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Article on Lone Mountain

Lone Mountain Nugget Necklace,292grams. Probably mined in the 70's.

The Stories of Turquoise continue. History is always expanding as new information presents itself. Recently I was contacted by Ryan Remick, son of Stan and Rosalie Remick and grandson of Warren and Virginia Hendrix who operated the Lone Mountain claim for a brief time in the 1970's. That story is contained in Turquoise in America Part Two 1910-1990.

I thought I would share an article that Ryan sent to me from the time when Menless Winfield had the claim. It comes from an article in the Cashman Equipment Company newsletter around 1972.

Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine Depends on Cat Diesel Power


Menless Winfield describes trying to grow crops in the Arkansas Ozarks as "farming a rockpile," with barely enough income to keep body and soul together.  Today, however, Menless Winfield is still "farming a rockpile," but the "crop" is turquoise and the monetary returns are in direct proportion to the effort expended.  In the case of Menless Winfield hard work is tempered now only by age and "retirement" is a word that sounds sweeter every time he hears it.  But I am getting ahead of myself, because the full story of Menless Winfield and his Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine begins on April 14, 1916, the day Menless was born in Johnson County, Arkansas, in the heart of the Ozarks.

Menless' father farmed a little and he also ran a small sawmill, cutting timber into hardwood lumber and selling it locally.  Menless began working in the logging and lumber industry at age 16 in 1932 and in 1935 he moved to Phoenix.  His first Job was harvesting lettuce, but after a couple of years he caught a freight back to Arkansas, only to move on to Wyoming where he worked as a cowboy.  He later worked for Morrison-Knudsen on the All-American canal in Imperial Valley for two years, leaving there to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II.

After two years overseas, Menless volunteered for the paratroops, which was the only way he could obtain a furlough.  He ended up becoming an instructor in the paratroops.  After his discharge he returned to his home town in Arkansas and tried farming, but it was still all work and no income, so he moved on in 1949, settling in the oil fields of New Mexico.

"After two years of working on drilling rigs where the sand blew so thick you couldn't see a rig 30 feet away, the winters were freezing cold and the summers were blistering hot, I decided there must be a better way of making a living," confided Menless. 

"About that time I became acquainted with a man who wanted to sell his turquoise mine in Colorado. (A.J. Hall, whose story is told in Turquoise in America Part Two, 1910-1990) I leased the mine with the option to buy and moved to Colorado in 1951.  Ninety days later I traded my truck and all my property and bought his turquoise mine, which we named the Villa-Grove Turquoise Lode, and I was in the turquoise mining business.''

His first piece of equipment was a Cat D4 Tractor with a dozer, which Menless used to convert the tunnel mine into an open pit mine.  By this means he could do more work by himself and wouldn't have to hire any help, because it was lean pickings at first.  He eventually moved up through a D6, a D7 and finally purchased a new D8 in 1965.

"We didn't use any rippers on the Villa-Grove mine," recalls Menless, "just dynamite and dozers.  The first 18 months I worked the mine I didn't have any production.  The turquoise was embedded in rock so hard we had to literally use sledge hammers to break the rock and release the turquoise.  Even after 17 years, our average production was only three pounds of turquoise per day."

Menless recalls a narrow escape shortly after he began using the D4 to open up the tunnels.  He was digging and blasting his way down, not paying too much attention to what was under him, when one day the D4 fell through a tunnel roof and dropped 18 feet to the bottom.  A large boulder rode down with Menless and the tractor, only to topple sideways, off the tractor and missing him by inches.  Needless to say, he doesn't take any more chances and he's had a healthy respect for tunnels since then.

During one of his buying and selling trips to Gallup, New Mexico, Menless met "Rocky" Bill Wilson, a turquoise miner from Tonopah, Nevada.  Bill wanted Menless to buy his mine, which he eventually did in 1968, moving there with his wife, Grace.

"I began the Tonopah operation with a new Cat D6C Tractor equipped with a dozer," related Menless, "and for the first few years I just re-worked the old dump site, washing all of the ore to make the turquoise easier to see.  The ore had previously been worked dry, which allowed much of the turquoise to slip by the sorters.

"In 1971 I began digging into the mountain, opening up this tunnel mine much as I did the one in Colorado.  I measured one shaft, and if goes to a depth of 200 feet, while my open pit is only 50 feet deep," reports Menless.  "As I began opening the mountain, I needed larger equipment, so I added a used, 46A-D8H I purchased from Cashman Equipment Co. in Las Vegas.  It is equipped with a ripper and dozer.  More recently I purchased a new Cat 955 L Traxcavator.  I use the 955 to haul the ore from the pit to the mill hopper, and the D8H is used to rip silica ribs and push the waste away from the mine opening.  I also do some light blasting to get to places I can't reach with the equipment.  After all, I don't want to go dropping down a mine shaft again with a D6C under me."

Men who deal in the buying and selling of turquoise refer to Menless Winfield as one of the best  authorities on turquoise and Menless refers to the Lone Mountain Turquoise Mine as producing the highest known quality turquoise in the world, and yields run from 6 to 14 pounds per day.  The turquoise produced at the Winfield mine is known in the trade as Black Matrix, Spider Web and Golden Matrix and ranges in color from deep blue to robin's egg blue.  It also produces some of the best nuggets found in the world and produces more nuggets than channel turquoise.  It is the only known mine to produce Denderitic and Fossil turquoise, two, very rare types of turquoise.

In mining turquoise, Menless loads seven cubic yards of ore into his mill hopper.  He then runs this over a minus 1 ¼ inch screen, holding back the larger rocks that contain some turquoise.  He then runs the ore into a transit-mix truck and washes the ore for 30 minutes.  The ore is then poured into a holding bin of 21 cubic yards capacity.  It is then gravity-fed onto sorting tables in a little shed, where two women work at each of two tables.  They pick out the turquoise and scrape the waste into ore carts which Menless salvaged from the tunnel mining operation.  The 21 cubic yards of ore will keep two women busy for two to three weeks.

Menless sells most of his turquoise in the raw, unpolished state to the Navajos and Zuni pueblo Indians, who in turn cut and polish the turquoise and mount it in silver jewelry for sale to the public.  They also sell some of their finished products to the Lone Mountain Turquoise Co. of New Mexico, a trading post operated by Menless' son, Robert, and Robert's wife Michelle.

In 1971 Bill Wilson joined Menless to set up a cutting and polishing operation.  He also makes some silver and gold mountings, and sells the mountings separate or complete.  Late last year, Bill's son, Danny, also went to work for Menless and the father-son team polish, drill, string and/ or mount a small percentage of the turquoise mined.  To insure a constant source of electrical power for the polishing, cutting and drilling as well as lights for the mining operation and the homes of the Winfields and the hired help, Menless purchased a Cat 3145 Diesel generating set in 1972.  It has been working 24 hours per day and is shut down only for servicing.

"I first became acquainted with Caterpillar Diesel Equipment when I began working on the All-American Canal," commented Menless, "and I learned then that if you want equipment that is designed for durability and dependability, it has to be Caterpillar. I believe I mine the best grades of turquoise here at Lone Mountain and I want to be sure I'll be able to continue mining it, that's why I always buy Cat-built equipment."

Aerial Photo of Lone Mountain Mine Yard, circa 1970Aerial Photo of Lone Mountain Mine Yard, circa 1970

Mike Ryan II

Santa Fe

December 2023



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