Sunday, September 08, 2019

The Wild Story of the Ghost Town of Rio Tinto

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Northern Nevada ghost town of Rio Tinto is its unusual backstory.
Located about three-and-a-half miles southwest of Mountain City (about 30 miles north of Elko) via State Route 225 and an unmarked but pretty good dirt road, Rio Tinto is generally recognized as one of the last mining boomtowns of the 20th century. It was named after the Rio Tinto mines in Spain, which have produced copper for more than 3,000 years.
Nevada’s Rio Tinto traces its beginnings to the early 1920s, when a prospector, Samuel Franklyn Hunt, spotted an outcropping of rock in the old Cope Mining District southwest of Mountain City that he believed valuable copper ore.
The Cope district had been discovered in 1868 (by a man named Jesse Cope) and produced gold and silver for about a decade before the mines were abandoned. Mountain City, in fact, was founded as a supply point for the district.
The late Elko historian Howard Hickson noted that Hunt believed the site was rich in copper resources but couldn’t persuade others to invest in his claim and lacked the financial backing to properly develop the site by himself.
According to Hickson, Hunt spent the next eight years working on the claim sporadically, dependent on occasional funding from backers. Finally, in 1931, a Salt Lake City mine promoter, Odgen G. Chase, partnered with Hunt to form the Rio Tinto Mining Company, which issued two million shares.
Over the next couple of years, Hunt sold large batches of the stock in Elko, including to individuals, stores, bars—anyone willing to invest in his project. The stock sold for two to five cents per share. Hickson said that some investors soon lost faith in Hunt and his mine and mislaid them, tossed them in the garbage, or, according to one story, used the certificates to paper a bathroom wall.
With funding finally in hand, Hunt began digging for the rich copper vein that he insisted would be found at about the 250-foot level. In February 1932, workers struck a rich body of copper ore—at the 227-foot level. Hickson said the first sample tested out at 40 percent pure copper (with later samples going up to as much as 47 percent).
The stock, formerly viewed by most folks as worthless, jumped in value to $17.50 per share. A few years after the discover, a subsidiary of the Anaconda Copper Company purchased a majority interest in the claims and renamed the development, the Mountain City Copper Company.
During the period of 1932 to the late 1940s, the Rio Tinto and two sister mines would produce more than $21 million in copper ore.
With the mine’s success, a company town cropped up around the mine site. Within a few years, the community had wide, tree-lined streets and rows of houses and apartments. The town also boasted electricity, water and sewer service, a post office, a movie theater, a grammar school and high school, and a recreation center with athletic fields.
By 1947, however, the Rio Tinto and surrounding mines began to taper off. By the following year, the post office was closed and many of the buildings were relocated to other communities.
Today, the most impressive reminder of Rio Tinto’s glory years is the shell of the former school. Large concrete walls and stairs give some idea of the size and shape of the structure.
Additionally, about a half dozen other building, including abandoned houses, sheds, and buildings can be found scattered across the former townsite.
The ruins are located on private property and there are no trespassing signs, so please be respectful of the law. For more information, go to:

Friday, May 05, 2017

A Loose Leaf: The Unusual Life and Times of Journalist/Photographer/Sailor/Spy Earl Leaf

Be sure to pick up the latest—and sadly, last—issue of "Nevada In The West" magazine. This fine publication, produced by Nevada historian Eric Moody, has ably spotlighted the rich history of the Silver State for the past eight years.

The final issue contains a fun story I wrote about a somewhat forgotten figure in Nevada journalism, Earl Leaf.

Here's how the story begins—you'll have to pick up a copy of the magazine to read the rest!

To say that Earl H. Leaf lived a remarkable life is an understatement. While best known as a magazine photographer who, in the 1960s and 70s, photographed hundreds of celebrities—particularly young starlets like Marilyn Monroe, movie stars including Gregory Peck and Clint Eastwood, and musicians such as the Beach Boys, Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen— he also worked as a cowboy, a sailor, a logger, a prospector, a bookkeeper and even possibly a spy.

In the mid-1930s, Leaf was employed by United Press in China and was one of the first western journalists to interview and photograph Mao Tse-tung. Later that decade he became a consultant for the propaganda arm of the Nationalist Government of China in New York City. With the start of World War II, he was a war correspondent/propagandist for the Office of Strategic Services, a wartime intelligence service that was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the early 1930s, however, Leaf had a different role: sometime reporter and daily columnist for the Nevada State Journal.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Major William Ormsby's Thirst for Fortune and Fame

Ever wonder who was Major William Ormsby, namesake for the old Ormsby House casino in Carson City as well as for Ormsby County (which was consolidated into the current Carson City combined city-county government in 1969)? I tried to answer that question in a new online article for the Carson City Visitors Bureau, which you can find at: