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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

All that glitters -- Indianola's gold 'rush'

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cliff Lord, holding one of the $25 stools from the Mining Operation.
(McCook Daily Gazette)
In the 1930s the United States was in the depths of the Great Depression. Farmers were hard-pressed to produce a crop, and even then prices were so low that corn was being used for heating fuel in many localities, as it was cheaper to burn corn for heat than buy coal.

Business in the small towns of Nebraska was bad, to the point of being almost non-existent. Many stores closed up in the afternoons and merchants engaged in chess matches, or impromptu softball games. With much idle time on their hands many people turned to day-dreams, speculating about what it would be like to have all the money a body could use. When President Roosevelt raised the price of gold from $20.70/oz., where it had been for many years, to $35/oz. it set off a new gold fever in the United States, not just in California, Colorado, and the Black Hills, where proven deposits of gold were known to exist, but also in new locations, which had never been a part of former gold rushes -- places like Southwest Nebraska.

There had been stories from the earliest settlers that Indians had told of finding the yellow metal in these parts -- just folklore to most folks. But when several individuals reported finding bits of gold on the gravel road from Indianola to Danbury, there was a flurry of activity locally, to find the source of the gold and bring it to market. In the early '30s there was even a story of Nebraska gold in Robert Ripley's popular, nationally distributed column, "Believe It Or Not," where he described the road from Indianola to Danbury as "being paved with gold."

Ed Frank, holding his (worthless) five-share certificate in the Indianola Mining Co.
(McCook Daily Gazette)
Ray Search remembered that in McCook a group of investors came together to form a company, which would smelt gold from gravel beds in the Danbury area.

They did manage to buy a smelter for the purpose, but no appreciable amount of gold was ever recovered this way. The only evidence today of this venture is the smelter, which after its "gold extraction period", found its way to a local plumbing shop, where it was used to melt lead for pipe fittings. (Henry Koch, McCook historian, managed to salvage the smelter from a downtown Norris Avenue basement and is keeping it safe for history in a building on his farm).

While there were a number of McCook citizens who were interested in the gold from the Danbury hills, it was in Indianola where most of the interest in local gold lay.

Sometime, in the months preceding the 1935 Republican River flood, a fellow from Hastings, one J.J. "Bill" Malir, came to Indianola. Mr. Malir was a self-described "prospector/miner."

He had heard of the gold in the Indianola area and came to check out those reports. After a few days, Mr. Malir brought in a few small nuggets of gold, which he showed to folks in Indianola -- gold, which he said he had found in the Republican River bed, just south of town.

On the strength of those bits of gold, Mr. Malir was able to organize "The Indianola Mining Company," J. J. Mair, President, E.W. Frank (longtime Indianola businessman), Secretary. 10 or 15 Indianola businessmen bought between two and 10 shares in the venture, at the price of $10 per share. "No one had invested enough money to get hurt," according to Mr. Frank, "Really, there wasn't a great amount of money involved ... no one had more than 10 shares, some just one or two. (But in 1935 $100 was still quite a large chunk of money).

According to Mr. Malir, they just needed enough money to build equipment needed for the mining operation, which seemed to be confined to two machines. The first, built by a local blacksmith, was about the size of a threshing machine, with an engine and vibrating shelves. Wet sand and gravel from the Republican was scooped into the top of the machine, washed by water from the river. The sand and gravel, shaken on the descending shelves, separated as it went down, the heavier gold from the lighter sand and gravel, with the gold settling at the bottom in a dust-like form.

Frank remembered that he and four or five other shareholders worked on that machine for three or four days at the river site. Though they did recover some gold, it was nowhere near the amount needed for a successful operation.

Years later, Edgar Frank, holding up his worthless stock certificate, the only thing that he got out of his involvement with the gold mining venture, was philosophical, "I lost my $50 investment. We just took a gamble -- a chance that there would be something there and there wasn't." Frank still figured that there was gold in the river -- just not enough to make it pay out."

And the sifting machine used at the river -- Frank said that Bill Mahir took it with him. "There wasn't much use for a gold sifting machine if you weren't looking for gold."

Cliff Lord, (speaking for his father, McArthur (Mac) Lord, who owned shares in the Indianola Mining Company), had a very different take on the gold mining company from the way Mr. Frank remembered. Cliff recalled another gold washing operation at the old Mutt & Jeff Café building, across the alley from the Lord hardware store, "The 30' long machine took up the entire building. They shoveled sand and ore into a chute at the north end---it was cleaned as it went along the 2 foot-wide conveyor, washed with overhead spray jets---then deposited, all washed and clean, at the south end. The washed stuff was put on a table and they would try to sort out the gold from the sand. And for a couple of days they did get gold.

"At first it started out good, and everybody got pretty excited. They operated this thing pretty steady for about a week. But before long it was apparent that they were shoveling in sand and gravel, and only sand and gravel.

"And one day the promoter left town on a business trip and never showed up again. It was almost like an old Wild West Tale, but that's the way it was. I just wish I knew how many shares he sold," Cliff mused.

On balance, it would seem that Mac Lord came out of the mining venture better off than Edgar Frank. Neither man had realized any income from the mining operation. Mr. Frank had one (worthless) stock certificate to show for the experience, whereas Mac Lord---When the Mutt & Jeff Café building was dismantled, Mr. Lord salvaged four stools that had been used by inspectors looking for gold, at the uptown gold washing machine.

Cliff Lord said his father figured that his $100 investment had bought those four stools, making them worth $25 apiece -- and Mr. Lord Sr. was pleased to make them a wedding gift to Cliff and Anne when they were married -- a lasting remembrance of the long-gone Indianola Mining Company.

Source: Tim Matas story in The McCook Gazette, 1984

"Ray Search Remembers McCook, by W. Sehnert

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By