- Ore Resources
The Bunker Hill Mine
Grubstaking, a practice whereby someone with a little extra money invested in a prospector, was common in the early days of the Coeur d'Alene Mining District. The usual arrangement was that the grubstaker would provide a prospector with a burro and a month's provisions in exchange for an agreement to share in any mineral wealth discovered. It was under these conditions that Murray merchants John T. Cooper and Origin O. Peck outfitted Noah S. Kellogg when he set out to look for gold up the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River in August of 1885.
The Bunker Hill lode, in Milo Gulch, was discovered by Kellogg on September 9, 1885. Legend has it that it was his wandering burro who found the outcropping. Since Kellogg did not know the value of the ore he found, he showed some of the iron-stained galena to Philip O'Rourke, a former Leadville miner then being grubstaked by Jacob Goetz, who recognized it as valuable ore. The two then located the Bunker Hill claim in O'Rourke's name. On October 2, Cornelius Sullivan, a friend of O'Rourke, located the Sullivan claim across the gulch, and soon all the adjacent ground was taken up. As a result of the grubstake agreement, and after disputes and lawsuits, Cooper and Peck received a half interest in the Bunker Hill claim and a quarter interest in the Sullivan claim. Between the discovery and 1912 there were seven or eight litigation cases over claim ownership and extralateral rights. The principle suit, which involved the Last Chance Mining Company, was settled in 1910.
Soon after the discovery, the partners entered into an agreement with Jim Wardner whereby he would secure capital for development of the mine and construction of a mill. After negotiating a contract with Selby Smelting Company to treat the mill product he was able to interest a syndicate composed of A.M. Holter, S.T. Hauser, A.M. Euster, and W.E. Cox, all of Helena, Montana, and D.C. Corbin of Spokane, who organized the Helena Concentrating Co. This company built the first mill on the Sullivan side of the gulch in July of 1886.
In 1887 Simeon Gannet Reed purchased the claims and mill for a total of $750,000 and, in partnership with Martin Winch and Noah Kellogg, incorporated the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining and Concentrating Company in Oregon on July 29. Reed, John Hayes Hammond, Cyrus H. McCormick and principals from the Crocker Bank of San Francisco and Peabody, Houghteling and Company of Chicago invested large sums of money in the company. The financial headquarters of the company was transferred to San Francisco in September 1891. The Oregon corporation was dissolved on March 24, 1924, and the company was reincorporated in Delaware. It was not until 1956 that the name was shortened to The Bunker Hill Company.
As the tonnage of ore in the mine increased, it became apparent that a mill of larger capacity was needed, and in 1891 a new mill of 400 tons capacity was built in the main valley below the confluence of Milo Creek with the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. To transport ore to this mill an aerial tramway, with a horizontal length of 10,000 feet, was constructed from Wardner. This tramway served to transport all mine ore until the two mile Kellogg Tunnel was completed in 1902.
In 1898 the Bunker Hill & Sullivan Mining and Concentrating Co. and the Alaska Treadwell Company each purchased 31.34 percent of the stock of the Tacoma Smelter on Puget Sound, rehabilitated the plant, and thereby provided a facility for smelting the ores from these two properties. This ownership continued until 1905, when the plant was sold to the American Smelting and Refining Co. at a substantial profit. The sale of the smelter also carried with it a contract for the reduction of the Bunker Hill ore for a period of 25 years. However, when the smelter closed its lead plant in 1912, Bunker Hill's lead was shipped to Selby, California, and East Helena, Montana for processing. Difficulties arose as a result of these changes and in 1916 the company began the construction of a lead smelter at Kellogg which went into operation in July 1917.
Two men stand out in the early history of the company. They are Frederick W. Bradley and Stanly A. Easton. Bradley first became associated with the company as a young engineer in 1890. In 1893 he was named general manager of the operation and in 1897 he became the company's fourth president, a position he held until his death in 1933. He brought to Kellogg another young California engineer, Stanly Easton who became general manager in 1903 and succeeded Bradley in the presidency. Under the guidance of these two men the Bunker Hill Company grew from a small uncertain mining and concentrating venture to a large mining and smelting firm.
Bunker Hill's first trouble with mine workers occurred in the spring of 1887, and over the next twelve years the company played a principle role in leading the district mine owners' resistance to labor's demands. Many of the events that took place during this period--including the organization of the Western Federation of Miners, the mill bombings, the declarations of martial law, the unprecedented use of "bull pen" stockades, and the "permit" work system--have come to occupy an important place in the history of the American labor movement.
August 19, 1949 saw the first interruption of operations in 50 years due to strike; this was settled on November 12. In 1956 a wildcat strike broke out, resulting in a short mine closure. Then on May 5, 1960, a 220 day Mine-Mill strike was called. This ended on December 10 with the Northwest Metal Workers Union ousting Mine-Mill union. The first major strike at the mine since 1960 was called on May 5, 1977, and lasted until September 19. During the strike salaried staff operated the smelter.
The Kellogg Tunnel, started in 1897 and completed in 1902, permitted vigorous exploration work to take place on the tunnel level and the intervening ground between it and the surface which resulted in the opening up of the Carey and July stopes on the 7th and 8th levels and the March ore body on the tunnel or No.9 level, three of the highest grade and most productive stopes in the history of the mine.
The South Mill which was destroyed by a dynamite blast during the strike and riot of April 29, 1899 was rebuilt in 1900, and in 1909 the West mill began operations.
In 1916, in response to a war-time increase in the demand for lead, Bunker Hill constructed a large lead smelter. A new epoch began with the opening of the smelter on July 5, 1917. This not only reduced costs of handling the ore but gave the company a second major source of income from handling charges for ore of other mines in the area.
On May 25, 1917, Bunker Hill and Sullivan joined with the Hecla Mining Company in forming the Sullivan Mining Company, which purchased and operated the Star mine at Mullan. This company was in existence until January 1, 1956 when it was dissolved, and the corporate name was changed to The Bunker Hill Company on April 1.
The ore from the Star mine had a relatively high zinc content and because there was no plant in the district to treat the zinc sulfide concentrates, erection of an electrolytic zinc plant was decided on by the Sullivan Company. Designed by Wallace G. Woolf and U.C. Tainton, construction began in 1926, and operation commenced in August 1928, thus adding a third major activity to Bunker Hill. The plant ran continuously until May l, 1930 when the low price of metals and the decreased demand for slab zinc made curtailment advisable. By 1936 the price of the metal had increased to the point where full capacity was again attained. Zinc production reached record levels during World War II and Bunker Hill was able to supplement its zinc refining operations with the addition of a cadmium plant. The technological process that was devised for the zinc plant was the first of its kind and was recognized as a significant new development in the field. Silver operations on a larger scale than ever before added still another phase to Bunker Hill's business.
In April 1920 Bunker Hill acquired 50% interest in the Seattle based Northwest Lead Company. This company manufactured lead plumbing supplies, white lead and other commodities, and furnished an outlet for a portion of the lead produced at the Bunker Hill smelter. Northwest Lead Company joined with Eagle-Picher Lead Company to form the Associated Lead & Zinc Company on February 27, 1948. In August 1956 Bunker Hill purchased the balance of the stock in Northwest Lead and this became the Sales & Fabrication Division; in December 1956, it purchased the Eagle-Picher interest which became Bunker Hill Chemical Products Division.
During the depression years of the 30s and the war years of the 40s, expansion of the company's facilities was somewhat limited. In 1939 an electrolytic antimony plant was constructed, but operated only a few years. Then in 1943, a slag fuming plant was erected at the lead smelter to recover zinc in the blast furnace slag.
A sulfuric acid manufacturing unit to recover the sulfur in the stack gasses was added to the Zinc plant facilities in 1954, and in the early 1960s further investments were made in the construction of a fertilizer plant.
Bunker Hill obtained Hecla's 50% interest in Sullivan Mining Co. in exchange for 275,000 shares of BH stock in October 1955, and also purchased 494,696 shares of Pend Oreille Mines and Metals Co. stock from Hecla thus increasing its ownership of Pend Oreille to 36%.
In 1960 a 130-ton per day phosphoric acid plant was constructed between the smelter and zinc plant. In 1965 this plant was placed into a joint venture with the Stauffer Chemical Company and a dry ammonium phosphate fertilizer unit added.
In 1963 the Zinc Plant sixth unit started operation. A $15 million expansion at the Electrolytic Zinc Plant which included a second sulfuric acid manufacturing unit was begun in 1966. Also, this was the year that the company started construction on a million dollar central research and analytical laboratory. Both projects were completed in 1967.
Fluctuation zinc and lead prices continued to plague the company and, combined with rising foreign imports of less expensive ore and a decline in the industrial demand for lead, there was much speculation about the company's future. This came to an end on June l, 1968 when Bunker Hill became a wholly owned subsidiary of Gulf Resources & Chemical Corp. Some observers felt that Gulf was more interested in stripping the company of its remaining resources than investing in its future. In August 1971, the corporate office was moved from Spokane to Kellogg.
In September 1968, Bunker Hill purchased the balance of stock in Zinc-Lock Company; this company was sold in December 1970. And in March 1969, the Cortez Gold mine in Nevada, 22% owned by Bunker Hill, started production.
Growing public concern with the environment in the 1970s compelled Bunker Hill to spend large sums on plant improvements in order to avoid further civil suits by area residents and to comply with federal air and water pollution control standards. The new Lurgi sintering machine started operation at the Lead Smelter in September 1970, and the sulfuric acid unit, too, was completed, representing a $6.5 million air pollution control project. Also in the fall a new $220,000 effluent treatment facility started up at the Lead Smelter.
Bunker Hill's underground tree nursery started operation in December 1975.
Bunker Hill began marketing its own metal production for the first time in the company's history in January 1976. In April construction was started on a 610 foot zinc plant stack and in June construction commenced on the 715 foot smelter stack
The recession of 1981 and the decline in metal prices led to another slow-down in operations at the mine and significant lay-offs ensued. Continued uncertainty about metal prices and the unlikelihood of winning wage roll-backs from labor contributed to Gulf Resources' decision in August 1981 to close its Bunker Hill operations and put the company up for sale. In 1982 the company was sold to the Bunker Limited Partnership consisting of Harry Magnuson, Duane Hagadone, Jack Kendrick and Simplot Development Company; the Simplot company dropped out of the partnership in 1987. Although the new company reopened the mine, the lead and zinc operations remained closed. The mine operated from 1988 to 1990, then, in 1991, the partnership filed for bankruptcy. An auction of furniture and equipment was held in August of 1991 and fire on September 23 destroyed the rock house and a djacent storage building. On May 1, 1992 the mineral rights were transferred to Robert Hopper, owner of Placer Mining Co., of Bellevue, Washington. Pintlar, Inc., a subsidiary of Gulf Resources & Chemical, remains responsible for the EPA Superfund cleanup of the smelter site.
Starting with the original Bunker Hill and Sullivan claims, the Bunker Hill Mine later encompassed 620 claims totaling 6,2000 acres. From the discovery cuts some 3600 feet above sea level, over 20 major ore zones were mined to nearly 1600 feet below sea level, a vertical distance of about one mile.
Four major mining methods were employed in the Bunker Hill Mine. The oldest is square set, cut and fill. This method employs support of the stope where the vein is mined with sets of timbers which are buried by sand fill pumped from the surface as the mining activity moves to a higher elevation. The broken ore is scraped into chutes by compressed air powered slushers where it dropped into ore pockets on the level below.
The second method is similar to the above, but no timber support is required. Air powered slushers or compressed air operated mucking machines on rubber tires are used.
A third important mining method is known as pillar mining. In this operation no timber is required but pillars of ore are left in place as supports until the stoping moves to a higher elevation, at which time sand fill is pumped in to provide the floor for the next cut. As the ore is broken, rubber tired, compressed air operated mucking machines pick it up putting it into a box on the back of the loader. It is them transported to a chute in the stope where it drops into the ore pocket on a lower level.
The fourth method is sublevel blasthole stoping. Diesel powered equipment cuts horizontal slices every forty feet in the ore zones. Then long holes are drilled in the pillars between horizontal slices. The holes are blasted allowing the ore to fall to the bottom slice. Here it is scooped up by diesel powered loaders and transported to ore passes. This method was used above the Kellogg Tunnel, and ore was transported by gravity to the tunnel and hauled out by train to the surface.
From the ore pockets on the various levels of the mine below the Kellogg Tunnel, ore trains powered by battery driven locomotives transported the ore to ore pockets located at the shaft. In the shaft, large steel buckets, called skips, were loaded and hoisted to the Kellogg Tunnel level where the ore was dumped into two large concrete bins. Drawn from these storage areas by gravity, the ore was next transported two miles to the surface in 22-car ore trains pulled by trolley and diesel locomotives.
At Kellogg the company operated the Bunker Hill Mine (lead-silver-zinc) and the Crescent Mine (silver- copper), a lead smelter and refinery, electrolytic zinc reduction plant, cadmium plant, zinc fuming plant, sulfuric acid plant and a phosphoric acid plant. At Burke it owned a 70% interest in the Star Mine (zinc- lead). At Seattle the company operated a secondary lead smelter, a lead fabrication plant and chemical products plant, all under the Pacific Division of the Bunker Hill Company.
At its peak the company produced corroding lead, antimonial lead, silver, special high grade zinc, zinc diecasting alloys, cadmium, specification lead alloys, leaded zinc oxides, dore metal, super purity antimony, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid at its Kellogg, Idaho, operations, and manufactured lead products such as sheet, pipe, sleeving, casting, solders, shot, lead oxides and battery oxide, red lead, antimonial lead, and soft and calking lead, at its Seattle, Washington, operations.
The EPA was created in 1972 to enforce the Clean Air and Water Act. Armed with this, the EPA proceeded to push twelve of the largest Mining and Smelting Companies in America into Bankruptcy by 1995 including the Bunker in 1981.The Bunker Hill Mine was shut down because of its Smelter. The Mine was highly profitable at the time of the closure. The Silver Valley was a Super Fund clean-up site starting in 1983.This cleanup has been completed and the EPA has stopped all remediation in the area. The only remaining EPA involvement in the local area is the treatment of the Bunker Mine effluent. Bunker Hill Mining Corp will be required to pick up the responsibilities of managing the water treatment plant going forward.