Sunday, May 6, 2018

Owyhee Mining Investor and Developer John Scales [otd 05/06]

John Scales. Commercial Directory.
Owyhee silver mine developer John Scales was born on the 6th of May, 1840 in County Clare, Ireland. The family moved to the U.S. and settled in Maine when John was a teenager. He first found factory work there before attending business school in New York. In 1868, he traveled to California via the Isthmus.

Scales decided Idaho offered better prospects and immediately moved to Silver City. Like most newcomers, he started out as a laborer and worked his way up to better-paying jobs. John soon had enough of a stake to invest in several mining properties.

In 1875, the Bank of California, which had funded much Silver City development, suffered a financial collapse. Large-scale corporate mining activity in the area nose-dived. Historian Hiram T. French observed that, “During the next fifteen years only the smaller properties, that were individually owned, were active.”

Two years after the collapse, Scales and a partner purchased a company that owned valuable claims and a mill west of Silver City. The mill had more capacity that they needed for their own claims, so they generated extra income by processing ore from other small operations. Thus, as French suggested, the partners remained active during the overall downturn and extracted steady, respectable returns.

Within a decade, Scales was counted among the top operators in the Owyhee mining districts. As his affluence grew, he took an interest in local government: He served terms on the county commission in 1883 and 1885, and also as school superintendent. (He later sat on the county commission again.)

Large scale mining began to recover in the late 1880s. Millionaire mining investor Captain Joseph De Lamar played a major role in the recovery. In 1887 and 1888, he bought up numerous mining claims and consolidated them into the De Lamar Mining Company. In 1890, he sold the company to a group of London investors.

Around 1891, Scales discovered that the tailing stream from the big De Lamar mill contained significant quantities of gold and silver. Apparently the owners saw no profit in recycling the stream, or investing in a post-processor. Scales purchased land around Wagontown, a stage station not quite two miles downstream from Delamar. At first, he dammed Jordan Creek and caught the tailings there.

Scales’ tailing reservoirs and mill. Commercial Directory.
Soon, however, John made arrangements with De Lamar – the exact details of which are unknown – to process the tailings directly. He then built a flume to carry the outflow directly to “tailing ponds” excavated on property he purchased further down the hillside. In 1893, he built a mill to process what he had collected.

By the end of the decade, his ponds had impounded tailings worth in excess of a half million dollars in recoverable metals. In 1902, the company processed so much material, they ran out of chemicals. The Idaho Statesman reported (November 8, 1902) that “anticipating there would not be time to send for a fresh supply, they closed down for the winter.”

Around 1905, Scales bought property in Hollywood, California, and acquired a “beautiful home” there. He and his wife moved into the new home, although John continued to look after his business interests in Idaho. John passed away in 1909 and his wife returned to Idaho to keep house for their two sons, who were living in Nampa. She died at a Boise hospital in early 1911. Her death notice said she was to be buried beside her husband in Hollywood. (Idaho Statesman; January 13, 1911).
References: [French], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).
Mike Hanley, with Ellis Lucia, Owyhee Trails: The West's Forgotten Corner, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1973).

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