The history of the Homestake Mining Company in the Black Hills is a parallel with the overall history of the region, taking it from the unsettled Indian country in the mid-1870s, to an industrially-developed area rich with natural resources.
Steven T. Mitchell, a former manager at the Homestake Mine, has detailed this historical transition and permanent presence the mining company had in this area in a new book to be released this month titled “Nuggets to Neutrinos: The Homestake Story.”
Mitchell, a life-long resident of the Black Hills, recently discussed his new book during a special presentation at the Adams Museum. His book tells the story of how the Homestake Mine came into existence and its development into the largest underground mine in the world.
The book details the discovery of the rich gold vein by Fred and Moses Manuel. They worked the claim with crude mining methods producing a half-ton of ore per day.
The “California Capitalists” saw the opportunity to develop the gold resources of the Black Hills in 1877. Led by George and Phoebe Hearst of San Francisco, Calif., efforts began to acquire the claims. Hearst had experience with mines in Nevada and California and employed the partnership of San Francisco attorneys James B. Haggin and Lloyd Tevis.
“They were really shrewd attorneys with a lot of money,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell tells the story of how the men were able to purchase the Manuel claim for $60,000 and an adjoining piece of ground for $10,000. Over the next several years, they continued to absorb neighboring claims into the Homestake empire.
During that time, the company also locked up rights to critical natural resources of water and timber.
Eventually, Homestake developed water systems to feed the mine’s needs, reaching out to areas of Kirk, Deadwood Creek, Gold Run Creek, Reno Gulch and Whitewood Creek.
The underground workings required sturdy wood framing and above ground wood was needed to run the boiler system for the mills.
Timber operations reached from Lead to the Stagebarn area north of Rapid City. In between a web of railroad lines connected the operation.
Mitchell’s book gives a lot of detail of how water rights became water fights with neighboring mines, the engineering of the timber stoping method underground and the mechanized ways miners mined the ore and processed it above ground.
Mitchell is a graduate of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology with degrees in mining engineering, and he worked at the Homestake Mine in Lead, where he held various engineering and management positions.
Over its 125-year history, the company constantly looked for more efficient ways to mine gold. At one time, 90 mules and horses worked underground, pulling carts of ore to lift stations. The mine later moved to steam-powered, electric-powered and diesel-powered engines.
The mine also used hydroelectric power from plants in Spearfish Canyon to run the mills. “They converted the mine to electric in 1904. The plants were very significant cost-saving ideas for the benefit of Homestake,” Mitchell said.
Before the mine closed in 2001, the workers removed 167 million tons of ore and shipped out 39.8 million ounces of gold.
The book also covers the geology of the Black Hills, modern mining in the Open Cut, closure and reclamation of Homestake and the property transfer of the Homestake gold mine to the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority for use as an underground laboratory.
Mitchell said he chose a classic John Gast painting “American Progress” for the cover art for the book. It depicts a female figure draped in white linens, personifying the United States’ Manifest Destiny, walking across the Great Plains, stringing telegraph wire. She is flanked by three railroads and groups of miners and settlers, while native animals and Indians flee the area.