Exploring gold mine of memories

Scott Swanson

Though he’s lived in Spokane, Wash., for 42 years, Steve Munts has never really left Sweet Home – or, more specifically, the gold fields of Quartzville. 

Munts, 70, now retired as a mining industry and government geologist, was at the East Linn Museum recently, checking out the museum’s mining exhibit, much of the contents of which he’s donated himself. 

Another reason for his visit, though, is a project he’s been contemplating ever since he was a young geologist, fresh out of the University of Oregon: writing a comprehensive history of the gold rush in Quartzville, which began following the Civil War. 

Munts grew up in Sweet Home, on Fern Ridge, where one of his neighbors was Lois Rice, one of the founders of the East Linn Museum. Rice, he said, was collecting local artifacts when he was a boy, including some from his family. 

“My grandparents’ farm surrounded my parents’ place and there were lots of antiques. I hated to see them destroyed, but we didn’t have any way to keep them, so we started sharing them with Lois. 

“She had the museum in her basement at that time.” 

As a boy, in the 1950s, he got interested in Quartzville, Munts said. 

“At that time, there was still a fair amount of material there. The buildings were gone, but the Lawler mine area was still accessible and there were a few odds and ends and pieces of equipment there. The remains of the concentrate bin was still there. You could actually see it. So that instigated my interest.”

Munts has mining in his blood. 

His grandfather on his father’s side, Harvey Munts, owned coal mines in Streator, Ill., before moving west, and winding up in Sweet Home during the Great Depression. 

Munts’ father, Rowe Munts, worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and was based at a CCC spike camp near Miners Meadow.

“That’s where he became familiar with Quartzville and that’s where he learned to pan gold, where he learned mining and talked to the prospectors and those kinds of things,” Steve Munts said. “He shared that with my brother and me. We’d go up to Quartzville on weekends.” 

His grandfather on his mother’s side, Arthur Ehlert, actually worked a mining claim in Quartzville, and one of his acquaintances was George Whitcomb, a local surveyor and assayer who had an assaying office in Lebanon. 

“When I met George, he was 90. I got to know him and through his information and knowing him, a number of things were given to the museum. He gave them to me and I gave them to the museum.” 

He says he actually started collecting mining artifacts as a high school student. After graduating from Sweet Home High School, Munts went on to Oregon State University, then earned a master’s degree in geology at the University of Oregon. His master’s research project was based on a 1975 study of “The Geology and Mineral Deposits of the Quartzville Mining District, Linn County.”

“During this research I had the opportunity to meet several of the local miners that were active in the district at that time,” Munts said.

They included June Haven, Vane C. Metz, owner of the 44 Mines claims (both mines were northeast of Galena Mountain), and Glenn Peck. Peck had been active in the Quartzville district since the 1930’s, Munts said.

Munts worked for several years for a mining company in the Spokane area, then got laid off during the 1980 recession. He then got a job with the U.S. Bureau of mines, which lasted until 1996, when Congress closed the agency. Following that he worked for a variety of federal agencies.

Over that time he has author ed or coauthored a number of publications for both the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the U.S. Geological Survey, Munts said.

He retired from government work in 2004, and retired completely 2½ years ago after running a part-time business. 

“Now that I’m truly free, I want to go ahead and pursue this project and finish it,” Munts said. 

Despite living elsewhere, he never lost interest in Quartzville. 

The community of Quartzville, which numbered more than 1,000 people at one point, formed soon after Jeremiah Driggs filed the first legal Quartzville-area gold claim on Sept. 5, 1863. Nearby Bryant City also flourished for a short time, providing red-light-type activities for the mining community. 

The Quartzville district is primarily a gold producing district but has base metal sulfides – lead, zinc, and copper – occurring at depth, Munts said.

The Quartzville district has both lode and placer gold deposits.

Mines such as the Lone Star, the Jackass, the Red Bull and White Bull produced both gold and silver, and major placer deposits were discovered along Quartzville Creek: Donaca Bar, Manziniter Bar (possibly a misspelling of Manzanita), Frenchman’s Bar and Greenhorn Bar.

By about 1870, though, both towns were abandoned after the mining efforts proved unprofitable due to the inefficiency of the mills, though some of them continued to operate until the early 1900s. 

“It died,” Munts said. “Part of the reason was the mills at that time didn’t have the recovery necessary.”

The Lawler and Medina companies resumed mining efforts 18 years later and Whitcomb opened a post office in Quartzville, now renamed Anidem – “Medina” spelled in reverse, but within four years the efforts had been abandoned. However, during 30 years of mining efforts, some $200,000 worth of gold and silver had been extracted. 

Munts said mining companies have shown sporadic interest in the area, which now is substantially privately owned timberland, but environmental concerns have largely stifled any actual moves to restart mining activities. 

“It’s a mix of U.S. Forest Service land and private land, which are patented mining claims. The Lawler property is patented, on private land, and there are at least four or five other groups of patented mining claims. It’s all surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land.” 

Whitcomb, Munts said, told him “a lot” about the history of Quartzville and he’s gotten help from many other sources.

“I’ve been collecting information for the last 50 years, whether it’s here in the museum or from conversations with various people, and now that I’m retired, I’ve decided to put it all together in a book.

“There’s been information published by various authors, but it’s usually a page or two, and it was generalized information.” 

Munts said he expects his  project to take about three years, having already begun a “very preliminary draft” manuscript. 

“I have a private collection of photos that various people have given me from the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, and I’ve had conversations with and records from some of the prospectors that were alive when I was young. So I will be putting that together.” 

The book will include an introduction to the geology of the area, followed by the early history leading up to the discovery of gold in the 1860s, sparking the gold rush that resulted in “farmers temporarily giving up their farming to go to Quartzville.

Munts said he’s eager to hear from people who can contribute to his efforts to document Quartzville mining history. He urges anyone who has any knowledge, photos, documents or anything pertaining to gold or silver prospecting or mining in that area to contact him at (509) 924-4572 and to leave a message “if I’m not near the phone.” Prospective contributors can also email him at [email protected]

He said he is particularly interested in trying to develop an aggregate total for unreported placer gold production, if people are willing to share their data.

“No individual values or names will be reported,” Munts promised.

“Anything that will help or support is welcome,” he said, adding that he simply needs to copy or photograph whatever people have to offer. 

“Everybody who contributes will be referenced in the book,” he said. “There will be a formal citation for each person.”

He said he plans to base much of his information on original sources – “primary sources, like interviews, and diaries, and photographs,” and secondary sources such as newspaper articles. 

He wants to use “tertiary sources – summaries” as little as possible. 

He’s been able to glean a lot of material from the internet. 

“With the advent of the internet, a lot of the material that was very hard to source before is not,” Munts said. “Google has been a real blessing to the research community because so much of the material is digitized. Google Books is a gold mine.”

“I’ve always been interested in Quartzville,” he said. “Now that I’m retired, I want to pursue that and try to put together a good, complete package.”