Lander County Nevada Gold Production

By A. H. KOSCHMANN and M. H. BERGENDAHL - USGS 1968

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Lander County lies within the vast arid Great Basin, wherein narrow, northward-trending, treeless mountains rise a mile or more above sun-baked valleys.

The hordes of early gold seekers who crossed the State in 1849 and 1850 were intent on reaching the lush gold fields of the Mother Lode; they wasted no time crossing the forbidding wastes of Nevada. It was not until after the rich strike at Comstock in 1859 that Nevada was seriously considered for worthwhile prospecting.

In 1862 precious metal in Lander County first was discovered in the Reese River district. Almost immediately news of the rich silver ores started a rush. The town of Austin was formed and had a population of 6,000 by 1863 (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 11). The Reese River district flourished, and Austin was the center of mining activity. Important gold discoveries were made in the 1860's and 1870's at the Battle Mountain and Lewis districts, and, in 1905 in the Bullion district. Almost all the gold mined in the county from 1945 through 1959 came from the Bullion district.

Lander County is noted for its silver production, the great silver output of the Reese River district overshadowing the output of all other metals; nevertheless, the county has produced considerable gold, both placer and lode. Before 1890, gold and silver values were combined in production reports, and it is impossible to determine gold or silver production alone. The precious metal production of the county during 1870-89 was $16,676,405, most of which was silver from the Reese River district (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 15).

Beginning in 1890, gold production and silver production were recorded separately: from 1890 through 1901, $510,270 (about 24,700 ounces) in gold was recorded; from 1902 through 1936, production was 48,899 ounces of placer gold and 75,004 ounces of lode gold (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 15-16) ; and from 1937 through 1959, a total of 435,325 ounces of lode gold and 23,347 ounces of placer gold was mined. Total gold production in the county through 1959 was about 607,000 ounces.

BATTLE MOUNTAIN DISTRICT

The Battle Mountain district, in northwestern Lander County, includes the Battle Mountain Range, an area 15 miles long and 12 miles wide. The town of Battle Mountain is the supply center.

The district was organized in 1866 after ores rich in silver and copper were found (Hill, 1915, p. 71-72). By 1885 the district was mostly inactive, but it revived slightly in 1900 and gold prospects created a mild flurry about 1910. The demand for copper during World War I stimulated activity, but after 1918, the copper mines were worked only intermittently. In 1932 additional gold discoveries led to increased production (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 19).

In the earlier years, the gold produced in the Battle Mountain district was a byproduct of copper and silver ores, but in more recent years the deposits were mined chiefly for their gold and the copper and silver were byproducts.

Data on gold production before 1902 were not found. From 1902 through 1936, a total of 47,633 ounces of placer gold and 27,173 ounces of lode and byproduct gold was mined (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 20). From 1937 to 1958, a total of 62,082 ounces of lode and byproduct and 12,484 ounces of placer gold was produced. Total recorded gold production through 1959 was 149,372 ounces.

The Battle Mountains are composed primarily of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks which are, from bottom to top: black shale and white quartzite, 900 to 1,000 feet thick; red sandstone, 1,500 feet thick; and limestone of probable Pennsylvanian age, 2,000 feet thick (Hill, 1915, p. 66-76). Dikes and sheets of intrusive granite porphyry, monzonite, and quartz diorite, of possible Late Cretaceous or early Tertiary age, cut the sedimentary rocks. Volcanic rocks - rhyolite and augite andesite - cap the mountains locally. The ore deposits occur along simple fissures or wide shear zones in the complexly folded and faulted sedimentary rocks. There are four mineralogic vein groups:

  1. Silver-lead deposits - mostly fracture filling in the sedimentary rocks - that contain galena, sphalerite, pyrite, and tetrahedrite. Some veins contain a zone of secondary enrichment that consists of polybasite, pyrargyrite, argentite, and tetrahedrite. Near the surface these veins were oxidized, and cerussite was the most abundant ore mineral.
  2. Copper deposits - slightly auriferous copper ores in fractures in sediments. The ore, some of which is oxidized, consists of chalcopyrite, pyrite, sphalerite, and galena, associated with contact metamorphic minerals.
  3. Gold deposits - iron-stained quartz veins carrying free gold and pyrite.
  4. Antimony deposits - quartz-stibnite veins in sediments.

BULLION DISTRICT

The Bullion district is on the east slope of the Shoshone Range, 23 miles southwest of Beowawe, in sees. 8, 9, 16, and 17, T. 28 N., R. 47 E.

Ore was first discovered in the early 1870's; silver was the chief product. In 1905 gold was discovered and a small rush to the camp of Tenabo began (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 39). Later, placer gold was found near Tenabo. In recent years the Gold Acres open pit has been the largest operation mining solely for gold in the State, but in 1958 and 1959 its production was surpassed by the Round Mountain district.

No reliable statistics on production are available for the district before 1902 (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 39). Gold production from 1902 through 1959 was 146,154 ounces of lode and 10,373 ounces of placer gold.

The country rock in the district comprises Carboniferous sedimentary rocks that have been intruded by granodiorite. Locally, patches of Tertiary andesite cap the sediments (Lincoln, 1923, p. 111). Fissure veins occur in all these rocks. Most of the ore is made up of various sulfides in which the gold probably occurs.

HILLTOP DISTRICT

The Hilltop district is on the northwest slope of Shoshone Peak, 18 miles southeast of Battle Mountain, in sees. 3, 4, 5, and 6, T. 29 N., R. 46 E.

No important discoveries were made in this area until 1907, and a rush started the following year. After 1921, however, the district declined; most of the activity was conducted by lessees. The principal mines have been the Hilltop and the Pittsburg Red Top (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 47).

Production of the district from 1909 through 1959 was 119 ounces of placer gold and 17,834 ounces of lode gold. Considerable quantities of silver and small amounts of lead and copper were produced.

The bedrock in the district consists of Carboniferous quartzite, cut by dikes of altered granodiorite (Lincoln, 1923, p. 111-112). Ore occurs in a zone of fractured quartzite that is cut by small intrusive bodies of leached porphyry. Quartz stringers that carry free gold occupy parts of the shattered zone; bodies of pyrite and galena that contain silver and gold are in other parts.

LEWIS DISTRICT

The Lewis district is 17 miles southeast of Battle Mountain, in the southeast quarter of T. 30 N., R. 45 E.

Silver deposits were discovered here in 1867, and shortly afterward the gold deposits of the Pittsburg and Morning Star mines were discovered (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 59). In the early 1920's the Betty O'Neal mine produced silver ore on a large scale, but most of the early production is attributed to the Pittsburg and Morning Star mines whose production was chiefly gold. Vanderburg estimated (1939, p. 59) that about $1,200,000 worth of ore was produced before 1903. Assuming that the bulk of this was in gold, about 48,000 ounces of gold is estimated. From 1902 through 1959 the output was 3,124 ounces, about half of which was byproduct gold from silver ores.

The rocks of the district are Carboniferous sedimentary rocks, intruded by a mass of granodiorite porphyry, and quartz porphyry dikes (Emmons, 1910, p. 122-123). The ore deposits are fissure veins that carry auriferous pyrite and occur in quartzite and granodiorite porphyry. The silver deposits are replacement bodies in limestone with barite as a gangue.

NEW PASS DISTRICT

The New Pass district is on the east slope of New Pass Range near the boundary of Lander and Churchill Counties, 31 miles west of Austin.

Gold was discovered here in 1865, but production was never large (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 65); the total through 1959 was about 16,000 ounces.

The country rocks are limestone, gabbro, and porphyry; the ore deposits are gold-quartz veins in the gabbro. Vein minerals are quartz, native gold, argentiferous galena, auriferous pyrite, copper sul-fide, azurite, and malachite (Lincoln, 1923, p. 114).

REESE RIVER DISTRICT

The Reese River district is in southern Lander County near Austin.

This has been overwhelmingly a silver-producing district, but small unrecorded amounts of gold contained in the ore from the huge silver production probably qualify the district as a minor gold-producing area.

Silver was discovered in 1862 a few miles west of the present town of Austin. Production was low the first few years, but after consolidation of many properties by the Manhattan Silver Mining Co. in 1870, it increased and remained at a fairly high level until after 1910, when most of the properties were taken over by lessees (Vanderburg, 1939, p. 69). From 1935 to 1937 there was a marked increase in production and from 1947 to 1950 several companies conducted exploration in the district (Ross, 1953, p. 42-46).

The period of highest production was 1862-87, when silver ore worth an estimated $20 million was produced (Ross, 1953, p. 47). In the period 1887-1938 about $1 million worth of ore was mined. In the early days, payment was made for silver only (Ross, 1953, p. 34) ; the small amounts of gold and other metals present were considered impurities and served to decrease the value of the bullion.

From 1902 through 1936, a total of 2,813 ounces of gold - 2,810 ounces of byproduct gold and 3 ounces of placer gold - was produced in the district.

The rocks in the northern part of the district are quartzites, tentatively assigned to the Cambrian. Underlying most of the remainder of the district is a pluton of quartz monzonite of Jurassic (?) age. Numerous xenoliths of the sedimentary rocks are found in the intrusive. Aplite, pegmatite, and lamprophyre stringers and dikes are common. Around the edges of the district and resting on the quartz monzonite are Tertiary dacite flows and welded tuffs (Ross, 1953, p. 9-10, 17-18).

Ore deposits are veins in joints in the quartz monzonite and along bedding planes in the quartzite (Ross, 1953, p. 23). Ore minerals are ruby silver minerals and tetrahedrite and varying amounts of pyrite, arsenopyrite, galena, sphalerite, chalcopyrite, stibnite, covellite, chalcocite. Two or three varieties of quartz make up the gangue.

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