Aboriginal Native American Mica Mining
in Western North Carolina
Updated: June 11th, 2013
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Story and Research
First Visit- June
made his first visit in 2012 in late June. He and his wife
Catanya and small son Elijah stayed with Diana and me at the cabin.
The initial objective of the visit was to determine whether the story
of a chamber at on the Sink Hole Mine in the 1950s had merit. So,
I arranged a meeting with the "teenaged boy" who I learned was now
living in Spruce Pine. His name is Pat Howell and we met on the
porch of one of the Silver houses on Water Street near the mine on June
Howell (right) told us his story with Ed Silver (center)
listening. Pat told us that he entered the hole during the early
summer, perhaps June about 1952 or so. He wasn't very sure of the date.
He said the hole in the side of the ravine revealed a tunnel about 20'
long and about 4' high. He said the sides appeared to have been
scraped by some
sort of tool. He reported that he found a pile of mica, about
twelve "spear points", and a stone hammer head at the end of the tunnel
by the back wall. He said that there were two other people
present at the site at the time; a "mucker", who was collecting mica
and a dozier operator who was removing the material from the side of
the ravine. He did not know the identity of the two witnesses. Pat said
that he gave the mica to the "mucker" and took the arifacts home.
He said that the artifacts had been loaned to various relatives over
the years and were now lost.
I asked Pat
questions after he told his story. Most importantly, I asked him
to describe the "spear points". He said that the "spear points" were
about the length of a cigar box (8"-10") and that they were tan or gray
color. We discussed the color of the "spear points' a bit because
the mining tools discovered at the Sink Hole Mine in 1913 and
transported back to the Smithsonian were not well shaped and were dark
in color. His description of the tunnel was consistent with Kerr's
description of ancient Native American mining tunnels (Kerr, W.C.,
"Reports of the Geologic Survey, 1875). Pat seemed to have a very
clear memory of the details of the
After our discussion on the porch, we all went out to the
ravine at the Sink Hole Mine and Pat showed us approximately where the
tunnel had been. Of course there was no longer any tunnel as a
great deal of the material on the sides of the ravine was later removed
during "mucking' operations.
But, Jeremiah and I marked the location with a green line with an old
railroad spike anchoring the line in the ravine.
My conclusion at the end of the
interview with Pat Howell was that the discovery took place but that
there would probably never be any hard evidence that would verify his
story. The attitude of the miners of the day was that
"Indian" artifacts ("points") were no big deal and that there was
no reason to report the discovery. So, ''mucking" mining
operations went on as usual destroying any evidence that the tunnel
existed. However, there have been other reports that the ancient
mica miners at the Clarissa mine, which also had a large ravine, did
use tunnels into the ravine side to attempt to find a mica
the completion of the interview, Pat took Jeremiah and me to his cabin
nearby the Sink Hole Mine. He lives in Spruce Pine but enjoys
using the cabin to "get away" on occasion. While at the
cabin, he talked more about carrying water from the Sink Hole Creek to
the miners at the mine. The sometimes gave him a few pennies or a
nickel for his work. Eventually he earned enough to buy the frame
of a bike which he fixed up and used for many years. As an adult,
Pat worked as a miner at a feldspar mine.
Pat gave me a large piece of green muscovite mica
he had in a pile outside his cabin. This is about the size of a
piece of mica the Hopewell would have been interested in
collecting at the Mitchell County mica mines.
After the interview with Pat Howell
and the visit to his cabin, Jeremiah and I returned to the Sink Hole
Mine and walked around exploring the mine site. We also looked
over the land surrounding the mine for any evidence we could see of a
Native American mica workshop described by Dr. Holmes in his book.
Jeremiah was also interested identifying land areas near the mine
that might have hosted a Native American settlement. We
identified several interesting prospects for both the mica workshop and
possible settlement locations. My job during the rest of the
summer was to learn more about the Robinson and Clarissa mine sites and
to determine who owned several prospective sites for further
exploration in the fall.
I realized after Jeremiah's first
visit that it would be some time before we would be able arrange an actual
archeological dig to attempt to discover a Hopewell presence as ancient
miners. But, I was getting more excited about this project with
each new step in the process. During a phone call, Peter Margolin
(who wrote that great article about the Sink Hole Mine and its
history), told me that his article did not get much attention in the
general public. So, I decided to write an article for a major
North Carolina magazine with a large general circulation, such as "Our
State" or "WNC Magazine". As I'm not the typical contributor for
a feature article for magazines of that caliber, I decided that I would
need a real "eye catcher" to get the editor's interest. In
August, I was fortunate to find a talented local artist, Jerry Newton, who was
interested in doing my concept of a painting that would not only tell a
story about Navive American mica mining, but also use natural
materials in the process. More details about the Painting
are available at the link. The painting was completed during the spring
of 2013 and I will display the it at various venues during the
summer and formally present it at the North Carolina Gem and Mineral
Show in Spruce Pine on August 3rd, 2013. Not much has happened on
magazine article. So, for the time being, this website will have
the Clarissa Mica Mine- November 2012
became aware that there was a Clarissa Mica Mine in Cane Creek in
2011. I was driving on the the Cane Creek road from Bakersville
enroute to the Hawk Mine when I saw Dellinger's Grist Mill
on the right hand side of the road. There was a pickup truck
there so I stopped by to get directions to the Hawk Mine and met Jack
Dellinger. Jack is not only the fourth generation
miller/millwright in his family for this historic treasure but he
found time during his career to be member of the IBM team that wrote
the computer code that controlled the Saturn V rocket for Apollo 11's
trip to the moon. I enjoy stopping by to visit Jack every few
weeks during the "season" to trade books and just enjoy some great
conversation. His life growing up as the son of a miller/millwright in
the !940s provides plenty of great stories and insight about mountain
culture back then! One of his stories concerned a local tale
about the discovery of the Clarissa Mine. He said at the time
that he had relatives that lived near the mine and that he had been
there as a teenager. He was confident that we could find the
mine. So, on November 13th, 2012 Jack and I found and explored
the Clarissa Mine. It is overgrown and access is difficult but it
does have an important role to play in the study of ancient Native
American mica mining in western North Carolina. Kiel and Egliff's
archeological study completed on the Wilson Farm not far from the
Clarissa Mine is of partucular interest.
This is the ravine that is the site of the Native American ancient mica
mining at the Clarissa Mine. It is very similar to the mineworks
at The Sink Hole Mica Mine.
I used William H. Holmes' topographical map from his 1919 book to help
find the ravine!
This is Jack Dellinger at the graves of two of his grandparents in a
family cemetery located at the top of the hill not far from the
location that I took the picture of the Clarissa Mine's Native American
I made numerous
trips during the summer and fall of 2012 to the Mitchell County Mapping
Office and to
Bandana to talk to local residents to determine the location and land
ownership of the
Robinson Mine and surrounding property. I
was able to determine the location of the Robinson Mine
with help from Ed Silver and a couple named Carolyn
and Alvin Livingston. Carolyn and Alvin live on
Johnson Hollow Road at the bottom of the hill adjacent to the old
site. But, I learned that the mine and
related mica workshop had been
demolished, fill dirt brought in, and landscaped to provide land to
expand the existing Silver Chapel Baptist Church cemetery. I also
the location of the Native American "ancient's" mica workshop at the
top of the hill between the Sink Hole and Robinson mines indicated
Holmes' topographic map had also most likely been demolished and
provide cemetery space on the Sink Hole side of the cemetery.
Carolyn are enthusiastic
supporters of our research. Alvin's
grandfather was a miner. He was the younger brother of William Robinson
who was the owner and operator of both the Sink Hole and Robinson mines
during Wiliam H. Holmes' visit in 1913. Alvin's mother was the
daughter of Edward Robinson, niece of William Robinson.
Stager's Second Visit - December 4-6, 2012
Jeremiah arrived with a a friend, Jesse Morton, from Mississippi State,
who is also a graduate student of archeology on December 3rd,
2012. The next day, on December 4th, Alvin and Carolyn Livingston
hosted a meeting at their home on Johnson Hollow Road to
meet with Jeremiah and Jesse to discuss their research project.
We discussed whether their corn field across the road might be a
potential site for searching
for evidence of an ancient Hopewell settlement in proximity to the
Robinson Mine. The corn field is a popular spot for local residents
who are interested in finding "points". Jeremiah and Jesse took
a walk in the corn field to check it out. When they returned,
several other local residents had showed up to join the party; Emily
and Patrick Blueridge who are interested in the research and Helen
who runs the Bandana Community Center. Helen took us on a tour of the
Community Center which contains many historical photographs and
documents from Bandana's mining days. Next, Emily and Patrick
drove Jeremiah, Jesse, and me up the hill on Water Street to meet Roy
McKinney and his wife Joan Grindstaff McKinney to see Roy's collection
This is just a small portion of Roy's collection of local
"points". Jeremiah and Jessy spent quite awhile studying Roy's
collection. After inpecting the collection, Jeremiah said that many of
the "points were spear
heads from the Woodland Period.
During the meeting with Roy and Joan, Joan mentioned that her father,
Vernon Grindstaff, had found some stone mine tools at the Sink Hole
Mine and had loaned them to the North Carolina Mineral Museum to
display. This, of course, got our immediate interest.
However, unfortunately, I have subsequently followed the trail of the
stone mine tools from the Mineral Museum to the The University of North
Carolina Asheville and am at a dead end at this point. There are no
written records and I have yet to find anyone who knows about
them. I will continue to investigate this in 2013.
next day, I paid a visit to Carolyn and Alvin Livingston while Jeremiah
and Jesse met up with Ed Silver to take at the Silver properties
on Water Street. Carolyn and Alvin had a big surprise fo me.
Alvin had found some stone artifacts in his basement which he thought
came from his grandfather's barn.
These are the stone tools
that Alvin found in his basement and has loaned me to use in our
research. The tool to the left of the ruler is dark in color and
appears to be similar to the tools found at the Sink Hole in the early
1900s and later taken to the Smithsinian by William Holmes.
The tools to the right are better shapped and consist of a light
colored igneous rock that I am calling granodiorite.
The three pointed tools are similar to objects found at the Wilson Farm
on Cane Creek. They are called drills. I suspect that these
are similar to the "spear points" thet Pat Howell found in the Sink
Hole mining tunnel in te 1950s. I plan to meet with Pat i Spruce
Pine in June, 2013 and have him comment on the degree of similarity.
We used this tools as a model for the mining tool being used by the
Native American miner in the Painting
I think that the two elongated rectangular objects are chisels. I
loaned one to Jeremiah t have it evuated at the Archeology Department
at the University of Alabama. Jeremiah reorts that their opinion
is that they have been definitely worked to achieve some function but
they have no way of determining how old they are.
Tools similarly shaped to
the tool in the top of the image were found in the Wilson Farm study on
Cane Creek. I am tld they are called celts and were used in
some sort of earth moving function such as digging.
The tool at the bottom is similar to the mining tools discovered
at thye Sink Hole Mine by kern and Holmes.
I caught up with Jeremiah and Jesse, I found them in a field with Ed
Silver. He was showing them some of the "points" he had collected
over the years.
Jeremiah Stager (left),
Jesse Morton (center), Ed Silver (right)
Not only did Ed have some very interesting "points", but he gave
Jeremiah and Jesse a lot of historical Information about his family and
the Sink Hole Mine (A.K.A. The Silver Mine).
One big bit of new information was the location of the William Robinson
homestead! (see below)
Jeremiah was very excited
about this "point" in Ed Silver's collection. He thought it was
a"Snyder Point" which would have indicated that it came from a Hopewell
It turned out later that the "Snyder Point" was actually much older and
was associated with the Early Woodland Period.
This is the well which is
the only remaining structure of the William Robinson homestead!
The two chimneys (one which served four fireplaces and one which served
three) were removed only a few years ago to make more room for more
growing space. The homestead must have been a fine structure, two
floors and at least three bedrooms. This is where General
Clingman stayed when he visited the Sink Hole and Robinson mines in
1868 (Holmes and Margolin). Clingman sank a shaft at the Robinson
Mine in the search of gold or silver but only found mica.
Left to right: Pat Blueridge, Ed Silver, Emily Blueridge, Jesse
Morton, Jeremiah Stager.
Jeremiah and Jesse spent some time exploring this field adjacent to the
Robinsin homestead. They found some flakes of dark chert,
possibly Knox chert which might indicate the presence of a Hopewell
This find could lead to further exploration in the area in 2013.
6th, 2012- Clarissa Mine
Jeremiah and Jesse spent the final day of their visit exploring the
Clarissa Mine and evaluating the surrounding Cane Creek floodplain
flatland for potential settlement site locations.
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