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Okanogan County Heritage, 1974

Okanogan County Heritage, Winter (Dec) 1974-75

This entire issue is devoted to the Azurite Mine, which employed men from Okanogan County during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

p. 1: Photo of Chuck and Ed Kikendall with dog sled at the top of Azurite Pass. Another photo depicts men on snowshoes pulling a cable across Mill Creek canyon near the Azurite mine.

p. 2: Photo of undertaker Ralph Kennison and two men conveying the body of Johnny Young, strapped to skis, to his burial site in Mill Creek valley.

p. 4: Sketch map of the Azurite mine vicinity, showing both the Harts Pass-Cady Pass route and the West Fork Methow-Azurite Pass route, which is annotated as the "winter route."

Curtis, Melville, "Pioneer travel into and out of the Slate Creek country"

p. 5: Two-page diary account of travel from Anacortes (on Puget Sound) to the mines via the Skagit River in 1897. Exit via Harts Pass to Winthrop.

Whiting, Keith, "The Azurite Story"

p. 7: Charles H. Ballard came to the Okanogan district from Butte, Mont., in 1886. The author describes Ballard's many activities in the area through 1901, when he left the Northwest for several years. Returning to Washington in 1915, Ballard, his brother Hazard, and C.R. McClean prospected in the Mill Creek Valley and staked 31 claims. The Azurite Copper Co. of Delaware was formed in 1918. In 1925 the company was reorganized as the Azurite Gold Company. During the summer of 1930, the company improved 17 miles of narrow-gauge road from Lost River over Harts Pass to Slate Creek and constructed 11 miles of narrow-gauge road over Cady Pass to the mine site. The narrow road was restricted to small crawler tractors and later to Ford trucks equipped with lower gears and a wheel gauge cut down to 45 inches. The road was passable to vehicles for only five or six months a year.

p. 9: The author describes early tunneling at the mine. On January 2, 1934, Charles Ballard signed an agreement with American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO) for a 25-year lease on 36 lode claims and six mill sites. In June 1934, an ASARCO geologist and guide traveled to Diablo Dam on the Skagit River and concluded it was not practicable to build an access road to the mine from the west. Equipment was installed, a crew was assembled, buildings were constructed, and supplies were shipped in to sustain operations through the winter. 1934-35 was the first winter of operation under ASARCO.

p. 10: On this page is a vivid account of winter at the mines in a letter from superintendent Ray Walters to his wife, written January 31, 1935.

p. 11: During the summer of 1935 the road was widened to accommodate small automobiles. Charles Ballard died in 1935. In early 1936, ASARCO decided to put the mine into production. A trucking contract was made with Stonebraker Brothers of Cascade, Idaho. The mill and office were constructed on the east side of Mill Creek, opposite the mine portal, for protection from snowslides. The bunkhouse and cookhouse next to the mine were snowshedded. The mine and mill were in operation on November 1, 1936. The author describes winter supplies on p. 12.

p. 12: Communication in winter was provided by short-wave radio and dog teams. Dog teams hauling sleds made weekly trips via the West Fork of the Methow River and Azurite Pass. The dogs were driven by Ed and Chuck Kikendall of Winthrop. Most of the mine crew were also from the Methow Valley. The author describes winter problems, including a December 1936 snowslide that damaged the cable for the aerial tram to the mill. A replacement cable was dropped by airplane. In January 1937, Fred White, a shift boss at the mill, was diagnosed with appendicitis. He was transported by emergency dog team to Okanogan but did not survive surgery.

p. 14: In mid-1938 it became evident that the ore in the Azurite vein above the Wenatchee tunnel would soon be exhausted. More tunnels were drilled, but insufficient ore was discovered to continue production. During the 28-month period from November 1936 through February 1939, about 73,000 tons of ore were mined, generating proceeds of $972,000, which was about $120,000 short of ASARCO's investment. Normal operation required about 70 men earning $5.50 per eight-hour shift. In 1942, ASARCO removed most of its equipment from the site.

Kerr, Charles C., "Kike recalls dog team express days"

p. 17: Ed Kikendall was born at Snohomish on December 11, 1903. His father homesteaded near Winthrop in 1910. He learned to handle sled dogs while working in Alaska in 1923. In the winter of 1935-36, Kikendall backpacked freight and mail to the Azurite mine on snowshoes. The dog team operation began in 1936-37, Kikendall's second Azurite winter. Brothers Ed and Chuck Kikendall were hired by the Stonebraker brothers of Orofino, Idaho, who had the freight and mail contract to the mine.

The Azurite Pass route was shorter than the Harts Pass-Cady Pass route--about 24 miles instead of 29. The route led along the West Fork Methow River, up a steep headwall to Azurite Pass, then 3-1/2 miles downhill to the mine. Wash Vanderpool, one of the mine workers, once skied from the pass to the mine in 8-1/2 minutes. The Azurite Pass route became unusable by dog sleds after early March, when the south side of the pass melted out. The mushers and dog teams would then switch to the Harts Pass-Cady Pass route. When that route started to melt out, the men and dogs carried freight on their backs over stretches where the sleds could not be used.

The author provides details about the dogs and the sled operation, which was the mainstay of communication and transport to the mine during the winter months--December through May. Three cases of appendicitis were evacuated in the winter of 1936-37, including Fred White, who did not survive. This incident is described in detail. In 1942, Ed Kikendall hauled supplies to a wartime aircraft warning station on Slate Peak.

Horn, Mrs. Richard, "Azurite Bride's Diary"

Two-page diary account of life at the mine in late summer and fall, 1934.

Kerr, Charles C., "Charley Graves dug back to life"

p. 23: A good story about the entrapment and rescue of Charley Graves, who was caught by an avalanche while fetching water from the Azurite cookhouse.

Therriault, George, "Genesis of the Puddlejumper"

p. 25: Describes how the author and Harold Witte modified a Model T Ford to run on the steep, narrow road over Cady Pass to the Azurite Mine. As a demonstration of the new vehicle, the author drove Charles Ballard, his wife, and several men from the mine to Robinson Creek in one hour and 55 minutes.

Horn, Richard, "Death of Johnny Young"

p. 28: Describes the winter of 1935, when Johnny Young, a lone prospector living in Mill Creek below the Azurite Mine, died after an avalanche partially collapsed his cabin.

Horn, Richard, "Claim staking journey"

p. 29: Describes a claim staking trip over Azurite Pass in early March 1932. During the winter of 1933, the author and Art Sherman started to go in over Harts Pass to uncover the buildings, which were unoccupied. He describes the problem of snowblindness.

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