Aboriginal Native American Mica Mining
in Western North Carolina

"Back Story and Research"
   Last Updated: October 16th, 2015

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The Back Story

I have to admit that I started life as a "Yankee".  I was born in New Jersey and spent my young life moving about every two years as my father was a professional Boy Scout Executive.  I spent a lot of time during the summers either at a Boy Scout camp somewhere or other or at the "Jersey shore". In my first two decades of life, I lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York.  I attended Ridgewood High School outside of New York City and enjoyed the exploits of the New York Yankees and incredible Alan Freed Rock and Roll shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan and at the Apollo Theater in Harlem during the late 50s. I attended Cornell University in central New York on an NROTC scholarship.  After college, I went to Navy flight training and began a 50 year nurturing process by southern culture including marrying a Mississippi girl late in the process.  I was in the Navy for 28 years, flying A4 and A7 jet aircraft from aircraft carriers, commanding a couple of aircraft squadrons and one ship, retiring as a Captain in 1991.  Next, I spent 16 years as an educator teaching Earth/Space Science in high school which included some work for NASA.  As an Aerospace Education Mentor for the Florida Space Research Institute, I taught elementary, middle, and high school teachers during workshops in the physical sciences including Earth Science. I retired for a second time in 2007.  I now spend my time reading, working as a volunteer for Cornell, providing educational serviced (tutoring), and conducting Bo's Mine Tours in western North Carolina.
 My wife Diana and I split our time between our home in Jacksonville, Florida at our cabin near Micaville, NC.

I have been interested in rocks and rock collecting since I was a boy scout and particularly interested in mineralogy specifically pegmatite mineralogy since I was a Geology major in college.  I have been aware of the unique pegmatite mineralogy of the Spruce Pine Mining District for some time but had been unable to visit the area due to careers in the Navy and as a high school science teacher.  I finally
I made my first visit in June 2006.  I was still teaching Earth/Space Science at a Florida high school when I came to Spruce Pine to do some mineral collecting with another teacher. We prepared for the trip by using Rick Jacquot's book, "Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina" for specific information about area mines and Lowell Presnell's book, "Mines, Miners and Minerals of  Western North Carolina"  for background information about the mining history and culture of the area. We began our trip by attending a Gem and Mineral Show at the Colburn Earth Science Museum in Asheville.  To my surprise, both Rick Jacquot and Lowell Presnell were at the show.  Rick signed me up as a member of the Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association (MAGMA) beginning a relationship that continues to this day.  Lowell and I talked about his book, a conversation that has continued over the years as he lives nearby in Burnsville.  After the Gem and Mineral Show in Asheville, we moved on to Spruce Pine and stayed for about 10 days at a great "bread and breakfast" (The Richmond Inn) run by Maggie Haskins.  Maggie has become a good friend over the years. The Richmond Inn is an excellent place to stay for couples and family groups while in the Spruce Pine area.

I made my first visit to the Sink Hole Mica Mine in June 2006. Using Rick Jacquot's book as a guide, I found the Sink Hole Mica mine, explored an old shaft site, collected minerals from the lower mine dump (tailings), and searched for, but did not find any arrow heads (locals call them points).

Another significant aspect of my first visit to the area was meeting Bud Phillips.  Bud can be found in his office at the  Mitchell Lumber Company in Spruce Pine.  Bud is a legend in in the region as he is a major land owner, forester, miner, and philosopher. I learn a great deal with every meeting I have with Bud and he has been helpful in getting me information and access to local mines.

My second visit to Spruce Pine was in the summer of 2007 which was in connection with the 50th Anniversary of the North Carolina Gem and Mineral Show.  This show is held every year in Spruce Pine the first weekend in August.  In preparing for the visit, I read Alex Glover's "A Brief Review of the History, Geology, and Modern Uses of the Minerals Mined in the Spruce Pine Mining District" which was published online (and may be still available) in connection with the 50th Anniversary Gem and Mineral Show.  I spent about two weeks on this visit getting better acquainted with the Sink Hole MIca Mine and the Crabtree Emerald Mine in Mitchell County and the Ray Mica Mine in Yancey County. I was also able to participate in a field trip to the Pine Mountain Feldspar quarry operated by KT Feldspar as a part of the Gem and Mineral show; a unique and rare opportunity.

I was unable to visit the moutains during the summer on 2008 as I was busy getting married to my beautiful wife, Diana.  But, we made a trip together in December, 2008 which changed my life in that we bought a cabin a little east of Micaville in Yancey County. We now spend as much time between the end of June and the middle of September as we can at the cabin. I spent the summers of 2009 and 2010 driving back roads, talking with local folks who were either miners or the relatives of miners, and exploring old closed mines.  I am particularly grateful that I was bale to spend a lot of time with Bud Phillips who cleared the way for me to explore his marble and asbestos quarries, the Abernathy/McBee MIca Mines, and his "gold mine" near Grandfather Mountain. The opportunity to sit with Bud and listen to his stories and learn about the history of mining in Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery counties was an unequaled opportunity for me. Unfortunately Bud passed away in March 2014! Also significant has been getting to know Don Wyatt whose father and uncle mined the Goog Rock Feldspar mine and exploring the mine with him and another new friend, Lud Leiner who opened the gate and took us to the mine. Lud is the owner of Rock Mine Tours and I was a tour guide for him to his Martin Feldspar Mine in 2010 and 2011.

The previous few paragraphs have been the back story leading to how I became interested in Native American Mica mining in the area 2000 years ago.  During the summer of 2011, while exploring and collecting at the Sink Hole Mine, I met two different locals who told me a story about a teenage boy who used to carry water up to the miners at the Sink Hole mine in the 1950s.  The stories told that one day, the boy was asked to explore a hole that had opened up in the side of the ravine which had been the site of Native American mining.  The miners were removing material from the ravine, "Mucking" which is looking for nice sized mica pieces left behind by previous miners.  According to the stories, the boy entered the hole and discovered  a chamber which in one story contained Indian artifacts and in the other story contained bones of animals or possibly humans.  They also told me that the "teenager" was still alive and lived in the area!
According to one story teller, he thought that the atifacts discoverd were the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

The Research

Two things happened over the winter 2011/2012 which dramatically affected this story.  First, I was contacted by Jeremiah Stager, a graduate student at the University of Alabama who was interested in possibly writing his master's thesis about the association Hopewell Era Native Americans, also known as "the mound builders", with ancient mica mining in Mitchell County, North Carolina. Jeremiah had seen my Bo's Mine Tours website and wanted to know if I would be interested in working with him as a consultant on the mica mining aspects of his research.  This was particularly significant in that up to this point I knew nothing about the Native American cultures of the Spruce Pine area. I thought, like most people, that they were Cherokees.  This resulted in sparking my interest in learning about the Native American cultures that inhabited Mitchell County in ancient times and their association with the area's mica mining history.  Jeremiah made two trips to the Spruce Pine area in 2012, one in June with his wife and small son in June and a second trip in early December, this time with another graduate student, Jessie Morton from Mississippi State.  Click on the 2012 link for details of these trips.
Second, I decided to visit my daughter and her family who live in Raleigh enroute to the cabin in April and while in Raleigh spend a day at the North Carolina Museum of History  to determine if there were any artifacts at the museum from the story I had heard.  On April 24th, 2012, I visited the North Carolina Museum of History and met with Dr. Ron Porter, the currator of the museum.

I made a self guided tour of the museum but was disappointed to find out that there were no significant displays of ancient Native American  mining other than this display board of the  vast Hopewell trade network.  The display board had a "Hopewell Hand" mica sculpture placed over western North Carolina indicating that the Hopewell were either involved in mica mining themselves or at least actively trading with local Native Americans.

After my tour, I met with Dr.Porter and he assured me that the museum had no mining tools or other Native American artifacts from the Sink Hole Mine.  He suggested that I contact, Mr. Steve Claggett, North Carolina's Chief Archeologist who had an office located close to the museum.  I met with Steve later that afternoon and he suggested that I read Peter Margolin's article in North Carolina's Archeology magazine, "The Sink Hole at Bandana: A Historic Blue Ridge Mine Reveals Its' Past".  I found Mr. Margolin's article online.  It was like striking the "mother lode" in that it not only provided a detailed history of the Sink Hole Mine's history of ancient Native American mining but also provided outstanding sources for further research; most notable. Dr. William H. Holmes' "Handbook of Aboriginal Antiquities".  The Holmes' article not only discussed the Sink Hole Mine and it's ancient Native American past but also that of the Robinson Mine located near the Sink Hole Mine and the Clarissa Mine located east of Bakersville off of Cane Creek.  This lead to learning that a detailed archeological study had been conducted by Kiel and Egliff , "The Cane Creek Site, Mitchell County, North Carolina" which was published in 1984.  This study which was conducted on the Wilson Farm not far from the Clarissa Mine proved that there was continuous habitation by ancient Native Americans  before and after the Hopewell Era during the Woodland Period.  There were many artifacts discovered that related to the Hopewell Era of the Mid-Woodland Period including some stone tools (drills and chisels) that could have been used for mining.  But interestingly, mica ornaments were completely absent except for one circular piece that might have been ornamental or used as a mirror.  I would have expected more mica artifacts if the residents there were actively involved in mica mining or even trading of mica. 

  My long term objective is to continue to research nay new resouces I discover to find more evidence which would support the position that the Hopewell traveled to Mitchell County, set up small mining settlements and mined the mica themselves.  Click on the link to 2012 to learn about our research activities in this regard during the summer and fall of 2012. Lack of funding has kept Jeremiah from working in the area since 2012.  However, I have continued to gather as much information as I can by finding new books on the subject and to discuss the subject with as many people as possible. 
To provide visibility on the topic of aboriginal mica mining in Mitchell County, I commissioned a local artist, Jerry Newton, to execute a painting depicting my concept of what a Hopewell miner might have looked like mining the tunnel at the Sink Hole mine based on m interviews with the local boy who discovered the tunnel at the Sink Hole Mine in the early 1950s and subsequent resrearch.  The painting is currently exhibited at the Yancey County Visitor's Center I presented the painting to the general public at the North Carolina Mineral and Gem Show in Spruce Pine on August 3rd, 2013.
A new development is that after seeing "the painting" at the Yancey Visitor's Center and reviewing this website a group of graduate students at Appalacian State University in Boone, NC have decided to do  a project on aboriginal mica mining in western North Carolina. As part of their project, "the painting will be part of an exhibit at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM) from December 2015 through April 2016. The opening of this exhibit is scheduled for December 3rd.


Ferguson, Leland G., "Prehistoric Mica Mines in the Southern Appalachians", Archeological Society of South Carolina, vol. 6, 1974

Glover, Alex, "A Brief Review of the History, Geology, and Modern Uses of the Minerals Mined in the Spruce Pine Mining District", published online in
     cooperation with the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce for the 50th annual North Carolina Gem and Mineral Show, August 2-5, 2007

Holmes, William H., "Handbook of Aboriginal Antiquities, Part 1, Lithic Industries", Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnicity, Bulletin 60, 1919

Jacqot, Richard, "Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina"

Keel. Bernie C and Egliff, Brian J., "The Cane Creek Site, Mitchell County, North Carolina", Southern Indian Studies, Volume XXXIII, October 1984, The
     Archeological Society of North Carolina and the Research Laboratories of Anthropology ant the University of North Carolina

Kerr, W.C., "Reports of the Geoligic Survey", 1875

Margolin, Peter R., "The Sink Hole at Bandana: A Historic Blue Ridge Mine Reveals Its' Past", North Carolina Archeology, vol. 49, October 2000

Presnell, Lowell, "Mines, Miners, and Minerals of Western North Carolina", Parkway Publishers, Inc., Boone, North Carolina, 2005

Sheppard, Muriel E., "Cabins in the Laurel", University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1935

Stuckey, Jasper, "North Carolina: Its' Geology and Mineral Resources", 1965


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