal visit from Marie Curie, and it's a tale that's clearly important to local residents, even if, according to the author, it can't be confirmed in the historical record. The book would likely have benefited from a stronger edit, as frequent grammatical errors and flowery prose drag down the narrative. The book's subject, however, is an intriguing and specialized one, and this history will likely find a receptive audience among historians and enthusiasts of the Four Corners region. The author's passion for his topic, and his desire to see this story told, is evident throughout. A blend of oral history, natural history and travelogue that brings an oft-forgotten corner of the West to life.

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Uranium Seekers

A Photo-Essay Tribute To Miners
By Craig Evan Royce


Copyright © 2012 Craig Evan Royce
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-0400-9

Chapter One


The earliest record of uranium's existence dates to the year 1517 at St. Joachimsthal, in Bohemia now The Czech Republic. An oxide of uranium was isolated in Europe during 1789 and the element itself was extracted in 1842.

Uranium procuring in the United States was born in an environment known as the "Front Range" located, in part, forty-five miles west of Denver, Colorado. In 1871 Dr. Richard Pearce discovered a black mass of material on a dump resulting from gold operations. After having the mass analyzed it was discovered to be uraninite!

Since Dr. Pearce's discovery, a vast portion of all uranium mined in the United States has come from a spectacular and haunting area known throughout the mining world as the "Four Corners." This environment includes the northwestern thrust of New Mexico, the northeastern tip of Arizona, the southwestern portion of Colorado, and the southeastern quadrant of Utah.

Because of the ruggedness, age, isolation, and intensity of this region, uranium and associated properties have always been available primarily to persons of tremendous vision and strength. Those willing to chase radioactive ore bodies below the earth's crust often many many miles from domestic water in the most isolated and friable regions of the United States.

Substantial growth within America's uranium industry can be divided into "eras." The first, the "radium" era," occurred with the isolation of radium from uranium ore by the Curies in l898. This period lasted from 1898 until 1924.

Vanadium, a property of uranium ore used for steel alloying, captured the world's interest and uranium was sporadically mined for this vanadium content primarily from 1916 until the creation of the Atomic Bombs rekindled interest in U3O8 itself. With the detonation of those bombs, the "uranium era" suddenly blossomed, then withered in the late 1960s. However, this century has issued new life into nuclear growth and uranium enrichment.

The foundation of our fledgling Nuclear Age is not the mass destruction of peoples; rather, visionary pioneers who dreamed of lighting continents and curing cancerous growth with the energy that comes from within the halo, halos of uranium ore.

Following the faint trail of pioneer industrialists, upon prehistoric earths of significant industrial and paleoevolutionary archaeological import, to glean secrets of our future as it pertains to domestic energies processed from "rare earths" and much humanity therein, as night descends upon New Mexico's Mount Taylor, the words of one who has trod this Brigham Tea Trail, Lawrence Clark Powell:

"One winter morning at Los Alamos the forest lay under snow, the people under covers, while steam from the laboratories indicated that the Atom was still monarch. At the turn-off to the National Monument in Frijoles Canyon, I recalled-Bandelier's THE DELIGHT MAKERS, the first novel of the Pueblo Indians who once inhabited the Pajarito Plateau.

... On these Southwest journeys, I am guarded from evil by the Sacred Mountains—Baboquivari deep in the Papagueria, Sierra Blanca beloved of Gene Rhodes, and Mt. Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks at either end of Navajo-land. West from Gallup the eyes seek first sight of the Flagstaff mountains when suddenly they appear on the horizon (like white sheep in a pasture, Haniel Long said) and the heart quickens. Only a hundred miles to go. What was it like in the time of the first white travelers when these volcanic cones did not afford the security of familiar landmarks?"

Naturally, the sacred earths to nurture nuclear potential's evolution tell their own story—a story which includes significant events in America's democratic and industrial growth since 1859, a story dealing with the recent past, and a story of the not too future, future.

As cold winds from the north and Canada inch into my weathered edifice erected from lodge pole pine and aspen saplings set against radioactive seven-thousand-foot high Temple Mountain, Utah just 25 miles north and west of Robber's Roost, Utah and on Robert Redford's "Outlaw Trail," my mind's eye perceives the vision of Lassiter or Annixter upon the horizon. One, well-dressed, single figure etched against ripple-marked shale and pre-historic Pinyon Pine many miles from domestic water—twenty, if you date drink the Dirty Devil River!

Some forty miles west of Denver an American adventurer, John H. Gregory, made slow passage up the north branch of Clear Creek which issues forth from the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. It was the winter of 1859 which found Gregory methodically prospecting this region. Only a lure of precious gold and other minerals which "gleam in the darkness" would bring a human being to the frozen Colorado Rockies in the depths and clutches of winter's fury. But this migratory Georgian had come West seeking fortune and winter just slowed his pace a bit. Little record remains of this man's sojourn yet it is recorded, with the thaw of winter's hold, when the rivers and creeks of the eastern slope of the Rockies flow with the most intensity and life unfolds virgin and green, Gregory was rewarded with the discovery of a semi-rich vein of quartz from which he mined and panned over $1,000.00 worth of that precious mineral, gold. Not being prone to lighting in any one area too long, Gregory sold his "claim" for some $21,000.00 and soon vanished from prevailing history. But his diggings, name, and remarkable feat of prospecting during the winter live on. Primarily, because several notable frontier journalists, including Horace Greeley, were upon those same mountains and soon reported Gregory's small el-dorado. Such reporting was directly responsible for a tremendous influx of mining and prospecting upon the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies the latter half of 1859 and into the 1860's, legend today.

"Gregory's Diggings" spread throughout the surrounding gulches, valleys, and mountains, eventually evolving into such hamlets as Silver Plume, Blackhawk, Nevadaville, and Mountain City, Colorado. Mountain City was to become the most well-known of these three, its name evolved into "Central City".

One must note that from its inception Central City chose to bear no resemblance to bear no resemblance to archetype mining camps and cities of American western history. It must have been ordained from somewhere within the geologic cosmos that the environs encircling Central City would be the "place of beginning" for the discovery of uranium upon the Colorado Plateau.

Not satisfied with the mere discovery of wealth, there were those of Central City who felt it essential that the chronicling of knowledge must accompany mankind's thrust upon and into the earth. As early as 1861 a MINERS' and MECHANICS' INSTITUTE was conceived in Central City and soon gleaned international respect. Few Eastern or European scientists studying the West ever failed to investigate this environment. Men of knowledge are always drawn towards "essence" and the atom has proven itself more essential than gold ... yet the gleam normally captures first attentions.

To Central City came one easterner ordained to influence this entire region and, therefore, the future of mankind. Nathaniel Peter Hill was a visionary, metallurgical chemistry instructor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, far from the Rockies and deserts to the west. When offered the opportunity to travel the eastern slope of these mountains for a Boston syndicate concerned with settling in Colorado, just fifteen years after the Mormons had concluded their historic Hegira and founded Utah, Hill leaped at such a proposition and was soon a frequent visitor to this portion of the West making several sojourns in 1864 and the year following.

These travels finally brought Hill to Central City. Upon his arrival he found the mining industry associated with the Nevadaville and Blackhawk region suffering from the first of many periods of recession, primarily, due to the fact that placer mining and other surface methods of procuring ore had used up the earth's quota of surface ore. The existing technologies all applied to placer mining and, with the absence of small surface metals, lay practically dormant. Mother Earth had afforded mankind five years of daylight in which to work and procure fortunes. By 1863 she was to demand more homage of the miner and seeker of precious "stuffs". The time had come for the miner to enter the very earth itself in search of riches. The time for hard-rock mining had come! Drawn by surface glitter and success associated with "Gregory's Diggings," the immediate environs attracted professionals from all segments of the world's mining industry of the 1860's. Paramount among those attracted to Central City were the process pioneers who marched through the industry applying such historically significant processes as the Crosby and Mason and the James B. Lyons and Company desulphurizer. Once again, the Central City earth had proved mankind's technologies to be infantile when concerned with extracting nature's essence. When placer turned to hard-rock mining as the 1860's slipped away, the miners of the Central City region were found to be making little progress in the quest of mineral wealth. Apparently the metallurgical instructor from Brown University had been sent West for a purpose unbeknownst to him, yet to become much clearer many, many thousands of miles away in a foreign country.

Returning East following his previous visit to Central City, Hill sailed for Europe and while in Switzerland made two essential acquaintances. First, he met Herman Beeger while visiting Freiburg. Beeger was then known as one of Europe's finest metallurgists and quite taken by the young man from Rhode Island and the information he shared on the mineral wealth of Colorado. Hill was equally taken by the vast amount of knowledge Beeger possessed on processing ores. While visiting Beeger, Hill was also introduced to one Richard Pearce, a young professor from Cornwall and, interestingly enough, associated with the few regions in the world known to possess deposits of pitchblende uranium. This, however, did not concern Hill, though that meeting was to affect the history of mankind's study of the atom's essence.

Written history does not say for certain the reason for Nathaniel Hill's journey to Europe but suffice it to say that while readying for his return to America he persuaded Herman Beeger to accompany him to Boston where both men promoted a concern called the Boston and Colorado Smelter Company. With this man's great vision, nurtured by world travel and continental United States travel and being an Easterner by birth, Hill had little difficulty in procuring the first capital for his and Beeger's smelting venture in Colorado. Eastern thought had been primed for the past 20 years with tales of the mineral wealth which America's West afforded and finding investors proved easy.

Returning to Blackhawk in 1868, with Herman Beeger's assistance, Hill set up his smelter. The miners were ready for new technologies and the initial thrust of this venture proved fruitful for all. There are those who have reported that this effort of Nathaniel Hill's saved the mining industry of Gilpin and Clear Counties, Colorado. Hill's smelter did not prove to be an overwhelming financial success because of the vast distances his matte had to be shipped for refining. Yet it afforded the industry of this rugged environment on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies the opportunity to endure long enough for one other visitor to reach the mountains from a distant land and another vision proved essential to the development of America's uranium industry.

While visiting Freiburg and making the acquaintance of Herman Beeger, Nathaniel Hill met Dr. Richard Pearce. Pearce, born in 1837 at Barrippa, near Camborne, Cornwall, had been associated with the mining industry of Europe since birth as his father was a mine superintendent by profession. Admirably schooled in Europe, Pearce always seemed to be learning in the very few environments on that continent where uranium was located. At a very young age Dr. Pearce studied with Europe's leading metallurgist. Naturally, when he met Nathaniel Hill at Beeger's in Freiburg, these two young visionary men were quite taken with each other. Young men of vision who admitted having the desire to probe and study the "nature of all things" though keenly aware of the infancy concerning man's study of his earth, in the 19th century, were kindred souls!

Whether it was more than mere "business" that drew Dr. Pearce to Central City, Colorado, in 1871 will never be known. Yet great men are normally drawn to the "essence" of most matters for reasons which cannot be chronicled. He came to Colorado to study a group of mines owned by the Rochdale Mining Company. His close relationship with Hill and Beeger was renewed far from Freiburg.

One of the mines Dr. Pearce was to inspect had a great history of producing gold. This was the famous "Wood" mine well documented in the history of our American West. Since the thrust of humanity upon this eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies had been centered on the mining of gold and silver, naturally, any other material which carried no trace of those precious ores was discarded. In fact, the miners of Gilpin County had for some time been annoyed by masses of dull black material which showed no traces of gold but because of its consistency, often caused the smelting process to break down and was generally a nuisance to the miners.

While exploring a dump associated with the Wood mine, Dr. Pearce was to make a discovery which, most certainly, has affected Western thought and deed. He was attracted to one such mass of black material and his pulse quickened for this man of science had seen substances much the same as this mass in Europe. At a feverish pitch he collected samples, mounted his horse and traversed the trail to Blackhawk where he knew his mentor Beeger had the apparatus necessary for analyzing the black substance. As the pines rushed past on both sides of the trail and the crispness of the Rockies pressed against his person, he knew the sojourn to America had been for a reason. Yet being of scientific mind he understood tests must be made.

Neither scientist could conceal their excitement and expectancy as they worked through the day and into evenings blackness. With nights descent upon the Rockies of the 1870's most slumbered with relish. As each second of history passed and those western heavens descended upon the laboratory,a strange stillness must have permeated Blackhawk. For these two men were discerning a force eternal in all of nature.

The keen vision of Dr Pearce and Herman Beeger's "method" was soon rewarded. Tests proved positive and the black mass was discovered to be uraninite! Both scientists and frontiersmen, these two were overwhelmed with the discovery. Never before had Pearce seen uranium in such quantity, and then only in very certain European environments. Strange that blackness is not always void.

Immediately thereafter, Pearce returned to Europe but not before having some several hundred pounds of the mineral sorted and made ready to ship to him. Upon its arrival in Europe, he ran further tests and ended up selling it to Johnson and Matthey of London to be used for experimental purposes and especially for dyes, inks and stained glass.

Returning a year later, he came to the eastern slope not as explorer and scientist, rather as a miner intent on mining the Wood for its uranium content, not gold or silver. Able to procure the lease, he was moderately successful at mining the ore already exposed. Naturally, mining virgin ore, that which he was able to collect assayed a very high percentage of U3O8. Dr. Pearce did not, however, become independently wealthy mining the Wood and soon returned to activities less physically exhausting. But he had paved the way for this industry new to the United States to grow. Rapid progress considering it was only 12 years since John H. Gregory first prospected the Clear Creek in the winter of 1859.

This fledgling industry then suffered from much the same malady as it does today. Yet the century between 1871 and 2012 has seen this black mass used to destroy a peoples with its force, cure cancer with the same force, and light up cities with the same force. One problem then as now, the proper refining process. How does mankind refine the eternal atom?

Not one to let the genius of Pearce go without challenge, Nathaniel Hill offered him the opportunity to head up the Boston and Colorado Smelter Company's Blackhawk mill. All the while, Dr. Pearce had been making his discovery and mining the uraninite, Hill had been fast at work constructing another smelter in Park County, Colorado. He was already fully aware that without the proper technologies for processing the crude ore what little early profit did exist was eaten up with transportation and shipping costs.

It cannot be denied that Dr. Richard Pearce did discover the first deposit of uranium in the Western United States. His place in the history of atomic development is secured. Not only was he paramount in the discovering of the mineral in Colorado, but was also the first to hand mine such. Though his efforts at physically procuring the ore did not last very long, it was accomplished. Not long thereafter, he was appointed Her Majesty, Queen Victoria's vice consul in Denver.

Hill was finding it difficult to make money on his operation yet resolutely continued. This was a shrewd pioneer and when the smelter at Blackhawk was not able to pay its own way in the fledgling enterprise, he began the construction of yet another smelter at Argo, Colorado, a little closer to then prevalent modes of commerce. Upon completion, he was forced to let the operation at Blackhawk cease in 1878. However, uranium in America was no longer Mother Earth's secret.

The earliest geological report mentioning the ore deposits of Central City and environs appeared in a 1913 issue of the MINING AND SCIENTIFIC PRESS published by T. A. Richard:

The Kirk, German and Wood (mines), all on Quartz Hill, are the most important and best known. They lie in a north-south belt less than 1,000 feet wide and perhaps half a mile long. This is the area where all ores in any way identified with the production of pitchblends are found.

In this Central City district, gneiss and crystalline schist predominate. In association with the veins of these mines there occurs, in intrusive form, a fine-grained aplitic granite closely associated with the pitchblends. This granite takes dike form, sometimes tongues, more rarely connecting sills.


Excerpted from Uranium Seekers by Craig Evan Royce Copyright © 2012 by Craig Evan Royce. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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