Lone Mountain History

The early history of the Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine is best summarized in the following article, a citation from Turquoise Deposits of Nevada by Frank R. Morrissey, 1968.


The Lone Mountain or Blue Jay mine (no. 15, pl. 1) is about 1 mile east of Paymaster Canyon in the NW l/4 sec. 18, T. I N., R. 41 E.

Turquoise occurs as nodules in a thinly bedded calcareous shale. The shale is complexly folded and faulted with the general strike being easterly. Numerous shears are concentrated within a zone about 40 feet wide that trends N. 20° - 45°E. and dips 40° - 50° NW. Most turquoise is within this zone and is associated with minor silicification and argillization.

Both solid blue and spider-web turquoise have been produced from the Lone Mountain mine in colors ranging from pale to dark blue without green tints. Clear blue turquoise is found in the hard shales, and the spider-web variety is in the softer argillaceouss zones; the two types are not found together. The best of the hard blue turquoise has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale. No turquoise from the mine has been known to fade or change its original color. During operations in 1956, a unique find was made at the Lone Mountain mine. Nuggets of clear blue, upon being split revealed dendrites of the sort commonly found in moss agate. These are entirely distinct from the inclusions normally found in turquoise and closely resemble those found in moss agate, if they are not actually identical. There has been no explanation for them, nor is there record of any similar occurrence.

The mine was worked through a 60° inclined shaft 200 feet deep. There were five levels in the mine, about 40 feet apart, and subsequently the mine was deepened another 50 feet. There are more than 1,500 feet of workings in the mine. Most work since 1929 has been confined to a 100-foot zone along the course of the vein. The mine was equipped with a gallows frame hoist, skip, compressor, jackhammers, and stopers. The ore was drilled and blasted down into chutes, trammed to the shaft, and hoisted to the surface where it was screened and hand sorted in the sorting house. There it was sacked for shipment to San Gabriel.

The Lone Mountain mine was discovered by Lee Hand in 1920; Hand, however, disclaimed credit for finding the vein, declaring he only "rediscovered" it. A man who owed Hand for a bill of goods offered to show him the vein outcropping if Hand would forgive the debt. Hand agreed, and they went to Lone Mountain where several days' searching failed to find the vein. Several weeks later Hand went back alone and found the vein several miles from where they previously had searched.

From indications at the site someone had prospected the outcropping for copper. A small trench, less than a foot deep, had been dug along the vein until the unknown prospector decided he had not found copper and abandoned the work. In the debris taken from the trench, Hand found a few pieces of high-grade turquoise which the original finder evidently had not recognized.

Hand located and filed claim to the discovery as the Blue Jay Mining Lode. Later, four other claims were filed: Blue Jay No. l, Blue Jay No. 2, Blue Jay No. 3, and Blue Jay No. 4. In the early years of its operation the mine was known as the "Blue Jay Mine on Lone Mountain "and finally just as "Lone Mountain."

Hand hired two miners, Jack Montgomery and Al Stevens, to open up the vein. In 1927 Hand leased the property to Bert Kopenhaver, who sank a shaft on the 60° inclined vein. At a depth of about 40 feet, Kopenhaver found the first spider-web turquoise for which the mine has become famous. In 1928 Hand sold a half interest in the mine to "Doc" Wilson. The shaft was deepened to about 85 feet, with more spider-web turquoise being found. In 1935 Hand sold his remaining half interest to Wilson, who thus became sole owner.

All of the turquoise from Lone Mountain, from the smallest pieces (the size of a match head) to the largest, was saved and used. Stones were cut at a plant in San Gabriel, Calif. The largest nugget ever taken from the mine was clear blue, 4 inches long, 3 inches wide and three-quarters of an inch thick.


The story continues with an article in Cashman Equipment Co. newsletter dated about 1972.


Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine Depends on Cat Diesel Power

Menless Winfield describes trying to grow crops in the Arkansas Ozarks as "farming a rockpile," with barely enough income to keep body and soul together. Today, however, Menless Winfield is still "farming a rockpile," but the "crop" is turquoise and the monetary returns are in direct proportion to the effort expended. In the case of Menless Winfield hard work is tempered now only by age and "retirement" is a word that sounds sweeter every time he hears it. But I am getting ahead of myself, because the full story of Menless Winfield and his Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine begins on April 14, 1916, the day Menless was born in Johnson County, Arkansas, in the heart of the Ozarks.

Menless' father farmed a little and he also ran a small sawmill, cutting timber into hardwood lumber and selling it locally. Menless began working in the logging and lumber industry at age 16 in 1932 and in 1935 he moved to Phoenix. His first Job was harvesting lettuce, but after a couple of years he caught a freight back to Arkansas, only to move on to Wyoming where he worked as a cowboy. He later worked for Morrison-Knudsen on the All-American canal in Imperial Valley for two years, leaving there to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II.

After two years overseas, Menless volunteered for the paratroops, which was the only way he could obtain a furlough. He ended up becoming an instructor in the paratroops. After his discharge he returned to his home town in Arkansas and tried farming, but it was still all work and no income, so he moved on in 1949, settling in the oil fields of New Mexico.

"After two years of working on drilling rigs where the sand blew so thick you couldn't see a rig 30 feet away, the winters were freezing cold and the summers were blistering hot, I decided there must be a better way of making a living," confided Menless. "About that time I became acquainted with a man who wanted to sell his turquoise mine in Colorado. I leased the mine with the option to buy and moved to Colorado in 1951. Ninety days later I traded my truck and all my property and bought his turquoise mine, which we named the Villa-Grove Turquoise Lode, and I was in the turquoise mining business.''

His first piece of equipment was a Cat D4 Tractor with a dozer, which Menless used to convert the tunnel mine into an open pit mine. By this means he could do more work by himself and wouldn't have to hire any help, because it was lean pickings at first. He eventually moved up through a D6, a D7 and finally purchased a new D8 in 1965.

"We didn't use any rippers on the Villa-Grove mine," recalls Menless, "just dynamite and dozers. The first 18 months I worked the mine I didn't have any production. The turquoise was embedded in rock so hard we had to literally use sledge hammers to break the rock and release the turquoise. Even after 17 years, our average production was only three pounds of turquoise per day."

Menless recalls a narrow escape shortly after he began using the D4 to open up the tunnels. He was digging and blasting his way down, not paying too much attention to what was under him, when one day the D4 fell through a tunnel roof and dropped 18 feet to the bottom. A large boulder rode down with Menless and the tractor, only to topple sideways, off the tractor and missing him by inches. Needless to say, he doesn't take any more chances and he's had a healthy respect for tunnels since then.

During one of his buying and selling trips to Gallup, New Mexico, Menless met "Rocky" Bill Wilson, a turquoise miner from Tonopah, Nevada. Bill wanted Menless to buy his mine, which he eventually did in 1968, moving there with his wife, Grace.

"I began the Tonopah operation with a new Cat D6C Tractor equipped with a dozer," related Menless, "and for the first few years I just re-worked the old dump site, washing all of the ore to make the turquoise easier to see. The ore had previously been worked dry, which allowed much of the turquoise to slip by the sorters.

"In 1971 I began digging into the mountain, opening up this tunnel mine much as I did the one in Colorado. I measured one shaft, and if goes to a depth of 200 feet, while my open pit is only 50 feet deep," reports Menless. "As I began opening the mountain, I needed larger equipment, so I added a used, 46A-D8H I purchased from Cashman Equipment Co. in Las Vegas. It is equipped with a ripper and dozer. More recently I purchased a new Cat 955 L Traxcavator. I use the 955 to haul the ore from the pit to the mill hopper, and the D8H is used to rip silica ribs and push the waste away from the mine opening. I also do some light blasting to get to places I can't reach with the equipment. After all, I don't want to go dropping down a mine shaft again with a D6C under me."

Men who deal in the buying and selling of turquoise refer to Menless Winfield as one of the best authorities on turquoise and Menless refers to the Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine as producing the highest known quality turquoise in the world, and yields run from 6 to 14 pounds per day. The turquoise produced at the Winfield mine is known in the trade as Black Matrix, Spider Web and Golden Matrix and ranges in color from deep blue to robin's egg blue. It also produces some of the best nuggets found in the world and produces more nuggets than channel turquoise. It is the only known mine to produce Denderitic and Fossil turquoise, two, very rare types of turquoise.

In mining turquoise, Menless loads seven cubic yards of ore into his mill hopper. He then runs this over a minus 1 ¼ inch screen, holding back the larger rocks that contain some turquoise. He then runs the ore into a transit-mix truck and washes the ore for 30 minutes. The ore is then poured into a holding bin of 21 cubic yards capacity. It is then gravity-fed onto sorting tables in a little shed, where two women work at each of two tables. They pick out the turquoise and scrape the waste into ore carts which Menless salvaged from the tunnel mining operation. The 21 cubic yards of ore will keep two women busy for two to three weeks.

Menless sells most of his turquoise in the raw, unpolished state to the Navajos and Zuni pueblo Indians, who in tum cut and polish the turquoise and mount it in silver jewelry for sale to the public. They also sell some of their finished products to the Lone Mountain Turquoise Co. of New Mexico, a trading post operated by Menless' son, Robert, and Robert's wife Michelle.

In 1971 Bill Wilson joined Menless to set up a cutting and polishing operation. He also makes some silver and gold mountings, and sells the mountings separate or complete. Late last year, Bill's son, Danny, also went to work for Menless and the father-son team polish, drill, string and/ or mount a small percentage of the turquoise mined. To insure a constant source of electrical power for the polishing, cutting and drilling as well as lights for the mining operation and the homes of the Winfields and the hired help, Menless purchased a Cat 3145 Diesel generating set in 1972. It has been working 24 hours per day and is shut down only for servicing.

"I first became acquainted with Caterpillar Diesel Equipment when I began working on the All-American Canal," commented Menless, "and I learned then that if you want equipment that is designed for durability and dependability, it has to be Caterpillar. I believe I mine the best grades of turquoise here at Lone Mountain and I want to be sure I'll be able to continue mining it, that's why I always buy Cat-built equipment."


To be continued