Red Rock Mine
By Bob Jaussaud • Photos by Bob and Sue Jaussaud and Mignon Slentz
On Ron Lipari’s recent Desert Explorer trip we visited the Red Rock Mine located in Nevada east of Boundary Peak in the White Mountains. There were several old buildings still standing and one could derive a small sense of what it must have been like to live there over 80 years ago. It was a mill town that provided mercury used in World War II. Until just a few years ago even the mill was standing intact with most of its original equipment, but our government, in its infinite wisdom, completely demolished the mill to avoid the chance that someone might get mercury poisoning. How sad. I bet the ghosts of the miners who lived there turned over in their graves.
Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. Although it is highly toxic, it was used medicinally through much of history. The element symbol of mercury is Hg which stands for another mercury name, hydragyrum which is Greek for “water-silver.” The element mercury is named for the Roman god Mercury. I played with mercury as a kid and that explains a lot according to Sue. Mercury was used in home light switches until 1984 and in medical household thermometers until the 1990’s.
George Dunnigan, “a good man with the mules”, had been engaged in hauling supplies to Tonopah and Goldfield when he was replaced by the railroads. Thus began his wandering through the Nevada mining camps. He eventually drifted to Fish Lake Valley and found work there at the Patterson Ranch. On days off he continued his roaming in the nearby mountains and came upon formations he felt might be quicksilver and, according to a February 1956 article by Nell Marburger in Desert Magazine,staked his claim. The book “Quicksilver Deposits in Nevada” by Phoenix and Bailey indicates the claim was located by George Chrysler. In either case, by 1928 Dunnigan was in possession of the claim.
The Red Rock Mercury Mine was always a small family operation with only a few employees. George’s son, Walter and his wife Roberta came to help with the mine in 1932 and stayed until its closing in 1957. Walter built a special contraption called “The Jig” to help process the ore. Even though Roberta lived in a small rock cabin 75 miles via dirt road from supplies and did the housekeeping for Walter and his Dad, the prospect of returning to live in a city was frightening for her. She made pets of all the wild animals, even the skunks and, even though meat was scarce, they never killed any animal. They had electricity and running water, but they had to haul in the water on a Model A truck and the electricity came from their own generator. Roberta grew vegetables in a large garden she tended after helping out at the mine.
Now the garden is gone, the mill has been bulldozed into dust and the old buildings are vacant but the Red Rock Mine still came alive for us during our visit. ~ Joso