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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Caryl Marie Brendle Adcock
The Yellow Jacket Mine
The Yellow Jacket Mine is located in Santa Cruz County approximately
7 miles by road from the village of Arivaca, Arizona. It has 40 acres of
patented (private land) mining claim inside the National Forest. I lived on this
mining claim for 3 years in the early 1970’s. My then husband and I were
caretakers for Charlie Lemons who owned the Yellow Jacket. I believe this gives
me a unique perspective from which to research the mine.
The mine is situated at start of Yellow Jacket Canyon, the
connecting point of Little Yellow Jacket Canyon and Phoenix Canyon. The Yellow
Jacket is 20 acres and the adjoining Phoenix claim is 20 acres. In wet years two
streams run down these canyons and join to make a larger stream.
The mine as well as
the town has a long history. Arivaca is the longest inhabited town in Arizona.
It was originally called Ali Bac, the Indian phrase for land of many springs or
running water. Native Americans lived in the area and the first Europeans were
the Spaniards in the early 1700’s. Jesuit priests ran mining operations in
Northern Mexico and in the Oro Blanco district near Arivaca. In 1767 the Jesuits
were recalled to Spain , however mining continued in the area until the Mexican
Americans came to
the area shortly after the Civil War. Most of the mining was neglected at this
time. In 1874 Thomas Roddick located the Yellow Jacket on the Ostrich Lode.
Commercial production happened through an indenture agreement with the owner and
three men, Leatherwood, Bartlett and Handy. The mine was productive and there
were high hopes for the future. In the early 1880’s, Handy acquired the mine and
it was patented in 1883 by Leatherwood. Mining was on and off during this time
due to labor issues and the fluctuating price for gold. The 1890’s were a time
of high production. The Yellow Jacket shaft reached a depth of 250 feet. Work
happened on 4 levels with a total tunnel length of 1200 feet.
During this time
there was a community in the canyon which included a school and saloon. The
remains of these adobe style buildings were still partly standing when I moved
to the Yellow Jacket in 1973. Charlie Lemons bulldozed them for safety reasons.
There were also remains of stone houses in both canyons, I believe from this
same time period. Little Yellow Jacket Canyon is much wider and open than
Phoenix Canyon. The stone remains in Little Yellow Jacket were basically
outlines of the houses while in the much steeper sided Phoenix canyon the walls
of the stone houses were still standing sometimes to a level of 5 feet.
After a lull in
production Adolphus Noon became the foreman of the mine for a Philadelphia
company. He retimbered, refurbished and again the Yellow Jacket became a paying
enterprise. WWI began and again the mining was very intermittent. The 1930’s saw
a comeback in production. 18 to 25 men worked the mine at that time. WWII
happened and resources went elsewhere. In 1959 CA Johnson explored the
possibilities of mining again. There were good values found in the ore but the
price of gold was frozen at $35 per ounce making it unfeasible to continue. In
1969 Nixon un-froze the price of gold. In 1972 Charlie Lemons bought the mine
and began to rehab it and build a mill. He owned the mine until his death in
1997. His wife Mildred sold it in 1999. The Yellow Jacket now has a brand new
owner Trans Atlantic LLC which is planning to reopen production.
occurs as a series of quartz veins occuring in a major fault zone.The veins are
from 2 to 30 feet in width and contain disseminated auiferous (gold bearing)
and base metal sulfides as well as largely oxidized supergene gold and silver.
The ore zone strikes NW-SE and dips steeply to the NE. The wall rock is welded
tuff cut by two rhyolite dikes. The veins are in a shear zone that is 30 -50
feet wide, containing blocks of dark bluish gray quartz. The rhyolite dikes have
intruded the vein and adjacent walls.”
One source said this
fault is the one which extends into California and is the same fault which was
the reason for the Gold Rush of 1849. Two main veins have been exposed. The La
Paz vein is approximately 10 to 30 feet wide and runs at a depth of about 500
feet. The Trans Atlantic company also states the Yellow Jacket has proven
resources of 274,000 ounces of gold contained in about 740,000 tons of ore. This
makes it profitable in today’s market as gold is holding at $1000 per ounce.
There are aerial photos of the area and geological explorations have been done
as recently as 2003.
The mine also has an
artesian spring underground which fills at least one shaft. The water is unusual
in this area and in the past has been helpful in running the mills which crush
the ore. It also can be an issue in the mining as it would need to be pumped
out. The water table is at 107 feet. The report in Gold and Silver Mines
states that the water could be pumped dry in about a week in order to work the
mine but that the water itself is valuable quite possibly being worth several
I believe this water
is one reason the Yellow Jacket was able to support small communities throughout
its history. We were lucky to have this resource during our time there. We
pumped the water with a hand pump while standing on a few planks spanning the 65
foot shaft. The pipe line from this pump filled a barrel in the truck and also
the water tank we had in a tree outside the mine. This solar heated during the
day and about 4:00pm we could have a nice hot shower rigged with a hose and two
nails to bend the hose. A rock floor under it kept it from getting muddy. We
also pumped 50 gallons a day for the garden we created in the good soil
deposited by the two creeks.
At the mouth of Phoenix canyon is the remains of an arrastra, an early way to crush the ore mined. A circular “ditch” was dug and lined with hard rock. A device to drag a bigger and harder rock than the ore around the circular ditch was made. It was usually pulled by mules though humans could also be put to work. Many of these still exist around the countryside. While the one at Yellow Jacket has probably not been used in years, people still dig up the floor of it to see if they can recover any gold.
Life at the Mine
In many ways living
at the Yellow jacket was not unlike it would have been in the last century.
Electricity and running water were not available. While the “menfolk” prospected
and did assessment work on the unpatented claims, the women tended the children
and gardens and took care of the goats. Finding ways to keep perishable food
fresh was a challenge. We used an evaporative method of lining crates with wool
blankets and kept the blankets wet. I thought I was in the lap of luxury when we
acquired a propane refrigerator.
It may have been the
recent advent of the rise in the price of gold or just a part of human nature
but every man who learned some geology and mining knowledge from the older more
experienced miners, Charlie Lemons and Glenn Shields, got “gold fever”. They
would spend days roaming the countryside hoping to find a sign of gold and many
staked their own mining claims hoping to eventually cash in.
I lived at the mine from 1972-75. People who had lived there in the past would come to visit and tell stories about their time there. Glenn Shields who at that time lived at the Long Shot mine had in fact lived at the Yellow Jacket as a teen ager in the 1930’s. His house was at the mouth of Phoenix Canyon on one of the few flat spots available. We dug out the ruins of his house to expose partial remains of two adobe walls and then a concrete foundation which we put our 1933 Ford House car on to live in. A clay deposit in the area near the mine was used to build a hearth outside to do cooking and provide an outdoor living room of sorts.
I have visited the
mine many times since those early years. It is amazing to see how fast nature
takes a place over once the people are gone. Our house spot is unrecognizable as
the hillside behind it has filled in the flat area. The hearth is under more
erosion. Even the mine buildings are in bad repair. The trails and roads often
frequented in my time there are washed away or covered in vegetation.
Currently I believe that work is proposed to start on the mine. A local company offers tours of many places in the area and will take you to Yellow Jacket to see this fascinating place for yourself.