Jim Ryan and Sam Hawkes discovered a lode of silver and lead that, in 1875, would become the “Horn Silver Mine” in the middle of Beaver County, Utah Territory. But as January turned the year to 1876, problems arose. The biting desert winter settled in and snow covered the San Francisco Mountains. Ryan and Hawkes were holed up at Squaw Springs for days on end, fighting off the cold in their dugout in the hillside.
Their diggings on the Grampian Mountain’s eastern slope hit bedrock – the ore vein pinched out. They feared that the high assay that they had found at the surface was just a small pocket of ore. So, as the wind howled on, they didn’t work much.
A major storm was brewing as February rolled around when four men on horseback appeared over the hills to the northeast. One was a short, stout man. He didn’t look the part of a mining man. He was bundled heavily against the snow and cold; a hood of sheepskin covered his head, and a graying beard stuck out like a billy-goats chin. They headed straight for the dugout, tied their horses to a juniper, and knocked on the thin, wooden door.
Sam had heard the hoof beats through the north wind outside and had glanced through a crack in the door. So he was ready when the knock was heard and quickly appeared in the doorway.
“Afternoon.” He said. Jim Ryan was standing behind him in the dark.
“Hello.” The bearded man removed his gloves and shook hands with Hawkes. “I’m Allen Green Campbell. You might know some of these gentlemen.”
Sam nodded. He knew Matt Cullen from over Shauntie way. Dennis Ryan, no relation to Jim, was known to almost everyone in the Silver Crescent.
“This is Abner Byram, our smelter manager.” Campbell said.
“Come on in by the fire.” Sam motioned. He tried to clear some of the debris from the floor of the small dugout so they all could get in. The place had been built for two, so four made it crowded. There were just a few empty boxes along the walls, but enough for everyone. A fire, in a pot-bellied stove at the rear drove smoke up a crocked stovepipe. The four visitors left the door slightly ajar to let some fresh air in and spare smoke out.
Campbell got right to the point. “We’re looking for properties.”
Sam coughed nervously. “Have ya seen the Horn Silver?”
“Yes, we were just up there. How much to do you want for the claim?”
Sam was stunned by the sudden offer. “We ain’t so sure we wanna sell – but – considering the assay – we figure – well ..” Sam paused and looked directly at Campbell. “We figure five hundred thousand.” His voice broke slightly and he coughed again.
“We’re offering ten thousand – in cash.” Campbell said as he pulled an envelope out of his coat pocket. Inside Sam could see a number of bills – each had 1,000 printed on the corners.
The prospectors stared. Over the months of digging on the hillside they had talked of the riches they would surely make. As the ore assays continued to improve, the dollar signs also grew in their heads. Now they had told these men that they thought the “Horn” was worth — $500,000. The offer that came back was nowhere near that amount.
Campbell followed up. “The ore samples you have are good…”
“They’re great!” Sam said. “They’re the best ore samples you’ll ever find in this country. Mining men from all over this county have confirmed that.”
Campbell continued. “However, we’ve seen your diggings. It’s clear you’ve hit bedrock in the shaft. It appears you’ve got just a pocket of rich ore. Now, we’re not really interested in mining the claim. We’d like to get enough to smelt a little bullion to show around. These gentlemen and I are more interested in selling stock in New York City.”
“But, ten-thousand ain’t a drop in the bucket to what you would make on this deal.” Jim’s voice was shaky.
Campbell studied the prospectors for a moment. “All right! We’ll give you twenty-five thousand for the “Horn Silver” – in cash – right now.” He opened the envelop he had retrieved from his coat pocket and counted out twenty-five, one-thousand dollar bills. He held them out. “You can leave this bleak, frozen hole and go to California.” The prospectors looked at the twenty five bills in Campbell’s fingers. Even in the dim light of the dugout the numbers on the bills were clear.
Jim Ryan motioned to Sam, and they struggled from the dugout.
The snow was blowing and drifting among the rocky hillside. They looked up at the snow-covered rocks of the Grampian hill. Low clouds were swirling around the peak.
“Ain’t much.” Jim said.
“It’s more than we got now.” Sam whispered. “If the Horn’s a dead hole, we’re spending a long winter out here fer nothin’.”
“I ain’t ‘bout to stand out here and spend any time talking ‘bout it.” Jim said.
Inside they signed a bill of sale on the back of an assay report.
A.G. Campbell and his partners built the “Frisco Smelter” at the site of the new mining camp, Frisco, Utah. In the summer they abandoned the Ryan-Hawks shaft and sunk a new shaft just slightly north of the old one. On this they installed a horse-drive winze to draw a cage up and down the shaft. The new mine shaft burrowed through pure silver ore to the 100-foot level.
The Horn Silver Company reorganized and sold the Horn Silver in 1879 for $5,000,000. The original owners took half that sale in stock in the new “Horn Silver Mining Company, Inc.” The mine produced over $26,000,000 in silver before closing in the 1920s.
Ryan and Hawkes left the area and weren’t heard from again.