... "Mrs. Reese did not have mining in her blood and would have selected city living."
... "He promised her a winter in Portland so she could dress elegantly to
go to the theatres,
restaurants, concerts, and shopping."
What makes a miner a miner? One can imagine the lure of a romantic, carefree life free
of drudgery and routine. But seeing the huge piles of soil and stone moved, feeling the
cold cold water with, and in, which they worked, going into the dank, musty tunnels
thinking of the ability and zeal required to keep financial sources convinced of a mine's
potential, dispels that myth. Though miners liked the tunnels as places warmer than the
outside world in winter and cooler in summer, where the next hole they dug might just
uncover a fortune in gold, it was very hard work.
For R.C. (Cam) Reese part of it was being born in 1862 on an Indiana farm and not wanting
any part of farming as an occupation. As soon as he could, he left home for the mining
country in Coloradoto study at the Colorado School of Mines and to work in the mines.
He married Gertrude Dotson in 1898. They were attracted to Sumpter, Oregon by a big mining
boom. Cam Reese liked the country so when the Sumpter boom began to peter out he rode horseback
over Dixie Creek, north of Prairie City, he found an outcropping of surface ore. He traced the
vein on the surface for two miles and decided to begin development as there were encouraging
prospects for a good mine. The first buildings he erected at the Dixie Meadows Mines were three
A sawmill was established half a mile down Ruby Creek (which heads at Dixie Meadows Mines and
runs north to the Middle Fork of the John Day River) from the mines. Including the three log
cabins, nine houses were built - for the Reeses, the blacksmith named Carlson, the bookkeeper,
Gordon Glass; the assayer, Ves Belknap; and other family men. Two two-story bunkhouses housed
the rest of the 75 to 100 men employed. An assay office, boarding house, storehouse, large barn,
powder house, business office and mill completed the above ground building.
Extensive tunnels required logs for sets and legging. The ground at the Dixie Meadows group of
mines is heavy, meaning it is wet and caves in easily. So it required especially sturdy well-built
sets and legging. (A set consists of 2 uprights and a top crosspiece of logs or timbers. They
are placed every 4 to 6 ft. in a mine tunnel to hold the ground and prevent cave-ins. Legging is split
from logs and used between the earth and sets to line a tunnel and prevent sloughing or cave-ins.)
Wood was burned to provide steam power to generate electricity for lights in the tunnels and buildings.
This was the first electricity in Grant County. A wooden tank about 6 ft. sq. collected water from a
spring to furnish running water for the living quarters and stamp mill.
In 1903 Cam Reese installed a Huntington Mill to process the ore. The gigantic task of moving the enormous
tonnage of the ore crusher, stamp mill, boiler and other machinery from Sumpter to the Dixie Meadows Mines
seemed impossible. Necessity produced the idea to use sleds to move it in winter over several feet of snow.
Twenty men and two 12-horse teams worked many weeks at the immense undertaking. The two teams were alternated
between pulling and resting.
Ore was milled and then shipped by wagon to the smelter at Sumpter. The mines and the mill operated three 8-hr
shifts, 6 days a wk, the year around. The Dixie Meadows Mines includes 10 patented mines and 4 unpatented
mines. (A patented mine has had mineral deposits enough to justify proven value and is owned by the miner and
taxed like other property. An unpatented mine claim requires $100 a year in development work, such as road
building, tunnel, geological or construction work.)
Chinese miners were placer mining on Ruby Creek. Cam Reese hired two of them to cook in the boarding house,
and they continued on the job as long as he operated the mine. Milk, eggs, and pork were produced at the mines.
Meat was delivered to the mines twice a week from Walter Ross's butcher shop in Prairie City. Other groceries
were purchased at Mose Durkheimer's store in the building now occupied by Steuber's Thrifty Food and Electric in
Prairie City. Many horses were required at the mines for transportation and freight hauling.
The night of March 31, 1904 Virgil (Dick) Reese was born at the Reese home at the Dixie Meadows Mine. Dr. Belknap rode
horseback the 12 miles from Prairie City through several feet of snow to deliver the baby.
Mrs. Reese did not have mining in her blood and would have selected city living. But instead of wasting her days
longing for a city home she was busy enjoying activity and people. Gladys Laycock, her daughter, remembers that they
were frequently having company and usually doing interesting things at their home at the mines. Life at the mines
seemed an ideal childhood to Gladys and Dick, and they accompanied their father on foot or horseback whenever possible.
It was a special treat when they were allowed to go into a tunnel with him. The damp earth and stone smells fascinated
them. They would ride in an empty ore car as the miners pushed it up the slight incline into a deep tunnel. They liked
to follow a car filled with ore roll down the slight down-grade and watch it dump the ore into the crusher. The ore was
then processed through the crusher and the mill.
Gladys and Dick especially treasured the occasions when their father had time to take them hunting, fishing, huckleberry
picking or mushroom gathering. Sometimes when they returned from gathering mushrooms, the two gunny sacks tied together
behind their father's saddle would be so full of mushrooms they would be sticking straight out at right angles to the horse
on each side. When their grandmother Dotson lived at the mines, it wasn't unusual for her to can 100 quarts of mushrooms
in one season. The children enjoyed the way their father taught them about the country and nature - to be good marksmen
and good fishermen.
When it snowed the children at the mine loved coasting down the mine dump in gold pans. They went like lightning, spinning
around and around. The school year meant staying in Prairie City, at least during the week, for all of the school-age children
living at the mine.
Everyone was so busy that conversation and card playing were the only regular recreation for the adults. On Saturday night many
of the men went to Prairie City to commemorate the end of the week.
The 4th of July was celebrated in Prairie City with horse races, foot races and fights between dogs and badgers. Cam Reese and his
brother-in-law, Jake Dotson, always had a drilling contest. One man drilled into a large boulder with an 18 or 22 inch drill and his
partner poured water into the hole to reduce the heat. After each team had a carefully timed turn, the holes were measured to
determine the winners. Silver an dgold pieces were bet, and a lot of money changed hands.
The Huntington Mill could not retain the values, so Cam Reese decided to sell the mine rather than go into debt to try more expensive
equipment. In 1910 Mr. Vogelstein carried on a development program for the next two years. But there has been no production at the
mine since 1910 by any of the owners.
After the sale of the mines, Cam Reese promised his wife that they would spend the winter in Portland so she could enjoy dressing
elegantly to go to the theatres, restaurants, concerts, and shopping. She was delighted. Then Gladys and Dick were stricken by scarlet
fever. So the children and their mother were quarantined in their apartment for several weeks of the precious winter. Mr. Reese did their
shopping. He would hand them the groceries and other items through a window and visit with them from the outside. Except for those scarlet
fever weeks, they enjoyed a wonderful winter. The family returned to Prairie City and Cam Reese managed the
Prairie Power Company. The death of Mrs. Reese in 1914 was especially sad as she was only 37 years old. Reese managed the Empire
Gold Dredging and Mining Company that dredged along the John Day River and Canyon Creek. Another sad time for the family was the death of
Dick Reese at age 17 in 1921.
In 1931 Cam Reese returned to his real vocation, developing mining property, when he bought the Equity group of mines on Comer Creek, 7
miles north of Prairie City. The group includes 6 patented mines and one unpatented claim. He built houses and a mill there and employed
10 to 14 men. All of his financial resources were invested in the mines.
He never ceased evaluating the country for mining possibilities and enjoyed walking miles through the forests prospecting. The day before
his death he walked the seven miles to PC because he enjoyed walking more than driving his car. He died in his home at the mines
at the age of 83 in 1945.
In 1946 Gladys and her husband, Lyman Laycock, after a tremendous amount of legal work clearing the title, bought the Dixie Meadows mining
property. They hoped modern developments in machinery would make it possible to produce the gold they knew was there.
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