The old ghost town of Frisco, Utah didn’t exist in 1875. But a small everyday occurrence began the events that produced one of the most interesting, and yet untold stories of the early west.
It was a hot Indian-summer day on September 24, 1875. In the desert of western Beaver County, Utah Territory the dawn would break cool and the two old prospectors camping at Squaw Springs at the foot of the eastern slope of the San Francisco Mountains would roust out early.
Sam Hawkes and Jim Ryan had found themselves in the mining camp of Shaunty in the South Star District on June 15, 1875 when the town burned down. They were prospectors with no specific place to go from there, so they found the nearest water hole and made their camp.
There didn’t seem to be any good prospecting close around, but the water was good and flowed year-round. Finally, they had struck some light silver on a ledge up the east slope of the Grampian Hill, the southern-most knoll in the range. They claimed it as the “New York Ledge.” A mighty fine name for such poor diggings.
Now it was September, and the grub stake was running low, and so was the ore in the New York Ledge. But, every morning was the same routine.
“This jist might be the day.” Sam Hawkes said. Sam was a tall, thin man with spindly arms and legs, a sharp jaw and deep-set eyes.
“Maybe so, maybe so.” That’s all Jim Ryan said. Jim was the thinker of the two. He knew the ore in the claim had never been too good. Just a small showing in the dolomite outcropping.
So, they left that morning – just as they always had done. The trail was well marked. They had followed it twice a day for nearly two months: up from the dry wash, through the sage for a mile or so, then up along some ledges, climbing steadily until they passed directly under the shade of a large dolomite outcropping. It would be only another fifty yards to the claim.
As the day drew on and the men worked in the dirt and dust of the 25-foot shaft, the frustrations of the poor diggings sharpened their tempers. Often during the day Jim spoke sharply to Sam, and muttered to himself.
Now evening came and time to return to camp. Nothing had happened that day. It had been like all the others. They hadn’t struck the rich ore vein. They walked down the trail silently, Jim in front, Sam behind – holding a space between them.
As they always did, they stopped under the dolomite outcropping, sat down and rested. Sam stretched his long legs and pulled the wide-brimmed hat down over his eyes. He leaned against the cool ledge and snoozed. Jim took the prospector’s pick he always carried with him, and in frustration, chipped away at the soft dolomite.
Suddenly he stopped.
The chipped dolomite had broken away and under the thin shell the soft dark ore gleamed in the fading light. Lead and silver! The richest he had ever seen! Silver so soft you could scratch it with the pick head – or a powder horn. It was horn silver!
There was a hushed silence on the hillside for a moment, but in the whoops that followed the San Francisco Mountains of Utah echoed, and the resounding noise that covered the hillsides for the next fifty years would yield over $26 million in profits for the owners of the “Horn Silver Mine.” For Ryan and Hawkes? Oh no, not for the men who discovered the mine, but for more clever men. But, that’s another story of the old west.