ShowDown at Thompson Creek

by kfrego

Rich robber barons were very common in the mining districts of the old west. Men, like William Randolf Hearst,  who employed scores of thugs and bought the judges and officials to amass huge mineral holdings at the expense of the small miners and mining companies. The thugs have been replaced by lawyers and politically influential mining companies in recent times. I had the opportunity to get caught up in one of these squabbles while mobilizing a drill on Thompson Creek near Clayton, Idaho.

Bob Barrett had a tungsten mine and mill on Thompson Creek. Bob was in his 60’s. As a younger man he hit a huge uranium strike and made millions of dollars. He had yachts, mansions, and many people willing to help him part with his money. Eventually he lost literally everything, bought the little mine on Thompson Creek, and started over. He worked hard and had a very profitable little operation. Bob had a lot of respect for the working hands. He despised anybody who wore a tie and thought even less of lawyers.

Boyles Brothers had been drilling for Cyprus Mining on a very large molybdenum property between Thompson and Squaw Creeks for several years. Many of the Cyprus mining claims bordered Bob’s mining claims. It was common practice to overlap the mining claims to insure there were no gaps between them. We scheduled a new hole with Cyprus and mobilized our equipment in Clayton. Cyprus hired a dozer to rough in the road and drill site before we got to town. We saw Bob at the local bar the evening before taking the drill up Thompson Creek. Bob let us know he was in a dispute with Cyprus over the location of the hole. He wasn’t sure we were going to drill on that site. He said he’d see us in the morning. We received a message from Boyles’ area manager not to leave town with the drill until he arrived the next morning. Something was up.

We had about eight vehicles strung out on the one lane road going up Thompson Creek. One of them was a lawyer from Cyprus Mining. On a long stretch with no turnaround or pull out Bob Barrett was sitting on his D-7 dozer cradling a shotgun. He had the road blocked. He told the lawyer we were trespassing and if we messed with him the lawyer would be the first to get shot. We got the lawyer turned around and he headed to Challis (forty miles away) to get the sheriff. Bob told us to pull up a seat and get comfortable because it would be awhile. He walked to the creek and returned with a case of cold beer. He showed us the dynamite with caps and fuse just in case he needed some noise to run that lawyer off. We drank beer and shot the bull until the lawyer and the sheriff returned. Bob, the lawyer, and the sheriff walked off a short distance and negotiated. About an hour later Bob told us to get off our butts and get to work.  He moved the dozer. The lawyer followed the sheriff back to town.

The lawyer never returned……..and Bob visited the drill every day to see what the core looked like.