Oral Histories

Blankenagel, Norma P.




Outlaws of the Area – Again, La Sal was a hideout for many outlaws in the 1889s and 90s. Butch Cassidy, Matt Warner, Monte Butler, Kid Jackson, Al Ackers, Kid Parker, Bert Madden, Tom Roach, and the McCarty brothers were all known in this area. They were sometimes cowboys, ranchers and outlaws. These and others were known as the Wild Bunch and made their home in La Sal and Robbers Roost near Green River. Tom McCarty was married to Matt Warner’s sister. These La Sal brothers helped rob the Telluride, Colorado bank in 1893. They were also cattle rustlers. They were connected to the Younger gang. Matt Warner, Tom McCarty, and Butch Cassidy joined forces and became known as The Invincible Three, and were notorious throughout the country. Tom was cool, clever, and bold. Matt was brave, but reckless, with an uncontrollable temper. Butch was cool and calculating. They made a formidable trio.


Area Mining – There have been great amounts of precious metals found in the La Sal area. There was a small settlement and a post office at Miners Basin in 1899. What is interesting about this is that it was a lively town of about 75 persons. Now I have an idea that there were more than that, just from the fact that it boasted two saloons, a store, a grocery store, two restaurants, a livery stable, a shoemaker shop, mining office, a deputy sheriff, a doctor, and even a Sunday school and boarding houses. Gold and silver were also mined at Lackey Basin. We go up to Lackey Basin and there is no sign of mining in that area. So I don’t know if it was mined or not, though I’ve heard that silver was found there. Gold Basin, Big Indian, and Lisbon Valley are other places where they mined for gold and silver. Then the Big Indian Copper Mining Company was located seven miles south and west of La Sal. They worked until they couldn’t leech any more copper out. So Keystone Wallace came in the 1960s and used newer methods and mined and leeched the copper successfully, until the price of copper dropped, and the mine became unprofitable again. This was a pit mine and was closed.

Vanadium and Carnotite were mined in the La Sal area, since before the turn of the century. In 1871, Doctor Richard Pierce shipped 200 pounds of ore to London. In 1895, Madam Marie Curie, and her husband Pierre, discovered the element uranium, but the only use for uranium was its radium content. Radium was used as a steel alloy at that time. Then Charles Steen, in 1952, discovered the Mi Vida Mine about fifteen miles south and west of La Sal. This was a high grade uranium strike. It is interesting that that fault goes down through our ranch and the Mi Vida Mine is on the same side of the fault as the Rattlesnake Mine, which was very near the surface and was pit mined. But it was also this high grade yellow cake, as they called it. Very good quality, although I think the gray is considered even richer.

Moab was the closest town that could handle the influx of all the miners. It grew from a sleepy town of a thousand or so to a bustling 6000. However, most of the miners had to leave, and other people moved in. They were replaced by government people and retirees, who filled the gaps. There are still some of the old mining families who have retired here. But a lot of the younger families had to move to Nevada and other places to get work. Both Moab and La Sal are nice places for retirement.

There were so many thousands that moved into the La Sal area that the farmers and ranchers there built three trailer villages. They were the Redds, the Blankenagels, and the Wilcoxes. Homestake Mine also had a large trailer court of homes at their mine site, as did a few other mine companies. Homestake used to haul their water from Rattlesnake Spring for culinary use.

A little story about Charlie Steen: I guess he went into Monticello Merc, which was the only store in town to have groceries, clothes, and shoes. He looked just like a tramp. His clothes were worn out, his boots had holes in them, he had no food. He told them he was a miner and asked if they would stake him. They looked at him and said no. So he went to Moab, to Ralph Miller’s store, and asked him if he would back him and give him supplies. Steen said he saw all the signs of a rich deposit of uranium and he would like to go after it, and Ralph backed him. So Charlie Steen made Moab his headquarters. But all the taxes (from the mines) went to San Juan County. We were a wealthy county for quite a while. That’s when we got our TV station in and it’s sure been a good one.

Steen used to put on big parties in Moab once a year. He would have tubs of iced cans of pop for the kids and beer and anything you wanted to drink. He had wine, liquor of every sort and pop of any kind that you wanted, and all the kids had all they wanted. Steen became a very wealthy man, but I guess he invested it after he left here in Nevada, and lost it all. Then he made a little more, then lost it.


Lula Delong comments: Steen would also take men, who worked a whole year with no accidents, to the Gulf of Mexico to go fishing. They had very few accidents, because they were very safety, conscious. He is still in the mining business, because he still has a silver mine in Boulder, Colorado. But he trusted people too much. His bookkeeper didn’t even pay the insurance on the men, but took the money and sent his wife on various trips. This is what I learned from some of the employees that worked there. And then the time that he really went broke, was when they had a strike on the railroad, and he had all these cars loaded with ore. He had to pay for all these cars on the railroad, which amounted to millions of dollars. Then the IRS got after him, so finally it broke him.

Read the other Oral Histories