Oral Histories

Dennis E. “Pete” Byrd, Sr.


Pete Byrd

Q: And that’s how you came to Moab.

Pete: That’s how I came to Moab. When I got hold of Charlie later that morning I went picked him up. He lived in a duplex on Third South that was just east of the creek, a creek crossing. It wasn’t a bridge, of course, it was just a place where you could ford the creek. We went and picked up Andy McGill and the three of us, Charlie drove us out to Thompson. We drove out that old highway up out of the valley there. He was sitting there talking to Andy in the backseat and was turned around and that was the scariest road I ever was on and I think I was never as scared driving with somebody. He never was a very good driver.

Q: Charlie was driving?

Pete: Yeah. We went to Thompson. At Thompson there was a uranium ore buying station, the Atomic Energy Commission right beside the railroad out there. It was about 2 or 3 acres of land covered with piles of brown rock and a crusher and a place where they load this uranium ore on the trucks to ship it to Denver or to Salt Lake or to someplace else to be milled. An awful lot of people in Moab had little uranium mines. Before Charlie discovered his mine there were probably 3 or 4 hundred mines, so-called uranium mines, within 40 miles of Moab in all directions. Most of them were just gopher hole, like 2-man operations where they mined with either picks or shovels and maybe a jackhammer. A lot of them, they were mining, they figured that you could get rich if you could find a dinosaur skeleton that had uranium mineralization in the bone or a good big tree and then along these cliffs with the gray streaks and that was the main place they prospected and, of course, all over Yellow Cat between Thompson and Cisco and the river. Charlie showed us some ore that had been dumped over in a corner that was separate from the other, from all the brown ore and this ore was black. He says “This has come out of my mines. It’s the richest stuff they’ve ever seen.” The only trouble was, they weren’t crushing it or anything, it was just dumped over there in the corner. We left there and went on out into Yellow Cat. There was an old caboose sitting on the top of a hill out there. It was sitting like a mining shaft shack and a couple of guys working a gopher-hole type mine and a little pile of ore that they’d hauled out with wheelbarrows, maybe 10 wheelbarrows, something like that. That was their production of ore from the last time they’d hauled it to town. Normally the practice was to mine like that. Then a lot of the guys would mine like that and then haul it into town and haul it to their yard until they got a truckload. Then they would load the truck and hire the truck to haul it to Thompson. From there we went toward Cisco on a dirt road and right out in the middle of the desert out there in the middle of no place we stopped and Charlie says “This is where we had our trailer in the winter of ‘51.” Charlie and his three or four kids, I think there was three and his wife spent the winter out there in a 13-foot trailer. They hauled their water. Luckily they didn’t have one of these bad winters. He got a little drill rig and prospected out there. Started out and then went on to Tucson and worked down there in the (Northrup?) factory where they were building a huge aircraft factory until he had made enough money to come back to Moab and try out prospecting again. That time they rented a tar paper shack at Cisco for $15 a month. They didn’t have enough money to eat. We went on to Cisco from there. He introduced me to Buddy Cowger and his wife, Mary. They ran the filling station at Cisco. Buddy Cowger was a paraplegic. He operated a wrecker and ran that filling station on creeper boards he’d fixed up so he could get around. He’d lift himself into the wrecker and, of course, in those days, that road was narrrow and people were going fast and there was lots of wrecks on it. Buddy had a Geiger counter. Everybody was prospecting. But Charlie didn’t have a Geiger counter. He was a geologist. He thought he knew what ore was when he saw it. A little later on he drilled right through it and didn’t know it. This leads into a whole other chapter of this book.

Q: I guess we are getting the history of Charlie Steen. Maybe we need to get back to you.

Pete: Well.

Q: You came out and ran around with him and…

Pete: I went out with Bob Barrett who was running a mine. I don’t know how we can separate the stories. The next day we went to the mine. I met Bob Barrett and I met Dan O’Laurie. Dan was all shook up because he’d been made the president of Utex Exploration Company. He’d loaned the company money to get started, to get the mine started based on the wild assumption that this drill…. Let me go back and tell you about Buddy.

Q: Okay.

Pete: Charlie and his mother and a guy named (Big Hoot?) had been down in Big Indian and a drill rig was loaned to Bill McCormick to drill this hole. They drilled, Charlie had drilled through the ore and drilled till he broke the bit off in the hole. Broke the pipe off in the drill hole. For some reason he’d thrown some of the cores that he’d taken out of this hole into his Jeep. After he broke the pipe, off he went off . He went to Denver and I don’t know where all, trying to get some money to buy some more pipe. While he was gone, Bill sent somebody up there and took the drill rig away. So all Charlie had was, when he got to Cisco after breaking off the pipe. Buddy Cowger was checking some rocks that his kids had brought in. Charlie says “I got some that good” and so he went out and got these cores out of his old red Jeep. He brought them in there and Buddy put the counter on them and nobody had ever seen anything that hot before. When Charlie saw it he took off running, screaming to his wife, who was about 100 yards away, “We’re rich, we’re rich” and he ran right through a clothesline full of clothes and broke it down.

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