I spent most of my school years living near, but not in, a company town: Lead, South Dakota.
The company was the Homestake Mining Company, and their prize possession was the Homestake Gold Mine.
I’ve walked through forests owned by the company. I’ve seen its buildings on back country roads and logging trucks on the way to the company’s sawmill.
We went on school field trips to see the mile-long, above-ground milling and processing of the gold ore.
I even made several visits to the house of one of the mine superintendents listed in the appendix. (His son was a friend of mine.)
The very landscape around Lead would change between trips home post-college as Homestake restarted surface mining and built large conveyer belts and tunnels to move ore about.
However, neither I nor any of my family actually worked for the company.
I wanted an historical context for all this, I wanted to know what all those Homestake buildings were for, and I wanted all the book’s pictures, so I picked this one up.
Review: Nuggets to Neutrinos: The Homestake Story, Steven T. Mitchell, 2009.
Mitchell’s book reminds me of one of those old James Michener novels with a place name for a title.
Like those novels, Mitchell starts his tale back in the Precambrian past with a look at the geology of the Black Hills of South Dakota where the Homestake Mine was located. He then talks about Indian settlement in the area and early white exploration of it. The various reconnaissance expeditions the U. S. Army mounted in the upper Great Plains from 1853 to 1874 get a chapter as do early explorations by white prospectors. The Black Hills gold rush has a chapter.
White expropriation of the Black Hills, granted to the Sioux Nation by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, is covered. Mitchell gives an even handed, yet concise, summary of white-Indian relations in the context of the Black Hills and the treaty violations on both sides and resulting wars.
It’s only after five chapters and 133 pages that Mitchell gets to the discovery of the Homestake lode. The outcropping of rock which provided the “lead” to the gold ore gave its name to Lead, South Dakota where the mine operated from 1876 to 2001. Continue reading