ELKO — Of the 32 known metals and minerals in Elko County, 19 have been produced commercially since 1859.
That is how Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett began her address to the Rotary Club of Elko on Oct. 11. She then delved into the history of local mining, naming the area’s early top mining districts and comparing the production of yesteryear to today.
Bennett has served as the NvMA president since 2014 and is the former regional director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. She holds a doctorate in history from the University of Arizona and authored “A Century of Enthusiasm: Midas, Nevada” about the mining town where she spent some of her childhood. The book is available at the Northeastern Nevada Museum.
The history of mining in this region began before the northeastern part of the state became Elko County in 1869. Coal was discovered in 1859 near Carlin, copper in 1862, gold in 1867 and silver in 1869.
In the early years, mining was sporadic, Bennett said, but production from Mountain City, Rio Tinto, Tuscarora, Jarbidge, Aura, Railroad and Gold Circle soon put mining on the Elko County map. Midas, part of the Gold Circle Mining District, was the biggest gold and silver producer in Elko County from 1933-1935.
“Like other districts in Elko County, this mine is still producing,” Bennett said.
Companies attempted to produce coal commercially, but it was not high enough quality to be economical. Other commodities mined historically include turquoise, mercury and oil.
Over 110 years — until 1969 — mining in Elko County produced $91 million. Gold production ceased because of World War II, as the nation focused on producing industrial minerals.
“It stops at World War II,” Bennett said, explaining that there was just one gold mine operating in Nevada in 1965. “That had a tremendous impact on mining.”
After 1969, improvements in the process, such as open pit and heap leach mining, as well as the government allowing gold prices to fluctuate, increased production.
In 2015, the gross proceeds of minerals — namely gold, silver, barite and limestone — in Elko County totaled $486 million, according to NvMA statistics.