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Shafter

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BigBendHiker

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Shafter
« on: August 17, 2008, 07:22:27 AM »
In today's San Antonio Express-News:

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John MacCormack - Express-News SHAFTER — In the nearly seven decades since the closure of “La Mina Grande,” the richest silver strike in state history, this tiny settlement in the mountains between Marfa and Presidio has been on a slow, crumbling drift toward oblivion.

Named for a famous frontier Indian fighter, Shafter was once home to 1,500 people, as well as saloons, schools and retail businesses. It is now little more than a picturesque jumble of rock and adobe ruins, with a dozen or so occupied dwellings scattered in the brush.

Only the regal Catholic mission and public school stand as evidence of that bygone bustling era. What remains gives the town an abandoned, forgotten feel, as dogs wander the streets by day, replaced at night by foraging javelinas and the occasional mountain lion.

“We've been ignored, thank God,” said Monroe Elms, 52, a former Presidio County judge who, along with many of Shafter's two dozen residents, likes it as it is, a private oasis of green and solitude beside the Cibolo Creek.

“It's been like this all my life. Nothing has changed. I'm getting lost here,” said Elms, who grew up on a nearby ranch and now lives here part of the time.

But Shafter's long dreamless slumber may be ending. With silver recently flirting at $20 an ounce — four times what it brought a decade ago — the old mine across U.S. 67 that first opened in 1880 may soon be humming again.

This summer, Aurcana, a Canadian mining company, closed a $43 million deal to buy it.

“We hope to extract about 30 million ounces of silver over the next 10 years, and we hope we'll find more down there,” said Andy Nichols, an Aurcana vice-president.

Workmen will soon begin preparing the flooded, 1,000-foot deep mine for reopening. When mining resumes in 2010, about 90 people will be working here, removing hundreds of tons of ore a day that will be processed with cyanide on site, he said.

Such dramatic plans are prompting a lot of soul searching in Shafter, where only a special type of independent person chooses to live, and where progress and development have long been avoided.

Over the years, locals have preserved their isolation by resisting proposals to pave the roads, bridge the creek and even install a reliable municipal water supply. One resident even proposed posting fake hazardous waste signs to discourage tourists.

And while the metal highway sign alerts arriving motorists to the “Shafter Ghost Town,” that colorful appellation was always a bit premature.

“They call it a ghost town, but there are no ghosts here,” said Veva Mu?oz, a diminutive retiree who, with her two elderly sisters Rosa and Lupe, lives in the gray house they were raised in.

“At times one feels very alone here. Everyone who lives here is a family, but we need more people,” she said in a backyard overhung with chinaberry and wisteria.

‘A big dog for the neighborhood'

And while news of the reopening has cheered some, others are worried. When the Aurcana folks visited recently, they took stock of various concerns.

“The local residents were worried about traffic and noise and their water supply. Cyanide. Understandably, they don't want their lifestyle changed. They were looking for jobs,” Nichols said.

He said Shafter will be shielded from most of the mining activity. Mine workers will be bused in from Presidio and Marfa, and the company hopes to install the large stone crusher underground. The processing plant across U.S. 67 will not be readily visible.

“There will be changes, but we're trying to not be disruptive. We intend to be good neighbors, and Shafter will continue to be Shafter,” he said.

To further accommodate residents, Aurcana will drill a deep well away from the mine to provide good drinking water.

In recent years, some locals have seen their wells go dry, and many now rely on another company well for water. But Nichols said there is no plausible link between the long-dormant mine and recent diminished flow in Cibolo Creek.

“I think the chronology indicates other factors are reducing the flow in the creek,” he said.

Despite the assurances, feelings from anxiety to ambivalence percolate among residents.

“As you can imagine, people who move to a place like Shafter value their peace and quiet, so in a perfect world, I'd rather nothing change,” said Randall Cater, 55, who came here 15 years ago.

“I knew when I moved here that it was in a mining district. So there's always been a sense we were on borrowed time, that the mine would reopen,” he said.

Cater, who teaches career and technology education at Presidio High School, said the industrial jobs that Aurcana promises to bring “are nothing to sneeze at” given the dismal local job market.

But, he said, even if Aurcana does everything it has promised to protect locals, Shafter is certain to be affected.

“The problem with the mining company — as friendly as it is — it's a very big dog for the neighborhood,” Cater said.

Others are less sanguine about the plan to reopen the mine.

Julia West, also a teacher in Presidio, came to West Texas from Houston a decade ago to get away from the pollution. She owns a house in Presidio and is renovating another in Shafter.

She fears the renewed mining activity will harm air quality and also cause the water table that feeds the dwindling Cibolo Creek to drop further.

“When I moved here in 1997, the water was knee-deep most of the year,” she said, standing beside a foot-wide stream.

She also fears that, despite Aurcana's assurances, the cyanide used to extract silver may pollute the creek and ground water, as has happened in other silver mines in the West.

“I'm against the mine, but most people in town are a little cautious about what they say against the mine because they provide the water,” said West, who has her own well.

However, those who have lived here the longest are pining for a revival.

“The people who are against it weren't here when the mine was running. All these years we've had the hope of it reopening,” said Veva Mu?oz, who drives 130 miles each way to the Wal-Mart in Fort Stockton to shop.

Famous shootout

Amparo Fuentes, 96, the town's oldest resident and a local historian, is also hopeful.

“During the Mexican Revolution, my family came to Presidio from Ojinaga, and in 1917, my grandfather came to Shafter to work as the main clerk in the company store where all the miners shopped,” she said.

Fuentes, who was 5 when she moved to Shafter, has seen many booms and busts.

“During the Depression, the mines closed and many people moved away. But ... the mine reopened and it was the best time for the miners. They could buy cars and phonographs. They had dances and nice gatherings,” she recalled.

But she also was around for many of the funerals that have filled the hilltop cemetery.

“The mine was very dangerous. It took strong backs, and many people died,” she recalled.

And she also recalled Shafter's most famous shootout, which in 1940 ended a running feud between a storekeeper named Bill Howell and a heavy-handed local lawman named Robert E. Speed, a former Texas Ranger.

“They had words. Howell was ready with his gun, and when Speed tried to pull his, Howell shot him. Some thought he was defending himself,” she remarked.

Howell was arrested, tried and convicted of murdering Speed, but he apparently served no time.

Fuentes, who gets around with a walker, hopes to end her days in Shafter. She said she'd be happy if she lives to see the mine open one more time.

“In one way, it would be good for jobs for the people. I know there will be changes. No more quiet days and nights, but I believe it will be all right,” she said.


 

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Offline Roy

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2008, 08:00:06 AM »
Nice article, BBH. Thanks for posting.

Precious metal prices have fallen 30-35% over the last couple of months.  Gold is down under 800/oz, and silver is under 13/oz.  I don't know what price point they need to show a profit, but they've got to be getting nervous.
I'm surprised they think there's that much ore down there;  or maybe they're just talking it up to get some suckers (oops, I meant investers) to  put up some money.

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SHANEA

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2008, 08:46:08 AM »
Cool Article BBH, thanks for posting.  I always enjoy driving through Shafter - stopped at the church once.   

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BigBendHiker

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2008, 09:48:44 AM »
These may be re-posts, but here are some links to the mining company webpage.  The second link shows the areas of ore deposits which is rather interesting (it covers a large part of the Shafter area):

http://www.aurcana.com/s/NewsReleases.asp?ReportID=305523&_Type=News-Releases&_Title=Arranges-Non-Dilutive-US25-million-To-Acquire-the-High-Grade-Shafter-Silver...


http://www.aurcana.com/s/Shafter.asp

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SHANEA

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2008, 10:28:28 AM »
Looks like they have done their homework.

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With a relatively low capital cost, the Shafter mine represents a low-risk project.

I still think a forward looking person with some cash in the back pocket should open up a combo gas station, cafe, general store there.  It's 19 miles from Shafter to Presidio and 38 miles from Shafter to Marfa.

Of course, if you are a resident of Shafter, as the article BBH posted, seems that most of them (the residents) just want to be left alone and you really can't blame them. Heck, they obviously moved to Shafter to absolutely get away from everything and everyone. It appears that the mine company is going to make a good-faith effort to be a good neighbor with putting the rock crusher underground, busing in the workers, etc. instead of making it a company town.  Also drilling them a deep water well - which is bound to be very expensive.

Let's just hope that they keep to their word and also do not pollute the area with the cyanide, etc.  Of course, cyanide has been used for a very long time with metal extraction - so I'd be willing to bet that the area already has a contamination problem with cyanide.  As I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn in a while, I really have no knowledge of the overall impact of cyanide on the environment in terms of longevity, etc. Perhaps some more educated people can enlighten us.  I found this as a good primer, but I was horrid in chemistry in high school many years ago. International Cyanide Management Code for the Gold Mining Industry: Environmental and Health Effects of Cyanide

Additional Press Releases turned up by my Google bots.

Silver Standard Resources Inc.: Sale of Shafter Silver Project to Aurcana Closes

Gold Mining News:  Silver Standard Resources Inc.: Sale of Shafter Silver Project to Aurcana Closes

Accelerates Commitment to become A Primary Silver Producer 
« Last Edit: August 17, 2008, 10:47:44 AM by SHANEA »

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SHANEA

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2008, 10:43:41 AM »
BBH - you keep up with the mines and mining in the area, what "other" silver mines are out that way?  One would think that if a company is reopening up the Shafter mine, that other companies might be looking to do the same with other abandoned mines.

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BigBendHiker

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2008, 10:51:59 AM »
Good question...

The Handbook of Texas On-line has the following on silver mining (excerpted, below and link to the story below as well):

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Almost all of the silver produced in the state has come from the Trans-Pecos area where silver is the most widespread of any commercially produced metal. It is found in some quantity with other minerals in many localities in that region. The five silver mining districts of the Trans-Pecos region are the Shafter District in Presidio County, the Van Horn-Allamoore District and the Plata Verde District in Hudspeth and Culberson counties, the Quitman Mountains District in Hudspeth County, and the Altuda Mountain District in Brewster County. Some of the mines of the Trans-Pecos area that have produced silver are Presidio Mine, Hazel Mine, Sancho Panza Mine, Black Shaft Mine, Plata Verde Mine, and Bird Mine. No production of silver in Texas was reported by the United States Bureau of Mines after 1952, when 4,672 troy ounces valued at $4,228 were produced. Total production of silver during the period 1885-1952 was 33,303,173 fine ounces valued at $23,446,564. In the late 1970s interest in silver mining was renewed when the price of the mineral increased. As silver prices declined so did exploration. As of 1994 no silver mining exists in Texas.


http://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/SS/dks2.html

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SHANEA

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2008, 11:10:35 AM »
Good Answer...  You are on a roll now.   Got a map in your hip pocket of all these places?  :icon_wink:

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Offline badknees

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2008, 11:14:45 AM »
Good Answer...  You are on a roll now.   Got a map in your hip pocket of all these places?  :icon_wink:

Try this. Enter mine name in the search box and you will be directed to a google map with coordinates

http://www.mindat.org/index.php
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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SHANEA

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2008, 11:16:09 AM »
Good Answer...  You are on a roll now.   Got a map in your hip pocket of all these places?  :icon_wink:

Try this. Enter mine name in the search box and you will be directed to a google map with coordinates

http://www.mindat.org/index.php

Thanks, however, it would be so cool if someone would look them up and Snag the screen images and post them...   :icon_wink:

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Offline badknees

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2008, 11:55:34 AM »
Good Answer...  You are on a roll now.   Got a map in your hip pocket of all these places?  :icon_wink:

Try this. Enter mine name in the search box and you will be directed to a google map with coordinates

http://www.mindat.org/index.php

Thanks, however, it would be so cool if someone would look them up and Snag the screen images and post them...   :icon_wink:



« Last Edit: August 17, 2008, 12:12:34 PM by badknees »
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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SHANEA

  • Guest
Re: Shafter
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2008, 12:42:31 PM »
OUT YONDER: Shafter silver mine may reopen

Nice touch of history here. 

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Offline Boojum1

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #12 on: August 20, 2008, 03:26:41 PM »
I'm fairly certain I went to college with the guy (Elms) quoted in the article.  Wierd. 

Cyanide can be really nasty stuff to remediate.  Google "Berkley Pit".  I would think that modern mining procedures would accomodate modern environmental controls, but how much mining experience does TCEQ have....and....woul d it be TCEQ or TRCC that regulates it?  If TRCC, then hope like heck that your Shafter property is upgrade because oilfield environmental regulations are rather lax. 
Pithy quote free for years

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Offline Boojum1

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Re: Shafter
« Reply #13 on: August 20, 2008, 03:42:33 PM »
Here's an TRCC document link showing some mine reclamation work in Terlingua, Study Butte, and Mariposa in BiBe.  I couldn't find anything on mine tailings at either TCEQ or TRCC.  Most WTX mine reclamation appears to be closing shafts, more of a safety fix than an environmental cleanup.

http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/divisions/sm/texasamlprojects.pdf
Pithy quote free for years

 


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